December 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Mongolia: a democratic breakthrough?: Mongolia was once considered among the least likely of former communist nations to make a successful transition to democracy. But it now holds regular national elections and its economy is poised for growth. (Dan Southerland, December 31, 2009, CS Monitor)

In one of the most underreported stories of 2009, Mongolia is forging ahead with reforms aimed at making its society more open and less subject to the endemic corruption that has plagued many former communist states. [...]

[M]ongolia is moving more rapidly in a democratic direction than any of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. And its new leaders vowed early on to quickly privatize state enterprises and create a free-market economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


No Rise of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Fraction in Past 160 Years, New Research Finds (ScienceDaily, Dec. 31, 2009)

Most of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity does not remain in the atmosphere, but is instead absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. In fact, only about 45 percent of emitted carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere. [...]

To assess whether the airborne fraction is indeed increasing, Wolfgang Knorr of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol reanalyzed available atmospheric carbon dioxide and emissions data since 1850 and considers the uncertainties in the data.

In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Best Decade Ever: Sure, the 2000s brought war, terrror, and economic misery. But Reihan Salam sees a magical decade that created peace and prosperity that will be with us for years. (Reihan Salam, 12/31/09, Daily Beast)

The fact that Americans are willing to spend borrowed money on flat-screen televisions and souped-up video game consoles and hybrid electric vehicles has led us to an era of painful deleveraging, one of the things moralistic scolds are quick to condemn about the Big Zero. But this eagerness to buy, buy, buy also helped the country maintain its technological leadership. Economist Amar Bhidé, perhaps the decade's most underappreciated thinker, has argued that one of the key strengths of the American economy is what he calls "venturesome consumption"—the willingness of consumers to try untested new goods and to invest the time and effort necessary to figure out how to use them. The gadget geeks who always have to have the latest and greatest gadgets help the rest of us by creating a large enough market for innovative products to eventually drive prices down to earth. This is in some respects very risky behavior, a small-scale version of the risks taken by entrepreneurs. The geeks are guinea pigs, after all. Yet it means that inventors across the world are striving to create products that can crack the lucrative American market.

The perfect example of venturesome consumption is, of course, iPhone-mania. At first, the iPhone was a way for people to cram a cell phone, iPod, and datebook in the slender pockets of your skinny jeans. With the advent of applications, it's become an infinitely expandable device that is much more like a baby computer than a cellphone on steroids. It's only natural that people are increasingly transitioning from expensive laptops to cheapo netbooks that work on the rare occasions when the iPhone won't do the job. The iPhone is leading us towards an age of constant connectivity. In the not-too-distant future, your phone, smaller than a fingernail or perhaps a strand of hair, will constantly monitor your vital signs, just in case you're on the verge of catching a cold. It will even warn you when an ex is around the corner, sparing you an awkward encounter. And without this low dishonorable decade, it would never have happened. Astonishing increases in the quality of the goods we consume like these won't be captured in crude measurements like GDP, despite the fact that it is a real source of wealth. As grumpy as you might feel on New Year's Eve, would you really want to go back to the bulky CD players, the lousy supermarkets, and the VHS cassettes of yesteryear? Of course not. can, with a straight face, refer to an economic slowdown that was shorter than a pregnancy as an "era."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM

IT'S A 60-40 NATION:

58% Favor Waterboarding of Plane Terrorist To Get Information (Rasmussen Reports, December 31, 2009)

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 30% oppose the use of such techniques, and another 12% are not sure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


Snap Out of It!: The dangers of economic pessimism. (Daniel Gross, Dec 31, 2009, Newsweek)

The Great Panic of 2008 may have destroyed blind optimism. But if excessive optimism was the near-fatal pose in 2008, blind pessimism has emerged as the reflexive post-bust crouch. And it has led the economic establishment to miss yet another inflection point. While we were wringing our hands about America's financial and industrial crisis, we ignored a parallel narrative that was emerging: the repairing of balance sheets, an embrace of reality, a nascent recovery. The same folks who chased the recession down now are likely to chase the recovery up.

Even as the economy started improving, corporate America continued to prepare for Armageddon for much of 2009. Inventories of manufactured goods fell in 10 of the first 11 months of 2009. Between October 2008 and October 2009, retailers slashed inventories from $500 billion to $432 billion. Translation? Pessimistic about their ability to sell stuff, companies cut way back on their orders. But when consumer demand finally materializes, retailers will be caught flat-footed and miss out on sales. Like when you go into the local Gap, ready to spend, but it doesn't have the jeans you want in your size.

Excessive pessimism in other areas has been more costly. Virtually all the market geniuses who hung on as the Dow was scythed in half between October 2007 and March 2009 failed to call the market turn. Most hedge-fund managers have chased the 60 percent rally since March, not led it. Economic forecasters similarly missed the dramatic turn in the overall economy this spring. Having failed to forecast that the economy would shrink at a 6 percent annual rate through the first quarter of 2009, economists also failed to project it would start growing again at a decent pace in June. And they're still behind the curve. My bold prediction for 2010 is that the consensus of the forecasters surveyed by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, which projects the economy will grow only 2.4 percent in 2010, is too pessimistic, perhaps by half.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Jobless Claims Fell in Latest Week (LUCA DI LEO and SARAH N. LYNCH, 12/31/09, WSJ)

Recent data signal that the U.S. recovery from the worst recession in decades is taking hold. Robust retail sales and improving consumer confidence, meanwhile, have raised expectations for strong economic growth in the fourth quarter. That's prompted some optimism that employers may soon resume hiring after two years of cutting payrolls.

The problem for the GOP in pretending that Democrats are Socialist is the resilience of the Reagan/Volcker economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


A Cold-Blooded Foreign Policy: No despot fears the president, and no demonstrator in Tehran expects him to ride to the rescue. (FOUAD AJAMI, 12/30/09, WSJ)

In retrospect, that patina of cosmopolitanism in President Obama's background concealed the isolationism of the liberal coalition that brought him to power. The tide had turned in the congressional elections of 2006. American liberalism was done with its own antecedents—the outlook of Woodrow Wilson and FDR and Harry Truman and John Kennedy. It wasn't quite "Come home, America," but close to it. This was now the foreign policy of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. There was in the land a "liberal orientalism," if you will, a dismissive attitude about the ability of other nations to partake of liberty. It had started with belittling the Iraqis' aptitude for freedom. But there was implicit in it a broader assault on the very idea of freedom's possibilities in distant places. East was East, and West was West, and never the twain shall meet.

We're weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we're broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can't care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

It was easy, that delirium with Mr. Obama: It made no moral demands on those eager to partake of it. It was also false, in many lands.

His isolationism places him on W's far Right, or Left if you prefer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem: The president always knew that his greatest appeal was not as a leader but as a cultural symbol. (SHELBY STEELE, 12/30/09, WSJ)

The essence of our new "post-modern" race problem can be seen in the parable of the emperor's new clothes. The emperor was told by his swindling tailors that people who could not see his new clothes were stupid and incompetent. So when his new clothes arrived and he could not see them, he put them on anyway so that no one would think him stupid and incompetent. And when he appeared before his people in these new clothes, they too—not wanting to appear stupid and incompetent—exclaimed the beauty of his wardrobe. It was finally a mere child who said, "The emperor has no clothes."

The lie of seeing clothes where there were none amounted to a sophistication—joining oneself to an obvious falsehood in order to achieve social acceptance. In such a sophistication there is an unspoken agreement not to see what one clearly sees—in this case the emperor's flagrant nakedness.

America's primary race problem today is our new "sophistication" around racial matters. Political correctness is a compendium of sophistications in which we join ourselves to obvious falsehoods ("diversity") and refuse to see obvious realities (the irrelevance of diversity to minority development). I would argue further that Barack Obama's election to the presidency of the United States was essentially an American sophistication, a national exercise in seeing what was not there and a refusal to see what was there—all to escape the stigma not of stupidity but of racism.

Barack Obama, elegant and professorially articulate, was an invitation to sophistication that America simply could not bring itself to turn down. If "hope and change" was an empty political slogan, it was also beautiful clothing that people could passionately describe without ever having seen.

Mr. Obama won the presidency by achieving a symbiotic bond with the American people: He would labor not to show himself, and Americans would labor not to see him. As providence would have it, this was a very effective symbiosis politically. And yet, without self-disclosure on the one hand or cross-examination on the other, Mr. Obama became arguably the least known man ever to step into the American presidency. [...]

There seems to have been very little individuation, no real argument with conventional wisdom, and no willingness to jeopardize popularity for principle. To the contrary, he has come forward in American politics by emptying himself of strong convictions, by rejecting principled stands as "ideological," and by promising to deliver us from the "tired" culture-war debates of the past. He aspires to be "post-ideological," "post-racial" and "post-partisan," which is to say that he defines himself by a series of "nots"—thus implying that being nothing is better than being something. He tries to make a politics out of emptiness itself.

The appeal of a Chauncey Gardener is that you think he's saying what you think. The difficulty arises when he doesn't do what you meant for him to do. The governance of President Obama is fatal to the politics (really anti-politics) of candidate Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


It's the people, stupid (NY Post, December 31, 2009)

That was quite a revealing -- and understandable -- public tantrum President Obama threw Tuesday.

Understandable, because the president has every right to be livid over the "potentially catastrophic breach of security" that nearly saw a terrorist bring down an airliner with 289 people aboard.

And revealing, because perhaps Obama has come to understand that he does not enjoy as much control over intelligence matters as he might have imagined.

Also, that the Islamist threat to America won't be countered with mere words.

We suspect that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush -- who also was frustrated by intel shortcomings -- feels sympathy with Obama's frustration. [...]

t's time to refocus America's security efforts when it comes to deadly terrorists on board US aircraft.

Full-body searches and scans, restrictions on hand-held luggage and intensive questioning of passengers all help.

But the Christmas Day incident, which was thwarted only because of alert and courageous passengers, revealed still-gaping holes in airline security.

As the Reason Foundation's Robert Poole puts it on the opposite page, US airline security is "fixated on keeping bad things -- as opposed to bad people -- off of airplanes."

This must change.

And that won't be easy.

It means broadening the "do not fly" list to include many more -- if not all -- of the 550,000 people currently in US databases as possible terrorist suspects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


France rejects carbon tax in blow to Sarkozy (Peter Allen, 31 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

An historic attempt to introduce a carbon tax strongly backed by President Nicolas Sarkozy was rejected by the French constitutional court on Wednesday.

The flagship scheme was meant to place Mr Sarkozy at the head of the worldwide green revolution, making it a pioneer in the fight against climate change.

But the council ruled that there were too many exemptions for polluters in the tax plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


How California Went From Top of the Class to the Bottom (Bill Watkins 12/31/2009, New Geography)

It seems that California has forgotten the fundamentals of quality of life. Instead, the state has embraced a cynical philosophy of consumption and denial. The state’s affluent citizens celebrate their enjoyment of California’s pleasures while denying access to those less fortunate, denying not only the ticket, but the opportunity to earn the ticket. At best California offers elaborate social services in place of opportunity.

Today, too many Californians don’t rely on the local economy for their income. For them, quality of life has nothing to do with jobs, opportunity, or affordable homes. Many see the creation of new jobs as bad, something to be avoided. They see no virtue in opportunity. They have theirs, after all. It is their attitude that if someone else needs a job, let them go to Texas; if people are leaving California, so much the better.

They see someone else’s opportunity as a threat to them. Perhaps the upstarts will want a house, which might obstruct their view. They see economic growth as a zero sum game. Someone wins. Someone loses.

This type of thinking is unsustainable. Opportunity is not a zero sum game. It may be a cliché, but it is true, that if something is not growing it is dying. Many of the things that make California the place it is are not part of our natural endowment. The Yosemite Valley is part of the state’s natural endowment, but the Ahwahnee Hotel is not. Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, the wine countries, and California’s many other destinations were made possible and built because of economic growth. Will California add to this impressive list in the 21st century?

Not likely. Today, we are not even maintaining our infrastructure. Infrastructure investment’s share of California’s budget has declined for decades. In Pat Brown’s day California often spent over 20 percent of its budget on capital items. Today, that number is less than seven percent. It shows.

Pat Brown also knew that with California’s natural endowment, all he had to do was build the public infrastructure and welcome business, business will come. Too many today act as if they believe that business will come, even without the infrastructure or a welcoming business climate. Indeed, many Californians – particularly in the leadership in Sacramento – seem to think that business will come no matter how difficult or expensive the state makes doing business in California. This is just not true.

California needs to embrace opportunity and economic growth. It is necessary if California is to achieve its potential. It is necessary if California is to avoid a stagnant future characterized by a bi-modal population of consuming haves and an underclass with little hope or opportunity and few choices, except to leave.

Which States Are Best for Business? 2010 State Business Tax Climate Index (Tax Foundation, September 22, 2009)
South Dakota has the most "business-friendly" tax system, and New Jersey has the least, according to the Tax Foundation's 2010 State Business Tax Climate Index released today. The Index measures the competitiveness of the 50 states' tax systems and ranks them accordingly based on the taxes that matter most to businesses and business investment: corporate income, individual income, sales, property and unemployment insurance taxes.

The states are scored on these taxes, and the scores are weighted based on the relative importance or impact of the tax to a business. Keeping a state competitive in today's global marketplace can be difficult, but there is one factor lawmakers have direct control over: the quality of state tax systems. The Index measures how well a state's tax system encourages investment by maintaining a broad tax base and low rates.

"When policymakers are considering tax changes in their states, they should remember two rules: Taxes matter to business, and states do not enact tax changes - increases or cuts - in a vacuum," said Kail Padgitt, Ph.D., who authored Tax Foundation Background Paper No. 59, "2010 State Business Tax Climate Index." The Index represents the tax climate of each state as of July 1, 2009, the first day of the standard 2010 fiscal year, and is available online at

The top 10 states in the 2010 Index, from 1st to 10th, are South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Nevada, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Delaware, Washington and Utah. The bottom 10 states, from 41st to 50th, are Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio, California, New York and New Jersey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


City National repays half of TARP funds (E. Scott Reckard, December 31, 2009, LA Times)

When City National Corp. accepted a $400-million investment from the U.S. Treasury during last year's economic free fall, the regional bank said it was well capitalized and didn't really need the money.

And as the economy stabilized this year, the parent of City National Bank raised $550 million in additional capital by selling stock and bonds, with Chief Executive Russell Goldsmith expressing eagerness to repay the debt.

On Wednesday, regulators granted half of City National's wish, allowing it to repurchase $200 million of the preferred stock it had sold to the Treasury. The bank, the largest based in Los Angeles, said it expected to repay the remaining $200 million next year. [...]

With the repayment last week of $45 billion in TARP money by Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc., the Treasury Department said its total bank investments of $245 billion, initially projected to cost taxpayers $76 billion, were now expected to earn a profit after payments to the government of dividends and interest as well as repayments of principal.

One of the banks where our options aren't profitable yet, but will be, which is why the bank bailout will turn a profit (in addition to saving the global economy).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Sparking a Savings Revolution (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 12/31/09, NY Times)

[T]hese days, there’s evidence that one of the most effective tools to fight global poverty may be neither a fishing rod nor a gun, but a savings accounts. What we need is a savings revolution.

Right now, the world’s poor almost never have access to a bank account. Cash sits around and gets spent — and, frankly, often spent badly.

“We used to buy a three-liter bottle of Coke every day,” recalled Socorro Machado, a 49-year-old homemaker in a village here in northwestern Nicaragua. That was a bit less than a gallon, and the cost of $1.75 consumed a large share of the family’s budget.

Then Catholic Relief Services, an aid organization, arrived in the village with a new program to promote savings. It provided a wooden box with a padlock and organized savings groups of about 20 people who meet once or twice a month, typically bringing 50 cents or $1 to deposit in the box.

Some of the money is lent out to start a small business, but the greatest benefit of these programs seems to be that they provide a spur to save.

“Now we buy a bottle of Coke just once a week, and we put the money in savings,” Ms. Machado said. She saves about $5 a month in her own name and another $5 a month in her son’s name and has plans to buy a computer for him eventually.

A computer? Buy him into a mutual fund.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Tougher Races Prompt New Arkansas Ratings (John McArdle, 12/30/09, CQ-Roll Call)

The 2008 elections in Arkansas underscored the tough times Republicans faced that year in their national campaign for House seats. The state’s three Democratic House incumbents all represent conservative-leaning districts that favored Republican John McCain for president, but all ran without Republican opponents in their own races.

GOP strategists see hopes for a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections, though, and they are focusing strongly on Democratic incumbents in McCain districts such as Marion Berry in Arkansas’ 1st District and Vic Snyder in Arkansas’ 2nd. While both of these veteran lawmakers maintain advantages in their races, the stepped-up GOP efforts to challenge them have prompted CQ Politics to change its ratings on the races — to Leans Democratic (from Likely Democratic) in Snyder’s race and to Likely Democratic (from Safe Democratic) in Berry’s district.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Anxious Democrats divide over path forward (JONATHAN MARTIN | 12/30/09, Politico)

What lifted Democrats last year among their base, independents and those previously disengaged from politics, [longtime Democratic strategist and former top AFL-CIO official Steve Rosenthal] argued, were Obama’s promises: expanding health care, a new approach to energy, spending more on education and especially a promise to revive the economy that would help those of modest means.

“He gave a worried and anxious America hope and a plan that called for restoring America's middle class,” wrote Rosenthal.

Obama coalition voters still want “change,” according to Rosenthal, who writes that the way to boost Democratic fortunes is to deliver — not to follow the path of moderation that the party so often trod in the '90s.

“They don't want their elected officials to go back to the days of legislating ‘small things’ (school uniforms come to mind),” Rosenthal argued. “To win them back — to engage them at all in 2010 — Democrats need to pass real health care reform, then move aggressively on a jobs, jobs, jobs (it cannot be said enough) program with strong workers' rights.”

So, he continued, run on this agenda and “put Obama on the ballot in 2010” for the sort of minority and youth voters that turned out in droves for him last year.

You can win an election on emotions, but you can't sustain them. Ideas matter.

December 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Can There Be Hope After Copenhagen? (Javier Sethness, 30 December, 2009,

[I]t should be clear that the failure of the Copenhagen summit reflects a profound indifference among the powerful of the world toward suffering humanity—a form of coldness, an “inability to identify with others,” that, in Adorno’s view, was instrumental in allowing for the emergence of Auschwitz. Considering the clearly horrendous toll climate change stands to have on human life across the globe, the ease with which premier U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern dismissed the historical responsibility of industrial-capitalist societies for the climate predicament during the Copenhagen talks is in ways reminiscent of Adolf Eichmann’s claim, when facing prosecution for his crimes against European Jewry, that “[r]epentance is for little children”. The radical evil represented by climate change—the 300,000 people who in the present die each year due to the dangerous anthropogenic interference with the world’s atmosphere that has already taken place, as well of course as the various horrifying life-negations that global warming stands to visit upon the peoples of Earth—has it seems become banal, in the sense that constituted power finds little reason in the prospect of the mass suffering and death that results from climate change to recognize the present as an emergency necessitating radical action.

They can strll hope, they just won't get change out of the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crackdown is destined to fail (Martin Fletcher, 12/31/09, The Australian)

IRAN'S panicking regime is again seeking to suppress the Green Movement by decapitating it. [...]

The tactic will prove as futile now as it did before. It will fail because the opposition is a bottom-up movement run by its grassroots members, not Mr Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi.

"Ahmadinejad, (Ayatollah) Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards still don't get it," said one Iranian academic. "The Green Movement is a decentralised popular front run by local cells across the country. The main opposition figures do not control it. They are spiritual leaders, but do not provide direction."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Once Patients Pay, Health Costs Will Fall (IBD, 12/28/2009)

There are two reasons why per-person health care spending in the U.S. is far higher than even Switzerland at $4,417 a year, or Luxembourg at $4,162, which rank second and third in the world.

One, America has the best health care on the planet. The smartest doctors, the finest in diagnostic equipment, top-flight treatment and advanced drugs don't come cheap.

Two, our system encourages overuse. And, as any ninth-grade economics student will confirm, an increase in demand forces prices higher.

Americans would be more judicious in seeking health care — they would self-ration — if the right incentives were in place. An effective way to cut overuse and bring down costs would be to encourage through public policy the use of health savings accounts. If consumers used HSAs to pay the full amount for medical care at the point of service rather than letting employer-funded insurance or a government program pay the bills, the demand would fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Study Debunks Notion of 'Healthy Obese' Man: Heart risks may take years to show up, but they're there, study finds (Ed Edelson, 12/30/09, HealthDay)

No man who is fat is truly healthy over the long term, a new study finds.

"There appears to be no such thing as metabolically healthy obesity," said a statement by Dr. Johan Arnlov, an associate professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at Uppsala University, and lead author of a report published online Dec. 28 in the journal Circulation.

That assessment is based on a study that has followed almost 1,800 Swedish men, starting at age 50, for an unusually long time, 30 years, recording those who died or had a cardiovascular problem such as a heart attack or stroke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Consumers' optimism rising, survey shows: Confidence levels hit fresh highs while more employers say they'll be hiring in 2010. (Tiffany Hsu, December 30, 2009, LA Times)

Consumer confidence and expectations have risen, and more employers are planning to hire workers in 2010, according to studies released Tuesday, signaling increasing economic strength.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


No Change for Obama: LGBT activists launch a boycott of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. (Gemma Baltazar, 12/30/09, In These Times)

One year ago, many members of the LGBT community, their families and friends were overjoyed at Barack Obama’s election. Today members of that same community find their fervor has faded.

On November 9, AMERICAblog editors John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay launched a boycott of Obama and the Democratic Party. Those who sign their online petition take a pledge to withhold all donations to the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America until the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is passed, and both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are repealed—all actions that Obama promised to fulfill as president. During the 2008 primaries, AMERICAblog was an early supporter of Obama, raising nearly $50,000 for him as a candidate.

AMERICAblog outlines concrete examples of the president not being the “fierce advocate” for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans that he had promised to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


When you wish upon a unicorn (ed Park, 12/27/09, LA Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Foreign models flock to China, which embraces a Western vision of beauty (Keith B. Richburg, December 26, 2009, Washington Post)

Western models, it seems, are everywhere these days in the People's Republic of China: on department store display ads, in catalogues for clothing brands, on billboards, in commercials and on the runways at fashion shows. They are blue-eyed American and Canadian blondes like Vos, sultry Eastern European brunettes and hunky male bodybuilders with Los Angeles tans and six-pack abs selling products from jeans to underwear.

A walk through the Guiyou department store in central Beijing is instructive. On the third and fourth floors, where designer brands from Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are showcased, there's a display of a blonde modeling over-the-knee boots and red-and-black pumps for Hongke shoes. A pouty brunette advertises Baykal, a local brand of wool products. Even the mannequins have Western features.

It may seem incongruous that a country of 1.3 billion people -- roughly half of them female -- would have to import models. Or that designers and clothing brands would want to use blondes and redheads to market to a nation of black-haired consumers.

But the use of foreign models has been growing in China's fashion industry, as brands jostle to be known as "yangqi," or trendy -- literally "foreign-style" in Mandarin Chinese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Ayatollah Khamenei's jet put on standby (Radio Netherlands, 12/29/09)

Reports from Iran indicate that the Supreme National Security Council has ordered a complete check-up of the jet which is on standby to fly Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei and his family to Russia should the situation in Iran spiral out of control. The order, to the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guard Corps, was dated on Sunday, 27 December. A fax containing the order was sent to Dutch-based Shahrzad News.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Iranian protests need symbolic act from Obama: A White House meeting with dissident Shirin Ebadi would send a signal of US support for protesters. The Islamic regime fears the ideals that Ms. Ebadi champions – even to the point of arresting her innocent sister. (The Monitor's Editorial Board / December 29, 2009, CS Monitor)

Ms. Ebadi contends that the West has a bigger stake in helping create a democratic Iran than in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. A government in Tehran that is freely elected would have far less interest in threatening its neighbors.

Given the widening dissent in Iran, it may be time for President Obama to invite Ebadi to the White House for a high-profile visit. Such a public meeting would send a signal to Iranians that the United States stands for the same ideals that Ebadi has championed.

The UR just won't have had anything to do with that fact, As standoff with Iran continues, U.S. prepares targeted sanctions: Glenn Kessler, 12/30/09, Washington Post)
Now, in what may be a difficult balancing act, officials say the administration wants to carefully target sanctions to avoid alienating the Iranian public -- while keeping the door ajar to a resolution of the struggle over Iran's nuclear program. The aim of any sanctions is to force the Tehran government to the negotiating table, rather than to punish it for either its apparent push to develop a nuclear weapon or its treatment of its people. [...]

Throughout the year, Obama had reached out directly to the Iranian leadership, through video messages and two personal letters to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an effort to break through the antagonism and distrust that had built up since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy. When the protests over a disputed presidential election began in June, Obama's initial response was muted to keep the prospects for engagement open.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


On the fast track to the easyTrain future:: Engineering ingenuity is forging a new era of high-speed travel. Commercial nous can make it available to everyone (Andrew Adonis, 12/30/09, Times of London)

It’s a brave politician who predicts what 2010 holds in store, but I am confident that for Britain it will be the year of high-speed rail.

Over the past 30 years most of Europe and much of Asia have embraced high-speed rail as their modern 21st-century backbone transport infrastructure. Europe now has 3,600 miles of high-speed line in operation, with 2,000 more under construction. China will have 6,000 miles open by 2012, including all 800 miles of the new Beijing-Shanghai line.

Despite our proud railway heritage, Britain is a high-speed laggard. [...]

High-speed rail provides connections that are not only fast and convenient — city centre to city centre — but also high-capacity and more environmentally sustainable than either motorways or aviation for large numbers of passengers.

This aspiration is now on course to become reality. Today I receive a full report from High Speed Two (HS2), the company set up a year ago to advise the Government on the development of high-speed rail services between London and Scotland.

The report is among the most thorough transport infrastructure plans prepared in Britain. It presents a detailed route for the first stage of a North-South high-speed line from London to the West Midlands and options for extending high-speed services and lines to destinations farther north, including the North West, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Welcome to Orwell’s world (John Pilger, 30 December 2009, New Statesman)

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate, Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that "passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'."

Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania.

The UR has finally made it--he's really in W's league.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Terrorists' Secret Weapon: Intelligence experts have heard chatter for months about the explosive allegedly used by the underwear bomber. So why has the U.S. cut back on machines that detect it? ( Gerald Posner, 12/30/09, Daily Beast))

U.S. security officials had become increasingly worried in the months leading up to the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day about terrorists using the explosive agent concealed by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, several counterterrorism experts tell The Daily Beast. Internet chatter about PETN spiked over the summer, as monitored by U.S. intelligence services, the sources add.

Yet over the past 18 months, a Transportation Security Administration employee tells me, the U.S. has stopped using more than half of the Explosive Trace Portals that have capability of detecting PETN. These are dubbed “puffer” machines because they release several puffs of air to shake loose trace explosive particles as passengers walk through. The TSA employee, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity and does not agree with the reduced use of puffers, says that there are fewer than 40 machines deployed today, down from 94 in service (and more than 200 purchased).

Deployment of even more effective, and far more expensive, screening devices—full-body scanners—has been slowed by political wrangling, primarily over privacy concerns because the scans reveal passengers "naked" to the operators and anyone else passing by the machine's screen. One frustrating note: The U.S. had purchased and installed in 2008 full-body scanners for the Lagos airport, where Abdulmutallab began his journey. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has told reporters that Abdulmattallab was not subjected to a full-body scan either at Lagos or subsequently at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where Dutch have made the scanner’s use “voluntary.”

They should be voluntary, but required to board a plane.

December 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Revolt in Tehran: The Iranian regime’s violence against demonstrators is unconscionable (Times of London, 12/29/09)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Quds Day in September that all countries were “under the threat of the Zionists every day”. He is finding that the threat to the Iranian regime is closer to home. Popular protest has burgeoned in the past week, since the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the reformist cleric. Hundreds of thousands of protesters from the so-called Green Movement have taken to the streets. The regime has responded with violence.

The intensity of the demonstrations is unprecedented in the 30 years since the Iranian Revolution. It reflects unwillingness to accept the patently fraudulent election result that purported to return President Ahmadinejad to office last June. Protests are the prerogative of the people whose votes have been overridden, but the crackdown against them is not a purely domestic Iranian issue. Western governments should be speaking to the dissidents, over the heads of the mullahs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Papers released under 30 year rule reveal full force of Thatcher's fury (Alan Travis and Owen Bowcott, 12/30/09, The Guardian)

Again and again her furious handwritten notes in the margins of the files reveal her impatience at the cautious approach of Whitehall and some of the "wets" in her own cabinet. "This will not do" makes regular appearances, as does "too small" whenever public spending cuts are being discussed. She just as often responded with her blue felt-tip pen with the single word "no", heavily underlined.

Her early struggles to reduce an £8bn public spending borrowing requirement through spending cuts and increases in indirect taxes while cutting the basic rate of income tax to 30p are an object lesson for any incoming prime minister next year faced with a deficit of £176bn.

The files show that at her first meeting with the Soviet premier, Alexey Kosygin, the woman they had dubbed the "iron lady" lectured him on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of boat people risking their lives fleeing communist Vietnam after he suggested that they were all drug-takers or criminals. "The prime minister told Mr Kosygin that the refugees who were being picked up by British ships were … hardworking people, not drug addicts, and a high proportion of them were children."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


6 Obnoxious Innovations That Will Be in Your Car (Soon) (Dan Seitz Dec 29, 2009, Cracked)

#6. Car Ringtones [...]

How It'll Ruin Your Life:

The "warning sound," as it turns out, isn't going to stop with a fake "vroom." Oh, no, that would be far too limiting in a world where everybody has replaced their cell phone ring with T-Pain. People need to express themselves. So, you'll get cars like the DiMora Natalia, which has an MP3-enabled horn. Yes, the day has arrived when you can toot some Lady GaGa at the guy who just cut you off. [...]

Of course, this needlessly complicates the primary function of the horn: Warning people you're about to kill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Blue state govs. rip Senate health bill (ALEX ISENSTADT | 12/29/09, Politico)

After the Senate passed the bill in a Christmas Eve vote, Paterson said the expansion would leave New York $1 billion in the lurch. The state faces a $6.8 billion budget shortfall heading into the 2010 fiscal year.

“[I] am deeply troubled that the Senate version of the bill worsens what was already an inequitable situation for New York and I will continue to be an advocate on behalf of New Yorkers to ensure we are treated fairly by this critical federal legislation,” Paterson said in a statement.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Schwarzenegger wrote that the legislation would create a “crushing new burden” for a state with a whopping $20.7 billion budget deficit.

“When asked for my support, I was assured that federal legislation would not increase costs to California or include new unfunded mandates,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Unfortunately, under nearly every scenario we can predict, the federal health care reform legislation being debated would cost California’s General Fund an additional $3 billion to $4 billion annually.”

Democrats didn't need to buy off blue states, just blue dogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


U.S. concerned about new Japanese premier Hatoyama (John Pomfret, 12/29/09, Washington Post)

At the center of concern are Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan. Hatoyama had campaigned on promises he would be more assertive than previous Japanese leaders in dealings with the United States. He and his coalition partners opposed parts of a $26 billion agreement between the two nations to move the Marine base to a less-populated part of Okinawa and to transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The United States has seen the moves as central to a new Asian security policy to assure Japan's defense and to counter the rise of China. But Hatoyama and his allies saw the agreement as the United States dictating terms, and wanted the base removed.

Increasingly, U.S. officials view Hatoyama as a mercurial leader. In interviews, the officials said he has twice urged President Obama to trust him on the base issue and promised to resolve it before year's end -- once during a meeting between the two in Tokyo last month and another in a letter he wrote Obama after the White House had privately expressed concerns about the Japanese leader's intentions.

On Dec. 17, Hatoyama officially informed the Obama administration that he would not make a decision about the air base by the end of the year. He told Clinton the news in conversation at a dinner in Copenhagen at the conclusion of the United Nations climate-change summit.

After the dinner, Hatoyama told Japanese reporters that he had obtained Clinton's "full understanding" about Tokyo's need to delay. But that apparently was not the case. To make sure Japan understood that the U.S. position has not changed, Clinton called in the Japanese ambassador during last week's storm, apparently having some impact.

"This is a thing that rarely occurs, and I think we should take this [Clinton's action] into account," the ambassador told reporters as he left the State Department.

Hatoyama's moves have befuddled analysts in Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Standoff over US base closure sours US-Japan ties (ERIC TALMADGE, 12/29/09, Associated Press)

[T]he decision to replace the Futenma base with another on the outskirts of Nago, another Okinawan city, sparked intense protests.

The new base would likely require bulldozing beaches near an existing Marine facility, Camp Schwab.

"We are not going to let them destroy our ocean to build another military base," said Hiroshi Aratomi, the co-leader of a group that has held a daily sit-in for the past five years. "We will be glad to see Futenma go, but not at the price of simply substituting it with another base in our backyard."

The protests by Nago residents have effectively thwarted efforts to finally settle on a site and have the sympathy of Okinawans in general, who would prefer that no replacement facility be built on their island at all.

The United States insists the base must stay somewhere on Okinawa so that the Marine units remain cohesive.

Japan's new government is listening to the protesters, at least for the moment .

In large part, that reflects domestic politics. Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, has threatened to pull her party out of the ruling coalition if the base remains on Okinawa.

Her threat is seen as a major factor behind Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's reluctance to make a decision on the issue.

There's a lot of that going around....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Frank Sinatra in New York (WILL FRIEDWALD , 12/29/09, WSJ)

"Sinatra: New York" spans 35 years in the singer's career, beginning with a pair of curiosities that will delight serious Frankophiles: The first item is a three-song 1955 reunion with bandleader and trombonist Tommy Dorsey in which the singer is in great shape, particularly on a beautiful reading of "This Love of Mine" that presages his classic recording on "In the Wee Small Hours" taped two weeks later; here, his affection for his former employer and mentor is clear. The next selection is a 1963 semiprivate performance for employees of the United Nations in which Skitch Henderson is Sinatra's only accompanist. Saddled with Henderson—who had briefly subbed as pianist with Dorsey 20 years earlier but left because, as Henderson told me around 1991, "I couldn't swing a Mack truck, you know"—Sinatra finds it impossible to get a groove going on the fast numbers in the six-song recital.

The centerpiece of the new box is a pair of complete concerts from 1974, his first year back on the road after an 18-month retirement. Sinatra is in marvelous voice on both, but during the April Carnegie Hall show he gets lost in "Come Fly with Me" and "I Get a Kick Out of You," two arrangements he surely knew. The mystery of the Saturday, Oct. 12, 1974, show from Madison Square Garden is why this concert stayed in the can while the following night's show—a lesser performance—was televised as "The Main Event" TV special. ("The Main Event" album was cobbled together from five different concerts, and sounds it.) Sinatra is at his dynamic best throughout the Saturday night set. His attention to detail on "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" and "Send in the Clowns" makes these renditions substantially more moving than any other performances of those songs, and even "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which was an embarrassment to Sinatra fans at the time, sounds much better now than it did then.

Sinatra is also in good fighting trim in the 1980 Carnegie concert included on DVD; the early '80s were a particularly strong period for Sinatra. The singer delivers the best songs from his recently released album "Trilogy," including the amazing "Summer Me, Winter Me," an intimate epic that was in his concert book for only a short time.

The last CD includes excerpts from two shows in 1984 and 1990, and his chops were in better shape when he was pushing 75 than I remembered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Iran Accuses West of Fomenting Violent Protests (Asharq Alawsat, 29/12/2009)

Iran on Tuesday accused Western countries of fomenting deadly anti-government protests in the capital this week and said it was summoning Britain's ambassador to file a complaint.

The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mahmanparast added to growing tensions between Iran and the West, which is threatening to impose tough new sanctions over Iran's suspect nuclear program and has criticized the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in Tehran.

Sure, it may seem that the protestors are vindicating Western ideals, but they are Shi'a as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Don't Give Up On The U.S. (Joel Kotkin 12/29/2009, New Geography)

1. The U.S. is the only advanced country in the world with viable demographics. By 2030, all our major rivals, save India, will be declining, with ever-larger numbers of retirees and a shrinking labor force. By 2050 Germany, Japan and South Korea could approach having twice as many people over 65 per capita as the U.S. By then, the U.S. will have 400 million people, which may be more than the entire EU and three times the population of our former archrival Russia.

2. In terms of energy resources, the U.S., combined with Canada, is the second richest region in the world after the Middle East. The country possesses vast resources of natural gas, about 90 years' worth, as well as strong areas for wind power. Given America's past profligacy, the country could derive considerable savings with even modest conservation efforts. [...]

5. There is no large country that comes close to the U.S. as an entrepreneurial hotbed (Taiwan, Israel and Hong Kong come close but are far smaller). The recent Legatum Prosperity Index showed the U.S. remains by far the largest generator of new ideas and companies on the planet. [...]

Often overlooked as well is America's unique advantage as an inclusive multiracial society. Over the past decade America has produced two African-American Secretaries of State and one President. America remains unique in its ability to absorb different races, religions and cultures, an increasingly critical factor in maintaining global preeminence.

What Americans need most now is to develop polcies that build on our essential strengths.

...going forward we're rising nearly alone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Obama's Jimmy Carter Problem (Leslie H. Gelb, 12/29/09, Daily Beast)

If he doesn’t overhaul himself and his administration quickly, right-wing bizarros will control Congress in 2011 and he’ll be looking for another job in 2013. He’ll end up a one-termer like Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. Obama can’t afford to wait to make a mid-course correction a year from now. He’s got to make a quarter-course correction in the next months. He needs to prioritize and focus his energies on the economy, teach his opponents to fear him, and change some top personnel. Above all, he’s got to modify his own ways. He puts far too much store on being the smartest guy in the room and not enough on experience. He’d do well to remember that Jimmy Carter also rang all the IQ bells.

He can't move Right fast enough to save the congressional party, but he can follow the Clinton template and save himself, which, after all, is the only thing he cares about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Economy Poised for Surge, Says 'Most Accurate' Forecaster (Timothy R. Homan and Bob Willis, 12/29/09, Bloomberg)

The U.S. economy next year will turn in its best performance since 2004 as spending perks up and companies increase investment and hiring, says Dean Maki, the most-accurate forecaster in a Bloomberg News survey.

The world's largest economy will expand 3.5 percent in 2010, according to Maki, the chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York. The rebound in stocks and rising incomes will prompt Americans to do what they do best—consume, said Maki, a former economist at the Federal Reserve. Faced with dwindling inventories and growing demand, companies will soon become confident the expansion will be sustained, he said.

...for the UR and the new Congress to balance the budget again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


India gets younger as years go by: Once India's [ Images ] teeming numbers was thought to be a problem; today, its youth power has stood the problem on its head. Thanks to this, as 2009 passes into history, India for one is ready to ring out the old and bring in the new (Saisuresh Sivaswamy, 12/29/09, Rediff)

Today's India is vastly different from the one most of us grew up in. There is a new India that is rising, a young India that is yearning to join the international ranks of the brightest and best. And you can see this young India making its mark in every field, including those that were considered 'un-Indian' a couple of decades ago.

Who could have predicted, five years ago, that the Holy Grail of international cinema, namely the Oscar, would be won by Indians?!

Who could have guessed that India, long considered to lack the killer instinct on the field, would be crowned kings of Test cricket?!

There is a new India around us, younger than the one we have known, accompanied by youth's impetuosity and confidence, and unshackled by the baggage of the past. This is not merely a result of the statistical quirk that the bulk of India's population is under 40. Rather, it is a change in outlook where the diffident 'maybe' has been replaced by the assertive 'can-do.'

But there's a problem:

Like China--and unlike Japan and continental Europe--India's decline begins before it ever achieves fully developed status.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Dealing with unexpected problems the Obama way (CAROL E. LEE, 12/29/09, Politico)

There is a sense of déjà vu in the Obama administration’s response to the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. A by-now familiar pattern has been established for dealing with unexpected problems.

First, White House aides downplay the notion that something may have gone wrong on their part. While staying out of the spotlight, the president conveys his efforts to address the situation and his feelings about it through administration officials. After a few days, the White House concedes on the issue, and perhaps Obama even steps out to address it.

Every administration learns this lesson. This is the only one that pretends that the first day, when the UR doesn't react, represents a radical break with the past.

December 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Ed Balls has seen the light on marriage: The angels will be dancing over Ed Balls's Damascene conversion to the cause of holy matrimony (George Pitcher, 28 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

There is more joy in heaven, it must be acknowledged, over one lost sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people. So the angels will be dancing over Ed Balls's Damascene conversion to the cause of holy matrimony. After more than a decade of constructing the fiscal architecture to discriminate against married couples, Mr Balls has seen the light and come out in support of marriage.

Announcing a green paper next month, the Schools Secretary says he now wants to live a new life, bolstering "stable parental relationships" and "changing the direction and face of policy". That's intriguing, because he's changing the direction and face of the policies that his own Government, and very substantially he himself, has put in place. could conclude that the upper classes war on marriage is designed to keep the lower classes down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


U.S. Widens Terror War to Yemen, a Qaeda Bastion (ERIC SCHMITT and ROBERT F. WORTH, 12/28/09, NY Times)

In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen. [...]

American and Yemeni officials said that a pivotal point in the relationship was reached in late summer after separate secret visits to Yemen by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American regional commander, and John O. Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

President Saleh agreed to expanded overt and covert assistance in response to growing pressure from the United States and Yemen’s neighbors, notably Saudi Arabia, from which many Qaeda operatives had fled to Yemen, as well as a rising threat against the country’s political inner circle, the officials said.

“Yemen’s security problems won’t just stay in Yemen,” said Christopher Boucek, who studies Yemen as an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “They’re regional problems and they affect Western interests.”

Al Qaeda’s profile in Yemen rose sharply a year ago, when a former Guantánamo Bay detainee from Saudi Arabia, Said Ali al-Shihri, fled to Yemen to join Al Qaeda and appeared in a video posted online. Several other former Guantánamo detainees have also joined the group.

Yemen’s remote areas are notoriously lawless, but the country’s chaos has worsened in the past two years, as the government struggles with an armed rebellion in the northwest and a rising secessionist movement in the south. Yemen is running out of oil, and the government’s dwindling finances have affected its ability to strike at Al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, there have been increasing Yemeni ties to plots against the United States. A Muslim man charged in the June 1 killing of a soldier at a recruiting center in a mall in Little Rock, Ark., had traveled to Yemen, prompting a review by the F.B.I. of other domestic extremists who had visited the country.

A radical cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects, including Nidal Malik Hasan, the American Army major who faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November.

In the latest issue of Sada al-Malahim, the Internet magazine of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the group’s leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, praised the use of small bombs — not just big ones — to attack an enemy, in an eerie foreshadowing of Friday’s episode on the plane to Detroit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Man Cannot Know Himself Objectively (Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Father Pat's Pastoral Ponderings, Third Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2009)

Man, however, is not a detached disembodied intellect. He can know reality only as an actor within existence, where he is a participant.

For starts, he cannot discern reality objectively, for the simple reason that he is part of it.

And he cannot know himself objectively. The notion is self-contradictory

Nor can man ultimately reduce even nature to a known independent object, for the plain reason that the consciousness of the knower is the discerning part of nature. The human being is the place where nature becomes conscious of itself.

Nor can the human knower be at all objective with respect to society, because society provides him with the interpretive language with which he reflects on it. He has no reflective cognition without that language. It is the means by which he steps into societal history as its heir and transmitter.

Above all, man cannot know God objectively, because he knows God only within the communion of God's knowing him. The objectification of the divine is arguably the essence of idolatry.

In short, man has access to reality by existing as a participatory being within it. In other words, "man is not a self-contained spectator. He is an actor, playing a part in the drama of being and, through the brute fact of his existence, committed to play it without knowing what it is" (Eric Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, 39).

At the core of Anglospheric exceptionalism lies this rejection of Copernicanism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Hope Is Not Change: Patience is not a virtue—and good things don’t come to those who wait. (David Sirota, 12/28/09, The Progressive)

When you look honestly at what’s going on in our government right now, it’s not clear that “change” was anything more than a cynical campaign slogan on a colorful t-shirt.[...]

Forty years from now, America won’t remember the vote counts on specific bills (does anyone remember the vote count to pass Medicare?) and they won’t remember the name of the legislators or the senator or the governors in office. They will remember that we didn’t use this fleeting window of political opportunity.

...most will have forgotten this cipher of a president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Deaths and fury in Iran protests: Police kill 10 on Islamic holiday, opposition says (Robert F. Worth and Nazila Fathi, December 28, 2009, NY Times)

Iranian police opened fire on crowds of protesters yesterday, killing at least 10 people, witnesses and opposition websites said, and setting off a day of chaotic street battles that seemed poised to deepen the country’s civil unrest.

The nationwide protests during the holiday commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, Shi’ite Islam’s holiest martyr, were the bloodiest and among the largest since the uprisings that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election in June, witnesses said. Hundreds of people were reported wounded in cities across the country, and Tehran police said they had made 300 arrests.

The authorities’ decision to use deadly force on the Ashura holiday infuriated many Iranians, and some said the violence appeared to galvanize more traditional religious people who had not been part of the protests until then. Historically, Iranian rulers have honored Ashura’s prohibition of violence, even during wartime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


How to Get Western Intellectuals to Support Dictatorships and Totalitarian Ideas (Barry Rubin, 12/28/09, Rubin Reports)

In 1937, at the peak of the purge trials (when thousands of people were arrested, tortured into making false confessions, and shot), after the government-made famines (when hundreds of thousands of people died), and as literally millions were being sent to concentration camps, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was interviewed by Lion Feuchtwanger, a German anti-fascist but non-Communist author.

Stalin did the five things needed to fool a Western intellectual into supporting totalitarianism: he flattered Feuchtwanger; ensured his works were published and lavishly praised; professed devotion to social justice; attacked capitalism; and made sure he was well paid for his literary efforts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Innocence Undone, Frame by Frame (NEIL GENZLINGER, 11/28/09, NY Times)

[T]hese beloved old shows — “F Troop,” “The Munsters” and the rest — started showing up on DVD, making it possible to watch them in super slow motion, even frame by frame. And the boy, now grown, has begun to realize that many of his foundational memories were just tricks of the eye. So hurray that home DVD sales appear to be on their way to another decline in 2009. It’s imperative that these things disappear from the marketplace before any more old television series are digitized. Some shows were never intended for the DVD microscope.

My road to disillusionment started with the opening collage of my favorite show of that era, “F Troop,” an ABC sitcom about a fort full of goof-offs and goofballs on the Indian-plagued frontier just after the Civil War. The show, which ran from 1965 to 1967, had a great theme song like many series in that period. (“Where Indian fights are colorful sights and nobody takes a lickin’; where paleface and redskin both turn chicken.”) Among the images that flashed by as the song played was a sequence in which charging Indians shoot arrows, and then the show’s main characters, Sergeant O’Rourke (Forrest Tucker) and Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch), are seen on the parapet, an arrow whizzing into each man’s hat.

Now, I wasn’t much dumber than any other young kid. (For the record, the year before “F Troop” came on the air I won first prize in my elementary school science fair with an illuminating look inside a huge bees’ nest I’d found.) But I always thought, when I saw that opening “F Troop” montage: “Golly” — I think that word was still in use then — “those guys are letting arrows be shot right at their heads. Gutsy!”

Alas, the loathsome DVD tells a different story.

December 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM



Ronald Reagan is as relevant today as he was as President. This offers a new, refreshing look at one of America’s most loved and respected Presidents. Enjoy the wit, wisdom, and optimism of Ronald Reagan in the official Ronald Reagan app. Check it out and you will see. While he might not have envisioned an application as a way to reach out, he certainly would embrace the technology and this new ability to communicate with you. Created by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, this is the definitive app for Ronald Reagan and offers something for everyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Rich and privileged - the gilded life of would-be plane bomber (Peter Walker, Xan Rice and Richard Norton-Taylor, 12/27/09,

While the family comes from Katsina state in the Muslim-dominated north of Nigeria, where funding of hardline Islamist schools by Saudi Arabia and Iran has raised concerns of militancy among young people, Abdulmutallab first became noticeably religious while studying abroad at a very different institution.

He undertook his secondary education as a boarder at the British school in Lomé, Togo's capital, which is mostly staffed by teachers from the UK and attracts wealthy students from across west Africa. Set up in 1983, the school gives pupils a decidedly English-style curriculum, taught in air-conditioned classrooms set amid grassy grounds which also feature a swimming pool and tennis courts.

While pursuing his international baccalaureat, with impressive results, Abdulmutallab's preaching to his schoolmates earned him the nickname "Alfa" – a local name for Islamic scholars, according to Nigeria's This Day newspaper.

Michael Rimmer, who taught Abdulmutallab history, and escorted him and other pupils on a school trip to the UK, said the teenager had been a model student who was keen, polite and eager to learn. However, Rimmer recalled a classroom discussion on Afghanistan's then-Taliban leaders following the September 11 attacks in 2001. All the other students, Muslims included, expressed their abhorrence of the regime, he said.

"But [Abdulmutallab], actually, thought that they had it right and he thought their views were acceptable. I thought he was maybe just trying to play devil's advocate ... At the time I just thought, well, when people are young they can have silly views," he told BBC radio.

Rimmer said that on hearing about his former pupil's arrest he was angry both with him and "the nutters who put these silly ideas in his head".

He said: "He's got wonderful parents, he comes from a lovely family, he's got lots of friends, he had everything going for him. He's a fine-looking lad, very bright. I expected great things from him and he's thrown all this away. His parents will be absolutely devastated. He should have thought about this."

According to a series of reports, after attending UCL, which has confirmed that a student of the same name studied mechanical engineering between 2005 and 2008, Abdulmutallab moved on to Egypt and Dubai, from where he severed ties with a family that was becoming increasingly concerned by his views. He also reportedly told US investigators that he was trained by al-Qaida in Yemen before the alleged attack.

Nigeria's government said today that Abdulmutallab had been living outside the country "for a while" and only returned on Thursday, shortly before he left again on his way to Detroit.

This Day quoted unnamed members of Abdulmutallab's family as saying his father was so concerned at the young man's views that six months ago he reported his fears to both the US embassy in Abuja and Nigerian security agencies. Umaru Mutallab, who began his working career as an accountant with Fuller Jenks Beecroft and Co in London in the 1960s and also served as a minister in the Nigerian government for a time, said he was "really disturbed" to learn his son had been arrested and was talking to Nigerian officials about their investigations.

The newspaper spoke to another unnamed relative who said the family had become concerned in recent years that Abdulmutallab was involved with Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group also known as the Nigerian Taliban, which seeks to impose sharia law across the country. Hundreds of people were killed when security forces tried to crack down on the group in July this year.

"We know Farouk's extreme views and were always apprehensive of where it may lead him to," the relative said. "He has maintained his distance from us and we never bothered him much. He wanted to be left alone so we respect his wishes."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


The real missed opportunity in Obama’s first year (Clive Crook, December 27 2009, Financial Times)

Measured against what different groups of voters thought he had promised – everything they desired – the administration’s performance looks poor. Measured against what voters were entitled to expect, it looks much better. [...]

Independents have much the most reason to be disappointed. They see – and are right to – a broken political system. Congress is polarised to its roots. The country’s wide political centre is largely unrepresented on Capitol Hill. Committed Democrats and Republicans can hardly bear to be in the same room, let alone talk to each other. Mr Obama promised to strive for consensus. On issues such as energy policy, healthcare, education and immigration, there is no reason why moderates on both sides cannot make common cause. That is something many Americans long for. It was the great hope independents had of Mr Obama.

In his first year, he rarely even tried. He simply chose not to exercise this kind of leadership.

The reality is he was a junior senator without any executive experience (outside the Harvard Law Review) and not a single legislative accomplishment to his name. The lack of leadership is exactly what people were entitled to expect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? (Rouzbeh Parsi & Trita Parsi, 12/27/09, Daily Beast)

With the government growing increasingly desperate—and violent—the new clashes on the streets in Iran may very well prove to be the breaking point of the regime. If so, it shows that the Iranian theocracy ultimately fell on its own sword. It didn't come to an end due to the efforts of exiled opposition groups or the regime change schemes of Washington's neo-conservatives. Rather, the Iranian people are the main characters in this drama, using the very same symbols that brought the Islamic Republic into being to close this chapter in a century-old struggle for democracy.

Protests flared up again because of Ashura, the climax of a month of mourning in the Shiite religious calendar. It is a day of sadness for the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain, who was martyred in 680. And this year the commemoration coincided with the seventh day after the death of dissident Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, adding to the significance of the day. Ashura is also a reminder that the eternal value of justice must be defended regardless of the odds of success. This has provided the relentless Green movement with yet another opportunity to outmaneuver the Iranian government by co-opting its symbols and challenge its legitimacy through the language of religion.

This battle cry for justice in all its simplicity is where most political conflagrations start. don't make new ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Sarkozy goes cool on relationship with Obama (Ben Hall, December 27 2009, Financial Times)

“He has now shifted from a pro-Bush position to an anti-Obama position,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, international affairs spokesman for the opposition Socialists. “Neither France nor the western world have anything to gain from Barack Obama’s failure. It seems as if the president is betting on this failure, which isolates France in Europe.”

The French government has refused a US request to send more fighting troops to Afghanistan, while several other European allies are planning to do so.

Mr Sarkozy has expressed his frustration at the White House’s perceived equivocation over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the priority that Mr Obama attaches to the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Mr Sarkozy’s frustration boiled over in September in a remarkably barbed speech to the UN General Assembly.

“We are right to talk about the future but before the future there is the present, and the present is two major nuclear crises,” Mr Sarkozy said, alluding to Iran and North Korea. “We are living in a real world, not a virtual world,” he added, in a clear dig at Mr Obama’s disarmament ambitions.

In fairness to the UR, it's hardly fair to compare him to W, the best friend our allies have ever had. If Mr. Obama is just a Bush Sr. or a Clinton they should be pleased.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Defiant in Tehran: Antagonism toward clerical regime broadens (Ilan Berman, 12/27/09, Washington Times)

Critical assessments of Iran's "Green" movement have tended to downplay its chances of success. Skeptics have pointed to the lack of viable opposition leaders and the rising power of the regime's ideological army, the Revolutionary Guards, as signs that the current opposition's chances for success are slim to none.

But these criticisms miss a crucial point. Revolutions are not born overnight. It took the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the godfather of the Islamic Revolution, years to generate the political and ideological momentum necessary to sweep the shah from power in Tehran. A post-theocratic transition in Iran today could take just as long, or even longer.

Likewise, the lack of evident leadership among the Iranian opposition is deeply worrying - but not necessarily fatal. It is useful to recall that, at its start, Poland's powerful "Solidarity" movement lacked clear and cohesive leadership. Figures such as Lech Walesa emerged over time, bringing with them the ideological cohesion and political power that helped Poland ultimately shrug off the communist yoke. At least some recent instances of grass-roots revolution, such as the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan and "Cedar" uprising in Lebanon the same year, have followed similar evolutionary paths (albeit with very different results).

What is needed, in other words, is time - as well as the attention of the outside world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


US ready to seize Pak nuke installments: Qazi (the News, December 27, 2009)

Former Jamaat-e-Islami Amir Qazi Hussin Ahmed has alleged that the United States has made the arrangements for the seizure of country’s nuclear installments.

Speaking to media at a reception in Ghazi, Ahmed said the Americans have established their set-up in Kahota and Tarbela.

The just completed run of the British series Spooks (or MI-5 here) had a storyline where rogue elements in the CIA and Chinese intelligence had connived to provoke a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan. In addition to the typical anti-American tenor of the show it was downright bizarre that they posited both that the two sides would be evenly matched and that India would be on its own in such a war. Not only has India invested tremendous time and effort in forces capable of securing Pakistan's nukes, should the need ever arise, but they could count on assistance from the US and Israel, at a minimum--and India/Israel/America is an awfully maximal minimum.

US has special crack squad in place to secure Pak nukes at short notice (ANI, 5/15/09)

The United States has in place a detailed emergency plan to secure Pakistan’s mobile arsenal of nuclear warheads, in case the nukes are in danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.

According to the US intelligence sources, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the super-secret commando unit headquartered at Fort Bragg, has been given orders to remain prepared for action at short notice.

The JSOC, the US army’s chief terrorists hunting squad, is already present in the region and is operating along the western Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Darwin’s World of Pain and Wonder (Algis Valiunas, Fall 2009/Winter 2010, New Atlantis)

Darwin’s nature in Origin is mostly grimmer than Paley’s. “The universal struggle for life” pits creatures against each other and all life against the non-living elements. “Two canine animals in a time of dearth, may truly be said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent on the moisture.” Reading An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, revised 1803) by the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus helped Darwin find purchase for his argument. Malthus laid down an economic iron law: human population grows geometrically while food supplies and other resources increase only arithmetically; thus “prudential restraint,” which compels the poor to work even for low wages and discourages them from breeding, is the sole bulwark against social disaster. As the philosopher Michael Ruse puts it in his fascinating Darwin and Design, Darwin “turned Malthus’s reasoning on its head” in applying it to non-human life. Here is Darwin:

Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


This stimulus is a capital idea (Alexander Calvo, 12/28/09, The Australian)

Australia has an established tradition of cutting corporate tax rates. Most recently, then treasurer Peter Costello reduced the rate from 36 per cent to 30 per cent during 2000-02. In the late 1980s Paul Keating cut the rate from 49 per cent to 39 per cent as part of the dividend imputation reforms, and he continues to regard dividend imputation and the cuts to the corporate income tax rate as an important part of his reformist program.

These tax reforms did not occur in isolation.

The corporate tax cut momentum began in the US and Britain, where these cuts are widely regarded as the key drivers of the marked economic resurgence in those countries in that era.

So there is considerable domestic and international precedent for positive results from cutting corporate tax rates.

In terms of the revenue costs of cuts to the corporate tax rate, experience has shown that the increase in productive capacity of the private sector and the consequent revenue gains to the government mean that the medium-term loss to tax revenue is ameliorated significantly.

This is because businesses have more funds available from retained earnings, and a sufficiently large reduction in the corporate tax rate will make possible some prospective investment projects that presently are not viable on an after-tax basis. That is, at the margin, the reduced rate increases investment.

Even the short-term or direct costs to government revenue of cutting corporate income taxes are not as high as some argue because those extra profits not retained but paid out as dividends are then taxed in the hands of the shareholders, which is tax-revenue neutral because of the prevailing dividend imputation regime (where the individual marginal rate paid is above the corporate rate).

Where the extra profit is reinvested in the business, these funds increase investment and the associated economic activity that in turn directly generates additional tax revenue.

And where the extra retained capital is used to pay down debt, this also ameliorates the loss to tax revenue because of the lower interest payments that will be deducted from future corporate income.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Christianity ended the cold war peacefully (Adrian Pabst, 11/11/09,

Across the East, churches and religious organisations brought together workers, students and intellectuals. Under totalitarian rule, church services and religious festivals often provided the last bastion of freedom and resistance.

In Poland, the opposition frequently gathered during Catholic liturgies and celebrations. They were inspired by Pope John Paul II's rallying cry to all Christians in the Soviet bloc at Gniezo on 3 June 1979 – exactly 10 years and one day before Solidarnosc won semi-democratic elections that ended Communist rule in Warsaw.

Similarly, the famous Monday demonstrations (Montagsdemonstrationen) in the former GDR took place after prayers for peace at the Nikolai Church in Leipzig. Both dissidents and ordinary citizens enjoyed the crucial support of both Protestant and Catholic churches which, according to Markus Meckel, the GDR's foreign minister in 1990, were "the only free space for free communication and thinking".

Even in the Soviet Union, the Orthodox church – benefitting from Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika – constituted a core pole of resistance against the official state ideology of "scientific atheism". In 1988, the millennial anniversary of Russia's Christianisation saw an upsurge in popular celebrations of Christian traditions and the re-opening of ancient churches and monasteries. In turn, Patriarch Alexy II and the church were decisive in defeating the attempted putsch in August 1991 by KGB hardliners against Gorbachev.

Crucially, 1989 saw the triumph of civil society over totalitarian states. And behind civil society stood the churches and religious organisations which defended and promoted workers' associations, professional guilds, intermediary associations, educational establishments and communal welfare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 AM


Darwin’s disciples today: Political theorists of all hues claim that Darwin gives scientific credibility to their own theories. One of these is Peter Singer. (Carson Holloway, 28 December 2009, MercatorNet)

Why, we may wonder, have efforts to find political prescription in Darwinian biology so consistently foundered? I would suggest that the difficulty is inherent in the undertaking, and not merely the result of secondary errors in reasoning that future Darwinian political theorists might avoid. As John Dewey correctly observed, modern science, of which Darwinism is a part, emerged as a rejection of an older natural science concerned with the natural purposes or ends of things, and hence with what could be considered their natural flourishing. The founders of modern science thought this older quest had proven futile, and so they set out instead to acquire a humbler but more certain knowledge—knowledge of where things come from and what they are made of. Modern science has in fact achieved an impressive mastery in this realm, and its success has given it great social respectability.

It is understandable that we would be tempted to get the authority of modern science, including Darwinism, on the side of our preferred political positions. The attempt to do so, however, involves using scientific data to draw conclusions about matters—the just and the good—about which modern science expressly disclaims any pretensions to knowledge. Biological nature as empirically observed necessarily includes phenomena that we find good as well as phenomena that we think bad. Thus efforts to derive moral guidance from modern empirical science’s account of biological nature necessarily involve preferring, on non-scientific grounds, some aspects of nature to others. This results in the formulation of normative political theories, on both the left on the right, that claim a scientific status that they in fact only appear to possess. Such false appearances introduce not scientific enlightenment but philosophical and moral confusion into our public discourse, and so both liberals and conservatives would do better to resist the temptation to seek such “scientific” credibility for their policy recommendations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Russia's 'sphere' in Europe (Ronald D. Asmus, December 26, 2009, Washington Post)

Almost unnoticed in the U.S. media, Moscow last month proposed a new draft treaty on European security -- thus making good on President Dmitry Medvedev's call after the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008 for changes to the current system. In parallel, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought forward a second and more worrying document in the NATO-Russia Council. This is the latest in a series of Russian moves to alter how European security is run, to constrain NATO and, above all, to stop any further enlargement of the Western alliance.

Both documents suggest that we are on different planets when it comes to thinking about Europe's future. Rather than moving into the 21st century, a revisionist Russia seems determined to revert to a 19th-century policy of "spheres of influence." With the Obama administration understandably focused on the war in Afghanistan and the looming challenge of Iran, Moscow may hope that a West in need of Russian cooperation on these issues could be willing to acquiesce to Russian claims of such influence on its borders, allowing it to stop further encroachment of Western institutions.

It's unnoticed because they just don't matter to the future, having none themselves.

Drunken Nation: Russia’s Depopulation Bomb (Nicholas Eberstadt, Spring 2009, World Affairs Journal)

A comparison dramatizes what is happening in Russia. Between 1976 and 1991, the last sixteen years of Soviet power, the country recorded 36 million births. In the sixteen post-Communist years of 1992–2007, there were just 22.3 million, a drop in childbearing of nearly 40 percent from one era to the next. On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first sixteen years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 percent. The symmetry is striking: in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.

The Russian Federation is by no means the only country to have registered population decline during the past two decades. In fact, 11 of the 19 countries making up Western Europe reported some annual population declines during the Cold War era. On the whole, however, these population dips tended to be brief and slight in magnitude. (Italy’s “depopulation,” for example, was limited to just one year—1986—and entailed a decline of fewer than 4,000 persons.) Moreover, the population declines in these cases were primarily a consequence of migration trends: either emigration abroad in search of opportunity (Ireland, Portugal), or release of foreign “guest workers” during recessions or cyclical downturns in the domestic economy (most of the rest). Only in a few Western European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom) did negative natural increase ever feature as a contributing factor in a year-on-year population decline. In all but Germany, such bouts of negative natural increase proved to be temporary and relatively muffled.

So where, given these daunting facts, is the Russian Federation headed demographically in the years and decades ahead? Two of the world’s leading demographic institutions—the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Bureau of the Census—have tried to answer this question by a series of projections based upon what their analysts believe to be plausible assumptions about Russia’s future fertility, mortality, and migration patterns.

Both organizations’ projections trace a continuing downward course for the Russian Federation’s population over the generation ahead. As of mid-year 2005, Russia’s estimated population was around 143 million. UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million. The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million, respectively.

If these projections turn out to be relatively accurate—admittedly, a big “if” for any long-range demographic projection—the Russian Federation will have experienced over thirty years of continuous demographic decline by 2025, and the better part of four decades of depopulation by 2030. Russia’s population would then have dropped by about 20 million between 1990 and 2025, and Russia would have fallen from the world’s sixth to the twelfth most populous country. In relative terms, that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


On the happiness meter, Americans are doing well (Kevin Huffman, December 26, 2009, Washington Post)

[W]e are, as a country, remarkably happy.

Last week's AP-Gfk poll showed that 78 percent of Americans, when asked to "think about how things are going in your life in general," said they are very happy or somewhat happy. [...]

In the current issue of Science magazine, Andrew Oswald and Stephen Wu ranked states by the happiness of their residents, finding that people are happiest in Louisiana and least happy in New York. (D.C. slotted in at an underwhelming No. 37; Virginia at 27 and Maryland at 40.) [...]

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of two books on happiness, doesn't buy weather or other external factors, including money, as real drivers of happiness. In his interpretation, the state rankings reflect political viewpoints -- each of the bottom 10 states on the happy meter voted for Obama in 2008. Brooks also points to research showing that 44 percent of conservatives are "very happy," but only 25 percent of liberals describe themselves that way. He says half of the difference, statistically, is lifestyle -- mostly rates of marriage and religious worship -- and half is attitude.

Not coincidentally, the happiness number almost precisely matches the percent who self-identify as Christians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Senate Dems to W.H.: Drop cap-and-trade (LISA LERER, 12/27/09, Politico)

Bruised by the health care debate and worried about what 2010 will bring, moderate Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up now on any effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill next year.

“I am communicating that in every way I know how,” says Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of at least half a dozen Democrats who've told the White House or their own leaders that it's time to jettison the centerpiece of their party's plan to curb global warming.

The creation of an economy-wide market for greenhouse gas emissions is as the heart of the climate bill that cleared the House earlier this year. But with the health care fight still raging and the economy still hurting, moderate Democrats have little appetite for another sweeping initiative — especially another one likely to pass with little or no Republican support.

And people wonder why the Chicoms didn't take the UR seriously at Copenhagen?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Unnatural bedfellows fortify bilateral links: In a year of lemons, Barack Obama and Stephen Harper made lemonade (Mitch Potter, 12/27/09, Toronto Star)

They may not be natural bedfellows. However, Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper set a remarkably warm tone from the outset on Feb. 19, when the president arrived in Ottawa, making Canada his first stop in what would be a year of international overtures signalling a new era of collaborative American engagement. The lightning visit was nothing short of a love-in, replete with Obama leaping from his armoured limousine for a celebrated wander through Ottawa's ByWard Market.

Beneath the photo-ops, a more pragmatic message was delivered. Though Team Obama arrived with significant ties to prominent Canadian liberals (Obama's top adviser David Axelrod has done work for the Ontario Liberal Party; and Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff is tight with several Obama insiders by dint of his years at Harvard), the new American president signalled he was ready to work with the Canadian government that is, rather than the one that isn't and may never be.

"Put it this way: the Americans aren't waiting around for a change in our government," said former Canadian ambassador to Washington Allan Gotlieb.

"In that respect, it is solid and relatively free of rancour. I would rate the Harper-Obama relationship a seven out of 10. And I rarely give higher than an eight."

Gotlieb and others will be watching carefully as that relationship advances into more precarious territory. And not merely on the obvious issue of thickening borders, but also on the potentially dangerous daylight many see between the Canadian and American policies on climate change and Afghanistan.

"Canadian energy is taking a terrible beating as `dirty oil' from Alberta and we have yet to see what the U.S. will actually do in the aftermath of Copenhagen," said Gotlieb.

"In the broader sense, I think we are still waiting for evidence that the Obama White House has a strategic view of Canada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Record Year for Births in Iceland (Iceland Review, 12/27/09)

The recent drop in population can be traced to immigrants with foreign citizenship leaving the country. Nearly 3,100 such individuals have left but Icelanders have increased by about 936 at the same time.

This developement with Icelandic citizens is surprizing because 1,949 more individuals left the country than emigrated to the country. This means that the natural increase of the population, i.e. births exceeding deaths, is the major factor for the increase.

It is thus likely that 2009 will be a record year for births in the history of Iceland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


We may have to reexamine the time zone rule on the basis of what Ed Driscoll has found.

December 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Location of U.S. Christian Missionary In North Korea Unknown (AP, December 26, 2009)

An American Christian missionary slipped into isolated North Korea on Christmas Day, shouting that he brought God's love and carrying a letter urging leader Kim Jong Il to step down and free all political prisoners, an activist said Saturday.

Robert Park, 28, crossed a poorly guarded stretch of the frozen Tumen River that separates North Korea from China, according to a member of the Seoul-based group Pax Koreana, which promotes human rights in the North. Two other activists apparently watched and filmed the entry. [...]

The illegal entry could complicate Washington's efforts to coax North Korea back to negotiations aimed at its nuclear disarmament. Park's crossing also comes just months after the country freed two U.S. journalists, who were arrested along the Tumen and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for trespassing and "hostile acts." They were released to former President Bill Clinton on a visit to the isolated country in August. North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations.

Park, from Tucson, Arizona, carried a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il calling for major changes to his totalitarian regime, according to the activist from Pax Koreana.

"Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive," said the letter, according to a copy posted on the conservative group's Web site. "Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today."

North Korea holds some 154,000 political prisoners in six large camps across the country, according South Korean government estimates. The North has long been regarded as having one of the world's worst human rights records, but it denies the existence of prison camps.

The activist said that Park, who he described as not belonging to Pax Koreana, also carried a separate written appeal calling for Kim to immediately step down, noting starvation, torture and deaths in North Korean political prison camps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


U.S. Charges Suspect, Eyeing Link to Qaeda in Yeman (SCOTT SHANE, ERIC SCHMITT and ERIC LIPTON, 12/27/09, NY Times)

Mr. Abdulmutallab came to the attention of American officials at least “several weeks ago,” but the initial information was not specific enough to raise alarms that he could potentially carry out a terrorist attack, a senior Obama administration official said on Saturday.

The investigative file was opened after the father of the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, warned officials at the United States Embassy in Nigeria of his son’s increasingly extremist religious views, the official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Be careful of accounting identities (the Money Illusion, 12/11/09)

n the period around March and April 193o, there were a few “green shoots” in the economy. The stock market recovered a significant chunk of the huge losses in 1929. (I recall the Dow fell well below 200 during the famous crash, and got back up over 260 in April. The 1929 peak had been 381.) Then in May and June everything seemed to fall apart, and stocks crashed again. So what happened in May and June?

The headline news stories during those months were the progress of Smoot-Hawley through Congress. Each time it cleared a major legislative hurdle, the Dow fell sharply. This pattern was obvious to those following the markets, and was frequently commented upon. After it cleared Congress it went to Hoover. The President received a petition from over 1000 economists pleading with him to veto the bill. (A veto would not have been overridden.) Over the weekend Hoover decided to sign the bill, and on Monday the Dow suffered its biggest single day drop of the entire year.

Yes, the stock market isn’t the economy, and this incident certainly doesn’t prove anything about the impact of Smoot-Hawley on aggregate demand. But it will give us clues to the transmission mechanism. Before explaining why stocks fell, let’s look at one additional piece of evidence. Recall that standard theory says trade barriers are a supply shock. And we all know that supply shocks reduce output and raise prices. There is just one problem with the standard view; it doesn’t appear to be true. The various commodity and wholesale price indices fell sharply at the same time that the stock market was plunging in May and June. And commodities were a far larger part of the economy in the 1930s than they are today. So Smoot-Hawley was almost certainly deflationary.

When I saw the real world impact of Smoot-Hawley, I realized that there was something wrong with the standard Keynesian view of protectionism. Keynes wasn’t a protectionist, but he did argue that during a depression a country might benefit from tariffs that kept out cheap foreign goods. According to this view, Smoot-Hawley should have been inflationary. So what happened?

My answer relates to my earlier discussion of China’s weak yuan policy. Trade is not a zero sum game. Smoot-Hawley, along with likely foreign retaliation, had a negative impact on the world economy. It is very likely that the (unobservable) Wicksellian equilibrium interest rate fell all over the world as the result of these trade barriers. And I believe the fall in the stock market was a symptom of this decline. Keynes would have called it a decline in “confidence.” the first immigration quotas ever enacted in the United States, a sure sign of hysteria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


U.S. knew of terror suspect (EILEEN SULLIVAN, 12/26/09, Associated Press)

The official told The Associated Press that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, has been on a list that includes people with known or suspected contact or ties to a terrorist or terrorist organization. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list is maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. It includes about 550,000 names.

People on that list are not necessarily on the no-fly list. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Mutallab was not on the no-fly list.

King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said no federal air marshals were on the flights from Nigeria to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Detroit. Mutallab did not go through full-body image screening at either airport, the congressman said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Folk-rocker Vic Chesnutt dies in Ga. at 45 (AP, 12/26/09)

Chesnutt worked with such notable artists as R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe and guitarist Guy Picciotto of the punk band Fugazi.

Chesnutt said in a biography posted on his MySpace page that he came to "a whole new understanding of music" after the 1983 car crash.

He recently had toured with his Vic Chesnutt band, a "supergroup" of sorts featuring members of Canadian bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, as well as Picciotto.

Vic Chesnutt, R.I.P.: Gifted singer-songwriter dies (Simon Vozick-Levinson, 12/25/09, Entertainment Weekly)
The acclaimed singer-songwriter had been in a coma since earlier in the week. Some reports have said Chesnutt attempted suicide before the coma, but the cause of death has not been announced.

A statement on Constellation Records’ official site reads in full: “Surrounded by family and friends, Vic Chesnutt died in Athens Georgia this afternoon, Friday 25 December at 14:59. In the few short years that we knew him personally, Vic transformed our sense of what true character, grace and determination are all about. Our grief is inexpressible and Vic’s absence unfathomable. We will make more information available according to the wishes of Vic’s family and friends.”

It’s an unspeakably tragic end to Chesnutt’s story. Left in a wheelchair by a car accident at age 18, Chesnutt went on to build a devoted following with his folk-rock songs, many of which dealt eloquently with themes of pain and mortality. That following included many fellow artists: Fans including Madonna, R.E.M., and Smashing Pumpkins covered his work for Sweet Relief II, a 1996 compilation that raised funds for musicians’ health care.

-CONCERT ARCHIVES: Vic Chesnutt (Internet Archives)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Songs Of Survival And Reflection: 'At The Cut' (Fresh Air from WHYY, 12/01/09, NPR)
-CONCERT: Vic Chesnutt On Mountain Stage (Mountain Stage, June 29, 2009, NPR)
-CONCERT: Vic Chesnutt: Tiny Desk Concert (Robin Hilton, 6/05/08, All Songs Considered)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Old Pullman is rolling again (Beverly Fortune, 12/26/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

The interior of the vintage Pullman car looks as if it came straight from a 1940s film - heavily paneled walls, scarlet drapes swagged over the windows, and a dining table that easily seats 12.

Unlike a train parked on a movie back lot, this elegant car, owned by R.J. Corman Railroad Co., is fully operational.

One recent morning, the old train car, pulled by a bright-red locomotive, glided out of Corman's railyard in downtown Lexington with a party of employees aboard, laughing and chatting.

This was the maiden trip for the Pullman after its top-to-bottom renovation. Destination: Bagdad, Ky., 53 track miles away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


The Obama Way (ROSS DOUTHAT, 12/26/09, NY Times)

In hindsight, the most prescient sentence penned during the presidential campaign belongs to Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. “Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama,” he wrote in July 2008, “is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them.”

Both right and left have had trouble processing Obama’s institutionalism. Conservatives have exaggerated his liberal instincts into radicalism, ignoring the fact that a president who takes advice from Lawrence Summers and Robert Gates probably isn’t a closet Marxist-Leninist. The left has been frustrated, again and again, by the gulf between Obama’s professed principles and the compromises that he’s willing to accept, and some liberals have become convinced that he isn’t one of them at all.

They’re wrong. Absent political constraints, Obama would probably side with the liberal line on almost every issue. It’s just that he’s more acutely conscious of the limits of his powers and less willing to start fights that he might lose than many supporters would prefer.

If he'd ever run anything as large as the CIA or had as much experience as a vice-president, he'd be George H. W. Bush, who likewise believed in nothing and just wanted the line on his resume.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The God Gene: THE FAITH INSTINCT: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures By Nicholas Wad (JUDITH SHULEVITZ, 12/27/09, NY Times Book Review)

According to Wade, a New York Times science writer, religions are machines for manufacturing social solidarity. They bind us into groups. Long ago, codes requiring altruistic behavior, and the gods who enforced them, helped human society expand from families to bands of people who were not necessarily related. We didn’t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources.

Wade holds that natural selection can operate on groups, not just on individuals, a contentious position among evolutionary thinkers. He does not see religion as what Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin called a spandrel — a happy side effect of evolution (or, if you’re a dyspeptic atheist, an unhappy one). He does not agree with the cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer that religion is a byproduct of our overactive brains and their need to attribute meaning and intention to a random world. He doesn’t perceive religious ideas as memes — that is to say, the objects of a strictly cultural or mental process of evolution. He thinks we have a God gene.

So how did this God gene flourish? Wade’s counterintuitive answer repurposes an old social-scientific analysis of religion as a saga of biological survival. Rituals take time; sacrifices take money or its equivalent. Individuals willing to lavish time and money on a particular group signal their commitment to it, and a high level of commitment makes each coreligionist less loath to ignore short-term self-interest and to act for the benefit of the whole. What are gods for? They’re the enforcers. Supernatural beings scare away cheaters and freeloaders and cow everyone into loyal, unselfish, dutiful and, when appropriate, warlike behavior.

Wade walks us briskly through the history of religion to show how our innate piety has adapted to our changing needs.

Given the God gene, then Darwinism is the spandrel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Passengers help foil attack on Detroit-bound plane (JIM IRWIN, 12/26/09, AP)

"It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase," said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands. "First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke."

Smith said one passenger, sitting opposite the man, climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

Afterward, the suspect was taken to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Multiple law enforcement officials also said the man appeared badly burned on his legs, indicating the explosive was strapped there. The components were apparently mixed in-flight and included a powdery substance, multiple law enforcement and counterterrorism officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM

Café au lait puddings (SUSAN SAMPSON 12/26/09, TORONTO STAR)

2 cups whole milk

3 tbsp instant coffee granules

3 tbsp cornstarch

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar

Pinch salt

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Ground cinnamon to taste

In medium pan, whisk together milk, coffee, cornstarch, 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Bring to boil on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute. Scrape into medium metal bowl set in large bowl of ice. Cool, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Spoon into 6 espresso cups (each about 3 oz/90 mL). Chill, uncovered, 20 minutes. (If making in advance, cover and refrigerate. The longer the puddings sit, the looser they get.)

Before serving, use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to whip cream with vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in a medium bowl until firm peaks form. Spoon onto puddings. Dust tops lightly with cinnamon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Large Hadron Collider failure will leave science back in the 'wilderness' (Richard Alleyne, 26 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Former Harvard professor Shahriar Afshar said that failure to find the particle would bring current scientific theory tumbling down like a house of cards with nothing to replace it.

The controversial physicist, whose Afshar experiment has already found a loophole in quantum theory, said that unless the scienitific community starts contemplating a "plan B", failure could lead to "chaos and infighting".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Saying No to Obama: The U.S. president is popular, but world leaders are finding it easy to defy his wishes. (Shmuel Rosner, Dec. 26, 2009, Slate)

The president has made many mistakes. Some were seemingly harmless—like his failed last-minute attempt to bring the Olympics to Chicago. And some were far more worrisome, such as Obama's disastrous meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, in which the king "launched a tirade" about refusing to "show reciprocal gestures to Israel," as Obama had requested.

Still, these mistakes don't explain the shift back to the all too familiar Bush-years pattern of saying no to the American president. It isn't just that that no one has cut Obama any slack. World leaders seem to be taking pleasure in rebuffing him, disappointing him, even, in some cases, mocking him. French President Nicolas Sarkozy famously called Obama an "inexperienced, ill-prepared" leader.

Just wait until he greenlights the Israeli attack on Iran and see if he's still well-liked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Olduvai, Evolution, and Darwin: A conversation with philanthropist David H. Koch (Suzan Mazur, February 17, 2009, Archaeology)

It was an exquisitely warm, sunny February day and New York's groundhog had just bit the mayor, grabbing the headlines too. I made my way to the East Side, cutting through Barneys to the Madison Avenue offices of Koch Industries, Inc., the Kansas-based oil company. I had an appointment to talk about evolution with David H. Koch, a humanitarian with one of the world's great fortunes.

Not many people I've ever met have been to Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge--a place I had the thrill of visiting in 1980--where Mary Leakey found Zinjanthropus (later renamed Australopithecus), and along with her team, the Hominin footprints at nearby Laetoli. So I was particularly delighted when David Koch opened our conversation by telling me of his expedition there in 1986 and shared some of his favorite things, such as a swatch of fossilized raindrops from Laetoli, which he held in his hands as if those drops were Faberge. Of all the possessions Koch might consider precious, who would have thought they'd be fossilized raindrops? But David Koch is committed to the investigation of human origins. And his philanthropy is serious.

Next year, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins opens at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where evidence of 6 million years of human evolution will be part of an interactive display that includes the Laetoli footprints and a reconstruction of Lucy. Visitors will be able to pass through a time tunnel to view early humans "floating in and out of focus," touch models of ancient human fossils as well as watch their own faces morph into those of extinct species. The Smithsonian display follows the creation of the American Museum of Natural History's David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.

Richard Potts, director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, explained about the new exhibition, "David's commitment to science and the study of human evolution will enable the Smithsonian to bring the latest discoveries in this field to the broadest audiences. The exhibition, still in the planning stages, encourages the public to explore the lengthy process of change in human characteristics over time. It also presents one of the new research themes in this field--the dramatic changes in environment that set the stage for human evolution. Although the subject can be controversial, the unearthed discoveries that bear on the question of human origins are a source of deep interest and significance for everyone to contemplate."

David Koch is Executive Vice President of $110 billion Koch Industries (he owns 42%) and CEO of its subsidiary, Koch Chemical Technology Group. He is often described as Manhattan's wealthiest resident, and contributes to Lincoln Center, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the fertility clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, to name a few. He is also is the principal private funder of PBS's Nova series.

Koch's BS and MS degrees are from MIT in chemical engineering. At 6'5" he also found some perspective away from the lab--shooting hoops. His MIT basketball plaque is displayed on his office trophy wall along with other treasures, including a framed replica of Lucy's hand.

I asked him about Olduvai, human origins, changes in evolutionary thinking, and more. [...]

Suzan Mazur: You ran for U.S. vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, considered the most successful Libertarian presidential ticket ever, getting roughly a million votes. What role do you think politics should play in educating the public about evolution?

David Koch: That's an interesting question. I think politicians should really stay out of it and allow scientists to present the facts and discoveries. I hate to see it politicized.

It's like saying what role should politics play in, for instance, religion? I think it should be up to individuals to decide what they believe. So often politicians are totally uninformed about scientific facts.

Suzan Mazur: And what about the local school boards?

David Koch: There again, the school boards should not have rigorous control over that subject. I think science teachers should be allowed to teach it very openly, without restrictions on what they can say.

Suzan Mazur: As a man committed to the principles and practices of freedom, including scientific freedom, and as a scientist yourself with degrees from MIT in chemical engineering - is it your perspective that we are now witnessing a sea change in evolutionary thinking? That even as the global celebration begins for Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, the man who brought us the theory of evolution by natural selection 150 years ago--Darwinian selection, or survival of the fittest, is now being viewed by serious evolutionary scientists as not enough to explain our existence?

To quote from my interview several months ago with NASA astrobiologist Chris Mckay, who was featured in the recent Nova Mars documentary you helped underwrite: "Something had to precede Darwinian natural selection. The Darwinian paradigm breaks down in two obvious ways. First, and most clear, Darwinian selection cannot be responsible for the origin of life. Second, there is some thought that Darwinian selection cannot fully explain the rise of complexity at the molecular level." So the question is: Is it your perspective that we are now witnessing a sea change in evolutionary thinking?

David Koch: No. I don't think it's a sea change. The sea change occurred back when Darwin published his evolutionary theories, backed up by massive, overwhelming evidence. What's happened since is that there's been a rather steady progressive acceptance of the concepts of evolution in the general public. It's amazing to me that in America a large faction of the population still doesn't believe in it.

Suzan Mazur: But the point is that Darwin started with life. He addressed what happens once you have life. He didn't address the origin of life. That's what Chris McKay, the NASA astrobiologist is saying.

David Koch: Scientific knowledge of early life was not something that had been discovered when Darwin was alive. A huge amount of knowledge of how life might have begun has now been determined.

Suzan Mazur: Much of the media and scientific community appear to be stuck in the debate on evolution vs. creationism. A recent Gallup poll in America revealed that two-thirds of Republicans questioned rejected Darwin's theory and a majority of Democrats and political Independents accepted it. What is consistently ignored by pollsters and the media is the evolutionary mechanisms aside from Darwinian natural selection.

More sophisticated evolutionary thinkers are now saying natural selection is not the most important mechanism of evolutionary change. I'm talking about scientists who are funded by the National Science Foundation, not kooks.

What Darwin Got Wrong is a forthcoming book co-authored by Jerry Fodor, one of America's most celebrated philosophers, who argues that at the end of the story "it's not going to be the selectionist story". A Swedish cytogeneticist, Antonio Lima-De-Faria, who's been knighted by the king of Sweden for his scientific accomplishments, has noted that "there has never been a theory of evolution."

In fact, there is a parallel celebration this year of the 200th anniversary of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the scientist who was onto the idea of evolution before Darwin. New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman has said publicly he believes that "over the next couple of decades Lamarck's way of looking at things [the inheritance of acquired characteristics] will be more incorporated into mainstream biology."

Would you comment?

David Koch: Well I'm not an authority on all those details. I have a general working knowledge of evolution. I'm not competent to challenge some of the claims of those folks.

Suzan Mazur: This is a big debate, which the media is not covering. It's reached a crescendo and a lot of people are saying there's a sea change happening. Some of the evolutionary mechanisms being discussed, which relegate natural selection to a less important role, include self-organization--where cells organize themselves into more complex structures. The concept of morphogenetic fields, a developmental grid guiding development, is something Mount Holyoke paleontologist Mark McMenamin and Stuart Pivar have been investigating, identifying the famous Seilacher Namibian fossil that was part of Steve Gould's Scientific American article as a flattened morphogenetic torus, a metazoan creature.

David Koch: I'm not sure what the significance of that discovery is. It seems to me what's amazing is how much Darwin got right 150 years ago. It's staggering what he got right. He got enormously more right on evolution than what he got wrong.

Suzan Mazur: These people aren't questioning the concept of evolution. What they're saying is that there needs to be more, that we need to go beyond Darwin for answers. There's also something called saltational mechanisms which produce abrupt evolutionary change, that is--jumps--where one form rapidly replaces another. Niche construction where organisms invent their habitats rather than being selected.

David Koch: There's been a fine-tuning of Darwin's evolutionary theory, there's no question.

Suzan Mazur: Then there's epigenesis, where a chemical layer is laid down on top of the genes resulting from various stresses on the organism, and the resulting traits (including disease) can be passed on without changes to the DNA. A kind of neo-Lamarckian concept.

What I'm asking is, should the media, and in particular, PBS, focus on these better ideas of how evolution occurred and by enlightening the public, help stop the fighting about "old science"?

David Koch: As more and more knowledge is developed over time as to how evolution at the molecular level is driven, how it works--I think it's a very important responsibility of programs like Nova to continually update the public on the latest findings. I certainly agree with that.

Suzan Mazur: That's good to hear.

David Koch: If there's a difference of opinion between one scientist and another, or a third scientist and that debate can help clarify what's going on in the field of evolution--I think it's important to publish that and discuss it on those kinds of programs.

Suzan Mazur: As I mentioned earlier, next month in Rome the Vatican (Pontifical Gregorian University in collaboration with Notre Dame) will host an international conference open to the public called: "Biological Evolution Fact and Theories: A Critical Appraisal 150 Years After The Origin of Species".

One whole day out of three days will be devoted to a discussion of these evolutionary mechanisms with scientists, some of whom I've already noted, Stuart Kauffman, Lynn Margulis, Robert Ulanowicz, Scott Gilbert and others presenting papers. This comes on the heels of the Altenberg 16 scientists meeting last July outside Vienna to kick off what they now call the "Extended Synthesis" which updates the neo-Darwinian or Modern Synthesis which was last updated 70 years ago.

So far we have not seen these kinds of groundbreaking meetings taking place in America. Speakers at the annual AAAS meetings are organized by Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education, who told me at the Rockefeller Evolution conference in May that her organization does not recommend textbooks for schools if those texts include a discussion of self-organization because it is confused with intelligent design. In effect, NCSE is recommending old middlebrow science for kids. There's a cycle of submission at play here. [NCSE has responded to this article saying that Eugenie Scott has organized symposia, not speakers, at AAAS meetings, and "NCSE does not recommend specific textbooks at all, although we encourage textbook publishers to ensure that their treatment of evolution is extensive, pervasive, and up-to-date, and we oppose the use of textbooks that treat creationism as scientifically credible."]

Do you have any interest in supporting an evolution conference in America along the lines of what the Vatican or the Austrians have done? Also, do you have any interest in creating a foundation specifically for the investigation of these other mechanisms of evolution?

David Koch: It's like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I don't think there's much practical relevance to all this. Life started somehow.

Went from deep significance to irrelevance in a hurry, huh?

December 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Hundreds Of Natural-Selection Studies Could Be Wrong, Study Demonstrates (ScienceDaily, Mar. 31, 2009)

Scientists at Penn State and the National Institute of Genetics in Japan have demonstrated that several statistical methods commonly used by biologists to detect natural selection at the molecular level tend to produce incorrect results.

"Our finding means that hundreds of published studies on natural selection may have drawn incorrect conclusions," said Masatoshi Nei, Penn State Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and the team's leader. The team's results will be published in the Online Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week ending Friday 3 April 2009 and also in the journal's print edition at a later date.

Nei said that many scientists who examine human evolution have used faulty statistical methods in their studies and, as a result, their conclusions could be wrong. For example, in one published study the scientists used a statistical method to demonstrate pervasive natural selection during human evolution. "This group documented adaptive evolution in many genes expressed in the brain, thyroid, and placenta, which are assumed to be important for human evolution," said Masafumi Nozawa, a postdoctoral fellow at Penn State and one of the paper's authors. "But if the statistical method that they used is not reliable, then their results also might not be reliable," added Nei. "Of course, we would never say that natural selection is not happening, but we are saying that these statistical methods can lead scientists to make erroneous inferences," he said.

Pity the poor Darwinian Right, stuck defending the same sort of "science" they attack the global warmers for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Passenger Ignites Explosive on Delta Flight (Fox News, December 25, 2009)

A male passenger possibly linked to terrorist organization Al Qaeda ignited a powdery substance prior to landing on a Delta Airlines flight to Detroit Friday, Fox News confirmed. The man is believed to be Nigerian. [...]

The suspect, who ABC reported suffered second-degree burns, told federal investigators he was connected to Al Qaeda, though authorities are questioning the veracity of that statement, Fox News confirmed. A federal situational awareness bulletin noted that the explosive was acquired in Yemen with instructions as to when it should be used, ABC said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


9/11 suspects are meeting to lay out strategy for New York trial (Peter Finn, 12/25/09, Washington Post)

Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are meeting to plot legal strategy in advance of their transfer to New York and are learning as much as possible about criminal procedure in U.S. federal court, according to sources familiar with the detainees' deliberations.

While the five men wanted to plead guilty in a military commission earlier this year to hasten their executions, sources now say that the detainees favor participating in a full-scale federal trial to air their grievances and expose their treatment while held by the CIA at secret prisons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Afghanistan: What Could Work (Rory Stewart, 12/24/09, NY Review of Books)

There are, in reality, no inescapable connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. There are positive and negative effects of our Afghan operations on Pakistan, (positive, through increasing pressure on the Taliban; negative, through inflaming Islamist anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and driving "bad guys" over the border into Afghanistan). But the future of Pakistan will be determined predominantly by factors internal to Pakistan, such as the military, the feudal system, and the relationship between the institutions of Islam and the Pakistani state. Similarly, although al-Qaeda and the Taliban cooperate and share funding, they are still largely divided between a non-Afghan group focused on international terrorism and Afghan–Pakistani groups whose primary aim is to drive foreign troops from Afghanistan and spread Islamist rule in Pakistan. You could at least in theory defeat the Taliban without eliminating al-Qaeda, and the Taliban could return to power in Afghanistan without bringing back al-Qaeda.

The counterinsurgency strategy and surge in Iraq led to a drop in violence (against predictions), but the same will not happen in Afghanistan. The Iraq insurgency was the movement of a minority sectarian group, the Sunnis, whose supporters have been driven from most of the neighborhoods in the capital city and whose leaders were tribal figures with a long-standing relationship to the central government. The Shia-dominated Baghdad government was a powerful, credible force, from the majority ethnic and sectarian group, and was supported by mass political parties, with their own militias. The challenge for Petraeus and his predecessors in Iraq was to grasp this political opportunity; provide support, money, and status to the losing Sunni groups to separate them from al- Qaeda; and convince Nouri al-Maliki to disengage from some of the Shia militias and endorse the settlement. In Afghanistan, neither the Karzai government nor the Taliban have the history, the structure, or the incentives to foster such a deal.

Afghanistan contains a diffuse rural insurgency spread among a population of 30 million people, 80 percent of whom are scattered among 20,000 remote, often mountainous villages. It is different from Iraq, where the insurgency was largely centered around the flat urban areas surrounding Baghdad. Nor is it like the much smaller Malaya of the 1950s, where the British in their antiguerrilla operations were able to move villagers to walled and guarded camps. At least half of Afghanistan (a country almost the size of Texas) is now threatened by insurgency, and the COIN doctrine requires sufficient troops to secure and protect the population areas.

This is why the architects of the COIN doctrine are calling for a ratio of one "trained counterinsurgent" (a category that includes Afghans, if they have been given the necessary skills) for every fifty members of the population or a combined total that would amount in Afghanistan to 600,000 troops, if they intended to cover the country (though most theorists believe it is only necessary to cover half). The effective, legitimate Afghan government, on which the entire counterinsurgency strategy depends, shows little sign of emerging, in part because the international community lacks the skills, the knowledge, the legitimacy, or the patience to build a new nation. In short, COIN won't work on its own terms because of the lack of numbers and a credible Afghan partner and in absolute terms because of the difficulties of the country and its political structures.

But equally history does not doom the allies to absolute failure. The situation may not be that of Iraq in 2006 or Afghanistan in 1988, but neither is it Afghanistan in 1842, still less in 330 BC (even if we actually understood the victories of the Victorians or Alexander). Pakistan may not be a failed state and mullahs may not be a hand's breadth from its nukes; but Pakistan is facing serious instability and a moderate, constructive policy in Afghanistan could at least prevent Afghanistan from con- tributing further to its instability. The US and its NATO allies would be able to survive withdrawal from Afghanistan but it would be damaging to their reputations. While we cannot write a blank check to Afghans, we would like to prevent their country from falling into civil war, which would probably result in tens of thousands of deaths. It makes sense to stay, if we can maintain a realistic, affordable, and legitimate presence in Afghanistan and do some good.

It is difficult to find the appropriate language to express such insights. A moderate, light policy runs against a natural tendency to invest extravagantly in defending against even minor threats to our national security (the reverse of our systematic tendency to "lowball," i.e., to undercompensate for, or underprice, risk in our banking system or the environment). This partly reflects a general, ancient view of the "night watchman" state, involved not in internal regulation but in security. It is partly because terrorism seems a much more immediate and horrifying prospect than financial collapse, climate change, or threats to food security and is more directly linked to loss of life (even if the other issues ultimately may kill many more people). And our culture puts a very high value on life (though a higher value on the lives of our own citizens than on those of other nationals).

We would prefer, therefore, to believe that any war in which we engage is a vital threat to our very existence—in which case the odds of victory are irrelevant and any sacrifice is justified. And there must be a defined end. It would be difficult for a president to argue that we should sacrifice lives without winning in order to prevent something worse (although we build dams when we can't control the flow of water and employ a police force when we can't end crime).

We would be revolted by someone who tried to calculate how many lives the objectives in Afghanistan were worth (fifty? a thousand?). And these are all healthy intuitions: we would not want to be in a world where lives were treated simply as units, to which we assigned a definite and explicit expendable value in a grand cost-benefit analysis. But these intuitions still reinforce an all-or-nothing approach to foreign policy.

The simple process of naming our past and present strategies already generates and restricts our response. Thus by naming operations in Afghanistan a counterinsurgency, we may feel compelled to deploy one trained counterinsurgent for every fifty members of the population; by labeling our approach "an Afghanistan–Pakistan strategy," we imply that our actions in Afghanistan are vital to the security of Pakistan; by putting the Taliban in the category of those pursuing a global jihad, we conclude that we cannot negotiate with them; by naming Afghanistan a terrorist safe haven or a failed state, we conclude that failure (or even a light "footprint") is not an option.

Obama deftly avoided all these words and traps in his speech, perhaps because he has become aware of their extreme implications. There was no talk of victory. His aim was no longer to defeat but to contain the Taliban: to "deny it the ability to overthrow the government." He explicitly rejected a long "nation-building project." He talked not of eliminating but of keeping the pressure on al-Qaeda. He did not speak of a moral obligation to the Afghan people. He did not specify any necessary logical connections between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. He asserted that "there's no imminent threat of the [Afghan] government being overthrown." He emphasized that "we will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens." He did not draw parallels with the surge in Iraq. And most strikingly of all, whereas he had referred four times in March to insurgency, now he stated that "unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency."

Such moderate analysis disappointed those who wanted a call to arms. The West Point cadets in the audience yawned, stared at the floor, and clapped only halfheartedly. Bush's surge in Iraq was a troop increase of only 20 percent; Obama's contributions to Afghanistan since he took office will more than double US troop presence on the ground. Bush spoke at a time of overwhelming public opposition to the war and with one of the lowest popularity ratings ever recorded; but it was Bush, not Obama, who spoke about determination, commitment, victory, and doing whatever it takes. Obama sounded like those he criticized for wanting to "simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through."

But this moderate tone gains Obama the leverage that Bush lacked. As long as the US asserted that Afghanistan was an existential threat, the front line in the war on terror, and that, therefore, failure was not an option, the US had no leverage over Karzai. The worse Afghanistan behaved—the more drugs it grew and terrorists it fostered—the more money it received. If it sorted out its act, it risked being relegated to a minor charitable recipient like Tajikistan. A senior Afghan official warned me this year "to stop referring to us as a humanitarian crisis: we must be the number one terrorist threat in the world, because if we are not we won't get any money." By asserting convincingly that Afghanistan is not the be-all and end-all and that the US could always ultimately withdraw, Obama escapes this codependent trap and regains some leverage over the Afghan government. In his politer words:

It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

But perhaps even more importantly, defining a more moderate and limited strategy gives him leverage over his own generals. By refusing to endorse or use the language of counterinsurgency in the speech, he escapes their doctrinal logic. By no longer committing the US to defeating the Taliban or state-building, he dramatically reduces the objectives and the costs of the mission. By talking about costs, the fragility of public support, and other priorities, he reminds the generals why this surge must be the last. All of this serves to "cap" the troop increases at current levels and provide the justification for beginning to reduce numbers in 2011.

But the brilliance of its moderate arguments cannot overcome that statement about withdrawal. With seven words, "our troops will begin to come home," he loses leverage over the Taliban, as well as leverage he had gained over Karzai and the generals. It is a cautious, lawyerly statement, expressed again as "[we will] begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011." It sets no final exit date or numbers. But the Afghan students who were watching the speech with me ignored these nuances and saw it only as departure.

This may be fatal for Obama's ambition to "open the door" to the Taliban. The lighter, more political, and less but still robust militarized presence that his argument implies could facilitate a deal with the Taliban, if it appeared semi-permanent. As the President asserted, the Taliban are not that strong. They have nothing like the strength or appeal that they had in 1995. They cannot take the capital, let alone recapture the country. There is strong opposition to their presence, particularly in the center and the north of the country. Their only hope is to negotiate. But the Taliban need to acknowledge this. And the only way they will is if they believe that we are not going to allow the Kabul government to collapse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


American workforce has lowest mobility rate since WWII (Don Lee, December 25, 2009, LA Times)

One of the hallmarks of the American worker has been mobility -- the speed with which people like Holguin have moved to find opportunities. But the recession of the last two years has produced a profound change, creating conditions that have tethered many people where they are.

Since 2007, the nation's mobility rate has fallen to its lowest level since World War II, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. His findings are consistent with the Census Bureau's report this week that population growth has slowed sharply in Sun Belt states, while the outflow of residents from California, New York and breadbasket states such as Nebraska and North Dakota has eased.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Damascus Hamas against, Gaza Hamas for swap deal (JTA, 12/25/09)

Hamas leaders in Damascus are against Israel's latest offer in a prisoner swap deal, but the organization's Gaza members want to accept, an Arabic newspaper reported.

Damascus is W's unfinished business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


The making of the modern state: a review of 1688: The First Modern Revolution
by Steve Pincus (Matthew Price, 12/24/09, The National)

Yet this apparently uneventful transfer of power concealed profound alterations in the relationship between the English crown and its subjects, and set into motion the formation of a new kind of modern state, whose characteristics – vigorous promotion of economic development, broad religious tolerance, and free competition among political interests – still define liberal democracies today.

In his magisterial new book (for once, this overused adjective is warranted), the historian Steve Pincus takes aim at the traditional narrative of the Glorious Revolution, and sets out to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it was more than worthy of the name: a revolution that was contentious, sometimes violent and even bloody, that pitted two radical factions against one another and transformed England.

1688: The First Modern Revolution is one of the most ambitious works of history to appear in recent years – a radical reinterpretation of events that intends not merely to update and improve prior accounts but to vanquish them conclusively. The book is a marvel of scholarship: Pincus’s footnotes bristle with references to a vast range of archival material alongside the latest research in European economic, religious and political history. His focus – too much so at times – is on how history is written, as much as on the events in question, and the result reads at times more like a dense work of political sociology than a narrative history in the mould of Macaulay. But Pincus, evidently obsessed with our need to rethink the events of 1688, has fired an invigorating shot into the otherwise docile realm of Stuart history. Though he too often abandons the subtlety of argument for the force of harangue, his deep learning, and his fearless questioning of received wisdom, more than redeem the book’s flaws.

Pincus demonstrates that by the second half of the century, England was already a land in flux: commerce was booming, foreign trade was on the rise; the English were moving to cities, where coffeehouses buzzed with the latest intelligence from abroad. The country was modernising at a rapid clip, and the revolution, as Pincus describes it, was in essence a battle – a fierce one – over the terms of that modernisation. James II, who in the accounts of Macaulay and many other historians appears as nothing more than a mad Catholic tyrant, was in fact a forward-looking ruler with his own vision for England’s future, one drawn from the absolutist rule of his cousin, France’s Louis XIV. James, Pincus writes, “did everything he could to create a modern, rational, centralised Catholic state” – and he was ruthless in its implementation, cracking down on dissent and spying on his enemies, in effect creating “a very modern surveillance state”.

When James first took the throne in 1685, he had the widespread support of the English people. What eventually roused his enemies, Pincus argues, was not simple anti-Catholicism, but opposition to his aspirations for a “universal monarchy” along absolutist lines. The origins of the Glorious Revolution, in Pincus’s account, lay in a broader European debate over the meaning of liberty. “The struggle that did so much to define the thinking of the revolutionaries in 1688-89,” he writes, “was a struggle to protect European and English national liberties against an aspiring universal monarch, not a war of religion.” Rather than a provincial tussle over monarchy and religion in England, this was a conflict with a secular and international dimension, a revolution whose central plank was liberty for mankind, not merely for the English.

December 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


Sherman’s gift to President Lincoln: a review of GENERAL SHERMAN’S CHRISTMAS: Savannah, 1864 By Stanley Weintraub (Michael Kenney, December 25, 2009, Boston Globe)

“General Sherman’s Christmas: Savannah, 1864’’ recounts the tale of Sherman’s March to the Sea, weaving in poignant anecdotes of Southerners, black and white, who found themselves in the army’s path.

It is the latest of Stanley Weintraub’s military-at-Christmas accounts, which include “Silent Night: The Story of the 1914 Christmas Truce,’’ “General Washington’s Christmas Farewell,’’ and “11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944.’’ [...]

The Union Army reached the outskirts of Savannah on Dec. 10, preparing for a bitter siege.

The expected siege never occurred as the city’s Confederate defenders had retreated under cover of darkness, and Union patrols entered the city on Dec. 21. That afternoon, the city’s mayor surrendered the city. Sherman, clearly feeling proud of his army’s accomplishment, sent a telegram to President Lincoln: “I beg to present you as a Christmas-gift the city of Savannah.’’ It arrived at the White House on Christmas Eve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room (Mark Lynas, 12/22/09,

Here's what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.

What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world's most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his "superiors".

Mr. Obama may lack pride, but he represents America and ought not behave like a vassal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Obama's pick for man of the year: George W. Bush (Chris Stirewalt, December 24, 2009, Washington Examiner)

In his year-end interviews with friendly news outlets like The Washington Post and National Public Radio, President Obama had a curious choice for his biggest accomplishment of the year: the bailout of the financial sector.

It seems odd that a president whose mantra is change, change, change would pick a program initiated by his predecessor.

Winning the Iraq War and killing OBL at Tora Bora should at least get honorable mention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


The End of the Age of War World May be Entering a New Age of Peace (John Horgan, 12/07/09, NEWSWEEK)

Recent studies reveal a clear downward trend. In 2008, 25,600 combatants and civilians were killed as a direct result of armed conflicts, according to the University of Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden. Two thirds of these deaths took place in just three trouble spots: Sri Lanka (8,400), Afghanistan (4,600), and Iraq (4,000).

Uppsala's figures exclude deaths from "one-sided conflict," in which combatants deliberately kill unarmed civilians, and "indirect" deaths from war-related disease and famine, but even when these casualties are included, annual war-related deaths from 2004 to 2007 are still low by historical standards. Acts of terrorism, like the 9/11 attacks or the 2004 bombing of Spanish trains, account for less than 1 percent of fatalities. In contrast, car accidents kill more than 1 million people a year.

The contrast between our century and the previous one is striking. In the second half of the 20th century, war killed as many as 40 million people, both directly and indirectly, or 800,000 people a year, according to Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland. He estimates that 190 million people, or 3.8 million a year, died as a result of wars and state--sponsored genocides during the cataclysmic first half of the century. Considered as a percentage of population, the body count of the 20th century is comparable to that of blood-soaked earlier cultures, such as the Aztecs, the Romans, and the Greeks.

By far the most warlike societies are those that preceded civilization. War killed as many as 25 percent of all pre-state people, a rate 10 times higher than that of the 20th century, estimates anthropologist Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois.

New? This all began when Ronald Reagan ended History in the 80s. The war against the last ism (Islamicism) is a pretty minor coda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


The Democrats' Authoritarian Health "Reform" Bill and the Ascendency of Corporatism in the Democratic Party (Miles Mogulescu, December 23, 2009, Huffington Post)

Democrats and liberals once stood for providing a social safety net through government programs like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance, which were administered by government employees for the benefit of the American people and not by private companies for the benefit of their shareholders and executives who receive multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses. For over 60 years, they stood for the principal that health care should be a right and not a privilege and that Medicare should be extended to all Americans.

Democrats in Congress, under the leadership of Barack Obama, have now turned that principal on its head and made health care neither a right, nor a privilege, but an obligation for individual citizens and a government-mandated profit center for private corporations. For the first time in American history, Democrats are about to pass a bill that uses the coercive power of the federal government to force every American -- simply by virtue of being an American -- to purchase the products of a private company. At heart, the Democrats' solution to 48 million uninsured is to force the them to buy inadequate private insurance -- with potentially high deductibles and co-pays and no price controls -- or be fined by the federal government.

In effect, this represents an historic defeat for the type of liberalism represented by the New Deal and the Great Society and the ascendancy of a new type of corporatist liberalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


This is how we got our country back (Jonathan Kay, 12/24/09, National Post)

"My country seems to be slipping away in front of my very eyes," former NDP campaign director Gerald Caplan wrote in a December 4 op-ed for a Toronto-area newspaper. "Our proud identity, our cherished core values ... are being turned upside down. Gun control advocates are out, gun apologists are in. Preventing war is out, killing scumbags is in. Demonstrations for peace are out, demonstrations of a martial spirit are in. Thoughtful, restrained Canadianism is out, hand-on-heart Yankee-style patriotism is in."

I'll confess to experiencing a brief spasm of schadenfreude upon reading these words. Eleven years ago, when I joined the National Post editorial board, we also used to spend a lot of time whining about our country "slipping away."

The Liberals had been in power for five years, and seemed set to govern for another 50. Anti-Americanism was a "cherished core value" in the government caucus. The military was rusting out. At the UN, we voted aye to the annual parade of bigoted anti-Israel resolutions. Through the Court Challenges Program, Ottawa bribed litigious activists to lecture the rest of us about how racist and homophobic we were. Duck hunters were treated as public enemies, multiculturalism took precedence over assimilation, and any mention of God was taboo.

That's the place Gerald Caplan says is "slipping away." He's right. Good riddance.

Not to take anything away from our cousins to the North, in general, and Stephen Harper, in particular, but the fact is that the states that led the opposition to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and John Howard all proceeded to elect leaders just like them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


History is Still Over: How capitalism survived the crisis (Francis Fukuyama, 12/07/09, NEWSWEEK)

Today, around the end of Barack Obama's first year in office, both the danger and the opportunity seem to have evaporated. What is striking is how little about the pre-crisis world has changed. Deft handling of economic policy by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department under both Bush and Obama prevented the crisis from degenerating into a 1930s-style meltdown. (Even the decision to allow Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt, attacked by many, probably helped prepare the ground for the broader finance-sector rescue to come.) Although unemployment remains intolerably high, signs of recovery abound, and confidence is returning both to consumers and businesses. Globally, the recovery has been even faster, with China, South Korea, Brazil, and others enjoying an amazing rebound in exports.

But hold the applause. Even the good news isn't all good. In an odd way, the recovery may have come too soon—since it's meant that the crisis never got bad enough to force the kind of lasting solutions the United States, and the world, badly needed.

Turns out, a glitch is only a crisis if bad policy makes it one. Fortunately, W and his Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, were at the helm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Ha! Someone owes Uncle Stephen an apology!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


The Most Neo-Con Movie Ever Made: Avatar's deeply conservative, pro-American message. (Ann Marlowe, 12.23.09, Forbes)

James Cameron's new sci-fi film Avatar is exhilarating fun in the darkest days at the end of a depressing year, but it also says quite a lot, in an inchoate, American way, about the cultural moment. You should see it especially if you are "right of center" or conservative. Forget the sneering reviews--this is the most neo-con movie of 2009, or perhaps ever, because it illustrates, rather than argues, the point we neo-cons made in Iraq: that American blood is not worth more than the blood of others, and that others' freedom is not worth less than American freedom.

How universal are the values we Americans cherish? Avatar says they are completely universal--extending to another planet called Pandora. What is the responsibility of an American and how far does it reach? Avatar says, again, across the universe. Are we all brothers and sisters under the skin? Avatar answers yes, in the most concrete way, when protagonist Jake Sully decides to enter his Na'vi body permanently and stay on Pandora rather than returning to Earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


...we're raiding the BroJudd archives today to post favorite Christmas stories, essays, sermons, songs, etc. If you've a personal favorite that we've missed please do share.

And do have a terrific Christmas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


'Race to Top' Driving Policy Action Across States (Erik W. Robelen, 12/24/09, Education Week)

Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee earlier this month called on his legislature to hold a special session in January to consider a package of education measures, including a requirement that student-achievement data be used in teacher evaluations, and a proposal he said would strengthen provisions allowing the state to intervene in chronically low-performing schools.

“The whole Race to the Top just provided a focal point for a whole range of things that might have been difficult to do in other times,” Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, said of the discretionary grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The money is intended to encourage states’ efforts to improve education.

In an interview, the governor said the program funded by the 2009 economic-stimulus law offers a unique chance to gain political traction for important policy changes.

“When the planets line up is when you jump for it,” Gov. Bredesen said.

Other states are also taking steps with an eye toward the Race to the Top grants. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, is calling for action in 2010 to allow charter schools to operate in his state for the first time. In Maine, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci is proposing a new set of measures, including allowing student-achievement data to be used in evaluating educators, and letting districts create “innovative” schools that would have substantial autonomy.

Some states have already made policy changes likely to strengthen their applications. Earlier this year, for instance, Illinois and Tennessee raised their charter school caps, Louisiana eliminated its ceiling altogether, and Delaware allowed a moratorium on new charters to lapse. (“State Picture on Charter Caps Still Mixed,” Aug. 12, 2009.)

In October, the California legislature, at the urging of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, eliminated a so-called data firewall seen as prohibiting the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers—a barrier that would have put the state out of the running for the Race to the Top. Legislators were still wrestling with other proposed changes this month.

And in Michigan, lawmakers passed an ambitious school package earlier this month that would establish new state interventions in low-performing schools, help expand the charter sector, and raise the age at which students may drop out of school without parental permission, among other provisions. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, has said she will sign the legislation.

“This puts us in a great position for Race to the Top,” said state Rep. Tim Melton, a Democrat who is a key architect of the Michigan plan.

Nothin' wrong with bribing states to help black kids get educated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


...the Norad Santa Tracker

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Ahmadinejad: Obama is a disappointment to the world (JPOST.COM, 12/24/09)

Ahmadinejad mocked Obama's words in his Cairo speech in which he said he was extending his hand to Iran.

"Which hand did he extend? His right hand or left hand?" Ahmadinejad asked wryly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


A culture war cease-fire (E.J. Dionne Jr., December 24, 2009, Washington Post)

It is 2009's quiet story -- quiet because it's about what didn't happen, which can be as important as what did.

In this highly partisan year, we did not see a sharpening of the battles over religion and culture.

Yes, we continued to fight over gay marriage, and arguments about abortion were a feature of the health-care debate. But what's more striking is that other issues -- notably economics and the role of government -- trumped culture and religion in the public square. The culture wars went into recession along with the economy.

George W. Bush so altered the political landscape that Democrats can lose in referenda and legislative votes for gay marriage and help pass the most restrictive abortion bill ever and even Mr. Dionne finds their surrenders insignificant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Disappointment over Copenhagen summit "justified", says Obama (Deutsche Welle, 12/24/09)

US President Barack Obama has said observers of this month’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen were right to feel let down by the outcome of the gathering, supporting widespread views the summit was a failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


....if I warned three bratty kids that there's still time to smear lamb's blood on the front door and have Santa pass us over?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


A Christmas Miracle in the Senate, and a Hair-Raising New Year for the House (John Heilemann, 12/24/09, New York Magazine)

To get a sense of the degree of difficulty facing the speaker, begin by considering the narrowness of the vote by which the House passed its version of the bill in November: 220–215. Then realize that, on January 3, Florida Democratic congressman Bob Wexler will resign — and that Louisiana Republican Joseph Cao, the one GOP member who voted for the House bill, has reportedly said he won’t be the deciding vote in favor of final passage. That means the effective baseline Pelosi is working with is 218–216. She truly has no margin for error.

Then consider three widely circulated letters from Democratic House members to Pelosi in the past few months: One in which 60 representatives stated they would not support a health-care bill (like the Senate’s) with no public option; one in which 41 pledged to vote against any bill “that contains language that restricts women’s right to choose any further than current law” (as the House bill did with the inclusion of the Stupak amendment and the Senate’s arguably does with its softer Ben Nelson–approved language); and one in which 188 stated their opposition to taxing high-cost employer-provided “Cadillac” health-care packages (as the Senate bill does).

“There’s lots of overlap [between the signatories], to be sure,” a liberal congressman tells me via e-mail. “But the point is that there are several dozen members who signed three letters saying they were ‘no’ if caddy plan or Stupak were in [the bill] or the P.O. was out.”

The problem for Pelosi is that the progressive members of her caucus long expected the House-Senate conference to be a place where the bill would be nudged back toward the left. But now, the consensus among swing senators — including Nelson, Joe Lieberman, and Kent Conrad — is that any significant movement in that direction would unravel the series of deals and compromises that Reid needed to employ to get to 60.

Given the district she represents, Ms Pelosi ought to understand the idea of being led around on a leash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Charter Schools: Education's Fox in the Henhouse? (Burt Saxon, 12/23/09, Education Week)

Successful urban charter schools are showing that high demand, high support education works for all students—not just Jewish and Asian and upper-class kids, but all kids who commit to academic success. Some of these schools’ achievement gains are very impressive.

So why am I, a retired public school teacher of 34 years, cautious and suspicious? [...]

Is the ultimate goal privatization?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Vital $igns wrong in fuzzy Dem math: CBO (CHARLES HURT, December 24, 2009, NY Post)

The bill includes some $500 billion in projected savings for Medicare, leading sponsors to say it will make a huge cut in the deficit.

But in the small print of the more than 2,000-page bill, Democrats turn around and essentially spend that savings twice, according to the CBO letter.

Democrats overstate "the improvement in the government's fiscal position" based on Medicare cuts, wrote the CBO.

"The true increase in the ability to pay for future Medicare benefits or other programs would be a good deal smaller."

Gregg said: "We've heard a lot of talk from the other side of the aisle about how Medicare's not being cut and if it is being cut, it's just being used to help finance a new entitlement and therefore it should be counted as part of the basic effort to bring fiscal responsibility to this bill.

"Well, that's hokum."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Microsoft Word deleted (United Press International, 12/23/09)

Microsoft lost its appeal Tuesday against a lower court ruling that it had infringed the patent of small Canadian software company i4i, proving that the fight is not always to the strong.

A three-judge federal appellate panel ordered the software giant to stop sales of its popular Word word processing program in its current form on Jan. 11 and to pay i4i $290 million.

"In this case, a small company was practicing its patent, only to suffer a loss of market share, brand recognition, and customer goodwill as the result of the defendant's infringing acts," the ruling said.

In case you ever wondered why Bill Gates stepped down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Imam Linked to Ft. Hood Rampage Believed Among 30 Al Qaeda Killed in Airstrike (Fox News, 12/24/09)

The radical Muslim imam linked to the rampage at Fort Hood is believed to have been killed in a Yemen airstrike that may have also taken out the region's top Al Qaeda leader and 30 other militants, a security official told Reuters on Thursday.

The raid in Yemen's east targeted an Al Qaeda leadership meeting held to organize terror attacks. It is believed to have killed Anwar al-Awlaki and at least two senior members in the organization, including the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Copenhagen's Delay Fires Coal (LIAM DENNING, 12/23/09, WSJ)

Rob LaCount, a senior director at IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, reckons that as the window of opportunity for passing comprehensive legislation closes, a more piece-meal approach becomes likely.

The big losers from this continued uncertainty are companies with large, unregulated nuclear power portfolios, such as Exelon and Entergy. Nuclear plants, with their zero carbon emissions, represent an option on carbon. If carbon were to become embedded in the electricity price, as coal and natural gas-fired generators factored it into their costs, the benefit would flow to the nuclear generators' bottom lines. The more that day is deferred, the less tangible those extra cash-flows are.

Conversely, unregulated power producers burning coal benefit from this stay of execution. Not all benefit equally, however, with much depending on the regional market in which they operate. In the absence of a cost of carbon, coal-fired generators selling into wholesale markets where natural gas-fired plants set the marginal price of electricity tend to earn good profit margins per megawatt-hour of electricity produced.

Carbon pricing would savage such margins—that's the idea, after all. In its absence, it might be time to reappraise Allegheny Energy, the worst-performing member of the S&P Utilities index this year. As Morgan Stanley points out, its unregulated generation portfolio is mainly coal-fired, operating where gas-fired competitors set electricity prices. At 11 times 2009 earnings versus a sector average of 13.4 times, Allegheny appears priced for change that Copenhagen did not deliver.

What else should we expect from an administration where the VP is a coalminer's son?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Consumer pessimism ebbs as prices drop: An index from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan is 21% higher than it was in December 2008. People cite widespread holiday sales and a better jobs outlook for their improved optimism. (Tiffany Hsu, December 24, 2009, LA Times)

Consumers say they are feeling much less pessimistic in December than they were in November, thanks to widespread holiday sales and a more hopeful outlook on jobs and the economy, according to a study released Wednesday.

Consumer sentiment is at its highest point since September, settling at 72.5 on an index from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. The index was up nearly 8% from its 67.4 mark in November, and up nearly 21% from 60.1 in December 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Economic Reality Drives Agenda (DAVID WESSEL, 12/24/09, WSJ))

Politics is the art of making the impossible inevitable.

Higher taxes on gasoline or another tax on carbon or energy use seem politically impossible today, as well as undesirable in an economy struggling to gain momentum.

But two unrelenting forces are likely to push gasoline or carbon taxes onto the public stage in the next year or two, provided the economy regains its health: the swelling U.S. government budget deficit and global resolve to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

Take the deficit first. Over the past year, U.S. government debt has risen from 41% of the nation's output of goods and services, the gross domestic product, to 53%. Without big changes in taxes or spending, it'll rise to 85% of GDP by 2018, 100% by 2022 and 200% by 2038, the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform estimated recently in a report the band of deficit fighters dubbed, "Red Ink Rising." That trend is unsustainable. Among other things, it would mean an ever larger share of the federal budget going to pay interest, much of it to foreigners. (The panel recommends stabilizing debt at 60% by 2018. That would take spending cuts or tax increases that sum to about $300 billion in that year.)

History suggests elected politicians eventually will do something politically painful to prevent the U.S. government from becoming the world's largest subprime borrower, either because they decide to care about the next generation or because a financial crisis -- a dollar plunge, perhaps -- forces action. [...]

The bulk of economists embrace higher energy taxes. Many politicians privately see their advantages, but see so much public hostility that they won't praise them audibly. "In a democracy," Mr. Mankiw once mused, "economic policy is set not by economists but by the general public." And that's as it should be. But economic reality has a way of forcing the public and elected politicians to do things they once thought they would never do. that, politically, you can pretend that deficits are a moral issue and use that as a lever for good policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


As the World Turns: Obama's foreign policy approach could hardly be called radical, but it has noticeably improved America's global position all within the short span of a year. (Matthew Yglesias, December 24, 2009, American Prospect)

The basic story of the contemporary United States involves the slightly awkward combination of unmatched power and inevitable relative decline. Our economy can't grow as fast as India's or China's or Brazil's, and there's no equivalent to the EU integration process that could enhance our power and expand our reach. The only real uncertainty about relative decline concerns the extent to which those powers will be joined by other potential regional powerhouses like Nigeria, Iran, South Africa, and Indonesia, if they ever get their acts together in terms of sustained economic growth.

But even though the waning of American hegemony can be clearly seen on the horizon, the fundamental reality is that it's a long way off. China's economy is basically only Japan-sized, and the country faces massive challenges starting with the fact that the majority of the population is still impoverished peasant farmers. India is even worse off. Japan is in demographic decline. Europe isn't an actual country and can't really make foreign-policy decisions.

In other words, our power is slipping away, but only very slowly.

In other words, our power is growing, as Europe, Japan, China, India, etc. face inevitable decline (territorial, demographic, and economic). And to base US foreign policy on the bizarre notion that those places remain or will become our peers is simply mistaken. We need to be managing their decline, not ours. Not to mention that the only integration process that matters globally is that of the United States with the rest of the Anglosphere.

U.S. Birthrates Highest Ever; Teen Pregnancies Up (Kristina Fiore, 12/21/09, MedPage Today)

The number of births in the U.S. increased yet again in 2007, topping 4.3 million -- a 1% jump over the previous year, researchers reported.

Birthrates increased among all age groups -- notably teenagers, who have seen a rise in pregnancies for the second year in a row, according to Melonie Heron, PhD, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, and colleagues.

The researchers published their annual report on birth statistics in the January 2010 issue of Pediatrics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


From Blog Stuff

May God bless each and every one of you and may 2010 be the best year yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


Marbled Peppermint Bark (Charity Ferreira, Brittles, Barks & Bonbons)

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1 cup finely crushed candy cane pieces (use miniature candy canes for ease in crushing)

1. Line a jellyroll pan with wax paper. Melt bittersweet chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of hot water, stirring frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

2. In another bowl, melt white chocolate as above.

3. Stir ¾ cup of candy cane pieces into the dark chocolate. Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread out with a spatula to about ¼-inch thick. Drizzle white chocolate evenly over dark; use a knife to gently swirl dark and white chocolates together, leaving plenty of distinct streaks. Sprinkle remaining crushed candy canes evenly over top.

4. Refrigerate bark until completely firm, about 2 hours. Break or cut into chunks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 day, or in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Mom's Peanut Brittle (Natalie Haughton, 12/10/2008, Contra Costa Times)

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1½ cups sugar

2 cups salted peanuts

1 tablespoon butter

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1½ teaspoons vanilla

1. In a large, heavy skillet, combine water, corn syrup and sugar. Boil 8 minutes. Add peanuts and cook over high heat about 5 minutes or until mixture starts to brown lightly around edges, stirring constantly.

2. Remove from heat; add butter, baking soda and vanilla all at once (have the three items measured ahead and ready to add), stirring to mix.

3. Pour out on a large buttered baking sheet. Cool and then break into pieces. Store in covered tin.

[originally posted: 12/11/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 AM


Lutefisk from Minnesota bringing flavor of holidays to troops in Afghanistan (Associated Press. December 24, 2004)

Each year, Mike Field ships anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of lutefisk from his small shop here to customers all over the United States.

But his latest order crosses a new horizon.

One lutefisk-loving soldier has ordered 25 pounds of the pungent lye-soaked fish to be shipped to Afghanistan as a ``treat'' for the servicemen and women stationed there.

``This is a first for this little outfit,'' said Field, owner of Mike's Fish and Seafood Inc.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 AM


The sublime joy of Scrabble: Created by an under-employed architect in the Great Depression, it's the perfect pastime for straitened times – and it's 60 tomorrow. (Andy McSmith, 15 December 2008, Independent)

Happy birthday, Scrabble! No, make that Joyous Birthday, because although "happy" is one of those deceptively high scoring words, what with H and Y being worth 4, and P 3, making 15 in all, "joyous" has that initial J, worth 8, which lifts it to 16, one point higher.

It is 60 years ago tomorrow that Scrabble was registered as a trade mark by Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect from New York state, and his businessman friend James Brunot.

But age has not stopped the game from being on top of the list of the UK's favourite board games as Christmas approaches – and not just for families sitting around a board playing with plastic squares.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 AM


Born-Again President -- White House Hanukkah
(Dennis Prager, December 19, 2004, LA Times)

"Only in America."

That's what I kept repeating to myself last week when I celebrated Hanukkah at a White House party attended by President and Mrs. Bush.

Only in America does a president light a menorah while a Jewish choral group sings Hebrew songs and the Marine band plays American songs. Only in America do Jews feel so honored as Jews and yet so completely part of the larger culture, fully Jewish and fully part of the greater nationality. Non-American Jews (including even Canadians) are often amazed at how completely American Jews in the U.S. feel. We take it for granted, but as a former college lecturer in Jewish history, I know that this is unique.

It is an incredible blessing to be an American Jew (or "Jewish American" � both terms are accurate). We are doubly blessed. An Israeli interviewer once asked if I were first a Jew or an American, "I have two fathers," I said. "George Washington and the patriarch Abraham." So to be one of about 200 Jews invited to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House with the president of the United States was about as profound a personal moment as I have experienced. My two loves -- America and Judaism -- in one place, reinforcing each other.

I suspect that this feeling was shared by just about every Jew present, including bearded Orthodox rabbis heretofore not prone to affirming any non-Jewish national identity. As a yeshiva graduate, I never thought I would live to see identifying Jews, let alone Orthodox rabbis, so happy to be in a room with a menorah and a Christmas tree. Yet that signified a sea change taking place in American Jewish life � the realization that Christianity is no longer the enemy or the great Other but, for the first time in 2,000 years, a great ally.

And the most Christian nation the most reliable ally.

Meanwhile, in the secular world, Germany to stop accepting ex-Soviet Jews (Reuters, 12/19/04)

Germany is to stop offering unlimited immigration to Jews from Russia and eastern Europe from Jan. 1, 2006, ending a policy it launched with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, German newspapers reported on Saturday.

Germany began offering Jews from the former Soviet bloc the right to settle in the country in 1991 to help rebuild its own Jewish communities, devastated by the country's Nazi regime. Some 190,000 Jews had taken up the offer by the end of 2003.

But the fact the number of ex-Soviet Jews coming to Germany has in recent years been higher than the number going to Israel had led to a policy rethink, the newspapers said.

[originally posted: 2004-12-19]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 AM


Keeping the faith: In the San Luis Valley, roots, community strengthened in tradition of Las Posadas (Fernando Quinteron, December 24, 2005, Rocky Mountain News)

This was the third year Mireya Molina played Mary in Las Posadas, an annual procession re-enacting the futile search for shelter in Bethlehem, which takes place in nine villages in the San Luis Valley on the nine evenings before Christmas.

Her boyfriend, Manuel Orozco, played Joseph. The two are seniors at Centennial High School in nearby San Luis.

"It's OK," she said about her coveted role as Mary as two elderly men hoisted her up on an uncooperative donkey named Donkey. "I didn't think I'd be doing it again, but here I am. Mary."

Selena Sanchez was more enthusiastic about the role.

She played Mary two years ago.

"It's neat to ride on the donkey and have people following you around," said Sanchez, who, along with her mother, Brandee Gallegos, was among dozens of bundled-up parishioners of Holy Family Church who met around a bonfire outside the chapel to begin the procession.

"They're keeping an important tradition alive," said Gallegos of Las Posadas. "It brings our community together and celebrates our faith."

Faith runs deep and strong here, nourished by generations of cultural and religious tradition tracing back to the area's Hispanic roots and kept intact by the area's relative isolation.

Las Posadas at Christmastime is the highlight of the community's celebration of faith.

And Tom Tancredo can't figure out why the religious party doesn't hate them.

N.B.: Is anyone else reminded of the great novel, Red Sky at Morning?

(Originally posted: 12/24/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 AM


The politics of the Christmas story (James Carroll, December 21, 2004, Boston Globe)

THE SINGLE most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas. The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome. The nativity story is told to make the point that Rome is the enemy of God, and in Jesus, Rome's day is over.

Even by Mr. Carroll's low standards, that's just silly.

[originally posted: 2004-12-21]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


CHRISTMAS, 2008 (Fr. James. V. Schall, S.J. | December 25, 2008 | Ignatius Insight)

"Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on this birthday of life." -- St. Leo the Great, Pope, d. 461 A.D., Sermon on the Birthday of Christ, Christmas Office.

The antiphon for the Office of Readings for Christmas Day reads: "Christ is born for us: Come let us adore Him." This antiphon does not say "May Christ be born," let alone, "May He be born 'for us.'" It states rather an "is," a fact. Christ is born. Christ is born for us.

Why does it not say, "Christ "was" born for us?" We know He died on the Cross in Jerusalem thirty-some years after His birth. It is because the Christ who was born of Mary in the time of Caesar Augustus is not dead. He is risen. He was born to conquer death, which He did.

But here on the Feast of the Nativity, we celebrate the birth, the Nativity of Christ. To comprehend it all, we take one thing at a time. Pope St. Leo, speaking of the same event, the same fact, says that a "savior" is born to us. He is identified as "Christ the Lord."

Another antiphon reads: "A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God." It adds, "Alleluia," almost as if that is about the only thing we human beings could say once we realize what has happened once among us.

Yet another antiphon describes more of the scene: "Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were filled with wonder at all that was said of the child." They are filled with wonder both because of the Child and because of what was said of Him. If the two persons closest to the event were filled wonder, so are we. This wonder means that we are to understand what is going on. The Birth is also addressed to our minds. We are supposed to think about it.

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[originally posted: 12/25/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


American Santas plunged into civil war (Tom Leonard, 11/07/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Rival Santa Claus leaders have been engaged in a decidedly unfestive power struggle that has polarised the lucrative US grotto market and forced hundreds of Father Christmases to choose between warring rival groups.

The hostilities have spilled on to the internet, in this case Elf Net, an online chat group where Santas go to exchange information on belt supplies and beard dyeing.

Organisers of the annual convention in Kansas of the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas, fear it will be disrupted by splitters from rival groups such as the Fraternal Order and the Red Suit Society.

[originally posted: 7/14/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mistletoe has fascinating history besides kissing under it at Christmas time (GREG JOYCE, December 20, 2002, Canadian Press)
"Kissing under mistletoe is not only strictly a tradition of the Western world but it is strictly Anglo-Saxon," he says, adding that the practice only began around the middle of the 18th century.

That tradition doesn't extend to continental Europe, even though that's where most of the mistletoe grows.

It's the "European mistletoe" that has traditionally been associated in Anglo-Saxon countries with kissing.

On the continent, people make use of European mistletoe at Christmas or in the middle of winter but in a different way.

In Germany, where he once spent a year, mistletoe comes on the market well before Christmas and is still on sale in February.

"They use it as something green in middle of winter, and that indicates immortality."

[originally posted: 2002-12-24]

December 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


Star of wonder: A comet, an eclipse, a supernova, an alignment of planets - was the Star of Bethlehem, said to have led the wise men to the Baby Jesus, a real astronomical event? (Rebecca Ellis, 12/23/08, BBC)

Modern science is unravelling the mystery behind one of the most famous astronomical stories in history. New developments in technology allow astronomers to map the ancient night skies with extraordinary accuracy.

As they study the movements of the planets and stars, experts are challenging the traditional assumption that it was a blazing comet - instead there are several unusual astronomical events that the wise men could have seen in the skies.

The Bible tells us remarkably little about the star, with only the Gospel of St Matthew mentioning it. He records the wise men asking: "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him."

No date or detailed description is given. Even the identity of the men is obscure. Rather than the kings of popular imagination, the wise men are thought to have been priests from Persia, known as Magi. Keen astrologers who looked to the stars for guidance, the Magi combined science with faith to predict the birth of a new Messiah.

So what prompted them to travel to Bethlehem? Most experts agree Jesus was born in 4BC or earlier, as King Herod, who ruled over Judea at the time, is recorded as dying in 4BC. Now astronomers have identified four celestial events in this period that could have been the Star of Bethlehem.

[originally posted: 12/23/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Tim Pawlenty Gets No Respect: He doesn't have Sarah Palin's pizzazz or Mitt Romney's money. But the governor of Minnesota may be a shrewd Republican bet in 2012. (Howard Fineman, Dec 21, 2009, NEWSWEEK)

Do you think Palin is qualified to be president?

She is easily as qualified as Barack Obama. I would argue she's more qualified in terms of leadership, experience, management, and supervision—actually running something. She was a mayor, head of an energy commission, and governor.

[I]s a no-new-taxes pledge still possible in times of massive budget deficits?

Yes. We've showed it's possible in Minnesota, where we have balanced the budget every year without raising taxes despite the projected shortfalls.

How would you propose to balance the federal budget?

Rather than looking to raise taxes, we should pass an amendment to require a balanced budget with exceptions for war, natural disasters, and other emergencies. Congress should reduce discretionary spending, with exceptions for key programs such as the military, veterans, and public safety. [...]

Where are you personally?

Well, you know I'm an evangelical Christian. I believe that God created everything and that he is who he says he was. The Bible says that he created man and woman; it doesn't say that he created an amoeba and then they evolved into man and woman. But there are a lot of theologians who say that the ideas of evolution and creationism aren't necessarily inconsistent; that he could have "created" human beings over time.

I know you are opposed to gay marriage, but what about medical benefits for same-sex couples?

I have not supported that.

Why not?

My general view on all of this is that marriage is to be defined as being a union of a man and a woman. Marriage should be elevated in our society at a special level. I don't think all domestic relationships are the equivalent of traditional marriage. Early on we decided as a country and as a state that there was value in a man and a woman being married in terms of impact on children and the like, and we want to encourage that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


McCain, GOP secretly courting another Dem to switch (JONATHAN MARTIN & JOSH KRAUSHAAR & PATRICK O'CONNOR | 12/23/09, Politico)

Democratic Rep. Chris Carney received a phone call Wednesday from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asking him to consider becoming a Republican, a top GOP official told POLITICO.

A spokesman for Carney declined to say if the congressman was considering such a switch. [...]

A top House Republican aide, wanting to avoid revealing a poaching patrol, downplayed the effort.

“You’ve got to have a willing partner; you don’t just hunt these guys down,” said the Republican. “They have to nudge you first.”

But the aide acknowledged that they had gotten “a nibble” from Carney and were now making the pitch that he’d be better off switching parties than running again as a Democrat in a northeastern Pennsylvania seat that President Obama lost by 9 percentage points last year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


A Democrat's view from the House: Senate bill isn't health reform (Louise M. Slaughter, December 23, 2009, CNN)

Editor's note: Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a Democrat, represents the 28th Congressional District of New York. Slaughter is the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee and the only microbiologist in Congress.

The Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago.

Even though the House version is far from perfect, it at least represents a step toward our goal of giving 36 million Americans decent health coverage. [...]

Supporters of the weak Senate bill say "just pass it -- any bill is better than no bill."

I strongly disagree -- a conference report is unlikely to sufficiently bridge the gap between these two very different bills.

It's time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board. The American people deserve at least that.

At the very least.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Ex-President Carter offers apology to Jews (Greg Bluestein, 12/23/09, Associated Press)

Former President Jimmy Carter is offering the Jewish community an apology for any of his "words and deeds" that may have upset them.

He owes the whole species an apology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Wells Fargo Completes TARP Repayment (JOHN KELL, 12/23/09, WSJ)

Wells Fargo & Co. said it completed its repayment of $25 billion in aid received from the government at the height of the global financial crisis. [...]

As part of the redemption of the preferred stock, Wells Fargo also paid accrued dividends of $131.9 million, bringing the total dividend payments paid to the U.S. to $1.44 billion since the preferred stock was issued in October 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


Businesses Brace for Health Bill's Costs: Resigned to Passage, Corporate Lobbyists Begin Jockeying for Modifications That Will Buffer the Impact (NEIL KING JR., 12/23/09, WSJ)

Retailers want a longer delay before new employees qualify for company-subsidized benefits. Big employers such as Caterpillar Inc., Boeing Co. and Xerox Corp. want to modify Medicare tax provisions in the Senate bill that would cut their earnings. Small construction companies want an exemption from employee coverage that the Senate bill already applies to other businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Across the spectrum, businesses worry that a series of new taxes and fees to pay for expanding health-care coverage will push up premiums, particularly for smaller employers.

The Senate bill calls for a nearly $70 billion tax over 10 years on insurance companies, plus a $2 billion-a-year tax on medical devices. Billions of dollars are also meant to be raised from added taxes and fees on wealthier seniors, higher-end insurance plans and tanning salons.

Companies of all sizes have been increasingly burdened by health-care costs, which topped $400 billion in 2007, according to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Unrestrained, that figure is expected to double by 2017. About 70% of workers receive health insurance through their employers.

Groups representing smaller businesses say the threat of increased taxes and premiums could outweigh provisions intended to limit the impact on small employers. The Senate bill "will not only fail to reduce and control the constantly climbing health-care costs small-business owners face, but it will result in new and greater costs on their business," said Dan Danner, head of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


The genius of Lionel Davidson (Barbara Kay, 12/23/09, National Post)

One of my favourite novelists died Oct. 21 at the age of 87, and it took a while before the news reached me: The British-Israeli Lionel Davidson was relatively unknown on this side of the pond, so there were no prominent obituaries or fond recollective write-ups of his extraordinary novels in the Canadian media.

I was first introduced to Davidson, a three-time winner of the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger, decades ago by a fellow bibliomane with a penchant for English writers. She pressed Davidson's second novel, The Rose of Tibet (1962) on me, assuring me that once I picked it up, I would not put it down until it was finished. And so it proved. Novelist Graham Greene said Davidson was the first contemporary storyteller to recreate the high adventure of Rider Haggard. Throw in a little Kipling, varnish with one coat of a more humorous and politically neutral John le Carre, and you have the general idea.

I never read a Davidson book I didn't find completely absorbing, but sadly there weren't as many as I'd have liked. Sometimes years would go by before a new one appeared. His last, Kolymsky Heights, a thriller set in the frozen reaches of Siberia (with a Canadian connection -- the hero, Johnny Porter, is a Gitskan Indian from British Columbia), was a happy surprise after a 16-year absence from the literary scene, during which I had concluded that Davidson had died or stopped writing altogether.

It's an outrage that none of his books are even in print.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Obama Double-Crossed Progressives on Health Care (Matthew Rothschild, December 23, 2009, The Progressive)

Are you feeling like a chump yet?

If you’re a good progressive, and you wanted single-payer health care for all, or, second best, Medicare for All Who Want It, or third best, a robust public option, or fourth best, a paltry public option, now you’ve got nothing, nada, zippo.

Has it ever crossed your mind that this is the way President Obama wanted it to be?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Castro: Obama seeking to topple Cuban communism (WILL WEISSERT, 12/23/09, AP)

Raul Castro gave the strongest signal yet his government's would-be honeymoon with the Obama administration is over, delivering a harshly worded speech Sunday charging that the White House endorses efforts to topple the island's communist system.

Offering Cuba's first public acknowledgment of the arrest of an American contractor, Castro said the case shows "the United States won't quit trying to destroy the revolution and bring a change to our economic and social regime."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Lieberman’s Betrayal: That’s no way for a Jew to act, Senator (Victor Navasky | 7:00 AM Dec 23, 2009, Tablet)

Lieberman’s fourth betrayal is the betrayal of his Jewish heritage.

It may quickly be pointed out that the neoconservative movement itself is populated mostly by Jews and that the so-called godfather of neo-conservatism, Irving Kristol, was himself a Jew. Therefore, some may think, it would seem illogical, irrational, and ahistorical to be angry at Lieberman for betraying his Jewishness by adopting a conservative stance. Maybe so. But in my (Jewish) judgment, it’s a fact.

And it’s a fact whether one regards Judaism as a religion or a culture. Whether one is Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, whether one is a Zionist or an assimilationist, whether one is a Hasid or a heretic, what unites people of the Jewish faith, persuasion, or heritage is their internalization of the ethical imperative.

...and be a member of the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-homosexuality party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


The Cheney Offense: The former vice president isn't a challenge to Obama -- he is helpful cover for how little this administration has changed when it comes to national security. (Adam Serwer, December 23, 2009, American Prospect)

The Obama administration's national security policies differ in substance from those of the Bush administration's second term mostly at the margins. Like the Bush administration, Obama has chosen to preserve a "hybrid legal system" for trying suspected terrorists that will utilize civilian courts for "slam-dunk" cases and revised military commissions for those in which the evidence is less than certain. While campaigning as a civil libertarian, Obama has reneged on his promises to reform FISA and the PATRIOT Act, using congressional Republicans to block civil liberties protections from being added to the proposed renewal bills.

The administration has expanded the drone war in Pakistan, prompting the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings to wonder aloud if the attacks might be war crimes. It has maintained the Bush-era FBI guidelines on racial profiling and surveillance that Muslim leaders say are alienating American Muslims. Despite boasting of a new era of transparency, the president signed into law a bill giving the defense secretary the ability to suppress photos depicting detainee abuse on the grounds that it might harm the U.S. reputation abroad, effectively giving the government veto power over disclosing its own illegal behavior.

The administration has invoked the state secrets doctrine as frequently and eagerly as its predecessor, a policy that is having a profound effect on the ability of civil liberties groups to acquire a "binding definitive determination" from the courts that will outlaw U.S. mistreatment of detainees once and for all. As Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU put it, while "the Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


The Question: How will football tactics develop over the next decade?: The end of the goal poacher and the rebirth of the libero are two trends we are likely to see during the next 10 years (Jonathan Wilson, 23 December 2009, The Guardian Sports Blog)

Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Vivek Ranadive, who coached his daughter's team of 12-year-olds into the US's national championships despite having no previous knowledge of basketball. Baffled by the way, as he saw it, basketball teams effectively took turns to attack, Ranadive applied the principles he'd picked up from football and encouraged his side to press the opponent in possession high up the court. I have no idea whether that would be effective at the top level of basketball, but my point is that if there is to be a revolution in football tactics, it will almost certainly come from another sport, or at least from a culture in which another sport predominates.

It always strikes me when reading US and Japanese accounts of football that there is a dislocation, not merely in vocabulary, but in the way of thinking about the game. This is a generalisation, of course, but broadly speaking Europeans view football more as a continuum, the US and Japanese as a series of discrete events. Japanese magazines are full of intricate diagrams that look good but I'm not sure reflect the game as a whole, while I often detect a frustration from US commentators that football doesn't lend itself more readily to the sort of statistical analysis that predominates in American football and basketball.

One of the oddest comments on Inverting the Pyramid came from a US reviewer who expressed surprise that 140 years of tactical history seemed to have produced nothing more sophisticated than moving a player a little bit forward or back, and speculated on the impact an American football offensive or defensive coach might have on football. I would suggest that the anarchic nature of football, the lack of set-plays to be replicated and practised, militates against the sort complex pre-rehearsed moves he was talking about.

But I don't know for sure. It may be that the approach does eventually yield something profound and new and – at the moment – unthinkable, just as Allen Wade, the former technical director of the FA, instituted a new way of thinking about the game when he broke it down into multiple phases for his influential coaching course which produced a generation of coaches that included Roy Hodgson and Don Howe. He faced early opposition for being overly functional but, as the Swedish academic Tomas Peterson puts it, he introduced to football a "second order of complexity", a knowledge of its own working such as Picasso brought to painting or Charlie Parker to music.

If the next coach of team USA brought in Pete Carrill and Tex Winter, guys who understand that what matters is how you utilize the space in which the game is played, we'd revolutionize the game overnight.

Here are just a few examples to consider:

(1) The EPL has four teams that have dominated in recent decades (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool & Arsenal) but all four are looking sketchy (if not mediocre) this year. Why? They all suck in central defense.

Where do most goals come from? Directly in front of your goal. Where must your defense be stoutest? Where are they weak? Duh?

(2) Tottenham Hotspur has a guy, Peter Crouch, who's about 6' 7". With the ball at his freet he's Jerry Lewis. With the ball in the air he's Wilt Chamberlain playing pickup against the Munchkins. Innumerable managers have failed to figure out how to use this fact to best effect.

(3) Combining those two, maybe the most important skill in soccer is the ability to head the ball decisively and on target. Typically, it is forwards and defenders (the guys who play in front of goal) that develop this skill the most fully. But whoever it is on your team that does it best needs to be in the box.

Roy Hodgson at Fulham realizes that on his team that means Clint Dempsey is a goal scorer, not a midfielder. The USA coach, Bob Bradley, forgets this from game to game. Likewise, Jozy Altidore, our big young striker, is also one of our best defenders on set pieces, yet Bradley takes him out of games when we're defending leads (which is how we lost to Brazil). Nor is he alone in making the mistake of pulling the striker late in games when that's actually when they may be most useful to you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM

Top Cat voice Arnold Stang dies aged 91 (BBC, 12/22/09)

US actor Arnold Stang, who voiced the lead character in 1960s television cartoon Top Cat, has died aged 91.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Simon Pearce and family craft a way of life (Mary Grauerholz, December 23, 2009, Boston Globe)

HARTLAND, Vt. - Simon Pearce, dressed simply in jeans and a cotton shirt, his hair a bit mussed, is standing at the Wolf range in his kitchen, tending to several bubbling pots. Beside him is his wife of 30 years, Pia. The couple, who do this all the time, move easily through a holiday menu that begins with a Provençal fish stew and ends with a white-chocolate mousse cake. “We’ve built a lot together,’’ says Pia, “just like the cooking.’’

The Pearces own the celebrated artisan glass and pottery stores named for Simon, which now number 10 and include two restaurants. They are also authors of a new book, “A Way of Living,’’ filled with beautiful photos of their tableware, their dining tables at home, the renovated barn they live in, antique furniture from Vermont and Ireland (where Simon was raised and learned pottery; he studied glassblowing in London and the Netherlands), and mementos of their life raising four sons. The light and airy kitchen, which overlooks vast fields rimmed with trees, is a large open space that holds the family dining table and sitting room.

At the stove, Simon is obviously the chief cook and Pia his right hand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


High-speed rail a clean win for commuters (John D. Porcari, December 23, 2009, Boston Globe)

As a former secretary of transportation for Maryland, I know the issues faced by communities on the Northeast Rail Corridor. The Obama adminsitration is committed to the region and the Northeast Corridor will certainly be part of our future high-speed rail network. Just last year, we opened up a new bridge over the Thames River in Connecticut, and there is a $100 million project underway to replace the Niantic Bridge through Recovery Act dollars. There are plenty of other opportunities to maintain and improve Amtrak’s current high-speed service on the Northeast Corridor.

The benefits of high-speed rail also include improving the environment by reducing carbon emissions, lessening highway congestion, and providing a much needed alternative to the frustrations of air travel.

We are building long-term relationships with states and coalitions of states to build world-class high-speed rail service, something that already exists in Europe and Asia. The US program will provide tens of millions of Americans with transportation options that have not previously been available.

The program will also offer relief to communities around the country that rely on manufacturing and that have been hard hit economically. In fact, nearly three dozen rail manufacturers and suppliers, both domestic and foreign, have committed to establish or expand their operations here in America if they are chosen by states to build their high-speed rail lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The problem of Pakistan (Kapil Komireddi, December 23, 2009, Boston Globe)

[P]akistan’s ongoing battle with breakaway forces at home has not deterred the nation’s ruling elite from continuing with their policy of patronizing the Taliban. According to the CIA, the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul - the deadliest since the Taliban’s fall in 2001 - was planned and executed in concert with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Rangin Spanta, confirmed that the “same sources’’ were behind the repeated attack on the Indian embassy in July this year.

Siraj Haqqani, the Taliban leader believed to be the operational mastermind behind both these attacks, is also considered the single biggest threat to American troops in Afghanistan. Yet Washington’s requests to dismantle his sanctuary in North Waziristan in Pakistan have yielded nothing more than silence from Islamabad. Pakistan’s refusal to dismantle the Taliban’s sanctuaries within its territory - coupled with Washington’s reluctance to do anything about it - means that militants in Helmand province have merely to cross the porous border into Baluchistan to evade capture; there, they will hibernate and regroup, poised to return as America begins to withdraw. The United States thus finds itself in the absurd position of fighting the Taliban with a partner that is an active patron and guardian of the Taliban.

By aggravating the crisis and refusing to cooperate, Pakistan aims to make the US mission in Afghanistan desperately reliant upon its support. In return for its indispensable cooperation, Islamabad seeks to extract a price from Washington: Kashmir. Pakistan’s quest for Kashmir, which is at the core of the problem, is tied up with the identity crisis that has paralyzed the country since its birth.

Partitioned from India as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims in 1947, the rationale behind Pakistan’s foundation - that Muslims and Hindus could not coexist in one nation - was immediately impeached when India refused to become a Hindu state and embraced a secular constitution. As long as Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, remains part of secular India, Islamic Pakistan’s sense of itself as the authentic home of India’s Muslims can not not be vindicated.

The sooner we force them to accept that they're Yugoslavia the better for all concerned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Defense Bill Earmarks Total $4 Billion (JOHN D. MCKINNON and BRODY MULLINS, 12/23/09, WSJ)

Lawmakers set aside more than $4 billion in earmarks in the just-approved 2010 defense appropriations bill, and watered down efforts to curb the practice of targeting spending for programs in members' districts.

Compared to the health bill, which is just pork, that's not so bad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


From 'Yes, we can' to 'No, we can't': Great presidents make the political weather; yet Obama is hobbled by America’s recession (Adrian Hamilton, 23 December 2009, Independent)

If the year 2009 started with the promise of a new President coming to power in America, it is ending with the picture of just how limited is that power, not just for himself but for America as a whole.

The fractious end to the Copenhagen talks on climate change, the deepening impasse in the Middle East, the hesitant commitment of more troops to Afghanistan, the intensifying confrontation with Iran – it is hard to avoid the feeling that somehow a President who promised so much has been unable to break free of the past and that his moment is somehow now passing. The President who set out to be so different from his predecessor, George W Bush, is now being compared more and more to Bush Senior, a man of decency, pragmatism and good intentions, who ended his single term not so much as a failure but as an also ran in the list of America's best leaders.

GHWB was, likewise, uninterested in the presidency. He just wanted to add the next line on his resume. Like the UR he had no agenda for governing and was an inept public speaker, so had no direction in which to lead us, nor the skills to lead. Then too, both men had the bad luck to follow larger than life figures, presidents who ran on big ideas and defended them eloquently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Obama tries to distance himself from the public option (Chris Frates, 12/22/09, Politico)

Now that the Senate has firmly rejected the public option, President Obama is trying his darnedest to distance himself from the controversial, and failed, proposal. But that may be harder than he thought.

In an American Urban Radio interview yesterday, he said, "this is not the most important aspect of this bill." And today he told The Washington Post, "I didn't campaign on the public option."

But that's not true.

New Hampshire was a vital swing state in '08 and we were swamped with Obama ads--find one that mentioned a public option. In fact, he campaigned against John McCain's idea of taxing some benefits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Plan to Move Guantánamo Detainees Faces a New Delay (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 12/23/09, NY Times)

Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


'Huge rise' in number of women seeking help for alcohol addiction (Sophie Goodchild, 23.12.09, Evening Standard)

An Office for National Statistics report has shown alcohol-related diseases in the UK are now killing nearly twice as many women as 20 years ago.

Getting more equal every day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Rib Roast of Beef (Tucker Shaw, 12/23/09, Denver Post)

1 standing rib roast of beef, about 6 pounds, the very best quality that you can afford, from a local source if possible, at room temperature

Plenty of salt, at least 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Rub roast all over with salt and olive oil and place in a roasting pan, fat side up. Place in oven (center rack) for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 and roast another 75 minutes. At this point, begin monitoring the internal temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the meat (not touching the bone). For medium-rare, remove the roast from the oven when the internal temperature reads 120. (Total oven time may range from 90-120 minutes.) Remove roast from oven, lightly tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Generic Congressional Ballot (Rasmussen Reports, December 22, 2009)

Republican candidates now have an eight-point lead over Democrats, their biggest lead of the year, in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.

The new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 36% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Support for GOP candidates held steady over the past week, but support for Democrats slipped by a point. [...]

Men prefer GOP candidates by 19 points over Democrats, while women are evenly divided between the two. east Democrats have had it this year, W having already saved the banks, won the war and destroyed al Qaeda. All of their wounds are self-inflicted. How are they going to perform if an actual crisis arises?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Rumbling Philippine volcano shoots huge ash column (Ted Aljibe, 12/23/09, AFP)

The Philippines' most active volcano shot ash into the sky Wednesday as officials tried to bring Christmas cheer to tens of thousands of people fleeing a possible major eruption.

Mount Mayon's kilometre-high (half-mile) column alarmed residents and officials, who have been bracing for a major explosion since last week, when the volcano started oozing lava and belching steam and ash.

...they'd figure out how to trigger these.

December 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Obama warns against insurer rate increases (Harvey Morris, December 22 2009, Financial Times)

Barack Obama e-mailed grassroots Democratic activists on Monday with a message that should have sent the multi-billion dollar US health insurance business reeling.

“Insurance companies that try to jack up their rates do so at their own peril,” wrote the US president, hours after his healthcare reform plans leapt a vital hurdle in the Senate.

Reeling? It sent them into paroxysms of laughter. If the health care debate taught them anything it's that they have nothing to fear from Mr. Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Obama Year One: Betrayal And Failure (Part I) (Stephen Lendman, 22 December, 2009,

As a senator, Obama's voting record told all, that he supports power, not progressive change, but few took the trouble to check it:

-- he backed Homeland Security funding that, like the Patriot Act, violates constitutional rights by centralizing militarized law enforcement under the executive;

-- he voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005 and did again recently as president; more on that below;

In her book "The Twilight of Democracy," Jennifer Van Bergen said the 2001 act (still the law) gives:

"tremendous powers to central authorities, undermine(s) civil liberties, and enable(s) suppression of opposition. (It's the) mainstay of government oppressive power (as it) authorizes and codifies a near-absolute and permanent invasion of (our) private lives, sets vast precedents in immigration law....dissolves....human rights (civil liberties, and erects) a massive law enforcement apparatus (targeting) immigrant(s) and citizen(s worldwide)." This act alone gives the executive unchecked power, erodes due process, free association, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

It eviscerates fundamental Bill of Rights freedoms, ones Obama voted to sacrifice and does as president by agreeing with Congress to extend three Patriot Act provisions set to expire at year end - to let government operate roving wire taps, search any person's business, personal, and library records by authorization of a national security letter, and spy on foreign nationals with no known links to terrorist designated groups.

-- in 2006, he campaigned for extremist Joe Lieberman over anti-war candidate Ned Lamont;

-- despite earlier and current rhetoric, he supports permanent wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan with no withdrawal timetables;

-- he advocated adding 100,000 combat troops to the military at a time America has no enemies;

-- he's unreservedly pro-Israel (a leader James Petras calls "America's first Jewish president"), including continuing the annually supplied billions and latest weapons and technology for its imperial agenda and occupation of Palestine;

-- he stayed silent during Operation Cast Lead; pays disingenuous lip service to the peace process he renounces; and favors destabilizing Iran, perhaps attacking its nuclear sites, and deposing its leadership in support of the Israeli Lobby and imperial American interests;

-- he opposed an amendment capping credit card interest rates at 30% and still does; and

-- he backed George Bush's "No Child Left Behind" scheme to destroy public education and now has his own.

He supported:

-- medical providers in wrongful injury cases;

-- the right of mining companies to strip mine everywhere, including on government lands;

-- the Bush administration's 2005 Energy Policy Act in spite of critical campaign rhetoric; it was secretly drafted and provides billions in industry subsidies;

-- vastly expanded nuclear power; lax industry regulation; billions in subsidies, and numerous other benefits to promote a dangerous technology;

-- harmful biofuels production and other agribusiness interests, including global GMO food proliferation, known to harm human health and should be banned;

-- privatized healthcare despite the benefits of universal single-payer he rejects as well as real reform;

-- free, not fair, trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO;

-- the death penalty and America's prison-industrial complex; and

-- repressive immigration legislation targeting Latinos, including militarized borders, police state raids, roundups, imprisonments, and deportations.

He opposed the 2006 Military Commissions Act but supports military tribunals and preventive detentions for torture prison detainees.

He waffled on CIA interrogation practices and won't prosecute offenders.

He voted to expand NSA eavesdropping powers while rhetorically opposing "excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping, and enhanced interrogation techniques like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency." More below that as president he authorized these and other abhorrent practices he disingenuously condemned as a candidate.

He voted to approve rogue Bush administration appointments, including Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Chertoff as Secretary of Homeland Security.

He backed the 2007 Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 1959), called the "thought crimes" act. It passed the House but not the Senate.

He opposes impeaching Bush and Cheney or prosecuting all high-level torturers, and overall had a more Republican than Democrat voting record. It's unsurprising as on war and peace, Israel/Palestine, Wall Street, and most things business, it's hard telling the difference.

In the Senate, he earned his bona fides, showed he was "safe," and once elected hasn't disappointed - the powerful, that is, not the people growing increasingly discontented for being betrayed by a leader no different from the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


US forces mounted secret Pakistan raids in hunt for al-Qaida: Former Nato officer reveals secret night operations in border region which America kept quiet (Declan Walsh, 12/21/09,

American special forces have conducted multiple clandestine raids into Pakistan's tribal areas as part of a secret war in the border region where Washington is pressing to expand its drone assassination programme.

A former Nato officer said the incursions, only one of which has been previously reported, occurred between 2003 and 2008, involved helicopter-borne elite soldiers stealing across the border at night, and were never declared to the Pakistani government.

"The Pakistanis were kept entirely in the dark about it. It was one of those things we wouldn't confirm officially with them," said the source, who had detailed knowledge of the operations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


All That Jazz: Terry Teachout’s luminous biography captures the “sunlit, hopeful art” of Louis Armstrong: a review of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout (Stefan Kanfer, 22 December 2009, City Journal)

By the early 1960s, known variously as Pops and Satchmo (short for satchel mouth), he had appeared on prime-time television and big-budget films like High Society, recorded duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and become an international jazz icon. That was his trouble. Younger black musicians attached themselves to the civil rights struggle; they resented Armstrong’s laid-back personality and ear-to-ear grin. Horn player Dizzy Gillespie called him a “plantation character,” and singer Billie Holliday remarked sarcastically, “God bless Louis Armstrong! He [Uncle] Toms from the heart.”

This was callous and unfair. In a memoir, Armstrong wrote: “I think I have always done great things about uplifting my race.” He was under no illusion about prejudice, but he saw himself as a goodwill ambassador, not an agitator. While white folks “are listening to our music, they don’t think about trouble. What’s more, they’re watching Negro and white musicians play side by side. And we bring contentment and pleasure. I always say, ‘Look at the nice taste we leave.’ It’s bound to mean something.”

That was not enough for the activists; they continued to portray Armstrong as a back number, clinging to the attitudes that existed before Brown v. Board of Education. No matter. Armstrong went his own way, using his instrument and his gravel voice to make hits of “Mack the Knife,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Hello, Dolly,” and scores of others, living contentedly with his fourth wife, Lucille, in their modest house in Corona, Queens. When he died in 1971, British poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin praised Armstrong as “an artist of Flaubertian purity, and a character of exceptional warmth and goodness.” Bing Crosby, who had learned scat singing from the Master, was more succinct. He wrote Lucille, “I know of no man for whom I had more admiration and respect.” In time, the black establishment came around. As Teachout observes, no tribute was “more to the point than that of Duke Ellington: Louis ‘was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way.’”

Yet the militants still denigrated Pops, even after he passed. Fascinated by technology, he had made tape recordings of his music, his memories, and his friends. These have been available for years, but the trove was of little interest to writers on the left. It took the theater reviewer for the Wall Street Journal (and culture critic for the even more conservative Commentary) to demonstrate that the noise of axes grinding could never drown out the immortal sound of Louis Armstrong’s music. To Teachout, that constitutes a “sunlit, hopeful art, brought into being by the labor of a lifetime.” Second the emotion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


The Yield Curve Is Signaling Bigger Growth: Why? For one, the Senate health bill is less tax-punitive than the House version. (Larry Kudlow, 12/22/09, National Review)

The inverted curve is abnormal, the positive curve is normal. We have returned to normalcy, and then some. Right now, the difference between long and short Treasury rates is as wide as any time in history. With the Fed pumping in all that money and anchoring the short rate at zero, investors are now charging the Treasury a higher interest rate for buying its bonds. That’s as it should be. The time preference of money simply means that the investor will hold Treasury bonds for a longer period of time, but he or she is going to charge a higher rate. That is a normal risk profile.

The yield curve may be the best single forecasting predictor there is. When it was inverted or flat for most of 2006, 2007, and the early part of 2008, it correctly predicted big trouble ahead. Right now it is forecasting a much stronger economy in 2010 than most people think possible.

So there could be a mini boom next year, with real GDP growing at 4 to 5 percent, perhaps with a 6 percent quarter in there someplace. And the unemployment rate is likely to come down, perhaps moving into the 8 percent zone from today’s 10 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Hail the Dreamliner (Gregg Easterbrook, 12/22/09, ESPN: TMQ)

The Boeing 787 took flight last week after two years of delays, and air travelers everywhere should be pleased. Among other things, the Dreamliner is the first jetliner designed to reduce the sensation of turbulence for passengers. All previous jetliner designs have assumed that turbulence is just something you grit your teeth and tough out. The 787's engineers sought ways to make the plane pass more smoothly through the air, and calculated that an oval-shaped fuselage, rather than the traditional cylinder, would accomplish that. No way to be sure until the aircraft is in service, but if the Dreamliner does fly more smoothly than existing jets, passengers will consider it worth the wait.

Last week also saw the maiden flight of the Airbus A400M, an airborne moment to bureaucracy. This plane, the next main cargo aircraft for most European armies, has a few interesting technical features, including counter-rotating, scimitar-shaped propellers: instead of both engines on the same side spinning in the same direction, they spin in opposite directions, which has some advantages over the standard arrangement. But this aircraft has about the same speed and range, and only a somewhat better payload, as the C-133 Cargomaster, which the United States built in the 1950s. Just like NASA is now struggling to build new rockets little different from the ones it had in the 1960s, Airbus is struggling to build a cargo plane not that much different from models of the 1950s. Seven years passed between the decision to manufacture the aircraft and the first flight of the prototype!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM



Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM


Obama's Falling Poll Ratings: Why He Has To Worry (Michael Scherer, Dec. 22, 2009, TIME)

2. Health-care reform has become a burden.
Something has gone wrong on the long trail to historic health reform. For one thing, Americans no longer support what is going on. The recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 44% of the country believe it would be better not to pass any plan at all, while 41% said it would be better to pass the plan. As recently as October, the same poll showed those numbers practically reversed. One reason is a misalignment of priorities. The health care debate has, ironically, intensified American contentment with their current health coverage. The July Battleground poll found that 84% of Americans were "satisfied" with their health care. The same poll in December found 91% of Americans satisfied with their health care. [...]

4. Keynes doesn't play in Peoria.

Obama has followed a traditionally Keynesian economic path in responding to the recession — temporarily increasing government spending to make up for slack in the economy. But voters, who continue to suffer from the downturn, are not so impressed. In a recent focus group with independent voters who voted for Obama, Republican pollster Ed Goeas found significant concern about government spending. "There was a tipping point that occurred," he said. "The biggest thing I have seen beyond the intensity and the independents moving has been this focus, in the middle of a very bad economy, on spending." He continued, "They have moved from a maybe-we-have-to-do-this to a how-are-we going-to-pay-for-this. It's going to be our children and our grandchildren." Both the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have announced that they recognize this concern and plan to devote a significant part of the spring addressing the deficit. As Lake puts it, "We haven't proven to the voters that we are spending money to produce jobs for them."

Reason #6: the press follows the polls. Check out the photo accompanying the story and you'll see the Adoration phase is over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Griffith To Become GOPer (Reid Wilson, 12/22/09, Hotline)

Freshman Rep. Parker Griffith will announce later this afternoon that he will run for re-election as a GOPer, sources confirm to Hotline OnCall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Copenhagen accord was a "disaster," says Sweden (Yvonne Bell, 12/22/09, Reuters)

"Ministers are going to meet today to discuss, of course, how to proceed after this disaster we really had in Copenhagen," Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren told reporters as he and other ministers gathered for the meeting in Brussels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too (NATALIE ANGIER, 12/22/09, NY Times)

In his new book, “Eating Animals,” the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer describes his gradual transformation from omnivorous, oblivious slacker who “waffled among any number of diets” to “committed vegetarian.” Last month, Gary Steiner, a philosopher at Bucknell University, argued on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times that people should strive to be “strict ethical vegans” like himself, avoiding all products derived from animals, including wool and silk. Killing animals for human food and finery is nothing less than “outright murder,” he said, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “eternal Treblinka.”

But before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way. The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze. It’s time for a green revolution, a reseeding of our stubborn animal minds.

...consider that the only biotic material they have no qualms about destroying is humans (fetuses and the infirm...for now).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Pork greased reform's passage (JOSH GERSTEIN, 12/22/09, Politico)

With the bill hanging in the balance, Nelson won a provision exempting his state from paying the usual share of costs for new Medicaid patients. The deal critics have dubbed the Cornhusker Kickback is expected to cost the federal government $100 million over 10 years.

Before a close vote last month, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) won an even larger break for her state — an estimated $300 million in extra federal spending, in a move opponents derided as the Louisiana Purchase.

Some critics branded the special deals as functionally equivalent to the kind of earmarks Obama crusaded against as a senator — and a quantum leap from eleventh-hour deals Obama’s predecessors have cut.

After Nelson and Landrieu, what will key congressional swing votes want from future White Houses?

...if these two prostituted themselves, then what does that make the Democrats who gave it up for free?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Inadequate Oversight Cited in Weatherization Program (MICHAEL COOPER, 12/22/09, NY Times)

The Department of Energy’s inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, was so concerned by what his investigators found in Illinois that he issued an unusual “management alert” this month, rather than waiting for a final audit report to be issued. The management alert cautioned that the lack of oversight was putting the goals of the weatherization program — which is intended to cut energy use and utility bills — at risk. And it warned that “the safety of homeowners and area residents could be placed in jeopardy if substandard weatherization work goes undetected.”

The alarms about the weatherization program — which were being sounded in the home state of its champion, President Obama, who proposed expanding it before taking office — underscored the challenges in taking a government program and supersizing it with stimulus cash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Democrats Face Challenge in Merging Health Bills (ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 12/22/09, NY Times)

In the House, advocates and opponents of abortion rights and conservative Democrats have made clear that they object, for different reasons, to the Senate’s compromise language on abortion. Interest groups on both sides of the spectrum — Planned Parenthood on the abortion rights side, Catholic bishops for the anti-abortion rights camp — also oppose the abortion provision in the Senate bill, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a challenge in rounding up the votes she needs in the House.

Ms. Pelosi’s room for maneuvering is limited because any changes to the language in the Senate bill could unravel the deal that provided Democrats with the 60 votes they need to get the legislation through the Senate.

Ms. Pelosi, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the White House will have to find a way forward on abortion even as they confront other big differences between the House and Senate bills, including how to pay to expand insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans and whether to include a government-run plan to compete with private insurers.

The Senate has already made it clear that the duty of the lesser body is to accept the Senate bill unchanged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Saudi air strike kills Yemen rebels as US drawn into fight: Yemen's Houthi rebels claim a Saudi Arabia air strike on Sunday killed 54 people, including women and children. The US is increasingly concerned restive Yemen is becoming a haven for terrorism. (Liam Stack / December 21, 2009, CS Monitor)

A Saudi air strike late Sunday has reportedly killed dozens, including women and children, in a north Yemen town known to support that country’s Houthi rebels. The strike highlights growing concern about stability on the Arabian peninsula as the US is reportedly becoming more involved in planning and executing strikes on Yemen’s anti-government militants. [...]

The strikes comes just three days after The New York Times reported that the United States has provided weapons and logistical support to Yemeni government strikes against “suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda within its borders.”

U.S. Extradites Six Guantanamo Prisoners to Yemen (Liu Donghui , 12/21/09, CRI)
Yemeni authorities received six Yemeni detainees who were released by the United States from the U. S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, state-run Saba news agency reported on Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


The Green Movement's People Problem (Joel Kotkin 12/22/2009, New Geography)

[T]he main, fundamental problem facing the movement after Copenhagen--which none of the green factions have yet addressed--is its people problem. The movement needs to break with the deep-seated misanthropy that dominates green politics and has brought it to this woeful state. Its leaders have defined our species as everything from a "cancer" to the "AIDs of the earth." They wail in horror at the thought that by the year 2050 there will likely be another 2 or 3 billion of these inconvenient bipeds. Leading green figures such as Britain's Jonathan Porritt, Richard Attenborough and Lester Brown even consider baby-making a grievous carbon crime--especially, notes Australian activist Robert Short, in those "highly consumptive, greenhouse-producing nations."

Yet a slower population growth--while beneficial for poor, developing countries--can lead to a dismal, geriatric future in already low-birthrate nations like Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea and Russia. And although birth rates are dropping in most developing countries, particularly those experiencing rapid economic growth, it will likely be decades before population stops increasing in most of the developing world.

Besides, people in developing countries have much more important things to worry about--such as earning a living and getting ahead. Fighting climate change ranks low on the list of Third World priorities. The sprawling slums of Mumbai need more energy, not less; they want better roads, not fewer. More economic development would produce the money to help clean the now foul water and air, but also provide access to better education, one of the best ways to assure more manageable birth rates.

Instead of looking to make developing countries even more dependent on Western largesse, greens should focus on ways to help improve the day-to-day lives of their people. Rather than prattle on about the coming apocalypse, they could work to replace treeless, dense slums with shaded low-lying clean houses that are easier to heat or cool. Those interested in nature might purchase land and rebuild natural areas. The children of cities like Mumbai should have the opportunity to experience wildlife other than crows, pigeons and rats.

The environmental movement also might as well forget fighting the aspirations of the burgeoning middle class in India, or other developing countries. No developing world politician, whether from democratic India or Brazil or authoritarian China will embrace an agenda that stifles such aspirations.

There's nothing left of Malthusianism once you take away the loathing for human life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


I am a closet Christian: At least, I was until now. Because in my circle, nothing is more embarrassing than being religious (Ada Calhoun, 12/21/09, Salon)

It was Sunday morning in my scruffy Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood, and I was wearing a dress. Walking to the subway, I ran into a friend heading home from yoga class. She wore sweats and carried her mat over her shoulder. "Where are you going so early all dressed up?" she asked, chuckling. "To church?" We shared a laugh at the absurdity of a liberal New Yorker heading off to worship.

The real joke? I totally was.

Inside the church, it's cool and quiet. I read the Collect of the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which urges us: "While we are placed among 
things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall
 endure." My recent layoff no longer seems like the end of the world. I take Communion and exchange the peace and listen to the sermon. As I'm walking back up the aisle, I feel reoriented and calmer, the indignities of the week shift into perspective.

These moments are not only sacred; they are secret. Outside, on the steps of the downtown Manhattan church, I think I see someone familiar coming down the sidewalk, and I bolt in the other direction.

Why am I so paranoid? I'm not cheating on my husband, committing crimes or doing drugs. But those are battles my cosmopolitan, progressive friends would understand. Many of them had to come out -- as gay, as alcoholics, as artists in places where art was not valued. To them, my situation is far more sinister: I am the bane of their youth, the boogeyman of their politics, the very thing they left their small towns to escape. I am a Christian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Giuliani Decides Against a Run for the Senate (DAVID M. HALBFINGER, 12/22/09, NY Times)

Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has decided not to run for the Senate seat held by Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Republicans briefed on his decision said Monday evening. [...]

As recently as a week ago, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Mr. Giuliani leading Ms. Gillibrand in a hypothetical matchup, 50 percent to 40 percent.

When the tide builds even guys like Al D'Amato and George Pataki win, but Rudy would have made it a safer race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


US-India Relations Missing George W: Nearly a year after the Obama administration took office, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that US-India relations are drifting, lacking the focus, momentum and salience they had when George W Bush occupied the White House (David J Karl, 12/09/09, International Relations and Security Network)

Beyond the ceremony and camaraderie, however, the summit failed to live up to the high standard Obama suggested. Rather than give new impetus to relations, the meeting confirmed that U.S.-India affairs are gripped by inertia. The visit did produce a raft of agreements deepening ties in such diverse areas as economic cooperation, clean energy and climate, educational, and health linkages. To be sure, these are laudable endeavors and strengthen the societal bonds that give fuller texture and equipoise to the bilateral partnership than could be hoped to be achieved at the intergovernmental level alone.

But they are also relatively minor accomplishments, the type of things that could have been unveiled during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to India this past summer. The lack of landmark initiatives and attention-grabbing headlines is in stark contrast to Singh’s first state visit to Washington in July 2005, when he and Bush launched the path-breaking civilian nuclear agreement that instantly energized bilateral relations.

Unlike Bush, Obama appears reluctant to apply the requisite bureaucratic will or invest political capital in undertaking bold new bilateral projects. Although Secretary Clinton, a staunch India-phile, speaks of taking relations to a higher plane, the administration as a whole has not yet displayed much interest in continuing its predecessor’s high-profile engagement with New Delhi.

Indeed, the summit provided fresh evidence that U.S. policy toward India is now subordinate to other priorities. New Delhi had hoped that critical details relating to the implementation of the nuclear accord would be wrapped up by the time Singh arrived in Washington, particularly a spent-fuel reprocessing agreement. Were it still in office, the Bush administration would no doubt have already made greater progress on this front. But the Obama emphasis on containing nuclear proliferation has reportedly played a large role in delaying agreement.

In the final reckoning, major differences in strategic outlook between the Bush and Obama administrations account for the summit’s lackluster outcome. Bush saw New Delhi as a key player in the evolving geopolitical equation in Asia and was willing to make extraordinary efforts to assist in the development of Indian national power. To that end, he pushed the nuclear agreement through an often-intransigent U.S. bureaucracy. But with the Obama administration preferring to emphasize engagement with Beijing on global governance issues, New Delhi has lost its primacy of place in Washington’s strategic calculus.

December 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Election 2010: North Dakota Senate (Rasmussen Reports, December 21, 2009)

Incumbent Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan may have a serious problem on his hands if Republicans recruit Governor John Hoeven to run for the U.S. Senate in North Dakota next year.

The first Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 telephone survey of likely voters in North Dakota finds the popular Republican governor leading Dorgan by 22 points – 58% to 36%. Just six percent (6%) are undecided in that senatorial contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM

NOTHING COSTS MORE... (via The Other Brother):

Free car! Your taxes at work (Eric Evarts, 12/21/09, Consumer Reports)

Drive Electric is taking advantage of a large federal tax incentive for the purchase of an alternative fuel vehicle, along with a relatively obscure classification for low speed, or Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). [...]

A basic golf cart enhanced with a windshield, mirrors, seat belts, and turn signals will qualify. (And in the case of a Premium version of Drive Electric’s two-seat ZonE electric golf cart, a qualifying model could even include luxuries, such as wood dashboard trim and a windshield wiper.)

And traditional golf carts with these accessories are a lot less expensive than a G.E.M. In fact, Drive Electric is advertising their base street-legal golf cart, the zonE NEV-48 EX, for $6,496.53 – perhaps not so coincidentally exactly the same as the amount of the federal tax credit it qualifies for as an electric vehicle through Dec. 31.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Palin on Copenhagen: ‘Arrogance of Man’ (Rick Klein, 12/21/09, ABC News)

Sarah Palin is using the conclusion of climate talks in Copenhagen to harden her position that global warming is not man-made.

In a Twitter posting over the weekend, Palin wrote, “Copenhgen=arrogance of man2think we can change nature's ways.MUST b good stewards of God's earth,but arrogant&naive2say man overpwers nature.”

You have to enjoy the spectacle of secular Darwinists, who insist that disbelievers must imagine a completely static Creation and who supposedly believe themselves in a continually evolving biosphere, living in stark terror of climate change while the Creationists accept it with equanimity. Of course, as Ms Palin suggests, what's really going on is that the notion that Nature changes without our causing it to tends to diminish Man's significance in ways the humanists find even more terrifying than warm weather (or blizzards, whichever we're supposedly causing this week).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The 'Global Imbalances' Myth: Different countries have always played different roles in the world economy (ZACHARY KARABELL, 12/21/09, WSJ)

When officials and economists today speak of correcting global imbalances, it is unclear what benchmark they have in mind.

So-called excessive American consumption, East-West trade flows, Chinese savings and the like were not responsible for the recent crisis. That was instead triggered by massive misplaced bets on the U.S. housing market and trillions of dollars of derivatives built upon that flimsy foundation.

Yes, many have woven a compelling narrative of how the relationship between China and the U.S.—distorted by China's fixed and nonconvertible currency on the one hand and America's debt-fueled appetites on the other—led to massive flows of capital out of the U.S. But that money flowed right back into the U.S. in the form of Chinese purchases of Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities and other dollar-denominated assets, which then flowed into our banking system, which then made its way back to U.S. business and to the Treasury, some of which then circulated back into China.

What some see as imbalances can also be described as a system of capital and goods in constant motion. Chinese reserves and U.S. government debt didn't trigger the meltdown, nor did U.S. consumers cause the meltdown. It wasn't even U.S. consumer debt—after all, more than 90% of Americans have remained current on their credit cards and their mortgages. The real (and much messier) cause of the meltdown was a potent brew of financial innovation, electronic and instantaneous flow of capital, greed on the part of banks and investors world-wide, against a backdrop of an economic fusion between China and the U.S. that kept interest rates low and inflation lower.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Another Test for the Chilean Model: The likely election of a center-right president in Chile is evidence that citizens are not happy with the drift away from free-market policies. (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 12/21/09, WSJ)

[L]urking just beneath the surface there may be other more powerful factors at work, not the least of which is Chile's declining productivity under four successive Concertación governments, and a growing sense that for the first time in 20 years, economically speaking, life for Chileans is no longer getting better. Mr. Piñera, who got 44% of the vote to Mr. Frei's 30% in the first round, has promised to reverse these trends.

This matters to all of Latin America. Chile is the region's poster child for success through openness, competition, sound money, limits to government and equality under the law. Should the model begin to produce mediocre results, enemies of liberty will use it to discredit freedom.

It would be a shame to waste all that the necessary fascist interval achieved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Change Nobody Believes In (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/09)

Mr. Obama promised a new era of transparent good government, yet on Saturday morning Mr. Reid threw out the 2,100-page bill that the world's greatest deliberative body spent just 17 days debating and replaced it with a new "manager's amendment" that was stapled together in covert partisan negotiations. Democrats are barely even bothering to pretend to care what's in it, not that any Senator had the chance to digest it in the 38 hours before the first cloture vote at 1 a.m. this morning. After procedural motions that allow for no amendments, the final vote could come at 9 p.m. on December 24.

Even in World War I there was a Christmas truce.

The rushed, secretive way that a bill this destructive and unpopular is being forced on the country shows that "reform" has devolved into the raw exercise of political power for the single purpose of permanently expanding the American entitlement state. An increasing roll of leaders in health care and business are looking on aghast at a bill that is so large and convoluted that no one can truly understand it, as Finance Chairman Max Baucus admitted on the floor last week.

...they're doing it this way because they realize this is a fluke moment when they, not the Republicans, are in charge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 12/20/09, NY Times Magazine)

He has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as “one of the biggest brains in America,” or, on one broadcast, “Superman of the Earth.” Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told me he numbers George among the most-talked-about thinkers in conservative legal circles. And Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage.

“If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, “its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

FOR 20 YEARS, George has operated largely out of public view at the intersection of academia, religion and politics. In the past 12 months, however, he has stepped into a more prominent role. With the death of the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest who helped bring evangelicals and Catholics together into a political movement, George has assumed his mantle as the reigning brain of the Christian right. And he is in many ways the public face of the conservative side in the most urgent culture-war battle of the day. The National Organization for Marriage, the advocacy group fighting same-sex marriage in Albany and Trenton, Maine and California, has made him its chairman. Before the 2004 election, he helped a coalition of Christian conservative groups write their proposed amendment to the federal Constitution defining marriage as heterosexual. More than any other scholar, George has staked his reputation on the claim that same-sex marriage violates not only tradition but also human reason.

It’s part of a philosophy that has found support among a group of Catholic bishops who have become some of the most persistent critics of President Obama and the Congressional Democrats. George serves as their intellectual point man. In the past few years, many of the evangelical Protestants who once defined the religious right have turned inward after their disappointment with President George W. Bush. In their place, George’s friends among the Catholic bishops have stepped to the fore, hammering Obama for his pro-choice Catholic cabinet nominees, for being invited to speak at Notre Dame’s commencement, for his stem-cell research policies and most recently for his health care proposals.

As Democrats have stepped up their explicitly religious appeals to Catholic voters, these bishops have pushed back against the intrusion on their turf. While Democrats talked of finding common ground on abortion, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, the informal leader of this side of the American church, gave a much-publicized speech denouncing Obama as “the most committed abortion rights candidate in history.” Chaput chose to publish his remarks on the Web site of a think tank co-founded by George — the man who had himself argued in an essay disseminated widely last fall through conservative circles, Fox News and Christian radio that Barack Obama was “the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek” the presidency. [...]

At 54, George has thick gray-brown hair, bright blue eyes and a certain boyishness. Seemingly everyone from Rove to Cardinal Rigali calls him, simply, Robby. A few dozen graduate and star-undergraduate students had traveled from as far away as Cambridge and Poland for a seminar on the new natural law. He is by all accounts a terrific teacher. (“Awesome,” several undergraduates said in a stack of glowing evaluations he showed me.) Part of the reason may be that he brings almost every philosophical question back to a central debate about the nature of the self, a battle between reason and the passions. Moral philosophy, as George describes it, is a contest between the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Scottish enlightenment thinker David Hume.

Aristotelians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that there is an objective moral order. Human reason can see it. And we have the free will to follow or not. “In a well-ordered soul, reason’s got the whip hand over emotion,” George told the seminar, in a favorite formulation borrowed from Plato. Humeans — and in George’s view, modern liberals are usually Humeans — disagree. Against Aristotle, Hume argued that the universe includes facts but not values. You cannot derive moral conclusions from studying the world, an “ought” from an “is.” There is no built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another — the goals of Mother Teresa over the goals of Adolf Hitler, in George’s hypothetical. Reason, then, is merely a tool of whatever desire strikes my fancy. “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions and may pretend to no office other than to serve and obey them,” George said, paraphrasing Hume, just as he does in seemingly every essay or lecture he writes.

In George's view, if I have no rational basis for picking one goal over another, then I have no free choice, only predetermined “passions” — the result of genetics, a blow to the head, whatever made me prefer either curing the sick or killing the Jews. We have reason and free choice, he teaches, or we have amorality and determinism.

George’s thinking draws on a system of ethics first developed against the backdrop of the 1960s debate inside the Catholic Church over contraception. In the tradition of Aquinas, Catholic thinkers had for centuries tried to establish moral laws of nature by studying biology, anthropology and history. When it came to sex, the church taught the idea of a “perverted faculty.” Sex was intended for the dual purpose of procreation and marital unity, so deliberate ejaculation in any other context — oral or anal sex, artificial contraception, masturbation, premarital sex, adultery — demeaned sex and contravened the natural law. (Female orgasms, incidental to conception, were not an issue.)

But by the late 1960s, most secular philosophers had abandoned the project of finding moral norms in nature. Amid the openness of the Second Vatican Council, some of their Catholic counterparts began to wonder if they should give up, too. Then came the pill. Some Catholic scholars, all the way up to the level of papal advisers, questioned whether a form of birth control that did not put a physical barrier between the partners might be permissible. Some began to suggest that the church should shift its focus from the act of sex to the totality of marriage, as Protestants did, and stop worrying as much about ejaculation and contraception. Wasn’t it marital love that was meant to be fruitful and that gave sex its meaning?

An orthodox-minded Georgetown University philosopher named Germain Grisez mounted a novel defense of the birth-control ban. Instead of beginning with science or history, he started by listing certain basic human goods that he believed anyone could see were “integral to human flourishing,” like friendship, knowledge, excellence in work and play, religion, life and procreation. Each was an end in itself, not a means to anything else. You could never prove each’s value by referring to other values — only assert and defend each one on its own.

Grisez argued that contraception violated the “basic good” of “the handing on of new life.” For George and the new natural lawyers, Grisez’s tactic of starting from self-evident human goods gave “the whip hand” back to reason.

In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church's peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Passing health reform could be a nightmare for Obama (Robert Samuelson, December 21, 2009, Washington Post)

Barack Obama's quest for historic health-care legislation has turned into a parody of leadership. We usually associate presidential leadership with the pursuit of goals that, though initially unpopular, serve America's long-term interests. Obama has reversed this. He's championing increasingly unpopular legislation that threatens the country's long-term interests. "This isn't about me," he likes to say, "I have great health insurance." But of course, it is about him: about the legacy he covets as the president who achieved "universal" health insurance. He'll be disappointed.

Even if Congress passes legislation -- a good bet -- the finished product will fall far short of Obama's extravagant promises. It will not cover everyone. It will not control costs. It will worsen the budget outlook. It will lead to higher taxes. It will disrupt how, or whether, companies provide insurance for their workers. As the real-life (as opposed to rhetorical) consequences unfold, they will rebut Obama's claim that he has "solved" the health-care problem. His reputation will suffer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


GOP sets sights on blue Hawaii (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 12/21/09, Politico)

[T]he vacancy will be filled after an all-party primary where the winner needs to garner only a plurality of the vote.

Under normal circumstances, Democrats would have a clear advantage holding the seat — the 1st District gave President Barack Obama 70 percent of the vote last year. But in the wake of Abercrombie’s abrupt resignation announcement, two solid and politically experienced Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, announced they’re running, and their candidacies have raised the prospect that they could split the bulk of the Democratic vote.

Under that very plausible outcome, the lone Republican candidate, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, would have a credible shot at winning the race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


There'll be nowhere to run from the new world government: 'Global' thinking won't necessarily solve the world's problems (Janet Daley, 12/19/09, Daily Telegraph)

The dangerous idea that the democratic accountability of national governments should simply be dispensed with in favour of "global agreements" reached after closed negotiations between world leaders never, so far as I recall, entered into the arena of public discussion. Except in the United States, where it became a very contentious talking point, the US still holding firmly to the 18th-century idea that power should lie with the will of the people.

Nor was much consideration given to the logical conclusion of all this grandiose talk of global consensus as unquestionably desirable: if there was no popular choice about approving supranational "legally binding agreements", what would happen to dissenters who did not accept their premises (on climate change, for example) when there was no possibility of fleeing to another country in protest? Was this to be regarded as the emergence of world government? And would it have powers of policing and enforcement that would supersede the authority of elected national governments? In effect, this was the infamous "democratic deficit" of the European Union elevated on to a planetary scale. And if the EU model is anything to go by, then the agencies of global authority will involve vast tracts of power being handed to unelected officials. Forget the relatively petty irritations of Euro‑bureaucracy: welcome to the era of Earth-bureaucracy, when there will be literally nowhere to run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Rupture and its rewards (YISRAEL HAREL, 12/21/09, Jerusalem Post)

[I]f only to continue to exist, i.e. to prevent another Katif bloc uprooting, the settlers understand that they must bring tens of thousands of new people to the settlements. But that cannot happen without ongoing construction.

Further, even if in view of the lessons of Gush Katif, no government is able to remove settlers (there are 300,000 in Judea and Samaria in contrast with some 10,000 in Gush Katif in 2005), they face an additional existential threat: atrophy. Many of the veteran settlements are over 30. Without housing there, the second and third generations will be obliged to live elsewhere and the original settlement is liable to age and eventually disappear. Thus, another reason for the struggle against the freeze is the need to bring fresh blood to the veins of these settlements.

THERE IS also a profound ideological reason. When the government issues construction freeze directives targeting only Judea and Samaria - something it would not dream of doing anywhere else - this sends a disturbing emotional and ideological message to the settlers. They view their communities as an integral part of the State of Israel; they settled where they did so that these territories would become part of the state.

Then too, the freeze communicates a strong sense of insult: What leftist or otherwise hostile governments like that of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert (which carried out the Gaza removal, then followed up with unprecedented and brutal force against the youth of Amona) never dreamed of doing is now being implemented by a Likud government for which many of the settlers themselves voted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Cleric's Death, Torture Case Jolt Iran (FARNAZ FASSIHI, 12/21/09, WSJ)

Tens of thousands of Iranian mourners--many chanting protest slogans--joined the funeral procession Monday for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had described government crackdowns as the work of power-hungry despots.

Iranian authorities have barred foreign media from covering the processions in the holy city of Qom for Ayatollah Montazeri, who died Sunday at age 87. But witnesses said many mourners shouted protest cries including "Death to the Dictator" in displays of anger against Iran's ruling establishment. [...]

The death of Ayatollah Montazeri, who passed away in his sleep, was only one of two surprises to shake Iran over the weekend.

Hours earlier, on Saturday, military prosecutors alleged that prison guards tortured to death at least three student protesters in July, contradicting months of denials by top leaders. The reversal is one of the biggest blows to Tehran's credibility since government protests first erupted six months ago.

Either development, by itself, would provide a rallying point for the opposition, which claims last summer's presidential election was a fraud and is demanding a political overhaul. Together, they represent the widening array of challenges facing the Iranian regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Gas could be the cavalry in global warming fight (MARK WILLIAMS, 12/20/09, AP)

An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It's cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.

It's natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It's now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low. Long used to heat half the nation's homes, it's becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.

Natural gas' abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri: The head of the UN's climate change panel - Dr Rajendra Pachauri - is accused of making a fortune from his links with 'carbon trading' companies, Christopher Booker and Richard North, 12/20/09, Daily Telegraph)

No one in the world exercised more influence on the events leading up to the Copenhagen conference on global warming than Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and mastermind of its latest report in 2007. [...]

What has also almost entirely escaped attention, however, is how Dr Pachauri has established an astonishing worldwide portfolio of business interests with bodies which have been investing billions of dollars in organisations dependent on the IPCC’s policy recommendations.

These outfits include banks, oil and energy companies and investment funds heavily involved in ‘carbon trading’ and ‘sustainable technologies’, which together make up the fastest-growing commodity market in the world, estimated soon to be worth trillions of dollars a year.

Today, in addition to his role as chairman of the IPCC, Dr Pachauri occupies more than a score of such posts, acting as director or adviser to many of the bodies which play a leading role in what has become known as the international ‘climate industry’.

December 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


President Obama, Congress should set health-care reform aside (The Seattle Times, 12/19/09)

THE health-care dance in Washington, D.C., has gone on long enough. Congress needs to focus on the economy and set health care aside.

This is a change of position for us. This page supported Barack Obama for president, enthusiastically. We have supported the health-care effort until now. We still support universal coverage as a social goal.

But the longer the fight goes on, the more it feels that the timing is all wrong. The economy is wounded. Employers are hurting. The time to think about loading employers with new burdens is when they are strong. Not now.

It's nice to know that there are times even they think it's a mistake to cripple business with onerous burdens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Senate Democrats Warn House Not to Toy With Health Bill (FOXNews, 12/20/09)

Senate Democrats are warning the House not to make any significant changes to the health care package heading toward a vote in their chamber if they want the bill to survive past Christmas.

Do not mess with this bill.

That was the message Senate Democrats sent to their colleagues on the House side over the weekend, warning them not to make any significant changes to the health care package heading toward a vote in their chamber if they want the bill to survive past Christmas.

When we were kids we used to play kick the can for hours on end in the Summer. Despite, or because of, the ease of getting cans, we liked to play using a toy called a Red Eye (?). It was a yellow ball with a number of handles coming out of it. Used properly, the object was to catch it by the red handle mot the yellow ones. We never used it for that, just as a can substitute.

As it happened, the only Red Eye in the neighborhood belonged to Jeff Farris and whenever he was "it" he'd storm off: "I quite and I'm taking the Red Eye with me!"

Senate Democrats sound like that little boy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Israel harvested organs in '90s without permission (MARK LAVIE, 12/20/09, Associated Press)

Israel has admitted that in the 1990s, its forensic pathologists harvested organs from dead bodies, including Palestinians, without permission of their families.

The issue emerged with publication of an interview with the then-head of Israel's Abu Kabir forensic institute, Dr. Jehuda Hiss. [...]

The Channel 2 report said that in the 1990s, forensic specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


Dreading our future (Michael Goodwin, 12/20/09, NY Post)

Watching the freak show in Copenhagen last week, I was alternately furious and filled with dread. The world has gone absolutely bonkers and lunatics are in charge.

Mugabe and Chavez are treated with respect and the United Nations is serious about wanting to regulate our industry and transfer our wealth to kleptocrats and genocidal maniacs.

Even more frightening, our own leaders joined the circus. Marching to the beat of international drummers, they uncoupled themselves from the will of the people they were elected to serve.

President Obama, for whom I voted because I believed he was the best choice available, is a profound disappointment. I now regard his campaign as a sly bait-and-switch operation, promising one thing and delivering another. Shame on me.

Equally surprising, he has become an insufferable bore. The grace notes and charm have vanished, with peevishness and petty spite his default emotions. His rhetorical gifts now serve his loathsome habit of fear-mongering.

"Time is running out," he says, over and again. He said it on health care, on the stimulus, in Copenhagen, on Iran.

Instead of provoking thought and inspiring ideas, the man hailed for his Ivy League nuance insists we stop thinking and do what he says. Now. has to be running about 54-46 for Maverick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


China: Climate talks yielded 'positive' results (GILLIAN WONG, 12/20/09, Associated Press)

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, lauded Sunday the outcome of a historic U.N. climate conference that ended with a nonbinding agreement that urges major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts — but does not require it. [....]

The Obama administration on Sunday also defended the agreement as a "great step forward"...

or 大跃进

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Americans Are Finally Saving. How Did That Happen? (RON LIEBER, 12/20/09, NY Times)

But first, a bit about that savings rate — and the money that may feel like savings to you that doesn’t actually count when the government computes it.

The personal savings rate calculation begins with personal income and then subtracts taxes to determine disposable personal income. Both employee and employer contributions to 401(k)’s count toward the savings result, though data on employer matches can be a bit out of date.

Any capital gains, whether sitting in a brokerage account or realized through an actual sale of stock or mutual funds, don’t count, though. Also, while you may consider your mortgage payment a form of forced savings, the bit of equity you’re building up (when your mortgage isn’t underwater, at least) isn’t counted in the personal savings rate either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Revolution of the mind: Under siege at home, Iran’s dissidents draw comfort and ideas from some visionary thinkers based here (Farah Stockman, December 20, 2009, Boston Globe)

To the residents of East Boston, the faded townhouse on a working class block is just a house. But to Iran’s ruling regime, it is the epicenter of a foreign plot to overthrow its Islamic government.

The house belongs to Gene Sharp, an 81-year-old author whose books on the use of nonviolent methods to undermine authoritarian rule have been read by would-be revolutionaries all over the world.

In the wake of widespread protests in Iran after a disputed presidential election, a mass indictment accused more than 100 Iranian politicians and activists of following the instructions of Sharp, as well as spying for several other US academics. [...]

“When you write about how to exploit weaknesses of a dictatorship, the dictator usually isn’t happy,’’ he said, adding that he will keep up communication with activists who reach out to him. “They contact us because they want liberation. They know they are taking a risk. That’s their choice.’’

Iran specialists dismiss the prosecutors’ portrayal of American pro-democracy advocates as leaders of a conspiracy, saying it is evidence of a paranoid streak in the regime and a propaganda tactic aimed at isolating protesters as puppets of the West. But scholars and activists outside Iran do play a role sharing information and providing moral support for a repressed movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


An Officer and a Creative Man (MARK MOYAR, 12/20/09, NY Times)

Although many Army and Marine officers in Afghanistan are performing well, a significant portion are not demonstrating the vital leadership attributes of creativity, flexibility and initiative. In 2008, to better pinpoint these deficits, I surveyed 131 Army and Marine officers who had served in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or both, asking them each 42 questions about leadership in their services.

The results were striking. Many respondents said that field commanders relied too much on methods that worked in another place at another time but often did not work well now. Officers at higher levels are stifling the initiative of junior officers through micromanagement and policies to reduce risk. Onerous requirements for armored vehicles on patrols, for instance, are preventing the quick action needed for effective counterinsurgency. Of the Army veterans I surveyed, only 28 percent said that their service encouraged them to take risks, while a shocking 41 percent said that the Army discouraged it. [...]

It doesn’t need to be this way in the Army. After all, the Marine Corps has succeeded in inducing its officers to operate independently. More than twice as many Marine survey respondents as Army respondents — 58 percent — said that their service encouraged risk-taking. Marine culture is different because the career Marine officers who shape it are, on average, less risk-averse than career Army officers.

Researchers have found that the leadership ranks of big organizations are dominated by either “sensing-judging” or “intuitive thinking” personality types. Those in the former category rely primarily on the five senses to tell them about the world; they prefer structure and standardization, doing things by the book and maintaining tight control.

In the late 20th century, the Army gravitated toward standardization, as peacetime militaries often do, and consequently rewarded the sensing-judging officers who are now the Army’s generals and colonels. But this personality type functions less well in activities that change frequently or demand regular risk-taking, like technological development or counterinsurgency.

As Michael Lewis's Moneyball so eloquently argued, your senses are liars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Immigration debate no one is ready for (Ruben Navarrette, December 20, 2009, San Diego Union-Tribune)

As President Barack Obama himself has suggested, one way to level the playing field for beleaguered U.S. workers is to make undocumented immigrants legal and take away the incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire them because they can pay them less than U.S. workers. The best way to stop pitting one group of workers against another is to legalize the undocumented workers so they’re on par with U.S. workers. To the degree that there is a competition, such a change would make it a fair one and eliminate any advantage that illegal immigrants might now enjoy. Once this happens, employers won’t have an incentive to hire illegal workers. Problem solved. On the other hand, by keeping illegal workers in the shadows, we keep wages low and U.S. workers at a disadvantage. That’s not smart or beneficial to the same American labor force the opponents of comprehensive immigration reform claim to care so much about. [...]

These days, everyone is a victim – even whole countries. The fearmongers, nativists and alarmists like to say that the United States is experiencing an “invasion.” This convenient narrative implies that Americans haven’t been willing actors in this drama and excuses them of any responsibility.

Illegal immigration is not something that was done to Americans while they were minding their own business. It’s something that Americans did to themselves over the last few decades by raising children who see the worst and dirtiest jobs as beneath them, and then hiring hardworking illegal immigrants who don’t have the luxury of doing the same.

If we’re going to have this debate again, let’s start from there and work our way forward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Blunder on the Mountain (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/20/09, NY Times)

[I]t’s impossible not to think of Osama’s escaping from Tora Bora as one of the greatest bungled opportunities in history.

Even by normal standards of BDS that's cuckoo. Consider that if, as appears likely, OBL is buried in the rubble at Tora Bora she's arguing that W has to his credit one of the great achievements in history. That's surely not her intent.

But, suppose that OBL got away: what has he done since? Nothing.

It's pretty hard to argue that getting him was even important given how thoroughly he and/or his movement have been neutered.

As George W. Bush rightly saw, 9-11 afforded us one of the great opportunities in history, to Reform the Islamic world. Al Qaeda was an afterthought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Apocalypse Then: a review of Heart of Darkness and The Congo Diary (Penguin Classics) by Joseph Conrad (Doug Brown ,

The only film I ever faked an ID to get into was Apocalypse Now. I spent half an hour in a social sciences class (ah, the irony) carefully altering the birth year on my learner's permit. That evening, a couple of friends and I went and beheld the spectacle. I recall thinking it was a really weird movie; it wasn't until my second or third viewing in college that I finally started to grok it in fullness. Of course, I had heard it was based on Heart of Darkness, but even as the film grew to become one of my favorites I never bothered to pick up Conrad. Given how the film is such a portrayal of the chaos of the Vietnam War, and knowing how Coppola has a habit of completely rewriting source material, I figured Conrad's novella would only bear a cursory resemblance to the film. However, my classics-year project finally left me out of excuses: it was time for the plunge.

And, amazingly, the film follows the book pretty closely. [...]

Fans of Apocalypse Now don't have an excuse not to read Heart of Darkness. It's short and it adds an extra dimension to the film characters (particularly Kurtz). For everyone else, I found this surprisingly well-written. I say surprising because I had expected a lot of manly gung-ho "let's go civilize the savages," but Conrad seemed more to be saying "this is their world, not ours." Whenever the whites with whom Marlow is traveling upriver open fire into the jungle, he complains that all they are doing is making smoke. Marlow's sympathies lie much more with the natives than his European cohorts. There is an element of the civilized white man looking down at the uncivilized blacks, but far less than Conrad's reputation led me to expect. The "n" word only occurs a few times, unlike in Mark Twain where it is in constant use. The whites looking to exploit Africa are the bad guys here; Marlow respects Kurtz because Kurtz embraced the darkness that Africa represented to Victorian Englishmen.


Just in case you'd missed his point, Conrad clobbers you over the head with it in the final scene, between Marlow and Kurtz's fiance, an archetype of civilization:

"'Forgive me. I -- I have mourned so long in silence -- in silence. . . . You were with him -- to the last? I think of his loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no one to hear. . . .'

"'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his very last words. . . .' I stopped in a fright.

"'Repeat them,' she murmured in a heart-broken tone. 'I want -- I want -- something -- something -- to -- to live with.'

"I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you hear them?' The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The horror! The horror!'

"'His last word -- to live with,' she insisted. 'Don't you understand I loved him -- I loved him -- I loved him!'

"I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

"'The last word he pronounced was -- your name.'

The civilization she represents is the horror, not the jungle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


N.J. eyes expanded school choice: The program allows children to attend schools outside their home districts. In South Jersey, 5 districts take part. (Rita Giordano, 12/20/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

With a governor-elect who has vowed to support more educational options, attention has turned toward a little-known program that lets families send their children to schools outside their home district.

Known as the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, it started in 2000 as a five-year pilot. The state Board of Education readopted the program's regulations Wednesday to keep it operating in its current form. It is in 15 districts statewide, including five in South Jersey, and last school year served a little more than 900 students.

Those numbers could grow substantially if the Legislature embraces a proposal to expand the program and make it permanent. [....]

Christie supports interdistrict choice as long as the receiving district is a willing participant, he said.

"It was one of the areas of school choice that I endorsed during the campaign," Christie said. "I believe that we should strengthen that, along with a lot of other areas of school choice, like charter schools and vouchers."

In its nine years, the interdistrict program has received good reviews from the districts and families who have taken part, said Rochelle Hendricks, state assistant education commissioner for district and school improvement.

"I think it has tremendous potential as a reasonable choice option for families," Hendricks said.

If you want to help black kids you have to elect conservative Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Obama faces new global warming skeptic: Joe Sixpack: As President Obama returns from Copenhagen, polls show that Americans are becoming more more wary of his global warming agenda – and of global warming itself. (Patrik Jonsson, December 19, 2009, CS Monitor)

[T]he polling also shows that the public is increasingly dissatisfied with the president’s overall handling of the global warming issue. Support has slipped from 61 percent near the president’s 100-day mark to 45 percent this week.

Obama's actions in Copenhagen are a case in point. For example, 57 percent of Americans polled oppose the president’s proposal to provide $10 billion a year to subsidize emission cuts in developing countries.

At what point did the average white male support this nonsense?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


A hint of ginger, tea in this beer (Zak Stambor, 12/20/09, Chicago Tribune)

[A] Ukrainian Village-based tea company, has rolled out Himalayan Green Tea Bier. The beer is an organic Belgian-style ale that marries beer with ginger and Himalayan-grown green tea from the organic, biodynamic and fair-trade farm owned by the family of Ineeka co-owner Shashank Goel.

The golden ale, which is contract-brewed by a small Dutch brewery, features a subtle, mellow flavor with a hint of green tea and an increasingly spicy ginger finish. The more you drink it, the more the ginger stands out.

"The idea was not to introduce beer like Miller Lite or Heineken, but rather to produce something that captured the purity of the products," Goel says. "We didn't want the green tea to stand out, but rather for it to add layers and complexity to the beer."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Time to privatize the Postal Service? (David Lazarus, December 20, 2009, LA Times)

I called FedEx and asked if they wanted to take over the postal service.

"That's not something we would comment on," a company spokeswoman, Ann Saccomano, cagily replied. "It's speculative."

A UPS spokesman, Norman Black, was more forthcoming when I put the same question to him.

"We believe that the government plays a role in terms of ensuring that every mailbox is reached every day," he said. "That is not a responsibility that UPS would want."

That makes sense. The big private shippers probably would be happy to cherry-pick profitable urban routes but would want nothing to do with having to schlep mail up and down unprofitable rural roads.

It seems to me that the only privatization scheme that stands even a remote chance of working would be to break the postal service network into hundreds of regions and territories, and then have local companies compete for mail-delivery rights in each area.

But you'd still have to wonder how any such private-sector players would be more successful at the game than a long-established heavyweight like the postal service.

"If the system was privatized, it might cost 44 cents to get a letter across Los Angeles but $5 to get it to Connecticut," said Maher, the postal service spokesman.

"When you think about a network that delivers to all homes every day -- it's huge," he said. "Would a private company be able to do that? I don't think so. I think we would lose universal service."

I tend to agree. For-profit, market-driven companies tend to put bottom-line issues ahead of all other considerations -- and why wouldn't they? That's the nature of the beast.

...but why not keep it universal and public with rate increases that reflect the actual costs of the service?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


The elderly need to beware of lenders--and relatives: Older Americans who seek reverse mortgages need family members and friends to help protect them from being exploited by lenders and even their children. (Lew Sichelman, December 20, 2009, LA Times)

The elderly are victimized to the tune of $2.6 billion a year, according to a recent report from MetLife's Mature Market Institute. And that's a conservative guess because it has been estimated that only one in 25 cases of financial abuse is ever reported to authorities.

At a conference last month of specialists in reverse mortgages, a financial tool that seniors can use to tap into the equity they have in their homes without having to sell or move out, lenders were asked to help uncover ploys and schemes designed to fleece unsuspecting and often overly trusting seniors.

That might seem somewhat ironic when you consider that lenders, especially those dealing in mortgages that don't have to be paid back until the borrower dies or moves away of his own volition, often stand accused of robbing the elderly with their backward loans.

But that's just not the case, says Lisa Nerenberg, an expert in the prevention of elder abuse who told members of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Assn. that most of the time, they're not to blame.

"There's an epidemic of financial elder abuse, but the chief perpetrators aren't lenders. It's family members," says Nerenberg, a consultant who previously headed the San Francisco Consortium for Elder Abuse Prevention.

The MetLife study confirms that fact: "Approximately 60% of the substantiated Adult Protective Services' cases of financial abuse involve an adult child."

...that the Left insists should be allowed to kill the elderly and infirm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Productivity rises as workers do more with less (Alana Semuels, December 20, 2009, LA Times)

Employee output per hour jumped 8.1% in the third quarter this year, the largest gain since the third quarter of 2003.

But these bustling laborers are also a big reason why companies won't be rushing to hire new staffers any time soon. The brutal downturn has forced firms across the economy to do more with fewer hands; many have found they can manage just fine for the time being.

Hiring is a function of empowering management, not of increasing production.

December 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


Finally, the great climate change lie begins to unravel (Gerald Warner, 12/20/09, The Scotsman)

Hans Christian Andersen was outclassed in his home town last week, in the fabrication of fairy tales. The Brothers Grim – Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri – are possessed of imaginations so rich as to dwarf the inventive powers of conventional storytellers. "Once upon a time," Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Pachauri opened the proceedings by recycling all the much-loved, if long discredited, bedtime favourites.

Up it came, like the words of Widow Twanky's song at the climax of the pantomime – the notorious CRU East Anglia graph, the tortuous fabrication of which is now familiar worldwide, thanks to leaked e-mails and computer codes. There is not another room in the world where that tired imposture would not have provoked belly laughs; but neither is there one where Robert Mugabe would have received an ovation or "Two-Jags" Prescott been hailed as a crusader against carbon emissions. [...]

Last week, the wheels finally came off the global warming scam. In an ominous development for inventive "scientists", the US department of energy issued a Litigation Hold Notice, ordering the preservation of all e-mails, correspondence and even handwritten notes relating to "global warming, the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, and/or climate change science". The lawyers are coming for the climate research manipulators, who have received millions of dollars of American money. Uncle Sam takes that sort of thing seriously: expect Congressional hearings and Grand Juries.

The shock of this move was still reverberating when the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis made grave allegations against the British Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Change. It claimed Hadley had cherry-picked just 25 per cent of the data supplied by Russia, discarding the rest. None of the rejected material showed global warming; but urban meteorological stations did, because of the energy generated by cities. On Friday, opinion polls in the United States showed two-thirds of Americans do not believe in man-made global warming.

The gift of 'Climategate' is a fresh start (Mark Davis, 12/19/09, Dallas Morning News)
If I had been told last year that a scandal called "Climategate" would reveal in 2009 the depths of treachery that would infect the so-called science behind assertions of man-made global warming, I would have been thrilled. But I would have asked for just a little extra something.

I would have asked for this monumental and wholly deserved embarrassment to explode just before the opening gavel of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, an orgy of clergy and parishioners in the tawdry church of anthropogenic climate change. [...]

My gratitude knows no bounds. Not just for political reasons; this was a genuinely dangerous cult whose success would have exacted a profound toll on the quality of life of the human race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 PM


Wikipedia’s climate doctor: How Wikipedia’s green doctor rewrote 5,428 climate articles (Lawrence Solomon, 12/19/09, Financial Post)

But the UN’s official verdict that the Medieval Warm Period had not existed did not erase the countless schoolbooks, encyclopedias, and other scholarly sources that claimed it had. Rewriting those would take decades, time that the band members didn’t have if they were to save the globe from warming.

Instead, the band members turned to their friends in the media and to the blogosphere, creating a website called “The idea is that we working climate scientists should have a place where we can mount a rapid response to supposedly ‘bombshell’ papers that are doing the rounds” in aid of “combating dis-information,” one email explained, referring to criticisms of the hockey stick and anything else suggesting that temperatures today were not the hottest in recorded time. One person in the nine-member team — U.K. scientist and Green Party activist William Connolley — would take on particularly crucial duties.

Connolley took control of all things climate in the most used information source the world has ever known – Wikipedia. Starting in February 2003, just when opposition to the claims of the band members were beginning to gel, Connolley set to work on the Wikipedia site. He rewrote Wikipedia’s articles on global warming, on the greenhouse effect, on the instrumental temperature record, on the urban heat island, on climate models, on global cooling. On Feb. 14, he began to erase the Little Ice Age; on Aug.11, the Medieval Warm Period. In October, he turned his attention to the hockey stick graph. He rewrote articles on the politics of global warming and on the scientists who were skeptical of the band. Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer, two of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, were among his early targets, followed by others that the band especially hated, such as Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, authorities on the Medieval Warm Period.

All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred — over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions. Acolytes whose writing conformed to Connolley’s global warming views, in contrast, were rewarded with Wikipedia’s blessings. In these ways, Connolley turned Wikipedia into the missionary wing of the global warming movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Talkfest ends in a lot of hot air (Nick Leys and Mark Kenny, 12/20/09, The Sunday Mail)

GLOBAL leaders went to Copenhagen to save the world but used the final hours to desperately try and save face.

A "frustrated" Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last night joined US President Barack Obama in putting the most positive spin on the outcome of the conference, but the final "deal" was condemned across the political spectrum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


This fiasco will further alienate an angry public (Benny Peiser, 12/19/09,

Climate politics face a profound crisis. Revolts among eastern European countries, in Australia and even among Obama's Blue Dog Democrats are forcing law-makers to renounce support for unilateral climate policies. In the UK, the party-political consensus on climate change is unlikely to survive the general elections as both Labour and the Tories are confronted by a growing public backlash against green taxes and rising fuel bills.

However, the biggest losers of the Copenhagen fiasco appear to be climate science and the scientific establishment who, with a very few distinguished exceptions, have promoted unmitigated climate alarm and hysteria.It confirms beyond doubt that most governments have lost trust in the advice given by climate alarmists and the IPCC. The Copenhagen accord symbolises the loss of political power by Europe whose climate policies have been rendered obsolete.

It is a remarkable irony of history that when the leading voices of the radical environmental movements of the 1960s and 70s occupy governmental power in most western nations, their political and international influence is on the wane.

The public is too busy laughing to be angry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Copenhagen Accord is branded "abject failure" by activists (Deutsche Welle, 12/19/09)

Greenpeace condemned conference participants for failing to achieve a meaningful deal and likened representatives to criminals "fleeing to the airport in shame."

"World leaders had a once in a generation chance to change the world for good, to avert catastrophic climate change," said the group's international head Kumi Naidoo.

Development charity Oxfam said the accord "could not even be called a deal."

Scientists unhappy

German climate scientists also voiced their extreme disappointment.

"I am utterly disappointed," said Mojib Latif of the IFM-GEOMAR Leibniz Institute for Oceanography in Kiel. "Nothing substantial has come out of this. In fact it's a lot less than one might have expected in one's worst nightmares."

The Truths Copenhagen Ignored (Johann Hari, 19 December, 2009, The Independent)
So that's it. The world's worst polluters – the people who are drastically altering the climate – gathered here in Copenhagen to announce they were going to carry on cooking, in defiance of all the scientific warnings.

They didn't seal the deal; they sealed the coffin for the world's low-lying islands, its glaciers, its North Pole, and millions of lives.

Those of us who watched this conference with open eyes aren't surprised. Every day, practical, intelligent solutions that would cut our emissions of warming gases have been offered by scientists, developing countries and protesters – and they have been systematically vetoed by the governments of North America and Europe.

With Climate Agreement, Obama Guts Progressive Values (Bill McKibben, 19 December, 2009,
The President of the United States did several things with his agreement today with China, India, and South Africa:

He blew up the United Nations. The idea that there’s a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is, you poor nations can spout off all you want on questions like human rights or the role of women or fighting polio or handling refugees. But when you get too close to the center of things that count—the fossil fuel that’s at the center of our economy—you can forget about it. We’re not interested. You’re a bother, and when you sink beneath the waves, we don’t want to hear much about it. The dearest hope of the American right for 50 years was essentially realized because in the end coal is at the center of America’s economy.

Back later, gotta go shovel some coal into the snow blower....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Climate fiasco in Copenhagen: After 12 days of negotiations, the world climate conference in Copenhagen has proven a failure. This is a strong blow to preventing climate change (Henrik Boehme, 12/19/09, Deutsche Welle)

For US President Barack Obama, Copenhagen offers no good news. His last trip in Copenhagen was his failed attempt to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. Now with the stakes much higher, he has failed again. His speech was good – but others like Brazil's Lula da Silva were better. His effort was good, but simply not good enough. In terms of his leadership, there was little to be seen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Copenhagen called climate 'crime scene' (New Zealand Herald, Dec 20, 2009)

The United Nations process at Copenhagen was slammed as "appalling" by New Zealand's climate change ambassador yesterday, in comments to international media.

Adrian Macey's strong words were overshadowed only by those of the Sudanese ambassador, who compared the deal to the Holocaust and said it would condemn Africa to widespread deaths from global warming.

Ian Fry, delegate for the low-lying Pacific island state of Tuvalu warned the goal for limiting global warming to a maximum rise of 2C above pre-industrial times would spell "the end for Tuvalu".

...that someone has preserved all the great Tuvaluran literature....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Scientists underwhelmed by Copenhagen Accord: What many had hoped would be a planet-saving treaty came out as a three-page political accord with key numbers yet to be filled in.. (Javno, 12/19/09)

"The easiest yardstick to evaluate is the two degree target," said Andrew Watson, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

"This agreement will almost certainly not be sufficient to enable that target to be met -- legally-binding tough limits in place over the next few years would be needed for that," he told AFP by email.

...yet he measures temperatures with a yardstick?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Hog the ball, kid: The case for selfishness in an egalitarian sport (Sasha Issenberg, December 20, 2009, Boston Globe)

Soccer, however, has offered a refuge: the kibbutz next to the stadium complex, a team-oriented, egalitarian game friendly to both genders and a range of body types. Since emerging as a favorite suburban sport a few decades ago, soccer has thrived under baby-boomer parents looking to teach selfless fitness to their kids.

Such a philosophy isn’t just wishful thinking on the part of parents; it is explicit in the organizing principles of the US game. The tribune of the recreational soccer establishment, the American Youth Soccer Organization, was established in California in the 1960s, under a philosophy more humanist than competitive: “Everyone plays.”

But over the last decade, American soccer elites have begun to question this entire approach. In the realm of soccer itself, they worry that the youth game’s communitarian culture is to blame for the country’s World Cup failures. And as far as the kids are concerned, they argue that the teamwork-first ethic has become a national weakness: a philosophy that stifles native talents and enthusiasm in America’s most popular youth sport.

“We take the creativity and imagination out of players at a young age,” said Thomas Rongen, coach of the United States under-20 men’s national team.

So in the past several years, Rongen and other leading coaches have begun preaching a solution that would probably strike most liberal soccer parents as an embrace of the worst in human nature. In a word, they want to make soccer more selfish.

For these coaches, a period of indulged selfishness as kids learn the sport is a necessary step. By getting kids excited about what they can do with the ball, instead of just training them how they can best serve the team, they will begin to develop their own talents.

This philosophy is starting to take over youth soccer, changing the kibbutz from the inside.

The reality is that most of the guys on the field should just be role players, with about three (hopefully one in defense, one in midfield, and one up front) creating the goal scoring opportunities. But you won't know which is which until they've all tried creating for awhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Ben Nelson's Medicaid deal (Chris Frates, 12/19/09, Politico)

Sen. Mary Landrieu got the "Louisiana Purchase." Sen. Ben Nelson got the federal government to pick up most his state's future Medicaid tab -- forever. [...]

Medicaid is usually paid for with a mix of federal and state funding, but Nelson's carve out means that any Medicaid beneficiaries who join the program after the bill passes will be paid for in full by the federal government.

It's a sweet deal considering that many governors are worried that the Medicaid expansion will further strain already stressed state budgets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Under Obama, the Left feels left out (BEN SMITH & JONATHAN MARTIN, 12/19/09, Politico)

The outrage among some of America’s most vocal liberals at President Barack Obama’s failure to expand government-run health care caps a year of disappointments for Obama’s allies on the left and raises worrying questions for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

The revolt led by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean comes after a series of more contained disappointments among traditional Democratic constituencies that invested heavily in Obama — unions, gays, civil libertarians, Hispanics, and anti-war Democrats, among others — who have seen specific promises deferred and grand hopes of systematic change denied by an administration that has found itself severely limited by a combination of economic realities, congressional imperatives, and tactical choices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Talk About a Climate Catastrophe: The deal Obama brought home from Copenhagen wasn't just weak—it wasn't even really a deal. David Roberts on what went wrong—and what Obama has to do next. (David Roberts, 12/19/09, Daily Beast)

Saturday morning witnessed one of the most extraordinary and dramatic debates in the 17-year history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Copenhagen climate talks (Conference of the Parties 15, or COP15) were supposed to conclude with formalities. Instead a heated dispute threatened to derail them entirely.

At stake was the "Copenhagen Accord," an interim political agreement cobbled together by Barack Obama via some frenzied diplomacy during his one-day visit on Friday. Obama left before the final vote -- somewhat ironically to beat a snow storm descending on DC -- but he sounded confident that the accord would be adopted. Instead, in the wake of his departure, a small group of developing countries including Sudan and Venezuela rebelled, decried the process by which the accord was produced, and insisted that they would not allow it to be adopted. Since the UNFCCC process requires unanimity to move forward, Danish Prime Minister Lokke Rasmussen could only look on, bewildered, as country after country restated its position in increasingly emotional terms. At one point, Sudanese official Lumumba Stanislas Dia-ping, chair of the Group of 77 poor nations, compared the accord to the Holocaust. Then things went downhill. [...]

What's remarkable is that the accord already represented an enormous diminution of hopes and expectations, wan even compared to drafts that had circulated earlier in the week. It achieved only the barest of Obama's aims: one, to draw the major emitters among the developing nations — China, India, and Brazil -- into a process that would yield concrete commitments on their part, and two, to get funding flowing from developed countries to developing countries to aid their efforts to deal with climate change. The idea was to pull big emitters into a political agreement that would, at next year's COP16 in Mexico City, become a legally binding treaty. Obama adopted this two-step process after it became clear that a full treaty simply wasn't in the offing this year; he wanted something that could be operationalized immediately and serve to build trust in the intervening months.

Thanks to what Obama called, at a Friday-evening press conference, a "fundamental deadlock in perspectives" (read: China won't budge!), the accord ended up in an attenuated form that even its architect conceded is "not enough" to do what needs to be done.

Gunning Full Throttle into the Greenhouse (An Editorial by Markus Becker in Copenhagen, 12/19/09, Der Spiegel)
The global climate summit in Copenhagen has failed. There will be no concrete goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries extended no concrete offers of hope to developing countries. Newly industrializing countries, such as India and China, can continue to grow their economies without any checks and balances for the climate.

In the run-up to the conference, scientists, environmentalists and politicians alike called it one of the most important in history. But now it's just a missed opportunity. Likewise, it might just be one of the last of its kind in the battle against climate change.

It took governments from around the world 17 years to come together for this summit in Copenhagen -- 17 years of talking, seemingly endless negotiations, ideological debates, delays and maneuvering. It's been 17 years since the first climate-related meeting, held in Rio in 1992. It's been 17 years of searching for solutions to confront the threats resulting from climate change. And this is what we're left with. Many of the hopes that had been building up since 1992 have now been shattered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Phineas Gage: Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient: An accident with a tamping iron made Phineas Gage history's most famous brain-injury survivor (Steve Twomey, January 2010, Smithsonian magazine)

In 1848, Gage, 25, was the foreman of a crew cutting a railroad bed in Cavendish, Vermont. On September 13, as he was using a tamping iron to pack explosive powder into a hole, the powder detonated. The tamping iron—43 inches long, 1.25 inches in diameter and weighing 13.25 pounds—shot skyward, penetrated Gage’s left cheek, ripped into his brain and exited through his skull, landing several dozen feet away. Though blinded in his left eye, he might not even have lost consciousness, and he remained savvy enough to tell a doctor that day, “Here is business enough for you.”

Gage’s initial survival would have ensured him a measure of celebrity, but his name was etched into history by observations made by John Martyn Harlow, the doctor who treated him for a few months afterward. Gage’s friends found him“no longer Gage,” Harlow wrote. The balance between his “intellectual faculties and animal propensities” seemed gone. He could not stick to plans, uttered “the grossest profanity” and showed “little deference for his fellows.” The railroad-construction company that employed him, which had thought him a model foreman, refused to take him back. So Gage went to work at a stable in New Hampshire, drove coaches in Chile and eventually joined relatives in San Francisco, where he died in May 1860, at age 36, after a series of seizures.

In time, Gage became the most famous patient in the annals of neuroscience, because his case was the first to suggest a link between brain trauma and personality change. In his book An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage, the University of Melbourne’s Malcolm Macmillan writes that two-thirds of introductory psychology textbooks mention Gage. Even today, his skull, the tamping iron and a mask of his face made while he was alive are the most sought-out items at the Warren Anatomical Museum on the Harvard Medical School campus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Bad Ideas Never Die: Jean-Francois Revel’s career-long argument against utopian thinking: a review of Last Exit to Utopia: The Survival of Socialism in a Post-Soviet Era, by Jean-Francois Revel (Guy Sorman, 18 December 2009, City Journal)

French public intellectuals have a reputation—well-deserved—for being socialists, Marxists, or Trotskyists. One thinks in this regard of popular figures like Jean-Paul Sartre, Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, and Simone de Beauvoir, all with fan clubs on American campuses. Some French thinkers, however, have carried forward another intellectual tradition, that of classical liberalism—pro-democracy and pro-market—and running from the work of Alexis de Tocqueville to Albert Camus to the philosopher and journalist Jean-François Revel, who died at 82 in 2006.

Revel, as demonstrated in the newly translated edition of his 1999 book, Last Exit to Utopia, hated all utopias, and always put reality first. For him, the plain facts showed that capitalism worked better than socialism. Yet self-proclaimed intellectuals stuck to socialism even after it had clearly failed. Throughout his career, Revel would attack, with vivacity and much humor, the blindness of these leftist thinkers. In Last Exit to Utopia, Revel systematically contrasted the indisputable realities with the stubborn leftist commitment to dubious social experiments.

Which is all you really need to know to understand this story, No Panthéon for Camus (Benjamin Ivry, 17 December 2009, New Statesman):
Normally, honoring a writer as conventionally admired as the Nobel-prizewinning French author Albert Camus (1913 -1960) fifty years after his accidental death in a car crash should not be a controversial matter. But these are not normal times in France. The author of The Stranger, The Fall, and The Plague was proposed in mid-November by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for honorary reburial in the Panthéon, the vast monument in Paris' Latin Quarter which entombs many Gallic heroes, from Voltaire to Pasteur. In response, Jean Camus, 64, one of the late writer's twin children, told Le Monde newspaper that he feared Sarkozy was attempting an "appropriation" (récupération) of his father through a "misinterpretation" (contresens). [...]

Camus was indeed highly suspicious of political power and panoply, believing it corrupted those who possess it, and his play Caligula alleges that "to govern means to pillage, as everyone knows." Having known poverty in his own youth, Camus defended the rights of the poor and downtrodden, and while considering himself a leftist, criticized the Soviet system of gulags in the 1950s, which can make him look prescient today, at least compared to blinkered Communists among French intellectuals like Sartre and Beauvoir. Unlike the free-market capitalism strenuously advocated by Sarkozy, Camus was a devout libertarian, some writers remind us. Yet does this really matter? Other observers point out that in a few decades, few if any will remember under which French presidency Camus was reburied in the Panthéon, with accompanying hoopla. The philosopher and radio personality Raphaël Enthoven asked in L'Express: "Why deprive Camus of a hero's burial, after having accorded Sartre a papal funeral? Why deprive Camus of what was given to Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo and Zola?" The filmmaker Yann Moix concurred in the political journal La Règle du jeu, pointing out that since the Panthéon is the "Académie française for dead people," these days Camus is surely both "sufficiently academic and sufficiently dead to repose there." Moix adds, ironically assuring readers: "His works, great, lovely, and noble as they are, will not dynamite anything. Camus is not a dangerous author."

In fact, Camus is one of the few dangerous French authors, because a threat to the Revolution. Had he lived no one, least of all himself, would have considered him a man of the Left.

Camus and the Neo-Cons: More in Common Than They Might Suspect (EDWARD ROTHSTEIN, February 7, 2004, NY Times)

Consider the period just after the Second World War, when another tyranny had just collapsed. It seemed as if the Allies had, through their trials, learned something about totalitarianism and democracy. Could those concepts be used to understand the Soviet Union, the West's erstwhile partner? Was it something very different (a humanitarian revolutionary state gone awry) or something very similar (a fascistic state beyond saving)?

Such issues affected the impassioned arguments between the two most important writers in postwar France, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. In his new book, "Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It" (University of Chicago), Ronald Aronson, who teaches at Wayne State University, traces the nuances of their friendship, their mutual influences and hostilities, and the themes that still haunt contemporary debates.

Their schism over Communism was not academic. At the time of France's liberation, buoyed by its Resistance role, the Communist Party had 400,000 members; that figure almost doubled by 1946, and the party joined a coalition government. In addition, according to Mr. Aronson, the party dominated the largest trade union, published dozens of newspapers including the country's two largest, and had a payroll of more than 14,000. The Communist Party was part of the mainstream in a way it never was in the United States.

But its allegiances were just as open to question: it slavishly followed Soviet leadership; fellow travelers idealized the Soviet Union, despite readily available accounts of horrors. André Gide, who visited Russia in the 1930's, said he doubted whether anywhere, even in Hitler's Germany, the "mind and spirit are less free, more bowed down."

Camus had joined the party in Algeria in 1935 and left two years later in dismay. Mr. Aronson even implies that Camus' views on absurdity and freedom grew out of that experience.

Then, in France, during the German occupation, Camus did heroic work as editor of a Resistance newspaper, Combat. Sartre, in their developing friendship, called Camus an "outstanding example" of a life lived in "engagement." After the war, both men saw an opportunity to remake the world, redressing social ills. Both also wanted to steer the French left away from the Communists while distancing themselves from the growing cold war.

But by 1948, Sartre had become a fellow traveler, even giving the party the right to censor one of his plays. He called freedom under capitalism a "hoax" and France a "society of oppression." He refused to denounce Soviet labor camps or the show trials. And he justified revolutionary violence, praising the African revolutionary Franz Fanon.

Meanwhile, Camus found himself ever more repulsed by Communism, which he called "the modern madness." He saw Communism as a desperate attempt to create meaning and certainty. He wrote, "Those who pretend to know everything and settle everything finish by killing everything." If there were a choice between justice and freedom, meaning a choice between the ideal Communist state and the flawed Western state, he wrote: "I choose freedom. For even if justice is not realized, freedom maintains the power of protest against injustice and keeps communication open."

After Sartre's journal, Les Temps Modernes, panned Camus's influential counter-revolutionary book "The Rebel" in 1952, the friends never spoke again. Sartre's influence was so strong that Camus' French reputation was not repaired even after winning the Nobel Prize in 1957.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Mass grave found in northeastern Iraq, possibly from Saddam era (JPOST.COM, 12/19/09)

The Iraqi government says a mass grave discovered in northeast Iraq contains 185 bodies, mostly of women and children believed killed during a crackdown against Kurds by former dictator Saddam Hussein. [...]

The grave was found at a former military camp used by Saddam's forces. Authorities believe the remains date to between 1988 and 1991. An estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed by Saddam's forces during the late 1980s in a brutal crackdown on Kurdish insurgents.

...and the Left and far Right don't care if he was just a genoicidal dictator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


A lyric little icebox of a park: At Fenway, aging legends and little dreamers take to skates (David Filipov, December 19, 2009, Boston Globe)

The new ice gleamed like silver spread over the carefully manicured outfield turf. The frosty scraping of skates echoed off the grandstands. Bobby Orr, a black and gold blur, whizzed along a background of Monster green.

It was a sports fantasy any Boston fan could appreciate, as Bruins legends climbed onto the ice yesterday for the first skate on the newly built rink in Fenway Park, on a sparkling day as cold as the Red Sox bats in the 2009 playoffs.

Arguably the best spots in this extraordinary confluence of two storied franchises were occupied by Julia Johnson, 8, and her brother, Aidan, 6, stalwarts of the Somerville Mites hockey team. Clad in their team’s red and blue, they skated around the rink as Orr, the Hall of Fame defenseman, playfully pushed them along. Their mother, Karen, cheered them on from behind the glass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Candidate flip, president flop: Obama crushes a medication policy he'd vowed to endorse. Such bogus election-year promises undermine democracy (David Sirota, 12/18/09, Salon)

Every now and then, an insider inadvertently exposes the hideous rationalizations that run the American political grotesquerie. The best known of these statements are memorialized on TV as "gaffes." But the ones that never become famous tend to reveal the ugliest assumptions of all.

Case in point is the comment the pharmaceutical industry recently let fly in the Washington Post. The newspaper this week examined how the Obama administration crushed legislation that would have allowed Americans to purchase lower-priced FDA-approved medicines from abroad -- legislation that President Obama promised to support as a presidential candidate; legislation that would have reduced drug profiteering and saved the government and consumers $100 billion.

"It's about being a candidate as opposed to being president," said the drug industry's top lobbyist in defense of Obama's flip-flop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


U.N. Climate Talks ‘Take Note’ of Accord Backed by U.S. (ANDREW C. REVKIN and JOHN M. BRODER, December 19, 2009, NY Times)

With the swift bang of a gavel on Saturday morning, a prolonged fight between nations small and large over an international pact to limit climate risks that was forged the night before by the United States and four partners came to a somewhat murky end.

The chair of the climate treaty talks declared that the parties would “take note” of the document, named the Copenhagen Accord, leaving open the question of whether this effort to curb greenhouse gases from the world’s major emitters would gain the full support of the 193 countries bound by the original, and largely failed, 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. [...]

The resulting document, still being refined Saturday morning — and attacked by countries that claimed they were left out of the process — is far less than a new binding climate treaty, which was the expectation of many countries when this negotiating process began in 2007.

Copenhagen climate conference: global warming talks meltdown (Louise Gray, 19 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Copies of the Copenhagen Accord, as it has now become known, began to circulate. But as soon as one was agreed another would emerge – each weaker than the next.

Environmental groups began to panic as any reference to binding targets was removed, then a date for emissions peaking. The need to report emissions was watered down so that countries could do it domestically and then simply tell the world what they are doing. Finally – and most importantly perhaps – a date at which to make the whole thing into a legally-binding treaty was dropped. [...]

The President calmly pronounced that a deal had been done. It was not sufficient to fight climate change and it was not legally binding but it would do, he said.

The 'Copenhagen Accord' was immediately attacked by the French, the Germans and the British but they accepted it and so did the world’s press as deadlines loomed.

December 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 PM



One of the toughest issues involved a power struggle between the U.S. and China over how closely developing countries would allow industrialized nations to monitor their compliance with any voluntary emission-reduction pledges they make.

That issue was front and center in the meeting Friday evening among leaders of the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa, said Sergio Serra, Brazil's climate ambassador.

Earlier in the afternoon, President Obama had met with leaders of European and other countries to strategize about "what he was going to go do in making a last run at Premier Wen," according to a senior administration official. "They decided that, if they went to Wen and they couldn't get an agreement," they would still aim for an agreement that would lead countries "to continue to make progress toward something in the future."

Afterward, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to what they thought was a meeting with Mr. Wen, only to discover when they were ushered in that the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa also were there, the official said.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton suggested in the meeting that the agreement specify countries agree to subject their emission-reduction progress to examination by other countries, said Brazil's Mr. Serra.

...get rolled so often?

World leaders try to save face with 11th hour deal - but officials admit it's 'not enough to tackle global warming' (Jason Groves and David Derbyshire, 18th December 2009, Daily Mail)

Climate change talks descended into farce tonight after world leaders claimed they were close to signing a 'meaningful agreement' - but admitted it was not enough to tackle global warming.

After hours of acrimonious talks in Copenhagen, American sources said world leaders had finally agreed a fudged deal in the hope of saving face. [...]

Earlier the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez dubbed the marathon summit 'Nopenhagen'. [...]

There had been hopes that President Barack Obama would rescue the talks with a pledge of higher carbon dioxide cuts in the US when he flew in to the Danish capital yesterday.

But he arrived empty handed and launched a thinly veiled attack on China's refusal to allow international monitoring of its promised future carbon cuts claiming 'without such accountability, any agreement would be empty words on a page'.

He added: 'While the science of climate change is not in doubt, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now, and it hangs in the balance.'

It emerged that China's Premier Wen Jiaboa had not attended any of the leaders' meetings.

Chinese sources said he was very offended by President Obama's speech and found it 'humiliating'.

Great, a meeting where Hugo makes the most sense...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 PM


India, China triumph: No legally binding deal for now (AP 19 December 2009)

[I]t falls far short of committing any nation to emissions reductions beyond a general acknowledgment that the effort should contain global temperatures along the lines agreed to by the leading economic nations in July.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the talks were extremely difficult and: ``I must also say that I view the outcome with mixed feelings.''

A European Union news conference to announce the EU reaction was postponed and an official said an overall agreement involving those nations not included in the deal that Obama announced was still being negotiated.

Obama suggested that the five-nation agreement would be adopted by the larger summit in its closing hours.

``I am leaving before the final vote,'' he said. ``We feel confident we are moving in the direction of a final accord.''

Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure: Deal thrashed out at talks condemned as climate change scepticism in action (John Vidal, Allegra Stratton and Suzanne Goldenberg,
[I]t disappointed African and other vulnerable countries who had been holding out for far deeper emission cuts to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5C this century. As widely expected, all references to 1.5C in previous drafts were removed at the last minute, but more surprisingly, the earlier 2050 goal of reducing global CO2 emissions by 80% was also dropped.

The agreement also set up a forestry deal which is hoped would significantly reduce deforestation in return for cash. It lacked the kind of independent verification of emission reductions by developing countries that the US and others demanded. [...]

Lumumba Di-Aping, chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130 developing countries, was scathing: "This deal will definitely result in massive devastation in Africa and small island states. It has the lowest level of ambition you can imagine. It's nothing short of climate change scepticism in action.

"It locks countries into a cycle of poverty for ever. Obama has eliminated any difference between him and Bush."

The grim meaning of 'meaningful' (The Guardian, Saturday 19 December 2009)
Like businessmen who insist a deal is legit, politicians protesting they have done something "meaningful" arouse suspicions that the opposite is in fact true. And "meaningful" was about the best word the spin doctors could muster in respect of the agreement of sorts that was brokered in Copenhagen late last night.

The climate change summit had three big tickets on its agenda: emissions, financial assistance and the process going ahead. And on each of these counts the accord – which was effectively hammered out not by the whole conference, but rather by the US, India, China and South Africa – fell woefully short.

Obama's Copenhagen Deal: How it came about—and why it may not be a real deal. (David Corn and Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones)
Then again, there may not have been a final deal. Late on Friday night, President Barack Obama announced that an agreement had been reached, establishing a minimalist accord that would not set a firm schedule with hard-and-fast targets for reducing emissions. But after Obama held a press conference to declare semi-victory—"this is going to be a first step"—and jetted back to Washington, European officials said nothing was in the bag. And Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the G77 bloc of least developed nations, claimed there was no deal. "What has happened today confirms what we have been suspicious of that a deal will be imposed by United States, with the help of the Danish government, on all nations of the world," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 PM


Obama emerges from climate talks with slender pact and bruised stature (Suzanne Goldenberg, 12/19/09,

[H]e acknowledged the skimpy 2.5 page draft produced at the end of his effort was not the comprehensive agreement he had come to Copenhagen for. [...]

Although he called for bold and decisive action, Obama – who had been skittish at going to Copenhagen in the first place – offered no sign that Washington was willing to take such steps itself.

There were no further commitments on reducing emissions, or on finance for poor countries, beyond Hillary Clinton's announcement that the US would support a $100bn global fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change. He did not press the Senate to move ahead on climate change legislation, which environmental organisations have been urging for months. Obama did say America would follow through on his administration's clean energy agenda, and would live up to its pledges.

But in the absence of any evidence of that commitment the words rang hollow and there was a palpable sense of disappointment in the audience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Copenhagen ends with a deal surrounded by confusion (Ben Webster and Philippe Naughton, 12/18/09, Times of London)

The United Nations climate change summit at Copenhagen drew to an unsatisfactory close last night, with negotiators only able to secure a non-binding agreement between the developed and developing nations. [...]

The deal did not include emissions reduction targets, only an over-arching aspiration to limit the temperature rise to 2C.

A draft text leaked this afternoon did not include figures for binding commitments by developed nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. At the insistence of China, it also featured watered-down language on the need for verification of action taken by emerging economies.

The most recent draft did not include a commitment for the parties to meet again in the next six to 12 months to agree a full international treaty.

At least he didn't not get the Olympics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Leaders start to quit climate summit: Major players in the world climate summit began to leave the Danish capital on Friday. (Javno, 12/18/09)

Major players in the world climate summit began to leave the Danish capital on Friday, sapping the crisis-wracked negotiations of top-level political firepower.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev left to make a scheduled visit to Kazakhstan, a Kremlin spokeswoman told AFP, while a Brazilian source said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had also departed.

US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama would also leave later Friday, sources in their delegations said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


Obama's Copenhagen Speech: The Collapse of a Deal?> (David Corn, 12/18/09, Politics Daily)

No deal. Not even a fig leaf.

That seemed to be the implication of President Obama's much-anticipated speech at the Copenhagen climate summit. [...]

His eight minutes of remarks signaled a global train wreck. Not hiding his anger and frustration, he said, "I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt." He maintained that his administration has started to mount an "ambitious" plan to cut emissions. And he contended that it is "in our mutual interest to achieve a global accord in which we agree to steps, and to hold each other accountable for certain commitments." According to his prepared text, Obama was next supposed to say, "I believe that the pieces of that accord are now clear." (Emphasis added.) Instead, he asserted, "I believe that the pieces of that accord should now be clear." That is, there was no consensus among the major global leaders regarding what a deal would look like -- not even one that would paper-over the deep differences that have plagued the Copenhagen summit from the start: what targets to set; how to include both developed and developing countries within the same framework; what financing would be available to help poorer nations contend with climate change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Myths of the American Revolution: A noted historian debunks the conventional wisdom about America's War of Independence (John Ferling, Janiary 2010, Smithsonian magazine)

II. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism

The term “spirit of ‘76” refers to the colonists’ patriotic zeal and has always seemed synonymous with the idea that every able-bodied male colonist resolutely served, and suffered, throughout the eight-year war.

To be sure, the initial rally to arms was impressive. When the British Army marched out of Boston on April 19, 1775, messengers on horseback, including Boston silversmith Paul Revere, fanned out across New England to raise the alarm. Summoned by the feverish pealing of church bells, militiamen from countless hamlets hurried toward Concord, Massachusetts, where the British regulars planned to destroy a rebel arsenal. Thousands of militiamen arrived in time to fight; 89 men from 23 towns in Massachusetts were killed or wounded on that first day of war, April 19, 1775. By the next morning, Massachusetts had 12 regiments in the field. Connecticut soon mobilized a force of 6,000, one-quarter of its military-age men. Within a week, 16,000 men from the four New England colonies formed a siege army outside British-occupied Boston. In June, the Continental Congress took over the New England army, creating a national force, the Continental Army. Thereafter, men throughout America took up arms. It seemed to the British regulars that every able-bodied American male had become a soldier.

But as the colonists discovered how difficult and dangerous military service could be, enthusiasm waned. Many men preferred to remain home, in the safety of what Gen. George Washington described as their “Chimney Corner.” Early in the war, Washington wrote that he despaired of “compleating the army by Voluntary Inlistments.” Mindful that volunteers had rushed to enlist when hostilities began, Washington predicted that “after the first emotions are over,” those who were willing to serve from a belief in the “goodness of the cause” would amount to little more than “a drop in the Ocean.” He was correct. As 1776 progressed, many colonies were compelled to entice soldiers with offers of cash bounties, clothing, blankets and extended furloughs or enlistments shorter than the one-year term of service established by Congress.

The following year, when Congress mandated that men who enlisted must sign on for three years or the duration of the conflict, whichever came first, offers of cash and land bounties became an absolute necessity. The states and the army also turned to slick-tongued recruiters to round up volunteers. General Washington had urged conscription, stating that “the Government must have recourse to coercive measures.” In April 1777, Congress recommended a draft to the states. By the end of 1778, most states were conscripting men when Congress’ voluntary enlistment quotas were not met.

Moreover, beginning in 1778, the New England states, and eventually all Northern states, enlisted African-Americans, a practice that Congress had initially forbidden. Ultimately, some 5,000 blacks bore arms for the United States, approximately 5 percent of the total number of men who served in the Continental Army. The African-American soldiers made an important contribution to America’s ultimate victory. In 1781, Baron Ludwig von Closen, a veteran officer in the French Army, remarked that the “best [regiment] under arms” in the Continental Army was one in which 75 percent of the soldiers were African-Americans.

Longer enlistments radically changed the composition of the Army. Washington’s troops in 1775-76 had represented a cross section of the free male population. But few who owned farms were willing to serve for the duration, fearing loss of their property if years passed without producing revenue from which to pay taxes. After 1777, the average Continental soldier was young, single, propertyless, poor and in many cases an outright pauper. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, up to one in four soldiers was an impoverished recent immigrant. Patriotism aside, cash and land bounties offered an unprecedented chance for economic mobility for these men. Joseph Plumb Martin of Milford, Connecticut, ac­knowledged that he had enlisted for the money. Later, he would recollect the calculation he had made at the time: “As I must go, I might as well endeavor to get as much for my skin as I could.” For three-quarters of the war, few middle-class Americans bore arms in the Continental Army, although thousands did serve in militias.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


A white White House Christmas looks likely as storm bears down: Only 12 times in weather-recording history have winter storms brought a white Christmas to Washington. (CS Monitor, 12/18/09)

With Saturday's snowfall expected to range from 5 to 15 inches or more, and with cold weather expected into next week, there should still be icicles hanging from the Truman Balcony on Dec. 25. The White House grounds likely will remain a snowy expanse.

That’s rare here in D.C., which every new president discovers is a more Southern city than he had thought. According to the National Weather Service, in the Washington area the chances of waking up on Christmas morning with snow on the ground are only 13 percent.

But Decoder believes that even that statistic overstates D.C.’s lack of wintriness. In 1964 it was 72 degrees here on Christmas Day. Whenever snow is in the forecast, residents stampede food stores, snatching up milk and power bars as if their lives – or even more important, their careers – depended on them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Landon Donovan completes Everton loan move (London Evening Standard)

Everton have confirmed the signing of United States striker Landon Donovan on a short-term loan deal.

Donovan will join the Merseyside club in the January transfer window having been granted permission by Los Angeles Galaxy.

The 27-year-old will increase manager David Moyes' selection options during a season which has seen the Merseysiders hampered by injuries throughout the season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Diplomatic frenzy at final day of UN climate talks (MICHAEL CASEY and JENNIFER LOVEN, 12/18/09, AP)

Abandoning any hope of reaching a comprehensive deal, a group of about 25 countries sought agreement on a two-page political statement setting out critical elements, key among them the mobilization of $30 billion in the next three years to help poor countries cope with climate change and a scaling up to $100 billion a year by 2020.

He's got to stay out of Scandinavia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


President Obama's Surprising Relationship With Lobbyists and Big Business: Tim Carney discusses Obamanomics. (Jessica Rettig, December 18, 2009, US News)

Barack Obama campaigned for president, says Tim Carney, as an advocate for big government, claiming that more federal regu­lation and spending will protect American consumers against the excesses of big business. But, Carney argues in Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses, the president's push for more intervention has actual­ly favored big business and lobbying. Carney, lobbying editor and columnist at the Washington Examiner and award-winning author of The Big Ripoff, re­cently chatted with U.S. News about the surprising relationship between big government and big business and how Obama is helping the same special in­terests he says he's fighting.

Why do lobbyists benefit from Obamanomics?

Whenever government gets more in­volved in the economy, a lobbyist be­comes more of a necessity. If the govern­ment is leaving your business alone, you might not need a lobbyist. When the government is handing out hundreds of billion of dollars, investing in a lobbyist becomes more worthwhile. So Obama­nomics is a broad stimulus for K Street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Poor and Emerging States Stall Climate Negotiations (JOHN M. BRODER, 12/17/09, NY Times)

The Group of 77 is a group in name only. Made up of 130 countries, it represents tiny island nations like Vanuatu and advanced middle-income states like Argentina. Its nominal leader is Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who speaks on behalf of the group and who led a walkout on Monday, saying the developed nations’ offer of $10 billion in “quick-start” financing after completion of a deal here was wholly inadequate.

Many developing nations have united under the group’s auspices of because there is strength in numbers, and because they can take advantage of the far greater negotiating power and resources of countries like China and Brazil. Many small countries have neither a big enough delegation nor the organizational structure to negotiate effectively on their own.

China has been a natural godfather to many of the Group of 77 countries because its government has extensive investments in Africa and Latin America, often involving lucrative deals to bring oil and minerals home.

The coalition is united on a few central issues. They include making sure that industrialized countries keep the emissions reductions pledges they made as part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and that the Copenhagen conference produces enough money for poorer countries to adapt to climate change, said María Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador’s minister of cultural and ecological patrimony.

But the group is neither a tight negotiating unit, nor particularly well organized. While larger countries like Brazil and China have well-appointed headquarters in one part of the Bella Center, where the negotiations are being held, the Group of 77 office itself is made up of two spartan rooms equipped with two computers, where some delegates from the poorest African nations sat Wednesday morning drinking soda and nibbling biscuits.

“The G-77 is an incredibly diverse group,” said Michael A. Levi, a climate change specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations who is attending the Copenhagen meeting. “Its richest countries are 50 times as wealthy on a per-capita basis as its poorest ones. All of this makes a common yet constructive position very difficult. The easiest thing to agree on is to obstruct action.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


U.S.-Israeli Arms Cooperation Quietly Growing (Nathan Guttman, December 16, 2009, The Forward)

Among the new initiatives taken by the administration, the Forward has learned, are adjustments in a massive arms deal the Bush administration made with Arab Gulf states in response to Israeli concerns. There have also been upgrades in U.S.-Israeli military cooperation on missile defense. And a deal is expected next year that will see one of the United States’ most advanced fighter jets go to Israel with some of America’s most sensitive new technology.

Amid the cacophony of U.S.-Israel clashes on the diplomatic front, public attention given to this intensified strategic cooperation has been scant. But in a rare public comment in October, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren praised the Obama administration’s response to complaints about lost ground during the close of the Bush years as “warm and immediate.”

“We came to the Obama administration and said, ‘Listen, we have a problem here,’” Oren, told a gathering of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “The administration’s reaction was immediate: we are going to address this issue, we are going to make sure that we maintain your QME [qualitative military edge].”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Infidelity: in spite of everything, we still care: There is an encouraging lesson in the public reaction to the Tiger Woods scandal. (John Robson, 18 December 2009, MercatorNet)

What strikes me about this mess, and encourages me, is that even in this liberated age, the overall result of the scandal has been revulsion. In 2005 I began a newspaper column with, “As the narrator of Russell Kirk’s ghost story The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost wanders the sordid main drag of his decaying parish, a neon sign above a stripper bar flashes ‘Stark Naked or Your Money Back’. What a slogan for our times.” I still think so. But the short version of the Tiger Woods business is, “Stark Naked and our Money Back.” As it should be.

From golfing fans to the general public and to Mr. Woods’ commercial sponsors, the general reaction has not been to excuse or diminish his conduct but “Ugh, get away from me.” The mass of humanity in the West has, it appears, managed to resist the siren song of sexual modernity far better than we had feared.

The metaphysics of modernity was expressed very nicely by Malcolm Muggeridge in 1966 when he said, “Sex is the mysticism of materialism. We are to die in the spirit to be reborn in the flesh, rather than the other way around.” It was obvious from the start to many people that this plan was fatally flawed. But it is nice to see that most normal people’s reaction to Tiger Woods is that, after 50 years letting it all hang out, we would like to see much of it get tucked back in. [...]

Certainly, in the aftermath, even those of us unlikely to romp to victory in our first Masters are usefully reminded that managing to stagger along the straight and narrow path matters more than any other achievement mundane or spectacular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Law Blocking Acorn Funding Raises Constitutional Question (NOMAAN MERCHANT, 12/18/09, WSJ)

At issue is the Constitution's prohibition of bills of attainder, which punish a specific person or group without due process or other rights that courts provide.

"The Acorn bill was poorly drafted and poorly conceived," says Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School. "Congress, in this case, showed very little circumspection in how they went about this."

Acorn sued Congress in federal court to overturn the funding ban. Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon sided with Acorn and ordered government officials to reinstate Acorn's federal contracts. "That Acorn was singled out is obvious and undisputed by the government," Judge Gershon wrote.

Vindictiveness is fun, just not legal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Angry Liberals Edge Toward a Mutiny (NAFTALI BENDAVID and PETER WALLSTEN, 12/18/09, WSJ)

Liberals face somewhat of a paradox. Some want the Senate to pass a bill, and then seek changes during the process of merging the House and Senate versions. And they don't want to kill the overhaul outright and ruin their best chance in a generation to pass such a bill. At the same time, they are angry at the shape it is taking.

"I am not there yet in terms of seeing this bill at this moment as a bill that I can support," Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, another independent, said Wednesday.

The wavering spells danger for Mr. Obama and the Democrats if it foretells disenchantment by the base heading into the 2010 campaign. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week showed voters intending to back Democrats are less interested than Republican voters in next year's elections, an "intensity gap" expected to benefit GOP candidates.

Key parts of the Democratic base are more negative about the party than they were at the start of the year. Just 23% of blue-collar workers expressed positive feelings about Democrats, a 30-point drop from February. Voters aged 18-34 and Hispanics are also less enthusiastic about the party.

Republicans said the real issue is public opposition. "Americans oppose the Democrat plan because they know the final product is a colossal legislative mistake," said Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

...Mr. Obama has laid the groundwork for a triangulation strategy that'd make Dick Morris weep with envy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Six Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be repatriated (Peter Finn, Sudarsan Raghavan and Julie Tate, December 18, 2009, Washington Post)

The Obama administration is planning to repatriate six Yemenis held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a transfer that could be a prelude to the release of dozens more detainees to Yemen, according to sources with independent knowledge of the matter.

Yemen says at least 28 Al-Qaeda militants killed (AFP, 12/17/09)
Yemeni security forces killed at least 28 Al-Qaeda militants and captured 17 others in operations backed by air strikes on Thursday that foiled imminent suicide attacks, the defence ministry said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


30 Secrets Your Waiter Will Never Tell You: Two dozen servers reveal the truth about what goes on behind the kitchen doors. (Michelle Crouch, Reader's Digest)

What You Don’t Want to Know
5. When I was at one bakery restaurant, they used to make this really yummy peach cobbler in a big tray. A lot of times, servers don’t have time to eat. So we all kept a fork in our aprons, and as we cruised through the kitchen, we’d stick our fork in the cobbler and take a bite. We’d use the same fork each time.
—Kathy Kniss

6. If you make a big fuss about sending your soup back because it’s not hot enough, we like to take your spoon and run it under really hot water, so when you put the hot spoon in your mouth, you’re going to get the impression—often the very painful impression—that your soup is indeed hot.

7. I’ve seen some horrible things done to people’s food: steaks dropped on the floor, butter dipped in the dishwater.
—Waiter at a casual restaurant in the Chicago area

8. If your dessert says “homemade,” it probably is. But it might be homemade at a bakery three miles away.
—Charity Ohlund

9. I knew one guy—he was a real jerk—he’d go to Costco and buy this gigantic carrot cake for $10 and tell us to say it’s homemade. Then he sold it for $10 a slice.
Steve Dublanica, veteran New York waiter and author of Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter [...]\

In a weekly blog called “In the Weeds” for, Kansas City waitress Charity Ohlund describes her favorite customer stereotypes:

1. If you are a pack of females, you want separate checks. And I don’t mean split evenly by the number of people. I mean split down to the exact number of Diet Cokes with lime each person consumed. And if eight gals order a $14 appetizer to share, that needs to be split into $1.75 each. If you are a pack of females over age 55, I’m near tears. You want all of the above, plus you’re going to complain about every … single … thing.

2. If you look like you have an eating disorder, you do. Beautifully skinny model types move their food around the plate for two hours, or they devour the whole porterhouse and head to the ladies’ room immediately.

3. If you have a European accent, you are a horrible tipper. Accent = 10 percent. Always.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Audi e-tron: Taking the e-train: Judging by a spectacularly cool and powerful prototype, today's gallant pioneers of the electric sports car will be left in the dust (Dan Neil, December 18, 2009, LA Times)

The Audi e-tron -- a spectacularly cool and highly evolved prototype of an electric sports car due from the German giant at the end of 2011 -- may not be the car that crushes California's bold pioneers of electric mobility.

But what it represents could.

In the next couple of years, globe-striding automakers such as Nissan-Renault, Mercedes-Benz, VW Group, GM and Ford will begin cranking out tens of thousands of electric cars. Not just small electric city cars and mid-size family sedans (like GM's Volt and Nissan's Leaf) but powerful, dead-sexy sports cars.

The Audi e-tron, whose only shared component with the look-alike Audi R8 are the halfshafts, will at some point have company in the luxury electric sports car segment in the form of Mercedes' electric-version SLS gullwing (and no, I never thought I'd be writing those words).

This armada of electron-burners will not be diffident, underbaked beta-testers. No asterisks they. These will be -- they have to be -- fully fledged Nissans, Mercedes and VWs, built to these companies' exacting standards and sold at a price that economizes their global scale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Laughing at the Left (Quin Hillyer, 12.18.09, American Spectator)

If the consequences for this great nation of ours weren't so serious and the policies preferred by the left weren't so dangerous, one would really laugh, almost uncontrollably, at the beliefs and (il)logic of American liberals. Based on things they have actually said or done, here are some of the things they really, truly seem to believe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Jim Inhofe gets cool reception in Denmark (LOUISE ROUG, 12/18/09, Politico)

“We in the United States owe it to the 191 countries to be well-informed and know what the intentions of the United States are. The United States is not going to pass a cap and trade,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Leaked UN report shows cuts offered at Copenhagen would lead to 3C rise (Suzanne Goldenberg, John Vidal and Jonathan Watts, 12/17/09,

Not 2.7?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Snow forces thousands of schools to close (Murray Wardrop, 18 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have begun their Christmas holidays a day early after schools across Britain closed due to heavy snow.

While their PM pleads to stop global warming....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Your (commuter) carriage awaits!: Thrifty Queen catches ordinary passenger train on her journey to Sandringham for Christmas (Rebecca English, 17th December 2009, Daily Mail)

There was a buzz at King’s Cross this morning as platform 11b began crawling with police.

Could it be a drug bust, the crowd wondered? Or was a rock star about to board a train?

Then a small lady in a headscarf appeared, a handbag on one arm and a posy on the other.

Fellow passengers on the 10.45 First Capital Connect service to King’s Lynn couldn’t quite believe their eyes as the Queen stepped on board a first class carriage.

That is one classy dame.

The Queen’s Tears (Mark Steyn, 9/17/01, National Review)

The foreign leader who said it best last week was the Queen, though she didn't really say a word. I have met Her Majesty from time to time (I am one of her Canadian subjects), and to put it at its mildest, for those with a taste for American vernacular politics, she can be a little stiff: The Queen stands on ceremony and she has a lot of ceremony to stand on. But on Thursday, for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, she ordered the Coldstream Guards to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" — the first time a foreign anthem had been played at the ceremony. The following day something even more unprecedented happened: At Britain's memorial service for the war dead of last Tuesday, the first chords of "The Star-Spangled Banner" rumbled up from the great organ at St Paul's Cathedral, and the Queen did something she's never done before — she sang a foreign national anthem, all the words. She doesn't sing her own obviously ("God Save Me"), but she's never sung "La Marseillaise" or anything else, either; her lips never move.

And at that same service she also sang "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," for the second time in her life — the first was at the funeral of her first prime minister, Winston Churchill. On Friday, she fought back tears. When she ascended the throne, Harry Truman was in the White House. The first president she got to know was Eisenhower, back in the war, when he'd come to the palace to brief her father. She is the head of state of most of the rest of the English-speaking world — Queen of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, etc. But she understands something that few other leaders of the West seem to — that today the ultimate guarantor of the peace and liberty of her realms is the United States. If America falls, or is diminished, or retreats in on itself, there is no "free world." That's the meaning of the Queen's "Ich bin ein Amerikaaner" moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Obama races to save climate talks (GLENN THRUSH, 12/18/00, Politico)

[R]ecognizing the urgency of the situation, he quickly cancelled those plans to sit in on a much larger session with Rasmussen, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, a Chinese representative, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and others.

"There are big problems, it is moving very slowly, and China and India are blocking," Sarkozy told the Danish daily Politiken after leaving the meeting, which broke up at 11:30.

Negotiators, weary and frustrated, described a process that still involved the nibbling of policy appetizers at a time when prior conferences were already on to the coffee and dessert of their valedictory speeches.

They warned that none of the several drafts circulating in Copenhagen represented even the bones of a final deal, with many key issues still in flux and time running out.

...he has no chance of getting any of it through Congress, especially not the massive transfers of money abroad. America wants him to stop spending money on our economy, nevermind on others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Orphanages Rival Foster Homes for Quality Child Care: Contrary to popular melodramas and musicals, orphanages in many countries seem to take care of abandoned children just as well as adoptive homes (Katherine Harmon, 12/17/09, Scientific American)

Orphanages linger in the popular imagination as unnatural relics, places from which neglected children need to be quickly rescued. And many international organizations and policymakers have made it a priority to reduce the role of these institutions, trying to place kids into family settings as quickly as possible.

But children in orphanages in less wealthy countries appear to be doing just as well as their orphaned or abandoned counterparts who live in private homes—even those living with family members—according to a new study that examined the well-being of some 3,000 children in five countries. "Health, emotional and cognitive function, and physical growth were no worse for institution-living [children]," the study authors report in a new paper published online Thursday in the journal PLoS ONE. They found, in fact, that "the institution-based children scored higher on intellectual functioning and memory and had fewer social and emotional difficulties."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Obama and the Rotten Compromise (Avishai Margalit, 12/17/09, NYRB Blog)

In reading the reports on President Obama’s Nobel speech in Oslo, one gets the impression that the President was offering a dose of realism to a gathering of fjord-loving well-meaning village idiots.

Except they're city idiots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM

December 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Presiding over Senate, Franken declines to yield Lieberman additional time to speak (Associated Press, December 17, 2009)

Franken was presiding over the Senate Thursday afternoon as Lieberman spoke about amendments he planned to offer to the bill. Lieberman asked for an additional moment to finish — a routine request — but Franken refused to grant the time.

"In my capacity as the senator from Minnesota, I object," Franken said. [...]

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona came to his friend Lieberman's defense, saying he'd never seen such a thing occur.

"I must say that I don't know what's happening here in this body but I think it's wrong," McCain said on the floor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone (Garrison Keillor, December 16, 2009, Baltimore Sun)

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

Christmas does not need any improvements. It is a common, ordinary experience that resists brilliant innovation. Just make some gingerbread persons and light three candles and sing softly in dim light about the poor man gathering winter fu-u-el and the radiant beams and the holly and the ivy, and you've got it. Too many people work too hard to make Christmas perfect, find the perfect gifts, get a turkey that reaches 100 percent of potential. Perfection is a goal of brilliant people, and it is unnecessary where Christmas is concerned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Is there an Obama doctrine? : “Just war”, not just war. And affordable, please (The Economist, 12/17/09)

If Mr Bush had a doctrine it was his belief in pre-emptive war, enunciated in the National Security Strategy of 2002 and enacted in Iraq the next year. Does Mr Obama, who opposed that war, accept the idea of pre-emption in any circumstances? Here the Oslo speech was vague. He cited the concept of “just war” (war waged only as a last resort or in self-defence, with “proportional” force and sparing civilians where possible), but said that nuclear proliferation and failed states made it necessary to think about just war “in new ways”. These he did not specify.

Ending Tyranny: The past and future of an idea (John Lewis Gaddis, Sep/Oct 2008, American Interest)
Presidential administrations tend not to be remembered in the same way they were regarded while in office. Proximity breeds weariness, disappointment and often contempt. Distance—if by that is meant the cooling of passions that comes with retirement, together with proximity to presidents who have followed and to mistakes they have made—tends to foster reconsideration, nostalgia and even respect. That’s why the presidential libraries of even the least remarkable presidents continue to attract visitors.

George W. Bush, whatever else one might say about him, has been a most remarkable President: Historians will be debating his legacy for decades to come. If past patterns hold, their conclusions will not necessarily correspond to the views of current critics. Consider how little is now remembered, for example, of President Clinton’s impeachment, only the second in American history. Or how President Reagan’s reputation has shifted from that of a movie-star lightweight to that of a grand strategic heavyweight. Or how Eisenhower was once believed to be incapable of constructing an intelligible sentence. Or how Truman was down to a 26 percent approval rating at the time he left office but is now seen as having presided over a golden age in grand strategy—even a kind of genesis, Dean Acheson suggested, when he titled his memoir Present at the Creation.

Presidential revisionism tends to begin with small surprises. How, for instance, could a Missouri politician like Truman who never went to college get along so well with a Yale-educated dandy like Acheson? How could Eisenhower, who spoke so poorly, write so well? How could Reagan, the prototypical hawk, want to abolish nuclear weapons? Answering such questions caused historians to challenge conventional wisdom about these Presidents, revealing the extent to which stereotypes had misled their contemporaries.

So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush? I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy. The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they’ve appeared, and I’m hardly the only historian who has had this experience. I’ve found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn’t read the latest book on Lincoln, or on—as Bush refers to him—the “first George W.” I’ve even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results.

“Well, so Bush reads history”, one might reasonably observe at this point. “Isn’t it more important to find out how he uses it?” It is indeed, and I doubt that anybody will be in a position to answer that question definitively until the oral histories get recorded, the memoirs get written, and the archives open. But I can say this on the basis of direct observation: President Bush is interested—as no other occupant of the White House has been for quite a long time—in how the past can provide guidance for the future. [...]

The Bush Doctrine

So is there a Bush Doctrine, and if so will it meet this test of transferability? To answer this question, I’d look first for a statement delivered in a suitably august setting: Durable doctrines don’t appear as casual comments. Then I’d look for one that’s clearly labeled as a policy, not as a portrayal of adversaries or an explanation of methods for dealing with them: That’s why terms like “Axis of Evil” or “preemption” don’t constitute doctrines. Finally—especially in an historically conscious president—I would look for historical echoes.

The speech that best fits these criteria is the one President Bush delivered from the steps of the Capitol on January 20, 2005. As a student of Lincoln, he would have attached special meaning to the term “second Inaugural Address.” That was the moment to draw lessons from a past extending well beyond his own, to apply them to a current crisis, and to project them into an uncertain future. And indeed the President did announce—in a single memorable sentence—that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”. Full disclosure: I suggested including the idea of ending tyranny in a session with the President’s speechwriters on January 10, 2005. Correlations, however, are not causes.

Initial responses, as usually happens with presidential doctrines, were mixed. Peggy Noonan, who wrote some of Reagan’s best speeches, described it as “somewhere between dreamy and disturbing.” George Will grumbled that “the attractiveness of the goal [is not] an excuse for ignoring the difficulties and moral ambiguities involved in its pursuit.” But the editors of the New York Times unexpectedly liked the speech, observing, “Once in a long while, a newly sworn-in president . . . says something that people will repeat long after he has moved into history.”

As with George H. W. Bush, it is Barrack Obama's misfortune to stand in the shadow of a great president and try to manage the end of a war the other already won. We ought not necessarily expect a whole lot from him, but some consistency and coherence would be helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Obama's 2010 Challenge: Wake Up Liberals, Calm Down Independents (Andrew Kohut, 12/17/09, Pew Research Center)

What's really exceptional at this stage of Obama's presidency is the extent to which the public has moved in a conservative direction on a range of issues. These trends have emanated as much from the middle of the electorate as from the highly energized conservative right. Even more notable, however, is the extent to which liberals appear to be dozing as the country has shifted on both economic and social issues.

Pew Research surveys throughout the year have found a downward slope in support both for an activist government generally and for a strong safety net for the needy, in particular. Chalk up these trends to a backlash against Obama policies that have expanded the role of government.

More surprising is declining support for gun control, a fall in support for abortion rights, and a rise in public doubts about global warming. Much of the change on these issues has come from independents, a category now populated by many former self-identified Republicans. But a lack of passion among Democrats -- and liberals in particular -- is also a part of the story of this conservative trend among the public at large.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


Slouching toward healthcare reform: The long, painful road to a disappointing deal (Robert Reich, 12/17/09, Salon)

At best, it's likely to be a small overhaul containing incremental reforms.

Real reform has moved from a Medicare-like public option open to all, to a public option open to 6 million without employer coverage (still in the House bill), to a public option open only to those same people in states that opt for it, or about 4 million (the original Harry Reid version of the Senate bill), to no public option but expanded Medicare (the Senate compromise) to no expanded Medicare at all (the deal with Joe "I love all the attention" Lieberman).

In other words, the private insurers are winning and the public is losing.

Pharmaceutical companies are winning as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Thompson Tops Gillibrand In Dem Senate Primary (Quinnipiac University, 12/17/09)

New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 - 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race. In a general election matchup, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tops Thompson 52 - 36 percent and Gillibrand 50 - 40 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Sanders says 'as of this point' he won't vote for healthcare bill
(Jordan Fabian - 12/16/09, The Hill)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said late Wednesday that he cannot support the Democrats' healthcare reform legislation in its current form.

Let the demonizing commence...

Health-care bill wouldn't bring real reform (Howard Dean, December 17, 2009, Washington Post)

If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


British High Court Says Jewish School’s Ethnic-Based Admissions Policy Is Illegal (SARAH LYALL, 12/17/09, NY Times)

Britain’s Supreme Court declared Wednesday that it was illegal for a Jewish school that favors Jewish applicants to base its admissions policy on a classic test of Jewishness — whether one’s mother is Jewish.

“One thing is clear about the matrilineal test; it is a test of ethnic origin,” Lord Phillips, president of the court, said in his majority opinion. Under the law, he said, “by definition, discrimination that is based upon that test is discrimination on racial grounds.” [...]

Although it is financed by the state, J.F.S., in North London, is allowed by law to give preference to Jewish applicants.

Jews know better than anyone the high cost of racial hygiene theories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM

TIM 12:

Pawlenty: Health care reform 'a monstrosity' (JOHN DISTASO, 12/17/09, Union Leader)

Potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty came to the leadoff-primary state today urging the GOP to return to its conservative base and then practice what it preaches if it hopes to regain the lost trust of Americans.

"We've got to explain using conservative principles, conservative ideas and values, why our approach, even if it may not be instant gratification, is better for families and individuals and regular working people all across this country on those kind of issues, those bread and butter, meat and potatoes issues," he told the New Hampshire Union Leader in an interview. [...]

"President Obama was here in New Hampshire on New Hampshire primary night and said he was going to fix health care by bringing Republicans and Democrats together," he said. "Well, here we are in New Hampshire and now what we see is a monstrosity being jammed down our throats on almost a purely partisan basis and maybe entirely partisan basis." He called the Democratic-led process on Capitol Hill that has led to the likely passage of a health care reform package "one of the largest political bait and switch tactics in the modern history of the country." He said the Minnesota health care system, while imperfect, gives participants broad market choices. He said the state employee plan has kept cost increases at or near zero percent for the past five years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Snow wreaks havoc on Sweden's roadways (The Local, 17 Dec 09)

Heavy snowfall and high winds continued to disrupt traffic in many parts of Sweden into Thursday afternoon.

By 3pm, police counted around ten incidents of vehicles skidding off the roads around Nyköping in eastern Sweden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Perry: Gore has 'gone to hell' (Politico, 12/17/09)

Speaking to a builders group in Dallas, Perry – once a Democrat – was asked about his past relationship with Gore.

“Did you get religion? Did he get religion?” a man in the crowd asked. “What has happened since then?”

“I certainly got religion,” Perry responded. “I think he’s gone to hell,” reports the Dallas Morning News.

Upon hearing the line, the room exploded with laughter and applause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Robert Caro: What I've Learned: The biographer chronicles his own life, before admitting he's scared to know what college kids think of his books (Cal Fussman, 12/16/09, Esquire)

"There's an old saying: All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more I've learned, the less I believe it. Power doesn't always corrupt. What power always does is reveal. When a guy gets into a position where he doesn't have to worry anymore, then you see what he wanted to do all along."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Books of the Year 2009: Beckett, Tóibín, Mantel and Bolaño feature in this year's list (Julian Barnes, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Nagel, et al , 11/25/09, Times of London)


János Kis’s Politics as a Moral Problem (Central European University Press) is a superb study of the problem of dirty hands in politics, particularly democratic politics – the moral dilemmas that politicians face in achieving, maintaining, and exercising power. This is a particularly acute form of the moral problem of ends and means. The book discusses the philosophical background in Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Weber and others, and examines a number of recent examples from European politics. Kis is a philosopher, but his political experience includes negotiating the transfer of power in Hungary in 1989, as leader of the primary dissident party, the Free Democrats.

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

Nice to see Mr. Nagel move a step closer to giving up the fight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


The President Is No B+: In fact, he's got the worst ratings of any president at the end of his first year. (Karl Rove, 12/17/09, Wall Street Journal)

There are many factors that explain it, including weakness abroad, an unprecedented spending binge at home, and making a perfectly awful health-care plan his signature domestic initiative. But something else is happening.

Mr. Obama has not governed as the centrist, deficit-fighting, bipartisan consensus builder he promised to be. And his promise to embody a new kind of politics—free of finger-pointing, pettiness and spin—was a mirage. He has cheapened his office with needless attacks on his predecessor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Nelson Says Vote Not For Sale (Craig Nigrelli, 12/16/09, Action 3 News)

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, the key Democrat hold-out in pushing health care reform forward in Washington, adamantly says his vote is not for sale at any price. Answering Reporters questions Wednesday, the moderate Nebraska Democrat was asked about a blog that claimed the White House is threatening to close Offutt Air Force base in Bellevue if Nelson does not vote for the plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Obama told China: I can't stop Israel strike on Iran indefinitely (Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, 12/17/09, Haaretz

U.S. President Barack Obama has warned his Chinese counterpart that the United States would not be able to keep Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear installations for much longer, senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz.

They said Obama warned President Hu Jintao during the American's visit to Beijing a month ago as part of the U.S. attempt to convince the Chinese to support strict sanctions on Tehran if it does not accept Western proposals for its nuclear program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Obama: Do Not Fear; This Health-Care Bill Puts Us on the Edge of a Large, Scary Cliff (Mary Katharine Ham, December 15, 2009, Weekly Standard)

It was with an odd statement that Obama announced the progress he had made in meetings with Senate Democrats today on the health-care bill he's desperate to pass by Christmas, no matter what's in it.

“We are on the precipice of an achievement that has eluded Congresses and presidents for generations,” Obama told reporters after meeting with Senate Democrats for about an hour at the White House complex.

If you're thinking to yourself that the word "precipice" has negative connotations, and you're wondering why the great orator would use it to illustrate his grand victory, you have reason to wonder. Here are the two definitions of the word, both quite unnerving when applied to the health-care debate:

1. a cliff with a vertical, nearly vertical, or overhanging face.
2. a situation of great peril:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Democrats can't blame Bush for their troubles (E.J. Dionne Jr., December 17, 2009, Washington Post)

Here's what Democrats need to ponder: Can they prosper in the absence of George W. Bush?

His presidency was a tonic for Democrats and led to a blossoming of political creativity on the center-left not seen since the 1930s. No tactic, no program, no leader ever did more to catalyze the party than the rage Bush inspired.

The whole effort was summarized nicely by the party's slogan in 2006, "A New Direction for America." There was no need to specify north or south, east or west, up or down. Compared with Bush, any alternative destination seemed appealing. And by becoming the apotheosis of the fresh and the new, Barack Obama emerged as the most attractive guide to this unknown promised land.

...once in power the Democrats have been unable to deviate from W. The delusion of their rhetoric has butted up against the realities of America and the sight isn't pretty. But it is funny....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Nobel Speech (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., December 16, 2009, Ignatius Insight)

The President made the following statements, with which George Bush would have little or no problem:

1) "We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflicts in our lifetimes." So, no peace in our time.

2) "There will be times when nations—acting individually or in concert—will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified." Hard to disagree with that principle.

3) The United States has a special role in the promotion of liberty. "The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms." What more obvious thing is there about the record since World War II?

4) The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale." Just who these few "small" men are is not specified. They are probably much greater in number than the president is wont to acknowledge. But I confess some comfort in the hint that he finally realizes that they are about, with their intentions.

These are the principal statements that we heard in Oslo. They are obvious things some of us have been saying for years. They were said by Augustine long ago.

But what is worth speculating about is this: If this president could suddenly make such an about face on the crucial issue of war, can it happen in the other areas in which he is so disordered?

...mightn't he justify to himself fighting the evil in his own politics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


China tells U.S.: No deal (GLENN THRUSH | 12/17/09, Politico)

China’s climate negotiators have told Western counterparts they can’t agree to an “operational agreement” on climate change that President Obama had hoped to bring home from Copenhagen –- and will push for a short, noncommittal collective statement at the end of the talks, according to American staffers briefed on the situation. [...]

The apparent stalemate coincides with the arrival in Copenhagen of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a 20-member delegation of House members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had viewed the trip as a triumph following the lower chamber’s summer passage of a sweeping climate change bill.

If China has, in fact, pulled the plug it would deal a major blow to efforts by Democrats in the Senate to revive stalled efforts at passing vitally important companion legislation. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) warned the conference Wednesday that the Senate isn’t likely to move if lawmaker perceive America taking more stringent steps than trading partners and rivals in China and India.

...but for the fact we have a president who actually believed what the Chicoms told him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Bullet radiation not so harmful (Science Alert, 16 December 2009)

Senior Research Fellow at the University of South Australia, John Pattison has led a research project that casts doubt on the aftermath impact of exposure to radiation from depleted uranium munitions. [...]

“Many studies have been undertaken to discover more about Gulf War Syndrome but none has uncovered a direct cause or cluster of unique symptoms and that is why we need more research to clarify and refine our understanding of the syndrome.

“Our aim in this study has been to help by continuing the process of elimination and, in doing so; we believe that we can in fact rule out DU as a cause of the Syndrome from a radiation perspective. Our research found that the enhancement factor is actually of the order of 1 to 10 which, although significant, is at least 50 times smaller than has been suggested in the past.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


JFK Defied Samuelson, Setting Off Boom (BRIAN DOMITROVIC, 12/16/09, Investors Business Daily)

The paramount matter facing JFK after he won the election of 1960 was, as his own campaign slogan had it, to "get this country moving again." There had been four recessions in the previous dozen years, and departing President Eisenhower had supervised a yearly growth rate of 2.4% — the worst of any president in the latter half of the century. JFK wanted to eclipse that mark in a big way. He put together a dream team of economic advisers to tell him how, and he chose Samuelson to anchor it.

Samuelson said the government should raise taxes and loosen money. The idea was that Federal Reserve easing would make businesses invest and employ workers, and tax hikes would siphon off any inflationary pressures caused by the loose money. Samuelson called his policy mix the "neo-classical synthesis."

JFK was puzzled by the advice. After all, the marginal rate of the income tax, at the astronomical level of 91%, had clearly been at the root of the Eisenhower sluggishness. Moreover, foreign investors scared off by that tax rate had been abandoning the dollar, a problem looser money could only exacerbate. [...]

JFK ordered his advisers to start taking suggestions from the business community, and a bombshell came from the Chamber of Commerce: a permanent 26% reduction in the marginal rate. Kennedy promptly indicated that this should become law, and it essentially did in the Revenue Act of 1964, which took the top rate down to 70% for good. The Fed, for its part, reacted negatively and tripled the federal funds rate.

The boom started just as JFK indicated that he was dumping the neo-classical synthesis for its opposite. Indeed, one of Samuelson's former MIT students, Robert Mundell, was at the time a young staffer at the International Monetary Fund and urging just that.

As Mundell wrote years later, in the wake of his own Nobel Prize, "at first (my advice) wasn't popular. This was because it recommended a complete reversal of the ... neo-classical synthesis. . .. Fortunately for the United States (and me), President Kennedy reversed the policy mix to that of tax cuts to spur growth in combination with tight money to protect (the dollar). The result was the longest expansion ever ... unmatched until the Reagan expansion of the 1980s."

December 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


The Wedding? I’m Here for the Cookies (RON LIEBER, 12/16/09, NY Times)

For as long as anyone here can remember, wedding receptions in Pittsburgh have featured cookie tables, laden with dozens of homemade old-fashioned offerings like lady locks, pizzelles and buckeyes. For weeks ahead — sometimes months — mothers and aunts and grandmas and in-laws hunker down in the kitchen baking and freezing. Then, on the big day, hungry guests ravage the buffet, piling plates high and packing more in takeout containers so they can have them for breakfast the next day.

No one knows for sure who started the tradition, or why it hasn’t exactly taken hold outside this region. Many people credit Italian and Eastern European immigrants who wanted to bring a bit of the Old Country to the big day in the New World. Given that many of them were already well practiced at laying out a Christmas spread, baking 8 to 10 times as many treats for a few hundred special friends and relatives may not have seemed like such a stretch.

But even amid the increasing professionalization of the wedding, with florists mimicking slick arrangements ripped from Martha Stewart’s magazines and wedding planners scheduling each event down to the minute, the descendants of those Pittsburgh settlers continue to haul their homemade cookies into the fanciest hotels and wedding venues around the city. For many families today, it would be bordering on sacrilege to do without the table.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Schumer "Regrets" Slur of Flight Attendant (Brian Montopoli, 12/16/09, CBS News)

According to the Republican aide who was apparently sitting nearby and told the story to Politico, both Schumer and his seatmate – fellow New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand – kept talking on their phones regardless.

Then the flight attendant came by again and told Schumer that everyone on the flight was waiting for him to turn off his phone. He asked to finish his conversation but was told he could not; he then hung up and, according to the GOP aide, argued about the rule banning him from speaking on the phone.

When the flight attendant walked away, the aide told Politico, Schumer turned to Gillibrand and referred to the woman as a "bitch."

Just another argument for taking the train.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


On climate, Obama is no different from Bush (Nitin Sethi & Simit Bhagat , 12/17/09, TNN)

Starting late on Tuesday night and stretching into Wednesday morning, the US showed that Barack Obama’s ‘new deal’ was no different

The biggest polluter on a historic and per capita basis came out from behind the curtains in demanding emission reductions under an international regime from emerging economies, such as India and China, while lowering its and other developed economies’ obligations. It did so by formally pushing for changes in the long-term agreement draft text in an overnight manoeuvre.

...Mr. Obama at least pretends to take this lunacy seriously, even if he's not going to do anything about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


The climate change conference from Hell (Kelly McParland, 12/16/09, National Post)

Let's see now...

Over in Copenhagen, we have Robert Mugabe, perhaps the most brutal and corrupt despot in Africa, whose life's work has been to destroy the once-prosperous country of Zimbabwe, lecturing the West on the "hypocrisy" of its position on climate change. (Zimbabwe doesn't have to worry about greenhouse gas emissions, because, thanks to Mugane, its economy is in a state of collapse.) Update: Here's Stephen Lewis talking about a new report on Mugabe's use of rape as a weapon.

We have the government of China, which won't allow its citizens free access to the Internet, complaining that the climate summit is "not transparent."

We have Hugo Chavez, who took time off from shutting down Venezuela's radio stations to fly to Denmark, complaining about western "dictatorship." (If anyone back in Venezuela disagrees, he'll toss them in jail).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


Al Gore’s melting Arctic claim unites scientist and sceptic alike (Philippe Naughton in Copenhagen and Hannah Devlin, 12/16/09, Times of London)

Wieslaw Maslowski, a climatologist at the US Naval Postgraduate School in California, on whose work Mr Gore based his claim that there is a 75 per cent chance that the North Pole will be completely ice-free within five to seven years, said that this was a misrepresentation of the information he had provided to Mr Gore’s office.

...who will be left for Al Gore to lie to?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


Beware the Treasury - Banking Complex (Kurt Brouwer, 12/16/09, MarketWatch: Fundmastery Blog)

[W]ho had the power to get 67 years of regulation overturned? In my view, there is only one answer: The repeal of Glass-Steagall illustrates the power of the Treasury-Banking Complex to get favorable legislation passed.

To me, the issue is the fact that the big banking institutions are so well-connected in Washington that they can manipulate the rules and regulations to fit their needs. By the way, I’m not talking about local and regional banks, but rather the very big banks such as Citi, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. They and their executives donate millions of dollars to politicians in Congress and elsewhere. In addition, there is a revolving door between top banks such as Goldman Sachs, Citi or Bank of America and the U.S. Treasury. Think Hank Paulson or Robert Rubin, who both headed the Treasury after careers on Wall Street.

...if they're just going to serve the banks too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Lieberman: GOP bid a 'possibility' (Politico, 12/16/09)

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday that it is a "possibility” that he will run as a Republican when he seeks re-election.

“I don't know what I'll run as,” Lieberman said during an interview with CNN. “I like being an independent. So that's definitely a possibility. But I'd say all options are open.”

The best thing about switching parties for Senator Lieberman is that he could conform his politics to his religion, instead of disgracing the latter by the former.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


When Will It Be Our Time? (MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, 12/16/09, NY Times)

It is with deepening concern that I recognize the Obama administration is not yet capable of standing up to Israel and the pro-Israel lobby. Our dream of freedom is being crushed under the weight of immovable and constantly expanding Israeli settlements.

Days ago, the State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, managed only to term such illegal building “dismaying.” The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, stands up and walks out on the U.S. envoy, George Mitchell, every time the American envoy mentions East Jerusalem.

And Javier Solana, just prior to completing his stint as European Union foreign policy chief, claimed Palestinian moves toward statehood “have to be done with time, with calm, in an appropriate moment.” He adds: “I don’t think today is the moment to talk about that.”

When, precisely, is a good time for Palestinian freedom?

Today. Declare statehood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Bernanke is Time Magazine's Person of the Year (BBC, 12/16/09)

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve board, has been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

The magazine said the recession itself was the story of the year and without Mr Bernanke at the helm it would have been a lot worse.

Imagine the damage we'd have avoided had he been Fed Chair back in '29....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


Which fool ever thought the Iraq War was about WMD?: The most surprising thing about Tony Blair’s ‘revelation’ that he would have deposed Saddam regardless was that so many found it shocking. (Mick Hume, 12/16/09, Spiked)

Tony Blair has been crucified by the unbelievers again, after admitting, as one newspaper put it, that he ‘would still have led the country to war in Iraq even if he had known that it had no weapons of mass destruction’. This ‘shock revelation’ has led to shrill condemnations and demands for the current UK Iraq inquiry to be turned into a war crimes trial.

To some of us opponents of the war, however, the only ‘shock’ is that anybody should be surprised by what Blair said. Did they imagine that instead the former prime minister would admit that he was wrong? More importantly, it should always have been obvious that the non-existent Iraqi WMD were only a thin pretext for the US-led invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

...but the Left and far Right won't go along with just wars unless you can convince them they're personally threatened.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Poll: Clinton approval soars (EAMON JAVERS | 12/16/09, Politico)

A new poll of avid news watchers shows that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a much higher approval rating than the man she once campaigned against and now works for, President Barack Obama.

In the poll of 800 registered voters who are self-identified “news watchers,” Clinton had a 75 percent approval rating and a 21 percent disapproval rating overall.

We filled the wrong quota.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Animal protection (The Ottawa Citizen, December 16, 2009)

There has been an evolution in thinking about zoos since the days when they featured large animals wedged into small cages surrounded by kids with balloons.

...only in how the intelligent design it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


The Unacceptable Senate Bill (Matthew Rothschild, December 16, 2009, The Progressive)

Howard Dean is right: Let’s ditch the Senate health care bill.

Without a public option, and without a Medicare buy-in for people 55 to 65, the bill doesn’t do nearly enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Senate Republicans Trigger Procedural War To Slow Health Bill (Congressional Quarterly, 12/16/09)

Sen. Tom Coburn , R-Okla., objected Wednesday morning to a routine request to waive the reading of a 767-page amendment by Bernard Sanders , I-Vt., that would create a single-payer health care system. Sanders’ amendment is highly unlikely to be adopted, but its reading out loud gobbles up several hours increasingly scarce floor time. One GOP leadership aide said he expected the reading to take “a long time,” while another noted that just the amendment’s table of contents, which is six pages in length, took a clerk 17 minutes to read.

Coburn’s move may foreshadow a GOP move to further delay floor action by forcing clerks to read aloud the yet-to-be unveiled manager’s amendment that Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., and his staff have been working to craft behind closed doors. That amendment is expected to incorporate all remaining changes to the bill before Senate passage.

GOP Grabs First Battleground Lead In 8 Years (Steven Shepard, 12/16/09, Hotline)
The GOP leads on the midterm generic cong. ballot in a new George Washington Univ. Battleground poll -- the first time the party has led in that survey since the beginning of '02.

The GOP claims a 42%-40% lead among LVs, according to the poll released today, with 18% undecided. In the most recent poll, in July, Dems led, 43%-40%.

NBC poll: Public sours on health reform (Mark Murray, 12/16/09, NBC)
Just 32 percent say it's a good idea, versus 47 percent who say it's a bad idea.

In addition, for the first time in the survey, a plurality prefers the status quo to reform. By a 44-41 percent margin, respondents say it would be better to keep the current system than to pass Obama's health plan. ,/blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Obama writes personal letter to NKorean leader Kim Jong II (AP 16 December 2009)

The letter was delivered to North Korean officials last week by Obama's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, during a visit to Pyongyang aimed at restarting the stalled negotiations, the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomacy, would not describe the contents of the letter but said they fit with Bosworth's general message.

He's just begging for a chance to bow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Friend Driscoll has found a great Fox Butterfield Contest entry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


U.S. foes get their spotlight day (LOUISE ROUG | 12/16/09, Politico)

In Copenhagen, expect [Ahmadinejad] to deliver the sound green message that an Iranian nuclear program can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"I believe that nuclear energy is a good substitute for fossil fuels, like other forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind,"

Ahmadinejad told Politiken. "It's not just about Iran. It's good for all countries to have access to such a technology."

Adding to American diplomatic headaches these days are the Saudis, whose petrol-based economies give them little incentive to work toward any kind of climate deal, and - as a particular noxious cherry on top - the presence of Robert Mugabe, the brutal President of Zimbabwe, described by President Obama as "a dictator."

Mugabe arrived Tuesday morning in Copenhagen, acting like the clueless guest, who doesn't know he isn't welcome. "Why should I feel isolated?" he asked, according to Reuters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Obama is not saviour of the world. He's still an American president (Jonathan Freedland, 12/15/09,

For the second time in just over a week, Barack Obama is on his way to Scandinavia, his mission once again to confront impossible expectations with a cold bucket of reality. Last week he was in Oslo to pick up a Nobel peace prize, apologetically explaining that in the real world away from Norwegian dreams he was a war president who had just escalated the US presence in Afghanistan. On Friday he will touch down in Copenhagen, this time required to offer his regrets that, despite the hopes he stirred round the world a year ago, he will not be able to pull out his pen and, at a stroke, sign the deal that saves the planet.

This is fast becoming Obama's role on the world stage: managing disappointment. The gap between what international opinion demands of him and what he can deliver widens with each passing month, and it falls to him to explain why.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Democrats Could Lose Obama, Biden Senate Seats (Doug Heye, 12/15/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

In Delaware, state Attorney General and Iraq war veteran Beau Biden is widely expected to throw his hat into the race against longtime GOP Congressman Mike Castle.

Castle, who represents an at-large district and has been elected statewide repeatedly (he's also the former governor), is well liked by Delaware voters--including Democrats. Attacking Castle is a strategy likely to backfire. Indeed, campaign observers wanting to see fireworks won't see them here--a Biden/Castle campaign could be one of the friendliest in memory. Current polling shows Castle leading Biden and the Rothenberg Political Report has listed the race as a "lean Republican takeover."

Illinois' Senate race looks to put state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat, against Republican Congressman Mark Kirk. Rated a toss-up by both the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg report, polling shows the race to be a deadlock--a recent Rasmussen poll had Kirk down, but within the margin of error, 42-39. That Illinois Democrats are still stinging from the Rod Blagojevich scandal and appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate, along with allegations of Giannoulias' own scandal-related issues can't help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Climate conference emits its share of carbon (MICHAEL CASEY, 12/16/09, Associated Press)

If they fail to reach a climate deal in Copenhagen, world leaders flying in their private jets and huddling in five-star hotels will have little to show for their efforts beyond a big, fat carbon footprint.

The U.N. estimates 40,500 tons of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference — 90 percent of it from flights.

Instead they really just want to kill colored babies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Why southern Yemen is pushing for secession: With bleak housing blocks and rusty wrecks for taxis, south Yemen residents pushing for secession say they've been sidelined by the government. (Michael Horton, December 15, 2009 , CS Monitor)

They see little value in their 1990 unification with the north – a move that was precipitated by the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result of the USSR’s collapse, the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) – the only Marxist state in the Arabian Peninsula – lost its primary source of economic support and was forced to join North Yemen in a newly united Republic of Yemen, under the leadership of President Saleh, who has remained in power for 15 years.

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe].”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Microsoft admits stealing code from startup (Bobbie Johnson, 12/16/09,

Microsoft has suspended a new internet messaging service in China, after it emerged that the site was partially based on code stolen from a rival startup.

December 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Unwitting tourists attend White House breakfast (BEN EVANS, 12/15/09, Associated Press)

The White House is once again explaining how uninvited guests wound up shaking hands with President Barack Obama.

This time, a Georgia couple hoping to tour the White House ended up at an invitation-only Veterans Day breakfast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


European Muslims prefer mixed areas - survey (Rob Broomby, 12/15/09, BBC News)

Most of Europe's Muslims want to live in mixed communities, not segregated neighbourhoods, a new report says. [..]

Nazia Hussein, who supervised the work, says many Muslims are still seen as outsiders.

"The majority of Muslims that we've spoken to across 11 cities feel very strongly attached to their neighbourhood and city, they feel quite strongly attached to their country," she told the BBC.

"But at the same time they don't believe that their fellow countrymen or the wider society sees them as either German or French or English."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


World leaders 'could boycott failing Copenhagen talks' (Philippe Naughton, 12/15/09, Times of London)

The fundamental stand-off at the conference is between major emerging economies such as China and India, whose emissions are expected to soar over the coming decades, and the United States, which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is insisting that any deal must involve sacrifices by newly industrialised economies.

A new draft text released today showed the scale of the deadlock: it lacked any figures on emissions targets nor did it propose a firm date for the "global peaking" of emissions. Britain argues that emissions must start falling by 2020 if a global temperature rise of above 2C is to be averted.

Delegates say that behind-closed-doors negotiations have been marred by bitter exchanges between the Americans and Chinese, with Beijing accusing Washington of "playing tricks". African and many Asian delegates have complained that they have been virtually excluded from the negotiations as China and India throw their weight around inside the developing country bloc.

One Western diplomat said that Ms Hedegaard, the former Danish climate minister, was moving too fast for a painstaking, consensus-forging process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


oll Reveals Trauma of Joblessness in U.S. (MICHAEL LUO and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN, 12/15/09, NY Times)

In terms of casting blame for the high unemployment rate, 26 percent of unemployed adults cited former President George W. Bush; 12 percent pointed the finger at banks; 8 percent highlighted jobs going overseas and the same number blamed politicians. Only 3 percent blamed President Obama.

Those out of work were split, however, on the president’s handling of job creation, with 47 percent expressing approval and 44 percent disapproval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Obama’s Christian Realism (DAVID BROOKS, 12/15/09, NY Times)

Cold war liberalism had a fine run in the middle third of the 20th century, and it has lingered here and there since. Scoop Jackson kept the flame alive in the 1970s. Peter Beinart wrote a book called “The Good Fight,” giving the tendency modern content.

But after Vietnam, most liberals moved on. It became unfashionable to talk about evil. Some liberals came to believe in the inherent goodness of man and the limitless possibilities of negotiation. Some blamed conflicts on weapons systems and pursued arms control. Some based their foreign-policy thinking on being against whatever George W. Bush was for. If Bush was an idealistic nation-builder, they became Nixonian realists.

Barack Obama never bought into these shifts. In the past few weeks, he has revived the Christian realism that undergirded cold war liberal thinking and tried to apply it to a different world. [...]

His speeches at West Point and Oslo this year are pitch-perfect explications of the liberal internationalist approach. Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil. that the Gipper and W were the two great Liberal Internationalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Japanese Obsessions (ROGER COHEN, 12/15/09, NY Times)

our factors have contributed to this: wealth, postmodernism, conformism and despair. Japan is rich enough, bored enough with national ambition, strait-jacketed enough and gloomy enough to find immense attraction in playful escapism and quirky obsession. [...]

[T]he Japanese have settled into a postmodernist ennui, an Asian outpost of that European condition, but in a more dangerous part of the world. When I noted to a senior Mitsui executive, Osamu Koyama, that China would soon overtake Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, he said: “That’s O.K., we’ve been telling people for years we were No. 2, ever since we overtook Germany, and it hasn’t given us much benefit. Our status is coming down.”

Events have imbued the Japanese corporate warrior with a new insouciance.

It coexists with a tremendous conformity. On Sundays, when traffic is closed around the imperial palace, I saw lines of people waiting for pedestrian lights to change even though there were no cars. Smiling deference can seem so uniform as to constitute a gleaming wall. I can see how the urge to escape from this homogeneity could be strong.

Finally, gloom seems rampant, a national condition. I couldn’t find anyone ready to tell me the worst is over or that Japan, or jobs, would bounce back, despite the bracing recent election of Yukio Hatoyama that ended a half-century of rule by the Liberal Democrats. Hatoyama has called for a new era of “Yuai,” or fraternity. He’s talking about Asian community as one way out of Japan’s self-marginalization. But any excitement seems muted.

So what’s left for this comfortable, perfectionist society of narrowed ambition is otaku escape, the games I found myself playing to fool exhaustion as Chinese dumplings adorned the treadmill.

MacArthur wins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Torture Roulette: The Obama administration has picked the worst possible case for its first torture trial. (Dahlia Lithwick, Dec. 14, 2009, Slate)

[T]oday yet another path to accountability for government-sanctioned torture was blocked at the starting gate. To be clear, it's not that torture victims are losing these trials. They can't even find their way into a courtroom. And, time after time, it's the Obama administration barring the door.

In a conference call with reporters late last week, ACLU lawyers pointed out that, as of this month, not a single torture victim has had his day in court, and that no court has yet ruled on the legality of the Bush-era torture policies.

It's not even a justiciable question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Reid bows to centrists, will drop Medicare buy-in provision (J. Taylor Rushing and Alexander Bolton, 12/14/09, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to give in to demands from centrists in order to pass the healthcare legislation before Christmas, senators say.

Reid indicated at a closed-door Democratic Conference meeting on Monday that he would drop a controversial Medicare buy-in provision, which was offered as a replacement to the government-run health insurance option, to win the votes of Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Swedish schnapps: The Martin Beck mysteries (WILLIAM CORBETT, December 2, 2008, Boston Phoenix)

The Martin Beck novels are exceptional fiction and will especially please readers of Henning Mankell (he contributes an introduction to Roseanna), whose own series of 10 Kurt Wallander novels is now complete. Mankell, Michael Ondaatje, and Michael Connelly agree that Sjöwall and Wahlöö wrote, in Ondaatje's phrase, "the first great series of police thrillers."

In the genre, the Martin Beck novels are "police procedurals," which is not a form of crime fiction at which American writers excel. We love the shamus, the private eye, the knight or lone wolf, the one good man in what W.H. Auden called "the Great Wrong Place": Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Connelly's Hieronymus Bosch, Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Marlowe and Reacher have been policemen; now they operate outside the law, natural enemies of authority. Bosch is still a cop, but he's at odds with his higher-ups and stubbornly goes his own way. Chief Inspector Martin Beck, by no means an organization man, is, like Kurt Wallander, part of a team. The moral vision of Sjöwall and Wahlöö sees essential value in the men and women who pursue criminals in our violent world. Remember Augusto Pinochet and the Spanish judge who had him arrested on a London street.

Beck is a brilliant interrogator who throws himself into his cases. His marriage suffers from his single-mindedness; then, like Wallander's, it ends. (Marlowe and Reacher are bachelors; Bosch has been married but is wedded to what can only be termed his calling.) Beck is also, like Wallander, the sort of investigator who notices small things and operates on instinct. At some point in most of the novels he puts the pieces together, sees what others have not seen, and acts. He is less a hero than a man born to do what he is doing. It's impossible to imagine him living any other sort of life.

Of course, the police procedural had already been done quite well in American novels--the 87th Precinct series, for example--and film and tv--the Naked City. But that ought not take anything away from the excellent Swedish imitators. One fascinating aspect of the Martin Beck books is that while the authors were socialist their fiction indicted Sweden in its own socialist heyday. By the time they published Roseanna, in particular, and in Wahloo's own novel, The 31st Floor, there was a real repulsion at the bureaucratic nature of the social welfare state. Meanwhile, Beck's relentless pursuit of justice and sacrifice of everything else in his life to the defense of the traditional public order smacks more of Martin Luther than Karl Marx.

There's also a recent Swedish tv series that's quite good if you can find it (Pirate Bay, but you didn't hear that here...).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Riots Outside, Chaos Inside (Der Spiegel, 12/15/09)

Monday was not a banner day in global efforts to come up with an agreement to slow climate change. Talks were suspended for hours as a number of developing nations walked out. Outside the conference, evening riots resulted in 200 arrests.

Normally, of course, the contrast couldn't be greater between the reserved, diplomatic tone inside large international summits and the shrill shouting and, occasionally, rioting of the protesters outside. In Copenhagen on Monday, however, the parallels were difficult to ignore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Carbon Scheme: Offset Your Jet-Set Lifestyle by Eliminating African Babies (Hilary White, December 14, 2009,

Population control groups have been using the hype surrounding the Copenhagen climate change conference to promote their solution to hypothetical impending environmental catastrophes. Earlier this month, two pieces appearing in the same edition of the Guardian revisited a report by Britain's Optimum Population Trust (OPT) that suggests that people in wealthy first-world countries should "offset" the carbon cost of their jet-setting lifestyles by paying to prevent the births of poor children in the developing world.

John Vidal, the Guardian's environment editor, wrote that the OPT's report suggesting a "radical" plan to cut carbon emissions was the "best bet" to reduce global warming trends. In August, the OPT issued a report claiming to have made a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to work out exactly how much "carbon emission" a child born in the developing world costs.

Given that the Malthusians presumably have larger carbon footprints than poor Africans, shouldn't they "prevent" themselves if they really care about the planet?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


The Who, What, When And How of A Dodd Exit Strategy (Shira Toeplitz, CQ-Roll Call)

The rumor mill was rampant last week with murmurs that Sen. Christopher J. Dodd , who trails Republicans in every public poll testing his re-election prospects in Connecticut, might be ready to announce he will retire instead of seek another term next year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy: It is poor scholarship and perhaps even dangerous to caricature the Nazis as irrational or anti-science. What we have to look at more carefully is the relationship between science and ideology at this time. (Robert N. Proctor, Dimensions)

The complicity of German physicians in the Nazis' crimes against humanity is a well-established historical fact. Explaining that fact is far more difficult. Why were German doctors such avid fans of fascism? Why did nearly half of all German physicians join the Nazi party?

I don't think it was the tirades of Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer that attracted their interest, but rather the promises of Nazi leaders to solve Germany's problems medically, surgically. The Nazi state was supposed to be a hygienic state; Nazism was supposed to be "applied biology" (Fritz Lenz coined this phrase in 1931). Hitler was celebrated as the "great doctor" of German society and as the "Robert Koch of politics" (Koch was a nineteenth century pioneer in studying the bacterial origin of diseases). The seductive power of National Socialism for many physicians lay in its promise to cleanse German society of its corrupting elements -- not just communism and Jews, but also metallic lead and addictive tobacco, along with homosexuality and the "burdensome" mentally ill.

The relation of science and politics in Nazi Germany was therefore more complex than most people like to think. Part of the misunderstanding, I would suggest, lies in the widely accepted belief that when science is politicized, "real" science inevitably suffers: the freedom of scientists is abrogated, distorting biases are introduced into research, minds are closed, avenues of inquiry are blocked. In many areas of science, of course, that is indeed what happened in Nazi Germany; one thinks of the fate of Einstein's relativity theory, for example. But in other areas -- e.g., many areas of public health -- that was not the case at all.

Biology was another field that thrived. Ute Deichmann in her book, Biologists Under Hitler (Harvard University Press, 1996), shows that the majority of biologists in the Thirties and early Forties joined the Nazi party; but it was still quite possible for non-Nazi biologists to obtain grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany's leading scientific grant agency. Not only possible but easy: Deichmann discovered that there was no correlation at all between a researcher receiving a grant and whether that researcher belonged to the Nazi party. I would argue that biology prospered under the Nazis because it was so integral to their worldview. Apart from the reasons I have already discussed, there is the fact that Nazism placed a much higher value on nature than on nurture in the development of human talents and disabilities.

I am not sure I would agree with Deichmann that scientists in the Third Reich were more independent of the regime than we usually think. Independent research flourished in many fields but it was, after all, also in the Nazi state's interest to cultivate a strong scientific community, at least in certain disciplines. What is clearly wrong about the autonomy thesis, applied to science and medicine as a whole, is that many professionals did not retreat into the purely technical. It took a lot of medical enthusiasm to forcibly sterilize 350,000 Germans, to "euthanize" 70,000 people with physical or mental handicaps in gas chambers. (The latter figure is only for the period from January 1940 to August 1941; even more than that were killed in the informal euthanasia program launched after this time.) And there were the medical crimes committed in the concentration and death camps. Among doctors, there were far more volunteers than victims, more partisans than pawns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Doctor who treated Tiger Woods faces FBI investigation into doping claims
(Lawrence Donegan, 12/15/09,

Tiger Woods found himself drawn into fresh controversy today after it was reported in the United States that a Canadian doctor who helped the golfer recover from knee surgery is being investigated by the FBI under suspicion of supplying athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.

The New York Times reported that a medicine bag belonging to Toronto-based doctor Anthony Galea was found with human growth hormones and Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf's blood, when his assistant was stopped at the US-Canada border in September. Importing Actovegin into the US is illegal. The doctor was arrested by Canadian police on 15 October.

The whoring around might eventually be accepted, but a steroidal taint on his Majors would never go away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


The FP Interview: Vaclav Havel: The playwright, dissident, and former Czech president speaks about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Barack Obama, and the hidden costs of moral compromise. (Interview by SUSAN GLASSER, DECEMBER 9, 2009, Foreign Policy)

FP: After President Obama's decision to postpone his meeting with the Dalai Lama, you said something to the effect that these small gestures seem harmless, but over time can have a powerful, cumulative effect. For the hardhearted realists, can you explain that effect?

Havel: We know this from our modern history. When [French Prime Minister Edouard] Daladier returned from the [1938] Munich conference, the whole nation was applauding him for saving the peace. He made a miniscule compromise in the interest of peace. But it was the beginning of a chain of evil that subsequently brought about many millions of deaths. We can't just say, "This is just a small compromise that can be overlooked. First we will go to China and then perhaps talk with the Dalai Lama." It all looks practical, pragmatic, logical, but it is necessary to think about whether it is not the first small compromise that can be the beginning of that long chain that is no good. In this case perhaps it will not be, but it was the first thing that came to my mind.

FP: You make it sound so easy. But how, as president, do you decide when these small compromises are worth it and when they might lead to something more dangerous?

Havel: Politics, it means, every day making some compromises, and to choose between one evil and another evil, and to decide which is bigger and which is smaller. But sometimes, some of these compromises could be very dangerous because it could be the beginning of the road of making a lot of other compromises, which are results of the first one, and there are very dangerous compromises. whether the person doing the compromising has the moral core that forces them to draw lines. The growing doubts about our current president in this regard are amply justified.

December 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Joe Lieberman, Mass Murderer? (Michael F. Cannon, 12/14/09, Cato@Liberty)

So insinuates the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who writes that, because Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) does not support the health care legislation forwarded by Senate Democrats, Lieberman “seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score.” [...]

[A] careful study by health economists Amy Finkelstein and Robin McKnight found that in its first 10 years, Medicare had no discernible impact on elderly mortality rates. The authors hypothesize that prior to Medicare, seniors who lacked coverage largely got the care that they needed either by paying out of pocket or relying on public or private charity. Whether Medicare had any impact on elderly mortality after its first 10 years remains an open question.

Or consider a study by Richard Kronick, a professor of family and preventive medicine at U.C.-San Diego and a former health policy adviser to the Clinton administration. Kronick performed the largest-ever study on the health effects of being uninsured and concludes that the IOM estimate “is almost certainly incorrect.” Kronick concludes that “the best available evidence” suggests “there would not be much change in the number of deaths in the United States as a result of universal coverage.”

How can that be, when Ezra Klein finds his own argument so “intuitive“? Kronick admits “it is not clear” why the data produce such a counterintuitive result, but posits that existing channels “may provide ‘good enough’ access to care for the uninsured to keep their mortality rate similar to that of the insured.”

They're making the Republican Right sound semi-sane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Copenhagen climate change talks stall: Vital hours lost over claim Kyoto treaty being killed (John Vidal, Suzanne Goldenberg and Jonathan Watts, 12/15/09, The Guardian)

A fraught day in Copenhagen yesterday saw disputes cause the loss of five vital hours of negotiating time and the UN and Danish organisers accused of sidelining developing nations by holding informal consultations with selected countries.

"The disaster has already begun because we have not closed the gap an inch. We have not moved," a senior Asian negotiator said. "We are just trying to paste over it with political rhetoric."

It doesn't hold a candle to the notion of "five vital hours."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Supreme Court refuses case on Guantanamo detainees and torture (Warren Richey, December 14, 2009, CS Monitor)

The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a major case examining whether Guantánamo detainees enjoy a constitutional right not to be subject to torture and other harsh tactics by government officials.

The appeal, filed on behalf of four former prisoners who were returned home to Britain in 2004, sought to gain a clear statement from America’s highest court on the scope of legal protections for those held at the US detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
...they, like our Nazi POWs, have none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 PM


Could a new Google phone, the Nexus One, challenge mobile service contracts?: If Google's new phone, the Nexus One, can succeed while being marketed directly to consumers, it could change how mobile phones are sold. But tall challenges remain. (David Grant, December 14, 2009, CS Monitor)

What makes Google's new phone intriguing – from a business perspective – is the possibility that Google could sell the phone directly to consumers without a contractual relationship to a cellphone service provider. This would have at least two effects. First, it would probably mean the phone would cost a bit more than the subsidized $200 consumers are forking over for the iPhone 3GS or the latest Google phone, the Droid.

Second, it would mean that consumers could use the phone on any service that uses GSM technology — that is, runs with a SIM (subscriber identity module) card. Instead of being locked into AT&T or Verizon service, for example, consumers could take their newly purchased technology where they pleased, taking advantages of typically shorter or nonexistent contracts that companies offer when shoppers bring their own phone to the deal.

One of the best decisions we made in recent years was to ditch our contract phones and switch to burners. We use Tracfone and not only cut our bill to $60 a year but get better cell coverage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


The Real Lessons of 1994: Voters punished Democrats for Hillarycare. They'll do the same for Obamacare (Jeffrey H. Anderson and Andy Wickersham, 12/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

What, then, really happened to Democrats in the 1994 election? We took liberal/conservative ratings from the American Conservative Union and divided congressional Democrats into ideological thirds: most conservative, typical, and most liberal. We then examined how each group of Democrats fared in seeking reelection in the wake of Hillarycare and compared those results with the reelection bids of Democrats in the congressional elections of the last 20 years.

The conclusions are clear, and they defy the notion that the worst thing that Democrats could do is nothing. In the other nine elections over the past 20 years, the typical (middle-third) Democrats have done far better than the more conservative Democrats. In fact, conservative Democrats have lost 67 percent more often than their party's typical members. In 1994, that turned around completely: That year, typical Democrats lost 56 percent more often than their more conservative colleagues.

In other words: Voters did punish Democrats for trying to pass Hillarycare, but they didn't punish them evenly--and they certainly didn't punish them for failing to pass it. Instead, voters went comparatively easy on the more conservative Democrats who opposed it.

Conservative Democrats generally do worse than their colleagues in seeking reelection because they usually run in contested districts that either party can realistically win. They are often running on Republican--or at least highly disputed--turf. Conversely, the most liberal Democrats usually run in Democratic strongholds. Over the last two decades--apart from 1994--more conservative Democrats have been twice as apt to lose as other members of their party. Given the districts or states in which they run, this is not at all surprising. But what is surprising is this: In 1994, the more conservative Democrats erased that disadvantage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Swiss minaret ban recalls synagogue bans of past eras (Ruth Ellen Gruber, December 14, 2009 , Jewish Telegraph)

To me, the ban on minarets recalled centuries of restrictions on the size or prominence of synagogues. The Swiss ban is just the latest example of how governmental authorities target religious architecture as a means of limiting religious or cultural expression.

From early medieval times, synagogues in Europe often were forbidden to stand taller than Christian churches, and in many cases they were forbidden even to be outwardly visible. There were restrictions on synagogue architecture in Muslim countries, too.

This had nothing to do with zoning. It was a way for the dominant religion to demonstrate control over minority faiths, their practice and their adherents.

Opulently decorated synagogue sanctuaries often were hidden behind anonymous exteriors, and a number of synagogues had their floors and foundations laid much lower than street level so they wouldn't be too tall. These included Vilnius' own Great Synagogue, which was built in the early 17th century.

But religious architecture, too, often suffered much worse than restrictive regulation; it was targeted for destruction as a symbol of the people who prayed there.

"Beginning in the fourth century and continuing through the Middle Ages, and again in the 20th century, the 'legal' restriction and destruction of synagogues quickly led to the same policies applied against individuals, and then whole communities," said Samuel Gruber, president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Blair’s critics are asking the wrong questions (David Aaronovitch, 12/15/09, Times of London)

The question that preceded the supposed confession was this: “Was it the weapons of mass destruction that tilted you on to, ‘Yes, we’ve got to do this?’” To which he replied: “It was the notion of him as a threat to the region, of which the development of WMD was obviously one . . . So this was the thing that was uppermost in my mind: the threat to the region.”

Britton then asked whether, if Blair had known there were no WMD: “Would you still have gone on?” Blair: “I would still have thought it right to remove him. Obviously, you would have had to have used and deployed different arguments about the nature of the threat.”

There is a hypothetical nonsense to this. Mr Blair couldn’t have “invaded Iraq anyway”. If, according to the hypothesis, he had “known” that Saddam was WMD-free, then the UN and Parliament would also have known. So there would have been no Resolution 1441 and no vote for war.

Parliament may well not have voited for war but for Mr. Blair's WMD claims, but Resolution 1441 had rather little to do with the supposed presence of WMD in Iraq and was an attempt by the West's enemies to avoid war, not a green light for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Jobs Are on the Way! : The nattering nabobs of negativism are ignoring the facts.
(Daniel Gross, Dec 12, 2009, NEWSWEEK)

[T]he data suggest that the economy, now growing at a rate above its historical trend, may be creating more jobs than are being lost. Companies shed only 11,000 payroll jobs in November—the smallest drop since late 2007. For the past three months, the government's first estimate of job-loss figures has been high; when the November numbers are revised, there may be a job gain. Labor-market recoveries are always a lengthy four-step process. First, as businesses stabilize, they fire fewer people. First-time unemployment claims are still elevated, but the four-week moving average is 474,000, the lowest in more than a year. Second, when demand begins to pick up, businesses prod existing workers to work harder. Which is why we've just witnessed the fastest two-quarter productivity surge since 1961. Third, when growth persists, bosses give part-time workers more hours or bring on temporary workers. In November, the economy added 52,000 temporary jobs, the largest addition since 2004, and retail hiring for the Christmas season is up 37 percent this year.

The final step—adding full-time positions—is happening now. Services account for about 86 percent of jobs. And it's here, not in the shrunken housing and finance sectors, where the employment recovery is taking hold. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the service sector added 58,000 jobs in November, the second straight month of growth. Among the new service workers are the 240 employees of the Elysian, a 188-room luxury hotel that opened Dec. 9 on Chicago's Gold Coast. [...]

There's also a more abstract force weighing in favor of pessimism: a collective failure of imagination. Sure, the macroeconomic numbers seem to be setting the table for job creation. But where are all the jobs going to come from? The forces that drove job creation in the past—the housing boom, easy money, reckless lenders—are no longer with us. And it's hard to identify that one giant engine—the next Internet or housing boom—that will ignite growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Plenty of NothingHere's what liberals will get instead of a public option: nothing.: They should take it. (Timothy Noah, Dec. 14, 2009, Slate)

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman's threat to filibuster a health-reform bill that includes a Medicare buy-in, combined with the firm opposition of swing-voting Republican Olympia Snowe and growing dissatisfaction from conservative Democrat Ben Nelson, means that Sen. Harry Reid's public-option compromise is dead before the Congressional Budget Office even has a chance to calculate its cost. The Medicare buy-in was, truth to tell, a more liberal idea than the public option, and if the initial willingness of Lieberman and Nelson to consider it seemed too good to be true, well, that's because it was. (That the Gore-Lieberman ticket endorsed the idea in 2000 was never likely to weigh heavily on Lieberman.)

What, then, will liberals get instead? Uh, nothing. [...]

The task before liberal Democrats, then, is to achieve a Zen-like calm about the empty space where the public option used to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


British Muslims are the 'most patriotic and best integrated' in Europe (Graham Smith, 13th December 2009, Daily Mail)

Muslims in Britain are the most patriotic and best integrated in Europe, according to a new study.

An average 78 per cent of UK Muslims identified themselves as British, compared with 49 per cent of Muslims who consider themselves French and just 23 per cent who feel German.

That's what comes of not being a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Belgium Waffles: Two nations, after all? (Christopher Caldwell, 12/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

Ever since it was carved by treaty out of the Dutch, French, and German borderlands after the Napoleonic wars, Belgium has been an odd kind of country--short on space, sunlight, and national identity. It was a shotgun marriage of two peoples, the Dutch-speaking Flemings in Flanders and the French-speaking Walloons in Wallonia, who, apart from a shared Catholicism had almost nothing in common. Since Brussels, the Belgian capital, is also the seat of government for the 27-nation European Union, Belgium has become a symbol of the unity-in-diversity that EU bureaucrats aspire to. But the marriage of Flanders and Wallonia, never a love match, has in recent decades entered a thrown-crockery phase. It has become a burning question whether the country is headed for an outright divorce, of the sort that broke Czechoslovakia into two countries after the Cold War.

The question has largely been answered. Belgium already looks less like a country than a loose confederation of two states. Partly thanks to half a dozen reforms pushed through since the 1970s by nationalists on both sides, French speakers and Dutch speakers inhabit different cultural universes. Most people have never heard of the major politicians, the major actresses, and sometimes even the major athletes on the other side of a country that is smaller than Maryland. They inhabit different political universes, too. Except in one nettlesome suburban area of Brussels, Flemings and Walloons are not permitted to vote for the same parties at the national level. They don't even obey the same laws.

They can't even hold countries together and they think they can unify the continent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Dick Armey: Pawlenty on 'safest ground' (ANDY BARR, 12/14/09, Politico)

“There are people vying and becoming emergent as who can be the most effective voice,” said Armey, the most prominent leader of the tea party movement through his group FreedomWorks.

“My own view is that Pawlenty is the person standing on the safest ground,” he said in a CBS News interview posted online Monday.

“He has no major disappointments behind him,” Armey said of Pawlenty. “He has the chance to create a fresh new public understanding of who he is and what he stands for. Right now, you have to put him there.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Steele Doubles Down On Obstruction Message (Reid Wilson, 12/14/09, Hotline)

The RNC will launch a round of national radio ads touting the party's efforts to stand in the way of health care reform, chair Michael Steele announced Monday.

The 6-figure ad buy, hitting the airwaves Wednesday, features Steele himself arguing the GOP is blocking new entitlement programs that will hike costs.

"The Democrats are accusing us Republicans of trying to delay and stonewall their government takeover of health care. You know what? They're finally right," Steele says in the ad. "Democrats know America doesn't want this health care takeover, but they're arrogantly trying to jam it down our throats. This is our last chance to stop them." when your message in favor of your party jibes with your opponents' complaint about your party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Modern train service slowed by freight> (MARY WISNIEWSKI, 12/14/09, Chicago Sun Times)

High speed rail is a glamorous idea -- it's fun to imagine a train streaking through the cornfields from Chicago to St. Louis in four hours.

Less glamorous are some of the fixes that need to be made to Chicago's notoriously slow freight rail system. Talk about projects like "signalize interlocking" and "grade separation," and eyes glaze over.

But the promise of faster passenger rail is inextricably linked to the down-and-dirty business of freight. To make passenger and commuter trains move faster, you have to get the boxcars out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Bart Gordon retiring (Josh Kraushaar , 12/14/09, Politico)

[I]nternal Republican polls showed Gordon in serious danger of losing his seat next year, running for re-election in a Republican-leaning seat. Gordon didn't help his re-election prospects supporting the Democratic cap-and-trade energy bill and by initially supporting health care reform legislation in committee — even though he changed his mind and voted against the bill on the House floor last month.

“Tennessee is now the place where Democrat congressional candidacies go to die," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Andy Sere. "Within a matter of weeks, four Volunteer State Democrats have abandoned their campaigns for Congress because voters there are rejecting the Obama-Pelosi agenda."

The race to succeed Gordon, in a middle Tennessee district that John McCain carried by 25 points, immediately jumps to the top of the Republican pickup opportunity list. McCain won 62 percent of the vote here in 2008, while former President George Bush won the district with 60 percent in 2004.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Reality check from Oslo (E.J. Dionne Jr., December 14, 2009, Washington Post)

A French diplomatic veteran ticked off all the good news: Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo, the ban on torture, the continued withdrawal from Iraq, his reaching out to Iran and North Korea, engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the quest for nuclear disarmament, the effort to "reset" relations with Russia. And there is America's new stance on global warming, on display in Copenhagen. This repositioning matters not just to elites but also to a rank-and-file green movement emerging as an alternative on the center-left to social democratic parties, notably in France and Germany.

But these are the days of European second thoughts: Obama is still interesting, he's still not George W. Bush, but what can he show for his efforts?

...but what good has it done?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Barack Obama awards himself a 'solid' B+ grade for his first year in office (Daily Mail, 14th December 2009)

Barack Obama has awarded himself 'a good solid B-plus' grade for his first year as President of the United States.

...that's a failing grade. No professor ever would have had the courage to give him lower.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


A savings mirage on health care (Robert J. Samuelson, December 14, 2009, Washington Post)

In 2009, national health spending will total an estimated $2.5 trillion, or 17.7 percent of gross domestic product. By 2019, it's projected to rise to $4.67 trillion under present policies, or 22.1 percent of GDP. With CAP's "savings," it rises a little less sharply to $4.49 trillion, or 21.3 percent of GDP, according to Harvard economist David Cutler, the study's co-author, who provided these figures. Similarly, family health insurance premiums rise from 19 percent of median family income in 2009 to 25 percent in 2019 under present policies and 23 percent with CAP's "savings." The point is simple: Even with highly optimistic assumptions, health spending remains out of control. It absorbs more of government, business and family budgets. Higher health spending would put pressure on future budget deficits, already projected to total about $9 trillion over the next decade. If new taxes and Medicare "savings" are real, they could be used exclusively to pay down deficits, not finance new spending.

But many may not be real. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of the Harvard Medical School, gave the various health bills a "failing grade" and said they wouldn't "control the growth of costs or raise the quality of care." Quoted in Newsweek, Dr. Delos Cosgrove, head of the Cleveland Clinic, said much the same. Richard Foster, the chief actuary of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, doubts the cost-saving provisions touted by CAP would save much money. He's also skeptical that Congress, facing complaints from hospitals and a squeeze on services, would allow all the Medicare reimbursement cuts to take effect. True, Congress has permitted some reimbursement reductions to occur, but it has repeatedly blocked the Sustainable Growth Rate adjustment for doctors, which most resembles the new proposals.

Health cost increases might spontaneously recede, but history suggests skepticism. The relentless advances reflect an open-ended insurance and delivery system that gives neither patients nor providers any reason to restrain spending. To attack costs first would be politically challenging. It would require admitting that all good things are not possible simultaneously and that the uninsured already receive much medical care. It would require genuine bipartisanship, not just a scramble for a few Republican votes. And it would require stronger measures to dismantle a fee-for-service delivery system that now rewards more, not better, care. That's a demanding and realistic approach; Obama's is wishful thinking. that forces people to take money out of their own pockets to pay for health products and services.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Why is everyone scared of small states? (T V R Shenoy, 12/14/09, Rediff)

I am neither a proponent nor an opponent of small states. What depresses me is the prospect that the Congress will make the situation worse through procrastination.

Nehru accepted Andhra on December 19, 1952; it was established on October 1, 1953. The Shah Commission was set up on April 23, 1966 to demarcate the Hindi speaking areas of Punjab; Haryana was created on November 1, 1966. Why is the Congress talking wildly of taking five years to create Telangana?

Again, what is this talk of Hyderabad being a joint capital? Take a look at the map; the city is surrounded by Telangana. The impracticality of joint capitals was understood by Rajaji over Madras (Chennai) in 1953 and by Y B Chavan over Bombay (Mumbai [ Images ]) in 1960. On the other hand, there is a history of bad feeling over Chandigarh. Why should anyone follow the worse example and ignore the better ones?

One final point: There is much moaning and groaning over the Telangana leading to the creation of more states. Why is everyone scared of small states?

Madhya Bharat (not to be confused with Madhya Pradesh), Bhopal, Patiala and East Punjab States Union (distinct from Punjab), Saurashtra, Kutch, Ajmer, Coorg, and Vindhya Pradesh were viable states up to 1956. Nehru forcibly merged them into larger states, creating much bad blood.

Andhra Pradesh is essentially an unworkable proposition today. (Even lawyers in the high court descended to fisticuffs over Telangana!) Why not summon a second States Reorganisation Commission to see which proposed states are viable? Or would the Congress prefer to wait until Telangana is replicated elsewhere in India?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


What Senators Think They Know about Health Care: ... isn’t so. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 12/14/09, National Review)

Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), for example, said during floor debate that the uninsured impose a “hidden tax” of more than $1,000 per person. That claim, as regular readers of NRO already know, originated with a left-wing advocacy group. A Kaiser Family Foundation study debunked the group’s analysis, reaching an estimate closer to $200 per year for a family. The Congressional Budget Office has joined in the debunking.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) said that half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. A 2006 study found that only 9 percent of bankruptcies were primarily the result of medical bills. The study where Durbin’s claim originated used very loose criteria to classify bankruptcies as medical in nature; even in that study, only 29 percent of those surveyed blamed health expenses for their bankruptcies. [...]

Here’s one more gem from Senator Baucus: “This bill does not increase government.” I trust that this one requires no refutation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Bye Bye Blanche: Can Republicans finally get their act together in Arkansas? (Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, 12/21/2009, Weekly Standard)

Even before she became the swing vote that forced consideration of Obamacare onto the Senate floor, two-term Arkansas senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln had a dubious distinction: "For 2010, she may be the most endangered Democratic senator in the country," says Public Policy Polling head Dean Debnam.

Political handicappers began to note her vulnerability last summer when, in the face of the tea-party movement, Lincoln refused to hold town hall meetings with her constituents. In a conference call with Arkansas reporters, she called tea-party confrontations with politicians "un-American," and ever since, even though she relented and held a few town halls in September, her negatives have outnumbered her positives in Arkansas polls.

Run, Huck, run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


You have the power to make music... evolve (Amanda Gefter, 12/10/09, New Scientist)

At, bioinformaticist Bob MacCallum and evolutionary biologist Armand Leroi of Imperial College London have devised a way to watch music evolve right before their eyes - and in doing so study the cultural analogue of biological evolution, also known as memetics.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Teachers’ Unions vs. Progress—Again
: New York resists reforms that would bring in millions and improve teacher quality. (Marcus A. Winters, 14 December 2009, City Journal)

The use of data to improve student learning is a crucial modern education reform. Standardized tests produce rich sources of information that researchers can use to identify effective policies and practices. The data revolution, moreover, promises to move education policy away from politics. Numbers don’t have agendas or run for reelection. Accurately collected and properly analyzed, data can reveal truths that escape our sight.

One such truth is the effectiveness of individual teachers. Data analysis is far from perfect, and no one argues that it should be used in isolation to make employment decisions. But modern techniques can help us distinguish between teachers whose students excel and teachers whose students languish or fail. There’s just one problem with the data revolution: it doesn’t work without data. States must develop data sets that track the individual performance of students over time and match those students to their teachers.

Unfortunately, New York has deliberately refused to take that step.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Freezing weather to bring snow to UK: Temperatures forecast to drop below zero, prompting concerns over potential lack of gritting salt for roads (Matthew Weaver, 12/14/09,

A bittlerly cold front is forecast to sweep over the UK this week bringing snow to northern areas and higher ground in the south, and prompting fears of a repeat of the travel chaos that hit Britain's roads in February due to shortages of gritting salt.

The Met Office is predicting snow flurries in hilly areas tonight, with more widespread sleet and snow spreading from the east later in the week.

Last night Scotland saw lows of -5C, while the north-west dropped to -4C and East Anglia and the south-east saw temperatures down to -2C.

Man, it must be fun to be God.

We don't need no stinkin' evidence (Paul Driessen, December 14, 2009 , Enter Stage Right)

What evidence backs up the terrifying disaster claims, the calls for drastic "solutions" that won't work, to a crisis that extensive evidence strongly suggests is speculative or even illusory?

Reliable satellite temperature measurements span most of the planet. However, they only cover the last 30 years – and for the past 15 years show stable and then declining temperatures, despite steadily rising CO2 levels. So climate crisis scientists have focused their "research" on ground temperatures.

However, nearly half of the world's remaining ground-based gauges are in the United States, and cover just 1.8% of the Earth's surface. Moreover, as meteorologist Anthony Watts has demonstrated, most of those gauges are close to air conditioning exhausts, tarmac, blacktop and other urban heat sources. So they read high, and then are further "adjusted" upward, corrupting climate records, models and analyses.

Most of Siberia's stations were shut down years ago, leaving that vast frigid region devoid of reliable data, and further tilting average global temperatures upward. Britain's combined marine and land-based temperatures were "value-added" (aggregated, averaged and manipulated) by its East Anglia University Climate Research Unit (CRU) – which then tossed or lost all the original raw data, so no one could check its methodologies, honesty or accuracy. (Try that tactic with your friendly IRS.)

The incomplete, averaged and manipulated ground temperature data were then fed into computer models that reflect our still limited understanding of climate causes and dynamics; assume CO2 is the primary driver in climate change; and poorly analyze the vast, complex, chaotic planetary climate system. The models have never been able to forecast climate accurately, even one year in advance, much less 50 or 100. They can't reproduce prior years' climates. They failed to predict the stable and declining temperatures of the past 15 years.

But even that didn't conjure up the desired "manmade climate crisis." As a CRU programmer put it, the only way the models can produce "the proper result" is when programmers apply a "very artificial correction," use "low pass filtering at century and longer time scales," and "include a load of garbage."

Back in 1999, CRU director Phil Jones reported that he'd "just used [Penn State climatologist Michael Mann's] trick … to hide the decline" in average global temperatures. But in October 2009, US climate scientist Kevin Trenberth moaned that alarmists still "can't account for the lack of warming and it is a travesty that we can't."

Nevertheless, "peer reviewed" scientific journals somehow produce "consensus" among "mainstream" scientists, offer "unequivocal" evidence of disastrous manmade global warming – and give the IPCC, White House, EPA and Congress the "proof" they need to justify treaties, laws and regulations that will send energy costs skyrocketing. Compliant media outlets whitewash the email and science scandal, and trumpet the latest alarmist claims. And voila, like Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street, the predicted warming crisis is back, just in time for Copenhagen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Al-Qaida No. 2: Obama ME policy is anther "crusader and Zionist campaign" (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/14/09)

In a new Internet posting published on Monday, Al-Qaida's deputy leader accuses US President Barack Obama of cheating the Arab world by failing to advance Middle East peace talks.

In the message, Ayman Al-Zawahri said the US president's Mideast policy is "another cycle in the Crusader and Zionist campaign to enslave and humiliate us." about stopping them from humiliating themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Summit Is Seen as U.S. Versus China (JEFFREY BALL, 12/14/09, WSJ)

The International Energy Agency projects that nearly all the growth in global greenhouse-gas emissions over the next two decades will come from developing countries -- and that fully half of that total will come from China alone. A central point of contention here is whether China, amid all its newfound economic might, still deserves billions of dollars in annual aid from the U.S. and Europe to help it shift to a cleaner pattern of growth.

China says the answer is yes. He Yafei, China's vice foreign minister, said on Friday that rich nations, which built their prosperity on fossil fuels, are like people who go out for a fancy dinner and then, when a poor guest arrives late for dessert, demand that he pay the same bill for his meal as everyone else.

"It's not fair," Mr. He said. "Whoever created this problem, they're responsible," he said. Although he said the European Union had largely lived up to its emission-reduction promises, he singled out the U.S. several times by name as a country that hadn't done its share.

Even if the teleprompter is displaying the queen of diamonds the UR can't try to sell that to the electorate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM

Oatmeal Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes (a href="">MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN, 12/13/09, NY Times)

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1. Combine the milk and rolled oats in a bowl, and set aside.

2. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.

3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the buttermilk and whisk together. Then whisk in the vanilla extract and the oil.

4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and quickly whisk together. Do not overbeat; a few lumps are okay. Fold in the oats and milk. Let sit for one hour, or refrigerate overnight.

5. If necessary, spray the hot griddle with pan spray. Drop by 3 to 4 tablespoons onto the hot griddle. Place six or seven blueberries on each pancake. Cook until bubbles begin to break through, two to three minutes. Turn and cook for about 30 seconds to a minute on the other side, or until nicely browned. Remove from the heat, and continue until all of the batter is used up.

6. Serve hot with a small amount of butter and maple syrup.

December 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 PM


What the temptations on the high mountain mean today: What are the salient evils of our time? They are two-fold. (Paul Johnson, February 25, 2009, The Spectator)

I have also been reading the Pope's new book, Jesus of Nazareth, the first part of a projected life of Christ, which has been published by Bloomsbury in an excellent translation by Adrian J. Walker. This book is worth reading for many reasons, but particularly for its presentation of Jesus as the upholder of absolute morality in the face of all temptations to compromise, to take the easy way out and to bow to current fashions and social orthodoxies. What particularly interested me is the Pope's treatment of Jesus's confrontation with Satan just before he began his ministry, above all the last of the 'Temptations'. Since there were no eye-witnesses, Jesus himself must have told his disciples what occurred, and their account later appeared in the Gospels. According to Matthew (iv 8-10), Satan took Jesus up on to a 'high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."' Here, as the Pope points out, is the fundamental conflict between the world and the spirit. Is Jesus's mission, as the moral relativists would claim, simply to show goodwill, end world hunger and racism, save the planet and make people be nice to each other -- or is it something fundamentally different, the way to God and the Kingdom of Heaven?

As I see it, the Satan who confronted Jesus during this encounter is the personification of moral relativism, and the materialism which creates it. What we are shown is not merely 'all the kingdoms of the world' but the entire universe, in all its colossal extent, reaching backwards and forwards into infinity and beyond the powers of the human mind to grasp except in mathematical equations. We are told: this came into existence, not by an act of creation, but as a result of the laws of physics, which have no moral purpose whatever -- or indeed any purpose. There is no conceivable room for God in this process, and mankind is an infinitely minute spectator of this futile process about which he can do nothing, being of no more significance than a speck of dust or a fragment of rock. If you will accept this view of our fate, then there is just a chance that by applying the laws of science to the exclusion of any other considerations, and by dismissing the notion of God, or the spirit, or goodness, or any other absolute notion of truth and right and wrong, we shall be able marginally to improve the human condition during the minute portion of time our race occupies our doomed planet.

That is the temptation we are now offered. Science in all its totalitarian dogmatism, or nothing. An exclusively materialist approach to life and living. Not merely an extrusion of the spiritual but a formal denial of the existence of God, and of anything which contradicts or simply just adds to what the current scientific establishment tells us. The temptation to bow before scientism is given an extra edge by the current deification of Darwin, who finds himself, poor fellow, in the role of the anti-Christ, with his natural selection as an alternative to Christianity. Some people might argue that the survival of the fittest is a sound principle. Indeed that was the principle underpinning Hitler's race-theory and other manifestations of social Darwinism.

Hitler believed in biological Darwinism, not Social Darwinism. That's why he had to kill the Jews who had already assimilated to German society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 PM


SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: Climate change emails row deepens as Russians admit they DID come from their Siberian server (David Rose, 13th December 2009, Daily Mail)

The claim was both simple and terrifying: that temperatures on planet Earth are now ‘likely the highest in at least the past 1,300 years’.

As its authors from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) must have expected, it made headlines around the world.

Yet some of the scientists who helped to draft it, The Mail on Sunday can reveal, harboured uncomfortable doubts.

In the words of one, David Rind from the US space agency Nasa, it ‘looks like there were years around 1000AD that could have been just as warm’.

Keith Briffa from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which plays a key role in forming IPCC assessments, urged caution, warning that when it came to historical climate records, there was no new data, only the ‘same old evidence’ that had been around for years.

‘Let us not try to over-egg the pudding,’ he wrote in an email to an IPCC colleague in September 2006.

Simple, terrifying, imaginary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Doctor offers diagnosis in Charles Darwin medical mystery (Owen Bowcott, 12/14/09,

Author of On the Origin of Species suffered from cyclical vomiting syndrome, says Australian doctor

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Poor nations threaten climate deal showdown at Copenhagen summit (John Vidal, Jonathan Watts and Suzanne Goldenberg, 12/13/09,

The showdown between rich and poor countries came as ministers began arriving in Copenhagen to take over negotiations. However, negotiators failed to reach agreement in key areas such as emission cuts, long-term finance and when poor countries should start to reduce emissions.

More than 110 heads of state, mainly from developing countries, are due to begin arriving on Thursday for an intense 24 hours of final negotiations.

Delegates hope for a deal on Friday that will ensure temperatures do not rise by more than 2C...

So we're all safe if it's 1.99?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Senator: Opposition grows to Medicare buy-in (AP, 12/14/09)

Two senators whose support for the health care overhaul has been in question are speaking out against a proposal to let people as young as 55 buy into Medicare.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said Sunday that opposition is growing to the Medicare buy-in. Mr. Lieberman said that he'd "have a hard time voting for it."

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said he fears the proposal could lead to single-payer government health care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Adultery still crime in NH after 200 years (NORMA LOVE, 12/14/09,
Associated Press)

The original punishments _ including standing on the gallows for an hour with a noose around the neck _ have been softened to a $1,200 fine, yet some lawmakers think it's time the 200-year-old crime of adultery to come off New Hampshire's books.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


A Game That’s Not So Great (MAUREEN DOWD, 12/13/09, NY Times)

At a joint press conference Tuesday at the presidential palace in Kabul, Hamid Karzai surprised the usually unflappable Gates when he knocked down President Obama’s attempt to get out of Dodge.

Needling his American sugar daddy, the Afghan peacock observed: “For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources.”

Gates and Obama may have wanted to “light a fire,” as Gates put it, under the corrupt Afghan president and warn that the A.T.M. is closing, but Karzai called their bluff.

While it's unfortunate that our enemies have figured him out too, our allies in places like Afghanistan and Honduras get that the UR will follow them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Number-two Senate Democrat 'in the dark' about health care bill (Byron York, 12/12/09, Washington Examiner)

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin admitted Friday that he is "in the dark" about the national health care bill currently under construction by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In an exchange on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. John McCain asked Durbin, "Should we not at least be informed as to what the proposal is that the Senate Majority Leader is going to propose to the entire Senate?" Durbin's answer: "I would say to the senator from Arizona that I am in the dark almost as much as he is, and I am in the leadership." Durbin explained that during a Democratic caucus, Reid and the small group of senators involved in crafting the bill turned to their fellow Democrats and "basically stood and said, 'We are sorry, we can't tell you in detail what was involved.'"

"Isn't that a very unusual process?" asked McCain...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


A Senator’s Gift to the Jews, Nonreturnable (MARK LEIBOVICH, 12/13/09, NY Times)

“Watching Orrin Hatch in the studio, I said to myself that nothing this great will ever happen to me again,” said Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet.

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Set against a bouncy synthesizer beat, the song begins:

“Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah,

The festival of light/

In Jerusalem,

The oil burned bright.”

Adding to the project’s only-in-America mishmash is that the song is performed by Rasheeda Azar, a Syrian-American vocalist from Indiana. But Mr. Hatch is the song’s unquestioned prime mover, or macher. He is featured in the video, sitting stoic in the studio, head bobbing slightly, donning earphones and contributing backup vocals.

The song’s contagious refrain goes:

“Eight days of Hanukkah,

Come let’s celebrate.

Eight days of Hanukkah,

Let’s celebrate tonight, Hey!”

At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. “I feel sorry I’m not Jewish sometimes.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Daily Presidential Tracking Poll (Rasmussen Reports, December 13, 2009)

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 23% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -19.

Today is the second straight day that Obama’s Approval Index rating has fallen to a new low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Health Care to Keep Democrats From Copenhagen Conference (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 12/13/09, NY Times)

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told colleagues on Saturday that Democrats could not send a delegation to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Would you rather go see Howard the Duck or Ishtar?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


The Great Consolidator (Jeremy Lott, December 2009-January 2010, American Spectator)

After Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election as the 265th bishop of Rome, most attention focused on his biography and the sharp-edged message that he had delivered to the conclave of cardinals before the vote. He had been called "God's Rottweiler" as the head of the CDF not because of his personal demeanor -- he rarely snarls -- but because he censured several theologians and priests for heresy. In his message to fellow cardinals at the last Mass before they locked themselves into the Vatican Palace to choose the next pope, he warned against the "trivialization of evil" that is often promoted by ideological fashions.

In that homily, Ratzinger denounced Marxism, liberalism, libertinism, collectivism, radical individualism, atheism, vague religious mysticism, agnosticism, syncretism, and relativism -- all by name -- and spoke up for what "is often labeled today as fundamentalism." Liberals inside and outside of the church tended to take his message as some sort of a personal attack, even though that "radical individualism" bit could have been construed as a dig at political conservatives as well.

Less attention was focused on Benedict's first homily as pope, at a Mass of the College of Cardinals. He opened with the usual boilerplate. "Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope," he said. He promised to be "especially responsible" for promoting that unity. Benedict acknowledged that he had been "entrusted with the task" of strengthening his "brethren" -- a word that is fraught with meaning in ecumenical circles as Rome has taken to referring to non-Catholic Christians as "separated brethren."

Then he said something extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented: "With full the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor" -- that is, I, Pope Benedict XVI -- "takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty." These words were brought to my attention by Keith Fournier, an ordained Catholic deacon who enthused on Catholic Online that "What happened [in October] is just the beginning."

THE ONLY THING IS, it wasn't the beginning. Far from it. The present pope may not go down as the Great Unifier, exactly. He's likely what people today call "too divisive" to pull that off, and it's hard to see why he would want to. Benedict knows how to use divisions to great effect. He takes Christ's statement from the Gospel of Matthew, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword," quite seriously.

When a group of traditionalist Episcopalians held a conference in Dallas in 2003 to talk about breaking away from the U.S. Episcopal Church over its increasing liberal drift, then Cardinal Ratzinger sent them a message egging them on. He assured them of his "heartfelt prayers" and said that the "significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond [Dallas] and even in this city, from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England." According to Dairmaid MacCulloch, writing in the Guardian, when the delegates heard this, "There was wild applause."

In fact, the pope's recent actions with the Anglicans mirrored an earlier act of his papacy that was also hugely controversial but that was seen by outsiders mostly as a family squabble with some ugly repercussions. It involved the Society of Saint Pius X. These were traditionalist Catholic priests who, because of the reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council and especially the de facto suppression of the Latin Mass, formed a rebel sect within the Church.

The Society's late founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was eventually excommunicated when the aging prince of the Church ordained four new bishops to continue his work in 1988, in defiance of the explicit orders of John Paul II. Millions of otherwise loyal Catholics, especially in France, attended the Society's beautiful, ancient Mass because they had a hard time finding it anywhere else.

As head of the CDF, Benedict pleaded with Lefebvre not to ordain more rebel bishops, but didn't succeed. As pope, he moved to reincorporate the Society into the Church, first, by issuing a universal indult in July 2008 mandating that bishops allow the Latin Mass in their dioceses, and, second, in January 2009, by lifting the excommunications of the four men that Lefebvre ordained bishops. This wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows outside the Church but for the fact that one of those men, Richard Williamson, turned out to be a Holocaust denier and a 9/11 "truther" conspiracy theorist.

The press had a field day with that one. But there was another story lurking beneath the obvious scandal. Benedict's Latin Mass decree greatly increased the rights of the faithful against their sometimes imperious bishops. Now, a bishop has to explicitly prohibit the Latin Mass, give a good reason for doing so, and risk losing an appeal to Rome. That ended the need for a Society of Pius X as an outside agitator.

Now, Rome wants more priests trained to perform the Latin Mass, and it wants those parishioners back who had turned to the Society for its ceremony. So it swallowed hard and lifted those excommunications and is in talks to bring the Society's priests back in. If talks stall, expect Benedict to personally intervene.

OR TAKE THAT OTHER great flashpoint of Benedict's papacy, the speech delivered at his old college, the University of Regensburg, on September 12, 2006. The line that set the world on fire was Benedict's quotation of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict teed up the quote by warning of its "startling brusqueness...that we find unacceptable" today, he reminded people of that Koran's sura that counsels "there is no compulsion in religion," and he never agreed with Paleologus's assessment (" forcefully") of Islam, and he quickly apologized for having caused offense. That did little to prevent churches from being firebombed in Palestine, a nun being killed in Somalia, Christians being attacked in Iraq, riots from breaking out all over the Middle East, or the militant Muslim group Lashkar-e-Taiba from issuing a fatwa calling on faithful followers of Allah to kill the pope. In a direct challenge to these violent Islamists, the pope then visited Turkey -- a nominally Muslim nation whose entrance into the European Union he had opposed.

Most attention was focused on the Muslim rage that the pope's quote provoked but very few people stopped to consider what Benedict was doing quoting Paleologus at all. He was the kind of person previous popes would have been wary of, at the very least. Paleologus, recall, was a Byzantine emperor from well after the Great Schism, and thus Orthodox, and not exactly an ex-emplar of ecumenism.

In good times, Paleologus worked to conquer the Latin part of the old Roman empire, or the pope's own backyard. In bad times, the emperor was forced to contemplate the nature of Islam, because the Turks packed a pretty good wallop. As Benedict said, "It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue [that was quoted], during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402."

We cannot know all the reasons why Benedict chose to quote that particular authority, but it is consistent with his view of a faith that is beset by constant threats, secular and religious. And it sure didn't hurt Vatican relations with Orthodox churches, which had been icy in the past. When John Paul II tried to visit Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church vetoed it. In October, the same month as the Anglican overture, the AP reported that Benedict may soon meet with the Russian patriarch, and that a papal visit to Moscow in the next few years is likely. Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said, "We have overcome all the tensions in recent years." Not "some tensions"-- all of them.

The Orthodox would be a tougher nut to crack than disaffected Protestants. The schism is much older and the Orthodox have done a better job with church governance and holding the line against theological innovation. Benedict wouldn't dare issue the sort of unilateral open-ended invitation that he did with Anglicans, because it wouldn't work.

Yet if he can bring the two ancient churches together, my sense is that he will do nearly anything, including placing new limits on his own powers, including editing the Nicene Creed to remove the so-called filioque clause (which states that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son"), which drives the Eastern half of the ancient Church to distraction.

He's a republican, not an authoritarian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


He Was No Wilsonian: a review of WOODROW WILSON: A Biography By John Milton Cooper Jr. (BEVERLY GAGE, 12/13/09, NY Times Book Review)

It makes sense that Cooper wants to see the best of Wilson; few historians dedicate a life’s work to figures they roundly despise. And yet the attempt to redeem Wilson ultimately makes him a less interesting figure. By beginning with the premise that Wilson was a great man, worthy of 21st-century admiration, Cooper flounders in attempting to explain his subject’s less palatable attributes. “It remains a mystery,” ­Cooper concludes of the postwar Red Scare, “why such a farseeing, thoughtful person as Wilson would let any of that occur.” He finds Wilson’s racial attitudes similarly “puzzling,” given the presi­dent’s alleged sensitivity “to economic, religious and ethnic injustices.”

Presidents who are driven by their hatreds are always disasters. Besides being one of the few who was personally a racist (as opposed to politically), Wilson's anger at the Germans led to the disastrous American intervention in WWI.

The only thing that could have redeemed his presidency is if he had been a Wilsonian and had imposed independence on European colonies. Instead, he abandoned those peoples and fought for his fuzzy transnationalist pet project, the League of Nations, sowing the harvest of Third World misery we're still reaping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Tax Cuts Might Accomplish What Spending Hasn’t (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 12/13/09, NY Times)

One piece of evidence comes from Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. In work with her husband, David H. Romer, written at the University of California, Berkeley, just months before she took her current job, Ms. Romer found that tax policy has a powerful influence on economic activity.

According to the Romers, each dollar of tax cuts has historically raised G.D.P. by about $3 — three times the figure used in the administration report. That is also far greater than most estimates of the effects of government spending.

Other recent work supports the Romers’ findings. In a December 2008 working paper, Andrew Mountford of the University of London and Harald Uhlig of the University of Chicago apply state-of-the-art statistical tools to United States data to compare the effects of deficit-financed spending, deficit-financed tax cuts and tax-financed spending. They report that “deficit-financed tax cuts work best among these three scenarios to improve G.D.P.”

My Harvard colleagues Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna have recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of the issue. In an October study, they looked at large changes in fiscal policy in 21 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They identified 91 episodes since 1970 in which policy moved to stimulate the economy. They then compared the policy interventions that succeeded — that is, those that were actually followed by robust growth — with those that failed.

The results are striking. Successful stimulus relies almost entirely on cuts in business and income taxes. Failed stimulus relies mostly on increases in government spending.

All these findings suggest that conventional models leave something out. A clue as to what that might be can be found in a 2002 study by Olivier Blanchard and Roberto Perotti. (Mr. Perotti is a professor at Boccini University in Milano, Italy; Mr. Blanchard is now chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.) They report that “both increases in taxes and increases in government spending have a strong negative effect on private investment spending. This effect is difficult to reconcile with Keynesian theory.”

These studies point toward tax policy as the best fiscal tool to combat recession, particularly tax changes that influence incentives to invest, like an investment tax credit. Sending out lump-sum rebates, as was done in spring 2008, makes less sense, as it provides little impetus for spending or production.

Rather than a rebate it should be a debit card to force spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


How governors could guide a Grand New Party (Dan Balz, 12/13/09, Washington Post)

Haley Barbour is the one thread of continuity between the Republicans' restoration of 1994 and their comeback hopes in 2010. Then he was chairman of the Republican National Committee; today he is in his second term as governor of Mississippi and is chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

In 1993-94, he was a shrewd but mostly behind-the-scenes player to Gingrich's out-front leadership role in the midterm elections that drove Democrats from power. Today, he is front and center as a spokesman, strategist, fundraiser and counselor, looked to by congressional leaders and other governors for leadership in challenging the Democrats. They do not underestimate him as a formidable adversary.

The other older pro is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He is the northern wing of the axis of experience the Republicans have within the gubernatorial ranks. Like Barbour, he is a former White House political director. Like Barbour, he is well-grounded in policy, having served as budget director in President George W. Bush's White House.

Daniels has been a highly successful governor who has kept focused on his state's economic problems. He is a plain-spoken conservative who has been outspoken about his party's problems. Republicans, he argues, must earn back the public's trust, and in Indiana he has provided a model for his party of how to go about doing that.

If Barbour and Daniels form the ranks of old pros, there are young pros rising within the ranks. The youngest is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been on a fast track all his adult life. He had a terrible introduction to the nation this year when he was picked to give the GOP response to Obama's first speech as president to a joint session of Congress.

But appearances can be deceiving. Jindal has a considerable intellect and a command of many of the policy issues that will be front and center in the next few years, including health care and energy. Whether he can prove himself on a national stage still isn't known, but he could give Republicans fresh ideas and a platform from which to test them.

Farther north is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is finishing his second term as governor while still in his late 40s. He is a conservative from a blue-collar family and narrowly won two tough elections in a state partial to Democrats. He has his eyes on a run for president in 2012.

...the Obama/McCain debacle should put to bed the notion that legislators can govern the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


The beckoning silence: Why half of the world's languages are in serious danger of dying out: Of the 6,500 languages spoken in the world, half are expected to die out by the end of this century. Now, one man is trying to keep those voices alive by reigniting local pride in heritage and identity. (Paul Bignell, 13 December 2009, Independent)

The University of Cambridge academic[, Dr Mark Turin,] is leading a project that aims to pull thousands of languages back from the brink of extinction by recording and archiving words, poems, chants – anything that can be committed to tape – in a bid to halt their destruction. Languages the majority of us will never know anything about.

Of the world's 6,500 living languages, around half are expected to die out by the end of this century, according to Unesco. Just 11 are spoken by more than half the earth's population, so it is little wonder that those used by only a few are being left behind as we become a more homogenous, global society.

Darwinism actually does apply to language.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


I knew nothing, says Tiger Woods's caddie Williams (BBC, 12/14/09)

Tiger Woods's caddie Steve Williams has strenuously denied having any knowledge of the world number one's "infidelity".

Woods is currently taking an indefinite break from golf in order to tackle problems in his private life.

"I had no knowledge of what was going on," the Kiwi told New Zealand's Sunday News newspaper. "If I did, I would say I did. I'm an honest person.

"When he is not competing, I am back in New Zealand. I have no knowledge of what he is doing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Climate change exercise set to fail (Lenore Taylor, 12/14/09, The Australian)

THE message from the US, Australia and other rich countries is unequivocal.

China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and it cannot continue to hide behind the developing nations' bloc to avoid making clear and checkable promises to reduce its emissions.

US special envoy on climate change Todd Stern calls that idea "old think". And he says the US will not do a deal without the major developing nations (read: China) stepping up.

Without the largest and second largest polluters in the world, this exercise will fail.

...Mr. Stern can commit America to reductions either.

What’s Rotten for Obama in Denmark (John M. Broder, 12/13/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama enters the Copenhagen negotiations without anything close to consensus in his own party for his cap-and-trade plan to reduce emissions. The issue pits coastal liberals against the so-called Brown Dogs of the Rust Belt and the Great Plains whose states depend heavily on coal for power and manufacturing for jobs. At least a dozen of these Democrats have made it clear they will not accept any legislation — or any treaty — that threatens their industries or jobs. Another Senate coalition emerged last week behind a proposal to tax fossil fuels and return most of the revenues to consumers to compensate for higher energy prices. But that plan, though it has drawn some Republican support, is also unlikely to meet the 60-vote threshold required to call a vote.

It is not at all clear today that Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate can overcome these obstacles next year, or ever. And without the Senate, the entire international project is in jeopardy because without the participation of the United States — which emits 20 percent of all greenhouse gases — any international regime is bound to fall short.

See: Kyoto Protocol. That was the ill-fated 1997 climate accord that the Senate refused to consider because it made no binding demands on developing nations to limit their emissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


McChrystal's Afghan strategy attacks on several key fronts (Trudy Rubin, 12/13/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

"We need to go more local," McChrystal says. "In Iraq, we went local and built to the center."

How does this strategy play out on the ground? "I don't think you can go after an insurgency [just] by targeting leaders, nor is it necessary to do expansive nation-building," he says. "But you need enough security in enough places to let the seeds of development grow, and let people see that," he stressed. "The people of Afghanistan have to believe they are the critical element."

"The Taliban need access to Kandahar and Helmand [two key southern provinces, where the bulk of the new U.S. troops are headed]. So if we can control things there and show it's better, much of the insurgency dies out." As the Taliban are pushed back from these provinces, aid money and agricultural assistance will flow in.

But how can we transfer security to Afghan control when training the Afghan army is such a long-term project?

"The Afghan army will have a bigger role than some fear or think, but it won't be decisive," McChrystal says. When it comes to standing up Afghan security forces, "we will see multiple factors start to roll."

In some parts of Afghanistan, traditional tribal defense forces called arbaki will stand up, he continued. In others, "the Community Defense Initiative will empower individuals to take responsibility for their village." The CDI program is under joint U.S. military and Afghan Interior Ministry control. (McChrystal acknowledges they must be careful not to empower old, or create new, Afghan warlords.)

McChrystal also seeks the reintegration of mid- and low-level Taliban into society. "Reintegration is hugely important, incredibly important," he says. But his reintegration program requires a parallel effort by the Karzai government, including guarantees that potential Taliban returnees won't be arrested or killed. "They want protection against the government and former compatriots and a chance to make a living," he says.

(The Karzai government endorses reintegration and talks with Taliban leaders who break with al-Qaeda and disarm, but has yet to put forward a serious program.)

Last, but far from least, I asked what the United States needs from Pakistan - where Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders are hiding.

"We need [Pakistani] tribal areas not to be sanctuaries," McChrystal says bluntly. He was dubious that Pakistan's military would go after the Afghan Taliban at a time when the Pakistanis are battling their own Taliban. that there is no nation.

Lawrence of Arabia offers lessons for Afghanistan: After eight years of war, the US and Europe are scrambling to retool the Afghan mission. Instead of creating new concepts of nation building, leaders should read Lawrence of Arabia, argues a foreign policy expert. (Deutsche-Welle, 12/12/09)

John Hulsman is the author of the recently released "To Begin the World Over Again: Lawrence of Arabia from Damascus to Baghdad." He is president of John Hulsman Enterprises, an international relations consulting firm, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is based in Germany.

Probably the most famous advice given by T.E. Lawrence in his "27 articles" postulates "Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly." Has the international community heeded that advice so far in its mission in Afghanistan?

One of the things people say is "Isn't it terrible that we're working with these warlords." Who do these people think has been running Afghanistan for the last 1,000 years? Not Thomas Jefferson and not James Madison. I wish that were the case, but it's just not. Better that they be given control in terms of money - of course we should account for it because there is a lot of corruption in Afghanistan - better they be given control over the building projects that they're doing rather than we tell them what to build.

And of course they won't do it as well if we would do it by Western standards. But the key isn't how well they do it, but that they will be made stakeholders in the process so that they see that they are rebuilding their nation, they are building their country, not that we are imposing some sort of diktat from outside.

I think that is actually the key piece of advice from the "27 articles," because it encapsulates what's wrong with what we are doing. What we are doing should be mainly psychological and political, and then only secondarily military. In the Arab Revolt in 1917, Lawrence figured out that if the Arabs were on his side he couldn't lose and if they weren't on his side that he couldn't win.

And that's what's missing from Obama's plan. There was precious little mention of local politics and working with localities. The problem with the Afghan constitution that we imposed on the country after installing Karzai is that it's centralized, that we've made Kabul the center of the political decision making when in Afghanistan the tribe and localism has been the center of the Afghan experience of a 1,000 years.

Lawrence would understand this in a heartbeat. And that's why in a sense what's happening in Afghanistan is so tragic and why I was really desperately impelled to write this book. It comes out of a practical experience of working in Washington on Iraq and Afghanistan and then I read this guy and I immediately said that's it, that's what's missing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Armed for reality: The president's foreign policy shift (Robert Kagan, December 13, 2009, Washington Post)

The shift in rhetoric at Oslo was striking. Gone was the vaguely left-revisionist language that flavored earlier speeches, highlighting the low points of American global leadership -- the coups and ill-considered wars -- and low-balling the highlights, such as the Cold War triumph. Obama pointedly reminded his European audience of America's central role, with "the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms," in helping to "underwrite global security" since World War II. Instead of treading gingerly around the issue of democracy and the imposition of our values on other peoples, he squarely rejected the "false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development." He went further than he ever had in arguing that for the United States, advancing democracy is not only a moral but also a strategic imperative, because "peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear." Nor did he shy away from the Manichaean distinctions that drive self-described realists (and Europeans) crazy, insisting that "Evil does exist in the world" and can neither be negotiated with nor appeased.

The Oslo speech was important not just because it broke rhetorical ground. Obama was following in a great tradition of hawkish Democrats fighting wars both hot and cold: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, as well as that one-time Democrat, Ronald Reagan. More important, though, the speech heralded a course adjustment, a different approach by the Obama administration to the problems that have bedeviled it this year.

Obama's lengthy discussion of war, and his defense of America at war, obviously grew out of his months-long deliberation over whether to send more troops and expand the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. The speech revealed a man who has armed himself with all the necessary moral and practical arguments to justify his decision for as long as necessary.

...but, let's face it, if the teleprompter had accidentally displayed a Shakespearean soliloquy written in Klingon, the UR would have at least tried to deliver it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


The Celtic Revolution by Simon Young: Tom Holland relishes The Celtic Revolution, one man’s quest to salvage the Celts from the realm of mist-shrouded romance (Tom Holland, 12/13/09, Daily Telegraph)

Young cites the latest trends in linguistics and archaeology, most of which suggest that there was indeed an entity which might be termed 'Celtica’. 'The Celts, in short,’ he declares robustly, 'did exist.’ That one established, he then goes on to trace their story. This is a massive project: one that transports readers through more than two millennia of history and well beyond the frontiers of Europe, into both the New World and Turkey.

Yet The Celtic Revolution is not a heavy book, nor even a long one. In it Young has forged his own distinctive path. Rather like a Grail knight in one of the Arthurian romances that he clearly loves so much, he is a man on a quest. His task: to solve three haunting riddles. Did the Celts pave the way for the Roman Empire? Did they save Christianity? and did they help to fashion the modern world?

It comes as no great surprise to find that Young’s answer to these questions – albeit somewhat tongue in cheek – is a threefold 'yes’. As with Chrétien de Troyes, however, it is not the arrival that matters so much as the manner of the journey. It is rare that such evident learning is worn with such lightness and sprezzatura. A book that manages to explain the complexities of Hellenistic power politics, the issues at stake at the Synod of Whitby, and the precise significance of Geoffrey of Monmouth, all in one coherent sweep, is a fair achievement in itself; but even more remarkable is the delicacy of touch which ensures that readers barely realise they have been educated at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Incomprehensible! (Hussein Shobokshi, 12/13/09, Asharq Alawsat)

The foreign policy of the US administration today falls under the influence of more than one central figure in the US administration, and this explains why sometimes there appear to be contradictory trends. [...]

Of course, there is US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was the "central" reason for the Democratic Party retaining its cohesion. One cannot deny that her cautious performance and care to avoid mistakes is as if she still believes she has a chance of running for the US presidency in the future. All of this means that her performance of her political role today is weak and ineffective.

There is also Jim Jones, the National Security Adviser, who is known as a moderate, and he is the one who is adopting the strong and hard line towards the Israeli government, and [supporting] the ban of Israel's insane settlement expansion and putting an end to Israel's violation against the idea of peace and the establishment of a Palestinian State.

In the opposite direction of this is Dennis Ross [Senior National Security Council aide] who performs an advisory role, and is known for his sympathetic stance towards the Jewish State, and his private relationships with many pillars of its administration. He therefore gives Israel and its Prime Minister Netanyahu courage and support in their delay and intransigence on meeting the demands imposed upon them.

And in the middle of this hustle and bustle there is US Vice President Joe Biden, who was chosen mainly for his long years of "experience" in dealing with foreign policy, however his faux pas and his agitation means that the chances of Biden being an effective element in gaining important achievements in international politics are far-fetched to say the least!


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


YOU HAVEN'T LIVED HERE UNTIL ...: You've heard about the POWs (Zlati Meyer, 12/13/09, Detroit Free Press)

What? From the War of 1812? Nope, from Germany. During World War II, more than 5,000 German prisoners of war called Michigan home, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

WHY HERE? Michigan was not near either sea coast, where escape would've been easier.

WHERE WERE THEY JAILED? • The most well-known camp was at Ft. Custer near Battle Creek.


December 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics (DUFF WILSON, 12/12/09, NY Times)

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

To frame the question is to answer it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


51% in Illinois Oppose Prison for Guantanamo Terrorists In Their State (Rasmussen, December 12, 2009)

Fifty-one percent (51%) of Illinois voters oppose relocating some suspected terrorists from the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba to a prison in their state.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 39% of voters in the state favor housing the prisoners at the Thomson Correctional Center, a near-empty maximum security facility 150 miles west of Chicago. Ten percent (10%) are not sure.

The GOP can use this question to make every Democrat running for office in IL choose between the voters and Barack Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


War critics say Tony Blair is 'rewriting history' (Hazel Mollison, 12/13/09, Scotland on Sunday)

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Blair would not have obtained the support of the Cabinet or parliament for war if he had been so open about his view on regime change at the time. [...]

"I have no doubt whatsoever that if Mr Blair had told his cabinet what he is now saying, he'd have found it very difficult to keep all of them – he did, of course, lose Robin Cook and, eventually, Clare Short. But the one place he would have undoubtedly failed would have been in the House of Commons."

Angus Robertson MP, the SNP's Westminster leader and defence spokesman, said: [...]"Would Gordon Brown still have bankrolled the war had he known there were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Not rewriting. History is finally being written.

W came to office determined to correct his father's mistakes, chief among them raising taxes and leaving Saddam in place. Accordingly, he made a narrow legal argument to the United Nations that Saddam had to answer for violating the resolutions he had agreed to in order to terminate hostilities in Gulf I. It is to the elder Bush's credit that among these was a requirement that the regime end the oppression of the Iraqi people, which would have effectively ended the regime itself.

Mr. Blair wanted to join America in the war, but recognized the British government would not join him in a war of liberation, so he resorted to the WMD argument. Colin Powell wanted the UN to sign off on the resumption of hostilities, so he too seized on the WMD argument. W liked both men and understood the problems they faced with their constituencies so he let them give it a go. Our military had a lot of reshuffling to complete so he had time to wait for them. Ultimately, Mr. Blair was successful in bringing his government along, though General Powell failed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


Barack Obama warlike? No, he's just an American president: Barack Obama's Nobel speech shows a shift in tactics and maturity in office (Toby Harnden, 12/12/09, Daily Telegraph)

[I]t was a different kind of Barack Obama who addressed an array of stony-faced Scandinavians in the marbled auditorium of Oslo's city hall last week. Most of his speech would have prompted little comment if it had been uttered by George W. Bush.

In fact, if the 43rd American president had accepted a peace prize by mounting a muscular defence of "just wars" and declaring that he had sent troops who "will kill" and "be killed" to a "distant land", then he would have been denounced for his bloodthirsty effrontery.

Obama did not just dispense with his previous apologies for American actions around the globe. He stated that "evil does exist in the world", that pacifism would not have halted Hitler's armies and that the "blood of [American] citizens and the strength of our arms" had helped secure peace for six decades.

While some have concluded that Obama had discovered his inner Bush or even gone neocon in Norway, what the world witnessed in Oslo may have been much more significant than that.

The Obama who turned up was not just a Bush but also a Ronald Reagan, a John F. Kennedy and a Franklin D. Roosevelt - in short, an American president who articulated enduring American principles, values and interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Copenhagen: US, Japan move to kill Kyoto pact (Nitin Sethi, TNN)

The draft texts, prepared by the chairs of negotiation process, contain two major blockades to not just an ambitious deal at Copenhagen, but even to such a pact in near future.

Both the European demand that emerging economies peak their greenhouse gas emissions in near future and US demand that emerging economies permit international scrutiny of domestic actions, are now embedded in new proposals that 192 countries at the summit have to decide upon, besides dozens of others.

India and China have gone public against these proposals and declared them as non-negotiables but the US and Europe, without offering their own targets for finance or GHG mitigation, have stuck to their demands upon emerging economies. On Saturday morning, the situation only worsened with US, Japan and Australia going all out to even trash the new texts and demanding that work be done only on a new single legal treaty and that the Kyoto Protocol talks be killed.

The text proposals, as of today, allow talks to continue along the two tracks of a long-term agreement and immediate commitments of rich countries under Kyoto Protocol. The rich countries, though, persisted on Saturday with their demand that the two tracks be merged and all countries regardless of their different status within the existing convention take on commitments to reduce emissions.

...only the UR can euthanize the climate accord.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


End The Fed: Ron Paul’s Moment (Patrick J. Buchanan on December 11, 2009, Taki's Magazine)

Such is the cast for Fed independence.

But if true, what does this say about our republic?

Is it not an admission that, though Congress was created by the Constitution, and the Fed is a creation of Congress, our elected representatives cannot be trusted with the money supply, cannot be trusted with control of the nation’s central bank? To have decisions made in the national interest, we need folks who do not have to answer to voters.

If this be true, the republic is closer to its end than its beginning, when Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power, let us hear no more of trust in men, but rather bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Others contend that were it not for the independence and vision of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, the economy might have gone over the cliff and into the abyss after the Lehman Brothers collapse in October 2008.

What opponents of Paul’s audit are thus saying is that elected legislators must be kept out of the temple where the great decisions about the economy are made, that these decisions must rest with bankers and economists answerable, as is the Supreme Court, to themselves and no one else.

The Fed, like the WTO, is useful to precisely the degree that it is anticonstitutional. It does frequently make mistakes, but it makes them honestly while fighting against the threat of inflation, which is a virulent social solvent. The specter of a temporary governing majority getting to control the money supply and interest rates is so frightening that the intellectually unsatisfying arrangement that makes the Fed independent is justified by political realities.

But you have to love the spectacle of the same folks who claim Barack Obama is a socialist dictator in the making trying to hand him power he doesn't want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


The Just-War Tradition: Obama’s Oslo speech presumes too much about a centuries-old intellectual tradition. (George Weigel, 12/12/09, National Review)

The classic just-war tradition did not begin with a “presumption against war.” Augustine didn’t begin there; Aquinas didn’t begin there. And indeed, no one in the tradition began there until the late 1960s (surprise!), when a Congregationalist moral theologian (James Gustafson) sold a Quaker moral theologian (James Childress) the idea that the just-war way of thinking began with a prima facie moral duty to do no harm. Childress then successfully sold the notion to J. Bryan Hehir, the Catholic theologian and political theorist who was the chief architect of “The Challenge of Peace.”

In fact, however, the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice: The just prince is obliged to secure the “tranquility of order,” or peace, for those for whom he accepts political responsibility, and that peace, to repeat, is composed of justice, security, and freedom. There are many ways for the just prince (or prime minister, or president) to do this; one of them is armed force. Its justified use can sometimes come after other means of securing justice, security, and freedom have been tried and failed; but it can also sometimes mean shooting first. Two obvious examples of the latter come from modern history.

The first (to which the president alluded in Oslo) was in the case of humanitarian intervention to forestall or end a genocide. (Thus all those liberal synagogues and churches with “Darfur: A Call to Your Conscience” on their lawns might consider whether there is any solution to that humanitarian disaster other than the use of armed force.) The second comes from a more classic instance of an “aggression under way” (as some just-war thinking construes “just cause”), but without a shot having yet been fired. As students of World War II in the Pacific know, a U.S. carrier battle group under Adm. William Halsey was steaming off Hawaii in early December 1941. Suppose Halsey and the Enterprise had run across Admiral Nagumo’s carriers in their stealthy approach to the Hawaiian archipelago. Would Halsey have been justified in assuming that Nagumo wasn’t there to check out vacation real estate on Oahu — and shooting first? Of course he would have been, and from every rationally defensible moral point of view. (The analogy here between my Halsey hypothetical and hard intelligence of Iran loading a nuclear warhead onto a medium-range ballistic missile will strike some as suggestive.)

So the notion that just-war analysis begins with a “presumption against war” (or, as some put it, with a “pacifist premise”) is simply wrong. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate public authority’s moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Woods' wife buys island home in Sweden (LOUISE NORDSTROM, 12/12/09, AP)

There have been unconfirmed reports the couple may be headed to Sweden to escape the worst of the media frenzy. Nordegren's father, radio talk show host Thomas Nordegren, said Saturday he doesn't know if that's true.

"I have no comment to this. I don't know anything, either," he said.

Faglaro is one of the thousands of islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago. The quickest route there is a 45-minute ferry from Vaxholm — considered the main municipality of the archipelago — where Nordegren grew up.

The island has about 140 properties, mostly summer homes. Only two are used all year, Johansson said.

"But the Faglaro mansion used to be an old farm. It is solid and big and can be used throughout the year," Johansson said.

Anyone else flashing on the scenes from French Connection II where Popeye Doyle breaks his heroin addiction?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Iran's New Crackdown on Women: Activists are being exiled, TV newswomen have had their makeup banned, and a propaganda documentary slams feminism. Dana Goldstein on the effort to kill women's rights once and for all. (Dana Goldstein, 12/12/09, Daily Beast)

“The campaign” is the One Million Signatures Campaign, a national effort by Iranian feminists to collect 1 million signatures on a petition demanding an end to discrimination against women. Human-rights organizations working within and outside Iran say the ordeals of the two Isfahan women—who have since been released on a combined $55,000 bail—are part of an intensified crackdown against civil-rights activists in recent weeks, a shift in government policy that is making feminist organizing increasingly difficult.

Since early November, at least 11 feminist leaders have been summoned to court, threatened over the phone, or banned from traveling. On December 2, Iran state television barred female announcers from wearing any makeup on air. And on Dec. 6, amid widespread student protests, more than 10 women were arrested at a weekly rally of mothers whose children were killed during protests of the disputed June 12 presidential election.

Perhaps most shocking, in late November the husband of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi was detained by authorities, reportedly beaten, and questioned about the whereabouts and activities of the couple’s two adult daughters, who are studying abroad in Europe. Ebadi’s Nobel medal was confiscated from her safe-deposit box and her bank account was frozen. The government claimed she had failed to pay back taxes, but coming on the heels of Ebadi’s support for a United Nations declaration attacking human-rights atrocities in Iran, there was little doubt the state’s intention was political.

What are the rights of Persian women compared to Democrats' desire not to be bothered by foreigners?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Judge Blocks U.S. Ban on Funding for Acorn (NOMAAN MERCHANT, 12/12/09, Wall Street Journal)

U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon in New York issued a temporary injunction late Friday. Her ruling is expected to stand until the current restrictions on Acorn expire next Friday as part of a temporary spending bill. A permanent ban, the Defund Acorn Act, has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

Acorn's lawyers argued in part that Congress had violated the Constitution's ban on bills of attainder, legislation that punishes a specific person or group without the rights that courts provide. In making its argument, the Acorn lawyers included quotes from several Republicans accusing Acorn of being a criminal organization that deserved to be punished.

In her decision, the judge wrote that those statements "underline the punitive nature of the government's purportedly non-punitive reason" for banning Acorn.

Revenge is fun, but that's why the Founders protected us from it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Killer at the World Cup (News of the World, December 12, 2009)

South Africa is bracing itself for an estimated 42,000 new HIV infections over the World Cup period, as half a million football fans join the ultimate party.

Around 50,000 of the fans will come from England, expecting to have the time of their lives.

And it is not just the threat of HIV that awaits them.

Today a News of the World investigation exposes the grimy underbelly of the host nation.

The crime figures are terrifying. Last year in South Africa there were an incredible 18,148 MURDERS; 316,625 ROBBERIES; 203,777 serious ASSAULTS and 14,915 CARJACKINGS.

Credit card fraud and other scams are also rife.

...male soccer fans aren't going to get HIV from female hookers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Two weeks that shattered the legend of Tiger Woods,/a> (TIM DAHLBERG, 12/12/09, AP)

By now, events were clearly spiraling far beyond anything Woods could have ever imagined. In less than a week he had gone from being one of the most admired people in the world to a punch line to jokes flowing freely in offices everywhere and on late-night television.

His popularity ratings were plunging. Crisis management experts around the country crowded in front of news cameras urging him to stop hiding behind Web site statements and come clean to the public — and quick.

Still, there was no sight of Woods. The statements stopped, and he remained in seclusion.

His alleged lovers weren't so shy. Suddenly women began appearing seemingly everywhere on Web sites and magazines to claim they had affairs with Woods. Two became four, four began eight, and by some counts 10 or 12 or more.

Worse yet, they didn't mind sharing intimate details about the alleged encounters. Soon, anyone with a computer or iPhone was privy to what they claimed to know about Woods and what he liked to do behind closed doors.

Woods spent almost all his life keeping score on the golf course. Now people were keeping score on him.

Nothing, it seemed, could satisfy the insatiable appetite of the celebrity media to find out more about Woods, and their reports had no trouble finding an audience. Traffic to the biggest sites jumped 50 percent or more, and major portals weren't shy about further blurring the line between gossip and real news by blogging along details without necessarily checking out the source.

With good reason. Yahoo Inc. CEO Carol Bartz told an investor conference that the Woods story was "better than Michael Jackson dying" for bringing people to her site and helping the company sell enough extra advertising to boost profits.

The mayor of Las Vegas thought the same thing. With many of Woods' alleged lovers having links to the city and with Woods well known in Vegas casinos and nightclubs, Oscar Goodman said it would provide a boost to the local economy even if people no longer believed that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Still, Woods remained in seclusion.

A story not lacking in merely prurient interest does contain one important lesson: the same rules apply to everyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Talks turn tense over China-US stalemate (Marlowe Hood, December 13. 2009, The National)

The world’s two largest carbon polluters were at loggerheads on key issues such as how to divide the burden of cutting greenhouse gases, whether such efforts should be independently verified, and whether the US owes developing countries, including China, a “climate debt”.

“The atmosphere seems extremely negative,” said Isabel Hilton, the editor of the online environmental newsletter China Dialogue.

“Everyone is taking tough positions, talking to their domestic audiences.

“It’s a big change of tone. Before coming, China made positive noises, even suggesting they were ready to announce a date at which their carbon emissions would peak.

“But here they have been hanging very tough.”

...means believing what the Chicoms say, not what they do. India, unlike the PRC or the President, has been honest about not doing anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


First Solar-Powered Airplane Takes Flight (Ilya Rzhevskiy, 12/12/09, Epoch Times)

The organization responsible for this short, but completely sun-powered journey is The Solar Impulse Project. Their goal is to make solar energy powered planes a reality.

The Solar Impulse begins its take-off run. (
“For over 10 years now, I have dreamt of a solar aircraft capable of flying day and night without fuel. Today, our plane took off and was airborne for the first time,” said Bertrand Piccard, founder of Solar Impulse, in a statement.

Markus Scherdel, the pilot for this landmark event, explained that the flight on Dec. 5 was merely a test run—an opportunity to get a feel for the new plane.

The next step of the project is set for summer 2010, when Solar Impulse plans to attempt a 36 hour non-stop flight. However, the ultimate goal of the project set for 2012 is to circumnavigate the globe in a virtually non-stop flight that could take up to 25 days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


French rocker in induced coma in Los Angeles (JEAN-PIERRE VERGES, 12/12/09, Associated Press)

French rock legend Johnny Hallyday had a botched operation in France and is now in a medically induced coma in a Los Angeles hospital as he recovers from surgery to fix the damage, his producer said.

Hallyday, 66, is expected to recover, producer Jean-Claude Camus said.

He's lucky the Democrats haven't imitated France yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


How low can Amazon go? (Marjorie Kehe, December 11, 2009, CS Monitor)

When Amazon first started offering e-books at prices as low as $9.99, it seemed to many publishers and other booksellers that things couldn't get much worse. Then they did. Yesterday Amazon pushed prices on pre-orders of electronic versions of several big titles down to $7.99.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Senators Narrowly Voted Saturday to Cut Off Debate on an Omnibus Spending Bill Laden With So-Callled "Pork" Projects (BYRON WOLF and JENNIFER PARKER, Dec. 12, 2009, ABC News)

...but I don't recall bills being filled with "so-called" pork when the GOP was in charge. It was just pork, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Peace and War (George Packer, December 21, 2009 , The New Yorker)

No Obama doctrine yet exists. What the President has is a sophisticated theology, an anti-utopian belief that human imperfection is inevitable but progress is possible if human beings remain self-critical about what they can achieve. This is the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, whom Obama has called “one of my favorite philosophers.” One evening in 2007, after leaving the Senate floor, Obama said of Niebuhr, to the Times’ David Brooks:

I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.

The spirit of Niebuhr presided over the Nobel address. Neither idealist nor realist, Obama seemed to be saying that universal values and practical geopolitics exist in the same tension as war and peace. The readiness is all—the ability to discern opportunities and not be hemmed in by rigid abstractions. The President cited Nixon’s overture to Mao during the Cultural Revolution as an apparently inexcusable act that over the long run produced real improvements in the lives of the Chinese people. If something similar comes of Obama’s outreach to Iran, it, too, could be seen as a historic diplomatic breakthrough.

Richard Nixon couldn't care less that billions of people would have been sentenced to communist dictatorship in perpetuity had his vision prevailed. It may well be that President Obama cares just as little. But his words yesterday suggested he may have some of the empathy that made Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush hammers of the isms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Russian nuclear missile test fails, visible in Norway (Reuters, 12/11/09)

Russia admitted on Thursday another failed test of its much-touted Bulava intercontinental missile, after unusual lights were spotted in Norway across the border from the launch site.

The submarine-based Bulava (Mace) missile has been billed as Russia's newest technological breakthrough to support its nuclear deterrent, but the repeated test failures are an embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Arizona sheriff ups the ante against his foes (Nicholas Riccardi, December 12, 2009, LA Times)

[H]e has escalated his tactics in recent months, not only defying the federal government but launching repeated investigations of those who criticize him. He recently filed a racketeering lawsuit against the entire Maricopa County power structure. On Thursday night, the Arizona Court of Appeals issued an emergency order forbidding the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office from searching the home or chambers of a Superior Court judge who was named in the racketeering case.

Last year, when Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon called for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration enforcement, the Sheriff's Office demanded to see Gordon's e-mails, phone logs and appointment calendars.

When the police chief in one suburb complained about the sweeps, Arpaio's deputies raided that town's City Hall.

A local television station, KPHO, in a 10-minute-long segment last month, documented two dozen instances of the sheriff launching investigations of critics, none of which led to convictions.

The most notorious case involves county Supervisor Don Stapley, a Republican who has sometimes disagreed with Arpaio's immigration tactics. Last December, deputies arrested Stapley on charges of failing to disclose business interests properly on his statement of economic interest.

Stapley's alarmed supervisor colleagues had their offices swept for listening devices. Arpaio contended the search was illegal and sent investigators to the homes of dozens of county staffers to grill them about the sweep.

A judge in September dismissed several of the allegations against Stapley, and prosecutors dropped the case. Three days later, Arpaio's deputies arrested Stapley again after he parked his car in a downtown parking structure near his office.

Fascism is as fascism does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Worried father turned in 5 Americans to Pakistani police (Saeed Shah, 12/11/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

Pakistani police arrested five American Muslims this week on suspicion of planning terrorist actions after Khalid Farooq , the father of one of them, turned them in, alarmed that they were determined to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan , Pakistani officials and friends of the family said Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Catalonia holds referendums to push for independence from Spain (Fiona Govan, 11 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Hundreds of thousands of people living in Catalonia will vote in referendums on Sunday they hope could be the first step to winning independence from Spain. [...]

"The time has come for us Catalans to seize our destiny, to stand up and demand what is our right. We are a nation and as such we deserve the right to self-determination," [Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona FC] told residents on Thursday in Tárrega, a town 80 miles southwest of the region's capital Barcelona.

A people who think of themselves as a nation are one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Bacteria Engineered to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel (ScienceDaily, Dec. 11, 2009)

Global climate change has prompted efforts to drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels.

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The sad decline of David Attenborough: How can someone who once commissioned The Ascent of Man now churn out such human-hating parables? (Rob Lyons, 12/11/09, spiked)

[F]ar from opening our eyes to a major new problem, Attenborough merely parrots the anti-human spirit of our times. It is Attenborough’s view of humanity, not humanity itself, which is toxic. Moreover, the logical upshot of his belief that humanity is wrecking the planet is for people to be stopped from having children, not merely by gentle persuasion, but by force if necessary, as people in China have discovered to their cost. [...]

[A]ttenborough argues that the Earth’s ‘carrying capacity’ for humans is dependent on how well we want to live. If we all live like the average Rwandan, the Earth could support 18billion people; live like the average Indian and that capacity falls to 15billion. But if we want to enjoy the living standards of the average American, then the Earth can only support 1.5billion. Using the examples of water, food and fossil fuels, there are simply not enough resources to use, nor ‘sinks’ to dump our waste into, to support any more people.

Attenborough seems like a thoughtful and sincere man, but like all the arguments put forward by neo-Malthusians, this is errant nonsense. He quotes approvingly from Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population, which argued that population will always run ahead of the means to support it, an imbalance that would ultimately be corrected by nature itself through starvation. But Malthus has been proven utterly wrong so often it is embarrassing that intelligent people should still endorse him.

Despite what Attenborough says, the case against Malthus was even made, unwittingly, in his own Horizon film. Attenborough shows that while food production will need to double over the next 40 years to feed a bigger and wealthier population, the industrialised world has in the past trebled production through the use of fertilisers and machinery. The ‘green revolution’ of the Fifties and Sixties, led by the agronomist Norman Borlaug, increased agricultural output fivefold in just a few short years in many countries. Simply applying the best techniques available now to the whole world would come close to solving the problem, while emerging techniques could make farming even more productive. In other words, the food crisis, like the water crisis and the energy crisis, is really a social problem of poverty and development, not natural limits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 AM


Blair ‘would have gone to war without Iraqi WMD’ (Ruth Gledhill and David Brown, 12/12/09, Times of London)

Tony Blair would still have led the country to war in Iraq even if he had known that it had no weapons of mass destruction.

The former Prime Minister has confessed that he would have had to use different arguments to justify toppling Saddam Hussein. But he says in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow morning that he would still have taken steps to remove the Iraqi dictator from power.

W was just humoring Mr. Blair and General Powell when he let them use WMD to try and sway their constituents. The PM knew that. It seems like the Secretary of State may actually have fooled himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 AM


Toby Keith stands by war before peace concert (AP, 12/11/09)

There’s no reason to apologize for supporting U.S. war efforts, American country singer Toby Keith said Friday, just hours before performing at the annual Nobel Peace Prize concert.

Keith, whose 2002 saber-rattling hit “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” was inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said he stands by President Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Keith’s appearance at the downtown Oslo Spektrum arena, scheduled for 1900 GMT (2 p.m. EST), has been questioned by Norwegians dismayed that a performer known for a fervent pro-war anthem is playing at a show focused on peace.[...]

“I’m an American, and I do pull for our team to fight evil.”

December 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


The Nobel War Prize (Thaddeus Russell, 12/11/09, Daily Beast)

[O]bama's central argument was precisely that national, religious, and "tribal" cultures which do not uphold the values of Americans (and some Europeans) are not only inferior to ours but also must be transformed—by any means necessary. Obama audaciously rejected not only the pacifism of Gandhi and his own purported role model, Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the concept that war is justified only in self-defense. And though some commentators have praised Obama for what they see as his commitment to multilateralism, his speech was as strident a call for American primacy in international relations as anything delivered by his predecessor. [...]

Significantly, Obama defended his escalation in Afghanistan on "the recognized principle of self-defense" but then pledged to go "beyond self-defense"—with armed intervention when necessary—anywhere "the inherent rights and dignity of every individual" are denied. Establishing that a just use of military action "extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor," Obama asserted his belief that "force can be justified on humanitarian grounds."

The president then named several violators of "inherent rights"—Iran, Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and The Democratic Republic of Congo—and warned that "there must be consequences" if diplomacy fails to reform them. Those rights, which include the freedom of speech and assembly, the right of people to "worship as they please," and the right to democracy are, according to Obama, not only natural and God-given but also "universal aspirations." Speaking for the seven billion inhabitants of the earth, he proclaimed that "we're all basically seeking the same things.”

Obama dismissed the claim made in "some countries" that such statements are tantamount to cultural imperialism by calling it a "false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development." [...]

[T]he rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration and the idea that they are inherent were invented in a particular time, in particular places, and by very particular human beings—specifically, during the 17th and 18th centuries, in Europe and America, by wealthy, powerful, white, male philosophers and politicians like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. The idea that there are natural or God-given rights to speech, assembly, worship, and the vote simply did not exist before then. Moreover, were one to account for all the public statements and popular movements for the president's idea of inherent rights over the last four centuries and even in recent decades, they would constitute only a tiny percentage of the earth's population.

Merry Christmas. Now, about that public display ... (CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, 12/11/09, Washington Post)
A reported scheme for a "nonreligious" celebration of Christmas in the Obama White House was over before it began, long before it could become part of that old seasonal favorite, "the war on Christmas." I never believed the original reports anyway: The president has no need to incite those who already think that he is a closet Communist or stealth Muslim. But that doesn't mean that there is nothing to argue about. The White House is, as some recent interlopers have again proved, public property. And its East Room is one of the parts of it that are not reserved for the First Family's private life. So the constitutional question -- should taxpayer-funded space be used for the affirmation of any faith? -- is as real there, if not indeed more so, as it is anywhere else.

All America's wars do is extend the faith and enforce it abroad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Does Japan still matter? (Fred Hiatt, December 11, 2009, Washington Post)

U.S.-Japan relations are in "crisis," Japan's foreign minister told me Thursday -- but I would guess that few Americans have noticed, let alone felt alarm. As China rises, Japan's economy has stalled, and its population is dwindling. The island nation -- feared during the last century first as a military power, then as an economic conqueror -- barely registers in the American imagination.

But Japan still matters.

That's the great thing about Realists, even after conceding that it's a dying nation you still have to pretend it matters...because it used to....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


How Obama Can Win Back The Public: The President should take a page from Francois Mitterand. (Peter Robinson, 12.11.09, Forbes)

When it comes right down to it, what we have in Reagan and Obama are two opposing views of reality.

Reagan cut taxes; Obama is raising them. Reagan slowed the growth of the federal government; Obama is engaging in the biggest expansion of the federal government since the Great Society.

By the time Reagan's economic program had begun to produce its effects, in the middle of 1984, the unemployment rate had dropped from a high of almost 11% to less than 8%, inflation had tumbled from double digits to 4%, the stock market had rallied and an expansion had begun that would continue, aside from two brief, shallow recessions, for the next quarter of a century. That autumn, when Reagan won reelection with 49 out of 50 states, independents voted for him for the same reason that over a quarter of Democrats did so: He got economic reality right.

The corollary here is obvious: Obama is getting economic reality wrong—obdurately, insistently, massively wrong. This is not a program for which voters will reward him.

Which brings us back to Francois Mitterand. What can the current President of the United States learn from the late President of France? Contrition.

When in 1981 he became the first socialist president of the Fifth Republic, Francois Mitterrand raised taxes, issued endless new regulations and set about nationalizing entire industries. The French economy stalled, then began to shrink. Then, in 1983, Mitterrand took a remarkable step. He admitted he had been mistaken.

Of course, Bill Clinton did the same thing in '95-'96.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Life after death: What does the evidence show?: Even if we set aside religious conviction, there are compelling reasons to believe in life after death. (Dinesh D'Souza, December 9, 2009, CS Monitor)

One of the direct implications of the Big Bang is that not only did the physical universe have a beginning, but space and time also had a beginning. Space and time are properties of our universe. This means that in realms beyond our universe, if such realms exist, there might be no space and no time. Suddenly the Christian idea of eternity is rendered intelligible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Dems Getting Antsy With Retirements (Reid Wilson, 12/10/09, Hotline)

With 3 Dems announcing their retirements in the first weeks of Dec., some party strategists are starting to worry that a wave of retirements could threaten their hold on the House.

"It's time for Democrats to be concerned," said ex-Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX), a former DCCC chair. "You've only had 3 of these retirements now, but this tends to be like the flu, it tends to be contagious. Once your contemporaries start announcing their retirements, you start rethinking your decision."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Hillary Was Right: Barack Obama wasn’t ready to be president, and he better figure out what he’s doing before it’s too late. (Reihan Salam, 12/11/09, Daily Beast)

The most glaring and consequential unforced error came in how the Obama administration framed the health-care reform debate. The mantra of "bending the cost curve" was tailor-made for conservative and moderate intellectuals who preach the gospel of entitlement reform. [...]

The other big unforced error was over Afghanistan, where the president made the very bad decision to freeze out Hamid Karzai early in his term.

Had he just picked up the Third Way cudgel and fought for universalizing HSAs and personalizing SS he'd be fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


I Could Fix That: a review of The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History in the White House by Taylor Branch (David Runciman, London Review of Books)

In the final year of the last century, George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton’s one-time aide and press secretary, published a memoir of his time in the White House entitled All Too Human: A Political Education. Back then, it seemed like a terribly exciting book: 1999 was the year of Clinton’s Senate trial, following his impeachment, and also of the first appearance on US television of The West Wing, which offered the fantasy of a different kind of liberal president. Stephanopoulos made working in Clinton’s West Wing sound thrilling, monstrous, deranged. A group of super-smart men (and one or two women) fought round the clock to pin down their super-smart, hopelessly promiscuous president (promiscuous with his time, his interests, his attention, rather than in the more obvious ways). Speeches got written at the last moment, policy was endlessly being reformulated, old enemies were reached out to while a train of new enemies was picked up along the way. Stephanopoulos describes how important physical proximity to the president was – having your office a few yards nearer to the Oval Office than the next person was crucial – and he lets us know that he got close. This was more like a medieval court than a modern workplace, both deeply hierarchical and frighteningly chaotic. And there at the heart of it was George, fixing, fighting, cajoling, despairing, scheming, outwitting, getting outwitted, and all the time feeding off the power. At one point, our hero (George, not Bill) takes a fancy to Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze’s costar in Dirty Dancing, and he gets his people to sound out her people about whether she fancies a date. Yes she does! He goes to gatherings of Greek-Americans and they crowd round wanting to know when he is going to lift the curse of Dukakis (which says that short Greek men can’t get elected president, because they look ridiculous in tanks). What can George say – who knows?

Well, it turns out that America was due an African-American president before it was due a Greek-American one, something that would have seemed pretty incredible in 1999. Stephanopoulos is now a talk-show host, occasional journalist and, like everyone else, a blogger. Nevertheless, it comes as a shock reading The Clinton Tapes to discover just how little George mattered to Bill during the time when Bill meant so much to George. Stephanopoulos hardly features at all in these write-ups of a series of nearly 80 taped conversations Taylor Branch had with Clinton over the course of his presidency.

When I was the body man on the 1985 gubernatorial in NJ it was made quite clear to me, though not to them, that a significant portion of the job was protecting the candidate from his staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Conservative praise for Nobel speech (Eamon Javers, Dec 10, 2009, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech Thursday is drawing praise from some unlikely quarters – conservative Republicans – who likened Obama’s defense of “just wars” to the worldview of his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

It’s already being called the “Obama Doctrine” – a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Jamaica vs. Singapore: In 1965 the two nations were equal in wealth. Four decades later, their standing was dramatically different. What accounts for the difference? (Josh Lerner, November 19, 2009, American)

Both are relatively tiny states, with under 5 million residents apiece. Upon Singapore’s independence in 1965—three years after Jamaica’s own establishment as a nation—the two nations were about equal in wealth: the gross domestic product (in 2006 U.S. dollars) was $2,850 per person in Jamaica, slightly higher than Singapore’s $2,650. Both nations had a centrally located port, a tradition of British colonial rule, and governments with a strong capitalist orientation. (Jamaica, in addition, had plentiful natural resources and a robust tourist industry.) But four decades later, their standing was dramatically different: Singapore had climbed to a per capita GDP of $31,400 (2006 data, in current dollars), while Jamaica’s figure was only $4,800.

What accounts for the amazing difference in growth rates? There are many explanations: soon after independence, Singapore aggressively invested in infrastructure such as its port, subsidized its system of education, maintained an open and corruption-free economy, and established sovereign wealth funds that made a wide variety of investments. It has also benefited from a strategic position on the key sea lanes heading to and from East Asia. Jamaica, meanwhile, spent many years mired in political instability, particularly the disastrous administration of Michael Manley during the 1970s. Dramatic shifts from a market economy to a socialist orientation and back again, with the attendant inflation, economic instability, crippling public debt, and violence, made the development and implementation of a consistent long-run economic policy difficult.

But in explaining Singapore's economic growth, it is hard not to give considerable credit to its policies toward entrepreneurship. The government has experimented with a wide variety of efforts to develop an entrepreneurial sector:

– Providing public funds for venture investors seeking to locate in the city-state

– Subsidies for firms in targeted technologies

– Encouraging potential entrepreneurs and mentoring fledgling ventures

– Subsidies for leading biotechnology researchers to move their laboratories to Singapore

– Awards for failed entrepreneurs (with a hope of encouraging risk-taking)

While much of the initial growth in Singapore can be attributed to sound macroeconomic policies, political stability, and various other factors, the nation’s entrepreneurship initiatives have played an increasingly important role in stimulating growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Obama’s confused policies (Kanwal Sibal, 11 Dec 2009 , Indian Express)

Obama’s re-assertion in his December speech that the US “will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan” shows US’ inability to extract itself from a policy rut in dealing with Pakistan. More largesse is promised to ensure Pakistan’s ‘security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent’. The exact import of Obama’s assertion that the Pakistani establishment now is clear “that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism” is unclear, as such consciousness may have developed with regard to the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, but evidence that it extends to the Afghan Taliban, or the Punjab-based jihadi groups, is lacking. It would seem wishful thinking on his part if Obama implies that after Swat and South Waziristan, the Pakistani military will begin operations against the Afghan Taliban. His warning that the US “cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear”, may seem a hardening of tone towards Pakistan’s reluctance to act against the Afghan Taliban, but whether Obama will risk extending the scope of cross-frontier attacks in violation of Pakistani sovereignty and provoking a public backlash against the government and the armed forces that, in turn, would make the task of securing Pakistani cooperation more difficult, is doubtful. Such a course of action would, in any case, be incompatible with the concept of an “effective partnership with Pakistan” that he speaks of.

The disquieting ‘new’ element in the December enunciation of his Af-Pak policy is Obama’s readiness to ‘support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens’. Obama does not once, in his speech, mention the term ‘religious extremists’, ‘radical Islamists’, or ‘religious radicals’. Obama is thus demanding an end to violence, not abjuring of extremist religious ideology, even though the two are inextricably linked. How he expects the Taliban, wedded to their obscurantist religious ideology, to subscribe to western constitutional concepts of human rights and abandon those sanctioned by religion is puzzling. Confused policies flow from such confusion in thinking.

The central feature of the new policy is the planned ‘exit strategy’. Obama has announced that he will begin “the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011”. His defensiveness in sanctioning a limited surge is so obvious that apart from spending a good part of his speech in recalling why the US is in Afghanistan, he politically balances the unpopular surge by repeating: “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home”. No successful military strategy can be based on a retreat announced in advance. “America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan”, he says, a dramatic admission on his part that this war is well nigh lost, a message that can only bolster the confidence of the Taliban. “I will not set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests”, he adds, signifying a contraction of America’s role and a startling acknowledgement by him of the diminution of its power to shape even a regional order. The 18-month deadline seems to have been set with the next US presidential election in mind, which suggests that the stakes in Afghanistan are seen as less important than the stakes in that election and Obama’s chances to win a second term.

December 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Articles of Faith (Dahlia Lithwick, Dec. 10, 2009, Slate)

When Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89, retires—and he's expected to in the next year or so—there will be no Protestant left on the highest court in the land. Will President Obama be pressured to appoint one? Popular opinion once held that even one Catholic was too many on the court. Today there are six. But would anyone even notice if Obama appointed a seventh to replace Stevens? Once upon a time, there was an outright religious litmus test for Supreme Court appointees. Today religion is almost irrelevant in appointing new justices.

Catholics dominate because the Pope is the most reliably pro-Life figure on Earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


FSB Holiday Giveaway!

We at FSB Associates want to do our share to support books and the publishing industry. In the spirit of the holiday season, and support for, we will be conducting a 3-Day Holiday Giveaway!

For three days only, December 8th, 9th, and 10th, we will be giving away a limited quantity of books to randomly selected winners! The official entry begins at 12pm (eastern) on each day. Here is our schedule of events:

Day 1. Lost Symbol Fans! If you have read and loved Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, enter to win this companion pack! The pack features The Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney and Decoding the Lost Symbol by Simon Cox. We have 3 packs to giveaway!

Day 2. Celebrity Chef Mary Ann Esposito, has 5 signed copies of her latest cookbook to be given away: Ciao Italia: Five Ingredient Favorites. Check out Mary Ann's tips for holiday cooking here!

Day 3. 3 copies of Quirk Classics' bestselling literary monster mash-up, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters signed by co-author Ben Winters! Also included: the Deluxe hardcover edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, co-authored by Seth Grahame-Smith! Learn more about the books, and discover the next monster mash-up at

Anyone within the continental US is eligible to enter. Entries made on a specific day after 12pm (eastern time) will only be eligible for that day's giveaway, so visit often! To enter for your chance to win, simply click here! Spread the word to your friends by forwarding this message.

We would also like to wish each and every one of you a very happy holiday season. Thank you for your time and support, and we look forward to working with you in 2010!

Best wishes,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


Rubio Would Have Taken Stimulus Money (Reid Wilson, 12/10/09, Hotline)

Ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) seems to have changed his position on stimulus funding, now saying he would have accepted federal money headed to his state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Black lawmakers grow impatient with White House (BEN EVANS, 12/10/09, Associated Press)

While still careful about criticizing Obama publicly, they appear to be losing their patience after watching him dedicate more than $1 trillion to prop up banks and corporations and fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while double-digit unemployment among blacks crept even higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Surprise! Palin likes Obama's Nobel speech (Kathy Kiely, December 10, 2009 USA Today)

"I liked what he said," Palin told us in a phone interview. "I talked too in my book about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times."

Why would it be surprising that those on the Right liked it? Anyone on the Left who liked it didn't understand him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Can Republicans Retake the Senate in 2010?: Probably not, but their candidate recruitment so far has been stellar (Karl Rove, 12/10/09, WSJ)

Political currents are running against the party of Barack Obama. Democrats now trail Republicans by four points in Gallup's generic ballot poll. In 1994, the year the GOP took control of Congress, it wasn't until March that Republicans took the lead in that poll—and then only by one point and for a short period of time.

With a good environment this election cycle, Republicans have recruited competitive candidates who could turn otherwise close contests into runaway victories, likely defeats into wins or at least close contests that, if things break right, tip to the GOP.

Today, there are only 40 Republicans in the Senate. In January 2011, there could be 44, 46 or more if the party runs strong campaigns in contests that haven't jelled yet, or if some Democrats retire instead of risking defeat.

Unlike the last two takeovers, which were surprises, they're actually recruiting people who are qualified.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Steele: Dems Right To Accuse GOP Of Delay (Reid Wilson, 12/10/09, Hotline)

RNC chair Michael Steele said in a memo released Thursday that GOPers should do everything they can to stop health care, arguing that position is in line with public opinion.

"I urge everyone to spend every bit of capital and energy you have to stop this health care reform. The Democrats have accused us of trying to delay, stall, slow down, and stop this bill. They are right. We do want to delay, stall, slow down, and ultimately stop them from experimenting on our nation's health care," Steele wrote in the memo. "And guess what, so do a majority of Americans."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Atheists at Christmas: Eat, drink and be wary (PATRICK CONDON, 12/10/09, AP)

Angie O'Neill recently moved into a new apartment complex for seniors and she's trying to make new friends. But Christmas is a tough time of year for an atheist.

"All the planned activities at this time of year revolve around the church," said O'Neill, a retiree and an atheist for decades.

O'Neill sought an escape this week, joining a group of her fellow nonbelievers for a weekly "Atheist Happy Hour" at a suburban Mexican restaurant. The group, Atheists for Human Rights, is active year-round but takes it up a notch this time of year with a Winter Solstice party, a charity drive and good attendance for the weekly gathering at Ol' Mexico.

For one thing, it's a chance to share coping techniques during this most religious time of year. They range from the simple, like warning about certain stores that blare religious Christmas songs, to tougher tasks like how to avoid certain topics with certain family members. These atheists describe adjusting some customs to make them their own, like Nancy Ruhland, a pharmacist who sends out Christmas cards to friends and loved ones — but makes sure to find ones without a Christian message or subtext.

Some beliefs are so absurd they parody themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Mammogram Math (JOHN ALLEN PAULOS, 12/13/09, NY Times Magazine)

A little vignette with made-up numbers may shed some light. Assume there is a screening test for a certain cancer that is 95 percent accurate; that is, if someone has the cancer, the test will be positive 95 percent of the time. Let’s also assume that if someone doesn’t have the cancer, the test will be positive just 1 percent of the time. Assume further that 0.5 percent — one out of 200 people — actually have this type of cancer. Now imagine that you’ve taken the test and that your doctor somberly intones that you’ve tested positive. Does this mean you’re likely to have the cancer? Surprisingly, the answer is no.

To see why, let’s suppose 100,000 screenings for this cancer are conducted. Of these, how many are positive? On average, 500 of these 100,000 people (0.5 percent of 100,000) will have cancer, and so, since 95 percent of these 500 people will test positive, we will have, on average, 475 positive tests (.95 x 500). Of the 99,500 people without cancer, 1 percent will test positive for a total of 995 false-positive tests (.01 x 99,500 = 995). Thus of the total of 1,470 positive tests (995 + 475 = 1,470), most of them (995) will be false positives, and so the probability of having this cancer given that you tested positive for it is only 475/1,470, or about 32 percent! This is to be contrasted with the probability that you will test positive given that you have the cancer, which by assumption is 95 percent.

The arithmetic may be trivial, but the answer is decidedly counterintuitive and hence easy to reject or ignore. Most people don’t naturally think probabilistically, nor do they respond appropriately to very large or very small numbers. For many, the only probability values they know are “50-50” and “one in a million.” Whatever the probabilities associated with a medical test, the fact remains that there will commonly be a high percentage of false positives when screening for rare conditions. Moreover, these false positives will receive further treatments, a good percentage of which will have harmful consequences. This is especially likely with repeated testing over decades.

Another concern is measurement. Since we calculate the length of survival from the time of diagnosis, ever more sensitive screening starts the clock ticking sooner. As a result, survival times can appear to be longer even if the earlier diagnosis has no real effect on survival.

Cognitive biases also make it difficult to see the competing desiderata the panel was charged with balancing. One such bias is the availability heuristic, the tendency to estimate the frequency of a phenomenon by how easily it comes to mind. People can much more readily picture a friend dying of cancer than they can call up images of anonymous people suffering from the consequences of testing. Another bias is the anchoring effect, the tendency to be overly influenced by any initially proposed number. People quickly become anchored to such a number, whether it makes sense or not (“we use only 10 percent of our brains”), and they’re reluctant to abandon it. If accustomed to an annual mammography, they’re likely for that reason alone to resist biennial (or even semiannual) ones.

Whatever the role of these biases, the bottom line is that the new recommendations are evidence-based.

No one cares what makes sense, they just like being treated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Americans' Net Worth Increases (JEFF BATER and LUCA DI LEO, 12/10/09, WSJ)

The net worth of Americans rose for the second consecutive time during the third quarter, the U.S. Federal Reserve said in a report Thursday, an important step toward restoring the spending power of U.S. consumers.

The Fed said total net worth of households increased 5.0% in the July-to-September period, to $53.42 trillion from $50.76 trillion in the second quarter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Obama’s Nobel Remarks (Barrack Obama, 12/10/09)

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions -- not just treaties and declarations -- that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." A gradual evolution of human institutions.

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait -- a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America -- in fact, no nation -- can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.

And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That's why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace. [...]

I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side.

As is, it's as good as he can do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


'Obama Must Prove Himself' (Der Spiegel, 12/10/09)

Obama, though, has larger worries. When he steps on stage to receive his prize, he will be facing a world that doesn't quite believe that he deserves it. Never mind that he himself said as much upon being told that he was awarded the Peace Prize. His speech, just days after radically upping the number of US troops in Afghanistan, will surely not be the easiest of his presidency. German papers on Thursday take a closer look at the skepticism and hope that surrounds Obama's Peace Prize honor.

Left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes,

"Did Obama earn the Nobel Peace Prize he will be awarded today in Oslo? The simple, and widely agreed-upon answer is no. After all, the new US president is still conducting a war in Afghanistan and just announced he would escalate the conflict with the addition of 30,000 troops. Many of those in Berlin and other world capitals who once greeted the presidential candidate from the US with jubilation as a new messiah find themselves disappointed with him today."

"But even during his presidential campaign and all his appearances in Europe, Obama made his Afghanistan strategy clear, and made it clear that he wanted help and additional soldiers from Germany…"

"Obama is acting in Afghanistan exactly the way he said he would during the campaign."

Promises not made. Not made promises kept. He said nothing and has done nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Same-sex marriage advocates delay N.J. Senate vote (Adrienne Lu and Jonathan Tamari, 12/10/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

A crucial New Jersey Senate vote on same-sex marriage, expected to be held today, was called off late yesterday as advocates struggled to find the support needed for passage. [...]

The maneuvering appeared to be a setback for the same-sex marriage movement, which has been focused on New Jersey since the defeat of a similar measure in New York state last week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Brimming US fuel stocks drive crude lower (Tamsin Carlisle, December 10. 2009, The National)

Following the US government release yesterday of its latest weekly figures on the oil inventories held by the world’s biggest energy consumer, New York crude futures tumbled by nearly 3 per cent, dipping as low as $70.44.

Hope was fading for any recovery in heating oil futures this winter, Carl Larry, the president of the Houston consultancy Oil Outlooks and Opinions, told Dow Jones. “About the only thing that everyone holding length can hope for is hell freezing over,” he said.

...when their gold returns to its natural price.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Norwegians angry over Obama snub (Ewen MacAskill, Gwladys Fouché, 12/10/09, The Guardian)

[N]orwegians are incensed over what they view as his shabby response to the prize by cutting short his visit.

The White House has cancelled many of the events peace prize laureates traditionally submit to, including a dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee, a press conference, a television interview, appearances at a children's event promoting peace and a music concert, as well as a visit to an exhibition in his honour at the Nobel peace centre.

He has also turned down a lunch invitation from the King of Norway.

According to a poll published by the daily tabloid VG, 44% of Norwegians believe it was rude of Obama to cancel his scheduled lunch with King Harald, with only 34% saying they believe it was acceptable.

"Of all the things he is cancelling, I think the worst is cancelling the lunch with the king," said Siv Jensen, the leader of the largest party in opposition, the populist Progress party. "This is a central part of our government system. He should respect the monarchy," she told VG.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


More immigrants leap into business ownership (Maria Sacchetti, December 10, 2009, Boston Globe)

Call it immigrant drive, or desperation, but immigrant-owned businesses are popping up at levels unimaginable decades ago. Last year, an estimated 61 percent of new businesses were launched by immigrants, according to a Babson College survey.

“I always wanted to work for myself. It’s not easy, but something drove me to it,’’ said Vo, 32, as she sat behind the counter at Fusion Foods on Everett Avenue while a fighting fish named Sushi swam in a glass bowl. “I think a lot of immigrants who have opened their own businesses believe it’s the only real way to have an easier life.’’

Immigrants, who also account for 23 percent of established businesses, are anchoring downtowns in cities and remaking the suburbs across the region, launching businesses as varied as biotech firms, bridal salons, and bakeries.

While Congress debates how much to hand out to the natives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Medical groups balk at Medicare 'buy-in' (John Fritze, 12/10/09, USA TODAY)

Hospital and doctor groups that have generally supported the effort to revamp the nation's health care system pushed back Wednesday against a new idea proposed by Democratic leaders to let younger Americans buy into Medicare. [...]

"Bringing more people into a system that doesn't work very well is not a good answer," said Jeffrey Korsmo, executive director of the Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center. "The current Medicare program is not sustainable." [...]

Created in 1965, Medicare had 45 million beneficiaries in 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, but rising health care costs have threatened the program's viability. According to the 2009 annual report by its trustees, the program is on track to run out of money in 2017.

Many details have not been announced, but the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, pounced on a proposal to expand the seniors program because doctors receive less from Medicare than from private insurance for the same procedures.

"If more people move into Medicare we'd … bear the financial brunt of this," said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the hospital trade group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Thomas the Tank Engine attacked for 'conservative political ideology' (Aislinn Laing, 10 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Children's favourite Thomas the Tank Engine has been attacked by a Canadian academic for its "conservative political ideology" and failure to adequately represent women.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Second poll shows Obama approval rating at 47% (DIANNA HEITZ, 12/10/09, Politico)

If White House officials were peeved at Gallup Poll for its reporting on President Barack Obama’s recent slide to 47 percent approval — and they were — imagine the reaction at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the survey released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling, which also reported the president’s approval rating at 47 percent, but added this analysis:

“Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama’s declining support is that just 50 percent of voters now say they prefer having him as president to George W. Bush, with 44 percent saying they’d rather have his predecessor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Germ-free kids may risk more adult illnesses: study ( Karin Zeitvogel , 12/09/09, AFP)

Parents who let their kids romp in the mud and eat food that has fallen on the floor could be helping to protect them against maladies like heart disease later in life, a US study showed Wednesday.

"Our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases," including cardiovascular disease, Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, said.

December 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Kasich 48, Strickland 39 (Josh Kraushaar, 12/09/09, Politico)

Kasich holds a comfortable nine-point lead, 48 to 39 percent, over the sitting governor – a sign that Strickland will be facing the fight of his political life next year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


FACT CHECK: Sleight of hand? Obama promotes deficit reduction and increased spending (CALVIN WOODWARD, JIM KUHNHENN, 12/09/09, Associated Press)

In President Barack Obama's hands, the $700 billion financial rescue fund offers a bit of bookkeeping magic: an opportunity to pay down the deficit while also spending more — thereby adding to it.

Under law, any paybacks to the bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program must be used to reduce the deficit. But in an economic speech on Tuesday, the president sought to have it both ways. Increased repayments from banks to the Treasury will reduce the deficit all right, but it will give Congress the budgetary room to spend more — and the president encouraged just that.

Just as dangerous for the UR as the mainstream press factchecking him all of a sudden is the photo accompanying the story, in which he's now just another white guy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Worse Than the Public Option (Philip Klein, 12.9.09, American Spectator)

[I]n a major concession to liberals, the agreement would expand Medicare to Americans over the age of 55, and thus potentially add millions of people to a system that is already on course to bankrupt the country, with a long-term deficit of $38 trillion (or as high as $89 trillion by some measurements). And the deal still leaves open the possibility that a public option would be "triggered" if the new Office of Personnel Management plans don't materialize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Climate Deal Likely to Bear Big Price Tag (JOHN M. BRODER, 12/09/09, NY Times)

In energy infrastructure alone, the transformational ambitions that delegates to the United Nations climate change conference are expected to set in the coming days will cost more than $10 trillion in additional investment from 2010 to 2030, according to a new estimate from the International Energy Agency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


Buzz Mounts, GOP Downplays Hoeven Bid (Reid Wilson, 12/09/09, Hotline)

Could GOPers be on the verge of putting another top Dem on the defensive?

We're hearing a new round of buzz over ND Gov. John Hoeven (R), a very popular 3-term incumbent who, at just 52 years old, may not be finished with politics quite yet. He has turned down a Senate bid before, but this time he may take the bait and challenge Sen. Byron Dorgan (D).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


Poll: Only 38 percent support health care bill (Glenn Thrush, 12/09/09, Politico)

The second leg of Quinnipiac's big national poll dropped this morning -- and it shows a serious erosion of support for Congressional health reform efforts and the president's performance on the issue -- along with an all-time low 46 percent approval rating for the POTUS.

Most ominously for Dems: Nearly two-thirds of registered voters polled said extending coverage to 30 million-plus people will result in a decline in the quality of their own health care. That gives plenty of room to the GOP to personalize attacks on the plan, Obama and Congress.

...assuming the Democrats are consulting Dr. Kevorkian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Obama's Oslo Snub (Katarina Andersson, 12/09/09, Daily Beast)

“It’s very sad,” said Nobel Peace Center Director Bente Erichsen of the news that Obama would skip the peace center exhibit. Prize winners traditionally open the exhibitions about their work that accompany the Nobel festivities. “I totally understand why the Norwegian public is upset. If I could get a few minutes with the president, I’d say, ‘To walk through the exhibition wouldn’t take long, and I’m sure you would love the show. You have no idea what you are missing.’”

Meanwhile, the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet is reporting that the president has declined an invitation to lunch with King Harald V, an event every prize winner from the Dalai Lama to Al Gore has attended. (The newspaper’s headline: “Obama disses lunch with King Harald.”)

Also among the dissed, according to news reports: a concert in Oslo on Friday that was arranged in his honor, and a group of Norwegian children who had planned to meet Obama in front of City Hall.

“The American president is acting like an elephant in a porcelain shop,” said Norwegian public-relations expert Rune Morck-Wergeland. “In Norwegian culture, it’s very important to keep an agreement. We’re religious about that, and Obama’s actions have been clumsy. You just don’t say no to an invitation from a European king. Maybe Obama’s advisers are not very educated about European culture, but he is coming off as rude, even if he doesn’t mean to.”

Indeed, judging by statements surrounding the president’s trip to Europe this week, it is beginning to appear as if the European love affair with Obama—which culminated in giving him the Nobel Prize—is over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


When Will Obama Give Up the Bin Laden Ghost Hunt? (Robert Baer, Nov. 18, 2008, TIME)

The last relatively reliable bin Laden sighting was in late 2001. A video that he apparently appeared in last year shows him with a dyed beard. More than a few Pakistani intelligence operatives who knew bin Laden scoff at the idea he would ever dye his beard. They think the tape was manipulated from old footage, and that bin Laden is in fact dead. But then again, they would have an interest in making Americans believe bin Laden is dead, since it would relieve U.S. pressure to find him by any means necessary, including going into Pakistani territory.

And what about all the other audiotapes bin Laden has put out since 9/11? Experts will tell you that off-the-shelf digital-editing software could manipulate old bin Laden voice recordings to make it sound as if he were discussing current events. Finally, there's the mystery as to why bin Laden didn't pop up during the U.S. election. You would think a narcissistic mass murderer who believes he has a place in history would find it impossible to pass up an opportunity to give his opinion at such a momentous time, at least by dropping off a DVD at the al-Jazeera office in Islamabad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Totalitarian Sentimentality (Roger Scruton, December 2009-January 2010, American Spectator)

Conservatives recognize that social order is hard to achieve and easy to destroy, that it is held in place by discipline and sacrifice, and that the indulgence of criminality and vice is not an act of kindness but an injustice for which all of us will pay. Conservatives therefore maintain severe and -- to many people -- unattractive attitudes. They favor retributive punishment in the criminal law; they uphold traditional marriage and the sacrifices that it requires; they believe in discipline in schools and the value of hard work and military service. They believe in the family and think that the father is an essential part in it. They see welfare provisions as necessary, but also as a potential threat to genuine charity, and a way both of rewarding antisocial conduct and creating a culture of dependency. They value the hard-won legal and constitutional inheritance of their country and believe that immigrants must also value it if they are to be allowed to settle here. Conservatives do not think that war is caused by military strength, but on the contrary by military weakness, of a kind that tempts adventurers and tyrants. And a properly ordered society must be prepared to fight wars -- even wars in foreign parts -- if it is to enjoy a lasting peace in its homeland. In short conservatives are a hard and unfriendly bunch who, in the world in which we live, must steel themselves to be reviled and despised by all people who make compassion into the cornerstone of the moral life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


El Vez, Los Straits spice a yule show (David R. Stampone, 12/07/09, The Inquirer)

Yes, Los Straitjackets of Nashville, the surf-rock quartet that famously performs in colorful Mexican lucha libre ("free fight") wrestling masks, played flawlessly. The musicians delivered souped-up, twanged-out standards off the two Noel-oriented albums of their 20-year career: 2002's 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! and the new Yuletide Beat.

And Robert "El Vez" Lopez, the savvy Mexican American Elvis impersonator - or cultural "translator," as he prefers - was in warm voice, flanked by his two "Lovely Elvettes," Priscilita and Lisa Maria. In a "MeX-Mas" spirit, he crooned modified yule faves and oddball offerings like Augie Rios' 1958 single "¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?" along with his Latinized Presley hit rewrites ("Blue Suede Shoes," for example, yields "Huaraches Azules").

Instead of being accompanied by his usual Memphis Mariachis, El Vez was ably backed by Los Straits for the night's single 90-minute set. The masked instrumentalists impressed with their seasonal treats ("Deck the Halls" with licks from "I Fought the Law," etc.) when El Vez and the gals left the stage for costume changes.

The gig's brightest star, however, was the ingenious pop-musicological feast of a song-splicing set-list created by El Vez. It was an unrelentingly clever mashup of old carols and anything from early rock to soul, glam, punk - even vintage hip-hop, when he and the Elvettes frantically worked cocaine-referencing quips from Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines (Don't Do It)" as Los Straits cruised through "Jingle Bell Rock."

You can check out an older Straitjackets Christmas Pageant on MySpace

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Obama Is Criticized on AIDS Program (DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., 12/09.09, NY Times)

“I’m holding my nose as I say this, but I miss George W. Bush,” said Gregg Gonsalves a long-time AIDS campaigner. “On AIDS, he really stepped up. He did a tremendous thing. Now, to have this happen under Obama is really depressing.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


President Obama told me to stop ‘demeaning’ him, says Rep. Conyers (Molly K. Hooper, 12/08/09, The Hill)

According to the lawmaker, the president picked up the phone several weeks ago to find out why Conyers was “demeaning” him.

Obama’s decision to challenge Conyers highlights a sensitivity to criticism the president has taken on the left. Conyers’s critical remarks, many of which have been reported on the liberal-leaning Huffington Post, appear to have irritated the president, known for his calm demeanor.

The final step towards Carterism, thin skin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Report: Over Two-Thirds of All Abortion Clinics Have Closed Since 1991 (, 12/08/09)

Operation Rescue has just released the results of an extensive research project into the abortion industry showing that the number of abortion facilities continues to dwindle as Americans become more pro-life.

"We now have an accurate listing of every open abortion clinic in the country," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. "In 1991, it was estimated that there were nearly 2,200 abortion clinics in the country, today there are just 713. The pro-life movement has made significant strides exposing and closing abortion clinics and shifting public opinion toward the pro-life position. This has resulted in lower abortion rates."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Gates: 'We're in this thing to win': In a surprise visit to Afghanistan, he aims to reassure troops, Karzai (Glenn Kessler, 12/08/09, Washington Post)

Gates, the first senior U.S. official to travel to Afghanistan since Obama's announcement, said he will stress to President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials that the United States will not abandon them as it did in 1989, when the Soviet Union left in defeat. The United States had backed forces fighting the Soviets, but ended its support after Moscow quit the war, paving the way for Taliban rule.

"We are not going to repeat the experience of 1989," Gates said. As U.S. troops begin to depart in favor of trained Afghan forces, developmental and economic aid will continue to flow, he stressed. "We intend to be their partner for a long time to come," Gates said.

Gates's remark that the United States is in the battle in Afghanistan "to win" marked an unusual description of the mission here by an administration official.

Obama has shied away from such expressive language, either in his speech last week announcing the decision to add at least 30,000 troops or when he first announced an Afghanistan strategy in March.

You can always tell when Barack Obama has given one of his singularly eloquent addresses because his team fans out across the globe to do damage control.

December 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Christmas Story: Boise boy licks pole, gets stuck (AP, 12/08/09)

Boise firefighters used a glass of warm water to free the unidentified boy from the metal fence pole.

Fire Capt. Bill Tinsley says the boy's tongue was bleeding a little, but he was OK and allowed to continue walking to school. Firefighters estimate the boy was 10 years old.

Rescue workers responded after a woman driving by saw the boy and called 911.

The triple dog dare gets them every time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Obama’s Hope to Unite Falls Short (Marist Poll, December 8, 2009)

Registered voters nationally are divided about President Barack Obama’s job approval rating. 46% approve of his job performance while 44% disapprove. One in ten voters is unsure.

This is the first time the president has lost majority support on this question since taking office. When Marist last asked this question in October, 53% of voters gave the president high marks.

...just against the unicorn ride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Boxer: Cover Viagra? Then cover abortion (Eric Zimmermann, 12/08/09, The Hill)

Boxer suggested there was a double standard underlying proposals to restrict abortion coverage. Under those amendments, women would have to buy separate policies, known as "riders," if they wanted insurance for abortions.

"The men who have brought us this don't single out a procedure that's used by a man, or a drug that is used by a man, that involves his reproductive health care and say they have to get a special rider," Boxer said on the Senate floor.

...but she'd only have a legitimate gender gripe if the bill banned aborting male babies and allowed killing female.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Syria Exports Trouble: How Bashar al-Assad is playing the world (Michael Young, 12.08.09, Forbes)

The former U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, once declared that the Bush administration did not seek regime change in Damascus, only "behavior change." It achieved neither, and during his campaign, Barack Obama approved of a dialogue with Syria (and others) "without precondition," a gesture unlikely to alter Assad's behavior.

Today Syria continues to export instability in defense of its regime and interests, and the reality is that no one is doing anything about it--not the United States, the United Nations, the Arab states or the European Union. To Assad's dubious credit, he has positioned his otherwise weak country in a perfect dead spot regionally and internationally, unmolested by any political will to forcibly curtail Syrian misdeeds.

...but they were big ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


After Brief Uptick, Obama Approval Slips to 47% (Jeffrey M. Jones, 12/08/09, Gallup)

Barack Obama's presidential job approval rating is 47% in the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update, a new low for his administration to date.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


...there would be no nationalized health care system nor other forms of socialism had women not been given the vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Ahmadinejad: US has plans to prevent arrival of Mohammed's descendant (Jerusalem Post, 12/08/09) that he fears we could. With such self-doubt it's no wonder Islam is in crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


For Reid in 2010, Beware the Ides of 2004 (Josh Kurtz, 12/08/09, CQ-Roll Call)

Leave it to Dick Wadhams, the pugnacious strategist now serving as Colorado GOP chairman, to boldly say what most Republicans have been thinking about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid .

Republicans have been excited for months by the knowledge that the Nevada Democrat is vulnerable in his quest for a fifth term. But in a fundraising appeal last week, Wadhams boiled down their sentiments into a single, potent message: We can get another scalp here.

Wadhams penned a letter for Sue Lowden, the former Nevada GOP chairwoman who is one of 10 Republicans vying to knock off Reid next year. Wadhams’ decision to wade into the Nevada race carries a lot of pop: In his peripatetic political career, Wadhams’ biggest triumph came as campaign manager for Sen. John Thune , R-S.D., in 2004, when Thune ousted Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle by 2 points too are Senate Democrats these days forced to choose a "moderate" leader, but then he loses that label when he becomes the face of their party and can't win re-election back home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Next Surge: Counterbureaucracy (JONATHAN J. VACCARO, 12/08/09, NY Times)

For some units, ground movement to dislodge the Taliban requires a colonel’s oversight. In eastern Afghanistan, traveling in anything other than a 20-ton mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle requires a written justification, a risk assessment and approval from a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and sometimes a major. These vehicles are so large that they can drive to fewer than half the villages in Afghanistan. They sink into wet roads, crush dry ones and require wide berth on mountain roads intended for donkeys. The Taliban walk to these villages or drive pickup trucks.

The red tape isn’t just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed. Small aid projects lag because of multimonth authorization procedures. A United States-financed health clinic in Khost Province was built last year, but its opening was delayed for more than eight months while paperwork for erecting its protective fence waited in the approval queue.

Communication with the population also undergoes thorough oversight. When a suicide bomber detonates, the Afghan streets are abuzz with Taliban propaganda about the glories of the war against America. Meanwhile, our messages have to inch through a press release approval pipeline, emerging 24 to 48 hours after the event, like a debutante too late for the ball.

Curbing the bureaucracy is possible. Decision-making authority for operations could be returned to battalions and brigades. Staffs that manage the flow of operations could operate on 24-hour schedules like the forces they regulate. Authority to release information could be delegated to units in contact with Afghans. Formatting requirements could be eased. The culture of risk mitigation could be countered with a culture of initiative.

Mid-level leaders win or lose conflicts. Our forces are better than the Taliban’s, but we have leashed them so tightly that they are unable to compete.

The one good thing that could have come of electing Democrats after the Cold War and WoT were won is cutting the military back down to bare bones the way the GOP did after WWI. Unfortunately, the Left has so little credibility remaining on national security questions that they can't take such steps. But even Bill Clinton's halving of defense spending produced a boom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Comrade Lysenko in Copenhagen (Alex Alexiev, 12/08/09, National Review)

The 1950 edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the arbiter and repository of all politically correct Communist knowledge, had the following entry under genetics: “Soviet scientists under the leadership of Academician Lysenko proved scientifically that genes do not exist in nature.” Having Mendelian genetics outlawed on the grounds that it was not a science was probably Lysenko’s crowning achievement.

A self-taught agronomist, Lysenko early on jumped aboard the Stalinist bandwagon and developed a number of agricultural ideas -- ideas that rejected all established science as “bourgeois” and therefore “counter-revolutionary,” an approach similar to the Nazis’ assault on “Jewish mathematics.” Included were promises to dramatically raise grain yields through the practice of something called “vernalization,” change the climate of Siberia by planting trees, and make wheat plants produce rye, among others. To push these ideas, Lysenko called his opponents “wreckers” and the mere discussion of his theories “political sabotage.”

Invariably these “saboteurs” lost their jobs (if they were lucky) or landed in the Gulag. Today’s global-warming “deniers” would easily recognize all these tactics minus the Gulag. The U.K.’s energy and climate-change secretary, Ed Miliband, recently even referred to AGW skeptics as “saboteurs.” Some of our latter-day Lysenkos have called for legal prosecution of skeptics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Is Democracy a Dirty Word? (Tara McKelvey | December 7, 2009, American Prospect)

The Obama administration is focusing on international efforts such as agricultural programs, women's rights, and economic development rather than on elections. It has also taken a more holistic approach to foreign policy, choosing to engage with nondemocratic regimes abroad in the hopes of finding some common ground. Democracy-promoting organizations such as the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, and Freedom House are listening carefully -- "Kremlin style," as one expert puts it -- to the statements of Obama and his Cabinet members for signs that the administration considers democracy a priority. Most aren't liking what they've heard so far. When asked about Obama's approach to democracy promotion, many activists in the field sound like hurt and angry ex-boyfriends. "It's too early to talk about important changes in the Obama administration," one analyst says defensively.

"There is concern among activists that perhaps the administration sends the wrong signals to authoritarian regimes when it downplays democracy so much that it may be seen as neglected," Allen says.

And Realism is the politics of not being bothered by foreigners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Pakistan Told to Ratchet Up Fight Against the Taliban (DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT, 12/08/09, NY Times)

The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.

If LBJ and Nixon had attacked China and the USSR they'd have defeated North Vietnam.

December 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM

Welcome to the Lucidicus Project

The Lucidicus Project is an independent educational initiative founded to encourage medical students to learn more about the foundations of capitalism and individual rights, and consider how these ideas apply to healthcare and medicine.

The MISDK for medical students.We raise money through voluntary donations to provide free books to medical students and other young people entering health-related professions. We send what we call our Medical Intellectual's Self-Defense Kit to medical students across the United States and around the world. The kit contains materials that help to clarify and describe the actual, philosophic meaning of indvidual rights and capitalism.

We also regularly publish brief editorials on current topics in health policy and reform. Past editorials are available via the archive.

The Lucidicus Project exists and grows thanks to its supporters. Kits are distributed free of charge to medical students, and no subscription or registration is required to read the editorials we post online. If defending individual rights and free markets is important to you, and if you value this cause, then please consider supporting The Lucidicus Project today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Tiger Woods faces claims of affair with porn star (Carly Crawford, December 08, 2009, Perth Now)

EXPLOSIVE revelations in the Tiger Woods sex scandal keep on coming, with allegations he counted an LA porn star among his lovers.

As the number of women linked to the world No 1 keeps on rising, a bombshell police document released today shows Woods was being prescribed the sleep aid Ambien at the time of his crash. [..]

The latest alleged mistress, soft porn actress Holly Sampson, 36, has starred in movies such as My First Sex Teacher, Flying Solo 2 and Emmanuelle In Paradise.

And a source told one of Woods' supposed lovers, Jaimee Jungers, has received a cash offer in exchange for her silence.

If Derek Jeter didn't deserve Sportsman of the Year before all this he surely does now. Lesson One: just stay single.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


PROMISES, PROMISES: A closed meeting on openness (SHARON THEIMER, 12/07/09, AP)

It's hardly the image of transparency the Obama administration wants to project: A workshop on government openness is closed to the public.

The event Monday for federal employees is a fitting symbol of President Barack Obama's uneven record so far on the Freedom of Information Act, a big part of keeping his campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent ever. As Obama's first year in office ends, the government's actions when the public and press seek information are not yet matching up with the president's words.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


Is Ambien Sex Hotter? (Hannah Seligson, 12/07/09, Daily Beast)

Yes, Ambien sex. It sounds like an oxymoron, since Ambien is in the family of sedatives. But Ambien is said to offer more than a night of super sleep. For some, the drug can produce a haze of inhibition, making sex crazier, hotter, and more erotic.

This is a new incarnation of Ambien sex. It’s already widely known that Ambien can act as a memory eraser. People have sought advice after having affairs in Ambien-induced states, waking up to phone calls from women they have no recollection of meeting, let alone sleeping with. [...]

Devon Dove, founder of, a Web site that says it helps victims of Ambien, says he isn’t surprised Woods and Uchitel may have used it to heat up their sex life.

“Ambien is like LSD or Ecstasy,” Dove says. “You definitely feel a little bit of a buzz. You feel a euphoria when you take it.”

Medical experts, like Schab, say that to the extent Ambien creates a buzz or sense of haziness, someone might be less mindful of his or her usual inhibitions.

But if Woods is taking Ambien to make his sex life better, it’s not without a cost. Dove, who started after crashing his car while sleep driving on Ambien, says Woods looks like a textbook case of Ambien sleep driving. (The golfer was injured after he ran over a fire hydrant and hit a neighbor’s tree with his Cadillac Escalade on Thanksgiving night; police say alcohol was not a factor in the accident.)

“I’ve talked to over 200 people about their experience on Ambien and what happened to Woods is exactly how people describe sleep driving,” Dove says. “You wake up with your car wrapped around a tree, and you are just lying there, asleep.”

Driving under the influence — of sleeping pills (MSNBC, March. 15, 2006)
There's a growing hazard on the roadway, the kind of motorist who smashes into parked cars, plows over sidewalks and drives in the wrong direction, all while oblivious to the destruction left behind. These drivers aren't drunk or stoned — they're under the influence of Ambien, the nation's most popular prescription sleeping pill. [...]

Some of Washington's zombie-like drivers said they took the sleeping pill while behind the wheel so that it would kick in by bedtime.

"Wow, that's a really bad idea," said sleep specialist Dr. Brooke Judd, an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School.

...about using the drug as an excuse for getting freaky with some other babe, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


The fight's back in John McCain: The Arizona senator - and political celebrity - takes a spot on the front lines of the Republican Party's opposition to Obama. He's bipartisan no more, especially on healthcare. (Janet Hook, December 7, 2009, LA Times)

Soon after the Senate opened its long-awaited debate on healthcare legislation last week, John McCain strode into the chamber to spearhead his party's opposition to the massive bill. He offered Republicans' first amendment and leveled the party's most politically stinging charge -- that cuts in Medicare spending would hurt the elderly.

A day later, McCain took the lead in grilling President Obama's team on its newly minted plan for the Afghanistan war. Why, McCain pressed, had the president set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops?

"A withdrawal date only emboldens Al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said.

He's been down, he's been out, but the Mac is back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


An Incredibly Expensive Folly: Why Failure in Copenhagen Would Be a Success (Bjørn Lomborg, 12/07/09, Der Spiegel)

Over the past decade, a fierce argument has been waged between those who deny global warming's existence, and those who are deeply alarmed about its onset. The rhetoric from both sides has, at times, been overblown. Global warming is real and it is caused by humanity. That much has long been clear. But it is just as obvious that we have failed to embrace the policies that would best deal with this challenge.

The argument is more accurately described as being about whether the globe would achieve absolute climate stasis in the absence of humans. The Right, frequently characterized as anti-scientific, suggests that the evidence reveals it was not static prior to us. The Left, which needs to believe men to be gods, holds that climate change is a function of human action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Brighter TARP Data Could Boost Jobs Bill (Phil Mattingly and David Clarke, 12/07/09, CQ)

The Obama administration will cut its projected losses from the financial bailout program enacted last year by at least $200 billion, potentially creating a bigger opening to funding for a jobs bill being considered by House Democratic leaders.

One of W's greatest gifts to the UR was saving the economy. Too bad the new president loused it up with the stimulus package.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Obama’s response to Honduran presidential election is disappointing (Ana C. Perez, December 3, 2009, The Progressive)

The U.S. response to the recent presidential election in Honduras shows that not much has changed under President Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Barack and Hassan concur, the US is waning (Michael Young, December 4, 2009, NOW Lebanon)

It’s not often that Barack Obama and Hassan Nasrallah agree, but both made important speeches this week, and both appeared to concur that American power was on the decline.

Of course Obama didn’t quite put it that way. Instead, he merely implied the growing sense of American difficulty, the fact that the United States was “passing through a time of great trial,” which he made more palatable by sandwiching it between words of encouragement and resolve. His speech to West Point cadets on Tuesday was an effort to explain to his countrymen why it was important to send an additional 30,000 or so troops to Afghanistan. But what remained, despite the soaring rhetoric toward the end of the president’s speech, was the terrible burden all this placed on an America much gloomier than it was decades ago.

Obama chose to highlight domestic American rifts, when he remarked that “years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort.” He drew attention to America’s economic travails by noting that “[i]n the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.”

As for the American enterprise in Afghanistan, the centerpiece of Obama’s speech was that he would actually start withdrawing American soldiers by July 2011. No, the United States would not bankroll an Afghan nation-building project, because (and here the president sounded more like a shopkeeper than a purveyor of global domination) such a scheme “sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost.” [...]

Obama’s caution is defensible in some regards. War alone cannot be the benchmark of American power. Nothing would do more to harm the US than for it to sink itself into myriad conflicts it cannot win outright. In some ways, however, Obama failed to pick up on that lesson in the political realm, making ambitious promises concerning several complex Middle Eastern issues, without setting clear priorities, so that today, with little progress evident in any of them, the president stands discredited.

The mounting perception of American weakness will, arguably, be the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East in the coming years. It will alarm Washington’s allies and empower its foes, and Barack Obama’s stiff-upper-lip displays of candor, his persistent enunciation of American inadequacies, will only make things worse. Power may be a source of great evil, but not nearly as much as a power vacuum.

The last time we had presidents who thought we were weak they were followed by Ronald Reagan and the rout of our enemies. One wouldn't expect the UR to learn from history--it's not clear he knows any--but we always hear how the Middle East is soaked in it.

December 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Afghanistan Technology Surge: From Unmanned Helicopters to Laser Guns (Sharon Weinberger, 12/07/09, Sphere)

2) Laser blaster. In September, a Boeing-built laser mounted atop a combat vehicle zapped 50 improvised explosive devices in Pentagon-sponsored tests. Called the Avenger, the solid-state laser could be ready to send to Afghanistan within a year, a Boeing spokesman recently told UPI. As of now, however, there are no definitive plans to send the laser blaster to battle roadside bombs in Afghanistan. [...]

4) The stealth drone. The Air Force last week confirmed to Aviation Week & Space Technology that recent reports of a mystery drone in Kandahar were, in fact, correct. The unmanned aerial vehicle, called the RQ-170 Sentinel, is built by Lockheed Martin's secretive Skunk Works division. It's still unclear how many of the stealthy drones may be operating in Afghanistan or what precisely they are doing. "With its low-observable design, the aircraft could be useful for flying the borders of Iran and peering into China, India and Pakistan for useful data about missile tests and telemetry, as well as gathering signals and multi-spectral intelligence," Aviation Week reports.

5) Mini-robots. Thousands of iRobot's PackBot robots are already in Iraq and Afghanistan helping to defuse bombs. But now Boeing and iRobot have teamed up to build the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, or SUGV, which is expected to make its way soon to Afghanistan to serve as a reconnaissance scout that can alert troops to possible dangers ahead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


Senators: Obama Didn’t Mention Public Option or Abortion (Rick Klein and Z. Byron Wolf, 12/06/09, ABC News)

Senators who were looking for President Obama to tread into the legislative weeds today didn’t get their wish.

The president’s 40-minute meeting with members of the Senate Democratic caucus stayed broad, according to senators and aides who were inside the meeting. He didn’t mention either the public option or abortion – the two issues that Democratic leaders acknowledge continue to vex efforts to find compromise in the Senate.

They've made it clear they don't care what's in the bill so long as something passes and he can claim to have done at least one thing in his first year in office, so it's fine for him to have no position on the central issues involved, but why send him to the meeting?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Obama pressed for faster surge (Anne E. Kornblut, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, 12/06/09, Washington Post)

By early October, it was clear that a process initially envisioned as lasting a few weeks would take much longer. McChrystal had argued that the worsening situation in Afghanistan could be turned around only by a full commitment to protecting the Afghan people and building up the government, with massive new U.S. resources over many years. But he had still not had the opportunity to formally explain his position to those taking part in the review.

His chance came at an Oct. 8 meeting of Obama's principal advisers, presided over by Jones -- the "dress rehearsal" for a full-scale National Security Council gathering the president would hold the next day. Speaking by video link from Kabul, McChrystal began with the policy underlying his approach, established by the White House review, hastily compiled in February, that led to Obama's March 27 strategy announcement and the deployment of nearly 22,000 new troops through the spring and summer.

In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a slide: "Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population."

"Is that really what you think your mission is?" one of those in the Situation Room asked.

On the face of it, it was impossible -- the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a significant part of the population. "We don't need to do that," Gates said, according to a participant. "That's an open-ended, forever commitment."

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, and it was enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan -- the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff.

"I wouldn't say there was quite a 'whoa' moment," a senior defense official said of the reaction around the table. "It was just sort of a recognition that, 'Duh, that's what, in effect, the commander understands he's been told to do.' Everybody said, 'He's right.' "

"It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent" of the NSC document, said Jones, who had signed the orders himself.

God help us...again...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


NV-03: What The Heck? (Tim Sahd, 12/06/09, Hotline)

In another sign that the environment has tilted away from Dems, a new poll out today shows Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) tied with ex-state Sen. Joe Heck (R) in the Las Vegas suburbs. [...]

[T]his is the type of seat where Dems should still have an advantage. Pres. Obama easily won it with 55%, and Dems had been counting on the increased interest generated by the '08 WH primary to cement their hold on the CD. Indeed, the Third now has a clear, 33K Dem voter-registration advantage. Just two years ago, the parties were at parity in those numbers.

The poll suggests that the recent health care bill has hurt Titus' position, as 47% of respondents say they disapproved of her vote, while only 41% approved of it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Time for a new OSS: We need an agency that can take on al Qaeda (CHARLES S. FADDIS, December 6, 2009, NY Post)

The task of defeating al Qaeda, an international organization composed of clandestine terrorist cells, is not one that can be accomplished by Marine infantry battalions, carrier battle groups or armored divisions. The task of hunting down and destroying a shadowy, creative enemy like this is one that must be done by an organization designed for the purpose, one which is equally at home in the world of intrigue and deception in which terrorist operatives hide.

For this work we need an outfit composed of select numbers of highly-skilled individuals who have spent years of their lives abroad learning the smell, feel and taste of the street in South Asia, the Middle East and East Africa. We need an organization that is fast, agile and audacious. We need an entity whose leaders have the courage to take chances and the creativity to find solutions to problems no one else can solve.

Unfortunately, we have no such organization.

Within the US government the work we are discussing is properly the province of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA, unfortunately, remains a stiff, overly bureaucratic entity staffed at its senior levels overwhelmingly by individuals more focused on personal advancement and risk avoidance than they are on hunting down dangerous, clever adversaries. [...]

What we need is a new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the legendary World War II-era spy organization known for its singular focus on mission accomplishment. Such an organization would be small, probably on the lines of the original OSS, which numbered roughly 13,000 individuals. It would be elite, composed of uniquely-qualified individuals drawn from every walk of life and from the full cross-section of American society. It would have a simple, flat bureaucratic structure to ensure that it was capable of rapid decision making and equally rapid action. And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, such an organization would report directly to the President to insulate it from the paralyzing influence of Washington bureaucracy.

The CIA has always been useless and should have been disbanded long ago. But a new bureaucracy will just evolve into the CIA, as the OSS did. Open Source the intelligence gathering and farm out the enforcement to the military, FBI, and foreign governments.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Iran…and Political Hallucination! (Tariq Alhomayed, 12/06/09, Asharq alawsat)

In one of his speeches in Isfahan, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that the attacks launched by America and it’s military allies over the past few years on some countries in the [Middle East] region are based on religious grounds and that “their motive for carrying out these attacks that they did not make public is that they know that there will come a day when a man descended from Prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him, will appear in this region and he will eliminate all the wrong-doers in the world. The Iranian nation will be among the supporters of this divine man.” Ahmadinejad continued and confirmed that “Iran has the documents to prove this.” And of course that’s not all; Ahmadinejad added, “The first task for Iranian officials is to build [up] Iran and their second task is represented in preparing to enter the administration of world affairs.”

Is there a better example of political hallucination?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Obama: The Un-Stimulator (ERIC TORBENSON, December 6, 2009, NY Post)

Why aren’t businesses hiring? Because they don’t know what’s next. The small shop owners, mid-size company budget planners and corporate strategists — they all look ahead and see nothing but questions and worries. What will the massive new health care bill cost? Will there be cap-and-trade taxes after the Copenhagen summit this week? What domestic priority will Obama push next?

If you don’t know what a new employee will cost you in 2010, the last thing you want to do is hire one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


Reid Says Yes to Abstinence (Shawn Zeller, 12/06/09, CQ)

Just when it appeared that Congress was about to erase one of the social-conservative legacies of the George W. Bush administration — abstinence-only sex education programs — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to bring it back.

Even though House and Senate appropriators voted four months ago to eliminate all spending on the programs, which according to most research do not keep teens from having sex or reduce teen pregnancies, the Nevada Democrat included a provision in the Senate health care bill that would restore some of the money.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Obama Redeclares War (Peggy Noonan, 12/05/09, WSJ)

[I]t appears we're seeing some things we've not seen before. The president of the United States gave a war speech, and the next day the nation didn't seem to rally around him. This is not the way it's gone in the past. Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush—when they addressed the nation about the wars they led, they received immediate support.

This is also the first time we've seen an American president declaring, or rather redeclaring, a war without a political base. Again, LBJ, Nixon, George W. Bush—they always had a base that would support them, on which they could rely and from which they could maneuver. But Mr. Obama's base is not with him on this decision.

Can a president fight a war without a base?

His natural base is Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Al-Qaida Kills Eight Times More Muslims Than Non-Muslims (Yassin Musharbash, 12/07/09, Der Spiegel)

[E]ven as such apologetic communiqués from al-Qaida show the terror network stylizing itself as a defender of the true faith wrestling with religious concepts, they also make it look as though any dead Muslims are regretful but isolated cases. The facts, though, tell a different story.

Between 2004 and 2008, for example, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for 313 attacks, resulting in the deaths of 3,010 people. And even though these attacks include terrorist incidents in the West -- in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005 -- only 12 percent of those killed (371 deaths) were Westerners.

Like Communist movements, they can't win by killing us, only by killing their own.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Voters switching back to Coalition: THE Liberal Party's biggest gambles in decades - electing Tony Abbott as Leader of the Opposition and rejecting Labor's ETS in the Senate - appear to have paid their first dividends, and in exactly the way the Liberal Party had hoped they would. (Dennis Shanahan, 12/07/09, The Australian)

Two weeks ago Malcolm Turnbull was Liberal leader, the Coalition had embraced Labor's ETS and was about to pass it through the Senate and Turnbull was facing two by-elections which were deliberately designed to wreck his leadership.

The Liberal Party was divided over climate change and the leadership, the Coalition was split over the ETS and there were dire predictions of electoral disaster if the Liberals did not approve Kevin Rudd's ETS.

This morning, Abbott, as Leader of the Opposition, is able to claim victory in the two by-elections of Higgins and Bradfield, with a swing towards the Liberal Party, can claim electoral approval for his dramatic policy reversal on the ETS, has cut into Rudd's lead as preferred prime minister and reclaimed the Liberal base.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


N.J. town's drift could be omen for Democrats (Thomas Fitzgerald, 12/06/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. - The Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and Routes 1 and 9 all converge here in a Medusa's nest of concrete ramps, right in the center of the state.

So do the main highways to political power.

To win statewide, Democrats must rack up big margins in the township and surrounding Middlesex County, and the party has managed to hold the mostly working- and middle-class territory in recent years. But last month, voters rebelled, helping elect Republican Christopher J. Christie governor. [...]

Frank Tsien, a retired teacher and registered independent, voted for Corzine in 2005, Christie this time.

"People are corrupted after a while, and you have to get new blood in there," Tsien, 65, said. He believed that it was time to kick the Republicans out of the White House last year, but thought Obama was too inexperienced. He went with Ralph Nader.

So far, Obama has not sold him. He especially doubts that the $847 billion health-care bill before the Senate will ever rein in costs as the president insists.

"You never see anything that gets lower over time. Never," Tsien said. "Certainly not government. It just keeps growing. Every government program costs more than they thought it would."

June Sandy's vote for Christie had nothing to do with Obama, she said. It was because Corzine, a former Wall Street titan, "is a multimillionaire who can't identify with real people," said Sandy, 33, who was at the Auto Parts & Sporting Goods store buying bait worms to feed her pet turtle.

"I was not voting against Corzine. To me it was a vote against Obama as president," said Patricia Notchey, who was reading a murder mystery as she ate lunch at San Remo Pizza on Main Street. Getting a new governor "was just a bonus," she said.

All of the money being spent from Washington frightens her as the deficit climbs over $1 trillion and debt piles upon debt. "I think Obama's changing the face of the nation, and it may not be there for my eight grandchildren," said Notchey, 67, a retired receptionist for an obstetrician. "There's too much government." [...]

To hang on to power, Democrats will have to reach fed-up and economically stressed voters such as Sandra Schwear, who was bowling late one afternoon as her two young boys begged for more coins for video games.

A native of Woodbridge, she's had it with central New Jersey.

Property taxes on her three-bedroom split-level home in Colonia have jumped from $4,200 to $7,900 in five years. "It's disgusting," said Schwear, 29. "We got the tax statement, and my husband threw it in the garbage."

The family is moving to Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York to a bigger and cheaper house; her husband got a promotion.

"It's getting too expensive to live here," Schwear said. "If we stay, we'll be on an endless cycle."

The GOP path back to power is recognizing that no one wants to pay for all the government we want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Prisoner of context (Jim Hoagland, December 6, 2009, Washington Post)

He also received modest support from NATO, led by Italy's contribution of 1,000 new soldiers and new Polish and British deployments. But Germany stalled, and France said that it could not spare any more of its overstretched forces. Left unsaid was the fact that President Nicolas Sarkozy is in no mood to do Obama favors after a series of ill-advised rebuffs by the U.S. leader to the Frenchman, who went out of his way to help Obama during the 2008 U.S. campaign.

France is just one of the countries--Germany, Canada, etc.--that got rid of their own anti-American regimes and now they're stuck with the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Big Costs Are Hurdle to Climate Pact (CHARLES FORELLE, 12/06/09, WSJ)

The EU has led the industrialized world in pushing for a new treaty. Still, even Europe has had trouble sorting out climate financing. The U.S., which hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol and only recently made emissions pledges for Copenhagen, has made few strides.

Poorer EU nations -- some of which have lower economic output per capita than developing countries such as South Korea or Malaysia -- are loath to send money abroad. European industries are wary of supporting their Asian competitors.

In September, the European Commission proposed a blueprint for financing that pegged the total cost in developing countries at €100 billion annually by 2020. The leaders of the bloc's 27 nations agreed with the figure, but said only that the EU would pay its "fair share" of the total, without committing to an amount.

That followed fierce objections from Poland, which often leads negotiations for Eastern Europe, and which burns a lot of coal. "It is totally unacceptable that the poor countries of Europe should help the rich countries of Europe to help the poor countries in the rest of the world," Poland's finance minister said in October, according to wire reports.

Industry lobbies are also weighing in against it. The EU's €100 billion yearly tab is "not realistic, and will never be accepted by the member states," says Axel Eggert, the spokesman for Eurofer, the trade group for European steelmakers. Steelmakers want to "make sure that the financing is not a subsidy for our competitors," he says.

Environmentalists say the EU needs to step up in Copenhagen with firmer financing offers. They fear richer nations will dodge substantial payments -- jeopardizing a deal.

On the one hand, the Left wants us to not give a damn if these people even get to live in freedom but, on the other, expects us to pay to make their economies more modern than our own?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


'Ethical' stem-cell work advances (Drew Wilson, 12/05/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Several Massachusetts firms are forging ahead with ambitious stem-cell research plans, circumventing the heated debate over embryonic research by using other, less-controversial methods.

Biocell Center, a European technology firm, has opened the first amniotic-fluid stem-cell bank in the United States in Medford, Mass., near Boston. Another Boston-area biotech firm, Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., uses a nondestructive technique that involves working with a single cell from an embryo in a project aimed at preventing blindness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Obama the mortal (Dana Milbank, December 6, 2009, Washington Post)

It was bound to happen eventually. Obama had become to his youthful supporters a vessel for all of their liberal hopes. They saw him as a transformational figure who would end war, save the Earth from global warming, restore the economy -- and still be home for dinner. They lashed out at anybody who dared to suggest that Obama was just another politician, subject to calculation, expediency and vanity like all the rest.

Certainly, Obama gets some blame for encouraging the messianic cult as he stumped for change and hope. "I am asking you to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept," he would say as he wrapped up speeches. "Let us reach for what we know is possible: A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again."

In other cases, Obama truly has gone back on campaign vows. Even some of his advisers are disappointed that he has moved so slowly to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Civil libertarians are justifiably disappointed with his decision to continue much of the Bush administration secrecy. Clean-government types are understandably frustrated that Obama vowed that lobbyists "will not get a job in my White House" but now grants waivers so that lobbyists can work in key administration jobs.

But at least as much blame for the disillusionment goes to progressives who simply expected too much of him. Some are disappointed that the Nobel Peace Prize winner proposed even higher defense spending than George W. Bush did -- but Obama never said he would cut the Pentagon's budget. Many liberals are disappointed that he isn't pushing the "public option" more forcefully in the health-care debate -- but it was never something Obama emphasized during the campaign.

Saw this bumper sticker on Friday night:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Houston mayor jumps into Texas governor's race (MICHAEL GRACZYK and JAY ROOT, 12/04/09, Associated Press)

Houston Mayor Bill White abandoned his campaign for U.S. Senate on Friday in favor of a run for Texas governor. [...]

White served as a deputy secretary of energy under former President Bill Clinton. He resigned from the Clinton team in 1995 to become state Democratic chairman, made a fortune in private business, then embarked on the costliest mayoral race in Houston history in 2003. He was re-elected twice with large margins and received high marks for his response to Gulf Coast hurricanes, including national recognition for opening Houston to tens of thousands of people who fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

He's drawn criticism, however, for being too reluctant to crack down on illegal immigrants and being too eager to support Democratic efforts to limit carbon emissions.

"Bill White wants Texans to believe that he is a moderate Democrat, but that's not his record," Texas GOP chairwoman Cathie Adams said. "The fact is, Bill White is a liberal in moderate's clothing and his record proves it."

White has a difficult run ahead of him.

No Democrat has held the Texas governor's office since Ann Richards was ousted by Bush in 1994 after only one four-year term. Republicans now hold all statewide elected offices and have crushed Democrats by huge margins since the late 1990s. Big-city Texas mayors also have traditionally had difficulties winning office statewide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Dems mull limits to Christie powers (ALEX ISENSTADT & JESSICA TAYLOR, 12/6/09, Politico)

Two months after Massachusetts lawmakers came under criticism for altering the state’s succession laws for partisan purposes, New Jersey Democrats have launched a similar effort designed to limit Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s appointment powers in the event of a Senate vacancy.

Amid concerns about 85-year-old Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s ability to serve out his full term, which expires in 2015, a Democratic state legislative leader last week introduced a bill that would require the governor to appoint a lawmaker from the same party as the departing officeholder within 30 days of the vacancy.

They seem awfully confused about how democracy is supposed to work.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Nellie McKay On Mountain Stage (NPR, 11/30/09)

New York-based singer, songwriter, pianist and ukulele player
">Nellie McKay
has made a name for herself as an uncompromising artist with a remarkably ambitious vision. She burst on the music scene with a double album of original material in 2003 that drew comparisons to everyone from Eminem to Doris Day.

McKay's subsequent output has continued to progress, from the jazzy arrangements of Pretty Little Head to the fun, playful tunes of Obligatory Villagers. McKay has again reinvented herself on her latest album, As Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day.

This appearance marks her fourth performance on Mountain Stage since 2004. Accompanied by the Mountain Stage Band, McKay performs a set of Day favorites, as well as the original song "If I Ever Had a Dream," a tune McKay wrote when she was still a teenager and pulled out for her tribute to Day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


'Pops': Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words (Terry Teachout, December 2, 2009, NPR: Talk of the Nation)

Jazz icon Louis Armstrong didn't just leave behind a treasure trove of musical recordings; he also documented hundreds of his private conversations on tape. Those recordings served as the basis for Terry Teachout's new biography of the legendary musician, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. Teachout recently spoke to host Neal Conan about his new book. Below, he offers five of his favorite musical moments from Armstrong's discography.

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December 5, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Tiger Woods, the $8-an-hour diner waitress and the deal that kept their affair out of the news (Sharon Churcher, Mail on Sunday Chief American Correspondent and Caroline Graham, Mail on Sunday LA Correspondent, on 06th December 2009, Mail on Sunday)

Today, Mindy Lawton, 34, knows that she was just one of many mistresses taken by the golfer. But, according to her family, throughout their 14-month affair she laboured under the delusion that what she had with Tiger was special and that they were in love.

Mindy's sister, Orlando primary school teacher Lynn Lawton, said: 'She is extremely, extremely naive, my sister. She is single, never married, never had children and still looking for a relationship. I have to hand it to him. It was brilliant to choose my sister to play his kind of game.'

The unworldly Mindy was easily dazzled and undemanding. She and Tiger met in summer 2006, when Mindy was working as an $8-an-hour manager and waitress at Perkins, a diner only a short drive from Tiger's home in the upmarket Orlando suburb of Windermere. Tiger and his wife Elin would regularly take breakfast there.

Lynn recalled: 'My sister told me they came in regularly. Elin would read the paper while Tiger ogled my sister. She is very bubbly, very outgoing. You couldn't help but notice her, even when she was in her waitress uniform.

'Mindy said he and Elin seemed disconnected. There would not be much conversation. Tiger would just sit there, looking at Mindy. She said, "Oh my God, he is so cute!"

'She doesn't know much about golf, but she did know he was married because Elin was sitting there.'

One day, Lynn said, Mindy called in a state of excitement: 'She said he had called her at Perkins and said, "This is Tige," - that's the pet name he always used for himself - "Will you meet me at the Blue Martini?"

'She was very excited but nervous so she asked our next oldest sister, Bobbi, to go with her. She was like, "Oh, I'm going to hang out with Tiger!"'

It is now known that this nightclub and cocktail bar was a favourite haunt of Tiger's - a place where he could entertain, and be entertained, in the relative privacy of the club's VIP section, surrounded by girls, minders and selected male friends.

Again, it is striking how relatively little effort he seemed to make to conceal these clandestine meetings. But, as Mindy was to find out, Tiger's powerful entourage and management were masters in protecting their money-maker's image.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


The Principle of the Thing: How America's commitment to democratic values is waning in the age of Obama.
(James P. Rubin, 12/05/09, NEWSWEEK)

America has both an indispensable role in protecting the world from Al Qaeda and a noble purpose that should be stated aloud: to defeat the Islamist extremists whose barbarism has done such damage to innocent Afghans and Pakistanis alike. Preventing the return to power of a Taliban regime that terrorized its own people and allowed Osama bin Laden to orchestrate the 9/11 attacks on America is a mission of which our troops and our country can be proud.

Obama's omission of the moral dimension reflects a larger trend. Over the past year, as the main contours of the new administration's foreign policy have been established, the principles of democratic values have been too often set aside. because Realism is so morally repugnant when put in effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


Gates: No good intel on Osama bin Laden in years (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 12/05/09)

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States has not had good intelligence on the whereabouts of terrorist Osama bin Laden in years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Climategate reveals 'the most influential tree in the world': Leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit show how the world's weightiest climate data has been distorted (Christopher Booker, 05 Dec 2009, Daily Telegraph)

[I]n 2003 a Canadian statistician, Steve McIntyre, with his colleague Professor Ross McKitrick, showed how the graph had been fabricated by a computer model that produced "hockey stick" graphs whatever random data were fed into it. A wholly unrepresentative sample of tree rings from bristlecone pines in the western USA had been made to stand as "proxies" to show that there was no Medieval Warm Period, and that late 20th-century temperatures had soared to unprecedented levels.

Although McIntyre's exposure of the "hockey stick" was upheld in 2006 by two expert panels commissioned by the US Congress, the small group of scientists at the top of the IPCC brushed this aside by pointing at a hugely influential series of graphs originating from the CRU, from Jones and Briffa. These appeared to confirm the rewriting of climate history in the "hockey stick", by using quite different tree ring data from Siberia. Briffa was put in charge of the key chapter of the IPCC's fourth report, in 2007, which dismissed all McIntyre's criticisms.

At the forefront of those who found suspicious the graphs based on tree rings from the Yamal peninsula in Siberia was McIntyre himself, not least because for years the CRU refused to disclose the data used to construct them. This breached a basic rule of scientific procedure. But last summer the Royal Society insisted on the rule being obeyed, and two months ago Briffa accordingly published on his website some of the data McIntyre had been after.

This was startling enough, as McIntyre demonstrated in an explosive series of posts on his Climate Audit blog, because it showed that the CRU studies were based on cherry-picking hundreds of Siberian samples only to leave those that showed the picture that was wanted. Other studies based on similar data had clearly shown the Medieval Warm Period as hotter than today. Indeed only the evidence from one tree, YADO61, seemed to show a "hockey stick" pattern, and it was this, in light of the extraordinary reverence given to the CRU's studies, which led McIntyre to dub it "the most influential tree in the world".

But more dramatic still has been the new evidence from the CRU's leaked documents, showing just how the evidence was finally rigged. The most quoted remark in those emails has been one from Prof Jones in 1999, reporting that he had used "Mike [Mann]'s Nature trick of adding in the real temps" to "Keith's" graph, in order to "hide the decline". Invariably this has been quoted out of context. Its true significance, we can now see, is that what they intended to hide was the awkward fact that, apart from that one tree, the Yamal data showed temperatures not having risen in the late 20th century but declining. What Jones suggested, emulating Mann's procedure for the "hockey stick" (originally published in Nature), was that tree-ring data after 1960 should be eliminated, and substituted – without explanation – with a line based on the quite different data of measured global temperatures, to convey that temperatures after 1960 had shot up.

A further devastating blow has now been dealt to the CRU graphs by an expert contributor to McIntyre's Climate Audit, known only as "Lucy Skywalker". She has cross-checked with the actual temperature records for that part of Siberia, showing that in the past 50 years temperatures have not risen at all. (For further details see the science blog Watts Up With That.)

In other words, what has become arguably the most influential set of evidence used to support the case that the world faces unprecedented global warming, developed, copied and promoted hundreds of times, has now been as definitively kicked into touch as was Mann's "hockey stick" before it. Yet it is on a blind acceptance of this kind of evidence that 16,500 politicians, officials, scientists and environmental activists will be gathering in Copenhagen to discuss measures which, if adopted, would require us all in the West to cut back on our carbon dioxide emissions by anything up to 80 per cent, utterly transforming the world economy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


The American Public’s Incredibly Strong Support for Israel (Barry Rubin, 12/05/09)

According to the latest Pew poll, 51 percent of the American public say they sympathize more with the Israelis, while just 12% say they sympathize more with the Palestinians. (14 percent say neither; 19 percent have no opinion). That’s very impressive, right?

That means that two-thirds of Americans who have an opinion sympathize more with Israel.

What about all the academics who hate Israel, all the anti-Israel propaganda, the supposed sympathy for Palestinians as victims and underdogs? No apparent effect.

Contra the Right, bias in Academia has no effect on anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


Medicare cuts focus of Senate health care debate (ERICA WERNER, 12/05/09, Associated Press)

Senate Republicans forced Democrats to vote in favor of cutting billions from providers of home care for older people as partisan debate flared Saturday during a rare weekend session on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. [...]

Four moderate Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the amendment: Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Underscoring the pressures on the moderates, Lincoln, who faces a difficult re-election next year, initially cast a "no" vote with the Democratic majority but switched to "yes" in the course of the 15-minute vote.

It's like watching the lemmings in a National Geographic special.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


Destroyed US town a model of eco-living as it rebuilds (Emmanuel Dunand – Sat Dec 5, 2009, AFP)

On the evening of May 4, 2007, a category-five tornado swept through the rural midwestern town of Greensburg, killing nine people and obliterating 95 percent of the urban landscape, including the school, the hospital and more than 900 houses.

But this community of 1,400 is rebuilding stronger than ever, in a remarkable comeback billed by Greensburg GreenTown -- a grassroots organization involving town residents, local officials and business owners -- as a "model for sustainable building and green living."

In the wake of disaster, local leaders vowed to rebuild their town as the first in the United States to have all municipal projects constructed to the highest environmental and efficiency design standards.

The efforts have attracted green experts and enthusiasts from around the world because of the Greensburg's environmentally sustainable principles through renewable energy.

Whereas previously the town's only pull was having the world's largest hand-dug well, it now hopes to put itself on the map for eco-living.

The tragedy of Katrina is that we rebuilt New Orleans instead of reimagining it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


As the American Chesterton Society points out, you can get a bunch of GK for free on Kindle and get the reader software for free for PC (Mac to follow).

There are a lot of other titles free, a fun one to try is Dude Abides, which probes the spiritual nuances of the Brothers Coen ouvure.

Anybody else got free book suggestions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Darwin's idea has cost lives: The naturalist is a secular saint yet he has left a legacy of mass sterilisation and murder (Dennis Sewell, 4 December 2009, The Catholic Herald)

Darwin's decision to represent as a scientific fact that the several races of mankind had travelled different distances down the evolutionary path - that white Europeans were, in short, more highly evolved than Africans or Australian Aborigines - has had appalling consequences. Today, Darwin's supporters frequently make light of his racial views, claiming that he was no more racist than the average upper-middle-class gentlemen of his day, and warning that we should not try to impose the politically correct attitudes of our own times on to the past. But Darwin's racism was very different from that of his contemporaries.

Though any Victorian Englishman might have regarded himself as socially superior to the lawless, savage tribes he encountered throughout the Empire, only Darwin - as the man who discovered evolution by natural selection - could provide an underpinning for racial superiority in biology and evolutionary science. Only Darwin could establish the notion of a hierarchy of races as a scientific orthodoxy that would prevail through much of the following century.

In the autumn of 1906 a group of the most eminent figures in American science decided to give the New York public an object lesson in human evolution. They put a 23-year-old African from the Congo on display in the monkey-house of the Bronx Zoo alongside an orang-utan and a gorilla, presenting the unfortunate young pygmy as the missing link between ape and human. I have found that many people are not in the least surprised to hear of this appalling violation of a person's dignity, perhaps believing such outrages were common in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties. Yet black people had been entitled to vote in New York State for more than a century by the time this Congolese pygmy was put on such humiliating display.

The scientists responsible defended their actions in Darwinian terms. As a member of one of the "lower races" in the evolutionary scale, the pygmy was closer to a dog or a pig than to a white New Englander, therefore his life should be accorded a different value. Certainly the organisers of the exhibit felt no more compelled to ask for the pygmy's consent than to obtain the permission of the orang-utan or the gorilla to their incarceration and display.

In any case, Darwin had shown that human life was not qualitatively different from animal life, and Darwin's theories, it was stressed, were "no more contestable than the multiplication tables".

Truths that America's founding fathers had held to be self-evident - that all men were created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights - were now scorned as gross sentimentalities that had been overtaken by Darwinian science

...but because the true believers are now forced to pretend that races aren't species it is incoherent as science.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Capitalism without Romance (Jeffrey Friedman, December 5, 2009 , American)

The heart of the matter is that most mortgages written during the housing boom were pooled into enormous mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Fannie and Freddie securitized mortgages, but so did investment banks, such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Shares of these MBS were then sold, as bonds, to investors around the world—but primarily to the world’s commercial (lending) banks. When subprime mortgage defaults began to spike in the summer of 2007, the value of all MBS began to be doubted. By September of 2008, doubt had turned to rout. Nobody wanted to buy the MBS inventory held by Lehman Brothers, since nobody knew how far home prices would drop, and therefore how low the value of MBS might go.

Federally mandated mark-to-market accounting translates temporary market sentiment into actual numbers on a bank’s balance sheet, so when the market for MBS dried up, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt—on paper. Mark-to-market accounting applies to commercial banks as well, however, and after Lehman failed, commercial banks worried that their own MBS holdings, and those of their counterparties, might bankrupt them, too, at least on paper. So they freezed lending. Hence the Great Recession.

Thus, any explanation of the financial crisis has to tell us why so many mortgage-backed bonds wound up in the hands of the world’s commercial banks.

For American banks, the answer seems to be an obscure regulation called the Recourse Rule. The Rule was enacted by the Fed, the FDIC, the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Office of Thrift Supervision in 2001. It was an amendment to the international Basel Accords governing banks’ capital reserves—and all over the world, these regulations appear to have caused the crisis.

A bank’s capital reserves represent funds that aren’t lent out or invested. This means that they are unprofitable, but they also might come in handy should a bank’s loans or investments turn sour. By reducing their reserves—and thus increasing their leverage—banks can, at least in principle, increase their profitability. But under the Recourse Rule, American commercial banks were required to hold 80 percent more capital against commercial loans, 80 percent more capital against corporate bonds, and 60 percent more capital against individual mortgages than they had to hold against asset-backed securities, including mortgage-backed securities rated AA or AAA. The Rule thus created a 60-80 percent incentive to buy highly rated MBS for any bank that wanted to reduce its capital reserves.

Now, the purpose of capital reserves is to cushion against unexpected trouble. So banks that increased their leverage by reducing their capital reserves were, in principle, exposing themselves to trouble. But that didn’t turn out to be the problem. At the beginning of 2008, the aggregate capital cushions of American commercial banks were 30 percent higher than required by bank-capital regulations. The problem was not the depth of the cushions or, conversely, the height of the banks’ leverage. It was the composition of this leverage, which is to say, its overconcentration in mortgage-backed bonds.

...provided that you can know what that risk truly is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


In e-mails, science of warming is hot debate: Stolen files of 'Climate-gate' suggest some viewpoints on change are disregarded (David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin, 12/05/09, Washington Post)

It began with an anonymous Internet posting, and a link to a wonky set of e-mails and files. Stolen, apparently, from a research center in Britain, the files showed the leaders of climate-change science discussing flaws in their own data, and seemingly scheming to muzzle their critics.

Now it has mushroomed into what is being called "Climate-gate," a scandal that has done what many slide shows and public-service ads could not: focus public attention on the science of a warming planet.

Except now, much of that attention is focused on the science's flaws. Leaked just before international climate talks begin in Copenhagen -- the culmination of years of work by scientists to raise alarms about greenhouse-gas emissions -- the e-mails have cast those scientists in a political light and given new energy to others who think the issue of climate change is all overblown.

What makes the controversy particularly damaging for the Left is that they've spent thirty years arguing that the conservative rejection of Malthusianism/Darwinism/Climatism is a manifestation of closed minds. Now their credulous acceptance of bogus data exposes them as the ones who refuse to think scientifically.

Scientists Behaving Badly: A corrupt cabal of global warming alarmists are exposed by a massive document leak. (Steven F. Hayward, 12/14/2009, Weekly Standard)

As in the furor over Dan Rather's fabricated documents about George W. Bush's National Guard service back in 2004, bloggers have been swarming over the material and highlighting the bad faith, bad science, and possibly even criminal behavior (deleting material requested under Britain's Freedom of Information Act and perhaps tax evasion) of a small group of highly influential climate scientists. As with Rathergate, diehard climate campaigners are repairing to the "fake but accurate" defense--what these scientists did may be unethical or deeply biased, they say, but the science is settled, don't you know, so move along, nothing to see here. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who in the past has trafficked in the most extreme climate mongering: "It's no use pretending that this isn't a major blow," Monbiot wrote in a November 23 column. "The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. .  .  . I'm dismayed and deeply shaken by them. .  .  . I was too trusting of some of those who provided the evidence I championed. I would have been a better journalist if I had investigated their claims more closely." Monbiot has joined a number of prominent climate scientists in demanding that the CRU figures resign their posts and be excluded from future climate science work. The head of the CRU, Phil Jones, announced last week that he will temporarily step down pending an investigation.

As tempting as it is to indulge in Schadenfreude over the richly deserved travails of a gang that has heaped endless calumny on dissenting scientists (NASA's James Hansen, for instance, compared MIT's Richard Lindzen to a tobacco-industry scientist, and Al Gore and countless -others liken skeptics to "Holocaust deniers"), the meaning of the CRU documents should not be misconstrued. The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand. In the understatement of the year, CRU's Phil Jones, one of the principal figures in the controversy, admitted the emails "do not read well." Jones is the author of the most widely cited leaked e‑missive, telling colleagues in 1999 that he had used "Mike's Nature [magazine] trick" to "hide the decline" that inconveniently shows up after 1960 in one set of temperature records. But he insists that the full context of CRU's work shows this to have been just a misleading figure of speech. Reading through the entire archive of emails, however, provides no such reassurance; to the contrary, dozens of other messages, while less blatant than "hide the decline," expose scandalously unprofessional behavior. There were ongoing efforts to rig and manipulate the peer-review process that is critical to vetting manuscripts submitted for publication in scientific journals. Data that should have been made available for inspection by other scientists and outside critics were released only grudgingly, if at all. Perhaps more significant, the email archive also reveals that even inside this small circle of climate scientists--otherwise allied in an effort to whip up a frenzy of international political action to combat global warming--there was considerable disagreement, confusion, doubt, and at times acrimony over the results of their work. In other words, there is far less unanimity or consensus among climate insiders than we have been led to believe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Download your FREE MirrorFootball World Cup wallchart featuring all the groups, fixtures and venues (Daily Mirror, 12/05/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


USA draw recalls Belo Horizonte and one of English football's most infamous results (Colin Stewart, 12/05/09, The Scotsman)

On 29 June, 1950, at the World Cup finals in Brazil, the largely amateur USA side – captained by Eddie McIlvenney from Greenock – pulled off one of the sport's greatest ever shocks with a 1-0 win against an England side who were installed as co-favourites to win the tournament before the finals began.

Back then, three years before Ferenc Puskas's Mighty Magyars knocked England's lights out at Wembley, the outcome caused a sensation and as the score from the Belo Horizonte stadium flashed across the world on the news wires, disbelieving sports editors assumed a printing error: England had surely won 10-1? [...]

So certain were the US squad of a hiding, a handful stayed up the night before the game drinking to their own defeat.

A few hours later, expectations began to change when Haitian striker Larry Gaetjens headed the only goal of the game late in the first half – some say he was ducking out of the way when the ball struck him on the left ear and bounced into the net. we know what will be playing on Team USA's flight to South Africa.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Surge Strategy Borrows From Bush Argument (YOCHI J. DREAZEN and PETER SPIEGEL, 12/04/09, WSJ)

The Obama administration, faced with mounting Congressional criticism, is trying to build support for its new Afghan strategy by explicitly linking the planned escalation to the Bush administration's 2007 Iraq surge.

The argument has been pressed most vocally by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told skeptical lawmakers Thursday that the surge troops were able to leave Iraq just over a year after they had deployed there, a timeline roughly akin to the one the White House now envisions in Afghanistan.

Even Ronald Reagan was barely rehabilitated this fast.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Bob Ainsworth: 'UK can’t back Obama pledge on Afghan pullout' (Rachel Sylvester, Alice Thomson and Francis Elliott , 12/04/09, Times of London)

Tensions between Britain and America over the war in Afghanistan erupted into the open yesterday as the Defence Secretary questioned President Obama’s decision to put a date on the start of US troop withdrawals.

In an interview with The Times, Bob Ainsworth said that the Government would not follow Washington’s promise to start pulling out in 2011. “You can’t put a time on it. You’ve got to look at conditions,” he said. [...]

His comments reflect dismay at the highest level in the British Armed Forces about Mr Obama’s suggestion this week that US troop withdrawals would start by mid-2011. Britain expects to have substantial forces on the ground in Afghanistan for at least five or six more years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


All Things to All People: His fans call it Obama’s “complexity.” Lee Siegel calls it delusional. (Lee Siegel, 12/05/09, Daily Beast)

When Obama gives a speech now, you think of people with no credit who want to buy a house with nothing down; of consumers of the news who want their information instant, accurate, and free; of the anonymous Internet hustler who promises different things to different people; of already wealthy investors who defraud their clients in order to become giddily wealthy; of champion athletes who take steroids to attain superhero status; of fame-hounds who want to hoax their way into a celebrity-life; of a certain rich and famous golfer, with a beautiful and by all accounts substantial wife, who seems to want to have sex with every woman he sees.

Obama got elected the way people used to rush out to get cortisone from their doctors once that miraculous-seeming drug became available. He was elevated by hope for an antidote to what felt like a toxic, degenerative condition. But rather than a cure for what ailed us, he more and more resembles the chronic condition itself—the contemporary American condition of wanting it all, right now, no matter the contradictions, and without having to give up anything in exchange.

Now? He ran on not making any decisions. Remember, "I am the change."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


LOST IN AFGHANISTAN (Richard Reeves, 12/04/09, UExpress)

President Obama may have been too clever by half last Tuesday night at West Point. He hoped to placate Americans who believe we must not and cannot "lose" or who believe the situation in Afghanistan is a genuine threat to our national security by sending in more troops. He hoped to use the prospect of withdrawal to force the Afghan government, such as it is, to reform itself and persuade Pakistan and other governments that we are there to stay for a while. Finally, politically, he hoped to placate his core constituency, liberals who want out, and our allies who are ready to leave at any moment.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. President Nixon did the same thing when he inherited an impossible war from President Johnson in 1968. In painfully arguing that Afghanistan was different from Vietnam Tuesday night, Obama left out the real differences: Vietnam was more humid and the American people were invested in that war because we had a citizen army then, draftees. Sadly, even though we are using heroic volunteers this time, the outcome of both wars will almost certainly be about the same.

With drones, rather than manned bombers, to support the South Vietnamese military, they'd still be a free nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The bitter taste of war strategy (Colbert I. King, December 5, 2009 , Washington Post)

I did sample the White House Kool-Aid, though, because -- here I go again -- it is inconceivable to me that Obama, a cautious, thoughtful leader who presciently opposed the Iraq war, would, after months of painstaking review of the situation in Afghanistan, decide on a course that leads America to military, financial and political disaster.

Still, this time I left a lot of Kool-Aid in my glass. Minutes after Obama's speech it was clear to me that there's nothing like the feel of watching him deliver it.

Gone were the grand auditorium, the uniformed cadets, the military brass and Cabinet members. Gone, too, the applause.

Left behind were reality without rhetoric and the message of the night: not to worry. "After 18 months," declared Obama, "our troops will begin to come home."

Hence the halt in my Kool-Aid consumption.

It's darned peculiar that such folk are so hypnotized by the sight of what Joe Biden referred to as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," that they find it so hard to hear the pabulum he's speaking.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


ISI’s feeling pretty bubbly (Aditya Sinha, 05 Dec 2009, New Indian Express)

Champagne popped open this week as Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) celebrated US President Barack Obama’s announcement that American troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011. Despite the extra 30,000 soldiers and the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) expansion of its unmanned drone operations inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, Islamabad was jubilant. The ISI’s strategy of waiting for the Americans to leave was paying off. Soon, Islamabad would recapture Kabul after eight years of domination by New Delhi. Absurd as it may sound, that’s the way the Pakistan military sees it: not in terms of the Frankenstein called Islamist terrorism, not in terms of jihadis taking over the border areas of Pakistan and launching suicide attacks into the Punjabi heartland, but simply in terms of a competition with India to dominate Afghanistan. The Americans have obliged them. All the Pakistan army need do now is sit tight 18 more months.

The ISI strategy is not rocket science. The British gave up on Afghanistan thrice in the 19th century (as revenge, they drew the Durand Line through the Pushtun tribal areas to serve as Afghanistan’s artificial border with Pakistan); The USSR gave up in 1989 and disintegrated soon after. The ISI thinks it’s now America’s turn.

The Pakistanis have got this far by sheer stubbornness and wile. Since 9/11, when the US began looking for Osama bin Laden and gang in and around the Durand Line, the Pakistanis have controlled events either by saying that direct American intervention would only alienate the local population and pose a threat to the army’s hold on power (a long Cold War association convinced the Pentagon that the Pakistan army are a bunch of great guys who can be trusted with running the country); or by handing over, one by one, a “number three” al-Qaeda gentleman to calm the Americans (Pakistan has caught scores of “number three” al-Qaeda terrorists over the past eight years); or by insisting there is a big difference between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan only wants to target the latter. To say that there are different Taliban is as dubious as saying there is a moderate Taliban (a ploy Pakistan has tried before). It simply does not exist.

Clearly, the ISI runs circles around the CIA. The CIA knows it, but can do little except gnash its teeth, because it has no spies among the jihadists. The ISI doesn’t need spies; it created the Taliban.

W understood why India is so important, does the UR?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Meet the commanded-in-chief (Tom Engelhardt, 12/05/09, Asia Times)

You may not think so, but on Tuesday night from the US Military Academy at West Point, in his first prime-time presidential address to the nation, Barack Obama surrendered. It may not have looked like that: there were no surrender documents; he wasn't on the deck of the USS Missouri; he never bowed his head. Still, from today on, think of him not as the commander-in-chief, but as the commanded-in-chief.

And give credit to the victors. Their campaign was nothing short of brilliant. Like the policy brigands they were, they ambushed the president, held him up with their threats, brought to bear key media players and Republican honchos, and in the end made off with the loot. The campaign began in late September with a strategic leak of Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal's grim review of the situation in that country, including demands for sizeable troop escalations and a commitment to a counterinsurgency war.

It came to include rumors of potential retirements in protest if the president didn't deliver, as well as clearly insubordinate policy remarks by General McChrystal, not to speak of an impressive citizen-mobilization of inside-the-Beltway former neo-conservative or fighting liberal think-tank experts, and a helping hand from an admiring media. In the process, the US military succeeded in boxing in a president who had already locked himself into a conflict he had termed both "the right war" and a "necessary" one. After more than two months of painfully over-reported deliberations, Obama has now ended up essentially where General McChrystal began.

Not that he's been a leader on any issue, but everyone knew that the UR lacked the credibility on security matters that leadership would require.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Seoul has own fears over US surge (Donald Kirk, 12/05/09, Asia Times)

Neither the Americans in Korea nor Koreans in positions of power and influence quite believed the assurance from the Pentagon, made to top officials of South Korea's Defense Ministry before Obama's speech, that the US would not be sending troops from Korea to Afghanistan. They had heard that one several years ago, before the US deployed a brigade of the US Second Infantry Division to Iraq from the historic invasion route to Seoul, reducing US troop strength in the South to about 37,000.

Obama's remarks resonated in other ways too. Could he really be serious when he said the US would be withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan in a year and a half? He took care to argue that Afghanistan was not like Vietnam, where the US-backed South Vietnamese government fell to defeat two years after the Americans had pulled out. He did not, however, allude to Korea, where US troops have been guarding the South since the signing of the Korean War armistice in July 1953 ended the bloodiest conflict in northeast Asian history.

The future of the US in Afghanistan appears if anything as clouded as it ever was, and still is, in Korea. The two cabinet secretaries who should know the answers, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both waffled when members of a US congressional committee asked them how firm was that 18-month commitment. Talk about "review" and "circumstances" permeated their vague responses.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


AP source: Pacquiao, Mayweather close to deal (DAVE SKRETTA, 12/04/09, AP)

Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have signed off on the major issues in the negotiation for a megafight on March 13, and contracts could be signed in the next few days, a person with knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press. [...]

No site has been determined, but Top Rank plans to send a survey team to Dallas next week to examine the new, $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, the person said. Team owner Jerry Jones said Wednesday that the Cowboys "are still desirous of looking at what we can do."

The other possibilities are the New Orleans Superdome and venues in Las Vegas, including the MGM Grand and a temporary outdoor stadium on the Strip.

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December 4, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Afghanistan: The Betrayal (Garry Wills, 12/02/09, NYRB Blog)

I did not think he would lose me so soon—sooner than Bill Clinton did. Like many people, I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president. I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.

Others I respect have given up on him before now. I can see why. His backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush’s heritage. [...]

I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal.

Obama's Betrayal: His Guantanamo policy violates the principle of freedom. (Owen Fiss, Dec. 4, 2009, Slate)
The firestorm of criticism over the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, should not obscure a darker truth: Trial is only one prong of Obama's Guantanamo strategy. Some of the Guantanamo prisoners, including those who have been detained for seven or eight years, will remain imprisoned indefinitely with no prospects of ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. Obama's much-lauded intention to close Guantanamo will not change the fate of these prisoners, who will be transferred to other prisons in the United States or abroad, and as a result, the president will perpetuate one of the most troubling policies of the Bush administration. If Obama does not repudiate this policy, it will define what the government can do in the future.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


England face USA in kind World Cup draw (Independent, 4 December 2009)

England will open their quest to lift the World Cup by tackling the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday, June 12.

Fabio Capello could not have hoped for much better from a group that will also see the Three Lions tackle Algeria and Slovenia in Group C.

Any clash with the United States is bound to revive memories of that shock defeat during the 1950 tournament in Brazil.

Not only is England psychologically fragile, but their goalkeeping is dreadful. There's no excuse for the US not moving on this time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Reid in a battle, poll reveals (BENJAMIN SPILLMAN, 12/04/09, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)

Nevadans aren't warming up to Sen. Harry Reid, despite plenty of early advertising designed to boost his image, a new poll shows.

Just 38 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Senate majority leader, the same percentage as in October and 1 point higher than in August. [...]

In hypothetical general election matchups, respondents favored Lowden over Reid 51 percent to 41 percent, with 8 percent undecided. They favored Tarkanian over Reid 48 percent to 42 percent, with 10 percent undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Reid, who is seeking his fifth consecutive six-year term, was recognized by 100 percent of respondents, suggesting he is well-known to voters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Obama gives troops to Republicans, empty promises to Democrats (David Kenner, 12/03/2009, Foreign Policy)

In other words, conservatives are getting their Afghan "surge" -- beginning in a few weeks, according to Gates, and continuing through the summer -- while liberals get assurances that the U.S. will begin to draw down it's troop strength in Afghanistan in 2011...unless, of course, Obama changes his mind. Democrats appeared wise to the fact that they were getting the short of Obama's attempted triangulation: Sen. Robert Menendez declared that he believed Obama's dates "are as solid as quicksand."

Man, no one believes nor believes in the UR anymore, huh?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road" (Joan Frawley Desmond, 12/04/09, Catholic Thing)

Starving, filthy and desperate, the father and son take part in “some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” He strokes the boy’s head and thinks: “Golden chalice, good to house a god.” The son’s purity of soul provides a balm for the father’s broken heart. The boy leads him to the wellspring of love and bids him to drink. Contemplating his son, he thinks, “if he is not the word of God, God never spoke.”

What does it mean to believe in love? And if you do believe in love, are you halfway to believing in God, the source of all love? [...]

Most book and film reviewers sift through The Road to try to identify the source of the environmental disaster that shrouds the land in ash. It is far more difficult to speak of the ravages of sin that remain hidden, but no less destructive. Why does this beautiful and terrible story inspire? It testifies to a love stronger than death. Evil will not have the final word.

“You have my whole heart,” the father tells his son at the end. Still, the boy remains fearful of what might come at the next bend in the road, what darkness of purpose might lurk in the heart of a stranger – or even within his own heart.

“But who will find him if he’s lost? Who will find the little boy?” he asks his father, in a reference to a grim vision that has plagued his whole childhood.

“Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Have the greens failed? (BEN SMITH, 12/4/09, Politico)

[A]s green activists converge on the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, their sense of disappointment is palpable, even with the eleventh-hour decision by President Obama to attend the summit on Dec. 9. What was seen in the heady days of 2007 and 2008 as the likeliest venue for a new international agreement on carbon emissions now caps a year of mixed results. While the American political system has, in many ways, seen a total transformation in its capacity and willingness to tackle such a transcendent issue, some of the traditional obstacles remain — primarily the age-old laws of partisan politics and the limits on how much ambitious legislation Congress can absorb at one time.

At the apex of the 2008 campaign, with the League and other groups leaning hard on a crowded field of presidential candidates, and congressional Democrats shifting steadily toward the view that action would be required, a Democratic victory seemed likely to mean a treaty in the new president’s first year.

...but does anyone recall seeing a single ad from the UR in the general election that so much as mentioned capping carbon emissions?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


C.I.A. Authorized to Expand Use of Drones in Pakistan (SCOTT SHANE, 12/04/09, NY Times)

The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Obama's strategy is more about US than Afghanistan (Business Standard, December 04, 2009)

Everyone can, therefore, see the positives in the presidential package, but they can also see the negatives -- chief among them being the obvious point that the Taliban has been told it just has to wait for a couple of years before making its next big move.

Pakistan too is unlikely to cut links with the Taliban, now that it knows the Americans are not staying for very long. Mr Obama, therefore, has ended up undermining his country's position even as he has decided to send in more of his troops.

From India's point of view, the implicit, though partial, recognition that the heart of the problem is in Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, is a welcome development because it recognises the reality.

The signal that drone attacks might also take place in Baluchistan (where key Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding) is particularly welcome. But this is overshadowed by the announcement of a date for the start of American withdrawal from Afghanistan, in mid-2011, something that is clearly timed with the 2012 presidential elections in mind.

You have to go back to Ford/Carter to find an American leader held in such low esteem abroad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


The CIA’s ‘global cooling’ files: The threat of a new ice age loomed so large in 1974 that American intelligence collated a report on the likely effects. (Maurizio Morabito, 12/03/09, Spectator)

A high-priority government report warns of climate change that will lead to floods and starvation. ‘Leading climatologists’ speak of a ‘detrimental global climatic change’, threatening ‘the stability of most nations’. The scenario is eerily familiar although the document — never made public before — dates from 1974. But here’s the difference: it was written to respond to the threat of global cooling, not warming. And yes, it even mentions a ‘consensus’ among scientists.

‘A Study of Climatological Research as it Pertains to Intelligence Problems’, written by the CIA for ‘internal planning purposes’ in August 1974, goes a little way towards explaining why some people over a certain age experience a sense of déjà-vu when climate change is mentioned; in the mid-1970s there really was a lot of scientific discussion about global cooling. With the benefit of hindsight, reading it makes one feel wry and embarrassed. So many of the terms bandied about 35 years ago are still being employed by today’s fear-mongers, about the very opposite phenomenon.

Remember this one?:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Obama’s Afghanistan Decision Is Straining Ties With Democrats (CARL HULSE and ADAM NAGOURNEY, 12/04/09, NY Times)

President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan over the objections of fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill is straining a relationship already struggling under the weight of an administration agenda that some Democratic lawmakers fear is placing them in a politically vulnerable position.

The result has been a subtle shift in which Democrats in Congress are becoming less deferential to the White House, making clear that Mr. Obama will not always be able to count on them to fall into line and highlighting how Mr. Obama’s expansive ambitions are running up against political realities.

...wasn't Democratic estrangement from the president supposed to be a function of W and not of the war itself?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Rehire Bernanke (Investor's Business Daily, 12/03/09)

When Fed chief Ben Bernanke sat before the Senate on Thursday, he was blamed for everything but the Afghan War. Truth is, Bernanke may have kept the U.S. from falling into a Depression.

We're not Bernanke groupies or anything. He's made some mistakes. But the fact is, he is the best person for the job today, and much better than anyone President Obama might come up with.

...but the harm his replacement would do, no matter who that might be. The simple truth is that the Fed exists to fight inflation, thereby guaranteeing the lenders' return on the money we borrow. The last four slowdowns have been caused by waging that fight into the teeth of global deflation, twice by newish chairmen who felt compelled to establish their inflation hawk bona fides. A new chairman would also have to hike rates even though economic conditions make it obvious that policy would be disastrous.

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December 3, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


US House votes to extend inheritance tax (Edward Luce, December 3 2009, Financial Times)

The US House of Representatives on Thursday voted to extend the estate, or inheritance, tax permanently, prompting criticism from conservatives, who want it abolished, and liberals, who want it restored to the higher rate that existed before George W. Bush came to office.

The vote, which passed by 225-200, means that the tax would continue in 2010 and 2011 – and beyond – at its current rate. Under the tax cut package that Mr Bush pushed through Congress in 2001, the estate tax was set to expire altogether in 2010 and resume in 2011 at its old rate of 55 per cent on any estates above $1m. Thursday’s vote makes permanent the tax at its current rate of 45 per cent on all estates above $3.5m.

The estate tax is decidedly republican, but 45% seems ample.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Sen. Nelson vows to block healthcare bill without Stupak-type abortion measure (Alexander Bolton, 12/03/09, The Hill)

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told reporters Thursday that he would not vote to advance healthcare reform legislation unless it includes language that would restrict access to abortions for women who receive federal subsidies.

Nelson’s stance puts Democratic leaders in a difficult position as they brace for difficult votes on two amendments to their healthcare legislation.

or license to kill?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Shrinking the War on Terrorism (Peter Beinart, Dec. 03, 2009, TIME)

The best precedent for all this is what Nixon did in the late Vietnam years. For roughly two decades, the U.S. had been trying to contain "communism" — another ominous, elastic noun that encompassed a multitude of movements and regimes. But Vietnam proved that this was impossible: the U.S. didn't have the money or might to keep communist movements from taking power anywhere across the globe. So Nixon stopped treating all communists the same way. Just as Obama sees Iran as a potential partner because it shares a loathing of al-Qaeda, Nixon saw Communist China as a potential partner because it loathed the U.S.S.R. Nixon didn't stop there. Even as he reached out to China, he also pursued détente with the Soviet Union. This double outreach — to both Moscow and Beijing — gave Nixon more leverage over each, since each communist superpower feared that the U.S. would favor the other, leaving it geopolitically isolated. On a smaller scale, that's what Obama is trying to do with Iran and Syria today. By reaching out to both regimes simultaneously, he's making each anxious that the U.S. will cut a deal with the other, leaving it out in the cold. It's too soon to know whether Obama's game of divide and conquer will work, but by narrowing the post-9/11 struggle, he's gained the diplomatic flexibility to play the U.S.'s adversaries against each other rather than unifying them against us.

Watergate was small beans compared to Richard Nixon's efforts to prop up the USSR and PRC and make them permanent. The UR may well intend to do the same thing with the various dictatorships he's playing kissy-face with, but it would make him not just a failed president but a disgraced one eventually.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Denmark rushes in laws to stop carbon trading scam (Ashley Seager, 12/03/09,

Europe's flagship carbon trading scheme suffered a blow today as the Danish government was forced to rush an emergency law through parliament to clamp down on a virulent form of VAT fraud.

On the eve of the Copenhagen climate talks, which will attract world attention to emissions trading schemes, police and tax investigators across Europe are believed to be investigating hundreds of millions of euros worth of fraud involving carbon quotas originating in Denmark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Parting Ways: Immigration Group Drops Dobbs (Mary Lu Carnevale, 12/03/09, WSJ)

Americans for Legal Immigration PAC yanked its support for Lou Dobbs today, shutting down Web sites that promoted a presidential bid by the former CNN anchor.

The reason: Dobbs, once an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, has shifted on that issue as he considers a run for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey in 2012 or, less likely, a presidential bid.

William Gheen, president of ALIPAC, which draws a hard line against illegal immigration, said in an interview that a lot of supporters were left in “shock and disbelief” by Dobb’s interview with Maria Celeste on Telemundo Nov. 20. “I spent my Thanksgiving dealing with the backlash from that interview,” he said.

...if not barring people seeking a better life in America?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM



What does it take to write a hit country song? Judging by some of country’s most beloved tunes, it seems one needs to include lyrical references to your Mama ( Mama, He’s Crazy), trains ( I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry), prison ( Folsom Prison Blues), tears ( He Stopped Loving Her Today), and/or alcohol ( Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’).

But what are the actual odds that a country song will feature these references? Judging by Country Music Television’s list of the Top 100 country music songs of all time, the odds are quite high. The odds a Top 100 country song will refer to alcohol are 1 in 5. The odds one of these songs will contain a reference to “mama” are 1 in 7.14. The odds one will contain a reference to the word “train” are 1 in 11.11 and the odds one will contain a reference to the word “prison” are 1 in 33.33.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


New Details on Tiger's Prenup (Gerald Posner, 12/03/09, Daily Beast)

When the couple married on Oct. 5, 2004, at the Sandy Lane resort in Barbados, Elin signed a prenuptial agreement reportedly worth $20 million after 10 years of marriage, not considered a large payout for someone who was already as successful as Tiger by then. (The tightlipped Woods camp, almost obsessive about releasing any personal information after Tiger’s blundering interviews with GQ in 1997, has never acknowledged the existence of the first prenup, although it’s been widely reported).

But in light of a string of women coming forward to say they had affairs with Tiger since his marriage, Elin has demanded that the prenup be rewritten, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker reported Wednesday. “The links legend’s spouse is reportedly being paid a hefty seven-figure amount—immediately transferred [sic] into an account she alone controls—to stick with her husband,” Zwecker wrote. “At this point, the couple needed to remain married for 10 years in order for Woods’ wife to collect a splitsville settlement of $20 million. I’m being told that time frame has been shortened—and the dollar amount increased ‘substantially.’”

The lawyer familiar with the couple’s negotiations told The Daily Beast that Tiger also has agreed to shorten the original prenup to seven years from the date of marriage, meaning it will vest in another two. And the revised agreement provides for a staggered schedule of payments spread out over five years that could be worth upward of $75 million. So for Elin to collect $80 million, she’ll need to stay with Tiger another seven years, be a dutiful wife in showing up with him at social events and in public as if they were still the perfect couple, and sign a nondisclosure form that will prevent her from ever telling her story. Even if she lasts only two more years, she’ll still walk away with nearly twice what she was entitled to under the original prenup.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Obama Announces Afghanistan Escalation (Tom Hayden, December 1, 2009, The Nation)

It's time to strip the Obama sticker off my car.

Obama's escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments. His flip-flopping acceptance of the military coup in Honduras has squandered the trust of Latin America. His Wall Street bailout leaves the poor, the unemployed, minorities and college students on their own. And now comes the Afghanistan-Pakistan decision to escalate the stalemate, which risks his domestic agenda, his Democratic base, and possibly even his presidency.

Thankfully, pretty small stakes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Climategate: Science Is Dying: Science is on the credibility bubble. (DANIEL HENNINGER, 12/02/09, Wall Street Journal)

Surely there must have been serious men and women in the hard sciences who at some point worried that their colleagues in the global warming movement were putting at risk the credibility of everyone in science. The nature of that risk has been twofold: First, that the claims of the climate scientists might buckle beneath the weight of their breathtaking complexity. Second, that the crudeness of modern politics, once in motion, would trample the traditions and culture of science to achieve its own policy goals. With the scandal at the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, both have happened at once.

Malthusianism/Darwinism/Modern Biology has been so politicized for so long that it bears little relation to the hard sciences. It's more a literary theory, a way of reading the text.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


The Grounds of Civilization (James V. Schall, S J., 12/02/09, Catholic Thing)

The grounds of civilization are found in the Apology of Socrates: “It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen of the jury; it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death” (39a). The principled foundation of worthy human living is asserted here. Lest wickedness rule, death is to be preferred. This terse statement was addressed particularly to politicians and judges. They had, if they willed, the power to enforce the wickedness to which, as Aristotle also said, human nature is prone.

Earlier in the Apology, Socrates had counseled: “Concentrate your attention on whether what I say is just or not, for the excellence of a judge lies in this, as that of a speaker lies in telling the truth” (18a). If these Socratic dicta, reaffirmed by the Hebrew and Christian tradition, are the foundations of civilization as such, the experiment of civilization based on truth, we may fear, is ending. Its grounds are rejected in those very traditions and lands that once accepted them. We need not be surprised at this. Wickedness does “run faster than death.” Civilizations die in minds before they die in polities.

“The noble type of man,” Nietzsche wrote headily in Beyond Good and Evil, “feels himself to be the determiner of values, he does not need to be approved of, he judges ‘what harms me is harmful in itself,’ he knows himself to be that which in general first accords honour to things, he creates values.” Viewed from this position, no wickedness is possible. Anything can be justified. [...]

Civilization depends on there being a truth to which those who suffer under unjust power can turn even in the face of established and enforced wickedness. It is this latter ground that relativism denies us. The central issue behind every public controversy and every threat against our national existence lies here. Yet this is the one threat to civilization that we choose not to recognize. We have “created” our own “values” in order to deny the truth in our being.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


New health polls complicate the task for Democrats, Obama (Robert Schroeder, 12/02/09, MarketWatch)

The newest USA Today/Gallup poll found that Americans are still leaning against passage of health-care legislation, with 49% saying they'd advise their member of Congress to vote against it and 44% saying they'd suggest a yes vote. That's essentially unchanged from a poll conducted earlier this month, Gallup noted Monday. Read the USA Today/Gallup poll.

On deficit reduction, another key feature of the health-care bills in both the Senate and House, Americans are skeptical, another poll found.

The Congressional Budget Office says that the Senate's bill will slash th