January 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


U.S Is to Resume Haitian Evacuations (DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS, BETSY MCKAY And JENNIFER LEVITZ, 1/31/10, WSJ)

Why the evacuations were suspended is unclear as various government authorities have provided different explanations.

Despite a massive effort by the U.S. military and other agencies, medical facilities in Haiti remain strained.

...but that was during Katrina...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Sumo's Bad Boy (Tim Kelly, 01.31.10, Forbes)

In keeping with his bad-boy image, 330-pound Asashoryu, one of sumo wrestling's two yokozuna (highest ranked) grand champions, recently ended up in a drunken scuffle outside a Tokyo bar, breaking the nose of one of his drinking partners. Occurring in the middle of the year's first two-week tournament, the brawl outraged sumo wrestling's tradition-drenched governing council, which has been known to rebuke wrestlers for looking at their opponents in the wrong way.

Had the Mongolian Asashoryu been a run-of-the-mill slinger he may have been kicked out of the sport altogether, particularly as the brawl was the latest in a string of incidents involving the errant athlete that have shocked sumo aficionados. His list of misdemeanors includes being caught playing in a charity soccer match in his native Mongolia when he was supposed to be recovering from a back injury; having the audacity to play a round of golf two days before a tournament; wearing flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt on vacation; twirling tassels on the traditional sumo belt that wrestlers wear to bouts; and throwing purifying salt into the ring with his left rather than his right. All are deemed unfitting behavior for a supposed-to-be stoic yokozuna.

But average Asashoryu is not. He won the latest tournament with a bruised fist and a hangover, adding to a list of victories that has made him one of sumo's most successful wrestlers. He has pulled in fans that love him and love to hate him, driving a renaissance in the centuries-old sport. It's a long way from the showbiz of WrestleMania but it enthralls millions of Japanese. Another mark against Asashoryu, and the one thing beyond the impish wrestlers control, is that he's a foreigner. And he's not the only one. Japan's other grand champion, Hakuho, is also Mongolian (he was caught playing golf with Asashoryu). A notch down at Ozeki rank is fellow countryman Harumafuji and Bulgarian Kotooshu.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


In predecessor's footsteps: NY governor caught in sex row (PTI, 1 February 2010)

New York governor David Paterson, who took office after his predecessor Eliot Spitzer had to quit over a sex scandal, was engaged "in a close encounter" with a woman, other than his "attractive wife", in a utility closet of his mansion, a media report claimed. [...]

According to the newspaper a source said a trooper was startled while making a routine round of the closet.

"The trooper opened the door and the first thing he saw was the governor and a woman inside and the two of them snuggling together, embracing. There was nothing more than that, snuggling," the source said.

The Grandfather Judd served as Solicitor General under Tom Dewey and when the Grandmother was in her dotage she tended to regale us with the story of how she had a miscarriage in a closet at the Governor's Mansion because she couldn't find a bathroom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


US raises stakes on Iran by sending in ships and missiles: Pentagon says Patriot shield will deter strike on American allies in the Gulf (Chris McGreal, 1/31/10, guardian.co.uk)

Tension between the US and Iran heightened dramatically today with the disclosure that Barack Obama is deploying a missile shield to protect American allies in the Gulf from attack by Tehran.

The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to four countries – Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait – and keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down Iranian missiles. Washington is also helping Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil installations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Would losing control of Congress to Republicans help Obama? (Dana Milbank, January 31, 2010, Washington Post)

[I]t's tempting to wonder whether Obama might have better luck under a Republican Congress.

The logic was inadvertently floated this week by no less an authority than Vice President Biden, who told a group of Democratic Party leaders that the 60-seat supermajority in the Senate wasn't necessarily a good thing. "There was the expectation, left, right and center, that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic," the vice president said. "When it's 60, the Republicans can afford to say they need not participate at all." By contrast, "having 59 votes in the Senate also means something for the Republicans: They are going to have to be accountable as well."

Biden is correct that Republicans had no political incentive to participate. But, taking Biden's analysis to its logical conclusion, it's hard to see how the shift from a 60-seat Democratic supermajority to a 59-seat Democratic jumbo-majority is going to give Republicans enough ownership of the outcome to move them from reckless to responsible. If that happens at all, it would probably not happen until Republicans control one or both chambers.

Voters seem to get this implicitly. In a CNN poll this week, a plurality, 48 percent, now think it's bad for the country that Democrats control Congress. At the end of 2006, when Democrats gained control of Congress and a Republican was in the White House, only 24 percent thought Democratic control was undesirable.

Under a divided government, party purists on both sides have less leverage to block compromise. This may help to explain the counterintuitive finding by Yale political scientist David Mayhew, who determined in his study "Divided We Govern" that unified governments were no more likely to produce substantial legislation than divided ones.

Few would regard the government shutdown of 1995 as the good old days in American government.

What number do you suppose you'd get for the proposal to shut down government for awhile?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Pakistan checks reported death of Taliban chief (ASIF SHAHZAD, 1/29/10, Associated Press)

The Pakistani army said Sunday that it was investigating reports that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died from injuries sustained in a U.S. drone missile strike in mid-January.

The militant leader's death would be an important success for both Pakistan, which has been battling the Pakistani Taliban, and the U.S., which blames Mehsud for a recent deadly bombing against the CIA in Afghanistan.

Mehsud's predecessor was also killed in a missile strike less than six months ago, highlighting the ability of the unmanned aircraft to target Taliban and al-Qaida leaders holed up in Pakistan's lawless tribal area.

...that when an Islamicist's underwear actually does explode it's because we decided it ought to?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Trust has been the biggest casualty of the Iraq affair (General Sir Richard Dannatt, 30 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

[1]79 British citizens, almost all from the Armed Forces, died in this campaign – a tragedy for 179 families and their friends. Was the loss justified? There is no doubt that southern Iraq is a better place than it was under Sadaam Hussein, free from dictatorship, open to investment and perhaps with the chance for Basra to begin to emulate nearby Kuwait. But was that the real issue?


January 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Q&A with Terry Teachout (Brian Lamb, 1/08/10, C-SPAN)

Brian Lamb, Terry Teachout and Louis Armstrong...what more could you ask?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Kentucky included on study for high speed rail (Rich Miller, 1/29/10, WFIE)

Kentucky governor Steve Beshear has announced that the Federal Railroad Administration has approved a $250,000 grant to study the feasibility of high-speed passenger service on a rail corridor that includes Louisville.

Beshear joined with Govs. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee and Sonny Purdue of Georgia in supporting a study of the corridor that runs from Chicago to Atlanta, through Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee.

"Our goal, ultimately, is to see the national high-speed rail system revised and enhanced to include this corridor," Gov. Beshear said. "We believe this would correct an omission in the nationwide network – especially in terms of a continuous passenger rail corridor from Chicago to Florida."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Survey Says: Republicans Know More Than Democrats (LiveScience.com, Jan 29, 2009)

When it comes to the goings-on in the news, some folks are more knowledgeable than others, with Republicans and older Americans scoring better on a current-events quiz.

In fact, out of the 12 multiple-choice questions asked in a Pew Research Center phone survey of more than 1,000 adults, Republicans answered an average of about 6 questions correctly compared with 5 for Democrats. (The survey was conducted between Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, and included cell phones and landlines.)

These political-party differences are partly a reflection of the demographics, with Republicans tending to be older, well-educated and male - all factors associated with political and economic knowledge. Even after accounting for these factors, however, Pew scientists found a gap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Obama's Stunning Admission (Tom Bevan, 1/29/10, Real Clear Politics)

[I] haven't seen anyone focus on the President's rather stunning admission about the Democrats' health care legislation:

The last thing I will say, though -- let me say this about health care and the health care debate, because I think it also bears on a whole lot of other issues. If you look at the package that we've presented -- and there's some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating, we were in the process of eliminating. For example, we said from the start that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your -- if you want to keep the health insurance you got, you can keep it, that you're not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.

If we take this statement at face value, President Obama is admitting the the health care bills passed by either the House or Senate (or both) contained provisions which were "snuck in" - presumably by Democratic members and perhaps on behalf of certain lobbyists - that would have in fact prevented people from keeping their current insurance and/or choosing the doctor they want.

Cover-up at White House: transcript shows Obama calling Hensarling "Jeb" (Todd J. Gillman, 1/29/10, Dallas Morning News)
Sorry, folks. Can't let this one go. It was on live national TV. The president clearly called Rep. Jeb Hensarling "Jim" repeatedly -- but not if you rely on the official White House version.

The transcript from Federal News Service -- a company that provides transriptions for news organization -- has the president calling him "Jim" three times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Russia says population up for first year since 1995 (Guy Faulconbridge, 1/19/10, Reuters)

Russia's population increased by between 15,000 and 25,000 to more than 141.9 million in 2009, the first annual increase since 1995, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The rise was helped by a 4 percent decline in mortality rates and an influx of immigrants, mostly from the former republics of the former Soviet Union, Golikova said.

"The difference between birth rates and mortality rates will be covered by a rise in migration," Golikova said in a televised Kremlin meeting, adding that Russia was trying to cut the number of abortions.

"Our abortion rates are comparable to birth rates," she said.

They ought to be fighting us for the Haitian refugees, but a Haitian can't be a Russian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Obama's Rashomon speech (George Jonas, 1/30/10, National Post)

The host switches off the TV. We’ve been watching Barack Obama deliver his first State of the Union address. A Dane and an Israeli guest stay behind for the post-mortem.

The Dane thinks Obama is the cat’s meow. I think he’s something the cat dragged in. I don’t know what the Israeli thinks.

Our host is a Canadian. He’s too well mannered for thinking.

“Did he say anything about the Middle East?”

“Not unless he did during the few seconds I dozed off,” I reply cautiously. “He spoke briefly about Iraq. ‘Make no mistake about it, I’m pulling out.’ Or words to that effect. And he may have said ‘or else’ to Iran.”

The host pours an inch of Scotch in a glass, neat. He looks puzzled. “Obama really didn’t say much,” he offers, “for a guy who spoke for about 70 minutes.”

“Seventy-five, but who is counting,” says the Dane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


Generic ballot polls suggest possible epic party disaster for Dems (Michael Barone, 01/29/10, Washington Examiner)

The current results are as favorable for Republicans or more so than the CNN/Gallup polls taken at this point in the 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004, cycles in which Republican House candidates received more votes than Democratic candidates . All of which leads me to second Charlie Cook’s suggestion that if the election were held today, Republicans would gain more than the 40 seats they need to get a majority in the House. I would go further and say that if the election were held today Republicans would do better than in 1994 or 2002, their best years since the “had enough?” Republican landslide of 1946.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Hong Kong faces 'referendum' over democracy (Peter Foster, 26 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The government of Hong Kong faces a potentially divisive "referendum" over its relationship to mainland China after five members of the province's Legislative Council resigned in protest at the slow pace of democratic reforms.

The move, which is designed to put pressure on China to agree to democratic elections in 2012, came despite warnings from Beijing last week that the initiative would "provoke disputes and damage [Hong Kong's] hard-earned achievements".

How about siding with the forces of democracy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


US arms sales to Taiwan raise tensions with China: China has cancelled all military exchanges with the US in a sign of its anger at the proposed sale of advanced missiles and helicopters to Taiwan. (David Eimer, 30 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province that is still part of its territory.

Mr He said China was "strongly indignant" about the £4 billion package of weapons, which includes 114 Patriot anti-missile missiles, 60 Blackhawk helicopters and two minesweepers, which was submitted to the US Congress for approval on Friday.

"The US plan will definitely undermine China-US relations and bring about a serious negative impact on exchanges and co-operation in major areas between the two countries," said He in a statement.

Under a 1979 Act of Congress, Washington is legally obliged to help Taiwan defend itself.

The row is the latest sign of the increasingly fraught relationship between Beijing and Washington.

...by being too craven to sell our allies the F-16s they wanted?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Calif. Quietly Shifts Fruitless Embryo Research Funds to Adult Stem Cells (Kathleen Gilbert, January 29, 2010, LifeSiteNews.com)

California's Institute for Regenerative Medicine came into being five years ago, fueled by a conviction that the Bush administration's restriction on embryo-destructive research in the National Institutes of Health was stifling the progress of science.

But after years of fruitless work, the Institute has now quietly diverted funds from embryonic stem cell research (ESCr) to adult stem cell research - which has already produced dozens of treatments and all-out cures for maladies ranging from spinal cord injury, to Alzheimer's, to type I diabetes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Bay what? Guantanamo eyed for 9/11 trial (JOHN DOYLE and DAVID SEIFMAN in NY and CHARLES HURT in DC, January 30, 2010, NY Post)

The trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed won't be held in lower Manhattan and could take place in a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, sources said last night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


The Pre-Postmodernist (DAVID LODGE, 1/30/10, NY Times)

The narrative is in a style the Russians call skaz, a nice word with echoes of jazz and scat in it, which uses the repetitions and redundancies of ordinary speech to produce an effect of sincerity and authenticity — and humor: “The thing is, most of the time when you’re coming pretty close to doing it with a girl ... she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don’t. I can’t help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they’re just scared as hell, or whether they’re just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame’ll be on you, not them. Anyway, I keep stopping. The trouble is, I get to feeling sorry for them. I mean most girls are so dumb and all. After you neck them for a while you can really watch them losing their brains. You take a girl when she really gets passionate, she just hasn’t any brains. I don’t know. They tell me to stop, so I stop.”

It looks easy, but it isn’t.

Nearly everybody loves “The Catcher in the Rye,” and most readers enjoy Mr. Salinger’s first collection of short stories, “Nine Stories.” But the work that followed, the four long short stories paired together in two successive books as “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction,” were less reader-friendly and provoked more critical comment, leading eventually to the retreat of the wounded author into solitude.

This was as much the consequence of critical failure as of authorial arrogance. These books challenged conventional notions of fiction and conventional ways of reading as radically as the kind of novels that would later be called post-modernist, and a lot of critics didn’t “get it.” The saga of the Glass family is stylistically the antithesis of “Catcher” — highly literary, full of rhetorical tropes, narrative devices and asides to the reader — but there is also continuity between them. The literariness of the Glass stories is always domesticated by a colloquial informality. Most are narrated by Buddy, the writer in the family, who says at the outset of “Zooey” that “what I’m about to offer isn’t really a short story at all but a sort of prose home movie.”

The nearest equivalent to this saga in earlier literature is perhaps the 18th-century antinovel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” by Laurence Sterne. There is the same minutely close observation of the social dynamics of family life, the same apparent disregard for conventional narrative structure, the same teasing hints that the fictional narrator is a persona for the real author, the same delicate balance of sentiment and irony, and the same humorous running commentary on the activities of writing and reading.

...precisely because we are premodern. Indeed, we ignored the postmodernists because they were preaching truism as revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Our Addiction to Disaster Porn (David Sirota, 1/30/10, In These Times)

[T]housands of miles from the San Fernando Valley’s seedy studios, the adult entertainment business is alive and panting in Haiti. This year’s luminaries aren’t the industry’s typical muscle-bound mustaches of machismo—they are NBC’s Brian Williams pillow-talking to the camera in his Indiana Jones garb, CNN’s Sanjay Gupta playing doctor and, of course, CNN’s Anderson Cooper in that two-sizes-too-small t-shirt “rarely missing an opportunity to showcase his buff physique,” as The New York Times gushed. They are all the disaster porn stars in the media with visions of Peabodys and Pulitzers dancing in their heads.

And We the Ogling People drink it in.

Like any X-rated content, this smut is all flesh and no substantive plot. The lens flits between body parts and journalists pulling perverse Cronkite-in-Vietnam impressions (at one point, CNN showed Cooper and his t-shirt saving a child). But there is little discussion of how western Hispaniola was a man-made disaster before an earthquake made it a natural one.

...when the rest of reality is such a disappointment to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


More Washington: As Obama sees it, whatever the problem, the solution is more Washington. (Mark Steyn, 1/30/10, National Review)

As my colleague Rich Lowry put it after the Massachusetts vote, the public thinks Obama doesn’t get it, and Obama thinks the public doesn’t get it. And as he’s got the microphone, he’s gonna keep talking at you until you do get it.

The ever tinnier, more perfunctory sophomoric uplift at the start and finish can’t conceal the hope-killing, jobs-slaying, soul-sapping message in between, which is perfectly consistent, and has been for two years. As President Obama sees it, whatever the problem — from health care to education, banking to the environment — the solution is more Washington.

Simply as a matter of internal logic, this is somewhat perplexing. After all, when he isn’t blaming Bush, Obama blames “Washington” — a Washington mired in “partisanship” and “pettiness” and “the same tired battles” and “Washington gimmicks” that do nothing but ensure that our “problems have grown worse.” Washington, Obama tells us, is “unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems.”

So let’s have more Washington! In our schools, in our hospitals, in our cars, in everything!

Which raises the question: Does even Obama listen to Obama’s speeches?

...when you're reading it off of the teleprompter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


New study shows heavy male politicians considered more reliable, honest than thinner counterparts (Rich Schapiro, 1/29/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

Male political candidates looking for an edge should hit their local Dairy Queen. Female pols would be better off hitting the gym.

Researchers found that pudgy male politicos are considered more reliable, honest and even more inspiring than their thinner counterparts.

For female pols, thin is still in, according to a new study.

"A candidate's physical appearance plays a greater role in evaluation than we have thought in the past," said Dr. Elizabeth Miller," a political scientist at the University of Missouri and co-author of the study.

They're jollier too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Lost in Translation (CHARLES M. BLOW, 1/30/10, NY Times)

The president simply couldn’t seem to escape his professorial past, to convey his passion and convictions in the plain words of plain folks, and to breach the chasm between the People’s House and people’s houses.

He’s still stuck on studious.

He seems to believe that if he does a better job of explaining his aggressive agenda, then he’ll win hearts and minds. It’s an honorable ambition, but it’s foolhardy. People want clear goals, clearly defined and clearly (and concisely) conveyed. They’re suspicious of complexity.

Even the token black guys at the Times are on his case.

January 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


-OBIT: Ralph McInerny Dies at Age 80 (Zenit.org, 1/29/10)

Ralph McInerny was a professor of philosophy and the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

He held degrees from St. Paul Seminary, University of Minnesota and Laval University, and had taught at the University of Notre Dame since 1955. He directed the Jacques Maritain Center from 1979 to 2006.

He was an acknowledged expert on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a prolific author. He penned over two dozen scholarly books, many more scholarly essays, and over 80 novels.

He wrote the popular book series Father Dowling Mysteries, which became a successful television program starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.

The Writing Life (Ralph McInerny, March 2006, First Things)

In my early teens I saw myself as a writer. I became fascinated with biographies of authors, and I idolized the upperclassmen who produced the poems and stories and articles for the school magazine. Throughout my nonhazardous hitch in the Marine Corps I thought of myself as prepping for the commencement of my writing career. My return to the seminary did not really alter this. In my seminary years I wrote a verse play and even began a novel. With my veteran's allowance I bought a box full of past numbers of the Partisan Review, and in poring over them I came upon J.F. Powers' story “St. Paul Home of the Saints.”

Powers was a layman, but he was a legend among the priests I had known in Minnesota. His Prince of Darkness and Other Stories showed such an uncanny knowledge of the trivia of local clerical life that it was presumed he had some priestly informant who fed him gossip for his stories. His portrait of Archbishop John Gregory Murray in the title story of that collection seemed drawn from life. What the significance was for me that this layman wrote about priests I could not then guess, but it was as if some barrier had been removed.

When I left the seminary for the second time, certain now that the priesthood was not my vocation, I was not the same man who entered. I began graduate studies in philosophy. Philosophical prose is for the most part as distant from the imaginative use of language as one can get. Dullness is all. Dullness and clarity, that is. At the age of twenty-two, any literary ambitions of mine were going to have to be compatible with my academic involvement. Among the books I bought in the summer before graduate school were W.H. Auden's Collected Poetry and his more recent Nones. They are still on my shelves. Writing in the fullest sense meant poetry, and everything else declined from that like cases of a noun. And so, working nights in the bottle house of the Grain Belt beer company, I would wake in the attic bedroom of my grandmother's house in Minnesota and try to write poetry. When graduate school began and I spent a couple of months working nights on a punch press, I found myself surrounded by people who considered themselves artists. One of them confided to me that his ambition was to write pornographic novels. He mentioned an author whose descriptions of mating were so metaphorically sedate that they would have sailed over innocent heads. So he had a mission. If you're going to write a dirty book, make it dirty. I have often thought of that fellow.

At the University of Minnesota and at Laval, at first single and then married, I continued to write. I sent a Christmas poem to fellow students and to some of the faculty, and Charles De Koninck was impressed all out of proportion to the value of the poems I showed him. (Later I would discover that he had attempted to write a novel.) During the months that I was writing my dissertation I was also at work on a novel. It is penitential for me to even page through those early efforts. There was another novel written in Omaha, and yet another when we moved to South Bend in August 1955. I sat at the dining room table in my bathing trunks because of the ungodly heat and wrote. Over the years I would occasionally write a short story and mail it in, my preferred target being the New Yorker. It would come back (in Thurber's phrase) like a serve in tennis. What I remember about those years was how episodic my efforts were. After I sent off a story, I would wait as if for news of the Nobel Prize. Rejection was cushioned by no work in progress. I was not serious.

On January 16, 1964, I decided to get serious. We had moved into the house on Portage Avenue and were overextended. Getting through the month was depressingly reminiscent of days we thought we had left behind forever. I took on teaching a couple courses at the branch of Indiana University in South Bend, adding those to my daily chores at Notre Dame, but this was peanuts. I remembered the copy of Writer's Digest I had bought in the Los Angeles train station in 1946. I decided that I would write for commercial markets, not just sporadically, but determinedly, every day, and keep at it for a year, after which if I had not sold anything I would admit to myself that I was not really a writer.

And so it began.

-WIKIPEDIA: Ralph McInerny
-Ralph McInerny: Curriculum Vitae (University of Notre Dame)
-ESSAY: Is Obama Worth a Mass? (Ralph McInerny, 3/23/09, Catholic Thing)
-POEM: Effable (Ralph McInerny, 12/2008, First Things)
-ESSAY: Memento Mortimer (Ralph McInerny, November 2001, First Things)
-REVIEW: of Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy by George Weigel (Ralph McInerny, March 1990, First Things)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Water vapour caused one-third of global warming in 1990s, study reveals (David Adam, 1/29/10, The Guardian)

Scientists have underestimated the role that water vapour plays in determining global temperature changes, according to a new study that could fuel further attacks on the science of climate change.

The research, led by one of the world's top climate scientists, suggests that almost one-third of the global warming recorded during the 1990s was due to an increase in water vapour in the high atmosphere, not human emissions of greenhouse gases. A subsequent decline in water vapour after 2000 could explain a recent slowdown in global temperature rise, the scientists add. [...]

The new research comes at a difficult time for climate scientists, who have been forced to defend their predictions in the face of an embarrassing mistake in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which included false claims that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035. There has also been heavy criticism over the way climate scientists at the University of East Anglia apparently tried to prevent the release of data requested under Freedom of Information laws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


'Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama ups spending on nuclear weapons to even more than George Bush' (Carol Driver, 29th January 2010, Daily Mail)

Barack Obama has allocated £4.3billion to spend on maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile - £370million more than what was budgeted by George Bush.

The budget will also be increased by more than £3.1billion over the next five years.

The announcement comes despite the American President declaring nuclear weapons were the ‘greatest danger’ to U.S. people during in his State of the Union address on Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Blair: Bush did not seek UN backing (Press Association, January 29 2010)

United Nations backing for the Iraq war would have made "life a lot easier", Tony Blair has said.

But the former prime minister said US President George Bush decided the UN Security Council's support "wasn't necessary". [...]

Despite continuing discussion over the threat posed by Iraq at the time, Mr Bush had decided the resolution was not needed. "His view was that it wasn't necessary but he was prepared to work with one," said Mr Blair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


I've no regrets, says defiant Blair (Evening Standard, 29.01.10)

Asked at the end of six hours of testimony by inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, whether he had any regrets, he said: "Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein.

"I think that he was a monster. I believe he threatened not just the region but the world. And in the circumstances that we faced then, but I think even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to remove him from office."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


CBS urged to scrap Tebow ad (AP, January 25, 2010)

The protest letter from the Women's Media Center suggested that CBS should have turned down the ad in part because it was conceived by Focus on the Family.

"By offering one of the most coveted advertising spots of the year to an anti-equality, anti-choice, homophobic organization, CBS is aligning itself with a political stance that will damage its reputation, alienate viewers, and discourage consumers from supporting its shows and advertisers," the letter said. [...]

Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said she had respect for the private choices made by women such as Pam Tebow but condemned the planned ad as "extraordinarily offensive and demeaning."

"That's not being respectful of other people's lives," O'Neill said. "It is offensive to hold one way out as being a superior way over everybody else's."

A national columnist for CBSSports.com, Gregg Doyel, also objected to the CBS decision to show the ad, specifically because it would air on Super Sunday.

"If you're a sports fan, and I am, that's the holiest day of the year," he wrote. "It's not a day to discuss abortion. For it, against it, I don't care what you are. On Super Sunday, I don't care what I am."

Then why are these groups always droning on about men beating women on Super Bowl Sunday? Why judge?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Japan deflation hits a record pace to threaten recovery (BBC, 1/29/10)

Japanese consumer prices fell at a record pace in December, according to the latest official figures.

Prices fell by 1.2% in the month, the biggest drop since the current consumer price index began in 1970. [...]

Deflation encourages people to hang on to their money because it will grow in value, rather than be eroded by inflation.

It also makes sense for people to delay buying goods because they expect future falls in prices. These factors depress demand.

Cutting interest rates is a standard way of getting people to spend more, but the Bank of Japan has held rates at almost rock bottom for years and has little room for manoeuvre.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Scott Roeder convicted of murdering abortion doctor George Tiller (Robin Abcarian, January 29, 2010, LA Times)

"I have never seen a state's case and a defense case that so neatly dovetail," said prosecutor Anne Swegle, noting that Roeder admitted systematically stalking Tiller before calmly approaching him in church, pressing a gun to his forehead and firing a .22-caliber slug into his brain. "He was totally remorseless in delivering to you his version of events," Swegle told the jury.

Roeder, the only witness called by the defense, said he felt relief after shooting Tiller on May 31. After the murder, he drove toward Kansas City, stopping for a pizza along the way.

Roeder had wanted to claim the crime was justifiable homicide, based on his belief that abortion -- in every case -- is murder. But Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert said he could not claim he acted out of necessity. Abortion rights groups became alarmed when Roeder's attorneys asked the judge to allow the jury to consider convicting Roeder of voluntary manslaughter. At the end of testimony Thursday, Wilbert ruled that the jury could only consider premeditated, first-degree murder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Obama Still Loved By The Over-Educated (Sam Stein, Jan 28, 2010, Huffington Post)

President Obama's popularity has slipped among a wide swath of the population. Among the nation's over-educated, however, he continues to do just fine.

The findings feed into the stereotypical political narrative that those with an advanced education are decidedly liberal and that those who are decidedly liberal are committed to Democratic politicians. Gallup, in fact, makes such a conclusion itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


U.S. economy grows faster than expected in fourth quarter: A recovery in manufacturing and gains in consumer spending help expand the nation's gross domestic product at a robust 5.7% annual rate. (Don Lee, January 29, 2010, LA Times)

The nation's gross domestic product -- or total goods and services produced in the U.S. -- expanded at a robust 5.7 % annual rate in the fourth quarter. That's more than double the 2.2% growth in the third quarter and a dramatic turnaround from the first three months of 2009, when the economy shrank by 6.4%. [...]

For all of 2009, the nation's total output of goods and services, after adjusting for inflation, contracted 2.4% from the previous year. The Commerce Department's report today is an "advance estimate" of the fourth-quarter GDP and will be revised two more times as statisticians collect more information.

So even the first recession since the early '80s is going to turn out to be so brief as to barely warrant the technical term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Pork better for sex than Viagra? (Reuters. 1/29/10)

Argentina's president recommended pork as an alternative to Viagra Wednesday, saying she spent a satisfying weekend with her husband after eating barbecued pork.

"I've just been told something I didn't know; that eating pork improves your sex life ... I'd say it's a lot nicer to eat a bit of grilled pork than take Viagra," President Cristina Fernandez said to leaders of the pig farming industry.

...by its lack of hostility to our porcine pals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Tea's benefits are in the bag (Sandra Dick, 1/29/10, The Scotsman)

A flood of research into the health benefits of our favourite cuppa suggests that the traditional brew and its herbal-infused cousins could be the answer to many of our health woes, tackling everything from high blood pressure to tooth decay, reducing our risk of potentially deadly conditions and even helping to cure our hangover.

According to one recent study, just three cups of tea a day can reduce our risk of stroke.

Another from Australia suggests that drinking tea can reduce the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, with those who drank three to four cups of tea a day lowering their chance of developing the disease by one fifth.

That's not all. Tea is stuffed with clever antioxidants which help build defences against cancer and even help lower cholesterol – drinking three cups of tea a day has around the same antioxidant power as munching six apples.

Our cuppa can even help keep the dentist at bay: tea is a natural source of fluoride that can help protect against tooth decay and gum disease.

Herbal teas – long loved by the body-conscious – have a raft of health benefits, too.

Just last month researchers from Newcastle University found that a certain type of mint infusion, Brazilian hyptis crenata, could be as effective as aspirin in relieving pain.

The Tea Council says we sup 165 million cups of tea every day – working out at roughly 40 per cent of the nation's total fluid intake. Our three cups a day provide nine per cent of the daily requirement of vitamin B, 25 per cent of vitamin B2, six per cent of vitamin B6 and ten per cent of folic acid.

Tea also contains manganese, essential for bone growth and body development, as well as potassium, which helps maintain body fluid levels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Haiti Aid Efforts Go Awry in the 'Convoy to Nowhere' (CHRISTOPHER RHOADS, 1/29/10, WSJ)

Mr. Lewis's plan Wednesday morning seemed simple enough, and he had reason to be confident. His team was well seasoned from responding to brutal hurricanes in southern Florida the past decade. He had Mr. Minyard, the former Army Ranger, leading his 15-truck convoy. He had a unit from the 82nd U.S. Airborne providing security.

He'd also hired 150 Haitians from a nearby missionary school, as well as a team of Haitian security personnel, to help do the work of loading and unloading the 150 or so tons of food.

It was supposed to be a proud and symbolic step in this city's recovery. Mr. Lewis's organization put out a news release that morning, trumpeting the effort.

"This is about Haitians helping Haitians," Mr. Lewis said early Wednesday as the convoy got under way.

The goal for the day: Mr. Lewis's 15 smaller trucks would meet at a warehouse to pick up about 65 tons of bulk food, and then meet up with five larger WFP trucks to get still more food. Then, his smaller and more maneuverable trucks would distribute the food at a site to be determined during the day.

It was imperative that all this happen during daylight hours, out of concerns for security. Even during daytime, some food drops in recent days had turned violent. In one case earlier this week, U.N. troops providing security for the group had squeezed off several rounds from their 50-caliber guns over the horde of desperate Haitians fighting for food.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Obama stops thinking positive: A year on from his inauguration, the president stands accused of reneging on inspiring campaign promises about HIV/Aids (Simon Reid-Henry, 29 January 2010, New Statesman)

Launched by George W Bush in 2003, Pepfar is the largest financial commitment ever made by any nation to combat a single disease. It wields a budget of $6.7bn for 2010 alone, and claims to have succeeded in putting more than 2.4 million people on antiretroviral therapy, particularly in its "focus" countries (primarily in sub-Saharan Africa). This includes some double-counting with the other major provider of antiretrovirals, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but the scope is impressive nonetheless. [...]

Under Bush, Pepfar faced more criticism than most. Its initial refusal to purchase and disperse cheaper, generic antiretrovirals, in preference for only drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, delayed the roll-out of life-saving medicines and demonstrated an unseemly interest in extending the market for overpriced (and usually US-manufactured) drugs. Equally controversial was the Bush-era insistence that a third of the money slated for reducing HIV infection be spent on promoting social values, including abstinence, delay of sexual debut and partner reduction. Such policies are straight out of the Republican book of morals. A focus on monogamy has little value as a preventive tool in countries such as Thailand, where the main mode of transmission is now between married partners.
Self-selective choice

With the election of Barack Obama a year ago, hopes were high that much of this would change for the better and that Pepfar might become a more positive standard-bearer in the global fight against HIV and Aids.

The new president was quick to repeal the most controversial of Bush's global health policies: the "global gag rule" - an outright refusal to fund any organisation that offered (or even provided information about) abortion. And with the appointment of the new US global Aids co-ordinator, Eric Goosby, the emphasis at Pepfar soon began to fall less on the "emergency" response and more on sustaining existing programmes. Sustainability is important to avoid the emergence of drug resistance, which can render antiretrovirals ineffective.

However, some activists argue that such talk merely disguises the harsh reality of funding cuts. As early as May last year (when his budget plans for 2010 exposed a $1.5bn shortfall in Pepfar funding), they were arguing that the new president had reneged on his campaign promises on Aids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Pure cynicism: Horrors! The next prime minister of Australia might be a man who advocates virginity for young people. (Carolyn Moynihan, 29 January 2010, MercatorNet)

The nicest thing any pundit had to say about Tony Abbott, newly elected leader of the opposition (conservative) Liberal Party, was that he was too honest for his own good.

And all because, when asked during an interview with the Women’s Weekly what advice he would give his three daughters on sex before marriage, he said: “I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question… it is the greatest gift you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving, and don’t give it to someone lightly.”

Okay. Every politician knows that it is death by media frenzy to voice an opinion on a moral issue. Especially if the politico is a man; especially if the issue is sex; especially if, as Abbott freely acknowledges, he has not always lived up to his own standard; and most especially if he happens, like Abbott, to be a practising Catholic. Because we all know, don’t we, that Catholics are the most benighted as well as the most pontificating and hypocritical of people on the subject of sex, if nothing else.

But this is an old script for Abbott, and his opponents. So he probably was not the least bit surprised to hear the current Prime Minister’s Deputy, Julia Gillard, warning darkly that his carefully chosen words confirmed “the worst fears of Australian women” about the would-be PM as some kind of dictator who would impose his own values on them. Nor to hear feminists preaching about double standards (because he spoke only of his daughters, though he has no sons) and “commodifying” women (something to do with speaking of virginity as a “gift” for a future spouse); nor sex education panjandrums insisting that his views on pre-marital sex were hopelessly out of date.

What is surprising is the vehemence with which Abbott’s critics reject sexual purity, not only as a practical goal in today’s circumstances but as an ideal. Their cynicism is born of minds not only closed against the idea that it is good for young people to refrain from sexual relationships and activity, but locked and bolted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Autocrats Of The World, Rejoice!: Why Obama's State of the Union has America's enemies smiling (Gordon G. Chang, 01.29.10, Forbes)

In Beijing General Secretary Hu Jintao is sporting a big grin. Kim Jong Il is breaking out another case of his favorite Hennessy in North Korea. And in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is celebrating in, well, the way that dour theocrats kick up their heels, however they manage to do that.

The cause for all this cheer? On Wednesday Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union message, and although he surely did not intend to do so, he essentially let these villains--and others--know they can do whatever they want. [...]

The president had exactly two things to say about China: "There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products," followed by "Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy."

Actually the Chinese are not reforming, restructuring or revamping their economy, though the U.S. should make better trains.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


China removed as top priority for spies (Bill Gertz, 1/20/10, Washington Times)

The White House National Security Council recently directed U.S. spy agencies to lower the priority placed on intelligence collection for China, amid opposition to the policy change from senior intelligence leaders who feared it would hamper efforts to obtain secrets about Beijing's military and its cyber-attacks. [...]

The decision downgrades China from "Priority 1" status, alongside Iran and North Korea, to "Priority 2," which covers specific events such as the humanitarian crisis after the Haitian earthquake or tensions between India and Pakistan.

...you really don't understand America's role in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Illinois political chaos a pain in neck for Obama (CHRISTOPHER WILLS, 1/25/10, The Associated Press)

The front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Illinois, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, describes Obama as his mentor. He is only 33 and hasn't served a full term in office, and his only previous experience was working for a family bank now in financial trouble. [...]

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is in danger of losing in the primary because of his association with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was expelled from office.

Quinn twice ran as lieutenant governor on the same ticket as Blagojevich. He has also taken heat for proposing a tax increase to clean up the state's financial mess and for working with Obama to move terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to an Illinois prison. His effort to cut costs by letting some nonviolent inmates out of prison turned out to include releasing violent offenders - some of whom have been accused of serious new crimes.

Whether or not Quinn survives the primary, Republicans see a strong shot at winning back the governor's office.

"Massachusetts was more of a referendum on Obama. In Illinois, it's going to be a referendum on Democratic incompetence," said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


White House may move terror trials out of Manhattan (KASIE HUNT & HARRY SIEGEL | 1/28/10, Politico)

The apparent shift came after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who had been a vocal advocate of holding the trial in the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, reversed his position on Wednesday.

“It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn't cost a billion dollars, which using downtown will," Bloomberg told reporters.

Bloomberg’s comments opened the floodgates, as other New York Democrats all but lined up Thursday to register their objections to holding the trails in lower Manhattan.

Boy, the UR can be rolled by anybody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


What Haiti needs: A Haitian diaspora (Elliott Abrams, January 22, 2010, Washington Post)

"Rebuilding" and "recovery" would merely take Haiti, this hemisphere's poorest country, back to where it stood before the Jan. 12 earthquake. Surely, our goal is to do better. We must increase aid but also allow Haitians to help themselves, and there is no way they can do that sitting in a devastated nation. A substantial number of Haitians must be allowed to move to richer countries -- including ours.

Haiti has approximately 9 million citizens, and 1 million to 2 million Haitians live outside their country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, half a million people born in Haiti live in the United States, and estimates put several hundred thousand in Canada and as many as 100,000 in France. Those migrants send home $1.9 billion in remittances -- double the official aid flows and equal to 30 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product.

These sums are greatly exceeded by some of Haiti's neighbors. The 1.3 million Dominicans living in the United States send home $3 billion in remittances, an amount 20 times as much as official aid flows. A million Hondurans living abroad send home $2.7 billion, providing eight times the global foreign aid Honduras receives. The 1.5 million Salvadorans living here send home $3.8 billion, 15 times official aid flows.

A larger Haitian diaspora would be a far better base for the country's economic future than aid pledges that may or may not be met. If several hundred thousand more Haitians were able to migrate, those Dominican, Honduran or Salvadoran numbers suggest that remittances to Haiti would give its economy a huge and continuing jolt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds (Fox News 1/28/10)

An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns -- though they seem to be in complete denial about it.

An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns -- though they seem to be in complete denial about it. [...]

The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant.

The report said: "When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, 'How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.'" [...]

The report also detailed a disturbing practice in which older "men of status" keep young boys on hand for sexual relationships. One of the country's favorite sayings, the report said, is "women are for children, boys are for pleasure."

The report concluded that the widespread homosexual behavior stems from several factors, including the "severe segregation" of women in the society and the "prohibitive" cost of marriage.

Tribalism is the enemy, one that Islam had meager success overcoming. And in the absence of a culture you get boy gangs.

Has the West got the will to carry on shedding blood for Afghanistan?: The strategy is finally right, but our resolve could be starting to waver (Con Coughlin, 1/29/10, Daily Telegraph)

Undoubtedly the biggest failure of Western policy-making since those heady days has been the inability to appreciate fully the threat posed by the Taliban, and the organisation's ability to terrorise large swathes of the country even though it was no longer in power. This miscalculation not only lay at the heart of the West's decision to turn its attention towards Iraq in 2002, but also was behind the mistaken belief that the Taliban was finished, which persisted throughout the decade. When the British Government agreed to send troops to Helmand in the summer of 2006, in support of the
Nato-led reconstruction effort, a total of 3,500 were deemed sufficient to control a region the size of Wales. By the time the current force of 10,000 has been supplemented by 20,000 US Marines, the total fighting strength will be 10 times that of the original contingent.

The arrival of the Marines and other reinforcements is part of the military surge planned for this summer. It is designed to destroy the remaining Taliban strongholds, both in Helmand and in other regions. People might question how a strategy that is bound to increase the bloodshed – in the short term, at least – can be squared with the attempts to achieve a political reconciliation that were widely discussed at yesterday's conference.

The answer is that a political settlement will remain elusive so long as the Taliban has the capacity to undermine efforts by Nato and the Afghan government. Maintaining the military pressure is also a vital part of the wider strategy to persuade the Taliban to lay down its arms and enter political dialogue. There is only so much carnage the parents and families of the young Taliban fighters who have perished in their thousands can stomach.

The other big factor that has undermined the West's handling of the conflict has been its failure to comprehend the nature of the Taliban. The organisation, which was founded by a small group of Islamist extremists, was conceived by Pakistan's ISI intelligence service as a counterweight to India's attempts to develop its influence in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Although the Taliban managed to take control of the country by the end of the 1990s, its strength derived from the small group of Islamist extremists around Mullah Omar, who controlled the organisation. This was reflected in the small number of fighters who fled the country in 2001: many Afghans who had supported the Taliban simply switched their allegiance to the new government.

The reason the Taliban is so strong today is not because millions of Afghans have suddenly been converted to its uncompromising ideology, but because it has persuaded the fierce Pashtun tribesmen in the inhospitable border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan to support its cause. The Pashtuns, who traditionally dominated the country's political institutions, feel disenfranchised by the settlement negotiated after the Taliban's overthrow.

It's long past time for the creation of (or recognition of) a nation of Pashtunistan.

January 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Projected 2010 records (Baseball Prospectus)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Murray's Seat In Play According To GOP Poll (Steven Shepard and Quinn McCord, 1/28/10, Hotline)

In what is becoming a familiar refrain for Dems, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) could be facing a tough re-election fight, according to a new poll released today by a GOP survey firm.

The poll, conducted by OR-based Moore Information (R), shows Murray trailing two-time GOV nominee Dino Rossi (R) in a hypothetical matchup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Supreme Court Historian: After President’s “Insult,” Won’t Be Surprised If Supreme Court Doesn’t Attend Next Year’s State of the Union Address (Jake Tapper, January 28, 2010, Political Punch)

A noted Supreme Court historian who “enthusiastically” voted for President Obama in November 2008 today called President Obama’s criticism of the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address last night “really unusual” and said he wouldn’t be surprised if no Supreme Court Justices attend the speech next year.

“It was really unusual in my mind to see the president going after the Supreme Court in such a forum,” said author and Law Professor Lucas Powe, the Anne Green Regents Chair in Law, and a Professor of Government at the University of Texas-Austin School of Law. “I’m willing to bet a lot of money there will be no Supreme Court justice at the next State of the Union speech.”

Added Professor Powe, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, “you don’t go to be insulted. I can’t see the Justices wanting to be there and be insulted by the president.” His opinion has nothing to do with animus towards the President, for whom Powe said he voted enthusiastically.

Kind of low-rent to attack guys you know can't fight back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


I shot US abortion doctor to protect children, Scott Roeder tells court (Ed Pilkington, 1/28/10, guardian.co.uk)

Roeder told the jury that he was born-again in 1992 after watching an evangelical television programme, the 700 Club. "That day I knelt down and I did accept Christ as my saviour."

Despite frequent objections from the prosecution, the judge allowed Roeder to tell the court his conviction that abortion was murder, from conception onwards. "It is not man's job to take life — it's our Heavenly Father's. He is our creator, he gives and takes life. It's never up to man to take life, except in defence of self or others."

At one point Roeder talked of foetuses being "torn limb from limb" and said foetuses in later stages of pregnancy "feel more pain". Both comments drew protests from the prosecution.

Roeder said he did not approve of abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, as "two wrongs don't make a right".

The only area he would consider – and he said that he "struggled" over this — would be if the mother would certainly die if she remained pregnant.

After he turned to God, the jury heard, Roeder began taking part in "sidewalk counselling" – protests outside Tiller's clinic and other abortion clinics, where patients would be accosted in an attempt to dissuade them from going through with the procedure.

In the defence's opening statement, Roeder's lawyer, Mark Rudy, said Roeder had grown increasingly frustrated by the inability of the authorities to stop Tiller carrying out late abortions. He had been "astonished, upset and distraught" when a jury found Tiller not guilty of breaking abortion laws in a trial shortly before the killing.

"He came to the view that he was going to have to take action himself," Rudy told the jury. "He killed Dr Tiller as he believed that was the only way to save the lives of the unborn. He will tell you he had no choice."

...is that it basically isn't being covered by the American press (other than the hometown Kansas City Star).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Obama in the Balance (The Editors, January 27, 2010, New Republic)

For generations, health care reform has been a signature cause of liberalism--a campaign to redress a great moral failing of our democratic capitalist order, and a unique failing of our system when judged next to its peers in the industrialized world. Never before has a Democratic president inherited more propitious circumstances for advancing reform to fruition. And, although liberals might have griped as reform plodded its way through the various fiefdoms of the Senate, a monumental bill ultimately emerged, an impressive work of consensus that survived the interest-group ringer and the annoying maneuverings of Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Congress was one or two perfunctory roll-call votes away from sending a bill to Obama’s desk. That’s when Brown won his upset, instantly making the distance the bill needed to travel to the president’s desk seem unbearably immense.

But to squander this opportunity--after such intricate negotiation and so much expenditure of political capital--makes no rational sense. Abandoning health care now wouldn’t render Democrats any less vulnerable. They have already taken tough votes in support of the measure; they just wouldn’t have any tangible achievement to show for those votes. Defeat would set back the chances for meaningful reform for a generation. What Democratic politician would ever set foot in that graveyard again? And, after health care has stalled the rest of the president’s agenda for a large swath of his first year, what grand accomplishment would he have to show for his time in office? The bill’s defeat would rightly send his liberal base into a fit of depression--and it would send a dangerous message to his enemies that he will shy away from a fight on even his top priorities.

Where is the Congress that they were watching where a bill was ever going to get to his desk? The Brown victory just gave them an easy way out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Obama's Dull, Cheap, Successful Speech (Jonathan Chait, January 27, 2010, New Republic)

The dropoff between rhetoric penned by Obama and that by his staff, always noticeable, was especially so tonight. When he declared, “health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo,” I wondered if his budget freeze had already claimed the entire White House speechwriting staff.

Obama suggested that we should embrace alternative energy sources even if you doubt climate science. (I’m pretty sure that, if carbon dioxide were harmless, we’d be better off sticking with the cheap energy.) He embraced some hoary populist tropes, in which “Washington” and “us” are homogenous, mutually exclusive categories, and he belongs to the second. (“Washington has been telling us to wait for decades.”) And his rationale for a budget freeze made no sense whatsoever. “I am absolutely convinced that [the stimulus] was the right thing to do,” he said, “But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” Um, why?

...it's the staff that writes the coherent lines (which the comment suggests is the case), not the guy who can't even speak if his teleprompter flickers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


Haven't We Heard This Before? (Fred Barnes, January 28, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Haven’t we heard that speech before, practically every word of it? Maybe it was a year ago when President Obama first addressed Congress. Maybe it was during the campaign. Maybe it was at one of those town halls? Maybe Obama can’t help himself. His speeches just insist on sounding the same.

In any case, Obama delivered the least fresh State of the Union address I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard more than 30 of them. It was filled with old ideas, campaign cliches, and frequent use of personal pronoun, “I.” That’s the Obama pattern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


200 yrs after revolution, incest a crime in France again (ANI, 29 January 2010)

France finally made incest a crime, reinstating it into the country"s penal code more than 200 years after French revolutionaries threw it out as a "religious taboo".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes (Dana Priest, 1/27/10, Washington Post)

U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.

The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.

As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations. [...]

The Obama administration's deepening of bilateral intelligence relations builds on ties forged during George J. Tenet's tenure as CIA director.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Tenet coaxed Saleh into a partnership that would give the CIA and U.S. military units the means to attack terrorist training camps and al-Qaeda targets. Saleh agreed, in part, because he believed that his country, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, was next on the U.S. invasion list, according to an adviser to the Yemeni president.

Tenet provided Saleh's forces with helicopters, eavesdropping equipment and 100 Army Special Forces members to train an antiterrorism unit. He also won Saleh's approval to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over the country. In November 2002, a CIA missile strike killed six al-Qaeda operatives driving through the desert. The target was Abu Ali al-Harithi, organizer of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Killed with him was a U.S. citizen, Kamal Derwish, who the CIA knew was in the car.

Word that the CIA had purposefully killed Derwish drew attention to the unconventional nature of the new conflict and to the secret legal deliberations over whether killing a U.S. citizen was legal and ethical.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gave the CIA, and later the military, authority to kill U.S. citizens abroad if strong evidence existed that an American was involved in organizing or carrying out terrorist actions against the United States or U.S. interests, military and intelligence officials said. The evidence has to meet a certain, defined threshold. The person, for instance, has to pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests," said one former intelligence official.

The Obama administration has adopted the same stance. If a U.S. citizen joins al-Qaeda, "it doesn't really change anything from the standpoint of whether we can target them," a senior administration official said. "They are then part of the enemy."

Both the CIA and the JSOC maintain lists of individuals, called "High Value Targets" and "High Value Individuals," whom they seek to kill or capture. The JSOC list includes three Americans, including Aulaqi, whose name was added late last year. As of several months ago, the CIA list included three U.S. citizens, and an intelligence official said that Aulaqi's name has now been added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


The Kidnapping Of Haiti (John Pilger, 28 January, 2010, The New Statesman)

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth-biggest embassy. Oil was found in Haiti's waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington's "rollback" plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela's abundant petroleum reserves, and sabotage of the growing regional co-operation long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against the Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama's secret support for the illegal regime in Honduras carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the Americans seven military bases to "combat anti-US governments in the region".

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama's next war. In December, researchers at the University of the West of England published first findings of a ten-year study of BBC reporting on Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of Hugo Chávez's government, while the majority denigrated his extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


NIF Moves 5.9 Million Degrees Closer To Fusion Power (Stuart Fox, 01.28.2010, Popular Science)

With the need for a cheap and abundant alternative to fossils fuels more important than ever before, the field of fusion energy is getting hotter. Really, really hot. 6 million degrees hot. Yes, the National Ignition Facility, the Department of Energy's pet fusion project, has finally fired up its 192 lasers and zapped something, moving us one step closer to the day of clean, nearly free, fusion energy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM


Obama's State of the Union Address Was Remarkable, If Forgettable (Doug Heye, 1/28/10, Thomas Jefferson Street blog: US News)

In conceding that healthcare reform was essentially dead (and, by default, the past year wasted), Obama didn't provide much hope for Congressional Democrats who watch the generic ballot tick in the Republicans' direction daily. Nor is it even fathomable, with a Democratic President and large Democratic majorities in Congress, that new nuclear plants and increased offshore drilling ever sees the light of day. For Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, Obama's comments are a non-starter.

Then there were the president's comments on terrorism. If in the past 10 years, someone had told you that in the State of the Union the president was going to brag that the United States had killed or captured more terrorists than in the previous year, would you not reasonably assume that it was George W. Bush? One can almost hear congressional Democrats attacking such remarks as an example of Bush's "Texas swagger" and a locker room numbers game.

Of course, Obama did address the issue of the economy and jobs. What did we learn? Well, it's the fault of Bush and banks (you knew he wasn't going to give a speech and not blame Bush for our, and his, predicament) and while the administration has sworn not to talk about saved jobs or created depressions, Obama took credit for just that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


One can only hope Obama 2.0 will fare better (Rajeev Srinivasan, 29 Jan 2010, Indian Express)

Obama’s deliberate, Olympian style suggests — perhaps unfairly — paralysis by analysis. The dithering over Afghan policy for eight months, and the plan to ‘surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell’, have hurt India’s interests. An Obama, desperate to pull out of Afghanistan, is leaning on India to cave in on Kashmir, in order to appease Pakistan.

It appears that Obama has allowed his agenda to be hijacked by several factors: an exaggerated internationalism, a certain hubris, a permanent campaign mode, and an unwillingness to rein in ideologues.

Internationalism is good in theory, but not at the expense of domestic agendas. Obama may have overdone the reaching-out bit. He spent more time abroad than any other US president. Obama chose to alienate America’s friends and appease its foes. India was shown that it did not matter, but Obama was the picture of charm with China, militant West Asians, and Iran: predictably, he got little in return. He reached out to the Islamic faith in his Cairo and Ankara speeches, but this was construed as weakness, and al-Qaeda/Taliban are rampant. The Chinese disdain him: they humiliated him in Copenhagen.

Obama seems to have some trouble switching from campaigning — where he can make promises — to governing — where he has to deliver. Some of his actions seem predicated on PR: the timetable for the pullout of troops from Afghanistan is meant to give him a boost in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Finally, Obama is not reining in his more rabid supporters. Some of them believe that there was a permanent shift to the left in 2008. No, especially as a result of tough economic times, there has been a shift to the right.

I've been listening to the book Game Change, about the 2008 campaign, and it opens on the night of the Iowa primary. There's a great scene in Hillary's hotel room where her reaction to the Obama victory is so "bitter and befuddled" that a senior staffer realizes she should not be president. Even better, Bill goes off on a tirade that makes the case against the UR in a way that neither she nor John McCain ever did--for obvious reasons. He rages about how Barack Obama is nothing but a junior senator with no experience relevant to governing the country. Hillary snaps at him about Obama being a US Senator, which people take seriously. Bill, of course, was right. She wrong. But the only three people who ever had a shot at the presidency in '08 were senators. It's unlikely the other two would be performing any better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Economists: Jobs fix won't be quick (JEANNE CUMMINGS, 1/27/10, Politico)

“He’s trying to turn his microeconomic policies into some macroeconomic solution. He’s grasping at straws,” said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland.

"We are just going to have to ride this out over the next six months. If things don’t get better in trade with China, we aren’t getting out of this,” he added.

Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Economy.com, is not so negative, but he’s not exuberant either.

“I think the package will make a difference around the edges,” Faucher said. “But, at the end of the day, it will take a strong economic expansion to get job growth going again.”

And Anne Kim, the economic program director for The Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank, said the White House really isn’t trying to secure a near-term boost in jobs.

“There is only so much anyone can do about the unemployment rate, and it’s largely out of the government’s control,” said Kim.

...that persistently embraces policies we know don't work. A genuine pragmatist would be resorting to free trade, free immigration, and tax cuts instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Howard Zinn's fairy tale: On the upcoming television adaptation of "A People's History of the United States." (New Criterion, 2/26/08)

The astonishing career of A People’s History is an object lesson in how little criticism matters, or perhaps we should say it is an object lesson in how certain sentimental narratives can utterly overwhelm criticism, be it ever so accurate and eloquent. Zinn’s story—noble savages oppressed by nasty capitalists—was calculated to appeal to the politically correct, anti-American spirit that has been regnant among the country’s elites since the late 1960s. But its flaws were early on pointed out with devastating precision by the Harvard historian Oscar Handlin. Handlin’s brief is—or should have been—fatal. Writing in The American Scholar in 1980, he noted:

It simply is not true that “what Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.” It simply is not true that the farmers of the Chesapeake colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries avidly desired the importation of black slaves, or that the gap between rich and poor widened in the eighteenth-century colonies. Zinn gulps down as literally true the proven hoax of Polly Baker and the improbable Plough Jogger, and he repeats uncritically the old charge that President Lincoln altered his views to suit his audience. The Geneva assembly of 1954 did not agree on elections in a unified Vietnam; that was simply the hope expressed by the British chairman when the parties concerned could not agree. The United States did not back Batista in 1959; it had ended aid to Cuba and washed its hands of him well before then. “Tet” was not evidence of the unpopularity of the Saigon government, but a resounding rejection of the northern invaders.

And on and on. Handlin leaves Zinn’s “deranged … fairy tale” in tatters. It is worth noting, too, that Zinn’s contempt, though focused on America, is fired by a more global hatred. As Handlin noted, “It would be a mistake … to regard Zinn as merely anti-American. Brendan Behan once observed that whoever hated America hated mankind, and hatred of humanity is the dominant tone of Zinn’s book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


'Catcher in the Rye' Author J.D. Salinger Dies: J.D. Salinger, author of 'Catcher in the Rye,' dies at age 91 (HILLEL ITALIE, 1/28/10, The Associated Press)

Salinger's other books don't equal the influence or sales of "Catcher," but they are still read, again and again, with great affection and intensity. Critics, at least briefly, rated Salinger as a more accomplished and daring short story writer than John Cheever.

The collection "Nine Stories" features the classic "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the deadpan account of a suicidal Army veteran and the little girl he hopes, in vain, will save him. The novel "Franny and Zooey," like "Catcher," is a youthful, obsessively articulated quest for redemption, featuring a memorable argument between Zooey and his mother as he attempts to read in the bathtub.

"Catcher," narrated from a mental facility, begins with Holden recalling his expulsion from a Pennsylvania boarding school for failing four classes and for general apathy.

He returns home to Manhattan, where his wanderings take him everywhere from a Times Square hotel to a rainy carousel ride with his kid sister, Phoebe, in Central Park. He decides he wants to escape to a cabin out West, but scorns questions about his future as just so much phoniness.

"I mean how do you know what you're going to do till you do it?" he reasons. "The answer is, you don't. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it's a stupid question."

"The Catcher in the Rye" became both required and restricted reading, periodically banned by a school board or challenged by parents worried by its frank language and the irresistible chip on Holden's shoulder.

"I'm aware that a number of my friends will be saddened, or shocked, or shocked-saddened, over some of the chapters of `The Catcher in the Rye.' Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all of my best friends are children," Salinger wrote in 1955, in a short note for "20th Century Authors."

"It's almost unbearable to me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach," he added.

...but have you ever read Franny & Zooey?

-SHORT STORY: This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise: Meet Holden Caulfield's brother in this pre-Catcher in the Rye short story from a 26-year-old Salinger writing for Esquire while at war (J.D. Salinger, October 1945, Esquire)
-SHORT STORY: The Heart of a Broken Story: The late author's first short story for Esquire — written at age 22: The only real difficulty in concocting a boy-meets-girl story is that, somehow, he must. (J.D. Salinger, Septe,mber 1941, Esquire)

J. D. Salinger, Enigmatic Author, Dies at 91 (CHARLES McGRATH, 1/28/10, NY Times)

With its cynical, slangy vernacular voice (Holden’s two favorite expressions are “phony” and “goddam”), its sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America and quickly attained cult status, especially among the young. Reading “Catcher” used to be an essential rite of passage, almost as important as getting your learner’s permit.

The novel’s allure persists to this day, even if some of Holden’s preoccupations now seem a bit dated, and it continues to sell tens of thousands of copies a year in paperback. Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, even said that the explanation for his act could be found in the pages of “The Catcher in the Rye.” In 1974 Philip Roth wrote, “The response of college students to the work of J. D. Salinger indicates that he, more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture.”

Many critics admired even more “Nine Stories,” which came out in 1953 and helped shape later writers like Mr. Roth, John Updike and Harold Brodkey. The stories were remarkable for their sharp social observation, their pitch-perfect dialogue (Mr. Salinger, who used italics almost as a form of musical notation, was a master not of literary speech but of speech as people actually spoke it), and for the way they demolished whatever was left of the traditional architecture of the short story — the old structure of beginning, middle, end — in favor of an architecture of emotion, in which a story could turn on a tiny alteration of mood or irony. Mr. Updike said he admired “that open-ended Zen quality they have, the way they don’t snap shut.”

Mr. Salinger also perfected the great trick of literary irony — of validating what you mean by saying less than, or even the opposite of, what you intend. Orville Prescott wrote in The Times in 1963: “Rarely if ever in literary history has a handful of stories aroused so much discussion, controversy, praise, denunciation, mystification and interpretation.”

As a young man, Mr. Salinger yearned ardently for just this kind of attention. He bragged in college about his literary talent and ambitions, and wrote swaggering letters to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine. But success, once it arrived, paled quickly for him. He told the editors of Saturday Review that he was “good and sick” of seeing his photograph on the dust jacket of “The Catcher in the Rye” and demanded that it be removed from subsequent editions. He ordered his agent to burn any fan mail.

In 1953 Mr. Salinger, who had been living on East 57th Street in Manhattan, fled the literary world altogether and moved to a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, N.H. He seemed to be fulfilling Holden’s desire to build himself “a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life,” away from “any goddam stupid conversation with anybody.”

-ARCHIVES: J.D. Salinger, RIP: Stories on the late, great writer from the Slate archives (Slate, Jan. 28, 2010)
-ESSAY: Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger would not be caught in the public eye: Writer whose seminal work still sells 200,000 copies a year withdrew from public life in the 1960s (Richard Lea, 1/28/10, guardian.co.uk)
By the beginning of the 1960s the American press began to see Salinger's refusal to engage with the public as a provocation, while critics became increasingly impatient with the spiritual worries of the Glass family. The appearance of Franny and Zooey between hard covers in 1961 brought negative reviews from critics including John Updike, who judged that Salinger loved the Glasses "too exclusively ... to the detriment of artistic moderation". Meanwhile Time magazine dispatched a posse of reporters to unravel the mysteries of "a private world of love and death", but revealed little from behind the defensive wall of his family and friends, who protected him "like Swiss pikemen". In 1965 the New Yorker published his final story, a letter sent from summer camp by the seven-year-old Seymour Glass entitled Hapworth 16, 1924, and Salinger completed his withdrawal from public life.

For the next four decades Salinger spoke almost exclusively through his lawyers, defending his body of published work from unauthorised publication and adaptations. He gave his final interview to the New York Times in 1974, after launching a suit against a pirate edition of his early stories, describing publishing as "a terrible invasion of my privacy". "I like to write," he said. "I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." Another lawsuit obliged Ian Hamilton to rewrite large sections of an unauthorised biography published in 1988 – the supreme court ruled that quotations from Salinger's letters infringed his copyright.

Cracks in the wall of silence that his friends, neighbours and family had built around him began to appear in 1999 when a former lover, Joyce Maynard, published a memoir of an affair she had with Salinger in 1972. But it was only a year later that Salinger's daughter published a memoir of her own that described an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, with the author in thrall to a succession of unusual diets and religions as he continued adding to the piles of colour-coded manuscripts waiting for publication. It was an account rejected by her brother, who wrote of his "troubled" sister's propensity to tell "gothic tales of our supposed childhood" and declared that he "grew up in a very different house".

Salinger was only too aware how his desire for privacy created an appetite for that privacy to be breached, telling the New York Times in 1974 that the attention he received was "intrusive".

"I pay for this kind of attitude," he said. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work."

-AUDIO: Such a Perfect Day (Peter Oberg, 1/28/10, Wolfgang's Vault)

I was glad last week to see this song pop up and even happier today to realize the synchronicity of its release. Here’s what Samantha has to say about the song:

this song is based on my interpretation of the story “a perfect day for bananafish” by JD Salinger….a friend of mine from nashville was originally going to do a compilation album of 9 different songwriters writing a song for each of JD Salingers Nine Stories…this was the song i wrote for the album which never materialized so we decided to start playing it live and then recorded
it for the album…

As I’ve always imagined him, Salinger would be the first to admit that today was indeed the perfect day for dying.

-AN APPRECIATION: J.D. Salinger: a gift of words and silence: In his greatest works, a clash between self-expression and self-effacement. (David L. Ulin, January 29, 2010, LA Times)
-TRIBUTE: Salinger's Genius: He was the great poet of post-traumatic stress. (Stephen Metcalf, Jan. 28, 2010, Slate)
-ESSAY: JD Salinger's 'last words to the media': Tom Leonard recalls visiting JD Salinger in New Hampshire last year and hearing what were likely his last words to the media. (Tom Leonard, 28 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


The Hitchens Transcript: The complete interview between the renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens and Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell (Portland Monthly, January 2010)

Christopher Hitchens’s 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything has made him arguably the nation’s most notorious atheist. Already renowned as a political columnist for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other magazines and known for his frequent punditry on the political TV circuit, Hitchens’s barbed manifesto against religion has earned him debates across the country, often with the very fundamentalist believers his book attacks.

But as a precursor to his upcoming January 5 appearance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland Monthly invited Hitchens to an encounter more befitting the Rose City: a conversation with a liberal believer—Marilyn Sewell, the recently retired minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland. A former teacher and psychotherapist and the author of numerous books, Sewell, over 17 years, grew Portland’s downtown Unitarian congregation into one of the largest in the United States. [...]

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Comedy gold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Landrieu: Bill on "life support" (Carrie Budoff Brown, 1/28/10, Politico)

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said health care reform “is on life support, unfortunately,” and the president should have been more specific with how Democrats should move forward.

“He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done," Landrieu told reporters. "Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”

The president's criticism of the Senate in the speech was "a little strange, a little odd," Landrieu said.

You can understand a sinking president who appeals to his base, except that the UR is even pitting his base in the House against the party in the Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Skin Cells Turned into Brain Cells : A simple approach shows that cells might be more flexible than once thought. (Emily Singer, 1/28/10, Technology Review)

Skin cells called fibroblasts can be transformed into neurons quickly and efficiently with just a few genetic tweaks, according to new research. The surprisingly simple conversion, which doesn't require the cells to be returned to an embryonic state, suggests that differentiated adult cells are much more flexible than previously thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Fox News now "most trusted" channel: The US gets even more polarised (George Eaton, 28 January 2010, New Statesman)

Fox News may rarely live up to its motto "Fair & Balanced" but it can now describe itself as America's "most trusted news channel". A poll of more than 1,000 registered voters found that 49 per cent trust Fox, compared to 39 per cent for CNN and just 31 per cent for ABC.

Obviously when people are given an option other than the standard issue liberalism of the other networks the result will be greater polarisation, since there are now two poles instead of just one. But doesn't the convergence of such a large portion of the populace around the one news source suggest that the old unipolar airwaves were the bigger problem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


What Did Obama Say in his State of the Union Address? (Paul A. Rahe, 1/28/10, Big Government)

The State of the Union Address that Barack Obama delivered last night bore little, if any, resemblance to the speech that, in my opinion, he should have delivered. The actual speech was, in fact, all too typical of the genre. It ran for an hour or more, and it consisted of an interminable laundry list of putative accomplishments and proposals. When, near the end, the President said, “I don’t quit,” I found myself thinking, “No, surely! But I very much wish you would.” In the course of an hour, I felt as if I had spent three weeks listening to the man. I very much doubt that I was alone.

He really should have mailed it in and gone on jury duty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Where Was the Narrative?: There's no law requiring that State of the Union addresses be dull, overlong lists of provisions and proposals, but it has certainly come to seem that way. (Paul Waldman, January 28, 2010, American Prospect)

If there was a reason to be disappointed in the speech, it was the same reason progressives have again and again been disappointed with Obama, even when they were most excited about him. He has a terrible aversion to drawing clear ideological lines of distinction and to calling out his opponents by name for their misdeeds. When he talks about all the benefits of the stimulus but doesn't mention that every single Republican in the House and all but three (one of whom became a Democrat) in the Senate voted against it, or when he characterizes gridlock as the fault of "Washington" and not the fault of Republicans, progressives aren't frustrated just because they want some red meat to gnaw on. Those ideological distinctions have a practical importance. They explain for the public what the parties' differences are and direct blame where it ought to go. They establish markers that can be repeated and reinforced, making your future efforts at persuasion far simpler.

...to give a speech assigning all the blame for the stimulus to himself and his party and absolving the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


The Return of the Neocons: Neoconservatism was once deemed dead—'Buried in the sands of Iraq.' But it persists, not just as the de facto foreign-policy plank of the Republican Party but, its proponents assert, in Obama's unapologetic embrace of American military might. (David Margolick, 1/22/10, NEWSWEEK)

Technically, there is nothing "neo" about conservatives like Robert Kagan, the historian and another Washington Post columnist, or John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary; each is a son of one of neoconservatism's founding fathers. Indeed, no strain in American politics is so dynastic. It is akin to the right-wing Likud Party in Israel, whose religion and politics, world view, and succession rituals the neocons often share. The definitions, and analogy, are inexact, but both groups have recent ties to Europe and are haunted by the Holocaust, which has left them feeling wounded, suspicious, and sometimes bellicose, determined never again to be naive or to trust the world's good intentions. [...]

Perhaps the surest measure of the neocons' continued influence is the frustration and anger they generate within the Republican Party. Many of those they've targeted—like Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft—won't talk about them. (Some neocons gloat that Kissinger has even tried to become one of them.) One prominent activist on the libertarian end of the party—who hates what he sees as their costly foreign--policy adventurism and the GOP electoral losses (i.e., the presidency and both houses of Congress) he attributes to them—calls them "parasites": with little electoral power of their own, he claims, they have had to attach themselves to others, like George W. Bush. Comfortably ensconced behind a cloak of anonymity, he bristles, but also marvels, at their endurance and effectiveness, comparing them to "an infection that keeps coming back."

...when Rush Limbaugh points out that attacking "bankers" taps into historically anti-Semitic tropes, he's supposedly being an anti-Semite himself, but is the ADL protesting this piece that essentially calls neocons Likudniks and dwells on the racial hygiene craziness of the far Right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Here's my favorite bit of the SOTU:

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn't just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration's efforts to create the financial rescue program.

Now Mr. Obama certainly deserves credit for joining with President Bush in late September of 2008 to push for TARP, which did indeed save the banking system, but that also means his own administration came in with the heavy lifting already done. Moreover, who but a lunatic would hate a measure that averted the second Great Depression?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Reality check: President Obama gropes for a strategy (JOHN F. HARRIS, 1/28/10, Politico)

He sounded at times like a Bill Clinton-style centrist, at others like a bank-bashing populist. He taunted Republicans, and also presented himself as a lonely tribune of cooperation and bipartisan civility in Washington.

In a favorable light, his State of the Union speech may have revealed the mind of a leader who has never cared much about traditional ideological categories and is determined to create his own results-oriented composite of ideas from across the spectrum.

Less charitably, the address could be interpreted as the work of a president who is desperately improvising by touching every political erogenous zone he and his advisers can think of.

Under either judgment, however, it was inescapable that his 69-minute speech — for all the rush of words and policy ideas — was a document of downsized ambitions for a downsized moment in his presidency.

Just another example of how he has no core being to fall back on. Tacking around so wildly can only exacerbated the growing sense that we have idea who he is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Obama sounded a little too clever (Simon Reid-Henry, 28 January 2010, New Statesman)

So how did he fare? And was his much fabled oratory up to the task of smoothing over the inevitable cracks he would have to leave between such irreconcilable policies?

To spare you the wait, for this was a long speech, what he did not indulge in was any Grant Park oratory. He kept his speech in that third gear setting we have gotten used to since he came into office. Thankfully he also just about avoided the College professor tone which has alienated a good few Americans over the last twelve months.

But if he wasn't Barack the orator, and he wasn't Barack the professor, then who was he exactly?

Obama seemed to track his way across a spectrum of different roles, first setting himself up with almost Blair-like enunciative stretch as local man, to deliver a variant on Clinton's 'I feel your pain' moment, before shifting into family patriarch mode to remonstrate with those who have been causing him more than a little pain of late, and finally re-appearing as a born-again politician in some semblance of control amidst the melee going on around him. It was a deliberate rhetorical arc chained to a new variant on his message of Change. "Yes it can" became "let's get it done". But for all its rhetorically artful repositioning of the President, the message sounded strangely unconvincing. [...]

Most importantly, it contained a jobs plan that far exceeded the small-bore shrapnel that many had predicted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Americans Are Good Economists: Americans understand that federal spending policies that waste money, trickle into the economy too slowly, and lead to chronic deficits are not an effective stimulus. (Alex M. Brill, January 28, 2010, The American)

A year ago, Congress enacted a massive bill intended to jolt the economy out of recession. With an official ten-year price tag of $787 billion (recently revised upwards to $862 billion by the Congressional Budget Office), the White House claimed it would save or create 3.7 million jobs. Unfortunately, the reality has been quite disappointing.

As my colleague Allan Meltzer has described, the economic concept of "jobs saved" is pure foolishness. He writes, "One can search economic textbooks forever without finding a concept called ‘jobs saved.' It doesn't exist for good reason: How can anyone know that his or her job has been saved?" [...]

Now a new poll from indicates that Americans are acutely aware of the failure of this legislation to have any meaningful impact on the economy. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, "63 percent of the public thinks that projects in the plan were included for purely political reasons and will have no economic benefit, with 36 percent saying those projects will benefit the economy." Additionally, 74 percent of respondents believed at least half of the money had been wasted and 21 percent of respondents believed nearly all the money spent so far has been wasted. Perhaps those polled had in mind the fact that the bill spends money on such things as water pipelines for unprofitable golf courses, a program for Martha's Vineyard residents to have their home appliances controlled from a remote location, and "socially-conscious puppet shows" in Minnesota.

And many Americans who oppose the bill didn't come to this view after waiting and watching. According to CNN, 44 percent opposed it less than a month after it was enacted. That number has now climbed to 56 percent. And so it appears that many Americans are good economists. They understand that federal spending policies that waste money, trickle into the economy too slowly, and lead to chronic deficits are not an effective stimulus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Top Democrats at war - with each other (GLENN THRUSH & JOHN BRESNAHAN, 1/27/10, Politico)

The anger is most palpable in the House, where Pelosi and her allies believe Obama’s reluctance to stake his political capital on health care reform in mid-2009 contributed to the near collapse of negotiations now.

But sources say there are also signs of strain between Reid and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and relations between Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate are hovering between thinly veiled disdain and outright hostility.

In a display of contempt unfathomable in the feel-good days after Obama’s Inauguration, freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) stood up at a meeting with Pelosi last week to declare: “Reid is done; he’s going to lose” in November, according to three people who were in the room.

Newsflash: so is Ms Titus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


At This Obama Speech, Courtesy From Ascendant Republicans (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 1/28/10, WSJ)

With political momentum on their side, underlined by recent victories in three high-profile elections, they wanted to keep public attention on the struggling Democrats and avoid behavior that would unify their opponents.

GOP lawmakers almost appeared to be looking for opportunities to courteously cheer Mr. Obama's words. They even clapped when Mr. Obama urged passage of his health overhaul, saying, "We still need health insurance reform."

This was no accident. At a meeting of House Republicans this morning, the top three GOP leaders urged members to behave courteously. Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) told lawmakers they should keep quiet "no matter how much you may want to boost your fundraising." That was a reference to Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), who saw contributions pour in after shouting "You lie!" during Mr. Obama's last speech.

When Mr. Obama listed a series of tax cuts he said his administration had enacted, Republicans were silent. The president joked, "I thought I'd get some applause" for that from the GOP, and the Republicans obliged, somewhat wryly, by rising and clapping.

On one occasion, Mr. Obama's exhortations appeared to unify the parties against him: hardly anyone applauded when he called for a three-year domestic spending freeze, which many Democrats oppose and Republicans consider insufficient.

By the end no one can have still been listening.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


A modern tale of meatpacking and immigrants: Grand Island, Neb., has long been a revolving door of immigrants, from Vietnamese and Bosnians to Latinos and Sudanese. But with Somali Muslims came a whole new set of conflicts. (Kate Linthicum, January 28, 2010, LA Times)

It was still dark when dozens of federal agents, guns drawn, swept into the gray, windowless buildings at Swift & Co. just before Christmas 2006.

They were Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents taking part in a six-state sting, and they had warrants to search for undocumented workers.

Like most of the nation's slaughterhouses, the Grand Island plant had always been a revolving door for immigrants.

Meatpacking is hard, dangerous work; the Department of Labor says it results in more injuries than any other trade. But it doesn't require workers to speak English, and in Grand Island it pays a starting wage of $12.25 an hour.

Ads placed in immigrant newspapers across the country had drawn war refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s and from Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s.

Most made some money and moved on.

But many Latino immigrants, who started arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, stayed. They launched Spanish-language radio programs, founded churches, set up taco trucks. And unlike earlier immigrants who were legal refugees recognized by the U.S. government, many Latinos had crossed the border illegally.

When immigration agents came to town in 2006, Latinos comprised up to 11% of Grand Island's 45,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the day of the raid, agents detained more than 200 of the plant's 2,500 workers. Another 200 Latinos from the evening shift, apparently fearful of deportation, promptly quit.

In town the raid triggered an eruption of resentment.

When Latinos marched in protest afterward, some townspeople lined the streets with a counter-demonstration, holding signs that read, "Go back to Mexico, wetbacks." The local newspaper was filled with venomous letters to the editor decrying Latino immigration.

"A lot of people don't like the Latinos, they just don't," said Jeff Fulton, a Grand Island native who has worked at the plant for 25 years. Latinos faced more discrimination than previous immigrants because they had put down roots, he said. One only had to drive down 4th Street, past La Solomera Guatemalan import store and El Tazumal Mexican restaurant, to see their influence.

"There has been more bigotry," Fulton said, "because there has just been more and more and more of them."

The emotions unleashed by the raid would soon find a new target -- Sudanese and Somalis attracted by the promise of work at the meatpacking plant.

The new immigrants, who had been granted refugee status because of strife in their homelands, posed new challenges to the status quo in Grand Island.

They were black, and some were Muslim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Obama's exports pick tied to arms makers (Jim McElhatton, 1/28/10, Washington Times)

President Obama's pick to help oversee U.S. export controls for the Commerce Department is a lawyer and political supporter who has been providing export advice to Fortune 500 companies such as arms manufacturer Raytheon and aerospace giant Boeing.

But while White House officials and members of Congress have lauded Kevin J. Wolf's experience for the Commerce job, his recent legal work effectively appears to bar him from potential matters involving dozens of companies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Republican Charles Djou makes a push in Obama’s Hawaii home district (Gautham Nagesh, 1/27/10, The Daily Caller)

In a sign of just how much the political landscape has changed since November 2008, for the first time in 18 years a Republican is mounting a serious challenge in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Honolulu and the childhood home of President Obama.

An unusual series of circumstances have come together to give Honolulu city council chairman Charles K. Djou a shot at becoming only the second Republican to represent Hawaii in the House and the first since Pat Saiki in 1987.[...]

“Imagine the narrative coming on the heels of Scott Brown; a Republican wins in Obama’s home congressional district,” said Dave Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report. Wasserman said the open format of the special election without a primary or run-off gives Djou a shot at pulling off an upset in what until recently had been considered a safe Democratic seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The electric car revolution will soon take to the streets (Jim Motavalli, 28 January 2010, Online Opinion)

For years, the promise and hype surrounding electric cars failed to materialise. But as this year’s Detroit auto show demonstrated, major car companies and well-funded startups - fueled by federal clean-energy funding and rapid improvement in lithium-ion batteries - are now producing electric vehicles that will soon be in showrooms. [...]

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is the domestic auto industry’s biggest annual showcase, and the new models have traditionally been brought out in a son et lumière of dancing girls, deafening music, and dry ice smoke. The few green cars that made it this far were usually for display only - very few actually made it to showrooms. But not this year. It’s become a race to market for green cars, and soon you’ll be able to buy many of the electric vehicles that were on display recently in Detroit.

The auto show featured one hybrid and battery electric car introduction after another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


German home schoolers granted U.S. political asylum (AP, 1/27/10)

A German couple who fled to Tennessee so they could home school their children has been granted political asylum by an immigration judge in Memphis.

The decision clears the way for Uwe Romeike his wife and five children to stay in Morristown, Tennessee, where they have been living since 2008.

German law requires children to attend public or private schools, and parents can face fines or prison time if they don't comply. Romeike, an evangelical Christian, said he believes Germany's curriculum is "against Christian values."

January 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


Obama’s State of the Union Address (President Barack Obama, 1/27/10)

Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For two hundred and twenty years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.

It's tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.

Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.

One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

But the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.

This recession has also compounded the burdens that America's families have been dealing with for decades – the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They're not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I've witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children – asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.

For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don't understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn't; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can't afford it. Not now.

So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.

You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They're coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, "We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged."

It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.

And tonight, I'd like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.

It begins with our economy.

Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.

But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn't just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.

So I supported the last administration's efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn't keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.

That's why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. 200,000 work in construction and clean energy. 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That's right – the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don't have to take their word for it.

Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.

Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.

Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn't be laid off after all.

There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.

We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.

So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit – one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I'll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it's time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

But the truth is, these steps still won't make up for the seven million jobs we've lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America's families have confronted for years.

We cannot afford another so-called economic "expansion" like the one from last decade – what some call the "lost decade" – where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I'm interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.

We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can't allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that's why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.

This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years – and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs – because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.

Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That's why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That's why we're nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That's why we're working to lift the value of a family's single largest investment – their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Now let's be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics.

I took on health care because of the stories I've heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who've been denied coverage; and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office – the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress – our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.

Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them.

But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.

As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.

Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it's not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It's a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that's been subject to a lot of political posturing.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.

I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I'm proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work. We've already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can't afford it.

Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That's why I've called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can't be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. The Commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand – if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery – all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.

From some on the right, I expect we'll hear a different argument – that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that's what we did for eight years. That's what helped lead us into this crisis. It's what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that's why we've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I'm also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there's a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don't also reform how we work with one another.

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.

So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I'll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can't wait.

Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who's to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let's leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed – far more than in 2008.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans – men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.

As we take the fight to al Qaeda, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world – must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.

Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people – the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April's Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why North Korea now faces increased isolation, and stronger sanctions – sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences.

That is the leadership that we are providing – engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease – a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.

As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

Abroad, America's greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.

We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day's work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America – values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren't Republican values or Democratic values they're living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there's so much cynicism out there.

No wonder there's so much disappointment.

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation.

But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, "None of us," he said, "…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail."

It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, "We are strong. We are resilient. We are American."

It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who've dropped everything to go some place they've never been and pull people they've never known from rubble, prompting chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!" when another life was saved.

The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Obama Speaks to a Sixth-Grade Classroom
Daily Show
Full Episodes
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Hope, Change and Regret in Omaha: Obama Peeled Away a Red-State Electoral Vote by Winning Here in 2008, but Some Locals Say Their Enthusiasm Is Waning (DOUGLAS BELKIN, 1/27/10, WSJ)

A few hours before President Barack Obama was set to deliver his first State of the Union address, Chris Pflaum, a 31-year-old liquor salesman here, sheepishly said he voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 "because I got caught up in all that change business."

Looking back, he said, "It was a lot of hype. He's not what I thought he would be."

Mr. Pflaum is among many voters here who spoke of a creeping unease with Mr. Obama that has supplanted the enthusiasm they once felt.

...Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush were all well hated. But a president can't afford to give people the creeps. That sense that he's unknown and unknowable can cross party lines.

The specific problem for Mr. Obama is that he isn't anyone. Where the genius of the campaign was that he could be all things to all people because of that lack of a core persona, it now means that any attempt to define a self will be at odds with the imaginary Obama that each voter was allowed to construct in his/her imagination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 PM


Excerpts of Obama’s State of the Union Address

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.

To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

But we cannot stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.

This is the drivel the Oval wants to highlight?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


Rep. Paul Ryan to introduce alternative to health care and spending (Alex Pappas, 1/27/10, The Daily Caller)

Rep. Paul Ryan is re-introducing legislation in Congress today — amid criticism that his is ‘a party of no’ — to offer Republican alternatives to health care and spending the same day President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress. [...]

Highlights of the plan, according to the release:

Health Care
• Provides a refundable tax credit — $2,300 for individuals and $5,700 for families — to purchase coverage in any state, and keep it with them if they move or change jobs.

• Allows Medicaid recipients to take part in the same variety of options by using the tax credit to purchase high-quality care.

• Establishes and fully funds Medical Savings Accounts for low-income beneficiaries to cover out-of-pocket costs, while continuing to allow all beneficiaries, regardless of income, to set up tax-free MSAs.

Social Security
• Offers workers under 55 the option of investing over one third of their current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts, similar to the Thrift Savings Plan available to federal employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


The change we need now is a rougher, more radical Barack Obama (Jonathan Freedland, 1/17/10, guardian.co.uk

A more appealing strategy would have Obama realise that radical troubles call for radical answers – and that his only hope lies in bold, decisive moves.

First, Democrats have to finish what they started. It has been pathetic to watch so many throw their hands up in defeat at the first setback. The historian Tony Badger, author of an outstanding study of FDR, is unforgiving: "Democrats have forgotten how to legislate, they've forgotten how to govern." Now Obama has to push them to use whatever procedural trick it takes to pass healthcare reform: probably the house voting on the bill already approved in the Senate and making minor changes later. Sure, that bill is flawed. But it's better than nothing. This is what some Democrats don't seem to have clocked: that they will be slammed in November's midterm elections as the do-nothing Congress if they drop a bill that has obsessed them for a full year. They are blamed for the unpopular bits of the bill anyway – simply for advocating it – so they might as well get the benefit of its upsides. Electorates prefer strong leadership, even in a direction of which they disapprove, to no leadership at all.

With healthcare out of the way, Obama should recall the most famous bit of Clinton advice: It's the economy, stupid. Here action associated with the left has far wider appeal, which is why it's so encouraging that the president's first response to Massachusetts was a direct attack on the banks, demanding they no longer play the roulette tables with their depositors' money. He should keep up the fight, whether tightening regulation or capping bonuses. Let the Republicans filibuster that, holding up the Senate day and night for the sake of the bankers. If the Republicans want to fight the 2010 elections as Wall Street's chums, go ahead.

...that the UR should give it to the American people, who he's already spooked, with the bark on or that attacking business will help him revive the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Don't let America's red ink scare you (David R. Francis, January 26, 2010 , CS Monitor)

The federal tax burden is at its lowest level in the postwar period. As a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), revenues stood at 15.8 percent in fiscal 2009, calculates the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


US wants India to do its dirty work in Pakistan (Ajai Shukla, January 27, 2010, Rediff)

Does anyone recall a top American official publicly declaring that India would be justified in attacking Pakistan if terrorists struck Indian targets again?

I don't. Which is why I believe more attention must be paid to what United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week in India, when asked whether he had counselled restraint to New Delhi in the event of another terror strike.

Gates' reply, "I told all of the Indian leaders that I met with that I thought that India had responded with great restraint and statesmanship after the first Mumbai attack. The ability of any state to continue that, were it to be attacked again, I think is in question..."

That was more of a threat against Pakistan than Washington has made before. Underlining that, Gates emphasised, "It's not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited, were there to be further (terrorist) attacks."

They have the green light against China too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Arf, Arf! Barry and Bo work on the State of the Union while Axelrod Fiddles and Rahm Burns (Bo Obama (Robert Ferrigno, 1/25/10, Big Journalism)

On CNBC, Norah O’Donnell woodenly read the latest vote tallies, mascara running down her cheeks like Chuckie the killer klown. Keith Olbermann was in the background, loudly vomiting into a waste basket.

Me, I was doing backflips and barking happily.

“The Kennedy seat,” Axelrod kept muttering. “We just lost the Kennedy seat.”

“What do you mean we?” said Barry.

“Yes, yes, that’s right,” said Axelrod. “It wasn’t a vote against you. No sir, not at all. It was anger, undifferentiated anger. Had nothing to do with you.”

Barry looked at Rahm.

“No, it was you,” said Rahm, grinning.

“We need to completely rewrite your State of the Union Address,” said Axelrod. “Listing your many accomplishments and your unique place in history to thunderous applause is probably not going to work right now.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


Reich Claims Non-Existent Fox News Led Conservative Charge in 1994 (Frank Ross., 1/26/10, Big Journalism)

Former Obama economic advisor, Clinton Secretary of Labor, and Berkely Prof. Robert Reich claimed yesterday in his column at Salon.com that Fox News played a role in the conservative resurgence of 1994:

In December 1994, Bill Clinton proposed a so-called middle-class bill of rights including more tax credits for families with children, expanded retirement accounts, and tax-deductible college tuition. Clinton had lost his battle for healthcare reform. Even worse, by that time the Dems had lost the House and Senate. Washington was riding a huge anti-incumbent wave. Right-wing populists were the ascendancy, with Newt Gingrich and Fox News leading the charge. Bill Clinton thought it desperately important to assure Americans he was on their side.

But Prof. Reich overlooked one minor detail: Fox News Channel’s first broadcast wasn’t until October 7, 1996.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


The Curious Tale of Obama's Biggest Defender (Michael Smerconish, 1/27/10, Daily Beast)

The tale of Ellie Light piqued my curiosity, so I asked one of my radio producers to try to find the writer and book her on my radio program. That took some work. My producer noted that Ben Smith at Politico had reported that “Ellie Light” had written her missives from a Yahoo email account. My colleague searched the Internet for “Ellie Light Yahoo” and found that Ed Morrissey at Hot Air had received communications from Light. In posting the message header he received, Morrissey included the email address from which the messages originated. My staffer sent an email to that address, seeking to invite the person behind the emails onto the program.

Soon thereafter, that person responded, accepted the invitation, and offered a phone number at which to reach her. A search of WhitePages.com found that the number was an unpublished landline number originating from Lakewood, California. When the person claiming to be Light called in the next day, however, she did so from a different phone number, though one with the same area code as the one provided the night before.

In my Tuesday morning interview, Light both defended the president and acknowledged being dishonest about her primary residence: “I think it’s fair to say that when commenting on national issues, it’s perfectly fine to be from other parts of the United States, even when writing to a local newspaper. However, I think I need to own up that I did misrepresent my location in some of those places.”

When I asked Light how often newspapers would call to verify her identity, she told me: “Most times, and most often I misrepresented my primary residence.”

That wasn’t all “Ellie Light” misrepresented. Just after my interview concluded, the Plain Dealer published a report online identifying Light as a traveling nurse named Barbara Brooks. But wait—later that day, another woman claiming to be Barbara Brooks called the newspaper to deny that she was Ellie Light. She asserted that a “male acquaintance” was actually the elusive letter writer. Eventually the Plain Dealer conducted conversations with two people claiming to be Barbara Brooks. Coinciding with this reportage was Internet speculation that I had interviewed a man, not a woman, and that neither I nor my audience knew the difference.

Then yes another twist. Tuesday night, “Ellie Light” contacted my producer and acknowledged that “she” is actually Winston Steward, ex-husband of Barbara Brooks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Focaccia or Pizza Dough (Kathy Lehr, 1/27/10, The Akron Journal)

6½ cups unbleached bread flour or King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon salt

1 package dry yeast

1/3 cup olive oil

3 cups water

1. Place flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir together. Add yeast and stir to combine.

2. Combine olive oil with two cups of the water and add to the flour. Mix, adding more water, until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Once desired consistency is reached, knead with dough hook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add more water if needed. The dough should be a little tacky but pull together after kneading. The wetter the dough, the more airy and chewy the crust will be when baked.

3. Place bowl in refrigerator and let rise, covered, overnight. Pull or punch down dough at least once. Two nights will give it a chewier texture. Dough can be made up to five days ahead of time.

4. To make pizzas, preheat oven to 475 or 500 degrees. Remove a portion of the dough from the bowl. Working on parchment paper, shape dough into desired size and thickness. Brush dough with olive oil. Cover with desired toppings. Transfer to pizza stone or pan and bake on the lowest rack of oven until crust is browned and cheese is melted and browned. Baking time will vary depending on oven and size and thickness of pizza. Check at 7 to 10 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Aliens can't hear us, says astronomer (Robin McKie, 1/27/10, Observer,)

Human beings are making it harder for extraterrestials to pick up conversations and make contact, the world's leading expert on the search for alien life warned yesterday.

At a special meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (Seti), the US astronomer Frank Drake – who has been seeking radio signals from alien civilisations for almost 50 years – told scientists that earthlings were making it less likely they would be heard in space.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


World Trade Volume Rises 1.1% in November (PAUL HANNON, 1/27/10, WSJ)

World trade volume increased for the third straight month in November 2009, indicating that the global economic recovery is gaining traction.

Figures compiled by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis–also known as the CPB–showed Wednesday that trade volume rose by 1.1% in November. The CPB also revised up its growth estimate for October flows to 1.4% from 0.8% previously.

There's no better way for the UR to goose the economy and signal he's not like the congressional Democrats than to push through the free trade agreements W left him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Confidence Melting Away: Can Climate Forecasts Still Be Trusted? (Gerald Traufetter, 1/27/10, Der Spiegel)

First, it was a series of e-mails that led many to begin doubting the veracity of climate scientists. Then, the United Nations climate body itself had to reverse dire predictions about the melting of glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains. Other claims have raised doubts as well.

Who, other that the gullible Brights, ever trusted in them to begin with?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


U.S. Keeps Foreign Ph.D.s: Despite Fears of a Post-9/11 Drop, Most Science, Engineering Post-Grads Have Stayed (DAVID WESSEL, 1/27/10, WSJ)

Newly released data revealed that 62% of foreigners holding temporary visas who earned Ph.D.s in science and engineering at U.S. universities in 2002 were still in the U.S. in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available. Of those who graduated in 1997, 60% were still in the U.S. in 2007, according to the data compiled by the U.S. Energy Department's Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for the National Science Foundation.

Foreigners account for about 40% of all science and engineering Ph.D. holders working in the U.S., and a larger fraction in engineering, math and computer fields. "Our ability to continue to attract and keep foreign scientists and engineers is critical to…increase investment in science and technology," Oak Ridge analyst Michael Finn said.

"Data for all available cohorts indicate that 'stay rates' of foreign science and engineering doctorate recipients in 2007 are slightly higher than they have been in recent years," Mr. Finn said. His findings, which use tax data to track graduates over time, cover the years before the U.S. plunged into a recession that damped job prospects in many U.S. industries and universities.

And the dirty little secret is that even most of these "good immigrants" are here illegally for some portion of their Americanization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Quinoa, 'mother of all grains': This delicate grain's high protein content makes it a vital nutritional alternative (Anne Sears Mooney, 1/27/10, Tribune)

"Hailed as the supergrain of the future, quinoa contains more protein than any other grain," wrote Sharon Tyler Herbst in "Food Lover's Companion." "It's considered a complete protein because it contains all eight amino acids."

The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa at least equivalent to that in milk. It also is a good source of calcium, iron, vitamin E and several of the B vitamins, and it contains omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds are gluten-free, making quinoa a flavorful grain alternative for those with gluten sensitivity. [...]

Quinoa cooks to a light fluffy texture in about 15 minutes, increasing four times in volume as it cooks. It can be cooked using a rice cooker or on the stovetop, using one part quinoa to two parts liquid. Either water or broth works fine. It can be added raw to soups and stews 15 or 20 minutes before cooking is completed. It is a wonderful kitchen chameleon — taking on any flavor you add to it.

In appearance, quinoa is frequently compared to couscous, but it has a texture all its own. As it cooks, the external germ, which forms a band around each grain, spirals out, forming a tiny, crescent-shaped "tail." The cooked grain is soft and creamy, while the "tail" has a pleasant crunch, giving quinoa a unique mouth feel that complements its delicate, nutty flavor. Toasting the grain in a dry skillet for 5 minutes before cooking imparts a delicious roasted flavor.

Quinoa is an appropriate repast for any time of day. Prepare it for breakfast as a porridge with nuts, dried fruit and honey. It is delicious as a lunch salad, tossed with herbed vinaigrette and tomatoes and piled in the center of a ripe avocado. For dinner, serve it either as a side dish with fresh fish or meat, or as a main dish or vehicle for a ragu. It is a particularly fine accompaniment to legumes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


U.S. raises $500 million for Haiti (Valerie Richardson, 1/27/10, Washington Times)

Donations and pledges to U.S. nonprofits since the epic 7.0 quake wrecked the impoverished island Jan. 12 climbed over a half-billion dollars Tuesday, according to the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, which tracks post-disaster giving.

In the course of one day, giving and pledges jumped from $471 million Monday to $517.5 million Tuesday. The number compares favorably to previous disaster-relief efforts, even though Americans currently find themselves mired in an economic recession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Clinton rebukes critics of U.S. (Nicholas Kralev, 1/27/10, Washington Times)

"I deeply resent those who attack our country, the generosity of our people and the leadership of our president in trying to respond to historically disastrous conditions after the earthquake," Mrs. Clinton said at a town hall meeting with State Department employees to mark her first year in office.

...I don't recall her lashing out at critics of the US government's response to the historically disastrous Hurricane Katrina.

January 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Obama at One (Various Contributors, January 13, 2010, The Nation)

Michael Tomasky

Editor, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

In straightforward policy terms, healthcare reform is the best thing Obama has done. Yes, expectations were raised for more, and the process was painful to watch, but the changes in this bill are greater than anything the Clintons tried to do, anything Al Gore ran on, anything John Kerry ran on, anything Howard Dean ran on, etc. It's a big, big, big deal. Assuming it passes. [...]

Adolph Reed Jr.

Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

In January 1996 I wrote the following about Barack Obama in my Village Voice column: "In Chicago, we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program--the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics."

In 2007 Matt Taibbi described him as "an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum." [...]

Andrew Bacevich

Professor of International Relations, Boston University

As a conservative who voted for Obama, I hoped his election would signal a clear repudiation of his predecessor's reckless and ill-advised approach to national security policy. A clear break from the past just might create the space for a principled debate about the proper direction of US policy after the cold war, after 9/11 and after the passing of the neoconservative moment. Out of that debate might come a more prudent and realistic appreciation of the capabilities and limitations of military power. Washington might wean itself from its infatuation with war--at least so I fancied. This has turned out to be a great illusion. [...]

Glenn C. Loury

Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University

From where I sit, the high point of President Obama's young administration was its inauguration. Much seemed possible on that glorious day, but it has been downhill since. [...]

Deepak Bhargava

Executive Director, Center for Community Change

The healthcare bill is, for all its flaws, a momentous accomplishment. It is the first major expansion of the federal safety net since the 1960s, and not only extends coverage to more than 30 million Americans but reverses the conservative string of successes in shrinking the role of government. [...]

Edith Childs

County Councilwoman, Greenwood, South Carolina

My greatest moment of excitement was when Obama was given the oath to be the president, not just the black president but the president. He's not just some people's president but president of all of us, commander-in-chief of all of us.

My low moment has been the stimulus. [...]

Howard Zinn


I' ve been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

Sure, we shouldn't be enjoying this so much,,,but, dang, it's fun!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Obama Scoffed At McCain's Spending Freeze Proposal During Campaign ( Sam Stein, Jan 25, 2010, Huffington Post)

One particularly tough attack, however, was delivered in Obama's own words -- in the form of a video compilation showing the president scoffing at just such a proposal in three successive presidential campaign debates. The video was posted quickly on YouTube.

"The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are underfunded," Obama says in his first debate against Republican candidate John McCain, who was pushing a spending freeze.

"That is an example of an unfair burden sharing," Obama says of McCain's proposal in the second debate. "That's using a hatchet to cut the federal budget. I want to use a scalpel so that people who need help are getting help and those of us like myself and Senator McCain who don't need help aren't getting it. That is how we make sure that everybody is willing to make a few sacrifices."

In the UR's defense, having never run anything bigger than the Harvard Law Review, he may have imagined governing would be like surgery,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Too Dumb to Thrive (Joe Klein, January 25, 2010, TIME: Swampland)

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. [...]

So, two thoughts:

1. The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people...especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.

2. This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed...and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don't make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you're a nation of dodos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Evelyn Waugh: Ultramodern to Ultramontane (JOSEPH PEARCE, May 2001, Lay Witness)

[T]hree weeks after Waugh's controversial conversion, Waugh's own contribution to the debate, entitled "Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me," was published. It was given a full-page spread, boldly headlined.

Waugh's article was so lucid in its exposition that it belied any suggestion that he had taken his momentous step lightly, or out of ignorance. He dismissed the very suggestion that he had been "captivated by the ritual" of the Church, or that he wanted to have his mind made up for him. Instead, he insisted that the "essential issue" that had led to his conversion was a belief that the modern world was facing a choice between "Christianity and Chaos":

"Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization — and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe — has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state . . . It is no longer possible . . . to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests." [...]

On October 8, 1930, the Bystander observed of Waugh's conversion that "the brilliant young author" was "the latest man of letters to be received into the Catholic Church. Other well-known literary people who have gone over to Rome include Sheila Kaye-Smith, Compton MacKenzie, Alfred Noyes, Fr. Ronald Knox, and G.K. Chesterton." The list was impressive but far from exhaustive. By the 1930s, the tide of converts had become a torrent, and throughout that decade there were some 12,000 converts a year in England alone.

A similar mood prevailed in the United States. A few weeks after the controversy in the Daily Express, a debate between G.K. Chesterton and the famous Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow on the question, "Will the World Return to Religion?" attracted an audience of 4,000 to the Mecca Temple in New York. At the close of the debate a vote was taken. The result was 2,359 for Chesterton's point of view and 1,022 for Darrow's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Lincoln Will Oppose Reconciliation (Reid Wilson, 1/26/10, Hotline)

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) will oppose Dem efforts to move health care legislation through Congress using budget reconciliation, hurting Dems' chances for using the controversial parliamentary maneuver to pass a reform bill.

"I am opposed to and will fight against any attempts to push through changes to the Senate health insurance reform legislation by using budget reconciliation tactics that would allow the Senate to pass a package of changes to our original bill with 51 votes," Lincoln said in a statement on Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Employer told not to post advert for 'reliable' workers because it discriminates against 'unreliable' applicants (Daily Mail, 26th January 2010)

Recruitment boss Nicole Mamo, 48, tried to post an advert for a £5.80-an-hour domestic cleaner on her local Jobcentre Plus website.

She ended the job offer by saying that any applicants for the post 'must be very reliable and hard-working'.

But when Ms Mamo called the Jobcentre Plus in Thetford, Norfolk, the following day she was told that her advert would not be displayed.

A Jobcentre Plus worker claimed that the word 'reliable' meant they could be sued for discriminating against unreliable workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Public's Priorities for 2010: Economy, Jobs, Terrorism (Pew Research, 1/25/10)

As Barack Obama begins his second year in office, the public’s priorities for the president and Congress remain much as they were one year ago. Strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the job situation continue to top the list. And, in the wake of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, defending the country from future terrorist attacks also remains a top priority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Obama to meet with House Republicans (Perry Bacon Jr., 1/26/10, Washington Post)

President Obama will meet Friday with perhaps his harshest critics outside of Fox News headquarters: the House Republicans.

The House GOP invited Obama this year to speak at its annual retreat, which will be held in Baltimore from Thursday to Saturday. Coming only two days after Obama's State of the Union address, the session could herald better relations between the two sides in 2010 -- or lift their tensions to an even higher level.

They're natural allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Obama Liquidates Himself (Paul Krugman, 1/16/10, NY Times)

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback? [...]

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Massachusetts Sen.-elect Brown commends Obama for returning focus to economy, job creation (GLEN JOHNSON, 1/26/10, AP)

Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown said Tuesday he is eager to sit down with President Barack Obama to discuss the message in last week's special election in which he upset the Democrats and claimed the seat held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. [...]

"I think it's a microcosm of what's happening nationally, when people are very concerned about work," the senator-elect said of his victory. "We're the best country in the world, and people, they want to work. And right now we're not working. I think it's good he's shifted gears and is going to focus on the economy and jobs."

Brown also commended the president for calling for a three-year freeze in some federal discretionary spending.

"I think it's a good first step, and you need to start with baby steps. I'm hopeful that they'll ultimately do more. But anytime you can look at spending, I think that's one of the basic problems," he said.

Not only should the GOP welcome the UR's moves back to the Center but should play them up as much as possible. Either he has to acknowledge what he's doing, which legitimizes the GOP case against his first year and infuriates the Left, or he denies he's doing it and makes himself seem immoderate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:40 PM


An Auschwitz Survivor and Her New Rap Band: Esther Bejarano, one of the last surviving members of the Auschwitz women's orchestra, has made music her whole life. Now, she has joined forces with a hip hop band to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. (Charles Hawley, 1/26/10, Der Spiegel)

"It is certainly a bit different from what we normally do," the diminuitive, 85-year-old Bejarano told SPIEGEL ONLINE, referring to her group Coincidence, which includes her daughter Edna and son Joram and normally plays Jewish and anti-fascist songs. "But I know this hip hop stuff is popular among the youth. I thought if we worked together, then young people could learn more about what happened back then."

The album, called Per la Vita, includes a number of resistance standbys such as Desateur and Avanti Popolo. But it has been remixed to include rhymes created by Kutlu Yurtseven and Rossi Pennino of Microphone Mafia, a hip hop duo that has been around since releasing their debut album in 1994.

And it has achieved modest success, with a single from the CD currently number two on a chart designed to promote German-language pop music. The band is now on tour through Germany with several dates scheduled in February including one in Berlin on the 27th.

Mostly, though, the album has drawn exactly the kind of attention the artists were hoping for. The project originated as an answer to a neo-Nazi effort in 2004-2006 to distribute right-wing music on school grounds across Germany. The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) called the Microphone Mafia in 2007 to ask if they would be willing to come up with a CD of their own -- rap versions of Jewish songs for teachers to give to their students.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Fla. manatees die in record numbers from cold (AP< 1/26/10)

More than 100 manatees have been found dead in Florida waters since the beginning of the year, mostly victims of a nearly two-week cold snap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


My name is Ellie Light, and Gannett Wisconsin Media has officially apologized to Fox News for publishing my letter. Michele Malkin's website, based in Washington DC, had objected to my letter's publication in Wisconsin media, because it wasn't written by a Wisconsin resident.

Here is the letter I wrote that Gannett felt so ashamed for running:

"A year ago, if we had read in the paper that employers were hiring again,
that health care legislation was proceeding without a bump, that
Afghanistan suddenly became a nice place to take your kids, we would've
known we were being lied to. Back then, we recognized that the problems
Obama inherited as President wouldn't go away overnight.

During his campaign, Obama clearly said that an economy that took eight
years to break couldn't be fixed in a year, that Afghanistan was a
graveyard of empires, and would not be an easy venture for us. Candidate
Obama didn't feed us happy-talk, which is why we elected him. He never
said America could solve our health care, economic and security problems
without raising the deficit. Instead, he talked of hard choices, of
government taking painful and contentious first steps towards fixing
problems that can't be left for another day.

Right after Obama's election, we seemed to grasp this. We understood that
companies would be happy to squeeze more work out of frightened employees,
and would be slow to hire more. We understood that the banks that had
extorted us out of billions of dollars, were lying when they said they
would share their recovery. We understood that a national consensus on
health care would not come easily. Candidate Obama never claimed that his
proposed solutions would work flawlessly right out of the box, and we
respected him for that.

But today, the President is being attacked as if he were a salesman who
promised us that our problems would wash off in the morning. He never made
such a promise. It's time for Americans to realize that governing is hard
work, and that a President can't just wave a magic wand and fix

As you can guess, it wasn't the letter's origin that got under the big
Fox's skin. I'd say it was the content. What do you think? Anyway, feel
free to publish or post it as you see fit. If further verification is
required, feel free to call me at 562 *** ****. If you Google "Ellie Light," you'll be told all kinds of things about me. Or, you could just call.


Ellie Light
562 *** ****

Moreover, Ms Light still seems to be somewhat truth challenged, since the apology was to their own readers, not to Fox, To our readers: About that letter from Ellie Light (Green Bay Press Gazette, January 26, 2010)

A woman who identified herself as Ellie Light recently duped dozens of newspapers around the country, including some here in Wisconsin, into printing her letter praising President Barack Obama as if she were a local resident.

The letter appeared in three Gannett Wisconsin Media newspapers, including the Door County Advocate. As a result, it also appeared on the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Web site.

Since the Cleveland Plain Dealer broke the story Friday, Light’s bogus letter has been found in more than 60 papers and counting.

The editors of the GWM papers exercised diligence to one degree or another, in most cases calling the phone number provided by the writer to confirm she was the author. However, she responded with false information and a series of different hometowns.

Because the Press-Gazette’s search engine is linked to the other Gannett Wisconsin Media newspaper Web sites, when it calls up content that appeared in other GWM papers, our logo appears on the top of the page.

Therefore, a search for “Ellie Light” would have provided links to the letter under our banner, even though the Press-Gazette did not print it and our editors did not post it directly to our Web site.

People intent on duping us are using more sophisticated methods all of the time. We catch many mass-mailed form letters, but this person managed to get past editors with a simple misstatement of fact.

Like many newspapers, the Press-Gazette already requires writers to provide a street address and phone number (not for publication) for verification purposes.

We still believe in the inherent honesty of many letter writers, but this case will find us reviewing the incident to determine whether additional safeguards are necessary.

We apologize that this letter appeared on our Web site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


The Next Martha Coakley?: The shocking GOP upset in Massachusetts has put Democrats on notice: Lackluster candidates are vulnerable, even in the bluest states. Steve Kornacki on Kirsten Gillibrand’s weaknesses. (Steve Kornacki, 1/26/10, Daily Beast)

Ford, a far more natural and nimble politician than Gillibrand, has delighted in portraying the incumbent as a hothouse flower who owes her survival to the intercession of party bosses. His Blue Dog track record, coziness with Wall Street, and tone-deaf boasts of a pampered Manhattan lifestyle all do serious violence to his plausibility. But Ford’s taken a leave of absence from his day job, and has begun blasting Gillibrand in a series of op-eds—a drumbeat of criticism that can only weaken her position, even if it doesn’t help elect Ford.

Gillibrand’s assumption (and the assumption of Democrats in New York and Washington) has long been that if she could secure the Democratic nomination, she’d coast in the general election. That’s what Democrats do in blue states like New York.

The one potential catch would have been if either of the state’s two big-name Republicans, Rudy Giuliani or George Pataki, got into the race. (Giuliani put an end to his latest empty threat to run for office last month and Pataki hasn’t lifted a finger—even as polls showed them both topping Gillibrand.) Against a no-name Republican, though, Gillibrand would be fine.

But this was Coakley’s thinking, too. [...]

If Brown, an unknown quantity to Massachusetts voters until days before the election, could engineer a win in the Bay State, then it means the GOP doesn’t need a Giuliani or Pataki to knock her off. They just need a Scott Brown.

This is especially evident in light of Gillibrand’s chief deficiency as a candidate: dreadful communication skills. She talks, often for far too long, almost exclusively in political clichés. There is no blood in her veins, at least not in public. This would have been fine in a year like 2008, when the playing field was so slanted in the Democrats’ favor. But not in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


The Audacity of Oops: The White House Daily Beast columnist Christopher Buckley procured an early draft of President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech. (Christopher Buckley, 1/26/10, Daily Beast)

A year ago, I inspired the nation to have the audacity to hope that I would change the political culture in Washington. Now, a year later, it turns out I’m another hack politician—from Chicago, where, believe you me, we know a thing or two about hack politics.

I was going to set a new standard. Now I’m just a complicit bystander as Harry bribes, among others, a senator from Nebraska who wants his state to get a free pass on Medicare—in return for his vote on a health-care reform bill that would make the Founders weep, or throw up. Or both.

What a difference a year makes. But I’m pleased to report that before I came up here tonight, I was able to sign a contract with my publisher for a new book. I’m going to call it The Audacity of Oops.

...oughtn't he write one for himself? After all, he was one of the dupes who bought into the hopey-changey shtick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Obama’s Credibility Gap (BOB HERBERT, 1/26/10, NY Times)

Who is Barack Obama?

He's the same absence he's always been.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Pentagon Asks Senate Panel to Wait on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 1/25/10, NY Times)

The Obama administration has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to delay hearings on the fate of the military’s controversial “con’t ask, don’t tell” policy, because the president expects to discuss it in Wednesday’s address to Congress, the committee chairman said today.

Gay rights advocates have been prodding Mr. Obama to live up to his pledge, and have been eagerly awaiting the Armed Services hearings.

“Somebody representing the Pentagon said that the White House, that the president was expected, they thought, to state that policy at the State of the Union; and they thought it made more sense for him to state the policy than for us to have a hearing right before,’’ Mr. Levin said, according to a transcript of the conversation provided by his office.

...they mean the two years that nearly destroyed his presidency, not the 6 year recovery when he shifted back to where he'd run?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Chief of Staff Draws Fire From Left as Obama Falters (PETER WALLSTEN, 1/26/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's liberal backers have a long list of grievances. The Guantanamo Bay prison is still open. Health care hasn't been transformed. And Wall Street banks are still paying huge bonuses.

But they are directing their anger less at Mr. Obama than at the man who works down the hall from him. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, they say, is the prime obstacle to the changes they thought Mr. Obama's election would bring.

Similarly, the Right always thought Ronald Reagan was only being a pragmatist because of his staff. They just knew that in his heart he was one of them....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


More people claiming to be Conservatives (Evening Standard, 26.01.10)

For the first time in 20 years, more people now identify themselves as Conservative rather than Labour supporters, a study today revealed.

In a pre-election boost for the Tories, the British Social Attitudes report said 32% of Britons now saw themselves as Conservative supporters compared with 27% for Labour.

This is the first general switch in allegiance since 1989, the report stated.

The study also revealed a general political lurch to the right with attitudes hardening towards attempts to reduce inequality.

...means that people radically misunderstood the Obama win, coming, as it did, at a time when Canada, New Zealand and Israel had all just moved right, Britain was preparing to, and Australia had elected its own Clinton/Blair. Rather than signaling an American shift to the Left--which would have made it more liberal than the rest of the English-Speaking world for the first time ever--it represented the success of the Obama campaign in presenting the candidate as a conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Where’s the Movement? (George Lakoff, January 26, 2010, In These Times)

All political leaders argue that they are doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, that their policies are moral, not evil.

Conservatives understand this, liberals tend not to. Conservatives know a morality tale when they see it: Greedy Wall Street bankers, who have cost people their homes, their jobs and their savings, get billion-dollar bailouts from the government, while those honest, hard-working people get nothing. Corruption. Oppression. A threat to freedom.

The conservatives are winning the framing wars again - by sticking to moral principles as conservatives see them, and communicating their view of morality effectively. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama ran a campaign based on his moral principles and communicated those principles as effectively as any candidate ever has.

But the Obama administration made a 180-degree turn, trading Obama's 2008 moral principles for the deal making of Rahm Emanuel and Tim Geithner, assuming it would be "pragmatic" to court corporations and move to the right, in the false hope of bipartisan support. A clear unified moral vision was replaced by long laundry lists of policy options that the public could not understand, and that made ordinary folks feel they were being bamboozled. And in many cases, they were.

Even the language was a disaster. Liberals thought that conservatives would like consumer choice. That's why they used "public option." As Harry Reid said, "It's public and it's an option - a public option." But what did a conservative hear in the words "public option?" Say "public" and he hears "government." "Option" is a policy-wonk term, from the language of bureaucracy. Say "public option" and the conservative hears "government bureaucracy."

The results of deal making in the name of pragmatism have been considerably immoral, as documented thoroughly by progressives like Drew Westen, Matt Taibbi, Robert Kuttner, and many others. Advice on what to do instead has not been lacking from other progressives. Advice is all over the blogs. Guy Saperstein is an excellent example.

We progressives are long on factual analysis, critique, suggestion - and ridicule. Rachel Maddow is one of the best, and her popularity is well-deserved. What's more fun than ridiculing Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the like, by showing the factual errors, the flaws in their logic and the cruelty of their positions?

But we have been dealt a triple blow. A year of failed deal making by our side, the Tea Party win in Massachusetts, and worst of all, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision to turn our democracy into a corporate plutocracy. This is serious.

Democrats still have the presidency and a majority in the House and Senate, but the momentum is on the conservative side. Their victories in the framing wars have inevitably led to a crucial electoral victory and to a Supreme Court death threat to democracy itself, framed as free speech.

Democrats have electoral power, but progressives have not created an effective movement to take advantage of that power.

...that health care should be universally accessible and affordable. The problem being, they were really only interested in the government takeover part of the deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


China’s Family Planning Goes Awry (Nicholas Eberstadt, December 4, 2009, Far Eastern Economic Review)

By the lights of planners in Beijing, this program has been a glorious success. On the eve of the One Child Policy in 1978, China's total fertility rate (TFR) was on the order of three births per woman per lifetime; well above the replacement level of 2.1. There is some uncertainty about China's fertility levels today—not least because of the incentives to conceal births—but there is no doubt that childbearing nationwide is now far below the replacement level, and has been for around two decades. Both the United Nations and the U.S. Census Bureau estimate China's current tfr at about 1.7 to 1.8; some put it at 1.6 or even lower. In China's largest metropolitan areas, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, women today may be averaging less than one birth per lifetime. [...]

Over the 1980-2005 generation, China's working-age population—defined here as the 15- to 64-year-old group—grew by about 2% per annum. Yet over the coming generation, China's prospective manpower growth rate is zero. By the "medium variant" projections of the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the 15- to 64-year-old group will be roughly 25 million persons smaller in 2035 than it is today, and by 2035 it would be dropping at a tempo of about 0.7% per year. In fact, by the U.S. Census Bureau's reckonings, China's conventionally defined manpower will peak by 2016 and will thereafter commence an accelerating decline. Though these forecasts concern events far in the future, they are more than mere conjecture; virtually everyone who will be part of China's 15- to 64-year-old-group in the year 2024 is alive today. If current childbearing trajectories continue, by the UNPD's reckoning, each new generation will be at least 20% smaller than the one before it.

These numbers alone would augur ill for the continuation of rapid economic growth in China, but the situation is even more unfavorable when one considers the shifts in the composition of China's working-age population.

Their money flows here because we're a good investment and they aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Tebow's pro-life ad set for Super Bowl: QB, mom to share 'inspiring' story (Casey Curlin, 1/26/10, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

The 30-second ad's theme is "Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life" and a Focus on the Family press release said the Tebows agreed to the ad because "the issue of life is one they feel strongly about." As a result, the ad is widely expected to focus on Mrs. Tebow's pregnancy with Tim, when she was encouraged by doctors to abort him.

Still, Focus on the Family is keeping the specific content of the ad under wraps until its Feb. 7 debut, in an effort to build anticipation.

"The Tebows, they have a lot of really inspiring stories. And [Mrs. Tebow] and Tim are going to share one of those stories on February the 7th," said Gary Schneeberger, Focus on the Family spokesman.

Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, said in a statement, "Tim and Pam share our respect for life and our passion for helping families thrive."

...but only the 90 million in America will get the message of Life. And they wonder why we're so different?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Senate likely to reject idea of deficit task force (ANDREW TAYLOR, 1/26/10, Associated Press)

The Senate is likely to reject a White House-backed plan to establish a bipartisan task force to recommend steps to curb the deficit, even as lawmakers digest the news that President Barack Obama wants a three-year freeze in the domestic budgets they control.

January 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


“The Big Difference” Between 2010 and 1994 “Is Me,” President Obama Says, Per Congressman (Jake Tapper and Yunji de Nies, 1/25/10, ABC News: Political Punch)

Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., fears that these midterm elections are going to go the way of the 1994 midterms, when Democrats lost control of the House after a failed health care reform effort.

But, Berry told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the White House does not share his concerns.

“They just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.”

Asked today by ABC News’ Yunji de Nies if the president said that, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pleaded ignorance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


America The Ungovernable (Michael Cohen, 1/25/10, Newsweek)

[A]nother, more disturbing, conclusion can be drawn from the Democrats' sudden reversal of fortune in Massachusetts—a mere year after Obama's historic victory. Is America simply ungovernable? Are the impediments to governance so great—obstructionist Republicans, spineless Democrats, and an increasingly incoherent electorate—that no one can run the country effectively?

We of a certain age recall with some hilarity that when Jimmy Carter was president it was similarly claimed that the fault for his ineptitude lay in the structure of government. A day of the Reagan presidency ended that silliness.

Fun to see them trot the hobby horse out again one presidency after George W. Bush had the most successful first year in modern presidential history despite losing control of the Senate to the Democrats. Somehow the ideologue/idiot managed to work with Ted Kennedy and pass NCLB--his signature bill.

You revive a meme from the carter years not because it is any truer now but because the occupant of the Oval is Carteresque.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


Why I can't stop lovin' country music: You don't have to be a big country and western fan before you visit Nashville. A weekend there will turn you into one (Viv Groskop, 1/24/10, The Observer)

The morning after the Bluebird, once we had gorged ourselves on Wild Bill's Cajun doughnuts, we headed with some trepidation to the city's must-see spot: the Country Music Hall of Fame. From the outside, the building looks vast but ordinary. Then you realise the windows have been designed to resemble the keys of a piano. From above the edifice is shaped like a bass clef and the front wall's slanted end is meant to be a late-50s Cadillac tail fin. It takes up a whole block. It's hardcore and insane. Step through the doors and hundreds of forgotten songs ring in your ears: Brenda Lee having big fun on the bayou, Reba McEntire belting out Mama's warnings to Fancy.

Here are state-of-the-art technology and lots of imaginative temporary exhibitions. There are audio booths everywhere. Vibrant archive video footage plays non-stop. The highlight of our visit? Elvis Presley's 1960 Cadillac 75 Limousine painted with crushed diamonds and fish scales, featuring a gold TV and a gold telephone. Maybe I loved this place because it caters well for non-fans. Or maybe it just turns you into a fan whether you want to be one or not.

By now completely brainwashed and on the verge of frenzied cowboy hat purchases, we headed to the east side of town to the Grand Ole Opry. The crowd outside was buzzing: fringing, rhinestones and false eyelashes galore. Every Saturday a live radio broadcast from this huge concert hall features old-style radio microphones and advertisements read by an on-stage announcer. ("And we'll be right back after this break.") It's wholesome family entertainment, with babies and grandparents in the audience, teens and veterans on stage.

Lyrical highlights included "I miss having your biscuits in my gravy pan", sung by an elegant old-timer with a rigid blue rinse. There was banter, there was glitter, there were sequinned chaps. There were many exhortations by the show's sponsors to support American troops serving in Eye-rack. It was exhausting, fascinating and strangely life-affirming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


...from a video with Hayek and bust in the title...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Our Vanishing Ultimate Resource (Steven Malanga, 01.25.10, Forbes)

News of a population bust might come as a surprise to many Americans. More than two centuries after English scholar Thomas Malthus argued that population growth exceeded the earth's ability to feed us--"The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man," he wrote--the media continue to warn us about impending environmental catastrophe and mass starvation caused by an exploding human population. These Malthusian alarms persist even though the last 200 years have proved Malthus completely wrong. As the world's population shot up, starting around the time of the Industrial Revolution, worldwide standards of living rose in tandem. People proved far more resourceful in expanding food production, tapping new veins of natural resources and inventing technologies to accommodate a growing population than Malthus dreamed possible. When mass deprivation has occurred in modern times, it has invariably resulted from political tyranny and social chaos, not from an inability to derive enough resources from the earth.

Even as modern societies became more productive, something else happened that contemporary Malthusians have ignored: fertility rates began declining. In England the number fell from an average of nearly six children per woman in 1775 to 3.35 in 1875 to 1.96 today. In Germany the rate slumped from more than five children per woman in 1850 (earlier data aren't available) to 1.4 today; in Italy, from nearly five children in 1850 to 1.3 today.

The trend long went unnoticed because rising life expectancy kept populations expanding. But by the 1960s and 1970s more and more countries started seeing their birthrates sink beneath replacement levels. Today women in more than 60 countries, ranging from Austria, Canada and Poland to Japan, Singapore and South Korea, don't bear enough children to keep the population growing. In a handful of countries women average just one child over a lifetime, less than half the replacement rate. The fertility drop in many less developed countries hasn't dipped below replacement levels yet, but it's heading there fast. Over the last few decades Mexico's rate went from nearly seven children per woman to 2.3; Egypt's, from just under seven to 2.72; and India's, from nearly six to about 2.7.

What's behind the dwindling births? The chief factor is urbanization. Starting in the Industrial Revolution households began migrating from rural areas, where Johnny and Sally could work on the family farm to help make ends meet, to cities, where the modern economy made kids a financial burden, requiring them to spend more and more years in school to become employable. Nowadays it costs between $170,000 and $300,000 to raise a child through high school in the U.S. or Europe. And as urbanization has proceeded rapidly in many less developed countries--some 50% of the world's population now live in cities--fertility rates are collapsing everywhere. Also putting downward pressure on fertility rates is women's desire to work, which has delayed childbearing and thus narrowed their "fertility window." [...]

Demographers are scrambling to adjust their population projections, with little notice in the press. In the early 1990s United Nations researchers projected that the world's population would reach a maximum of 10 to 12 billion people (up from about 6.7 billion today). They subsequently scaled back that projection to 9.5 billion and then to about 9.1--adding, however, that it might be as low as 7.9. But the truth is that no one knows how this massive reversal will end. The U.N. demographers optimistically claim that the world's fertility rate, currently at 2.6 children per woman, will decline to replacement level and then stabilize. But there's no clear reason for that to happen; dozens of countries have seen their rates sink far lower. In his book Fewer Ben Wattenberg estimates that if the rate were to stop at 1.85 births per woman, the world's population could shrink to 2.3 billion by the year 2300. [...]

Since economic growth depends strongly on an expanding population--something poorly understood until recently--aging countries' economies face serious problems. As late as the 1960s Malthus-influenced neoclassical economists believed that population growth reduced a society's standard of living by dividing up the same "pie" into smaller and smaller slices. Economists have gradually come to understand, however, that in industrialized countries, population growth spurs productivity growth. This is partly because economies of scale and specialization of labor boost output per worker. Studies have found that an industrialized country whose population doubles can expect per-worker output to increase by 20%. Fertility decline may initially boost economic performance in less developed countries because having fewer children frees up resources but over time the effects of a shrinking population will prevail everywhere.

Further, economists have recognized that what's essential to wealth creation is human creativity, not natural resources. Famously disputing the neo-Malthusian warnings of Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1968 best-seller The Population Bomb, economist Julian Simon called people the "ultimate resource." Human beings, he observed, discovered how to convert oil, coal and uranium, which had sat worthless in the earth for eons, into energy. "The most important economic effect of population size is the contribution of additional people to our stock of useful knowledge," Simon noted. A growing population streams young workers into the labor market, and they are usually the most daring, entrepreneurial and even knowledgeable and inventive (successive generations of workers in industrial countries have typically been more educated than their predecessors). "Those who fear overpopulation share a simple insight: People use resources," Harvard economist Greg Mankiw wrote in 1998, summing up the argument. "The rebuttal to this argument is equally simple: People create resources."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


Listing Calories on Fast-Food Menus Cuts Kids' Intake (Steven Reinberg, 1/25/10, HealthDay News)

When nutritional information is available on fast-food restaurant menus, parents are more apt to pick lower-calorie foods for their kids, new research finds.

Often spurred on by legislation, many U.S. restaurant chains are now posting nutrition information about their menu items. But whether this information would translate to healthier eating was unclear.

The new study, conducted with McDonald's menus, suggests that it does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


The NS Interview: Malalai Joya (Mehdi Hasan, 25 January 2010, New Statesman)

What about Barack Obama?

Obama is a warmonger, no different from Bush. He came to power with corporate backers. They want him to continue the US's militarism and he obeys.

The Humanitarian Myth (Richard Seymour, 25 January, 2010, Socialistworker.org)
In effect, the U.S. has staged an invasion of Haiti, under the pretext of providing security for humanitarian aid, and in doing so has prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid. With Haitians in a desperate condition, and the UN-supervised government in dire straits, Washington has sent the International Monetary Fund to offer a $100 million loan, on the proviso that public wages be frozen.

The "security" operation, meanwhile, proceeds apace. As well as U.S. troops, thousands more UN police have been sent to Haiti. Already, UN troops, alongside the Haitian police, have been responsible for several killings, as they have opened fire on starving earthquake survivors who dared to try to retrieve the means of survival from shops and other locations. The US has also insisted that the Haitian government pass an emergency decree authorizing curfews and martial law. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the decree "would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us."

This process has been facilitated by a flood of alarmist and often racist reporting about "mobs," "looters" and "gangs" causing a "security crisis." A "security crisis" validates a repressive response.

The Haitian police have justified their brutal massacres of "looters"--those securing their right to life in desperate circumstances--by telling the media that thousands of prisoners have escaped from the country's jails, and are running amok, posing a threat to vulnerable citizens. Police have been attempting to whip up fear among earthquake survivors, organising them into vigilantes to attack the escaped prisoners. However, as many as 80 percent of Haiti's prisoners have never been charged with a crime. "Gangs"--in the vernacular of Washington, the White House press corps and Haiti's business lobby, the Group of 184--happens to be a synonym for Lavalas activists.

What ever happened to all those solemn assurances that the world would love us if only we elected the UR?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Another Poll Has Reid Losing Badly (Reid Wilson, 1/25/10, Hotline)

More than half of NV voters have an unfavorable impression of Senate Maj. Leader Harry Reid, making his bid for a 5th term look decidedly uphill, according to a new survey.

The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the liberal DailyKos website, surveyed 600 LVs between Jan. 18-20 for a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Iraq’s ‘Chemical Ali’ infamous for 1988 gas attack (BRIAN MURPHY, 01/25/10, AP)

Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was hanged Monday, ordered the infamous poison gas attack on the northern Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988 that killed 5,000 people and earned him the chilling moniker “Chemical Ali.”

Al-Majid was executed a week after he received his fourth death sentence, the final one for the Halabja attack. He bore a striking resemblance to Saddam and was one of the most brutal members of the dictator’s inner circle.

The general led sweeping military campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s that claimed tens of thousands of lives — wiping out entire villages in attacks against rebellious Kurds and cracking down on Shiites in southern Iraq.

And the Left thinks he should still be governing Iraq. It's a curious thing, this Progressivism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Beau Biden, Vice President's son, will not seek Delaware Senate seat (The Associated Press, January 25th 2010)

Delaware attorney general Beau Biden announced Monday that he will not seek election to the U.S. Senate seat once held by his father, Vice President Joe Biden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Mandate to moderate (George F. Will, 1/25/10, The National Post)

He now has no choice but to moderate his aggravating agenda of breaking more and more sectors of society to the saddle of the state. For example, surely only Democrats tugged by the romance of political suicide will want him to try — he will fail — to burden the struggling economy with cap-and-trade legislation.

This complex and costly carbon-rationing plan supposedly would combat the elusive menace of global warming. Serendipitously, on Tuesday, as Massachusetts voters were telling Obama to pause regarding health care reform, The Wall Street Journal was reporting: “An influential United Nations panel is facing growing criticism about its practices after acknowledging doubts about a 2007 statement that Himalayan glaciers were retreating faster than those anywhere else and would entirely disappear by 2035, if not sooner.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — co-winner with Al Gore of another absurd Nobel Peace Prize — issued the questionable 2007 report that was based on a 2005 report from an environmental advocacy group that relied on a 1999 article quoting an Indian scientist who actually did not mention 2035. Another day, another dollop of evidence of the seepage of dubious science into policy debate, and another reason to proceed cautiously.

A second strand of the silver lining on Obama’s Tuesday defeat: Pruning his agenda will reduce the pandemic uncertainty — about the future rules and costs (health care, energy, taxes) of doing business — that is paralyzing American businesses.

...the chance to see what America would be like if you stop trying to run it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


At SEC, a Scholar Who Saw It Coming (KARA SCANNELL, 1/25/10, WSJ)

To help with the task, Mr. Hu brought in another well-known critic of financial innovation, Richard Bookstaber. The former risk manager for large hedge funds is focusing on how to better train SEC staff and marshal the data the agency collects.

Mr. Bookstaber, whose 2007 book warned of a looming financial crisis, told Congress that derivatives are "vehicles for gambling," and he has urged a "flight to simplicity" in financial products. [...]

The Taipei-born 53-year-old studied biochemistry at Yale, worked as a deal lawyer, and then spent 20 years at the University of Texas in Austin, delving into the hard-to-understand products that define modern finance. He acts more like an enthusiastic professor than a jaded Washington bureaucrat, waving his arms and emphasizing points with "boy" and "wouldn't that be neat."

In his 1993 article "Misunderstood Derivatives: The Causes of Informational Failure and the Promise of Regulatory Incrementalism," Mr. Hu described how financial innovation could lead Wall Street astray. When financiers dream up new products, he wrote, they have an incentive to downplay the risks and use them to generate short-term profits—as well as big bonuses.

In particular, he warned about what he called low-probability catastrophic events. That was a premonition of AIG's near-collapse in 2008, triggered partly by the firm's use of certain types of derivatives that were tied to mortgages. Financial institutions such as AIG hadn't predicted credit and liquidity for the products would dry up so fast.

"He's been a Cassandra," said federal judge Patrick Higginbotham in Dallas, a former boss.

Mr. Hu and a colleague have written about a scenario in which a bank lends money to a company but uses derivatives to eliminate any exposure if the company goes bankrupt. Mr. Hu calls the bank in such a case an "empty creditor," and says it is dangerous because it undermines a basic assumption in financial markets: that creditors act in the interests of the debtor's survival.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion article in April 2009—which Ms. Schapiro says prompted the job offer from the SEC—Mr. Hu suggested Goldman Sachs Group Inc. used a kind of derivative called a credit default swap to turn itself into an empty creditor of AIG. He wrote that this may have encouraged Goldman to push for extra collateral from AIG, even when that threatened AIG's existence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Democrats' Bush-bashing strategy goes bust (JONATHAN MARTIN, 1/25/10, Politico)

[W]hen Democratic nominees for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and for Senate in Massachusetts sought to tie their GOP opponents to the still-unpopular former president, the strategy didn’t resonate. Voters were more focused on the current administration or local political issues — and the onetime Democratic magic formula seemed yesterday’s news.

“Voters are pretty tired of the blame game,” said longtime Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand, a top aide on Obama’s presidential campaign. “What a stupid strategy that was.”

Howard Wolfson, a senior official on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and veteran Democratic communications guru, noted that his party was able to run against Republican Herbert Hoover’s Depression-era presidency for 30 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Theory of Change at Year One: What was Obama selling? What did we expect when he took office? And how have those expectations worked out in practice? (Mark Schmitt and Rick Perlstein, January 25, 2010, American Prospect)


What attracted me to your essays, in fact, was how they mooted the question of what we imagined Barack Obama to be and instead gave us a vocabulary to more clearly see what Barack Obama actually does, as a way to project what he might do -- specifically, how he might succeed. And I agree with your retrospective re-evaluation: The essays yielded great description but not-so-great prediction. I think I have some insights as to why.

Every president has a honeymoon. But Obama's really did seem qualitatively more intense than any other new presidency perhaps since Lyndon Johnson inherited the mantle from the martyred Kennedy. I began to think of the possibility of an Obama era, one as (to coin a phrase!) "game changing" as the Reagan era or the Roosevelt era. I conceptualized it in terms of fluid dynamics, a tipping-point strategy. Gently, by degrees, the median voter would see Obama's positions, rooted in traditional Democratic themes of economic solidarity, as the normal, consensual position (just like voters did before Reagan) and that voters would come to see Reagan's children as alien, jarring, and strange.

Conservatives eagerly played to type -- GOP congressional leaders called in Joe the Plumber for strategy sessions, and Newsmax.com started advertising a 2009 "Hot Sarah Calendar." On my blog I labeled what Republicans had been reduced to as "Palinporn": "material to help lonely conservatives retreat within their own cocoon of fantasy rather than participate in the actual conversations taking place to govern the country." It was a very "Obama theory of change" insight: Obama could simply get on with governing. Republicans would conversely build ever more elaborate halls of mirrors that made it increasingly impossible for them to speak to America. In fact, around that time, I was exhilarated by the thought of Rush Limbaugh's ratings exploding through the roof, from 20 million to 30 million listeners -- 30 million Americans able only to speak to each other, sounding to the rest of the country like practitioners of esoteric Masonic rites.

Some Republican politicians, craving power, chasing the median voter, might feel they had no choice to defect, from the party of the strange -- the GOP -- to the party of the normal -- the Democrats. That, or surrender their relevance to the governing project, and join the nuts parsing Barack's mom's dissertation for "facts that could be useful in upcoming Supreme Court cases."

Even before Arlen Specter switched parties I became intrigued by the story of a Republican assemblyman in Tennessee named Kent Williams. Republicans had been preparing to assume control of the Tennessee House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years when Williams made a deal to become a Democrat in exchange for Democrats' votes to make him speaker. I read between the lines, presuming him a shrewd operator who had decided that smart money was in the Obamaite center. Then came Specter; I felt like a stampede might be beginning.

Foolish Perlstein. Turns out Tennessee was just a banal power-grabbing double cross, with little or nothing ideological to it at all. Specter was just a one-off.

Must be tough for a guy who writes about how ideology blinds people to reality to confess that it happens to him too. At least in this instance he recognizes it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Squeeze Play (Reihan Salam, 01.25.10, Forbes)

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has suggested, Republicans would be wise to join forces with Democrats on an incremental bill. Many Democrats object that serious insurance market reforms, like guaranteed issue and community rating, requires an individual mandate, and they may well be right. But what they fail to acknowledge is that neither the House nor the Senate bill included an individual mandate strong enough to prevent young, healthy individuals from simply paying a modest fine and purchasing insurance when they become ill enough to need it. It is by no means clear that the weak mandate in both bills would have prevented a so-called "insurance death spiral" in which insurers are forced to cover a sick, expensive population while the healthy are left to free-ride.

If Republicans do cooperate with the Democrats on new health legislation, they can press for investments in state high-risk pools or reinsurance programs for the individual and small-group markets that could greatly expand access to coverage without tough-to-enforce regulations. By building on COBRA, they could also help make insurance coverage more portable as workers shift from one employer to another, or as they start their own businesses. While the president condemns Republicans as obstructionists, the party could earnestly work towards effective bipartisan reform.

And as the White House shifts its attention to financial reform, Republicans should embrace the core ideas advanced by presidential adviser Paul Volcker. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, known for its staunch advocacy of free markets, has offered a qualified endorsement of the Volcker plan, which essentially calls for withdrawing taxpayer guarantees from firms that engage in the riskiest financial transactions.

Though there are many questions that remain unanswered, this represents an excellent opportunity for Republicans to remind the voting public--and to remind themselves--that a pro-market stance is not the same as a pro-business stance, and that the taxpayer-funded bailouts of large financial firms reflected a dangerous concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a self-interested financial elite.

The Contract with America served not only to unify the GOP's message but to give them the sort of legislative agenda that W had in 2001 and that the UR conspicuously lacked this past year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Tiger's Thanksgiving Mystery — Solved: From pills to Elin impersonating her husband on a text, two inside sources provide Gerald Posner a full account of what happened the night Tiger crashed his SUV—and triggered a scandal. (Gerald Posner, 1/25/10, Daily Beast)

Two sources who know Tiger’s wife, Elin Nordegren, and have discussed various details of the story with her, have corroborated a minute-by-minute account that answers the majority of the questions surrounding what might be the most expensive car crash in history.

Among their revelations:

* Just before Tiger’s affair with Rachel Uchitel was reported in the National Enquirer, he put Uchitel on the phone with his wife for a half-hour, so she could convince Elin the relationship was platonic.

* Elin confirmed her lingering suspicions about Tiger’s affair with Uchitel by impersonating her husband in text messages with Uchitel, prompting the rage that led to Woods fleeing his house.

* Tiger had taken the sedative Ambien that night, and was in a stupor when Elin woke him following her sting operation on Uchitel.

* After his wife’s wakeup, Tiger sent Uchitel a panicky text warning her that Elin had discovered the affair and implying that divorce was imminent. Elin quickly found this text as well, which precipitated her chasing him out of the house with a golf club.

* Tiger did not immediately return home when he was released from the hospital, likely explaining why Elin did not accede to much-publicized requests from visiting police officers to chat with Woods.

Both sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, because Elin Nordegren did not give them permission to discuss her conversations with them.

There has to be a marketing deal for Ms Nordegren in a line of clubs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


China’s Cassandra prophecy: The Government’s 2020 vision has been blind-sided by a think tank's report on its population policy disaster (Constance Kong, 25 January 2010, MercatorNet)

The main concern raised by the CASS report is that 24 million men condemned to a life alone will result in a major strain on the State welfare system. Essentially, without families of their own to care for them as this generation starts ageing, the State will need to step in with sufficient pension funds and aged care facilities for the old bachelors of the latter decades of the 21st Century.

But other problems – such as a rising incidence of prostitution and violent crime - are on the horizon, judging by some current trends.

For example, while the number of baby girls being born has declined, the number of kidnappings and trafficking of young girls has risen. According to the National Population and Family Planning Commission – that’s right, the very organization responsible for the one child family policy -- abductions and trafficking of women and girls has become “rampant”.

Young girls are being kidnapped within China and also from neighboring countries (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand) by organized gangs who sell them to families with boys of a similar age. The girls will be raised by the families and given as brides to their sons as soon as they reach marriageable age. Others are shipped to brothels within China for a life as sex slaves.

Needless to say China’s neighbours are not enamored of the growing practice. Diplomatic tensions have risen over the issue and China has had to establish a special police unit to help its neighbours combat the very crime its policy has created.

Even more bizarre crimes have been reported in this patriarchal society where it is believed that a wife is necessary to tend to her husband even after death. A rising practice in some remote areas of China is to dig up the corpses of single women to sell to families whose sons may have recently perished. Posthumous wedding ceremonies are held to ensure the deceased son does not have to endure the next life alone. With higher prices commanded by fresh corpses of young women the practice has led to murders of young girls by some crime gangs looking to capitalize on distraught parents enduring the loss of a young son.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Speech critics assess Obama's oratory (AP, 1/24/10)

[E]ven admirers have a hard time remembering what he actually says.

Ted Widmer, who edited an anthology of political speeches for the Library of America, praised President Obama for his "masterful" style, but could not cite a specific line the president said. Similar observations were made by Jeff Shesol, David Frum and Harry C. McPherson, who wrote speeches for presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, respectively.

"The speech he made in Cairo — I remember the intelligence, the breadth and the reasonableness," McPherson says. "But I can't tell you — and this is one of the shortcomings of the kind of speech he makes — I can't quote anything, or cite anything, off the top of my head."

C'mon, even his fanboys have to recall this classic: "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother..."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Republicans' allies eye state legislatures as redistricting nears (Chris Cillizza, 1/25/10, Washington Post)

Seeking to capitalize on the excitement among Republican potential donors after Scott Brown's stunning capture of a Senate seat in Massachusetts last week, two independent groups focused on helping the party regain state legislative majorities before next year's nationwide redistricting are significantly ramping up their efforts.

The American Majority Project (AMP) is the new kid on the block, a 527 group -- meaning it is allowed by law to accept unlimited contributions -- formed in recent days with the backing of Republican heavyweights such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and an advisory board that includes former congressman Robin Hayes (N.C.), former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan and GOP superlawyer Ben Ginsberg.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which has been around since 2002 to help aid GOP candidates running for state legislatures and other state offices, is getting something of a makeover -- bringing on former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie as its chairman and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) as its vice chairman.

"Targeting 35 to 40 state legislative races this cycle could translate into 25 to 32 U.S. House seats over the next five cycles," Gillespie said. "It makes a lot of sense to get this right."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Debate grows in aftermath of quake: Should U.S. let more Haitians immigrate? (Amy Goldstein and Peter Whoriskey, 1/25/10, Washington Post)

Now that the earthquake's initial shock is giving way to the realities of trying to cope in the ruins, a growing number of Haitians -- and their relatives in the United States -- are starting to chafe under the Obama administration's edict to resist, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has put it, "an impulse to leave the island and to come here."

The tension between U.S. policy and the desperation to leave is spawning a debate in Washington over whether the government should let more Haitians in. Immigration advocates and several members of Congress have begun pressing the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to ease the rules. So far, the focus is on two groups: Haitians with relatives legally in the United States and a few hundred injured children who, in the judgment of doctors doing relief work in Haiti, could die without sophisticated medical care.

In the first days after the Jan. 12 quake, Napolitano announced that the government would admit Haitian children already on the cusp of adoption and that it would allow Haitians who were in the United States illegally to stay for 18 months. The administration has not eased restrictions for children newly orphaned or injured by the disaster, Haitians who had already been seeking U.S. visas, or any other earthquake victims who want to come.

Late last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Homeland Security officials had told him the agency would grant "humanitarian parole" to about 200 severely injured Haitian children. Even after that, Nelson said, he got a late-night e-mail, with the subject line "HELP," from a Miami neurosurgeon doing relief work, saying the U.S. Embassy in Haiti would not allow three critically burned children to be flown to a Miami burn unit. Nelson also said the State Department had issued a memo saying that a 17-year-old named Samantha, with a broken back and a father in Michigan, "would be ineligible to board an aircraft to the United States."

"Typical bureaucratic crap that needs to be cut through," Nelson said in an interview.

We are too decent a country to ever make them leave and we'll end up taking at least tens of thousands more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Italy condemns Haiti earthquake relief efforts as 'vanity parade': Guido Bertolaso, who led Italy's relief efforts after L'Aquila quake, condemns lack of leadership among foreign aid missions (Peter Walker, 1/25/10, guardian.co.uk)

The Italian government official who led the country's response to the L'Aquila earthquake has condemned relief efforts in Haiti as a disorganised "vanity parade", ahead of an international conference on rebuilding the devastated half-island.

Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection service, said there had been a fundamental lack of leadership thus far in foreign aid missions to Haiti, warning also that the large US military mission in the country was not entirely helpful.

We're never going to organize our governments so that they're ready for such unusual events.

January 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Obama Moves to Centralize Control Over Party Strategy (JEFF ZELENY and PETER BAKER, 1/25/10, NY Times)

President Obama is reconstituting the team that helped him win the White House to counter Republican challenges in the midterm elections and recalibrate after political setbacks that have narrowed his legislative ambitions.

Mr. Obama has asked his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, to oversee House, Senate and governor’s races to stave off a hemorrhage of seats in the fall. The president ordered a review of the Democratic political operation — from the White House to party committees — after last week’s Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, aides said.

In addition to Mr. Plouffe, who will primarily work from the Democratic National Committee in consultation with the White House, several top operatives from the Obama campaign will be dispatched across the country to advise major races as part of the president’s attempt to take greater control over the midterm elections, aides said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Berry Latest To Announce Retirement (Reid Wilson and Tim Sahd, 1/24/10, Hotline)

Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR) will become the latest Dem to forgo running for another term when he announces his retirement tomorrow, Dem sources confirm to Hotline OnCall.

The 7-term Dem has never faced a difficult bid for an additional 2 years, winning more than 60% of the vote in every re-election bid. But he represents a district that could give Dems headaches; the northeast AR seat, based around Jonesboro, gave Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) 59% of the vote in '08.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


G.O.P. Seeks to Widen Field of Play in Fall Elections (ADAM NAGOURNEY and CARL HULSE, 1/25/10, NY Times)

Representative John Boozman, Republican of Arkansas, has overcome initial hesitation, his associates said, and is poised to challenge Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a vulnerable Democrat.

Republicans said they are soliciting high-profile candidates to run in Senate races in Indiana and Wisconsin, states they had been prepared to write off just weeks ago. Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin, is now considering challenging Senator Russ Feingold, the Democrat, aides said. Even in longer-shot states like New York, Republicans said they think the political climate gives them a chance to find a strong Senate candidate, though they have not done so yet.

“If you live in a district with no Republican candidate, run for office,” Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, wrote in a posting on RedState, a conservative blog.

Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Congressional races, said a report he will release Monday will count 58 Democratic House seats in play, up from 47 in December. The number of Republican seats in play has remained steady at 14 over the same period, he said. At the same time, Democrats expect more of their incumbents to retire, which could put additional seats at risk.

...but we get to avoid the freak shows we elected in 1980 and 1994?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Obama to skip jury duty in Chicago suburbs (AP, 1/24/10)

A White House official said Sunday that the president has alerted the court he won't be able to make it.

Obama was summoned for jury duty at the Bridgeview courthouse in suburban Chicago starting Monday.

A wasted opportunity for a White House that badly needs a way to hide the President for a few months. We're all tired of him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Afghans love to get their goat in national sport of buzkashi: The sport, in which players on horseback vie for a headless goat carcass to much crowd enthusiasm, is back in force since the Taliban's overthrow. Some dream of it being in the Olympics. (Tony Perry, 1/03/10, LA Times)

Banned during the Taliban's reign and resuscitated after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the ancient, archaic and only lightly regulated sport is bigger than ever, according to officials who organize weekly games in several locations in the capital and 17 outlying provinces.

Friday is buzkashi day in much of Afghanistan. And so far, at least, the resurgent Taliban hasn't been able to thwart buzkashi -- literally, "goat grabbing."

Haji Abdul Rashid, head of the government-sponsored Buzkashi Federation, has large dreams of leagues, corporate sponsorship, television and even acceptance for the Olympic Games.

"A buzkashi rider must be a real man," he said. "Not just in his body, but in his heart and his mind."

American anthropologist G. Whitney Azoy finds buzkashi a suitable metaphor for Afghan life: brutal, chaotic, a continual fight for control (in this case, of a dead goat).

Afghanistan, Azoy notes in his book "Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan," has been largely bereft of strong institutions that provide security and stability. Instead, leaders are men who can seize control by means foul and fair and then fight off their rivals. The buzkashi rider does the same.

Rashid, a former buzkashi champion, has a slightly different take.

Buzkashi reminds Afghans of their warrior culture, he insists, and the goat symbolizes their vanquished foe. A buzkashi game harks back to the days when warriors would put on a ritual to show their leaders how they had won the most recent battle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


CNN poll: 56 percent oppose stimulus program (CNN, 1/24/10)

A majority of Americans oppose the economic stimulus program, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Sunday say they oppose the stimulus package, with 42 percent supporting it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


White House Decides to Outsource NASA Work (Andy Pazstor, 1/24/10, WSJ)

The White House has decided to begin funding private companies to carry NASA astronauts into space, but the proposal faces major political and budget hurdles, according to people familiar with the matter.

The controversial proposal, expected to be included in the Obama administration's next budget, would open a new chapter in the U.S. space program. The goal is to set up a multiyear, multi-billion-dollar initiative allowing private firms, including some start-ups, to compete to build and operate spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts into orbit—and eventually deeper into the solar system.

Way to rally your base, UR!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


McCain Nudges Obama Toward His Party’s Health Plans (JOSEPH BERGER, 1/24/10, NY Times)

In the wake of a political setback for national health care legislation, Senator John McCain, the losing candidate in the last presidential election, advised his victorious 2008 adversary on Sunday that the way to get meaningful changes passed is to “start from the beginning” by meeting with Republicans.

Mr. McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” that President Obama should sit down with Republican leaders and begin adopting some of their ideas for improving the nation’s health care system such as overhauling medical malpractice lawsuits, allowing residents of one state to buy health insurance from a company in another state, and granting tax credits for people who purchase health insurance on their own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


New poll at odds with gun rhetoric (Frank Luntz and Tom Barrett, Jan. 23, 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The poll, conducted by The Word Doctors, a national research and communications firm, and commissioned by the bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, shows that gun owners in general and NRA members in particular share the belief that commitment to the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with more vigorous law enforcement and common-sense solutions that prevent criminals from getting guns.

For instance, 69% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA gun-owners support closing the "gun show loophole." The loophole allows some vendors at gun shows to sell guns without conducting the federal background checks that all licensed gun dealers perform. Gun shows provide hunters, collectors, sportsmen and gun enthusiasts with a great place to shop - but as the Department of Justice has reported, 30% of guns in illegal gun-trafficking cases are linked to gun shows.

Mayors of small and large cities and police from throughout the country strongly support closing the gun show loophole. Now we know that gun owners - including NRA members - do, too. The only question is: Are their elected representatives listening?

Not to the membership, only to the leadership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


The last abortionist: Warren Hern is no ordinary doctor. He has lived under siege for 25 years, and seen eight of his colleagues assassinated. Even some of his own patients want him dead. John H Richardson meets the last late-term abortionist in America (John H Richardson, 1/24/10, The Observer)

In the kitchen at the clinic, Dr Hern bolts down two microwave tamales. He talks fast and doesn't smile. "It is my view that we are dealing with a fascist movement. It's a terrorist, violent terrorist movement, and they have a fascist ideology…" Dr Hern goes on like that for some time. Long before the first doctor got shot back in 1993, he was warning that it would happen. He was getting hate mail and death threats way back in 1970, just for working in family planning. They started up again in 1973, two weeks after he helped start the first non-profit abortion clinic in Boulder. "I started sleeping with a rifle by my bed. I expected to get shot." In 1985, someone threw a brick through his window during a protest by the quote unquote Pro-Life Action League. He put up a sign that said THIS WINDOW WAS BROKEN BY THOSE WHO HATE FREEDOM. In 1988, somebody fired five bullets through his window. In 1995, the American Coalition of quote unquote Life Activists put out a hit list with his (and Tiller's) name on it. The feds gave them protection for about six months, then left them on their own.

"People don't get it," he says. "After eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 assaults, and four kidnappings, people are still in denial. They say, 'Well, this was just some wingnut guy who just decided to go blow up somebody.' Wrong. This was a cold-blooded, brutal, political assassination that is the logical consequence of 35 years of hate speech and incitement to violence by people from the highest levels of American society, including but in no way limited to George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reagan may not have been a fascist, but he was a tool of the fascists. Bush was most certainly a tool of the fascists." [...]

The patients can be upsetting, too. They're under terrible stress, of course, but sometimes they come in very angry. One had conjoined twins and would have died giving birth, but she exploded when told she couldn't smoke in the office. Some treat him with contempt: usually those who have been directly involved in anti-abortion activities. They hate all abortion except for their special case. One even said they should all be killed. Only 14, she came with her mother. "What brings you here?" Dr Hern asked. "I have to have an abortion." "Why?" "I'm not old enough to have a baby." "But you told the counsellor we should all be killed?" "Yes, you should all be killed." "Why?" "Because you do abortions." "Me too?" "Yes, you should be killed, too." "Do you want me killed before or after I do your abortion?" "Before." [...]

The opponents of legal abortion often use the phrase "abortion on demand", implying there are no restrictions at all. This characterisation is untrue. It has always been illegal in the US to perform abortions after viability without a compelling medical reason. In Kansas, for example, where Dr Tiller practised medicine, the law for any abortion after 22 weeks requires two doctors to agree that failure to abort would put the mother at risk of "substantial and irreversible harm". But Dr Hern's long list of foetal abnormalities that have led women to his clinic ranges from anencephaly to dwarfism, and you know a few dwarfs. You like to think you'd be happy with a dwarf child. [...]

Later, he says, "You can never get used to this. I think we're hardwired, biologically, to protect small, vulnerable creatures, especially babies. The foetuses may not be babies, but some of them are pretty close." He suggests you read an essay called What About Us? Staff Reactions to D&E (Dilation and Evacuation). "The anti-abortion people quote the [***] out of it. It's kind of anti-abortion porn for them. But the pro-choice people don't like it either. They don't like it when you talk about how it really feels to do this work." His voice is somewhere between bitter and proud.

So why did he write it? And what about this theory that man is a cancer? "I wrote it because, A, I'm a human being, and B, I'm a writer, and C and D, I'm a physician and I'm trying to understand what we're doing here."

You read the paper. He describes the reactions members of his staff have when they see residue of late abortions, which include "shock, dismay, amazement, disgust, fear and sadness". The later the pregnancy, the harder it is to accept. One assistant resented the patients for putting them through such a horrible experience. Two others described dreams where they vomited foetuses. Common coping mechanisms were denial, projection and rationalisation. The paper ends with the passage the anti-abortionists love to quote, always out of context; words so honest they are almost as painful to read as they must have been to write: "We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one's eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current. It is the crucible of a raging controversy, the confrontation of a modern existential dilemma. The more we seem to solve the problem, the more intractable it becomes."

Dr Hern is in the basement doing an abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Republicans hit airwaves to push for restarting the health-care process (Alex Pappas, 1/24/10, The Daily Caller)

“I don’t know one Republican who does not want health care reform,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch told John King on CNN’s State of the Union, arguing that Republicans “weren’t even involved in this process.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican’s minority leader, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that last week’s special election in Massachusetts, where Republican Scott Brown was victorious, sent a message that people want legislators to “stop and start over” the health reform process.

Republican Sen. John McCain, on CBS’ Face the Nation, said that Republicans would be willing to start the process again because “there are many things we can do,” to meet common ground with Democrats, like malpractice reform and transportability of coverage across state lines.

...but they'll need to start banging on the details in the Spring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Saudi girl to be beaten for assaulting teacher (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/24/10)

A teenage girl has been sentenced to a 90-lash flogging and two months in prison as punishment for assaulting a teacher, a Saudi judge said in an interview published Sunday.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the assault happened after the girl was caught with a camera phone at school.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


In a Kennedy Hometown, Warm Feelings Don’t Necessarily Mean Votes (A. G. SULZBERGER, 1/24/10, NY Times)

The residents of this cozy village on the southern shore of Cape Cod recollect with pride the sight of his unmistakable hefty, white-topped frame as they exchanged greetings on the street, waited together in line at the local ice cream shop, shared a church pew or returned his dogs — those dogs! — after they found their way into some neighboring yard.

And in one of those heartfelt compliments extended only to those of unusually good fortune, they consistently describe Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August, as having been just a regular person.

“He was a real guy,” said James F. Munafo Jr., 49, a Republican who serves on the Barnstable Town Council. “He was a star, but he was one of us. I think people are pleased and will always be pleased that he was part of our community.” [...]

The Town of Barnstable, made up of seven villages, the largest of which is Hyannis, voted 12,331 to 7,543 in favor of Mr. Brown. The precinct that encompassed the Kennedy family’s Hyannis Port compound, and where Mr. Kennedy himself used to cast his vote, also rejected the Democrat, Martha Coakley, the state attorney general who had been considered a prohibitive favorite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Barack Obama looks to Bill Clinton for answers: President Barack Obama is seeking inspiration from Bill Clinton, the last Democratic incumbent of the White House, in an effort to fight back from the lowest point of his year-old administration. (Philip Sherwell, 24 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Despite their bitter fall-out during the bitter primary campaign with his wife Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama is this weekend looking at how Mr Clinton put his presidency back on track after the Democrats suffered disastrous mid-term congressional results in 1994, two years after he came to power.

Mr Obama will try to recapture the spark of his campaign with his first State of the Union address on Wednesday night when he will hammer home plans for a second jobs stimulus package and the drastic overhaul of Wall Street which he announced last week. [...]

Many Obama operatives are scornful of Mr Clinton's tendency for small-bore tinkering and his embrace of populist centrist initiatives during most of his time in office. But they are nonetheless well aware that his change of strategy, after his own attempt at health care reform led by then first lady Hillary became fatally bogged down, completely resurrected his faltering presidency.

...free trade agreements and Welfare Reform. But those were great things. Were the UR to likewise ask the GOP to help him pass the existing free trade bills, over the heads of his own party, and seek a Health Care Reform bill that is as Third Way as welfare reform was, he could, likewise, save his presidency. If he aspires to genuine greatness, he could reform Social Security along similar lines and get both moderate Republicans and his own party to pass a Reaganesque immigration reform (thereby completing the Bush presidency).

Attacking banks and looking to waste more money on "stimulus" is the opposite of what he should learn from Bill Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


The Minds Behind the Meltdown: How a swashbuckling breed of mathematicians and computer scientists nearly destroyed Wall Street (SCOTT PATTERSON, 1/24/10, WSJ)

The market moves PDT and other quant funds started to see early that week defied logic. The fine-tuned models, the bell curves and random walks, the calibrated correlations—all the math and science that had propelled the quants to the pinnacle of Wall Street—couldn't capture what was happening.

At the time, few quants realized what was happening, but over the next few days a theory would emerge: The U.S. housing market was unraveling, leading to big losses in the mortgage portfolios of banks and hedge funds. One or more of those hedge funds needed to raise cash quickly to make up for the losses, and needed to sell assets quickly to do so. And the easiest-to-sell assets of all were stocks, those held in portfolios highly similar to quant funds across Wall Street.

The result was a catastrophic domino effect. The rapid selling scrambled the models that quants used to buy and sell stocks, forcing them to unload their own holdings. By early August, the selling had taken on a life of its own, leading to billions in losses.

Free market ideology is premised on transparency. These derivatives required opacity. The undeserving poor are just scapegoats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Benedict and the synagogue, Pius and the Holocaust: Old controversies die hard, even in the face of facts. (Michael Coren, 23 January 2010MercatorNet)

It’s an issue that I have studied for a long time out of familial and emotional necessity. I am a Catholic whose father was Jewish. Not only Jewish but from a Polish family. The role of Pope Pius and the Church during the Second World War is to me at the epicenter of identity, loyalty and truth. There are Jewish leaders who claim that Pope Pius said little and did less as Europe’s Jews were rounded up and slaughtered. There are non-Jewish activists – often liberal Catholics fighting modern battles vicariously through the tragedy of the Holocaust – who want to discredit Papal history and thus the contemporary Papacy by arguing that the Pope abandoned his moral authority and that his successors have to delegate power because of this. Was Pius silent, was the Church complicit in its indifference, is Catholic orthodoxy opposed to social justice? The latter, by the way, is the genuine issue at play here. The new orthodoxy of the Church is terrifying to the older generation of liberals and they will use history as a battering ram if they can.

The truth is somewhat different. Before he became Pope Pius, Cardinal Pacelli drafted the papal encyclical condemning Nazi racism and had it read from every pulpit. The Vatican used its assets to ransom Jews from the Nazis, ran an elaborate escape route and hid Jewish families in Castel Gondolfo. All this is confirmed by Jewish experts such as the B’rith’s Joseph Lichten.

The World Jewish Congress donated a great deal of money to the Vatican in gratitude and in 1945 Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem thanked Pope Pius, “for his lifesaving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the occupation of Italy.” When the Pope died in 1958 Golda Meir, then Israeli Foreign Minister, delivered a eulogy at the United Nations praising the man for his work on behalf of her people.

For twenty years it was considered a self-evident truth that the Church was a member of the victim class during the Second World War and Pope Pius was mentioned with Churchill and Roosevelt as part of a triumvirate of good. It was as late as the 1960s that the cultural architecture began to be restructured around this issue and it’s deeply significant that the attacks on the Pope were largely initiated by the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth - who claimed in his play The Deputy that the Vatican had ignored the plight of the Jews. What is seldom mentioned is that Hochhuth was a renowned anti-Catholic who would later champion Holocaust-denier David Irving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 AM


he Kids Will Be Alright (Joel Kotkin, 01/23/2010, New Geography)

America's population growth makes it a notable outlier among the advanced industrialized countries. The country boasts a fertility rate 50% higher than that of Russia, Germany or Japan and well above that of China, Italy, Singapore, North Korea and virtually all of eastern Europe. Add to that the even greater impact of continued large-scale immigration to America from around the world. By the year 2050, the U.S. population will swell by roughly 100 million, and the country's demographic vitality will drive its economic resilience in the coming decades.

This places the U.S. in a radically different position from that of its historic competitors, particularly Europe and Japan, whose populations are stagnant. The contrast between the U.S. and Russia, America's onetime primary rival for world power, is particularly dramatic. Some 30 years ago, Russia constituted the core of a vast Soviet empire that was considerably more populous than the U.S. Today, even with its energy riches, Russia's low birth and high mortality rates suggest that its population will drop to less than one-third that of the U.S. by 2050. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of "the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

An equally dramatic and perhaps more critical demographic shift is taking place in East Asia. Over the past few decades a rapid expansion of their work force fueled the rise of the "East Asian tigers," the great economic success stories of the late-20th and early-21st centuries. Yet that epoch is coming to an end, not only in Japan and Korea but also in China, where the one-child policy has set the stage for a rapidly aging population by mid-century.

Within the next four decades, most of the developed countries in both Europe and East Asia will become veritable old-age homes: A third or more of their populations will be over 65, compared with only a fifth in America. Like the rest of the developed world, the U.S. will certainly have to cope with an aging population and lower population growth, but in relative terms the county will boast a youthful, dynamic demographic.

As many other advanced countries become dominated by the elderly, the U.S. will have the benefit of a millennial baby boom as the "echo boomers" start having offspring in large numbers later in this decade. This next surge in growth may be delayed if tough economic times continue, but over time the rise in births will add to the work force, boost consumer spending and allow for new creative inputs.

,,,but the fact is our task is just to manage their decline. We're decades away from the period of maximum lopsidedness in American global domination.

January 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Glimmers of hope as Nato targets hearts and minds in Afghanistan: There is now a belief in Nato circles that a change in Taliban tactics means Afghanistan's four-year spiral into violent anarchy might still be halted (Julian Borger, 1/24/10, The Observer)

But there was another striking aspect of Monday's attack that may have a longer-term significance. In all the mayhem caused by the four-hour battle – involving rocket-propelled grenades, a shoot-out in a shopping centre and the final detonation of their vests by the surviving insurgents – only five civilians were killed. That was a much smaller toll than the one caused by a similar, less ambitious, attack last February.

The Afghan army and police put this down to their speedy intervention – and they were undoubtedly quick to deploy. But it almost certainly had more to do with the fact that when the attackers reached the shopping centre, they told the stall holders and shoppers to get out. At one point the attackers used children as human shields, but let them go before blowing themselves up. The seven suicide bombers appear to have been under orders to target government institutions and the people who worked there, but to avoid harming bystanders. It was not an attack aimed solely at creating terror for its own sake, suggesting Nato may not be the only party in the fight trying to limit civilian casualties. The insurgents, whether it was the Taliban or another group that attacked last Monday, seem aware of their own deep unpopularity and are rethinking tactics accordingly.

Such an isolated example of scruples would not add up to much were it not for a recent cluster of other positive signs for the Kabul government and its Nato backers. An opinion poll published this month by the BBC found a leap in optimism among Afghans, with 70% believing the country was going in the right direction, compared with 40% a year ago. Support for Nato troops rose from 59% to 62%. Meanwhile, opium production dipped in 2009, with the area of poppy cultivation down by a third in Helmand – the province under British control that has hitherto been the poppy centre of the country. Also in Helmand, district centres that were run or threatened by the Taliban until a few months ago are now under Afghan army and police control, and peaceful enough for the shops and bazaars to reopen. At the same time, anecdotal evidence from the villages suggests an increasing number of ­Taliban fighters – battle-weary or drawn by new jobs – are returning home to their ­families.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


12th grade would go away under a Utah senator's plan (KSL, January 22nd, 2010)

A Utah senator thinks the way Utah looks at its budget needs to be "rethought." Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, began outlining his plan this week to reform state spending from the ground up.

Among his proposals is one to eliminate the 12th grade, a move he says would cut $250 million out of the budget every year.

"Almost all of the industrial world uses 11 grades," he said. "Why do we use 12? The kids either got their one foot in AP classes in college, or they're just running around, taking PE."

Who runs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Five states where GOP might pull another Brown: Republican Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts provides a boost for the GOP's momentum for the 2010 midterm elections. Here are five states where Republicans might pick off Senate seats this November. (Peter Grier, January 22, 2010, CS Monitor)

Pennsylvania. Five-term Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania was welcomed with open arms by Democrats when he announced last April that he was switching parties. Senator Specter’s got lots of cash on hand and is girding for an expected race against Republican and former Rep. Pat Toomey, who almost toppled him in the primary in 2004. But the party-switch might not save Specter’s seat: he hasn’t gained as much among Democratic voters as he has lost among those who lean Republican.

Colorado. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Colorado is an incumbent who was appointed to the office after Ken Salazar resigned his senate seat to become secretary of the Interior. Senator Bennett is an electoral neophyte; his reelection bid will be his first actual run for office. Right now his approval ratings are mediocre and he is likely to draw a strong challenge in the primary. If he wins that, he might face former GOP Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Obama has suspicious number of letter-writing fans named 'Ellie Light' (Sabrina Eaton, 1/22/10, The Plain Dealer)

Ellie Light sure gets around.

In recent weeks, Light has published virtually identical “Letters to the Editor” in support of President Barack Obama in more than a dozen newspapers.Every letter claimed a different residence for Light that happened to be in the newspaper’s circulation area.
“It’s time for Americans to realize that governing is hard work, and that a president can’t just wave a magic wand and fix everything,” said a letter from alleged Philadelphian Ellie Light, that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News.

A letter from Light in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Francisco Examiner concluded with an identical sentence, but with an address for Light all the way across the country in Daly City, California.

Variations of Light’s letter ran in Ohio’s Mansfield News Journal on Jan. 13, with Light claiming an address in Mansfield; in New Mexico’s Ruidoso News on Jan. 12, claiming an address in Three Rivers; in South Carolina’s The Sun News on Jan. 18, claiming an address in Myrtle Beach; and in the Daily News Leader of Staunton, Virginia on Jan. 15, claiming an address in Waynesboro. Her publications list includes other papers in Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and California, all claiming separate addresses.

On the other hand, how much time are newspapers supposed to spend confirming the identity of letter writers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Only Connect!: How Obama's cool, detached temperament is hurting him and his party. (Jacob Weisberg, Jan. 23, 2010, Slate)

The way Obama connects to people is the opposite of a Clinton, a Bush, or a Ronald Reagan. Those presidents were all relaters. They bonded with people based on common feelings, experiences, and interests. Reagan did this best through the medium of television. Bush did it best in person and not so well through television. Clinton could do it blindfolded and hanging upside down. But for all three, connecting emotionally was part and parcel of their political skill. As a result, people tended to love them or hate them, sometimes in succession, but without much neutral ground in between.

Obama's coolness and detachment put him in a different category of president that includes Lincoln (on the positive side) and Jimmy Carter (on the negative). His relationship with the world is primarily rational and analytical rather than intuitive or emotional. As he acknowledged in his interview with George Stephanopoulos the day after Scott Brown's victory, his tendency to focus on substance can make him seem remote and technocratic. So while many people continue to deeply admire him, few come away from any encounter feeling closer to him. He is not warm, he is not loyal, he is not deeply involved with others. His most fervent enthusiasts tend to express love for the ideas he embodies and represents—America transcending its racial history, a fairer and more unified society, rationality, wise decision-making, and so forth—as opposed to for the man himself.

This sense of separateness from other people, organizations, and causes runs through Obama's biography. In Chicago politics, one learns to quickly place people in relation to the city's big narrative. There was the old ethnic and ward-based Daley machine. There were the reform liberals (including my parents and their friends in the 1970s) who challenged it. There was the Harold Washington movement, which brought blacks into the political mainstream and finally killed off the machine. Since 1989, the second Mayor Daley has presided over a synthesis of these elements. If you know this story well, it's not hard to locate anyone from Chicago—such as David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel—in relation to it. The funny thing about Obama is that although he arrived in Chicago in 1985 and started his career there, he somehow never joined in. He participated in politics while keeping a feathery distance.

This curious sense of remove characterizes Obama's relationship with every institution he's been part of—the Punahou School in Honolulu, Columbia University, Harvard Law School, the University of Chicago Law School, the Illinois state Senate, and finally the U.S. Senate.

People have to cling to the possibility that he has hidden depths because the alternative is so appalling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Actress Jean Simmons dies at 80 (Evening Standard, 23.01.10)

Simmons won an Emmy for the 1983 TV mini-series The Thorn Birds and appeared on TV and on stage until the 1990s.

After Give Us The Moon, several minor films followed before British director David Lean gave Simmons her breakthrough role of Estella, companion to the reclusive Miss Havisham in 1946's Great Expectations.

That was followed by the exotic Black Narcissus and then Olivier's Oscar-winning Hamlet in 1948, for which Simmons was nominated as best supporting actress. She would be nominated for another Oscar, for best actress for 1969's The Happy Ending, before moving largely to television roles in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Spartacus. 'Nuff said.

Silver screen legend Jean Simmons dies at 80 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 23rd 2010)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


A campaign funding mess (Kent Greenfield, January 23, 2010, Boston Globe)

The fundamental problem with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is not his view of the First Amendment. Rather, it is his misguided view of the nature of corporations. To Kennedy, there is no difference between humans and corporations for purposes of the free speech analysis.

But he forgets that corporations are not natural beings - they are artificial institutions. When people start businesses, states award them corporate charters as a kind of public subsidy. The corporate form provides the protection of limited liability, protecting shareholders from personal liability for debts of the company. The charter also bestows the corporation with a legal “personality’’ separate from its investors, so that it can sue and be sued without the participation of each shareholder. What’s more, charters also give corporations an unlimited life span, allowing them to outlast their founders.

Corporations are legal fictions, so no one thinks that corporations should be able to vote, serve on juries, or until the Court’s ruling this week, be allowed to use their considerable resources to influence election campaigns especially since those resources come as a result of state-conferred benefits. [...]

Still, there is a way out of this mess.

Instead of using the tools of constitutional law, we need to use the tools of corporate law. Such a change could be put in place tomorrow, by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress followed by the President’s signature.

Corporations are chartered “for any lawful purpose.’’ To address the mistake of Citizens United, the only change required would be for charters to include: “except that any entity created by this charter shall not have the power to expend money to influence the outcome of any local, state, or federal election.’’

This change would simply condition the benefit of incorporation itself on the waiver of the “right’’ of corporations to participate in political campaigns. The Court has often upheld the ability of government to condition benefits on the waiver of rights. The Court has not always been clear in all the nuances, but the basic rule is that if the government gives you something, it can limit the uses you make of it. It makes sense to assert that prerogative here: if the government creates corporations, it can pick and choose what powers those corporations embody.

...Republicans would reflexively act to protect corporate spending on elections, which the public hates.

MORE (via mcnasty):
CEOs to Hill: Quit calling us for campaign cash (Sharon Theimer, 1/22/10, Associated Press)

Dozens of current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.

Roughly 40 executives from companies including Playboy Enterprises, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's, the Seagram's liquor company, toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines and Men's Wearhouse sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They say they are tired of getting fundraising calls from lawmakers — and fear it will only get worse after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling. [...]

Among the others signing the letter are current or former executives of Quaker Chemical Corp., Brita Products Co., San Diego National Bank, MetLife and Crate & Barrel.

They sent the letter through Fair Elections Now, a coalition of good-government groups who hope the Supreme Court ruling will lead Congress to pass public campaign financing legislation they have long been seeking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


UN wrongly linked global warming to natural disasters (Jonathan Leake, 1/24/10, Times of London)

THE United Nations climate science panel faces new controversy for wrongly linking global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

It based the claims on an unpublished report that had not been subjected to routine scientific scrutiny — and ignored warnings from scientific advisers that the evidence supporting the link too weak. The report's own authors later withdrew the claim because they felt the evidence was not strong enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


All aboard! No. 1 UConn trains to Philly (DOUG FEINBERG 01/22/10, AP)

“All aboard!”

Maya Moore was eager to ride the rails, and playfully encouraged her teammates to hop on Friday. The train was about to leave the station, and the Connecticut star didn’t want any of her Huskies to miss this trip.

Looking for a fun way to get to Philadelphia for a game this weekend, coach Geno Auriemma and the nation’s No. 1 women’s basketball team got on track.

“I always thought it would be neat to do it,” Auriemma said aboard Amtrak Northeast Regional train 137. “We don’t have to worry about sitting in traffic. I’m glad we got a chance to do it.”

While the ride gave the Huskies a new experience, it also helped save the school a lot of money. A charter plane can cost nearly $40,000 for a trip, but the train was around $100 per person.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Obama's Power Outage: One Senate upset, and the president seems ready to deal away health care. Leslie H. Gelb on how he needs to stop prattling on about institutions, grab the reins, and lead. (Leslie H. Gelb, 1/23/10, Daily Beast)

[H]e instantly sold out almost a year’s worth of effort—his own, and that of his fellow Democrats—spent on passing health-care reform. Here’s what he said: “[I]t is very important to look at the substance of this package ... I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on. We know that we need insurance reform, that the health-insurance companies are taking advantage of people. We know that we have to have some form of cost-containment because if we don't, then our budgets are going to blow up and we know that small businesses are going to need help so that they can provide health insurance to their families. Those are the core, some of the core elements of, to this bill.” (Typically, Mr. Obama reacts to cataclysms with major new decisions within hours, only to redefine or recolor them within days.)

Unless I’m misreading where Mr. Obama is going or unless he changes his explanation of “core,” this statement feels like virtual capitulation to Republicans—without even waiting a few days to establish a bargaining position. Why on earth give the “core” away before even starting the bargaining? Truth be told, I’d prefer a tight bill that zooms in on portability of coverage, opens up insurance companies nationwide to competition, offers insurance protection for previous conditions, establishes store-front clinics as neighborhood “hospitals,” provides catastrophic insurance, and puts forth medical information programs to cut costs, and takes a few other practical small steps. But it offends my sensibilities to watch the president throw in the towel before the give-and-take even begins anew. And it certainly has offended his fellow Democrats.

So Republicans are right but the policies that make sense should only be conceded as bargaining chips so that the Democrats can get the stuff that will be ineffective?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Hollywood Director: White Conservatives ‘More Terrifying’ Than ‘Any Jihadist’ (John Nolte, 1/23/10, Big Hollywood)

The leftist — and Polanski apologist – film site Cinematical interviewed Joe Carnahan, director of “Narc” and ”Smokin’ Aces” about the direct-to-DVD prequel “Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins Ball.” [...]

Cinematical: How did you first conceive of the story?

Joe Carnahan: [SPOILER ALERT] Tom Berenger’s character is very much a right-wing conservative white male, and that’s where it started for P.J. and I. I told my own father, who’s politically-minded in that same way, “Dad, you’re the most dangerous thing on the political landscape because you’re a sixty-year-old white conservative,” and that’s more terrifying than any jihadist. But if you took one of these guys, and you gave them the strength of their convictions to become a jihadist… that, to me, was fun. That was Smokin’ Aces territory. P.J. and I gelled behind that very quickly. [END SPOILERS]

...over an incontrovertible statement of fact. After all, al Qaeda tried terrifying us into leaving the Middle East and instead our sixty-year-old white conservative president killed their leader, toppled governments in Afghanistan and Iraq and accepted Libya's surrender. That's what dangerous looks like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


The Christmas Attack Interrogation (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/23/10)

Captured after a bomb hidden in his underwear ignited but failed to explode, Abdulmutallab spoke freely and provided valuable intelligence, officials said. Federal agents repeatedly interviewed him or heard him speak to others. But when they read him his legal rights nearly 10 hours after the incident, he went silent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Bayh calls for freeze in discretionary spending (Jordan Fabian, 01/23/10, The Hill)

Centrist Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) on Saturday urged President Barack Obama to call for a freeze in discretionary spending in his State of the Union address next week.

That Bayh is hearing footsteps has to making White House butts pucker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


Judge nixes two Bush-era domestic spying cases (AFP, 1/22/10)

A federal judge has tossed out a pair of lawsuits accusing government officials during former president George W. Bush's era of "dragnet spying" on people's Internet and telephone communications.

US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said in a written decision late Thursday that the named plaintiffs did not show they were victims of spying and therefore lacked standing to champion the class-action suits.

"A citizen may not gain standing by claiming a right to have the government follow the law," Walker wrote.

"The essence of standing is the party's direct, personal stake in the outcome as opposed to the issues the party seeks to have adjudicated in the litigation."

You do sort of wonder how much ,longer the Left and far Right can maintain their Bush Derangement Syndrome. He's being rehabilitated even faster than Reagan was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Mr. Cool Gets Hot (John Heilemann, Jan 22, 2010, New York Magazine)

Barack Obama is not unfamiliar with delivering big-stakes, high-pressure, bet-the-farm speeches—but the challenges presented by Wednesday’s State of the Union are of a different kind and order of magnitude than he has ever confronted before. [...]

One of the greatest puzzles of 2009 is how this most gifted of communicators and his team of savvy message-meisters failed so utterly to provide a compelling explanatory framework for his ambitious policy agenda. Health care, of course, is Exhibit A in this indictment. For all the complaints in some quarters about the performance of Rahm Emanuel, the truth is that the White House chief of staff has played the inside game adroitly. What’s been missing has been equal skill at the outside game, in the form of an overarching argument at once coherent and compelling to the broad electorate—the kind of thing at which both Obama and his message guru, David Axelrod, once seemed to be geniuses.

...where they first make a bow to the oratorical/rhetorical brilliance of the UR and then worry about how incoherent a communicator he is. It's kind of the opposite of W, whose ineptness at speaking was universally acknowledged in piece after piece conceding how brilliant his latest speech had been.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Who Declares War?: a review of CRISIS AND COMMAND: The History of Executive Power From George Washington to George W. Bush By John Yoo and BOMB POWER: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State By Garry Wills (WALTER ISAACSON, 1/24/10, NY Times Book Review)

Yoo begins with the birth of the Republic. After the Americans threw off a monarch, they suffered for a few years under a system of mostly weak state governors and a feckless central government. That was rectified at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. James Madison proposed a presidency that was a handmaiden of the legislative branch; Alexander Hamilton favored instead a powerful executive elected for life. Yoo contends that the final compromise produced a stronger presidency than many scholars have thought.

The right to negotiate treaties and to send and receive ambassadors, for example, was intended to give the president paramount control over foreign policy. As for the power of the Senate to provide “advice and consent” on treaties and ambassadors, Yoo describes how that was minimized by George Washington during his presidency. After one ill-fated attempt, he quit seeking advice from the Senate. He waged a military campaign against the Indians without asking Congress to declare war. And he organized the executive branch under his control as if it were a military command, creating a model that contemporary advocates of presidential authority would call the “unitary executive.” As Yoo notes approvingly, “Washington set the example of a republican executive that his successors would follow.”

Washington’s willingness to assume power thrilled Hamilton, who wrote an essay defending this expansive view. Madison, on the other hand, was outraged. He wrote to Thomas Jefferson lamenting that Washington had engaged in an “assumption of prerogatives not clearly found in the Constitution and having the appearance of being copied from a monarchial model.” He published his own essay saying that this illustrated why Congress, and not the president, should have the right to initiate war. “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded,” he argued. “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.”

Yoo declares that Madison was unpersuasive and that Hamilton was proven right by history. Certainly, for better or worse, history marched ahead as Hamilton hoped. Even Jefferson, by such acts as purchasing Louisiana without having a clear constitutional authority to do so, “demonstrated the possibilities of vigorous and independent presidential leadership.” Andrew Jackson, as Yoo notes, subsequently laid the foundations for the modern presidency by casting himself as the tribune of the people and grabbing back powers that had drifted after Jefferson’s time into the hands of Congress. The trend of increasing executive branch power continued under each great president, Yoo contends, most notably Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Wills devotes most of his book, as the title implies, to the increase in presidential power after the advent of the atom bomb.

It's obviously easier to rage against LBJ, Nixon and W than against Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR, but the need to gloss over those first 150 years suggests the weakness of the argument.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Capitalist Chameleon: THE RELENTLESS REVOLUTION: A History of Capitalism By Joyce Appleby (STEPHEN MIHM, 1/24/10, NY Times Book Review)

What is the nature of capitalism? For Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-born economist whose writings have acquired a special relevance in the past year or two, this most modern of economic systems “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Capitalism, Schumpeter proclaimed, cannot stand still; it is a system driven by waves of entrepreneurial innovation, or what he memorably described as a “perennial gale of creative destruction.” [...]

In viewing capitalism as an extension of a culture unique to a particular time and place, Appleby is understandably contemptuous of those who posit, in the spirit of Adam Smith, that capitalism was a natural outgrowth of human nature. She is equally scornful of those who believe that its emergence was in any way inevitable or inexorable.

Appleby believes that intimations of capitalism’s rise first surfaced in the Netherlands, where an otherwise unremarkable country with few resources of its own managed to catapult itself to wealth and prominence in the space of a century. While Appleby lingers on the Dutch — and even manages to make things like the herring trade sound interesting — her principal subject is Britain, which she considers the true cradle of capitalism.

Her focus on Britain has little to do with William Blake’s “dark satanic mills” and other symbols of the Industrial Revolution. Instead, Appleby sees in mundane changes in agriculture the beginnings of later, more dramatic, developments. In 16th-century Europe, she observes, about 80 percent of the population was engaged in agriculture — roughly the same proportion as at the time of the Roman Empire. By 1800, the British farming population had dropped by more than half, thanks to innovations that produced a new, commercial agriculture, like crop rotation and the private enclosure of public lands. These efficiencies created a huge pool of surplus labor, setting the stage for the more visible British capitalism in the coming centuries.

It is to Appleby’s credit that she spends time on a subject like this, which is too often slighted in popular histories. In a similar spirit, she captures how a new generation of now forgotten economic writers active long before Adam Smith built a case “that the elements in any economy were negotiable and fluid, the exact opposite of the stasis so long desired.” This was a revolution of the mind, not machines, and it ushered in profound changes in how people viewed everything from usury to joint stock companies. As she bluntly concludes, “there can be no capitalism . . . without a culture of capitalism.”

The success of capitalism is just a function of survival of the fittest organizing principle, which is why you have to love the loathing that so many Brights have for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


The Shopping Cure: FORCES OF FORTUNE: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World By Vali Nasr (MICHAEL J. TOTTEN, 1/24/10, NY Times Book Review)

The Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb believed the West — in particular the United States — posed an existential threat to Islam. He feared that globalization, spearheaded by the American colossus, might eventually destroy Islam by tempting pious Muslims with freewheeling capitalism, the separation of religion from government and the unleashing of decadent “animalistic desires.” Qutb, in word and in deed, took up the sword against Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular government. Nasser hanged him in 1966, but Qutb’s ideas transformed the world by inspiring Osama bin Laden’s Qaeda theology.

Vali Nasr, in his outstanding new book “Forces of Fortune,” shows that Qutb was at least half wrong. Globalization, free trade and market economics aren’t a threat to Islam per se. What they are a threat to is the totalitarian vision of Islam that Qutb’s followers hope to impose.

Nasr, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, writes that the Middle East will liberalize when it is transformed by a middle-class commercial revolution. “The great battle for the soul of Iran — and for the soul of the region as a whole — will be fought not over religion, but over business and capitalism,” he says.

Mr. Totten perhaps understates the degree to which Sunni (orthodox) Islam is inherently totalitarian (in a non-pejorative sense). But it is an irony of History, that the aspirations of this Islam--to build a just and decent society--require economic liberalization even at the expense of the orthodoxy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Building boom transforms heart of Beirut (ZEINA KARA, 01/22/10, AP)

Beirut’s building craze, despite chronic political turmoil in recent years, has astonished even the experts, turning Lebanon into an investment haven at a time when other regions — including the oil-rich Persian Gulf — are hemorrhaging cash. Even the seemingly unstoppable city-state of Dubai has hit the brakes after a massive debt crunch there rattled world financial markets.

“The market is continuing to really stun a lot of people and to attract some new players,” said Raja Makarem, founder of Ramco, a leading real estate company. He added that Lebanon has seen a 30 percent increase in property value for each of the past four years.

Lebanon has seen a window of relative peace since the devastating Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006 and deadly gunbattles two years later between Hezbollah and its political rivals in the streets of Beirut. Since then, political wrangling has continued, but Lebanon’s many factions have managed to keep their differences from exploding into violence.

Moreover, the financial meltdown that hit Dubai and elsewhere may have even helped Lebanon. While real estate buyers in Dubai were mostly investors and speculators depending on bank loans, the demand in Beirut is mainly from end users buying with cash, Mukaram and other experts said.

Real estate isn’t the only sector booming: Tourists have rediscovered the coastal nation with its beaches, scenic mountains and freewheeling lifestyle. This week officials announced that Lebanon attracted a record 1.8 million foreign visitors in 2009, earning an estimated $7 billion, beating the previous record of 1.4 million tourists in 1974 — just before the 1975-1990 civil war broke out.

For many, especially those who have not visited Beirut in a while, the transformation from the real estate frenzy is striking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The New Progressivism: Same as the Old Progressivism? (Peter Berkowitz, January 21, 2010, PJM)

This essay is based on the November 2009 Bradley Lecture delivered at the American Enterprise Institute.

No presidential candidate in living memory has more successfully put forward competing faces than Barack Obama. He was the candidate of hope and change, but also the pragmatic and post-partisan candidate. He ran a relentlessly anti-Bush and anti-Republican campaign, but also proclaimed his determination to heal wounds and bring the country, red and blue, together. He declared his dedication to a new kind of politics and styled himself a new kind of politician. But his inside men — David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Rahm Emanuel — were Chicago-style, brass knuckles, old school political operatives.

A year in office has compounded the contradictions [2]. Candidate Obama ran as a resolute advocate [3] of the Afghanistan war’s necessity and justice. Yet President Obama’s November West Point speech, announcing the much delayed but welcome decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, was irresolute in tone and indecisive in substance.

Candidate Obama ran as a fierce foe of Bush administration national security law policy. Yet despite a few high-profile decisions — on enhanced interrogation, Guantánamo Bay, and trying 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in New York City federal court — President Obama has quietly embraced much Bush policy.

Candidate Obama decried the $440 billion Bush 2008 budget deficit. Yet in 2009 President Obama promptly proposed a budget whose non-stimulus related spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office, sets the country on course for a decade of substantially greater deficits.

Candidate Obama promised cost-conscious health care reform. Whatever becomes of the Democrats’ comprehensive health care reform now that Scott Brown has swept to victory in Massachusetts’ special Senate race, few competent observers believe that government can cover an additional 30 million people and take on massive new administrative obligations without incurring substantial new costs.

And candidate Obama promised to bring a new tone to Washington. But from its vilification of Rush Limbaugh and its sneering dismissals [4] of tea party protesters, to its orchestrated efforts to delegitimize Fox News [5] and its characterization of opponents of Democrats’ health care reform legislation as mean-spirited and obstructionist, President Obama’s administration has portrayed disagreement as rooted in ignorance or malice.

The discrepancy between candidate Obama’s rhetoric and President Obama’s policies reflects more than the exaggerations and omissions typical of electoral politics. By carefully crafting the competing faces he put forward in campaign 2008, Obama aggressively cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

Apparently, Obama and his team believed that clearly explaining the ambitious changes they hoped to enact would lose the election. In fact, it is nothing new for progressives in America to recognize that they are out of step with majority sentiment. What is new is the determination to disguise that democratic deficit.

...we know him so little that this sort of divergence from how he ran to how he's governing exacerbates the psychic disconnect and makes us all extremely uncomfortable with him. We just can't know what he'll do next.

January 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Right-Wing Flame War! (JONATHAN DEE, 1/24/10, NY Times Magazine)

If the tone of Johnson’s writing on the blog sometimes bordered, as his detractors claimed, on hate speech, that of his mostly anonymous commenters was reliably worse. A popular blog like L.G.F. functions as a kind of cloud-sourced id. It is not uncommon for a simple, 200-word post to accrue upward of a thousand written responses from readers. The question of how responsible he is, or should be, for these expressions of uncensored reader sentiment is one that Johnson, like many bloggers, has struggled with; but in the middle years of the last decade, whether for free-speech reasons or simply because he enjoyed being the popular focal point of such strong nationalist feeling, he did very little to rein it in. Muslims were described as “vermin.” The posthumous nickname St. Pancake was coined for the young American pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, in reference to the Israeli bulldozer that killed her. Discussion of U.S. foreign-policy options included terms like “targeted genocide.” As for Palestinians, “they don’t need statehood,” offered one commenter; “they need sterilization.” And on and on. A so-called stalker blog, called L.G.F. Watch, sprang up to document instances of what it considered hate speech on the part of Johnson and his followers. Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott compared Johnson’s site to a “disorganized Nuremberg Rally.”

But enemies themselves are a kind of currency on the Internet, and for every attack L.G.F. provoked as a place that permitted and even fostered bigotry against Muslims in particular, new allies rose up to link themselves to Johnson and his causes. Those links were both spiritual and literal; allowing (or preventing) less-successful sites to post a link to yours, and maybe offering them a link on your own site in return, turns you into a kind of taste maker, a locus of tangible power. L.G.F. was, by 2007 or so, at the heart of a vast, amorphous grid of right-wing sites of every description, an interdependence that Johnson himself had become, in a way, too popular to control.

That concept of the link, in all its permutations, is the key to what happened next, both to Johnson and because of him, and it says something enlightening not just about blogging but also about the nature and prospects of citizen journalism. Whatever you think of him, Johnson is a smart man, a gifted synthesizer of information gathered by other people. But just as for anyone in his position, there is an inevitable limit to what he can learn about places, people, political organizations, etc., without actually encountering them. Instead of causes and effects, motivations and consequences, observation and behavior, his means of intellectual synthesis is, instead, the link: the indiscriminate connection established via search engine.

IN OCTOBER 2007, Johnson was asked to take part in what was billed as a Counter-Jihad Conference in Brussels, a gathering of fewer than a hundred politicians and opinion leaders from around the world who convened to share ideas and strategies for combating the spread of militant Islam. Johnson was not the only writer invited — Geller was there, as well as Robert Spencer of jihadwatch.org (a Web site Johnson himself designed), to name two — but he did not go. “I’m just not a joiner of these things,” he says.

The conference finished up in Brussels, and “the next day,” Johnson remembers, “people were e-mailing me saying, ‘You might want to cover this.’ So I started looking into it.” He discovered that among the conference’s 90 or so participants — though not among the speakers — was a man named Filip Dewinter, a leader of a Belgian-nationalist political party called Vlaams Belang, or “Flemish Interest.” Vlaams Belang, which has a history that reaches back to the wrong side of World War II, has an unabashed record of inflammatory rhetoric and hateful, opportunistic verbal viciousness of all sorts; a few years ago, for example, the party announced an advertising campaign in Moroccan newspapers and magazines to “discourage foreigners from coming to our country.” And as recently as 2004, it was condemned by the Belgian Supreme Court for incitement to discrimination and racial segregation. (The party responded by changing its name.) Even to most right-wing sensibilities, Vlaams Belang is certainly beyond the pale. Still, whether or not Dewinter, who has said that “in Flanders, the multicultural society has led to a multicriminal society,” is more extreme than the commenters who appeared regularly on Little Green Footballs seems like a subject on which right-wing minds might reasonably disagree. Perhaps that still happens somewhere. Gray, however, is not a popular shade on the Internet.

It seems borderline ridiculous that the political character of an extremist Belgian party, which in the last parliamentary election captured just 17 seats out of 150 in the Chamber of Representatives, should become the issue over which a kind of civil war among American conservatives broke out, but that is what happened. Opposing “Islamofascism,” Johnson had come to believe, shouldn’t require identification with fascism of the older sort. Johnson began taking shots at not only Vlaams Belang, an organization it seems safe to say the vast majority of his readers had never heard of, but also at formerly favored colleagues like Spencer and Geller, to whom, by attending the same conference, the European neofascist movement was now . . . linked. Johnson first hinted, and eventually demanded, that they publicly distance themselves from both Vlaams Belang and the conference itself, and when they demurred, he publicly distanced himself from them.

“Filip Dewinter has said some things I deplore,” Spencer says. “But I don’t consider myself responsible for him just because I was at this conference and he was, too. That’s an outrageous kind of guilt by association. Let me ask you this: a few years ago I spoke at a Yom Kippur service, and one of the other speakers was Hillary Clinton. Does that make me a supporter or her work, or her of mine?”

Regardless of whether Johnson’s view of Vlaams Belang is correct, it is notable that the party is defined for him entirely by the trail it has left on the Internet. This isn’t necessarily unfair — a speech, say, given by Dewinter isn’t any more or less valuable as evidence of his political positions depending on whether you read it (or watch it) on a screen or listen to it in a crowd — but it does have a certain flattening effect in terms of time: that hypothetical speech exists on the Internet in exactly the same way whether it was delivered in 2007 or 1997. The speaker will never put it behind him. (Just as Johnson, despite his very reasonable contention that he later changed his mind, will never be allowed to consign to the past a blog post he wrote in 2004 criticizing that judicial condemnation of Vlaams Belang as “a victory for European Islamic supremacist groups.”) It may be difficult to travel to Belgium and build the case that Filip Dewinter is not just a hateful character but an actual Nazi (and thus that those who can be linked to him are Nazi sympathizers), but sitting at your keyboard, there is no trick to it at all. Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.

Johnson broke off relations with blogs that claimed openly to owe their own existence to him. He called the syndicated columnist Diana West and the investigative reporter Richard Miniter fascist sympathizers. He threatened to take down Michelle Malkin. In some ways, it was an exploration of the limits of his own influence: all over the blogosphere, you were either with him or with the fascists.

“I was such a small fish at the time,” Geller said. “I realized I was basically committing blog suicide by going against him. But he was wrong.” When one of Johnson’s posts about the conference was picked up and incorporated in a press release by the conservative bête noire Council on American-Islamic Relations, Geller called him out on Atlas Shrugs; he responded with a series of posts about her, the most memorable of which was titled, “Pamela Geller: Poster Girl for Eurofascism.” (Not that Geller herself, who posted a Photoshopped picture of Johnson in Joker makeup, was exactly on the high road.) Traffic at her site, she says, went down about 75 percent. “He really did put a knife in the trans-Atlantic counterjihad movement, for a long time. People were running for cover. Nobody wanted to go against him then. He was the king.”

Spencer says: “I have actually had people contact me and say, ‘I understand you’re the American representative for Vlaams Belang.’ And that is because of Johnson.” After Spencer wrote last month on Jihad Watch that I interviewed him, Johnson forwarded me several posts by other bloggers charting Spencer’s unsavory “associations”; one of them tried to connect him, via a chain of links that is too long even to summarize, to Slobodan Milosevic. The more creatively defamatory the whole dispute becomes, the further it moves from the issues around which Johnson and Spencer and many others have supposedly reframed their lives. But I never got the sense that any of it was put forth by Johnson, either in person or on the blog, in anything other than perfect earnestness. He came of age, as a writer and as a public figure, in the culture of damnation by link, and he does not exempt himself from its logic.

Thus in retrospect it also seems clear that the Vlaams Belang blog war, with its attendant scary buzzwords (“fascist,” “racist,” “Nazi”), gave Johnson the intellectual cover to do something he wanted to do anyway, which was to conduct a kind of public self-purge of the alliances he acquired on the road to fame.

THE QUESTIONING OF Johnson’s tactics started to come not just from without L.G.F. but also from within. Readers both casual and loyal spoke up in the comment threads to ask, sometimes diplomatically and sometimes not, whether all this casual flinging of epithets like “fascist” wasn’t maybe an overreaction. Johnson’s response, in thousands of cases, was to block their accounts and ban some of them from viewing the blog. “Get off my Web site” was a common farewell. (Johnson insists that this is not true — that no one has ever been banned from L.G.F. merely for disagreeing with him — but the anecdotal evidence to the contrary is voluminous, and the fact that the offending comments were instantly and permanently deleted makes it impossible to check others’ records against his.)

“Running a community is hard,” says Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Web site Daily Kos, “and I don’t criticize people for the approaches they take in trying to control their sites. As I tell my own disgruntled commenters, if they don’t like a site’s comment policies, they can always find greener pastures elsewhere. It’s a big Internet.”

A reasonable approach, which L.G.F.’s exiles mostly rejected. Comment threads all over the blogosphere were hijacked by people sharing stories of their banishment. Another stalker blog — this one assailing Johnson from the right — sprang up, administered by banned former “Lizards,” as L.G.F.’s registrants are known. Johnson responded by posting those former registrants’ real names and photographs on L.G.F. — an astounding breach of civility on the Internet, where anonymity is often prized above all else.

It was a kind of orgy of delinking, an intentionally set brush fire meant to clear the psychic area around Johnson and ensure that no one would connect him to anyone else, period, unless he first said it was O.K. No one would define Johnson’s allegiances but Johnson. Of course, much of this was accomplished by the very methods he felt so threatened by: a kind of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon approach to political rectitude, in which the existence of even a search-engine-generated connection between two people anywhere in the world implied a mutual back-scratching, an ideological partnership. It was unfair and simplistic and petulant, but it also seems to have achieved its goal. Very few people on the right want to be linked with Charles Johnson anymore.

NO ONE SEEMS TO WANT to believe that his thinking simply changed over time — and in fact he still has that much in common with his old allies, for Johnson, too, insists that he hasn’t really changed. His recent expressions of support for abortion rights, of contempt for creationism and the religious right — all these beliefs, he told me, are elements of the “classical liberalism” he has always believed in but previously opted not to write about. Why now? The answer is so heretical it seems destined to raise the tizzy-level among his former followers to new heights: “It’s not that the war on terror has finished,” he said. “It’s never going to be finished, but I think things have reached the point now where it’s not as pressing as it was. Some of the measures we took to protect ourselves against extremists have been pretty effective. And so I realized, you know, that maybe it’s time to tell people that I’m not onboard with a lot of this social-conservative agenda.

...it has been our experience that if you simply do not allow hate speech, profanity and personal attacks in the comments section that such commenters move on pretty quickly to the places that do allow them to spew. Nor do we get much anti-Muslim craziness. [It's generally anti-immigrant fervor that crops up and leads people to storm off in a huff when we aren't interested in allowing them to vent it here.] Meanwhile, we don't much link to blogs (nor read more than a handful of them) and never engage in these flame-wars. Does anyone who reads a blog really care that the blogger doesn't like some other blogger?

Generally our experience has been quite pleasant and the comments and commenters make the blog. Thank you all for that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


Money Isn't Speech and Corporations Aren't People: The misguided theories behind the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign finance reform. (David Kairys, Jan. 22, 2010, Slate)

[K]ennedy depends on two legal theories that blossomed as constitutional principles in the mid-1970s: money is speech and corporations are people. [...]

The first theory appeared in a 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which invalidated some campaign-finance reforms that came out of Watergate. The Court concluded that most limits on campaign expenditures, and some limits on donations, are unconstitutional because money is itself speech and the "quantity of expression"—the amounts of money—can't be limited.

But in subsequent cases, the conservative justices who had emphatically embraced the money-is-speech principle didn't apply it to money solicited by speakers of ordinary means. For example, the court limited the First Amendment rights of Hare Krishna leafleters soliciting donations in airports to support their own leafleting. The leafleting drew no money-is-speech analysis. To the contrary, the conservative justices, led by Chief Justice Rehnquist, found that by asking for money for leafleting—their form of speech—the Hare Krishnas were being "disruptive" and posing an "inconvenience" to others. In other words, in the court's view, some people's money is speech; others' money is annoying. And the conservative justices have raised no objection to other limits on the quantity of speech, such as limits on the number of picketers.

The money-is-speech theory turns out to be a rhetorical device used exclusively to provide First Amendment protection for all money that wealthy people and businesses want to give to, or to spend, on campaigns. It also doesn't make sense under long established free-speech law. Spending or donating money to support or facilitate speech is expressive and deserves some protection. But money simply doesn't make it into the category of things that are and embody speech, such as books, films, or blogs. Traditional speech-law analysis would separate the speech from the conduct (or "nonspeech") elements of campaign spending and donation and allow considerable leeway to regulate the latter. Even as to "pure" speech, "compelling" government interests are overriding. And spending and donating money seem, among the traditional speech-law categories, a "manner" of speaking that the court has said usually can be "reasonably regulated."

The other basic theory supporting the ruling in Citizens United—the court's claim that, for some purposes, corporations are constitutionally, if not actually, people—comes out of the long history of the development of corporations. But the extension of corporate personhood to campaign speech is a controversial innovation of the conservative justices over the last few decades.

Corporations needed some rights usually reserved for people to function as legal entities, so that they could, for instance, make enforceable contracts and sue or be sued. But despite the common cultural personification of corporations—we can easily say "GM was embarrassed today"—they obviously don't and shouldn't have all the rights of people. For example, they don't have the right to vote.

...we now have 5 justices who think corporations are human beings and 5 who think babies aren't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Stocks sink again on Obama's pushback on banks (STEPHEN BERNARD, 1/22/10, AP)

Stocks tumbled for the third straight day on uncertainty about President Barack Obama's plans to restrict big banks.

The Dow Jones industrial average is ending down 217 at 10,173 Friday, according to preliminary calculations, its biggest drop since Oct. 30. The Dow is down more than 430 points for the week.

It's the Dow's first close below 10,200 since November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Obama vows to continue fight for change (Edward Luce, January 22 2010, Financial Times)

Barack Obama on Friay came out with a defiant speech at the end of a nightmare week in which he promised to continue fighting for healthcare reform and Wall Street regulation in spite of having lost his Senate supermajority.

Drawing energy from the “town hall” format that served him so well in the election, Mr Obama conceded to an audience of voters in Elyria, Ohio, that he had “run into a bit of a buzz saw” this week with the setback in Massachusetts.

...but do they really think the problem is he hasn't talked enough? How about just going away for awhile and leaving us alone?

Brown's truckin', Obama shifts into reverse (MARK STEYN, 2010-01-22, OC Register)

So what went wrong? According to Barack Obama, the problem is that he overestimated you dumb rubes' ability to appreciate what he's been doing for you. "That I do think is a mistake of mine," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "I think the assumption was if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on this provision or that law or if we're making a good rational decision here, then people will get it."

But you schlubs aren't that smart. You didn't get it. And Barack Obama is determined to see that you do. So the president has decided that he needs to start "speaking directly to the American people."

Wait, wait! Come back! Don't all stampede for the hills! He gave only (according to CBS News' Mark Knoller) 158 interviews and 411 speeches in his first year. That's more than any previous president – and maybe more than all of them put together. But there may still be some show out there that didn't get its exclusive Obama interview – I believe the top-rated "Grain & Livestock Prices Report – 4 a.m. Update with Herb Torpormeister" on WZZZ-AM Dead Buzzard Gulch Junction's Newstalk Leader is still waiting to hear back from the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


A Case of Buyer's Remorse (Frank Luntz, 1/21/10, Sphere)

Polling done over the past 30 days paints a very clear picture of a president who has fallen short of expectations:

• Only 39 percent of the country would vote to re-elect Obama, according to a National Journal poll, while 50 percent would "definitely" or "probably" vote for someone else. This is significant. George W. Bush is the only candidate in modern times to win re-election with less than half of the country expressing a desire to re-elect him.

• According to Gallup, Obama has suffered the greatest fall in approval of any elected president since the company started ongoing tracking during the Eisenhower administration. Obama came into office with the approval of two out of every three voters (67 percent) but ended his first year with just half the electorate (50 percent) offering a positive evaluation of his performance. Only the unelected Gerald Ford fared worse in the court of public opinion.

• It's not just the Obama agenda that is under attack. It is his philosophy that has America balking. For example, Americans are increasingly returning to the conservative ideology they held before the perceived failures of the Bush administration crushed conservative self-identification levels. According to Gallup, fully 40 percent of Americans now identify themselves as conservative, compared with just 21 percent who call themselves liberal.

...that get you a primary challenge. Tacking Right to save his own skin will all but guarantee one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


White House nightmare persists (Edward Luce, January 22 2010, Financial Times)

The death of the healthcare effort would rob Mr Obama of what he had hoped would be the centrepiece of his first State of the Union message. “It now looks extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get anything resembling a broad healthcare bill out of Congress,” said Scott Lilley, a senior fellow at the liberal Centre for American Progress, the think-tank that is closest to the White House. “In his State of the Union, Obama has to slim down his ambitions. It should be short and simple and focus on jobs.”

However, even a more modest agenda looks tough for Mr Obama now. Believing their strategy of total opposition was vindicated by the voters last Tuesday, Republicans are in even less of a mood to co-operate with Democrats than before. The difference is that with 41 seats in the Senate they are in a position to block almost anything Mr Obama proposes – including the Wall Street regulatory measures he announced on Thursday.

“Obama has to decide whether he wants to be a transformational president, which looks optimistic at this stage, or merely an effective president,” says Bruce Josten, head of government affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, which has spent tens of millions of dollars opposing healthcare. “My advice would be that he pick up the phone and ask for Bill Clinton’s advice on how to recover from a situation like this.”

Just finish passing the Bush agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Truckin’: Lost in recent auto show buzz about the vehicles government and greenies think Americans should buy were reminders about what many Americans do buy. (Ralph Kinney Bennett, January 22, 2010, The American)

Yes, Mr. President, “Anybody can buy a truck.” And they do.

President Obama’s last minute (and futile) campaign slam at Massachusetts’s new U.S. Senator, Scott Brown—trying to belittle the fact that he drove his GMC pickup truck up and down the state on the way to an upset victory—is another poignant example of how out of touch with mainstream America the “educated classes” can be.

Indeed, at last week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, amid all the buzz about the vehicles government and greenies believe Americans should buy—think electric, small, tiny, little, abstemious—there were some interesting reminders about what many Americans do buy. [...]

The full-size pickup truck is, has been, and will be a permanent part of the U.S. vehicle mix because of its handiness, versatility (including backseats and car-like comforts), and power for towing, hauling, and getting in and out of tough spots. Sure, some people see it merely as a “rugged” lifestyle statement. But many individuals and families swear by its capabilities as a family hauler, a recreational vehicle, or a remarkably flexible beast of burden. Beyond this, the pickup remains a backbone vehicle for many small businesses and an indispensible tool for those working on their own as carpenters, contractors, haulers, and repairmen—an endless spectrum of individual enterprise.

If nothing else, the elites disdain for large vehicles reflects a cohort so atomized they never have to move seven or more people around

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


Obama the Slow Learner: Time for a remedial course in how to create jobs. (Fred Barnes, January 25, 2010, Weekly Standard)

The first of Obama’s failed ideas is that government spending is the most effective method of stimulating the economy, spurring strong growth, and generating new jobs. The president needs to chat with Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna on this subject. They studied dozens of examples of economic stimulation between 1970 and 2007 in 21 countries, including the United States.

Their findings are unequivocal. “Fiscal stimuli based upon tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based on spending increases,” they wrote in a paper revised and published last October. “We would argue that the current stimulus package in the U.S. is too much tilted in the direction of spending rather than tax cuts.” Indeed it is, and Obama’s paltry tax cuts aren’t the kind of across-the-board reductions in individual and corporate income tax rates that have revived sluggish economies by incentivizing private investment and stirring job creation.

Another finding by the economists bears on a separate aspect of Obama-nomics, deficit reduction. “Spending cuts are much more effective than tax increases in stabilizing the debt and avoiding economic downturns,” they said. “In fact, we uncover several episodes in which spending cuts adopted to reduce deficits have been associated with economic expansions rather than recessions.”

This, too, would probably be news to Obama. Spending cuts, like tax cuts, aren’t his strength. He plans to let Bush tax cuts on personal income, dividends, and capital gains expire in 2011 for individuals making more than $250,000 annually—that is, for those most likely to invest. Their taxes will increase. And Obama favors other tax hikes: on banks, medical device manufacturers, health insurers, high-cost health insurance plans.

What Obama would learn from a chat with Alesina and Ardagna is pretty simple: Do the opposite of what you’re doing now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Boozman Making Calls For Senate Bid (Erin McPike, 1/22/10, Hotline)

[Rep. John Boozman (R-AR)] has begun calling other GOP candidates in the race to gauge whether they would stay in the contest if he made a late entry, according to a top aide. And some have already assured him they would leave the race if he does take the plunge. [...]

Meanwhile, GOPers looking to avoid any bloody primaries could encourage state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R) to run for the seat left vacant by Rep. Vic Snyder's (D) decision to retire at the end of his current term. Baker is the only candidate who leads Lincoln in a new survey. Baker's campaign did not comment on the possibility of his moving to a House contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Poll: 14 Percent of U.S. Holds Anti-Jewish Bias: Also finds anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are linked (Marc Tracy, Jan 22, 2010, The Tablet)

A new Gallup poll finds that Americans are more prejudiced toward Muslims and—wait for it—Christians than they are toward Jews. 18 percent of respondents admitted to some prejudice toward Christians, compared to only 14 percent toward Jews.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Glass-Steagall lite: Barack Obama proposes limiting the activities of big banks (The Economist, 1/22/10)

The first half of the plan concerns restrictions on the scope of activities. Banks that have insured deposits, and thus access to emergency funds from the central bank, would not be allowed to own or invest in private equity or hedge funds. Nor would they be able to engage in “proprietary” trading—punting their own capital—though they could continue to offer investment banking for clients, such as underwriting securities, making markets and advising on mergers.

The second part focuses on size. Banks already face a 10% cap on national market share of deposits. This would be updated to include other liabilities, namely wholesale funding. The aim is to limit concentration, which has increased greatly over the past 20 years, accelerating during the crisis as healthy banks bought sick ones. The four largest banks now hold more than half of the industry’s assets.

These proposals will be wrapped into a broader set of reforms that is grinding its way through Congress. A bill passed by the House of Representatives, but not yet taken up by the Senate, gives regulators the right to limit the scope and scale of firms that pose a “grave” threat to stability. The new plan goes further, requiring them to do so. It is also more radical than the increased capital charges for trading assets proposed by the Basel Committee of international bank supervisors.

The administration had until now seemed content to shackle the banks with tougher regulation, including higher capital ratios, rather than breaking them up or limiting what they could do. But it has warmed to the thinking of Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman and Obama adviser, who has long advocated more dramatic measures—indeed, Mr Obama dubbed the latest reforms “the Volcker rule”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


One quarter of US grain crops fed to cars - not people, new figures show
(John Vidal, 1/22/10, guardian.co.uk)

"The grain grown to produce fuel in the US [in 2009] was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels," said Lester Brown, the director of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington thinktank ithat conducted the analysis.

Last year 107m tonnes of grain, mostly corn, was grown by US farmers to be blended with petrol. This was nearly twice as much as in 2007, when Bush challenged farmers to increase production by 500% by 2017 to save cut oil imports and reduce carbon emissions.

We have so much excess food we burn it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


CNBC host Larry Kudlow declines to rule out bid to unseat Schumer (Alex Pappas - The Daily Caller)

An online draft movement — draftkudlow.com — is encouraging Kudlow to enter the race as a Republican. The group, which emerged after Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate this week, says on its Web site that it’s time “deliver Chuck Schumer his own Scott Brown.”

“Until Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate by the loopy liberals in Massachusetts, nobody thought it was possible to beat Schumer. Now the game has changed,” the Web site reads.

The draft movement is co-chaired by Dr. David Tukey, a former McCain-Palin Deputy Regional Campaign Manager, and Michael Caputo, a speechwriter for former Rep. Jack Kemp.

Tukey said the idea came about as he and some “free-market guys who get together pretty frequently” in New York City had a conversation about how their ideal officeholder would be someone who “really understands fiscal policy.”

Using that perspective, Tukey said, they thought of Kudlow. While they had been kicking around the idea around for some time of suggesting the supply-sider for office, he said that after Brown’s “historic win on Tuesday night, we decided maybe it was really time to go live with it.”

...on universal health care

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


The age of the killer robot is no longer a sci-fi fantasy: You can't appeal to robots for mercy or empathy - or punish them afterwards (Johann Hari, 1/21/10, Independent)

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they had no robots as part of their force. By the end of 2005, they had 2,400. Today, they have 12,000, carrying out 33,000 missions a year. A report by the US Joint Forces Command says autonomous robots will be the norm on the battlefield within 20 years.

The Nato forces now depend on a range of killer robots, largely designed by the British Ministry of Defence labs privatised by Tony Blair in 2001. Every time you hear about a "drone attack" against Afghanistan or Pakistan, that's an unmanned robot dropping bombs on human beings. Push a button and it flies away, kills, and comes home. Its robot-cousin on the battlefields below is called SWORDS: a human-sized robot that can see 360 degrees around it and fire its machine-guns at any target it "chooses". Fox News proudly calls it "the GI of the 21st century." And billions are being spent on the next generation of warbots, which will leave these models looking like the bulky box on which you used to play Pong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Dem health care talks collapsing (PATRICK O'CONNOR & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/21/10, Politico)

Health care reform teetered on the brink of collapse Thursday as House and Senate leaders struggled to coalesce around a strategy to rescue the plan, in the face of growing pessimism among lawmakers that the president’s top priority can survive.

The legislative landscape was filled with obstacles: House Democrats won’t pass the Senate bill. Senate Democrats don’t want to start from scratch just to appease the House. And the White House still isn’t telling Congress how to fix the problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


White House caught in Democrats' crossfire (GLENN THRUSH & JAKE SHERMAN & LISA LERER, 1/22/10, Politico)

If the sentiment isn’t quite heads-must-roll, it’s getting there.

Hill Democrats are demanding that Obama’s brain trust — especially senior adviser David Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — shelve their grand legislative ambitions to focus on the economic issues that will determine the fates of shaky Democratic majorities in both houses.

And they want the White House to step up — quickly — to help shape the party’s message and steer it through the wreckage of health care reform.

The Obama cabinet and staff, like the President himself, are most notable for their lack of executive experience. What would make Democrats think that three guys who have never led anything are capable of providing leadership now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Single-Party Democracy (ROGER COHEN, 1/22/10, NY Times)

I’m bullish on China after a couple of weeks here and perhaps that sentiment begins with the little emperors and empresses. In upscale city parks and rundown urban sprawls, I’ve seen China’s children pampered by grandparents, coddled by fathers, cared for by extended families.

Scarcity may explain the doting: China’s one-child policy makes children special. But there are deeper forces at work. The race for modernity has not blown apart the family unit, whatever the strains.

,,,but does Mr. Cohen get not just how low China's fertility rate is but that so many girls have been killed that there's a massive population of men who can never marry just because there are too few women?

January 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


Suburbs carried Brown to victory: Lower turnout recorded in most cities (Brian C. Mooney, January 21, 2010, Boston Globe)

Of the 25 lightest-voting communities, 18 were cities, including Boston (43 percent), Worcester (42 percent), and Springfield (32 percent). The Merrimack Valley city of Lawrence, with a majority Latino population, had the lowest turnout in the state, at 28 percent.

Coakley won those urban areas but with depressed vote totals that could not offset Brown’s huge advantage in the suburbs. The Republican swept large swaths of the state across Worcester County, the North and South shores, the Merrimack Valley, and most of Cape Cod. In Andover and North Andover, both of which went for Brown, traffic was backed up for a half-mile for long stretches as voters flocked to central polling places at the towns’ respective high schools.

In the South Shore district of Brown’s state Senate colleague Robert Hedlund, turnout was among the heaviest in the state. Brown trounced Coakley by a nearly 2-to-1 margin and built up a 21,000-vote lead in the district, which consists of the city of Weymouth and seven towns stretching south to Duxbury. Six of the eight communities had turnouts of 69 percent or higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Not so Liberating: The Twilight of Liberation Theology (Samuel Gregg D.Phil., Acton)

It went almost unnoticed, but on December 5th, Benedict XVI articulated one of the most stinging rebukes that has ever been made by a pope of a particular theological school. Addressing a group of Brazilian bishops, Benedict followed some mild comments about Catholic education with some very sharp and deeply critical remarks about liberation theology and its effects upon the Catholic Church.

Apart from stressing how certain liberation theologians drew heavily upon Marxist concepts, the pope also described these ideas as “deceitful.” This is very strong language for a pope. But Benedict then underscored the damage that liberation theology did to the Catholic Church. “The more or less visible consequences,” he told the bishops, “of that approach – characterised by rebellion, division, dissent, offence and anarchy – still linger today, producing great suffering and a serious loss of vital energies in your diocesan communities.”

Today, even some of liberation theology’s most outspoken advocates freely admit that it has collapsed, including in Latin America. Once considered avant-garde, it is now generally confined to clergy and laity of a certain age who wield ever-decreasing influence within the Church. Nonetheless, Benedict XVI clearly believes it’s worth underscoring just how much harm it inflicted upon the Catholic Church.

For a start, there’s little question that liberation theology was a disaster for Catholic evangelization. There’s a saying in Latin America which sums this up: “The Church opted for the poor, and the poor opted for the Pentecostals.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


US Guantanamo closing deadline missed (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/21/10)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Air America Radio closing, filing for bankruptcy (AP, January 21, 2010)

Air America Radio, a progressive radio network that once aired commentary from Al Franken and Rachel Maddow, said Thursday it is shutting down immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Forget Massachusetts — Obama's problem is nationwide (John B. Judis, 1/21/10, The New Republic)

Obama’s political problem boils down to the difficulty he has speaking to and for middle America. This problem became evident during the middle of the primary battle with Hillary Clinton. And it could have seriously damaged his candidacy against John McCain. But the onset of the financial crisis that fall, and McCain’s feeble response to it, highlighted Obama’s strongest asset in the eyes of voters — his intelligence — and reduced the importance of his lack of a common touch.

As President, however, Obama’s lack of engagement with middle America has come to the surface and has contributed to his decline in popularity. This shortcoming has been evident in his style and choice of venues — he gave his endorsement of Coakley on Sunday at Northeastern University, in Boston, rather than at a union hall or public auditorium in Worcester or Springfield. It is also evident in his choice of advisors and spokespeople and in the way he has framed his programs.

He chose the former head of the New York Fed to be his chief economic spokesman during a financial crisis that was widely seen as the product of Wall Street. And in developing and presenting his policies on the banks, he didn’t put the kind of conditions on taxpayer assistance that would have assured middle America that they weren’t giving handouts to the wealthy.

In the case of his health care plan, he did not really have a spokesman, but ceded the public face of the policy to the congressional leadership. Perhaps, he should have settled this year — when the recession heightened populist fears and resentments — for partial reforms that were more closely geared to the recession. Large reforms have usually occurred when the economy is on an upswing and voters feel a fundamental security. But leave that aside.

Where Obama invited a voter backlash was by letting the burden of reducing health care costs appear to fall on senior citizens and those middle-class workers who had acquired good health insurance through decades of union battles with management, and not on the insurance and drug companies. Obama ceded too much to the policy wonks who were devising intricate schemes to show they could cut the deficit. He took his eye off of the political imperative of keeping middle America in his corner.

Obama now clearly faces not just a recession and two wars, but a political crisis. He needs to adopt policies that will boost employment, but he may not have the political clout to do so. He needs to restore the public’s faith in his own leadership, but it’s not clear to me how he can accomplish that.

The last two Democratic presidents faced similar crises. After the Democrats got drubbed in the 1978 midterms, Jimmy Carter took exactly the wrong course. He replaced mediocre people with even more mediocre people. He allowed intramural squabbles to surface. He lost his focus and ended up blaming the American people for his political problems. Clinton, who had governed his first year as a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law graduate, rediscovered after November 1994 that he had been a successful governor of Arkansas. He governed for the remainder of his six years as the president of middle America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


The curse of opportunity (George F. Will, January 21, 2010, National Post)

Because the legislation is frightening and unpopular, Democrats have had to resort to serial bribery to advance it. Massachusetts voted immediately after the corruption of exempting, until 2018, union members from the tax on high-value health insurance plans. This tax was supposedly the crucial component of what supposedly was reform’s primary goal — reducing costs.

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., thought Bill Clinton’s presidency was crippled by the 1993 decision to pursue health care reform rather than welfare reform. So slight was public enthusiasm for the former, Clinton’s program never even came to a vote in either the House or Senate, both controlled by Democrats. There was such fervour for welfare reform that in 1996, after two Clinton vetoes, he finally signed the decade’s most important legislation.

Not only did Bill Clinton accede to the wishes of other Democrats in that regard but Mr. Moynihan denounced Welfare reform and voted against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Row over 'biblical' weapons in Afghanistan (Brendan Nicholson, 1/22/10, The Australian)

AUSTRALIAN special forces soldiers are using gunsights with biblical references etched on to them as they fight the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The ADF has several hundred of the sights, which are prized by elite troops for their accuracy over long range.

Their use by US, British and New Zealand troops has raised alarm among military leaders that it could reinforce views among extremists that the West is waging a crusade against Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Paul Krugman leads liberal revolt (ANDY BARR, 1/21/10, Politico)

In a post on his blog Wednesday night titled “He Wasn’t the One We’ve Been Waiting For,” Krugman eviscerated Obama for, in the columnist’s view, not stepping up during a crucial moment in his presidency.

“Progressives are desperately in need of leadership; more specifically, House Democrats need to be told to pass the Senate bill, which isn’t what they wanted but is vastly better than nothing. And what we get from the great progressive hope, the man who was offering hope and change, is this,” Krugman wrote, directing readers to Obama’s comments in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday seemingly advocating a scaled back health bill.

“Maybe House Democrats can pull this out, even with a gaping hole in White House leadership,” Krugman continued. “But I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.”

Krugman’s harsh tone was matched by other liberals who seem to have had enough with the course the president has taken on health care.

Sounds like somebody didn't get his pony....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Most-wanted Filipino militant killed in US drone attack in Pak (PTI, 21 January 2010)

A Filipino militant and a bomb- making expert, most-wanted by the United States, was killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan's restive South Waziristan region on January 14.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


'Hamas accepts Israel's right to exist' (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 1/21/10, Ha'aretz)

Hamas has accepted Israel's right to exist and would be prepared to nullify its charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel, Aziz Dwaik, Hamas's most senior representative in the West Bank, said on Wednesday.

Dwaik's remarks are seen in the context of Hamas's attempts to win recognition from the international community.

Dwaik is the elected speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He was released a few months ago after spending nearly three years in an Israeli prison. [...]

Some consider Dwaik, as speaker of the PLC, to be the acting president of the Palestinian Authority, since Mahmoud Abbas's term officially expired on January 9. Dwaik himself has said that he is content to let Abbas continue in office until the election that is now scheduled for June 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Millions wrongly think they have food allergy (Rebecca Smith, 21 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

One in five adults think they are allergic to food, with most stating a wheat intolerance as the problem.

However, when they are actually tested just two per cent have a genuine allergy or intolerance, a report from the University of Portsmouth said.

Women are more likely to report a food allergy than men and it is thought the increase in the use of home testing kits and fad diets and celebrity eating regimes may be fuelling the misconceptions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Q&A: Obama on His First Year in Office (Joe Klein, 1./21/10, TIME)

TIME's Joe Klein sat down for an interview with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Jan. 15, 2010.

Klein: I talked to a bunch a folks — friends, my kids — what should I ask the President? It was almost unanimous: the thing that people remarked on is just how crazy things are. How difficult it is. [...]

Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Monica Lewinsky left the Oval with more of her pride intact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


‘Volcker rule’ takes bankers by surprise (Edward Luce and Tom Braithwaite, January 21 2010, Financial Times)

White House officials on Thursday insisted that Mr Obama’s proposals, which are not thought to have the enthusiastic backing of Tim Geithner, Mr Obama’s Treasury secretary, had been in the pipeline since last spring, although there was no hint of them in the regulatory reform paper it sent to Capitol Hill in June.

Officials added that Mr Volcker had met with Mr Obama “more than a dozen times” since taking office.

Almost everyone else, including key figures in the banking sector, which is likely to lobby fiercely against the proposals, which Mr Obama aptly dubbed the “Volcker Rule”, were taken by surprise.

“We had absolutely no idea this was coming,” said Scott Talbott of the Financial Services Roundtable, a leading Wall Street lobby group.

Restoring regulations that prevent investment banks from taking on too much risk certainly make sense, but blindsiding them makes none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2008 (Pew Research, 1/21/10)

The marriage table and birth table are especially revealing:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Money Grubbers: The Supreme Court kills campaign finance reform. (Richard L. Hasen, Jan. 21, 2010, Slate)

Today Justice Kennedy wrote for a court majority of the five conservative justices. He effectively wiped out a key provision of Congress' 2002 campaign finance reform. He also did indeed strike down Austin and parts of McConnell. To Justice Kennedy, any limits on the independent spending of money in elections smacks of government censorship. The limits Congress enacted in 2002 remind him of old English laws requiring licensing for speech. He talked about the byzantine sets of federal laws and regulations involved—genuinely confusing, it's true—and said that none of it was permissible under the First Amendment. He talked of the rise of the Internet and blogs and how the government could soon come in and start regulating political blogging if the court did not step in.

Though the decision deals with federal elections, expect state and local corporate and union spending limits to be challenged, and to fall, throughout the country. There are many responses to Justice Kennedy's reasoning. He wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the state supreme court? Justice Kennedy himself thought so in last year's Caperton case. And yet he runs away from that decision in today's ruling. Justice Kennedy acknowledges that with the "soft money" limits on political parties still in place, third-party groups (which tend to run more negative and irresponsible ads) will increase in strength relative to political parties. And that possibility raises the real chance Congress will repeal the "soft money" limits, thereby increasing the risks of quid pro quo corruption.

There's more to criticize in the opinion. Should the American people, through Congress, be able to decide that the vast economic inequality that comes with our wonderful capitalist system should not translate into vast political inequality?

As a Constitutional matter, there's no problem with limits on corporate speech and no justification for limits on political speech individuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Dems join effort to block global warming rules (DINA CAPPIELLO, 01/21/10, AP)

Three Democratic senators are joining an effort to block the Obama administration from taking steps to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming.

Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas have signed onto a resolution introduced Thursday by Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Obama blasts Court decision on campaign finance (MARK SHERMAN 01/21/10, AP)

In a written statement, Obama says the campaign finance ruling will lead to a “stampede of special interest money in our politics.” Obama declared that his administration will work with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to come up with a “forceful response” to the high court’s action.

...but threatening to meet a Court decision--even a bad one--with force is unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


India targets China's satellites (Peter J Brown, 1/21/10, Asia Times)

The goals for India's anti-ballistic missile (ABM) and ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs may be shifting to accommodate an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon more quickly than previously planned, and this could radically alter the agenda of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is currently in the middle of a three-day visit to India.

"Memories in New Delhi run deep about how India's relative tardiness in developing strategic offensive systems [nuclear weapons] redounded in its relegation on 'judgment day' [when the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968] to the formal category of non-nuclear weapons state," said Sourabh Gupta, senior research associate at Samuels International Associates in Washington, DC.

"With its early support of the former US president George W Bush's ballistic missile defense program and its current drive to develop anti-ballistic missile/anti-satellite capability, New Delhi is determined not to make the same mistake twice," added Gupta.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Barack Obama will be a one-term president if he doesn't ditch his statism: Barack Obama's only chance of a legacy is to stop thinking like Gordon Brown and start emulating Bill Clinton (Alex Singleton, 21 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

It is too early to have expected Barack Obama to have brought change to America or the world, but the president is risking becoming a curious footnote in history - the first black president, but a president who failed to achieve his domestic reforms, who carried on George W. Bush's programme in Iraq, and who was thrown out after his first term.

Mr Obama's only option, if he wants to rescue his presidency, is to follow Bill Clinton's example and ditch the more extreme aspects of his statism - including his support for a whole catalogue of tax rises - and instead support moderate reforms. By 1996, Clinton declared that the era of big government was over. Mr Clinton ditched HilaryCare - his wife's 1993 heath care plan - and worked with Republicans in Congress to support a genuinely good programme of reforms.

Just like Mr Obama, Mr Clinton was openly hostile to free trade during his election campaign - prefering protectionist grips over trade, rather than the greater efficiency and freedom that comes from the market. He became an ardent supporter of the North American Free Trade Area, which he got through Congress, just as he did with the GATT agreement, which created the World Trade Organisation.

With a global halo, the current American president is just the man to push forward further deals, thereby raising living standards around the world. Yet his administration has prevented a revival of the Doha round of trade talks, which are dying in a ditch, by demanding more concessions from middle-income countries, while Mr Obama seems far more interested in squandering taxpayers' money on America's largely pointless and sick car industry.

There's another thing Mr Obama could learn from Mr Clinton: the former president dropped his hosility for welfare reform - indeed, he became its most enthusiastic proponent.

Actually, Bill Clinton's problem was that, like the UR, he'd run Right on issues like taxes, trade and welfare reform but then yielded to the legislative desires of congressional Democrats once he won. In order for a Democrat to win the presidency he has to run as a conservative. To retain it he better govern that way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


On the Rails (Ralph R. Reiland, 1.21.10, American Spectator)

I'm writing this somewhere in a swamp in Georgia, chugging northward on the Auto Train, the world's longest passenger train. [...]

Ticket prices depend on demand, like concert tickets. With the train packed with snow birds on our way down to Florida after Christmas, we paid $782 for a bedroom with a restroom/shower combination and a couch and chair that converted into bunks. The larger one's on the bottom. Forget feminism and equality -- I get the top bunk every time. I feel like a tuna in a can.

Coming back on a less crowded train, leaving most of the snowbirds in Florida, the price for the same room was $406.

The car, additionally, is $152 each way, plus there's a $70.65 rail fare each way.

Altogether, that's $1,633.30 -- not bad if you're staying for the winter and saving the cost of a car rental for 15 weeks or so. If a car rental is $200 a week, the train ends up as more than free, plus there's a complimentary wine tasting party in the lounge car during the first hour (this time with salmon appetizers -- usually it's only carrot sticks and those little cheese crackers), a free dinner at five or seven o'clock, a movie at seven and nine o'clock, and a complimentary continental breakfast (orange juice, coffee, a banana and those little boxes of Special-K and Rice Krispies). [...]

But it's efficient. Where else can you simultaneously read, drink, smoke, eat, talk, write, e-mail, and meet dozens of new characters, all while going 70 miles per hour?

If the train were headed North instead you'd really have to envy him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Bill O’Reilly shocked that Palin eats the animals she shoots (The Daily Caller, 01/21/10)

Bill: So what do you do for fun? I mean, we hear that you shoot things, you know, wolves and you are a hunter and a fisher woman and all of that. Is that what you do, outdoors stuff?

Sarah: Sure, I’m Alaskan and we eat, therefore we hunt. Yes.

Bill: Do you actually shoot things and you skin them and put them in the refrigerator and eat them later and stuff?

Sarah: We sure do. The freezer is full of that organic wild game that keeps us healthy.

Bill: Like what?

Sarah: Moose, caribou. buffalo.

Bill: You eat moose steaks?

Sarah: You need to come up there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


The fault line in Haiti runs straight to France: The earthquake’s destruction has been aggravated not by a pact with the Devil, but by the crippling legacy of imperialism (Ben Macintyre, 1/21/10, Times of London)

In the 18th century, Haiti was France’s imperial jewel, the Pearl of the Caribbean, the largest sugar exporter in the world. Even by colonial standards, the treatment of slaves working the Haitian plantations was truly vile. They died so fast that, at times, France was importing 50,000 slaves a year to keep up the numbers and the profits.

Inspired by the principles of the French Revolution, in 1791 the slaves rebelled under the leadership of the self-educated slave Toussaint L’Ouverture. After a vicious war, Napoleon’s forces were defeated. Haiti declared independence in 1804.

As Haiti struggles with new misfortune, it is worth remembering that noble achievement — this is the only nation to gain independence by a slave-led rebellion, the first black republic, and the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere. Haiti was founded on a demand for liberty from people whose liberty had been stolen: the country itself is a tribute to human resilience and freedom.

France did not forgive the impertinence and loss of earnings: 800 destroyed sugar plantations, 3,000 lost coffee estates. A brutal trade blockade was imposed. Former plantation owners demanded that Haiti be invaded, its population enslaved once more. Instead, the French State opted to bleed the new black republic white.

In 1825, in return for recognising Haitian independence, France demanded indemnity on a staggering scale: 150 million gold francs, five times the country’s annual export revenue. The Royal Ordinance was backed up by 12 French warships with 150 cannon.

The terms were non-negotiable. The fledgeling nation acceded, since it had little choice. Haiti must pay for its freedom, and pay it did, through the nose, for the next 122 years.

Historical accountancy is an inexact business, but the scale of French usury was astonishing. Even when the total indemnity was reduced to 90 million francs, Haiti remained crippled by debt. The country took out loans from US, German and French banks at extortionate rates. To put the cost into perspective, in 1803 France agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory, an area 74 times the size of Haiti, to the US, for 60 million francs.

Weighed down by this financial burden, Haiti was born almost bankrupt. In 1900 some 80 per cent of the national budget was still being swallowed up by debt repayments. Money that might have been spent on building a stable economy went to foreign bankers. To keep workers on the land and extract maximum crop yields to pay the indemnity, Haiti brought in the Rural Code, instituting a division between town and country, between a light-skinned elite and the dark-skinned majority, that still persists.

The debt was not finally paid off until 1947. By then, Haiti’s economy was hopelessly distorted, its land deforested, mired in poverty, politically and economically unstable, prey equally to the caprice of nature and the depredations of autocrats. Seven year ago, the Haitian Government demanded restitution from Paris to the tune of nearly $22 billion (including interest) for the gunboat diplomacy that had helped to make it the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

...because they took the French Revolution as their model Haitians demanded equality, not liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Hong Kong remains world's freest economy: report (AFP, Jan 20, 2010)

Hong Kong, a former British colony which was returned to China in 1997, edged out rival Singapore to claim top spot for the sixteenth consecutive year in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom.

Australia and New Zealand grabbed third and fourth spot respectively.

The report is compiled by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, and The Wall Street Journal.

Ireland, Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Denmark and Chile rounded out the top ten list, which is based on criteria including economic openness, trade, the efficiency of domestic regulators, and the rule of law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Quick hit: 5 Senate races where Scott Brown matters right now (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 1/21/10, Politico)

3. Washington-Is conventional wisdom wrong? Could Sen. Patty Murray be vulnerable to challenge?

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31773.html#ixzz0dFGRxb49

According to Wikipedia:
# 2 Overview of races (37 seats)

* 2.1 Retiring Democratic Senators (5 seats)
o 2.1.1 Christopher Dodd of Connecticut
o 2.1.2 Ted Kaufman of Delaware
o 2.1.3 Roland Burris of Illinois
o 2.1.4 Paul Kirk of Massachusetts
o 2.1.5 Byron Dorgan of North Dakota
* 2.2 Retiring Republican Senators (6 seats)
o 2.2.1 George LeMieux of Florida
o 2.2.2 Sam Brownback of Kansas
o 2.2.3 Jim Bunning of Kentucky
o 2.2.4 Kit Bond of Missouri
o 2.2.5 Judd Gregg of New Hampshire
o 2.2.6 George Voinovich of Ohio
* 2.3 Democratic incumbents (14 seats)
o 2.3.1 Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas
o 2.3.2 Barbara Boxer of California
o 2.3.3 Michael Bennet of Colorado
o 2.3.4 Daniel Inouye of Hawaii
o 2.3.5 Evan Bayh of Indiana
o 2.3.6 Barbara Mikulski of Maryland
o 2.3.7 Harry Reid of Nevada
o 2.3.8 Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
o 2.3.9 Chuck Schumer of New York
o 2.3.10 Ron Wyden of Oregon
o 2.3.11 Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania
o 2.3.12 Patrick Leahy of Vermont
o 2.3.13 Patty Murray of Washington
o 2.3.14 Russ Feingold of Wisconsin
* 2.4 Republican incumbents (12 seats)
o 2.4.1 Richard Shelby of Alabama
o 2.4.2 Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
o 2.4.3 John McCain of Arizona
o 2.4.4 Johnny Isakson of Georgia
o 2.4.5 Mike Crapo of Idaho
o 2.4.6 Chuck Grassley of Iowa
o 2.4.7 David Vitter of Louisiana
o 2.4.8 Richard Burr of North Carolina
o 2.4.9 Tom Coburn of Oklahoma
o 2.4.10 Jim DeMint of South Carolina
o 2.4.11 John Thune of South Dakota
o 2.4.12 Bob Bennett of Utah

You'd think the only ones where the GOP would have no shot are Inouye, Mikulski, Leahy, Schumer, Wyden, Feingold and you could make the case for contesting most of those.

Dems fret: 'Every state is in play' (MANU RAJU & LISA LERER, 1/21/10, Politico)

Several Democratic incumbents said later that none of the 19 Democratic seats up this year are safe — and that fundamental parts of the agenda need to be re-examined to win over voters back home.

“Every state is now in play,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who faces the toughest reelection battle of her career — most likely against wealthy Republican Carly Fiorina.

Boxer is pushing a cap-and-trade bill to control greenhouse gases, but her counterpart from California, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said a “large cap-and-trade bill isn’t going to go ahead at this time.”

“In my view, when people are earning, when their home is secure, when their children are going to school and they’re relatively satisfied with their life, then [when] there’s a problem like health care, they want it solved,” Feinstein said. “It doesn’t threaten them. The size of this bill threatens them, and that’s one of the problems that has to be straightened out.”

Asked if red-state Democrats up in 2010 and 2012 should be nervous about the electorate, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told POLITICO, “Oh, yeah.”

“I think part of the problem is the agenda itself,” said Conrad, who doesn’t face voters again until 2012.

Who Will Fall Next?: Scott Brown’s upset win has Republicans licking their chops about this fall’s midterms. A Daily Beast survey of the GOP’s best bets for big pickups. (Samuel P. Jacobs, 1/21/10, Daily Beast)
So is this the tip of a tidal wave? Here’s what we know: Midterms are rarely a pretty thing for the president’s party. According to Congressional Quarterly, the party that holds the White House has lost seats in 14 of the 16 midterm elections since the Second World War. That party loses two dozen seats on average in the House. In 1994, the year of Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, the out-of-party Republicans won 54 seats. Over at the Cook Political Report, they’re projecting Democratic losses to be closer to the average number—20 to 30—than to the 1994 shellacking, but that could change in the post-Brown climate. The Rothenberg Political Report is predicting a more conservative 15- to 20-seat gain in the House for the Republicans. In the Senate, the Democrats are likely to maintain their majority but unlikely to keep it filibuster-proof at 60. The likeliest Republican Senate pickups? Seats in Nevada, Colorado, Arkansas, North Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

January 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Brown Already Recording Robo-Call For McCain (Rachel Slajda, January 20, 2010, TPM)

Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA), who won his seat in last night's special election, has already recorded a robo-call for Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) re-election campaign.

Brown's campaign confirmed that he recorded the call, which asks voters to call McCain and thank him for supporting Brown. The number goes to Friends of John McCain, the senator's campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


After Massachusetts: His Hopes Did Him In (Garry Wills, 1/20/10, NY Review of Books Blog)

He was hopeful, optimistic, patriotic—all necessary qualities in the mold-breaker; he was soothing, not threatening. He promised to unite red and blue states, to end a period of bitter divisiveness in Washington. To many it mattered more that he was the anti-Bush than that he was the anti-Sharpton.A policy of omnidirectional placation had served him well as the editor of the Harvard Law Review, as a community organizer, as a state senator. But the mild manner works only if it removes the threat from a serious purpose. In the presidency, Obama has let the mild manner become the purpose. And with the loss of the Massachusetts Senate race, that purpose—and his ability to act on it—has been put in deep doubt.

In a sense, he swallowed his own Kool-Aid. He worked on the unrealistic assumption that his really was a post-racial, post-partisan, post-red-state-blue-state America. He spent a year and endless energy in trying to please and recruit the Olympia Snowes and Charles Grassleys and Max Baucuses and Big Pharmacies. He let them dictate the pace and the terms of the health care debate, making it hostage to the virulent town hall meetings of the summer of 2009. They were never going to be his allies. He should have identified them as his foes early on, and attacked them as such.

Instead of saying he would let others give him a health plan, any health plan, he should have said that the health plan he needed and wanted was the public option, and then sold it unceasingly as the only means of bringing down costs—which proved to be the central issue in rejecting less effective compromises.

And merely playing footsie with it during the legislative process caused Democrats to crater. How would identifying himself more closely with such an unpopular idea have been helpful?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


From bad to worse for Lincoln (Aaron Blake - 01/20/10, The Hill)

A new poll shows Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) might be in more trouble than previously thought.

The Talk Business Quarterly poll, which was conducted by The Markham Group (D), The Political Firm (R), and TBQ Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock, shows Lincoln with a 38 percent job approval rating and 56 percent disapproval. [...]

President Obama’s approval in the poll is 37 percent, versus 61 percent disapproval.

...but it does seem odd that she's willing to have 5 less Democratic women, in particular, in the Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Why China Needs Google More Than Google Needs China: Cyber attacks targeting Gmail accounts of Chinese human right activists have led to a decision by Google to relax self-censorship for China. This may be the first step in a much larger pullout from China by tech giant Google. This bold business move is a good thing, according to Popular Mechanics's senior technology editor, Glenn Derene. Here, Derene argues that China needs Google's innovation and creativity much more than Google needs Chinese business. (Glenn Derene, January 13, 2010, Popular Mechanics)

Currently, it is a case of who needs whom more. It seems unlikely that China will loosen its restrictions for the second most popular search engine in the country. But having Google pull out its business may prove too much of an embarrassment and an acknowledgement of systemic repression, two things the Chinese government would like to avoid. Google could end up losing out on a potentially huge market, but if it doesn't stand up for its IP, the Chinese will most certainly take such steps again in the future.

In fact, the tough part is that even if Google, and, for that matter, other tech companies, pull operations out of China, they will still face hacker thefts of IP from afar—Internet larceny knows no boundaries. But China may be taking the bigger risk here. Part of the reason the U.S. has proved so technologically creative is that we have a free and open information economy—and China has, thus far, benefited from advances born here. If U.S. tech companies are forced to take a defensive stance toward China, that country will find itself isolated from the creativity of the West. And try as they might, it's doubtful that China can completely steal its way to technological creativity. China has done a great job of developing its manufacturing base, but that country still lags when it comes to technological innovation. And I'd argue that China won't develop along those lines until it allows for the free exchange of ideas and the protection of intellectual property. Hacking e-mail and driving the greatest information discovery service ever invented out of your country certainly won't help those goals.

China would have to so radically change its culture in order to become creative that it would basically cease to exist. But the bigger problem is it doesn't have that much time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


An Obituary Shattered (Tom Qualtere, 01/20/10, The DC)

What a difference a year makes. For American conservatism, it was a difference between life and death.

With the inauguration of Barack Obama, American politics were supposed to have changed for at least a generation, perhaps longer. When Bill Kristol wrote in the New York Times a year ago this week that “Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era,” few could persuasively disagree.

Others, mostly liberals, took their diagnoses further. Not content with inscribing an obituary for Republican political dominance, Sam Tanenhaus penned an essay and then a book about “the death of conservatism” itself. Even a year before the election, not long after the Democratic midterm victory, an early 2007 Daily Kos headline boasted that “Conservatism is Dead, and It’s Not Coming Back.” From left-leaning columnists to television pundits, the list of those ready (and eager) to pronounce the conservative movement’s demise seemed endless.

But then, on Jan. 19, 2010, the state of Massachusetts opted to replace Ted Kennedy with a conservative Republican named Scott Brown in a special election for the liberal lion’s old Senate seat. This victory, utterly seismic no matter which way it’s spun, literally came out of the bluest of the blue.

The obituaries have been shattered. Conservatism, albeit with scars still apparent, is quite obviously alive and preparing itself to govern again soon.

...he ran to the Right of John McCain and George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Obama Retreats on Health-Care Bill (HENRY J. PULIZZI And PATRICK YOEST, 1/20/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama expressed support for scaling back a health bill to "core elements," the first indication that the White House might be backing away from the type of broader overhaul that Congress had been working on.

Mr. Obama told ABC News that lawmakers should "move quickly to coalesce around" parts of the health-care bill that both parties can agree on, "core elements" that include insurance reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


The tragedy of Obama (Michael Lind, 1/20/10, Salon)

The key to understanding Barack Obama is one simple fact: He received more Wall Street money than his Republican rival John McCain and his rivals for the Democratic primary nomination. What did the investment bankers and hedge fund tycoons think they were getting for their investment?

One does wish that he were controlled by Wall Street so he'd pass the trade agreements that W left him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


The year of inverted socialism: Obama was more than willing to oblige the predators in a letdown first year (Walter Kirn, 1/20/10, Salon)

From each according to his need, to each according to his greed. It pains me to say it, because I voted for him, manned phone banks for him, and gave to his campaign, but Obama (in truly flabbergasting cahoots with Goldman Sachs, the Citibank alumni club, and the jet-setting Ivy-League long-range-thinking all stars who love to convene at Aspen, Davos, Sun Valley and other ritzy spas and ski resorts to discuss, over cocktails, the global common good) has managed to perfect, in just one year, an ingenious socioeconomic system that might be called "inverted socialism" and which makes the free-market conservatism it succeeded seem, by comparison, principled and simple.

As though he believes that the best way to redress a ruinous, massive private-sector theft is to rehabilitate the thieves by putting them to work as Cabinet members and high-ranking public policy officials, Obama has licensed the bungling robber barons who managed to gamble away the loot amassed in their attempt to fleece the world to recoup their squandered booty by "borrowing" from the taxpayers and homeowners (lots of them former homeowners by now) the money that they failed to grab the first time -- and then lending, with interest, the borrowings back to them!

But that’s just abomination No. 1 from this year-long experiment in reverse-progressivism that no new belated "tax" on Wall Street fortunes can hope to render more acceptable. There’s also the nearly trillion-dollar jobs program that set a new record for high-speed wealth destruction through widespread cronyism, sham accounting and bureaucratic self-enrichment. The effort climaxed in a propaganda fest touting the countless positions that it created (but really, upon investigation, didn’t create; or certainly not in the numbers that were announced) while also taking credit for all the jobs that still existed but hypothetically wouldn't exist if the whole failed project hadn’t been tried.

When has unprincipled ever trumped principled?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


A disturbing failure to lead: In the face of towering challenges, Obama's accomplishments have been mediocre (Gloria Feldt, 1/20/10, Salon)

He’s resisted staking out a concrete, decisive agenda. The first responsibility of a leader is to create meaning, and the executive’s most important power is to set the agenda. Having seen President Clinton falter on healthcare by presenting a full-blown bill to Congress, Obama presented no bill; hence the committee-designed "camel." Now, nobody’s happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Did Obama win the Iraq War?: Let's give credit where it's due (Juan Cole, 1/20/10, Salon)

The Iraqi military and police, over which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had largely gained control, proved able to keep order about as well as had their American and British colleagues. In July 2009, with the U.S. no longer patrolling, attacks and deaths declined by a third, and went on down from there. Despite two dramatic bombing waves in the capital, in August and November, the situation has in most places calmed down on an everyday basis. Flashpoints such as Mosul and Kirkuk remain, but had been violent when the U.S. military was there, too.

Most Americans do not realize that U.S. troops seldom patrol or engage in combat in Iraq anymore, accounting for why none were killed in hostile action in December. The total number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen from a maximum of 160,000 during the Bush administration's "surge" to about 110,000. After the early March parliamentary elections, another big withdrawal will begin, bringing then number down to 50,000 or so non-combat troops by Sept. 1.

Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq war. But there is no longer an Iraq war. There are U.S. bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little U.S. involvement. Obama is having his troops leave exactly as quickly as the Iraqi parliament asked him to. Most U.S. troops in Iraq seem mainly to be in the moving business now, shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment.

The last 4,000 Marines will hand over responsibility for al-Anbar Province, once among the more violent places on earth, to the U.S. Army on Saturday, and shortly thereafter the Marines will depart the country.

U.S. narratives of how Baghdad and environs calmed down -- relatively speaking -- leave out the victory of the Shiites in the civil war fought 2006-2007, and the ethnic cleansing of most Sunni Arabs from Baghdad. Despite the continued possibility of terrorism, the demoralized and defeated Sunnis seem unlikely to be able or willing to organize for a repeat of the civil war any time soon. (Sunni Arabs are probably less than 20 percent of the population, whereas Shiites are about 60 percent, something the Sunnis long denied, a denial that made them overconfident they could defeat the majority.) In the meantime, Iraqi military capacity seems just barely adequate to security tasks outside a few hotspots such as Mosul.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Dazed Dems rethink entire strategy (Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, January 20, 2010, Politico)

Ideologues and hard-core partisans dominate the leadership of both parties and the cable TV debates. But it’s the independents who are the deciders in most elections.

This voting bloc has swung decisively against Democrats, starting this past summer. A review of polling in Massachusetts, in other states and nationally shows the same thing: By about a 2-to-1 margin, independents have turned on Democrats.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that two-thirds of independents would prefer Republicans controlled Congress. The same polls show the voters don’t even like Republicans. A CBS News poll showed only one-third of independents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy — a nearly 20-point drop in less than one year.

In all three big Democratic losses this past year — in New Jersey, Virginia and now Massachusetts — better than 60 percent of independents said they backed Republicans.

It would be a mistake for Republicans and Democrats to chalk this up to the health care bill. Independents consistently tell pollsters they aren’t happy with anything Washington is doing when it comes to the economy and domestic issues.

For the foreseeable future, the wrath of independents will hit Democrats hardest. [...]

The Obama magic has vanished

Think back a year ago and imagine someone saying Obama would throw his support behind Democrats in New Jersey, Virginia and Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts — and lose all of them.

Think back a year ago and imagine someone saying he would celebrate his first anniversary without having gotten health care, financial regulation or energy legislation signed into law. And that less than 50 percent of the public would hold a favorable view of his presidency.

Think back fourteen months ago and imagine that Mr. Obama had convinced voters that if elected he would radically alter health care, financial regulation and energy policy. What percent of the vote would he have gotten? 43%?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Embracing Israel Costs Merkel Clout ( JUDY DEMPSEY, 1/21/10, NY Times)

[M]rs. Merkel’s policy is inconsistent. When she was first elected chancellor in late 2005, she placed much emphasis on human rights and freedom. She criticized China’s human rights policy and made the highly controversial decision to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, in the Chancellery in 2007. China warned of dire consequences, such as severing lucrative trade contracts. Apart from the cancellation of a few high-level meetings, little happened.

When Mrs. Merkel met nongovernmental organizations that Vladimir V. Putin had tried to ban, the relationship between Berlin and Moscow became frosty. That was all.

But as far as the Middle East is concerned, Mrs. Merkel has paid scant attention to the miserable living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza as well as Israel’s settlements and detention policies. German legislators and analysts say that of all chancellors of the postwar period, Mrs. Merkel is considered the most pro-Israeli. “The chancellor is particularly close to Israel,” said one conservative legislator, Ruprecht Polenz, who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Parliament.

So close that Mrs. Merkel was muted in her criticism of Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip in late 2008, which killed many civilians. In contrast, when the Iranian authorities used force last year against the opposition, which was claiming that the presidential elections had been rigged, Mrs. Merkel took an admirable stance, becoming one of the few leaders to publicly criticize the regime, even calling for new elections.

...what's the difference between the PRC, Putin, Ahmedinejad and Israel?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


Con Artists: Oh, no! Scott Brown has incoherent and appalling economic ideas—just like almost all of his congressional Republican colleagues. (Daniel Gross, Jan. 20, 2010, Slate)

Political commentators will likely say that Scott Brown's victory in the Massachusetts Senate race proves that the United States is still a center-right nation and that Obama and the Democrats have to be more bipartisan. But Brown's victory says a lot more about the incoherence and contradictions of today's Republican Party when it comes to matters of economic and fiscal policy. The failure caucus has just added another member. [...]

Throughout, there's been a consistent chorus: Deficits are too high, but we must cut taxes (a move that will increase the deficit), and we must not cut Medicare spending in any way, shape, or form (a move that will increase the deficit), and we must not raise taxes (a move that would narrow the deficit).

There's no reason that liberal rags should employ orthodox economists, who, after all, are all free marketeers. But they ought to be forthright about the fact that it is tax cutting instead of increased spending that is endorsed by the profession as a means of goosing growth, Let's Stimulate Private Risk Taking: Tax cuts are the way to nudge capital toward productive uses. (ALBERTO ALESINA and LUIGI ZINGALES, 1/21/09, WSJ)
In virtually all economics classes, including those taught by the many excellent economists on the Obama team, the idea of government spending as an engine for growth is not a popular topic. Yet despite their skepticism of Keynesianism in the classroom, when it comes to public policy, these economists happily endorse a large stimulus package that could bring our deficit to 10% of GDP. Why? [...]

So how do we stimulate the economy without increasing the already large current-account deficit? It's not easy, but here is an idea: Create the incentive for people to take more risk and move their savings from government bonds to risky assets. There is no better way to encourage this than a temporary elimination of the capital-gains tax for all the investments begun during 2009 and held for at least two years.

If we fear this is not enough, we can temporarily increase the size of the capital loss that is deductible against ordinary income. This will reduce the downside of new investments and increase the upside. [...]

No doubt, it is much easier to sell the public and Congress a plan for more public works than tax cuts, particularly while Main Street despises Wall Street -- with some good reason. But the role of a good economic team is to courageously propose the right economic policy, even when it is unpopular. The role of a president is to sell it politically, as real change we can believe in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


German journalist Ernst Cramer dies (JTA, 1/19/10)

Born in Augsburg, Cramer was incarcerated in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1938. The Nazis released him on condition that he emigrate. He and his late sister, Helene, made it to the United States, but their parents, Martin and Clare, and brother Erwin were murdered in the Holocaust.

Cramer returned to Buchenwald as a U.S. soldier, just after liberation in April 1945.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Obama's lost senate seat is a victory for Netanyahu (Aluf Benn, 1/20/10, Haaretz)

No Israeli politician matches his steps to the political goings-on in the U.S. as much as Netanyahu. He dragged out negotiations over the settlement freeze and then decided it would last for 10 months and end in September - just in time for U.S. Congressional elections in which Democrats are expected to suffer heavy losses.

Netanyahu understood he must withstand the pressure until his right-wing supporters recapture a position of power on Capitol Hill and work to rein in the White House's political activities. The election in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in America, will from this moment on be a burden for Obama.

Proponents of the peace process will view this as a missed opportunity for Obama, who spent his first year in office on fruitless diplomatic moves that failed to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians. From now on, it will be harder for Obama. Congressional support is essential to the political process and in the current political atmosphere in the U.S. - in which the parties are especially polarized - Netanyahu can rely on Republican support to thwart pressure on Israel.

You don't realize how thoroughly American culture dominates the globe until you see how obsessively our elections are followed abroad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


NZ's man in Washington says trade deal is priority (New Zealand Herald, 1/21/10)

Mike Moore, the man who once headed the World Trade Organisation, will now lead the charge on getting a trade agreement with the United States as New Zealand's ambassador in Washington.

Former Labour prime minister Mr Moore said making progress on the US joining the Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) would be a priority in his agenda.

"I think there is a job to be done here for New Zealand and I'd like to do it, and I'd do it with everything I've got, 24/7. Our interests are at stake," he said.

The Democrats would rather indulge their own protectionist impulses than grow the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


New York Times to begin charging online readers (AFP, 1/20/10)

The New York Times announced Wednesday that it will begin charging online readers of the newspaper at the beginning of next year.

"The new approach, referred to as the metered model, will offer users free access to a set number of articles per month and then charge users once they exceed that number," The New York Times Co. said in a statement. [...]

Times Co. chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger said the new business model "is designed to provide additional support for The New York Times' extraordinary, professional journalism.

"Our audiences are very loyal and we believe that our readers will pay for our award-winning digital content and services," he said.

Wanna bet?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


UN Climate Experts Under Fire for Glacier Melt Error (Christoph Seidler, 1/20/10, Der Spiegel)

In its 2007 report on climate change, the United Nations included a prediction that the Himalayan glaciers had a high probability of melting by 2035 -- a forecast that came as an unpleasant surprise for many. But the forecast is wrong and the Nobel Prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change is be criticized heavily for its methods.

If they had only listened to Georg Kaser, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would have been spared deep embarrassment. The glacier specialist from the University of Innsbruck was one of the lead authors of the first part of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning body's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, or AR4. The second part of the paper stated that the probability of Himalayan glaciers "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high."

"This date -- 2035 -- is almost completely absurd," Kaser told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "No one could take that number seriously."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:46 AM


A Very American Coup: Coming soon to a hometown near you. (William Astore, Jan. 20, 2010, MotherJones)

The wars in distant lands were always going to come home, but not this way.

It's September 2016, year 15 of America's "Long War [3]" against terror. As weary troops return to the homeland, a bitter reality assails them: despite their sacrifices, America is losing.

Iraq is increasingly hostile to remaining occupation forces. Afghanistan is a riddle that remains unsolved: its army and police forces are untrustworthy [4], its government corrupt, and its tribal leaders unsympathetic to the vagaries of US intervention. Since the Obama surge of 2010, a trillion more dollars have been devoted to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries in the vast shatter zone [5] that is central Asia, without measurable returns; nothing, that is, except the prolongation of America's Great Recession, now entering its tenth year without a sustained recovery in sight.

Disillusioned veterans are unable to find decent jobs in a crumbling economy. Scarred by the physical and psychological violence of war, fed up with the happy talk of duplicitous politicians who only speak of shared sacrifices, they begin to organize. Their motto: take America back.

Meanwhile, a lame duck presidency, choking on foreign policy failures, finds itself attacked even for its putative successes. Health-care reform is now seen to have combined the inefficiency and inconsistency of government with the naked greed and exploitative talents of corporations. Medical rationing is a fact of life confronting anyone on the high side of 50. Presidential rhetoric that offered hope and change has lost all resonance. Mainstream media outlets are discredited and disintegrating, resulting in new levels of information anarchy.

Protest, whether electronic or in the streets, has become more common—and the protestors in those streets increasingly carry guns, though as yet armed violence is minimal. A panicked administration responds with overlapping executive orders and legislation that is widely perceived as an attack on basic freedoms.

[6]Tapping the frustration of protesters—including a renascent and mainstreamed "tea bag" movement—the former captains and sergeants, the ex-CIA operatives and out-of-work private mercenaries of the War on Terror take action. Conflict and confrontation they seek; laws and orders they increasingly ignore. As riot police are deployed in the streets, they face a grim choice: where to point their guns? Not at veterans, they decide, not at America's erstwhile heroes.

A dwindling middle-class, still waving the flag and determined to keep its sliver-sized portion of the American dream, throws its support to the agitators. Wages shrinking, savings exhausted, bills rising, the sober middle can no longer hold. It vents its fear and rage by calling for a decisive leader and the overthrow of a can't-do Congress.

Savvy members of traditional Washington elites are only too happy to oblige. They too crave order and can-do decisiveness—on their terms. Where better to find that than in the ranks of America's most respected institution: the military?

A retired senior officer who led America's heroes in central Asia is anointed. His creed: end public disorder, fight the War on Terror to a victorious finish, put America back on top. The United States, he says, is the land of winners, and winners accept no substitute for victory. Nominated on September 11, 2016, Patriot Day, he marches to an overwhelming victory that November, embraced in the streets by an American version of the post-World War I German [7] Freikorps and the police who refuse to suppress them. A concerned minority is left to wonder (and tremble) at the de facto military coup that occurred so quickly, and yet so silently, in their midst.

One of the main reasons that it's so hard top tell the Left and far Right apart is their shared contempt for and distrust of the American people and all the institutions of the Republic. A year ago it was our wackos whingeing about the socialist menace. Now we're back to fascism. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has done so close to nothing with even the power that he has that we barely have an executive branch. And his successor will be a thoroughly decent and moderate conservative governor, just like W or Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Webb Urges a Halt to Senate Health Care Votes (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 1/19/10, NY Times)

“In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process,” Mr. Webb said. “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Unemployment unchanged by projects (MATT APUZZO and BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE, 1/11/10, Associated Press)

A federal spending surge of more than $20 billion for roads and bridges in President Barack Obama's first stimulus has had no effect on local unemployment rates, raising questions about his argument for billions more to address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."

An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed.

...was pass a Reaganesque immigration amnesty in order to juice the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Obama to name budget-deficit panel (Associated Press, January 20, 2010)

Key details remain to be worked out and the agreement is tentative, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said. The deficit panel, patterned after a 1982 group that came up with a successful plan to strengthen Social Security, would comprise 10 Democrats and eight Republicans. It would take 14 members to report a plan -- requiring bipartisanship -- which would guarantee a vote in both the House and Senate. It's unclear who would choose the GOP members, but for the panel to have credibility with Republicans, GOP leaders probably would have input.

The idea behind the commission is that it is the best way to get policymakers to make the politically arduous decisions on raising taxes and curbing the growth of government programs like Medicare.

But lawmakers warned that there's no guarantee the commission could even agree on a plan in an election year. And even if it did, it's not certain that Congress could pass it.

Budget hawks would win a so-called pay-as-you-go law, which would make it far more difficult for lawmakers to run up the deficit with new tax cuts and benefit programs.

Under pay-as-you-go, if offsetting cuts or revenue hikes are not found to pay for new policies, across-the-board spending cuts would hit selected programs such as farm subsidies and Medicare.

...but to be credible it will need Volcker and Greenspan as co-chairs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Why the Dems Must Pass Health Care (Peter Beinart, 1/20/10, Daily Beast)

What should Barack Obama do now that Scott Brown has pulled off the biggest special-election upset in a generation? Push through health-care reform, and fast.

There are two arguments against doing so—one moral, one political—and they’re both wrong. The moral argument is that enacting health-care reform in the wake of Brown’s victory would be “undemocratic.” But what does that mean, exactly? I hate to shatter anyone’s illusions, but the United States is not actually a democracy; it’s a representative democracy. At the federal level, Americans don’t vote on whether bills should become law. They elect representatives who vote on whether bills should become law. That means that presidents and members of Congress have the right to defy the will of their constituents; they just have to face the consequences at the ballot box.

...until the Inouye and Byrd seats are in play.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Exit poll: Health care mattered (DAVID CATANESE | 1/20/10, Politico)

Scott Brown's opposition to congressional health care legislation was the most important issue that fueled his U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, according to exit poll data collected following the Tuesday special election.

Fifty-two percent of Bay State voters who were surveyed as the polls closed said they opposed the federal health care reform measure and 42 percent said they cast their ballot to help stop President Obama from passing his chief domestic initiative.

"I'm not surprised it was the top issue, but I was surprised by how overwhelming an issue it was. It became a focal point for the frustration that has been brewing with voters, and it's a very personal issue that affects everyone," said Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, a Republican firm that conducted the exit poll of 800 voters.

...the White House assures us the election has nothing to do with anything but Scott Brown's unique gifts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Is Pence inspired? (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 1/20/10, Politico)

At least one Republican might do more than cheer for Massachusetts: House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence is now considering a campaign of his own against Sen. Evan Bayh.

The outspoken conservative could effectively clear the Republican primary field and give his party a top-tier opponent for one of the best funded Democratic incumbents in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Is Pence inspired? (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 1/20/10, Politico)

At least one Republican might do more than cheer for Massachusetts: House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence is now considering a campaign of his own against Sen. Evan Bayh.

The outspoken conservative could effectively clear the Republican primary field and give his party a top-tier opponent for one of the best funded Democratic incumbents in 2010.

...is that since everyone can see this one coming there are real candidates running, folks who could retain the seats they win. The 1980 freshman Republican Senate class was like a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Treasury Makes Banks Pay a TARP Premium (MICHAEL R. CRITTENDEN, 1/20/10, WSJ)

In all, the Treasury has received $2.9 billion in gross proceeds from the 31 warrant repurchases through the end of last year, according to the report, which Treasury is set to release on Wednesday. That is higher than the value of market, third-party and internal estimates, which had put the total at between $2.2 billion and $2.7 billion, according to the report. The department has also received $1.1 billion in gross proceeds from three warrant auctions it conducted.

"This report makes clear that Treasury's process for selling these warrants has been consistent, transparent and has delivered strong returns for taxpayers," said Herb Allison, assistant treasury secretary for financial stability.

Stop confusing House Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Adviser distances Obama from Mass. race (Thomas Fitzgerald, 1/20/10, Inquirer)

When he took his hand off the Lincoln Bible on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol and the cannon boomed the traditional first salute one year ago today, President Obama seemed to have the political world at his feet.

Supporters forecast transformative change, renewed faith in government, and a growing Democratic majority.

But Obama enters his second year having suffered the sharpest decline in job approval for a first-year president, with most polls putting him at 50 percent or just below. Millions remain anxious over the economy and angry at growing federal spending, and many analysts framed yesterday's special Senate election in Massachusetts, with its threat to his signature health-care overhaul, as a referendum on his presidency so far. [...]

Axelrod said "there were local issues at play" in Massachusetts that hurt what had been expected to be an easy election for Coakley, arguing that her troubles did not indicate an outright repudiation of Obama. Winning Republican Scott Brown, who opposes Obama's health-care plan, ran a "very clever" campaign as an everyman in a battered GMC pickup, Axelrod said.

"As a practitioner of politics, my hat's off to him," Axelrod said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Payroll taxes increase for many employers across USA (Olga Pierce, 1/20/10, ProPublica)

Last year was the worst Don Miller had seen in more than 20 years of running a graphic printing business here.

Business slumped 15%, and he had to lay off two of the three workers who helped him print stickers and signs for Navy ships.

Miller hopes to bring them back, but hiring will be more expensive for all Virginia business owners this year. The recession has emptied Virginia's unemployment insurance trust fund, and the state is making up for it by raising taxes on employers and cutting jobless benefits for seniors.

In 2009, the average business owner paid $95 per employee. This year, the tax will be $171, according to estimates by the state workforce agency. "It's another added expense to hiring somebody," Miller says.

Meanwhile, Democrats are keeping business guessing about the cost of health care and carbon and immigration compliance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


India turns up heat over 'Glaciergate' (Neeta Lal, 1/21/10, Asia Times)

India's environment minister, having faced accusations of practicing "voodoo science", has been vindicated with the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations climate body's prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 being exposed as inaccurate speculation.

After suffering blows from the "Climategate" scandal and the tumultuous and essentially failed Copenhagen climate conference last year, the credibility of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is now being further questioned over revelations concerning a 2007 report in which it said the total area of the Himalayan glaciers would shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by 2035. The IPCC is the world's premier body for the study of climate change and its reports are the basis for formulating global policy.

On Sunday, the Times of London revealed that the claims of shrinkage were based solely on a speculative remark made by a little-known Indian scientist formerly at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Professor Dr Syed Iqbal Hasnain, in 1999 during an interview with New Scientist magazine. The Times quoted Hasnain as saying that the claim was "speculation" and not supported by any formal research.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Energized Republicans threaten Deval Patrick’s re-election chances (Hillary Chabot, January 20, 2010, Boston Herald)

The crushing momentum of state Sen. Scott Brown’s popular U.S. Senate campaign should be a wake-up call for Gov. Deval Patrick’s already shaky hold on the Corner Office , as Patrick’s three formidable challengers seek to cash in on a surge of voter discontent, said Beacon Hill observers.

“There’s no question that the Senate race significantly heightens the prospects of Deval Patrick’s challengers and it certainly only adds more to the worries that have already existed among Deval Patrick supporters,” said Paul Watanabe, political professor for the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Bet we won't be hearing anymore like this about how Mr. Patrick is the canary in the Obama coalmine, Patrick, Obama campaigns share language of 'hope' (Scott Helman, April 16, 2007, Boston Globe)
Of all the things Deval Patrick's Republican opponent threw at him in last year's governor's race, one charge that stuck in his craw was that his speeches were more fluff than substance -- that they were, in Patrick's telling, "just words." So he devised an artful response.

" 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal' -- just words," Patrick said at a rally in Roxbury right before Election Day. " 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' -- just words. . . . 'I have a dream' -- just words. They're all just words."

The crowd erupted as it got Patrick's point about the power of language. But perhaps no one at the rally understood the point better than Barack Obama, who had joined him on stage that night.

Not five months later, Obama, his presidential campaign gaining steam, had this to say about legendary Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky in The New Republic: "Sometimes the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.' Those are just words. 'I have a dream.' Just words."

In the midst of his improbable run for office, Obama and his advisers have evidently studied Patrick's up-from-nowhere victory in Massachusetts and are borrowing themes, messages, and even specific lines for the presidential campaign.

It's the latest chapter in a symbiotic friendship between Obama and Patrick that continues to shape their political careers, according to admirers, observers, and associates of the two men.

That symbiosis continues, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Why Is the Haitian Disaster Response So Messed Up?: The response to the disaster in Haiti has been a disaster. (Danny Schechter, 1/20/10, Epoch Times)

Every disaster plan is built to some degree around the idea of triage—deciding who can and cannot be saved. The worst cases are often separated and allowed to perish so that others who are considered more survivable can be treated.

There is a tragic triage underway in Haiti thanks to screw-ups on the part of the U.S. and Western response, and in part because of the objectively tough conditions in Haiti that blocked access and made the delivery of food, water, and services difficult. But the planners should have known that!

Haiti represents the first great opportunity for the world to demonstrate that the response to Hurricane Katrina was a peculiar function of who George W. Bush was rather than an inherent function of what government is. It's going as well as anyone should have expected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Dean: 'Bush Would Have Had the Health Care Bill Done a Long Time Ago' (Teddy Davis , January 19, 2010, ABC News)

Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean told MSNBC on Tuesday that Republican Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts is the latest sign that Democrats in Washington need to toughen up.

“We’ve got to be tougher. I’ve said the Democrats are not tough enough,” said Dean. “Bush would have had the health care bill done a long time ago."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


WHY WE ARE IN HAITI -- BECAUSE WE'RE AMERICANS (Richard Reeves, 1/19/10, UExpress)

Giving is more blessed than receiving. I'm on the road now promoting my book, "Daring Young Men," about the pilots and crews, American and British, who gave up part of their lives and risked their lives to deliver food, fuel and medicine to West Berlin in 1948 and 1949. Soviet troops blockaded the city's land routes to try to drive out the Allies, and "we," if I can use that word, kept the 2 million desperate people of the former enemy capital alive by landing rickety war surplus planes every 90 seconds until the Soviets finally gave up.

Those young men did change Germany and the world. But the work of the airlift changed most of them just as much. In researching the book in four countries (the United States, Germany, Great Britain and France), I was surprised that the men involved, many of them war heroes or figures of great distinction later in life, saw the airlift as the highlight of their lives.

"All I saw were starving women and children," said Lt. Gail Halvorsen, a C-54 pilot. "They looked at us like we were angels from heaven. ... I came from a dirt farm in Utah. We were religious people. I felt a lot better feeding people than killing them."

Of course, we weren't all angels by any test, but as Lincoln had said, there are missions that bring out the better angels of our nature. And I decided to write about the airlift, almost forgotten in history here, at a time when I saw few better angels. When an interviewer here asked me why I decided to write the book, I said, "Abu Ghraib."

It was not only that "incident." It was the fact that I could not stand the America of "preventative war," of "extraordinary rendition" -- of torture. That was not the America I grew up in, a small boy, part of a nation I thought did the right thing because it was the right thing, a country that led by example rather than power -- even when we had so much power.

...that you pretend that Berlin was divided and starving because of some sort of act of God or something, rather than because of the cold calculations and moral cowardice of American leaders. The fifty years of misery in Eastern Europe is what happens when you don't fight Iraq-type wars of liberation.

January 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Tweeting the Massachusetts Senate special election (Washington Post: The Fix)

# Coakley has called Brown to concede, according to a Democratic source about a minute ago

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


Explosive turnout and charges in Massachusetts ( ALEXANDER BURNS, 1/19/10, Politico)

Republican state Sen. Scott Brown took and held the upper hand over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley as returns trickled in from the state's special Senate election Tuesday night.

With more than half of precincts reporting, Brown maintained a 53 percent to 46 percent edge over Coakley, whose defeat would shatter the Democrats' 60-seat majority in the U.S. Senate.

One of the scary things for Democrats--admittedly there are many to choose among--has to be the reportedly high turnout. That should theoretically have worked in their favor in a Blue state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


from the Washington Post:

"21% in. Brown 53, Coakley 46.... 2 minutes ago"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Colossal Miscalculation On Health Care (Charlie Cook, Jan. 16, 2010, National Journal)

As political analyst and data-cruncher extraordinaire Rhodes Cook noted in the December issue of The Rhodes Cook Letter, no other president in the past half-century has seen his Gallup job-approval rating drop as far as Obama's has in his first year (down 21 points), and no president in that same half-century has seen his approval rating go up, even as much as 1 point, between the end of his first year and the eve of his first midterm election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Dems trade friendly fire while waiting for election returns (TIM GRIEVE, 1/19/10, Politico)

POLITICO reported Tuesday morning that Democratic insiders in Washington – including officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel – were putting some of the blame on Coakley for putting Kennedy’s seat at risk.

By mid-day, Coakley’s crew was pushing back – hard.

A Coakley adviser took the White House and the Democratic National Committee to task for “leaking” and said that, “If Martha is guilty of taking the race for granted, so is the White House and the DNC."

In a memo – provided to POLITICO while Massachusetts residents were still voting – the Coakley campaign all but conceded defeat, arguing that “National Dems Failed to Aid Coakley Until Too Late.”

In bullet points, the memo specifically rebutted claims from Washington that the campaign had been slow to report shifts in the mood of the electorate, insisting that the campaign had “noted concerns about ‘apathy’ and failure of national Democrats to contribute early in December” and further had “requested national Democratic help” late in 2009.

The “DNC and other Dem organizations did not engage until the week before the election, much too late to aid Coakley operation,” the memo continued.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Far left has taken over Democratic party: Sen. Bayh (Andrew Malcolm, January 19, 2010, LA Times)

Says Bayh to ABC News: "It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message. They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected."

Bayh, once discussed as a VP for the next-door smooth-talking guy from Illinois, predicts fellow Democrats will go into denial tomorrow if state Sen. Brown becomes U.S. Sen. Brown.

"The only we are able to govern successfully in this country," Bayh warns, "is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates., Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country -- that’s not going to work too well.”

Ironically, that's the same argument Democrats made successfully in 2008 to dump all those GOP suits over on the far side of the other side.

After 5 years, W just couldn't control the wahoos anymore so you got Dubai Ports, Miers, nativism and, eventually, the hysterical refusal to help fix the credit crunch, so the GOP lost in '06 and '08. Bizarrely, the UR never even tried controlling his wingnuts, yielding the entire show to Nancy Pelosi and company.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Pollster Frank Luntz having difficulty finding Coakley supporters for focus group on election night of Massachusetts senate race (Tucker Carlson, 1/19/10, The Daily Caller)

Just about every election night, Republican pollster Frank Luntz assembles a focus group of likely voters to help predict election results. Tonight you can see Luntz interview an assembly of Massachusetts voters on Fox at 9:10 p.m. EST.

But you probably won’t see all the work that went into it. As of late this afternoon, Luntz was still scrambling to balance his focus group with supporters of Democrat Martha Coakley. “I just lost another one,” Luntz growled over his cell phone from a hotel ballroom at Logan Airport. In the last 24 hours, six Coakley voters have dropped out. By contrast, Luntz hasn’t lost a single supporter of her opponent, Scott Brown.

The problem isn’t money. “They’re getting paid well,” Luntz says, “probably more than they’re making at their jobs. And they still don’t want to do it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


Supreme Court setback for Mumia Abu-Jamal (Associated Press, January 19, 2010)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a ruling that had set aside the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in the 1980s in a racially tinged case that has made the former Black Panther an international cause celebre.

The justices ordered the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to revisit its 2008 ruling that Abu-Jamal deserved a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions. The Supreme Court pointed to its ruling in an Ohio case last week, when it said a neo-Nazi killer did not deserve a new sentencing hearing on those grounds.

Prosecutors called the Ohio case directly on point.

"The order pretty much says it all," Philadelphia Assistant Dist. Atty. Hugh J. Burns Jr. said. "I don't see how you can possibly distinguish them."

Like comparing apples to apples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Biscuits and sausage gravy make a comforting breakfast (KIM PIERCE, 1/19/10, The Dallas Morning News)


3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces and chilled

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½ -inch pieces and chilled

1 ¼ cups buttermilk (see Note)

Sausage Gravy (recipe follows)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter and shortening in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl. (Note. If you don't have a food processor, start with the large bowl and cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or 2 knives, as you would pie crust.)

Stir in the buttermilk until combined.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, 8 to 10 kneads. Pat the dough into a 9-inch circle, about ¾ -inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out rounds of dough and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Gather the remaining dough, pat into a ¾ -inch thick circle and cut out remaining biscuits. (You should have 10-12 biscuits total.)

Bake until the biscuits begin to rise, about 5 minutes, then rotate the pan and reduce the oven temperature to 400 F. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. (The biscuits can be stored in a zip-top plastic bag for up to 2 days.) Split biscuits and serve with Sausage Gravy. Makes 10 to 12 biscuits.

Note: If you don't have buttermilk, whisk 1 tablespoon lemon juice into 1 ¼ cups milk and let it stand until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Sausage Gravy: Combine ¼ cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon ground fennel, 1 teaspoon ground sage and 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper in a small bowl. (Note: For a Texas touch, add up to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes.) Set aside. Cook 1 ½ pounds bulk sausage in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the sausage and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour has been absorbed, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in 3 cups whole milk and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Indians Largely Unaware of Climate Change (Julie Ray and Anita Pugliese, Gallup)

Although India has emerged as a key player in global climate negotiations, the average Indian remains unaware of climate change. A Gallup survey conducted shortly before the Copenhagen summit last month shows 32% of Indians say they know at least something about climate change, similar to awareness in previous years. [...]

While India has one of the fastest expanding economies in the world, citizens' relatively low awareness about climate change reflects the country's still largely agrarian, rural, and poor makeup.

...than farmers, right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM


Wall Street bets on a GOP win in Massachusetts (Tom Petruno, January 19, 2010, LA Times)

Wall Street thinks it knows the outcome of today’s Massachusetts special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

Stocks are broadly higher, led by healthcare issues, as some investors bet that Kennedy’s seat will go to Republican challenger Scott Brown. That could deprive Democrats of the 60-vote majority they need in the Senate to stop a potential filibuster of the healthcare reform bill.

All the Democrats have to do is get out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


What's New Is Old Again: Obama's inauguration speech went for prose instead of poetry. (John Dickerson, Jan. 19, 2010, Slate)

President Obama marks his one-year anniversary in office on Wednesday. As part of Slate's coverage, John Dickerson analyzed the inaugural address. Dickerson's report, first published a few hours after Obama's speech ended, is reprinted below.

It was a good speech but not a soaring one. This may have been because Obama has given so many strong speeches, he's graded on his own special curve—or because he wanted the speech to be thoroughly conventional.

Of course, back then they could still imagine that he was only trying to be conventional and uninspiring.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Robert B. Parker left a mark on the detective novel: The writer, who died Monday, wrote more than 60 books in a variety of styles. But Spenser, his Korean War veteran detective, influenced the genre. (Sarah Weinman, January 20, 2010, LA Times)

Robert B. Parker, who died Monday in his Cambridge, Mass., home at age 77, spent his final moments doing exactly what he'd done for almost four decades: sitting at his desk, working on his next novel. He didn't concern himself with looking back. Instead, he wrote, and in the process irrevocably altered American detective fiction, forging a link between classic depictions and more contemporary approaches to the form.

Parker produced more than five dozen books in a variety of styles, including westerns, historical fiction, a marriage memoir and a nonfiction account of horse racing. But the bulk of his writing revolves around Spenser, the one-named, Korean War vet detective first introduced in "The Godwulf Manuscript" (1973).

That novel, which Parker wrote two years after publishing his Boston University doctoral thesis on the violent heroes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, is a clear pastiche of those authors' works. Parker's biggest debt, though, was to Chandler, whose detective, Philip Marlowe, inspired Spenser's poet-inflected surname, his noble quest for justice and his desire to save women from miscreants.

The Chandler connection ran so deep that Parker completed the unfinished Marlowe manuscript "Poodle Springs" in 1989 and a year later published "Perchance to Dream," a sequel to "The Big Sleep."

He only rarely fulfilled the early promise, most significantly in A Savage Place.

In appreciation of Robert B. Parker, creator of "Spenser for Hire":Robert B. Parker, prolific and beloved writer of detective fiction, died at his home in Cambridge, Mass. (Marjorie Kehe, January 19, 2010, CS Monitor)

Parker himself started life as an academic. He wrote a PhD thesis on detective fiction and worked as a college professor before he discovered his true vocation as a novelist.

Two more of his books, "Split Image" and "Blue-Eyed Devil," are scheduled for publication this year. But last year's release, "The Professional," will now be the final word on Spenser.

Fittingly perhaps, Parker, who spent so much of his life shaping books, is reported to have died sitting at his desk in his study in Cambridge, Mass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


Israel Developing Semi-Lethal Sonic Cannon To Control Rioters (Stuart Fox, 01.19.2010, Popular Science)

A desert people have developed a new weapon that uses sound instead of bullets. But this time, it will be used to control crowds instead of fighting giant worms or devious members of House Harkonnen. The Israeli Defense Ministry has contracted for the production of sonic-boom stun-guns called "Thunder Generator cannons," which they hope to use in crowd-control situations.

The cannons are built by farming company PDT Agro, which originally designed the sound blasters as a means of warding birds away from crops. Eventually, someone realized the powerful sonic blasts could do the same to people.

The weapon runs on LPG, a common cooking gas, which mixes with oxygen to generate powerful bursts of sound. Each sound burst lasts around 300 milliseconds, and generates a shockwave that travels from the cannon at almost six times the speed of sound.

Although it's intended to be less than lethal, the Thunder Generator cannon can cause death to people within 30 feet of the blast. For people farther away than 30 feet, the sonic boom will deafen them and knock them back, and hopefully disperse an unruly crowd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM

Cashew butter-chocolate chip bars (Boston Globe, January 20, 2010 )

Butter (for the pan)
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 2/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-natural cashew butter
2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk
2 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped roasted cashews
2 cups miniature or regular semisweet chocolate chips

1. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In another bowl, stir the butter, light brown and granulated sugars, cashew butter, eggs and extra yolk, and vanilla. When they are smooth, blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the cashews and chips.

4. Scrape the batter onto the pan, spreading it into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is just set. Set on a wire rack to cool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Republican Rise: Voters are evenly split over which party should run Congress—a sharp comedown for the Democrats (PETER WALLSTEN 1/19/10, WSJ)

As Barack Obama enters his second year in office amid an enduring economic downturn, voters are less optimistic about his ability to succeed and no longer favor keeping the Democrats in control of Congress, according to the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. [...]

Nationally, voters now are evenly split over which party they hope will run Capitol Hill after the November elections—the first time Democrats haven't had the edge on that question since December 2003.

Moreover, Republicans are far more excited than Democrats to turn out and vote in November: 55% of Republican voters said they were "very interested" in the election, compared with 38% of Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Exploring Stephen Hawking's Flexiverse (Amanda Gefter, 20 April 2006, New Scientist)

Hawking and Hartle's original work on the quantum properties of the cosmos suggested that imaginary time, which seemed like a mathematical curiosity in the sum-over-histories approach, held the answer to understanding the origin of the universe.

Add up the histories of the universe in imaginary time, and time is transformed into space. The result is that, when the universe was small enough to be governed by quantum mechanics, it had four spatial dimensions and no dimension of time: where time would usually come to an end at a singularity, a new dimension of space appears, and, poof! The singularity vanishes.

In terms of the universe's history, that means there is no point A. Like the surface of a sphere, the universe is finite but has no definable starting point, or "boundary". Hence the idea's name: the no-boundary proposal.

This has led Hawking to define a new kind of cosmology. The traditional approach, which Hawking calls "bottom-up" cosmology, tries to specify the initial state of the universe and work from there. This is doomed to fail, Hawking says, because we know nothing about the starting conditions. Instead, he suggests, we should use the no-boundary proposal to do "top-down" cosmology, where the only input into our models of the universe comes from what we observe now - together with the idea that our universe has no boundary in the past.
Improbable tuning

The result of this process, he says, solves a long-standing problem of cosmology: fine-tuning. Most cosmologists think, for example, that the universe went through an early burst of rapid expansion, or "inflation". There is some evidence to support the claim, but there's also a problem. Standard inflationary models require a very improbable initial state, one that must have "finely tuned" values that cause inflation to start, then stop in a certain way after a certain time: a complicated prescription whose only justification is to produce a flat universe without any strange topology, and so on - a universe like ours.

Such a prescriptive method makes hard and unsatisfying work of producing the universe we see today. While a cosmologist can put these values into the equations "by hand", it is not exactly a satisfactory way to develop our model of how the universe works. In the no-boundary theory, however, there simply is no defined initial state. "In the usual approach it is difficult to explain how inflation began," says Hawking. "But it occurs naturally in top-down with the no-boundary condition. It doesn't need fine tuning."

To do top-down cosmology, Hawking and Hertog first take a whole raft of possible histories, all of which would result in a universe with features familiar to us. "We then calculate the probability for other features of the universe, given the constraints," Hertog says. Specify a universe that is three-dimensional and flat, for instance, and you can have histories that involve inflation and histories that don't. "Top-down cosmology does not predict that all possible universes have to begin with a period of inflation, but that inflation occurs naturally within a certain subclass of universes," Hertog says. The process creates a probability for each scenario, and so Hertog can see which kind of history is most likely. "What we find is that the inflating histories generally have the largest probability."

In many ways, top-down cosmology is an unsettling idea. Usually, science demands that our observations come out as output - we certainly don't expect them to be the input. That, after all, denies us the chance to see if the theory matches up with observations. What's more, the sum over histories is formed by calculating the various probabilities for a universe like ours to arise out of literally nothing: that means we can never know anything for certain about how our universe got to be as it is.

We shouldn't be surprised, Hertog says: quantum theory has long shown us that it is impossible for us to know everything about the world around us. In "classical" physics, we can predict both the exact momentum and position of a particle at any time, but quantum mechanics doesn't allow it. No one suggests that quantum mechanics is wrong because of this, Hertog points out - and experiments have shown that it is not. What quantum theory has given us now, Hertog says, is some indication about the nature of inflation, where before we had none. "Before, we had no prediction at all - and indeed no notion of likeliness - on this issue."

For many, it remains a difficult argument to swallow. Science since Copernicus has aimed to model a universe in which we are mere by-products, but top-down cosmology turns that on its head, rendering the history of the universe a by-product of our observations. All in all, it is very like the "anthropic landscape" argument that is causing controversy among string theorists (see "Putting the you into universe").

Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt is certainly unimpressed by Hawking and Hertog's scheme. "It's kind of giving up on the problem," he says. "We've all been hoping to calculate things from first principles. Stephen doesn't think that's possible, but I'm not convinced of that. They might be right, but it's much too early to take this approach; it looks to me like throwing in the towel."

Stanford University's Andrei Linde is similarly unconvinced. There are a number of technical assumptions that make him sceptical. "I don't buy it," he says.

The merits of Hawking and Hertog's new approach to cosmology might be decided by experiment. The theory predicts specific kinds of fluctuations in two cosmological phenomena: the cosmic microwave background radiation produced just after the big bang, and the spectrum of primordial gravitational waves. These fluctuations arise from applying the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics to Hawking and Hertog's scheme: in this scenario, the universe's shape is never precisely determined, but is influenced by other histories with similar geometries.

If Hawking and Hertog are right, quantum uncertainty will manifest as slight differences from what standard inflationary theory predicts for the CMB. The top-down predictions only differ from the standard cosmological model at a level of precision that has not yet been reached in observations, however. The top-down signature in the gravitational wave spectrum should be easier to differentiate, but since we haven't yet detected any gravitational waves, we'll have to wait for that proof too.

For Hawking and Hertog, there's simply no doubt that top-down cosmology is the only answer. It's simple: if you can't know the initial state of the universe, you can't work forwards from the beginning: the top-down approach is the only one that works.

Hartle agrees. Hawking and Hertog's scheme may seem strange, but it is the only way forward because we are part of the experiment we are trying to observe. "It's a different viewpoint, but it's sort of inevitable," he says. "Colsmologists certainly should be paying attention to this work."

The trouble, of course, is that if they are right, we're involved in the making of that history. In that case, we have a new set of instructions for building a universe. Step one: look around you. Step two: find the set of all possible histories that end up as a universe like the one you see. Step three: add them together and create a history for yourself.

It's entirely predictable that physics is collapsing towards a homocentric view of the Universe, but Hawking is, of course, quite wrong about there not being an Observer all along.

Robert Wright interviews Brian Swimme on cosmic evolution (Slate)

Brian Swimme is a mathematical cosmologist on the graduate faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. [...]

Wright: And and and this this gets at a question I have... now you definitely with this story you want to do some things that religion has traditionally done, orient people, inform their values and so on... one thing a lot of religions have done is give people a sense that things were meant to be you know... there was a God that designed the universe or there were some supernatural order that imbues their own life with purpose. And there, as I read you, you are kind of teetering on the edge of that but not quite doing it. Right?

Brian Swimme: Yes. That's right. Teetering is not a word I'd use but it would certainly... there I guess it's trying so hard to get a feel for the way in which there is a random dimension to the universe without question.

Wright: Let me give you let me give you an example ...

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: ... of you talk in "The Universe Story" about several kind of parameters of the universe that were just quite exquisitely fortuitous from our point of view. If they had been off a little in either direction, things would have collapsed, life could have been impossible or something. Here's just one example, you're talking about the curvature of space time which I can't quite imagine clearly but anyway ... the curvature of space time: "Had the curvature been a fraction larger the universe would have immediately collapsed down into a massive black hole. Had it been a fraction smaller the universe would had exploded into a scattering of lifeless particles. Thus the curvature of the universe is sufficiently closed to maintain a coherence of it's various components and sufficiently open to allow for a continued creativity." Now a lot of other you know...

Brian Swimme: Yes. Yes.

Wright: ...gravitational constant whatever I don't know if you mention that one but there are various things you do mention...

Brian Swimme: Right.


Wright: Now some people conventionally religious people have looked at these things and have said clearly the universe was designed for a purpose it's just too good to be true. What's what's your view on that?

Brian Swimme: Well I guess first of all it'd be the word design because as soon as you use the word design at least for me it then you're talking about a designer and so you have you have someone sort of outside the universe, Newton's idea was tinkering with it so you set the universe and kind of run run and tinker with it but I think what is what word discovers something way more exciting that is that universe is finding it's way, the universe is you know probing and exploring and it is from the beginning it's it's in search of something. Now I mean that I'm personifying by using that...

Wright: Yes.

Brian Swimme: ... and that is that does make it hard I think...

Wright: Well but how literally do you mean the the personification. I mean is the you know... you do think the universe is a living system?

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: And now living systems do have purposes though in the sense I mean even evolutionary biologists would say that an animal you can say is "designed by natural selection" and that's why it pursues goals like getting it's genes into the next generation and and and and goals that are subordinate to that I mean when we think of a living system we think of something that is the result of at least a process of design even if it's a kind of impersonal process like natural selection and something that has it's own little set of goals, right?

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: Is that what you mean to imply?

Brian Swimme: I do...

Wright: About... you do? So the universe does have a purpose.

Brian Swimme: I would not call it it's own little set of goals.

Wright: No. Well if it's the universe it's big goals. Obviously.

Brian Swimme: Yes. I think that the universe does have purpose it does have direction in the sense that but they're not in my own way of thinking they're not fully formed. There are I think something like, go back early in the universe, I think there are literally an infinite of things that are possible but out of all those universe is always striving to give birth to the to the richness that's there potentially that'd be one way of how I'd talk about it so that it it could be that the universe would be very very different than it is right now, but it would still have something like life and something like a kind of rich inner-connected world of our planet. That'd be how I'd look at it. Those those those aims are present somehow, darkly, and then how are they present? Well. I don't know. I mean, we just found this out. We just discovered all this.


Wright: You mean by "all this" you mean?

Brian Swimme: I mean the the discovery of the big bang cosmology...

Wright: Right.

Brian Swimme: ... is extremely recent. We've been humans for 150,000 years.

Wright: Right.

Brian Swimme: And now just just just like yesterday we discovered some of the details of this happening we call the universe and so I it's going to take us time to to sort out really what's going on. When... to talk about designers... I think I think that's unfortunately collapsing back into a previous way of thinking that isn't... it's more exciting than that.

Wright: But but purpose is a word you are willing...

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: ... to use.

Brian Swimme: Yes I am.

Wright: So the universe has a purpose?

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: And you don't exactly what it is but you got a feeling that sentient life is part of the point.

Brian Swimme: Yes. Yes I do. Right. Sentient life and and and display of all kinds of energy constellations. So that the universe starts off so simple really in terms of of of it's structure and yet over time it just it throws out all this exotic stuff. So I think that is part of one of the main aims of the universe...

Wright: To display...

Brian Swimme: Yes...

Wright: ... beautiful stuff...

Brian Swimme: Yes.

Wright: But there wouldn't be much point in displaying beautiful stuff if there weren't creatures capable of apprehending beautiful stuff. I mean who is it showing off for?

Brian Swimme: Well, that's a good question. But it may it may just that alone may be what the universe is about... it doesn't happen without...


Wright: This is kind of it reminds me of kind of Whitehead a little bit.

Brian Swimme: Oh yes I would say that the three thinkers...

Wright: He was a process theologian, right?

Brian Swimme: Process... yes.

Wright: And and and do you have a good thumbnail definition of that or should we pass over that? What what what does process theology mean?

Brian Swimme: He would be a he would be a you know the first process thinker that gave birth to process theology. He was really doing cosmology. And his his I give you here's a thumbnail sketch of Whitehead... His idea was that we have in science exhausted the mechanistic metaphor and it it took us places but it was it was no longer viable in terms of what we learned but especially the quantum world so he was attempting to give a framework for understanding the universe with organism as the fundamental concept not machine. That would be one way to think about it. And then his idea of organism would be that that the fundamental reality of the universe is an experience in subject so his phrase is outside of experiencing subjects there's nothing nothing just bright nothingness. So not only would ... he would say it's not just display but it's the richness the intensity of the experience that would be what the universe is aiming at.


Wright: Ok. The so really I'm a little surprised because you're being more explicit than I think you generally are in your writing about the idea that the universe has a purpose. Maybe I mean I haven't read every word you've written but but but I'm a little surprised and what I was going to ask you was isn't this one thing that religions have traditionally done that you're world view doesn't do... that is to say by suggesting an over-arching purpose imbue people lives with a meaning from beyond in some sense... I mean would you say your world view has a transcendent source of meaning in it?

Brian Swimme: You see when you words like beyond then I start to loose my confidence because I'm really working out of primarily the scientific data so also like the word beyond or also transcendence I get a little bit uneasy...

Because his story has melded seemlessly into the One Story.

[originally posted: 4/25/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Why Conservatives Are in Denial About Scott Brown, Secret Liberal: If the man who might be Massachusetts' new senator has a big-government agenda that surprises you, just wait until you read this shock and awe from the big-government haters helping him steal Ted Kennedy's seat — and the health care bill — out from under the Democrats (John H. Richardson, 1/19/10, Esquire)

Is the Tea Party selling its soul already? In Massachusetts today, the same people who rallied so angrily against mandatory government health care are going to the polls... to vote for a guy who supports mandatory government health care — a guy described by The American Conservative as "a classic moderate Massachusetts Republican."

Isn't that what the tea partiers are against?

Senate Candidate Scott Brown (Claire Suddath, 1/19/10, TIME)

• A triathlete, Brown enjoys bicycling, swimming and long-distance running but has cut back on his 5 a.m. workouts to devote more time to the Senate race.

• Was first elected to political office in 1992 when he became assessor in Wrentham, Mass. In 1998, he was elected to Massachusetts' state house of representatives.

• Won a March 2004 special election to replace Cheryl Jacques in the Massachusetts state Senate. Won re-election in November 2004, then again in 2006 and 2008. Is one of only five Republicans in the 40-member state Senate.

• Has worked to tighten sex offender laws and increase sexual abuse victims' rights.

• Is pro-choice but has the endorsement of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, who believe he would vote for a pro-life Supreme Court judge.

• Is against gay marriage but favors civil unions. In 2001, Brown referred to then-state Senator Cheryl Jacques' decision to have children with her female partner as "not normal" and referred to her role as a parent as "alleged family responsibilities." He later apologized.

• Was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for "meritorious service in homeland security" after the 9/11 attacks.

• In 2007, Brown visited King Philip High School to discuss the topic of gay marriage legislation. Students had posted insulting comments about Brown and his family on Facebook. At the meeting, Brown read the profanity-laced comments aloud and identified some of the students who wrote them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Live Indian Premier League cricket 'to be shown on YouTube': Reports suggest matches will be show live in countries with no TV rights deal - which could include the UK (The Guardian, 1/19/10)

Cricket fans are set to be able to watch Indian Premier League matches on YouTube after a deal with Google, according Indian media outlets.

Reports say the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the search engine will announce the deal – which may mean live matches in countries where the TV rights have not been sold – on Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Obama faces emissions U-turn with new Congress challenge
: Senator Lisa Murkowski is expected to put forward a proposal that would seek to prevent federal regulation of carbon emissions (Suzanne Goldenberg, 1/19/10, guardian.co.uk)

A show of support for Murkowski's proposal would be a personal humiliation for Obama who told the Copenhagen summit that America was committed to action on climate change. It also threatens to remove a fall-back position if Congress fails to pass a climate change law.

Some people take One-a-Day vitamins, the UR takes a humiliation a day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


More Mammogram Madness: A new study shows women who won't benefit still get the tests. (Sharon Begley, Jan 19, 2010, Newsweek)

In a nutshell: a significant percentage of elderly women with severe dementia are getting screened. Such women have an average life expectancy of only 3.3 years. Yet science-based guidelines from the American Cancer Society and other experts say that women with a life expectancy of less than five years should not be screened (because any cancer that's found will not grow fast enough to cut into her remaining years). Even more disturbing, if an elderly woman with severe dementia is also married and with a net worth of $100,000 or more, she is more than twice as likely to get these inappropriate mammograms as her poorer peers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Democrats' health care quest has soured (CHARLES BABINGTON, 1/19/10, The Associated Press)

Democratic lawmakers who once saw health care overhaul as a historic quest are now anxious about getting the debate behind them, with Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate race underscoring how hard and joyless the effort has become. [...]

Even if the health legislation survives, the Massachusetts experience may erode congressional support for other priorities of President Barack Obama, such as energy and climate-change bills.

A Brown victory on Tuesday could quickly kill Obama's chief domestic priority, because Republicans could block further Senate action on health care with a filibuster. That would leave the White House and Democratic lawmakers with options ranging from bad to horrible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Pataki would trounce Gillibrand (Glenn Thrush, 1/18/10, Politico)

A new Siena poll shows that former New York Gov. George Pataki, who left office with the popularity of week-old lox, would sweep past Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand by an impressive 51-percent-to-38-percent margin.

The poll marks the first time any New York Senate candidate has broken through the magical 50 percent threshold — and also marks the first time Gillibrand, who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson a year ago, finds her disapprovals outpolling her positives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Obama's Decline in Popularity: What Caused It? (Jeff Greenfield, 1/19/10, CBS News)

I'd like to suggest other explanations for the president's difficulties. One we'll call, for want of a better term, is "The Lack Of Fear Factor."

Put bluntly, who's afraid of Barack Obama? Who in the political arena frets over what might happen if he or she crosses the president? After the 2008 election, much was written about Mr. Obama's massive social network -- the millions or people tied to him through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail -- ready to be mobilized on behalf of his agenda.

If there is any evidence that this army, now under the "Organizing for America" umbrella, has had any impact on any wavering Democrat, it's harder to find than those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Congressional Democrats can threaten to scuttle health care if their parochial concerns aren't met; Congressional Republicans can refuse any accommodation with the president; and there is no political price to be paid.

Ronald Reagan used to say of the California legislature, and then of the Congress, "if they can't see the light, maybe they'll feel the heat." But there seems to be no heat that can move a wary member of Congress to Mr. Obama's side in his key battles. (We'll have a test of this hypothesis when and if the president tries to move his environmental agenda through the Congress this year; labor and industry alike may well push back on new regulations; who, if anyone, will be pushing for Mr. Obama's ideas?)

Then there's the false interpretation given to the electoral results of 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Gates calls for closer defense ties to India (The Associated Press, January 19, 2010)

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appealed Tuesday for closer military cooperation between America and India to bring stability to South Asia.

In an opinion piece published in The Times of India ahead of his visit here, Gates said the two nations have been drawn together by their shared values and should push for even greater cooperation in confronting new security threats.

"We must seize these opportunities because the peace and security of South Asia is critical not just to this region, but also to the entire international community," he wrote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Authoritarian Temptation: Tom Friedman gushes over the Chinese dictatorship. (John Derbyshire, 1/18/10, National Review)

[H]ere’s Ol’ Tom yet again on January 16, sighing that “visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my president, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.”

Much more distressing to Tom’s liberal Times colleagues and readers, I should think, are the immigration-restrictionist hot flushes our columnist seems to be having. Unless the people of the Middle East face up to their own problems, he says, there is not much we can hope to do about those problems. “We’d be better off just building a higher wall.” Hey, it worked for Imperial China!

How long before Tom dons a silk robe, takes up brush calligraphy, and starts growing his fingernails long? [...]

The most that can reasonably be claimed for autocracy — I don’t claim it, but it can reasonably be claimed — is that it is a necessary phase of modernization under some circumstances, such as those that once prevailed in Taiwan and South Korea. That is not susceptible to empirical proof, though; the circumstances were local and peculiar; and there is not a trace of a shadow of a hint of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party has any such temporary transition in mind.

The authoritarian temptation is always with us. It has been strongest on the left, and Tom Friedman has shown symptoms before. (I note in passing that the Left’s infatuation with Fidel Castro has just entered its seventh decade: from the 1950s to the 2010s. What a run this show has had!)

Friedman has generally been at the more sensible end of the liberal spectrum, though, as the qualifications he adds to that Castro comment demonstrate. This repetitive nodding of approval at the five-year-plan-style technocratic projects of the ChiComs is therefore worrying. Where Tom leads, can the rest of the left-liberal punditocracy be far behind?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Xbox Takes On Cable, Streaming TV Shows and Movies (BRIAN STELTER, 1/19/2009, NY Times)

The roughly 20 million monthly members of Xbox Live can surf Facebook, browse an online mall of movies and TV episodes and, if they pay, watch Netflix.

“It’s 20 million connected living rooms,” said Marc Whitten, the general manager of Xbox Live.

Similarly, users of the Sony PlayStation can tune into BBC shows and see Weather Channel updates, as well as stream Netflix. Last week, Netflix extended its streaming service to the Nintendo Wii.

Among the many companies that want to transport the on-demand qualities of the Internet into the living room — the over-the-top model, in industry parlance — the console makers have a significant head start. Nearly 60 percent of American homes now have at least one console, according to the consulting firm Deloitte, up from 44 percent three years ago.

“For both of the big guys, it’s about extending the value of the hardware platform,” said Mike McGuire, a vice president for the research firm Gartner, referring to Microsoft and Sony. “The devices are hooked to TVs and have broadband connections, and there are more and more opportunities to license movies and TV shows and deliver them in over-the-top models.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM



'Hope—The Obama Musical Story" premiered here Sunday evening. One is tempted to end the review right there. Seriously, isn't the oeuvre's title and premature timing commentary enough? Sure, the U.S. president has been (favorably) compared to God but even Jesus Christ had to wait nearly 2,000 years before he became a Superstar.

With polls showing that most Americans now realize they are being (mis)led by a mere mortal, it is no coincidence that this production had its debut in Germany. Here the president's messiah status (remember the 200,000 worshipers at his 2008 Berlin speech?) is still accepted dogma and helped fill the Jahrhunderthalle, a 2,000-seat venue.

One searches in vain for an indicator this is a hoax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Census aims to ensure affluent, educated white liberals are counted: A massive campaign includes five 30-second spots from mockumentary master Christopher Guest that not only ignore the poor and minorities but may further fuel right-wing anger over the tallying effort. (Dan Neil, January 19, 2010, LA Times)

On Sunday -- during the broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards on NBC -- the [Census] bureau kicked off its 2010 campaign with the first of five 30-second spots directed by mockumentary master Christopher Guest [...]

The trope -- a making-of documentary -- is familiar to Guest fans. Ed Begley Jr. plays Hollywood director Payton Schlewitt, whose Big Idea is to take a "snapshot of America," everyone, all at once. For this effort he is recruiting his production team, played by actors Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge and Don Lake, who are regulars in Guest films including "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" or "For Your Consideration." While Schlewitt pitches his loony idea, two production assistants whisper to themselves that the Census Bureau is already doing a snapshot of America.

The next 30-second spot will continue the thread, with Schlewitt at a production meeting figuring out how, exactly, he's going to take his snapshot. As kid-gloved satire of Hollywood, the spots aren't bad, and obviously Guest's acting company is immensely likable and familiar.

Familiar to me, that is: a white, educated, affluent baby boomer. For people like me, Christopher Guest (Nigel in "Spinal Tap") might as well be one of the 12 Apostles. What isn't clear is how this helps the Census Bureau's effort to reach out to the poor, to ethnic minorities and to the disenfranchised, all groups that are typically undercounted in the census. I mean, Ed Begley Jr. is so white he's practically chalk.

Isn't this a lot of money to spend reaching out to a demographic that has the least to fear from government and is, therefore, the most likely to respond to the census?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Race to fill Kennedy's seat could derail his health care crusade (David Lightman, 1/18/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Just so (David Warren, 1/17/10, Sunday Spectator)

The "just-so" story was defined by Rudyard Kipling, in his magisterial and exemplary work, Just So Stories for Little Children, published in 1902. I remember it well as a formative masterpiece of my own early childhood -- after the Pookie books, and before the all-but-scriptural Kim. It is the work in which Kipling explains e.g. How the Whale got his Throat, How the Camel got his Hump, How the Leopard got his Spots, How the First Letter was Written -- the sort of basic briefing any child needs, to confront a world that might otherwise appear senseless.

The account of the Beginning of the Armadilloes, in the High and Far-Off Times -- and on the banks of the turbid Amazon -- is especially instructive. It supplies a theory of the convergent evolution of the clever armadillo, from the Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog and/or his friend the Slow-Solid Tortoise, under the ministrations of the Painted Jaguar.

Consulting it today, I realize that my skepticism toward the dogmas of neo-Darwinism might well originate from that story. It is not that I prefer Kipling's account of the origin of species, which was a quite intentional (and very amusing) farce. Rather, that it spared me from developing a taste for quite unintentional farces. [...]

Kipling -- perhaps our greatest 20th-century prose author in English -- was a satirist of the deepest kind. I say "deepest" because on the surface he is hardly a satirist at all, except in some rather overtly political verses; and even those are subtly loaded with paradox, under the surface. In the Just So Stories he was not merely trying to enchant young children, as adults think he was doing. He had a mind too knowing for that kind of play. He was instead arming his young readers to defend themselves against the faithless simplicities of their adult keepers.

No modern writer is quite so subversive as Kipling. And at the heart of him you find, in Just So Stories, the Jungle Books, and everywhere, this shining truth: that faith, good faith, good loyal faith, transcends all "explanations" of the unexplainable.

January 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Sci-phi: Bernard d’Espagnat (Mathew Iredale, June 10, 2009, TPM)

“I worked with Bell when he discovered his inequalities. We were at CERN together. He worked on them in his spare time, they were not part of the work of CERN. At home, in his leisure time, he studied the big problems. In that respect we were quite similar. But we were different in that his intuition was on the realist side, on Einstein’s side. He really thought that he had found, with his inequalities, a test between realism and quantum mechanics and he really thought that the experimental answer would be that realism is right and quantum mechanics is wrong. And I thought the contrary. But these were just guesses.”

John Bell formulated his inequalities as a way of testing local realism. Local realism is the commonsense idea that results of measurements are predetermined by the properties that objects carry prior to and independent of observations (the reality part) and that these results are independent of any action (the locality part). Put simply, there exists an external reality independent of observation in which nothing travels faster than light. This was Einstein’s view.

In order to determine who was right, Bell and d’Espagnat realised that they had to test Bell’s inequalities experimentally. Either the experimental results would obey Bell’s inequalities, and thus exhibit a failure of quantum mechanics, or they would violate Bell’s inequalities, and force scientists to reject Einstein’s (and Bell’s) local realist view.

“I had the luck to discover in my university a young physicist, Alain Aspect, who was looking for a thesis subject and I suggested that testing the Bell inequalities might be a good idea. I also suggested that he go and talk to Bell, who convinced him it was a good idea and the outcome of this was that quantum mechanics won.”

This “win” for quantum mechanics has had far reaching consequences, leading to a clear confirmation of the phenomenon of “non-local entanglement”, which in turn was an important step in the later development of quantum information science, a flourishing contemporary domain of research combining physics, information science, and mathematics. This is something of which d’Espagnat is justly proud.

It also meant that physicists had to abandon, once and for all, the concept of local reality. And this raised once again the problem of interpretation: just what is quantum mechanics describing?

“I think that quantum physics is most easily interpreted precisely as a tool that enables us to describe human experience. That is, the questions I raised earlier about uncertainty relationships really arise because intuitively we believe in an ontological reality and we believe that we are able to describe it and that science can describe it. But quantum mechanics describes not what really exists but what we see or what we would see in such and such circumstances.”

In other words, the question “Is an electron a particle or a wave?” is the wrong question to ask as it presupposes ontological reality. Rather, in the light of quantum mechanics, one should say, under certain experimental conditions electrons exhibit wave-like behaviour, and under other experimental conditions, particle-like behaviour. Anything more is pure speculation. For d’Espagnat, quantum mechanics is a predictive theory rather than a descriptive theory.

“The actions of quantum mechanics are most easily stated as predicting what we shall see in certain circumstances and as Bohr said they are objective in the sense that what they predict is valid for you, for me, for everybody and at every place and every time. So they are scientifically quite objective but they are not ontologically objective.”

This difference in the concept of objectivity led d’Espagnat to distinguish between what he terms strong objectivity and weak objectivity.

“Strong objectivity is ontological objectivity; statements of classical physics could very well be interpreted in terms of strong objectivity. When you consider Newton’s inverse square law, for example, it describes the things themselves but it does not mention you, me or anybody at all. Weak objectivity refers to statements that are objective in the sense that they are valid for everybody, but they also fundamentally involve us. They are of the form, if you do such and such a thing you will observe such and such a thing. So, this is weak objectivity.”

This, for D’Espagnat, is the most important, distinctive feature of quantum mechanics: that it is weakly objective. Not that it involves indeterminism, although that is the feature of quantum mechanics that has attracted the most attention, especially from philosophers. But rather that human interaction is a fundamental part of quantum mechanics; our knowledge of reality fundamentally involves us.

“I think that our scientific knowledge finally bears, not on reality-in-itself – alias ‘the Real’, alias ‘the ground of everything’ – but just on empirical reality, that is, on the picture that, in virtue of its structure and finite intellectual capacities, the human mind is induced to form of reality-in-itself. I even claim that we must drop the view according to which objects, be they elementary or composite, exist by themselves and are at any time at some definite place in space.”

All roads lead to Hume.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


538 Model Posits Brown as 3:1 Favorite (Nate Silver, 1/18/10, FiveThirtyEight)

The FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecasting Model, which correctly predicted the outcome of all 35 Senate races in 2008, now regards Republican Scott Brown as a 74 percent favorite to win the Senate seat in Massachusetts on the basis of new polling from ARG, Research 2000 and InsiderAdvantage which show worsening numbers for Brown's opponent, Martha Coakley. [...]

Coakley's odds are substantially worse than they appeared to be 24 hours ago, when there were fewer credible polls to evaluate and there appeared to be some chance that her numbers were bottoming out and perhaps reversing. However, the ARG and Research 2000 polls both show clear and recent trends against her. Indeed the model, which was optimized for regular rather than special elections, may be too slow to incorporate new information and may understate the magnitude of the trend toward Brown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Media Ignores Good News About Race (Juan Williams 01/18/10, The DC)

The poll by the respected Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 70 percent of white Americans and 60 percent of black Americans “believe values held by blacks and white have become more similar in the past decade.” Those numbers are unprecedented. Clear majorities of black and white Americans are saying that the divide born or racial, cultural and educational divisions is closing fast. The history of slavery, legal segregation and suspicion that comes with black anger and white guilt is amazingly close to being eclipsed by agreement across racial lines on common values.

And it is not just values that black and white are agreeing on. The poll also found that 65 percent of whites and 56 percent of blacks believe the gap between standards of living for the two races has narrowed over the last ten years. Even as incomes between the races have slightly widened during those ten years there is the feeling among both races that the level of comfort – living standard – is increasingly similar.

And there is more good news about race in the Pew poll.

For example, 39 percent of black Americans in the Pew poll say the “situation for blacks in the U.S.” is better than it was five years earlier. That is nearly twice the 20 percent of blacks who told Pew in a 2007 poll that the racial climate for black people had improved over the prior five years. In this latest poll, a majority of black Americans, 53 percent, also said they expect life in the future to be even better for black people. In the 2007 poll only 41 percent of black Americans expressed such optimism.

And in what I think is the most amazing finding of the new poll 52 percent of blacks said that black people who are not getting ahead today are “responsible for their own situation.” Only one-third of black Americans said racism is keeping down the black poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


For Ailing Health System, a Diagnosis but No Cure (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 1/17/10, NY Times)

What afflicts the American health care system (and those of other industrialized nations) is called Baumol’s cost disease. It is named for William J. Baumol, an economist at New York University, who turns 88 next month. And it explains why health care costs will almost certainly continue to rise faster than general inflation, and why Democrats might not want to set expectations too high when it comes to their health care bill. [...]

Dr. Baumol and a colleague, William G. Bowen, described the cost disease in a 1966 book on the economics of the performing arts. Their point was that some sectors of the economy are burdened by an inexorable rise in labor costs because they tend not to benefit from increased efficiency. As an example, they used a Mozart string quintet composed in 1787: 223 years later, it still requires five musicians and the same amount of time to play.

Despite all sorts of technological advances, health care, like the performing arts, suffers from the cost disease. So do other public services like education, police work and garbage collection. While some industries enjoy sharp increases in productivity (cars can be built faster than ever, retail inventory can be managed better), endeavors like health care are as labor-intensive as ever.

Logically, we should be allowed to use Mozart as our health care example too, no?

Well, he died at age 35 from strep throat complications. Today he'd be treated with a simple round of oral antibiotics and live fifty more years. In what conceivable sense can it be said that productivity has not improved in the health care industry over that period?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


New poll: Martha Coakley 'in freefall' (DAVID CATANESE | 1/18/10, Politico)

A new InsiderAdvantage poll conducted exclusively for POLITICO shows Republican Scott Brown surging to a nine-point advantage over Martha Coakley a day before Massachusetts voters trek to the ballot box to choose a new senator.

According to the survey conducted Sunday evening, Brown leads the Democratic attorney general 52 percent to 43 percent.

"I actually think the bottom is falling out," said InsiderAdvantage CEO Matt Towery, referring to Coakley's fall in the polls over the last ten days. "I think that this candidate is in freefall. Clearly this race is imploding for her."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Obama's Gitmo (Elizabeth DiNovella, January 15, 2010, The Progressive)

On his second day on the job, President Barack Obama promised to shut down Guantánamo by January 22, 2010. As we near the deadline, the U.S. detention center remains open, and nearly 200 detainees are still being held at the prison, including dozens already cleared for release.

To mark the ninth year of detaining prisoners without charge or trial, human rights activists are protesting in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, January 11, Witness Against Torture and the Center for Constitutional Rights collaborated on a vigil in front of the White House and a briefing at the National Press Club, where two former detainees at Gitmo addressed the audience via phone and video link.

“Nothing’s changed inside the prison,” said Omar Deghayes, a former inmate who now lives in the UK. “People are still being tortured, still being beaten, psychologically harmed.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Invasion Of The European Economists (Guy Sorman, 01.18.10, Forbes)

Thirty years ago, when he was an undergraduate studying economics at Milan's prestigious Bocconi University, "nobody even knew what an economics Ph.D. was," recalls Alberto Alesina, who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard in the mid-'80s and today is a tenured professor there, an expert in macroeconomic theory. In a pre-Internet era, European students weren't aware of all the possibilities in the U.S.--it was hard even to find application forms. Alesina applied to Harvard, MIT and Princeton only because he had heard of the schools. As recently as 10 years ago, notes Christian Hellwig, a young German economist at UCLA, "no German university was delivering an internationally recognized Ph.D. in economics." (Hellwig did his graduate work not in the U.S., but at the London School of Economics.)

Nor did Europe offer much appeal once the doctorate was in hand. Zingales tried to return to Italy in 1984 after completing his degree at MIT, but the best job offer he could get was a mediocre research assistantship at a second-rate university. Twenty years later he might have won tenure at the school, he says, but only if he had the right connections. Even the best Italian universities--and this was true of European schools in general--were dominated by autocratic and hierarchical traditions. Without belonging to the right academic network and having the right sponsors, career progress was difficult, if not impossible.

Obsolete and disproved Marxist and socialist thinking also remained strong within European universities, including in economics departments. Many young economists, scientifically oriented and so recognizing the superiority of free markets, found the climate intellectually stultifying. It remains the case that most French and Italian universities teach economics as a philosophical subject--with opinions mattering as much as facts--not a scientific subject. A Keynesian, statist perspective still dominates most European curricula: free-market professors are an embattled minority.

American economic departments were--and are--much more rigorous and nonpartisan by comparison. Yet isn't there an ideological opposition between, say, the University of Chicago, known as a cradle of free-market theory, and Harvard, a supposedly liberal campus? "This perception hasn't much to do with reality," Bertrand responds. "We are scientists, above all; ideologies do not dictate our research or our teaching." Alesina, a strong proponent of markets, agrees: "The notion of Harvard being liberal and Chicago free-market doesn't coincide with academic reality."

The problem for Academics is that if you tried to put together an Econ Department that deviated from market orthodoxy no one would take it seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


US Military Tightens Grip On Haiti (Alex Lantier, 18 January, 2010, WSWS.org)

Amid the humanitarian tragedy following the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, Washington has concentrated on establishing indefinite military control of the country. Fearing mass protests and riots by desperate Haitians against inadequate rescue efforts, US logistical efforts are focused on massing tens of thousands of troops for use against the population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


The Forgotten Promise of Obama's Race Speech: We thought our first African-American president would strengthen our national dialogue on race, but our conversations remain as superficial as before. (Latoya Peterson, January 18, 2010, American Prospect)

On March 18, 2008, then candidate Barack Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia designed to lance the boil of the Jeremiah Wright controversy and provide a thoughtful commentary on the current state of race in our nation. Less than a year later, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated president. Buoyed by his thoughtful prose and the promise of a progressive approach to race and race relations, he rode a tide of change into the Oval Office.

But sadly, the progress hoped for by many in minority communities has not materialized. Instead, our conversations about race and its impact on American life are no more insightful or sophisticated than before, as evidenced by the discomfort we have in discussing racial issues in anything other than a superficial form.

The UR's race speech was awful, which is why he kept having to come readdress the issue that week. But what was significant was the reason he had to give the speech in the first place.

No one really cared about the candidate's ethnicity. He didn't make a big deal out of being partly black in his campaigning and certainly offered no political program that derived from racial issues. But his membership in a church that was so focused on race raised questions about whether he was hiding the same sort of racial obsessions as the Reverend Wright.

While he handled the matter badly, he did at least make clear that he was more than happy to kick the good Rev to the curb rather than have him wreck the campaign. That's all folks wanted to know. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were unacceptable to voters for a variety of reasons, but none more important than that we had no desire to hear them rave on about race and racism. Mr. Obama had to convince us that we'd not hear about it from him if we were to elect him.

The idea that he was elected so that we could discuss the topic more is just lunatic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Mazda unveils first hydrogen engine hybrid (New Statesman,18 January 2010)

Mazda Motor Corporation today delivered the first Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid to Iwatani Corporation, an energy development company based in Japan. The Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid is Mazda's latest hydrogen rotary engine (RE) vehicle which uses hydrogen as a fuel and features a unique hybrid system.

The new hybrid runs on both hydrogen and gasoline because if its dual-fuel system. The addition of a new hybrid system reportedly contributes to its increased hydrogen fuel range of 200 kilometres; double that of the RX-8 Hydrogen RE.

That peak just keeps receding....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Moscow’s stray dogs (Susanne Sternthal, January 16 2010, Financial Times)

According to Poyarkov, there are 30,000 to 35,000 stray dogs in Moscow, while the wolf population for the whole of Russia is about 50,000 to 60,000. Population density, he says, determines how frequently the animals come into contact with each other, which in turn affects their behaviour, psychology, stress levels, physiology and relationship to their environment.

“The second difference between stray dogs and wolves is that the dogs, on average, are much less aggressive and a good deal more tolerant of one another,” says Poyarkov. Wolves stay strictly within their own pack, even if they share a territory with another. A pack of dogs, however, can hold a dominant position over other packs and their leader will often “patrol” the other packs by moving in and out of them. His observations have led Poyarkov to conclude that this leader is not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.

Moscow’s strays sit somewhere between house pets and wolves, says Poyarkov, but are in the early stages of the shift from the domesticated back towards the wild. That said, there seems little chance of reversing this process. It is virtually impossible to domesticate a stray: many cannot stand being confined indoors.

“Genetically, wolves and dogs are almost identical,” says Poyarkov. “What has changed significantly [with domestication] is a range of hormonal and behavioural parameters, because of the brutal natural selection that eliminated many aggressive animals.” He recounts the work of Soviet biologist Dmitri Belyaev, exiled from Moscow in 1948 during the Stalin years for a commitment to classical genetics that ran counter to state scientific doctrine of the time.

Under the guise of studying animal physiology, Belyaev set up a Russian silver fox research centre in Novosibirsk, setting out to test his theory that the most important selected characteristic for the domestication of dogs was a lack of aggression. He began to select foxes that showed the least fear of humans and bred them. After 10-15 years, the foxes he bred showed affection to their keepers, even licking them. They barked, had floppy ears and wagged their tails. They also developed spotted coats – a surprising development that was connected with a decrease in their levels of adrenaline, which shares a biochemical pathway with melanin and controls ­pigment production.

“With stray dogs, we’re witnessing a move backwards,” explains Poyarkov. “That is, to a wilder and less domesticated state, to a more ‘natural’ state.” As if to prove his point, strays do not have spotted coats, they rarely wag their tails and are wary of humans, showing no signs of ­affection towards them.

The silver foxes are a nice demonstration of how silly Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Mauritanian Muslim leaders ban female circumcision (AP, 1/18/10)

A group of 30 Mauritanian Muslim leaders have issued a religious edict banning female genital mutilation in the West African country.

Cheikh Ould Zein, head of the Forum of Islamic Thought, says the scholars believe the Koran does not endorse cutting young girls’ genitals to limit their sexual activity as women. He said Monday that the leaders also agreed to preach against the practice at their mosques.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Gun control group gives Obama failing grade; says it's been disappointing year (Michael O'Brien, 01/18/10, The Hill)

President Barack Obama received a failing grade this year from The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on Monday .

...was to back off on guns and gays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


Carville Poll: Only 1/3 of voters support Barack Obama’s national health-care plan (Brian Faughnan, 1/18/10, The Daily Caller)

In a survey just published and available on the company’s website, but not yet publicized or reported, the left-leaning public opinion firm Democracy Corps confirms the dangers to Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

According to Democracy Corps, likely voters have a sharply negative view of the president’s health-care and economic plans, and a far more favorable view of Republicans than they did a few months ago. Because Democracy Corps was founded by Democrats James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, the firm’s findings have significant influence in national Democratic circles.

Democracy Corps surveyed more than 1,000 voters nationwide, including more than 800 likely voters. The group asked voters to identify themselves as “warm” or “cool” on parties or proposals. Fifty-two percent of likely voters described themselves as “cool” on the president’s health-care plan, against just 34 percent were “warm.” When it came to the president’s economic plan, 35 percent were warm against 49 percent cool.

It's really just a question of which Republican governor puts the UR out of his misery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


New View of Faculty Liberalism (Scott Jaschik, January 18, 2010, Inside Higher Ed)

The research was done by Neil Gross, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, and Ethan Fosse, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Harvard University. [...]

In this analysis, Fosse and Gross do not dispute that faculty members are more liberal than the public at large. Rather, they make two main arguments. First they look at a range of characteristics that apply disproportionately to professors but are not unique to professors, and examine the political leanings associated with these characteristics -- finding that several of them explain a significant portion of the political gap between faculty members and others. Then, they offer what they call a new theory to explain why academe may attract more liberals, regardless of whether they have those characteristics.

The paper finds that 43 percent of the political gap can be explained because professors are more likely than others:

* To have high levels of educational attainment.
* To experience a disparity between their levels of educational attainment and income.
* To be either Jewish, non-religious, or a member of a faith that is not theologically conservative Protestant.
* To have a high tolerance for controversial ideas.

The analysis is based on data from the General Social Survey from 1974-2008. Beyond the items above, a smaller but significant impact also was found because professors are more likely than others to have lived in an urban area growing up and to have fewer children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Job Outlook: Not So Gloomy (John Tamny, 01.18.10, Forbes)

As is often the case during periods of economic pain, the conventional wisdom is divorced from reality. Indeed, for those (including this writer) who entered the labor force back in the somewhat recessionary early '90s, much of the commentary at the time centered on how "Generation X" wouldn't achieve its parents' lifestyles; it didn't take too long before a technology and finance boom made a disaffected Generation X the richest of them all.

Just as periods of economic uncertainty almost invariably lead to calls for the very trade barriers that reduce economic opportunity, so do downturns always coincide with overdone worry concerning the ability of new labor force entrants to achieve economically in ways that previous entrants once did. History, along with basic economic logic tell us that emotion, rather than rational thought, is driving this latest bout of low economic self-esteem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Chile Votes For Change (Shannon O'Neil , 01.18.10, Forbes)

This was not an election driven by issues or ideology: Both candidates promised to continue Chile's market-friendly macroeconomic policies and its popular social welfare programs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM

VIDEO: Thomas Sowell (Peter Robinson, Uncommon Knowledge)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


The Amazing Randi: A brave union official endorses a commonsense reform to improve accountability (Marcus A. Winters, 1/18/10, National Review)

In what could prove a turning point in favor of education reform, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten came out in favor of considering student performance on standardized tests as one part of teacher evaluations. If Weingarten turns her words into real actions, and if the teachers’ unions follow Weingarten’s lead, it will improve teacher quality across the country. [...]

Current teacher evaluations overemphasize classroom observation, which, while valuable, cannot tell us everything we need to know about a teacher’s effectiveness. Besides, current classroom observations are conducted too infrequently to be informative. More than half of the districts evaluated in a recent U.S. Department of Education study evaluated tenured teachers just once every three years. In Chicago, tenured teachers whose last rating was Excellent or Superior — a distinction awarded to 93 percent of evaluations in that district between 2003 and 2006 — are evaluated once every two years.

A teacher’s job is far too complex to be evaluated with observations of a single class period or less, once every year or so. In the Miami-Dade school system, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, the required annual official evaluation need not last longer than 20 minutes.

Exacerbating the problem of inflated teacher evaluations is the fact that principals have neither the incentive nor, often, the power to correctly identify an ineffective teacher. For starters, the rarity with which teachers are identified as unsatisfactory itself tends to reduce principals’ willingness to use the designation, because it implies that the recipient is not only unsatisfactory but in fact egregiously incompetent — often a far stronger signal than the principal intends to send. The collective-bargaining agreements that govern many school systems give teachers powerful means to fight back if they do not agree with their evaluation, thus burying the principal in paperwork. And tenure ensures that the principal can’t remove an ineffective teacher, no matter how poor his or her rating. In sum, identifying an ineffective teacher brings a principal few benefits and many headaches.

So classroom observations need to be supplemented with other useful, objective information about a teacher’s classroom performance — both to give a more complete picture and to provide principals with empirical support for their decisions. Test scores are an obvious and accessible way to do that.

In the last decade, researchers have developed statistical tools capable of measuring teachers’ independent contribution to their students’ learning, as reflected by their scores on standardized tests. When carefully applied, these measures can separate the influence of the teacher on a student’s test scores from the influences of other factors, such as the student’s background characteristics and even the quality of his home life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


If you're disillusioned with Obama, you don't understand how he won: The distance between the aspirations he raised and his record a year on is the distinction between the electoral and the political (Gary Younge, 1/18/10, Guardian)

First, Obama was never a radical. He won on a decidedly middle-of-the-road Democratic platform. Beyond the Iraq war, which he opposed and she ­supported, there was little to chose between him and Hillary Clinton in terms of their programmes. They had voted the same way in the Senate 90% of the time.

True, he represents a dramatic progressive shift in direction from the previous eight years. But in almost any other western country his policies on the Middle East, gay marriage, trade and capital punishment would cast him out of polite leftwing company. Yes, there are grounds for disappointment. Bush's torture infrastructure has been left largely intact, the Iraq withdrawal has been extended by two years and the healthcare reform debate might have panned out differently had he led more decisively. But there is a world between that and accusations of betrayal and treachery. In Afghanistan in particular, the problem was that he kept his campaign pledge whereas many of us wish that he had broken it. [...]

These are early days. But the risk at this moment is twofold. First, that Obama ends this year with no progressive legislative victories. Second, and arguably worse, that he embraces legislation that sounds progressive but does not substantially improve people's lives. People don't want healthcare reform; they want affordable healthcare. They don't want a stimulus bill; they want jobs. The time for lofty rhetoric has long gone. The time for measured analysis has been too long coming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


India’s Trail of Tears: To justify a land grab, Delhi has a new enemy—the Maoists. (Arundhati Roy, 1/17/10, In These Times)

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the valuable bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god had been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.

Thirty pieces of silver. And He was God, not a hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 AM


Noah Riner ‘06 Welcomes Class of ‘09 (Noah Riner, September 20, 2005, Dartmouth College Convocation)

You’ve been told that you are a special class. A quick look at the statistics confirms that claim: quite simply, you are the smartest and most diverse group of freshmen to set foot on the Dartmouth campus. You have more potential than all of the other classes. You really are special.

But it isn’t enough to be special. It isn’t enough to be talented, to be beautiful, to be smart. Generations of amazing students have come before you, and have sat in your seats. Some have been good, some have been bad. All have been special.

In fact, there’s quite a long list of very special, very corrupt people who have graduated from Dartmouth. William Walter Remington, Class of 1939, started out as a Boy Scout and a choirboy and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He ended up as a Soviet spy, was convicted of perjury and beaten to death in prison.

Daniel Mason ‘93 was just about to graduate from Boston Medical School when he shot two men – killing one – after a parking dispute.

Just a few weeks ago, I read in the D about PJ Halas, Class of 1998. His great uncle George founded the Chicago Bears, and PJ lived up to the family name, co-captaining the basketball team his senior year at Dartmouth and coaching at a high school team following graduation. He was also a history teacher, and, this summer, he was arrested for sexually assualting a 15-year-old student.

These stories demonstrate that it takes more than a Dartmouth degree to build character.

As former Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey said, at Dartmouth our business is learning. And I’ll have to agree with the motto of Faber College, featured in the movie Animal House, “Knowledge is Good.” But if all we get from this place is knowledge, we’ve missed something. There’s one subject that you won’t learn about in class, one topic that orientation didn’t cover, and that your UGA won’t mention: character.

What is the purpose of our education? Why are we at Dartmouth?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society…. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

We hear very little about character in our classrooms, yet, as Dr. King suggests, the real problem in the world is not a lack of education.

For example, in the past few weeks we’ve seen some pretty revealing things happening on the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricane Katrina. We’ve seen acts of selfless heroism and millions around the country have united to help the refugees.

On the other hand, we’ve been disgusted by the looting, violence, and raping that took place even in the supposed refuge areas. In a time of crisis and death, people were paddling around in rafts, stealing TV’s and VCR’s. How could Americans go so low?

My purpose in mentioning the horrible things done by certain people on the Gulf Coast isn’t to condemn just them; rather it’s to condemn all of us. Supposedly, character is what you do when no one is looking, but I’m afraid to say all the things I’ve done when no one was looking. Cheating, stealing, lusting, you name it - How different are we? It’s easy to say that we’ve never gone that far: never stolen that much; never lusted so much that we’d rape; and the people we’ve cheated, they were rich anyway.

Let’s be honest, the differences are in degree. We have the same flaws as the individuals who pillaged New Orleans. Ours haven’t been given such free range, but they exist and are part of us all the same.

The Times of London once asked readers for comments on what was wrong with the world. British author, G. K. Chesterton responded simply: “Dear Sir, I am.”

Not many of us have the same clarity that Chesterton had. Just days after Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Gulf Coast, politicians and pundits were distributing more blame than aid. It’s so easy to see the faults of others, but so difficult to see our own. In the words of Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “the fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

Character has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger. The best example of this is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He knew the right thing to do. He knew the cost would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway. That’s character.

Jesus is a good example of character, but He’s also much more than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters, and me.

It’s so easy to focus on the defects of others and ignore my own. But I need saving as much as they do.

Jesus’ message of redemption is simple. People are imperfect, and there are consequences for our actions. He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God’s love: Jesus on the cross, for us.

In the words of Bono:

[I]f only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. …When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s—- and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question.

You want the best undergraduate education in the world, and you’ve come to the right place to get that. But there’s more to college than achievement. With Martin Luther King, we must dream of a nation – and a college – where people are not judged by the superficial, “but by the content of their character.”

Thus, as you begin your four years here, you’ve got to come to some conclusions about your own character because you won’t get it by just going to class. What is the content of your character? Who are you? And how will you become what you need to be?

As you can well imagine, this has caused more than a bit of consternation.

[originally published: 9/24/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


This almost-chosen, almost-pregnant land: a review of American Babylon by Richard John Neuhaus (Reviewed by Spengler, Asia Times)

Until his death on January 8, Father Neuhaus was America's pre-eminent Christian intellectual, and his posthumous book reminds us what a gap in public discourse is left by his absence. Starting in 1990, Neuhaus edited (and wrote a good deal of) the monthly journal First Things. It is hard for this writer to imagine intellectual life in America without First Things.

I have missed very few issues in the past 15 years, and could not have found my own journalistic vocation had Neuhaus not blazed such a broad trail. In 2007, I had the honor to contribute an essay on Franz Rosenzweig to his journal. Neuhaus was the rare sort of writer from whom one learned especially in disagreement, for his formulation of the issues was so lucid as to force those who did not share his views to rethink their own.

"There is in America," he wrote, "a strong current of Christian patriotism in which 'God and country' falls trippingly from the tongue. Indeed, God and country are sometimes conflated in a single allegiance that permits no tension, never mind conflict, between the two." Neuhaus added that "this book is animated by a deeply and lively patriotism", adding, "I have considerable sympathy for Abraham Lincoln's observation that, among the political orders of the earthly city, America is 'the last, best hope of mankind'."

On the left, utopian efforts to create a heaven on Earth expressed American idolatry, for example, in the Social Gospel movement of Walter Rauschenberg, "Christianizing America and Americanizing Christianity." The liberal philosopher John Dewey embodied the drift of mainline Protestantism into a social reform movement. The heir of this left-wing current is Rauschenberg's grandson, the late philosopher Richard Rorty, whose career was dedicated to proving the proposition that no proposition can be proven.

It is even sillier than it sounds, in Neuhaus' amusing account. As Neuhaus says,

Rorty writes that [John] Dewey and his soulmate Walt Whitman "wanted [their] utopian America to replace God as the unconditional object of desire. They wanted the struggle for social justice to be the country's animating principle, the nation's soul". He quotes favorably the lines of Whitman:

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God.

"Whitman and Dewey," Rorty writes, "gave us all the romance, and all the spiritual uplift we Americans need to go about our public business."

That is the left-wing version of American self-worship. American nationalism harbors a civic religion as well. There is, Neuhaus explains,

a line of devotion that runs from the [Puritans'] "errand in the wilderness" to John F Kennedy's inaugural ... It is the American story, the American promise, that is invoked in Martin Luther King Jr's dream of the "beloved community" and in Ronald Reagan's vision of the "city on a hill".

Some readers will be surprised and others scandalized by the suggestion that George W Bush was in the tradition of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, Kennedy, King and Reagan in sounding the characteristic notes of the American story, but so it is.

This is painfully clear, observes Neuhaus, in George W Bush's second inaugural address:

We are led [Bush said in his address] by events and common sense, to one conclusion: the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America's vital interest and our deepest beliefs are now one ... We go forward with complete confidence in the even triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.

"Both the power and the danger of the story is in the sincerity with which it is told," Neuhaus commented. "Good intentions go awry; we blind ourselves to our own capacity for self-deception when we cast ourselves in the role of God's agents in history's battle between The Children of Light and The Children of Darkness, to cite the title of [a] book by [Reinhold] Niebuhr."

Bush's second inaugural was an exercise in American self-worship, in its assumption that the free institutions of the United States were an earthly manifestation of the divine, such that the American government should become a Bureau of Missions for the cult of democracy. But it is manifestly false that America's security depends upon the success of freedom elsewhere. China's political system is not free by Western standards, yet China poses no strategic threat to the United States. Dictatorships that support terrorism well may constitute a strategic threat to the United States, especially if they are able to employ nuclear weapons. But the United States could just as well wipe all of them off the face of the Earth through pre-emptive nuclear bombardment, or let them fight each other to exhaustion, as try to foster democracy in their midst. America had no strategic imperative to promote democracy, only a narcissistic one.

Tut-tut...Spengler knows better than to confuse the sales pitch W is using to get the wahoos to support liberating brown peoples with the actual motives for the crusade. Note that one of the excised lines says: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." It is the appeal to narrow nationalist interest that depends on narcissism. The belief that precedes that bogus appeal--because Spengler is obviously right that we have no, and never have had any, strategic need to defeat illiberal regimes. We fight for others to live under just government because justice matters to us, as a Judeo-Christian people, not because our security matters to us.

[originally posted: 3/17/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


From independence, emancipation and a dream to ownership (Jack Kemp, February 7, 2005, Townhall)

[President] Bush's domestic agenda is as visionary - and could be as transforming - as President Lincoln's Homestead Act and Franklin D. Roosevelt's FHA and VA home-mortgage guarantees. By seeking the democratization of capitalism through a comprehensive domestic agenda from homeownership to tax reform, Bush's vision draws on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the hopes of the Emancipation Proclamation and the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fulfill the promise of America. These themes are timely, coming on the heels of celebrating King's birthday and as we begin Black History Month and the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. [...]

The ownership society realizes that economic freedom and political freedom are two sides of the same coin: that we are not truly free until we have control of our own destiny and until the man-made roadblocks on the path to success are removed. These obstacles are what the president has in mind when he talks about tax reform, Social Security reform and tort reform.

These are the barriers he wants to remove by creating personal retirement accounts, health savings accounts and lifetime savings accounts. Ownership of your house, your education, your retirement and your future. The president is talking about enabling American entrepreneurs from the Bronx to the barrios and from Watts to Washington, D.C., to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and realize the promise of America.

The GOP should send Mr. Kemp, Newt Gingrich, John Kasich, Herman Cain, J.C. Watts, Star Parker, and so forth out into the 'hood to preach the gospel of ownership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Malcolm X the Thinker, Brought Into Focus (FELICIA R. LEE, 5/14/05, NY Times)

Since his death, Malcolm X has largely become an iconic figure, ending up on a postage stamp in 1999. But he was highly controversial during his lifetime and feared by some blacks and whites because of his calls for black separatism and his advocacy of wresting rights "by any means necessary." Toward the end of his life, Malcolm X parted with the Nation of Islam and denounced racism.

Ms. Shabazz said scrutiny of her father's letters and journals would show scholars that his thinking was rooted in experiences that predated his appearance on the political stage in his 20's. They also show the seeds of his conversion to Islam, around 1948. Ms. Shabazz pointed to a Dec. 12, 1949, letter that her father wrote from prison "to my dear brother" that reads in part: "We were taught Islam by Mom. Everything that happened to her happened because the devils knew she was not 'deadening' our minds."

Malcolm X was shot down at age 39 at the Audubon Ballroom on Broadway between 165th and 166th Streets on Feb. 21, 1965. Ilyasah Shabazz was in the audience with her family. The opening of the 250-item exhibition, "Malcolm X: A Search for Truth," coincides with the 80th anniversary of her father's birth in Omaha.

In addition to family-owned material, some of the property in the exhibition comes from a collection at Washington University in St. Louis and from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit. The items in the exhibition represent only a tiny percentage of the cache of thousands of pages of documents donated by the family, a trove that will be available in its entirety at the Schomburg in the fall, Mr. Dodson said.

"It will give a much broader and deeper view of the man and his development as a thinker and as an activist," said Cheryll Y. Greene, the curatorial and research consultant for the exhibition. Ms. Greene is the former managing editor of the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University, a multimedia endeavor to develop a comprehensive biography and education Web site.

The exhibition touches on lighter moments in Malcolm X's life, too. There is an eighth-grade notebook belonging to Malcolm Little, who was called Harpy, in which his friends scrawled their opinions of him: "tall, dark, handsome" and "as a boxer, fooey, as a friend, swell."

There are also letters from 1941, when he worked as a railroad waiter; his handwritten, spiral-bound journals from a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and to West Africa in 1964; heavily annotated copies of the Koran and the Bible; his briefcase; and photographs from the Audubon crime scene.

One of the more chilling items is a business card, torn and burned, that reads "Hajj Malik El-Shabazz." The card was found in Malcolm X's left breast pocket after his assassination. The part of the exhibition focusing on evidence from the trial of his accused killers includes an autopsy report, courtroom sketches and an envelope of shotgun shells from the crime scene.

By the time Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered he'd become a counter-productive force, but we lost Brother Malcolm just as he was becoming most interesting and likely useful.

January 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


EXCERPT: Chapter 1: The Socks (Louisa Gilder, The Age of Entanglement)

In 1978, when John Bell first met Reinhold Bertlmann, at the weekly tea party at the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire, near Geneva, he could not know that the thin young Austrian, smiling at him through a short black beard, was wearing mismatched socks. And Bertlmann did not notice the characteristically logical extension of Bell’s vegetarianism—plastic shoes.

Deep under the ground beneath these two pairs of maverick feet, ever-increasing magnetic fields were accelerating protons (pieces of the tiny center of the atom) around and around a doughnut-shaped track a quarter of a kilometer in diameter. Studying these particles was part of the daily work of CERN, as the organization was called (a tangled history left the acronym no longer correlated with the name). In the early 1950s, at the age of twenty-five, Bell had acted as consultant to the team that designed this subterranean accelerator, christened in scientific pseudo-Greek “the Proton Synchrotron.” In 1960, the Irish physicist returned to Switzerland to live, with his Scottish wife, Mary, also a physicist and a designer of accelorators. CERN’s charmless, colorless campus of box-shaped buildings with protons flying through their foundations became Bell’s intellectual home for the rest of his life, in the green pastureland between Geneva and the mountains. At such a huge and impersonal place, Bell believed, newcomers should be welcomed. He had never seen Bertlmann before, and so he walked up to him and said, his brogue still clear despite almost two decades in Geneva: “I’m John Bell.”

This was a familiar name to Bertlmann—familiar, in fact, to almost anyone who studied the high-speed crashes and collisions taking place under Bell’s and Bertlmann’s feet (in other words, the disciplines known as particle physics and quantum field theory). Bell had spent the last quarter of a century conducting piercing investigations into these flying, decaying, and shattering particles. Like Sherlock Holmes, he focused on details others ignored and was wont to make startlingly clear and unexpected assessments. “He did not like to take commonly held views for granted but tended to ask, ‘How do you know?,’ ” said his professor, Sir Rudolf Peierls, a great physicist of the previous generation. “John always stood out through his ability to penetrate to the bottom of any argument,” an early co-?worker remembered, “and to find the flaws in it by very simple reasoning.” His papers—numbering over one hundred by 1978—were an inventory of such questions answered, and flaws or treasures discovered as a result.

Bertlmann already knew this, and that Bell was a theorist with an almost quaint sense of responsibility who shied away from grand speculations and rooted himself in what was directly related to experiments at CERN. Yet it was this same responsibility that would not let him ignore what he called a “rottenness” or a “dirtiness” in the foundations of quantum mechanics, the theory with which they all worked. Probing the weak points of these foundations—the places in the plumbing where the theory was, as he put it, “unprofessional”—occupied Bell’s free time. Had those in the lab known of this hobby, almost none of them would have approved. But on a sabbatical in California in 1964, six thousand miles from his responsibilities at CERN, Bell had made a fascinating discovery down there in the plumbing of the theory.

Revealed in that extraordinary paper of 1964, Bell’s theorem showed that the world of quantum mechanics—the base upon which the world we see is built—is composed of entities which are either, in the jargon of physics, not locally causal, not fully separable, or even not real unless observed.

If the entities of the quantum world are not locally causal, then an action like measuring a particle can have instantaneous “spooky” effects across the universe. As for separability: “Without such an assumption of the mutually independent existence (the ‘being-?thus’) of spatially distant things…,” Einstein insisted, “physical thought in the sense familiar to us would not be possible. Nor does one see how physical laws could be formulated and tested without such a clean separation.” The most extreme version of nonseparability is the idea that the quantum entities are not independently real: that atoms do not become solid until they are observed, like the proverbial tree that makes no sound when it falls unless a listener is around. Einstein found the implications ludicrous: “Do you really believe the moon is not there if nobody looks?”

Up to that point, the idea of science rested on separability, as Einstein had said. It could be summarized as humankind’s long intellectual journey away from magic (not locally causal) and from anthropocentricism (not independently real). Perversely, and to the consternation of Bell himself, his theorem brought physics to the point where it seemingly had to choose between these absurdities.

Science took the long way round to agreeing with the Church: Galileo was a heretic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Dems look at bypassing Senate health care vote (CHARLES BABINGTON, 1/17/10, Associated Press)

A panicky White House and Democratic allies scrambled Sunday for a plan to salvage their hard-fought health care package in case a Republican wins Tuesday's Senate race in Massachusetts, which would enable the GOP to block further Senate action.

The likeliest scenario would require persuading House Democrats to accept a bill the Senate passed last month, despite their objections to several parts.

Aides worked frantically Sunday amid fears that Republican Scott Brown will defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


After Obama Rally, Dems Pin Blame On Bush (Felicia Sonmez, 1/17/10, Hotline)

As audience members streamed out of Pres. Obama's rally on behalf of AG Martha Coakley (D) here tonight, the consensus was that the fault for Coakley's now-floundering MA SEN bid lies with one person -- George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Abbas: US must declare 'endgame' to solve Middle East conflict (Jerusalem Post, 1/17/10)

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, the PA president said, "Either Israel adheres to a complete halt to settlements and the guidelines [of negotiations] or America must come and say this is the endgame with respect to determining borders and the refugee issue and other final-status issues."

You don't need us for that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Chile's Turning Point (Katherine Hite & Peter Kornbluh, January 17, 2010, The Nation)

A Pinera victory will mark a major turning point in the post-Pinochet transition, and perhaps a return to power of some of the hardcore rightists who collaborated with the military regime. (Pinera's brother served as Pinochet's Minister of Labor.) For twenty years the Chilean center-left political elite has governed in a stable if cautious approach to Chile's economic and political evolution; the coalition is now paying the price for failing to build and mobilize a mass base. The historically strong political parties that make up the twenty-year governing Concertación alliance have failed to excite or incorporate young people. (Current legislation requires all registered voters to cast ballots, but it is not obligatory to register to vote. Of a total of 12 million potential voters, close to four million, or 31 percent, are unregistered. A law is pending that would make registration automatic and the vote voluntary.)

The museum reflects a similar political dynamic. Bachelet's administration initiated the project with little participation of the human rights constituencies who might have played a role. Still, the existence of the museum is the culmination of a persistent struggle by human rights groups for a major public recognition, in a major public space, of the state terror that took place under Pinochet. Over the past decade, organizations of victims and their families have led successful efforts to establish a range of memorials, which now dot the country. Until now the administration resisted representing the past in any way that would be interpreted by the Chilean right, particularly, as "taking sides."

Indeed, the right has attacked the project for focusing exclusively on the state terrorism of the Pinochet era, and excluding a "context" for the coup.

Chile billionaire wins presidency, ousts left (Reuters, 1/17/10)
Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera won Chile's presidential election on Sunday, ending two decades of center-left rule in Latin America's most stable economy and the world's top copper producer.

The series of democratic elections and transitions from center-right to center-left to center-right in an economically developing country is Pinochet's only significant legacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


China balks at Iran sanctions (Kristen Chick, January 17, 2010, CS Monitor)

The six parties did agree that Iran’s response to a proposed plan to change and increase monitoring of its nuclear development was unsatisfactory, and that the nations should now begin considering the “second track,” meaning sanctions, reports The New York Times. But China did not back down from its position that sanctions are not yet needed.

To emphasize its point, China sent only sent a low-level representative to the meeting, while the other nations sent senior diplomats.

...but at least it paved the way for further humiliations!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


The New Sputnik (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 1/17/10, NY Times)

Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China. [...]

I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the U.S. was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.

Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech.

Even by Mr. Friedman's standards this is unbelievably stupid. While his comparison is entirely appropriate it teaches precisely the opposite lesson to the one he's trying to draw. Thirty years after the USSR launched the technologically insignificant Sputnik, and produced a hysterical reaction from those who didn't understand the inherent weaknesses of its system, it had pretty much ceased to exist. Twenty years from now, if anyone looks back at Mr. Friedman's columns, they'll note that this one ranks with those looney ones predicting Japan's greatness from the 1980s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


The Iranian Exile’s Eye (NAZILA FATHI, 1/17/10, NY Times)

Only after the surveillance team arrived, about 10 days later, did I and my family decide to leave.

And yet, when we boarded the plane, two emotions were pulling me apart. I was relieved at my narrow escape. But a large piece of me longed to stay. Tehran’s familiar maple-shaded streets were now convulsed in some of the largest and bloodiest protests since the 1979 revolution; I wanted to tell the story, to continue being part of Iran’s fate. I was desolate at the thought of being cast out, with my friends dispersed, my contacts unreachable.

More than anything, I feared falling into what Iranian journalists call “the exile syndrome” — my understanding of Iran would be frozen in the moment of leaving, and I’d be unable to keep up with events on the ground. No doubt the government expected the same for me and others.

As things worked out, we could not have been more wrong. Protest was not about to die in Iran. Neither was news about it, nor our part in telling the story. Three things have made all the difference: the global reach of the Internet; the networking skills of exiled journalists and our sources; and the resourcefulness of Iran’s dissidents in sending information and images out.

When I reached Toronto (I had acquired dual citizenship there while a student), I did feel alone and overwhelmed at first. I realized, for the first time, the toll that the stresses of working in Tehran had been taking on me. I felt a bit like an abused child who had not dared speak about the abuse while it was occurring.

In my mind, I went over the times when sources who had been released from prison told me that interrogators had shown them pictures of people outside my home — a signal of how closely my life was being monitored. It had made me fear anything odd happening in public, like the time a sloppily dressed man on a scooter cut me off, flashing a pistol and handcuffs under the back of his shirt as I drove near my home. He dismounted to yell at me. I locked myself in the car. Then he disappeared. After that, I never again took my two toddlers to a public park in Tehran, fearing they would learn too much about the dangers their mother faced.

Soon after reaching Toronto, I went to New York to cover a hunger strike in support of the Iranian opposition. I was stunned to see more than a dozen former sources of mine — onetime members of Parliament, activists and bloggers — who had gone into exile a few years before. Some were so well informed that they seemed to have just come from a meeting in Tehran.

For me, that was like a new dawn: rather than being cut off, I had made contact with another Iran — a virtual one on the Internet, linking reformers abroad to bloggers and demonstrators still inside the country, and to reporters and sources outside. In fact, by following blogs and the cellphone videos seeping out of Iran, in some ways I could report more productively than when I had to fear and outwit the government.

For example, my contacts helped me find and interview a young man who had left Iran after being in prison, where he said a guard had raped him. That interview could not have happened in Iran. Last month, I could freely translate the harsh slogans that protestors hurled about the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There were palpably genuine videos on YouTube from places I recognized, with crowds chanting slogans I knew — or new ones. The slogans were now in fact fiercer, the leaders of the movement less timid, and at least some of the demonstrators clearly angrier.

So I could report, free of government edicts, that the protests were entering a new phase, even as I remembered a cardinal self-imposed rule for any reporting from Iran: There is no way to predict where any movement might be heading, or when it might be stopped.

There is an irony in all this; the years of authoritarian control had educated much of Iran in the need for circumventing restrictions on the Internet, and now I was seeing and hearing the results on my computer and television.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Poll shows growing disappointment, polarization over Obama's performance (Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta, 1/17/10, Washington Post)

Nearly half of all Americans say Obama is not delivering on his major campaign promises, and a narrow majority have just some or no confidence that he will make the right decisions for the country's future.

More than a third see the president as falling short of their expectations, about double the proportion saying so at the 100-day mark of Obama's presidency in April. At the time, 63 percent said the president had accomplished a "great deal" or a "good amount." Now, the portion saying so has dropped to 47 percent.

Republicans are particularly critical of Obama's efforts in general and on big domestic and foreign issues. Just 20 percent of Republicans approve of his overall job performance, compared with 87 percent of Democrats. That partisan gap is bigger than any that Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan ever faced among the general public. It's about on par with divergent ratings of George W. Bush across his second term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Muslim group Minhaj-ul-Quran issues fatwa against terrorists (Ruth Gledhill, 1/17/10, Times of London)

The document, written by Dr Muhammed Tahir-ul-Qadri, a former minister of Pakistan and friend of Benazir Bhutto, declares suicide bombings and terrorism as "totally un-Islamic". It is one of the most detailed and comprehensive documents of its kind to be published in Britain.

The fatwa, which was released in Pakistan last month, uses texts from the Koran and other Islamic writings to argue that attacks against innocent citizens are "absolutely against the teachings of Islam and that Islam does not permit such acts on any excuse, reason or pretext".

Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is based in Canada and has written more than 400 books on Islamic law, said: "All these acts are grave violations of human rights and constitute kufr, disbelief, under Islamic law."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Former President George Bush breaks silence (Alex Pappas, 1/17/10, The Daily Caller)

For the first time since his presidency ended, former President George W. Bush will appear on all five Sunday morning news shows — yet the discussion will only revolve around Haiti relief efforts.

...to do so only to help others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Coakley's gaffes have hobbled her campaign (Susan Ferrechio, January 17, 2010, Washington Examiner)

Martha Coakley's campaign has been plagued by gaffes for weeks, but as the election approaches, her misfires seem to be coming faster.

After misspelling Massachusetts last week in a attack ad aimed at her Republican opponent, Martha Coakley's team had to quickly pull another television spot Friday when people began noticing the picture used in the backdrop depicted the World Trade Center before it was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Free trade brings heaps of benefits (Tim Wilson, 1/17/10, The Australian)

[A]n average $1.2 billion increase in our annual merchandise trade deficit between the 2005-06 and 2008-09 financial years is insignificant in comparison with the US investment windfall the FTA delivered.

A key provision of the agreement was the relaxation of the threshold requirements for US investors to seek Foreign Investment Review Board approval before investing in Australia.

The results are clear.

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, total US investment in 2005 was just shy of $334bn and has increased by an average of $20bn a year, reaching $418bn by the end of 2008.

And attacking a marginal trade deficit increase ignores that free trade is not a zero-sum game and that imports deliver benefits as well.

To be internationally competitive, Australian businesses need technologies that help improve productivity, competitive inputs into domestically produced manufactures and service imports to support industry growth.

Necessary imports added with the significant size of US investment have helped Australian industries grow, create jobs and ride out the global economic crisis.

Increased US investment has also helped foster industries of the future.

According to a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade analysis, US investment is "increasingly more diversified, particularly with increased activity in the services trade".

US investment is underwriting a boom for our services exports, with the ratio of Australia's goods to services exports to the US roughly two to one.

It would be easier to feel sorry for the UR had he simply been as pragmatic as he;'s supposed to be and followed the most basic advice of economists: push free trade and cut taxes instead of increasing spending.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


TESTING THE PROMISE OF PRAGMATISM (Dan Balz, 1/17/10, Washington Post)

A month before he was inaugurated, Barack Obama pinpointed one of the biggest challenges he would face as president. Could he restore confidence in government, even as he was proposing the biggest federal intervention in the domestic economy in a generation?

At the time, Obama said he did not think his victory marked an abrupt end to the skepticism ushered in by President Ronald Reagan toward top-down government and social engineering by Washington.

"What we don't know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government; they're more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government," he said on that day in December 2008.

He began by offering no plan, pushed no ideas as fundamental, and is giving any interest that can hold the bill hostage whatever they want. It is impossible for the public to see the bill as either smart or effective governance when he cares so little what's in it so long as something passes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM

Friend Ed Driscoll with some dope on what a vindictive president is really like. Check out this terrific book for more on one of our most despicable presidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Lazy, arrogant cowards: how English saw French in 12th century: A twelfth-century poem newly translated into English casts fresh light on the origin of today's Francophobic stereotypes. (Jonathan Wynne-Jones, 17 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Written between 1180 and 1194, a century after the Norman Conquest united England and Normandy against a common enemy in France, the 396-line poem was part of a propaganda war between London and Paris.

Poet Andrew de Coutances, an Anglo-Norman cleric, describes the French as godless, arrogant and lazy dogs. Even more stingingly, he accuses French people of being cowardly, and calls them heretics and rapists.

Speaking of which, we just watched the great Adventures of Robin Hood again last night. Norman scum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Sex and Gore? That’s Ancient History (CHARLES McGRATH, 1/17/10, NY Times)

Overtaxed, militarily overextended and with an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, the Romans, we learn, were a lot like us, but for entertainment purposes they had some signal advantages: They were more violent, they wore skimpier clothes and they had orgies. “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” a retelling of the history of the famous slave and his rebellion, does not neglect any of these traits. It features abundant nudity, both male and female. (“In the early days we had a lot of conversations about how many penises we could show in a single episode,” Rob Tapert, one of the producers, recalled recently.) There is a great deal of simulated sex, of both the gay and straight variety. And the subtitle is not false advertising: the characters do not merely bleed; they spray great fountains and gouts, arterial geysers, that splash up on the inside of your TV screen or else hang in midair like red Rorschach blots. Mr. Tapert and his co-producer, Sam Raimi (better known as the director of the “Spider-Man” films), got their start with the “Evil Dead” horror-movie franchise, and the new show at times suggests their early experiments with high-pressure circulatory systems. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Mr. Tapert admitted.

Much of the violence in “Spartacus” is stylized, even balletic. Many of the people working on the show were big fans of “300,” and, especially in the early episodes, “Spartacus” frequently borrows from that movie’s graphic-novel look, its gray and coppery color scheme and slo-mo action sequences. The show’s creators were also fans of “Rome,” and they say they learned two important lessons from that series. One was not to spend a fortune on building sets. (“Spartacus” relies instead on green-screen technology and C.G.I.) And the other was that their story line needed, like that of “Rome” to be character driven.

The early episodes include a number of well-drawn personalities, many of them plucked (or embellished) right from Plutarch, our main source for what little we know about Spartacus, a man, the text says, “not only of high spirit and valiant, but in understanding and in gentleness superior to his condition.” (Plutarch does not mention abs or lats, which Andy Whitfield, an Australian actor who plays the character, has in abundance, but they probably go without saying.)

In some ways the series is more historically faithful than either the 1960 Stanley Kubrick picture or its source, Howard Fast’s 1951 novel, which was in part an allegory denouncing McCarthyism. The series gives Spartacus a back story, which the Kubrick version does not, and gets a lot of mileage from Plutarch’s brief account of the ludus, or gladiator gym, where Spartacus was imprisoned. Run by a financially strapped promoter named Batiatus, the place resembles an outpost of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling empire, and is a reminder of yet another way we resemble the ancient Romans: our appetite for violent spectacle and “reality” entertainment.

The first episodes do look like 300 done on a budget and make Rome seem demure by comparison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


N.J. shift precedes Christie: Economic and other forces have already changed the landscape. (Jonathan Tamari, 1/17/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Democrats dispute the idea that voters want GOP leadership, noting that every Democrat in the Assembly won reelection, but they don't argue with the notion that the economy and taxes trump all other issues as Christie enters office. [...]

One of his first acts, he said, will be to sign an executive order freezing pending regulations that may hamper business or add costs to local governments and contribute to property-tax hikes.

He plans soon to take an ax to the state's affordable-housing regulations, which Democrats have championed and tried to strengthen in recent years. And he said he hoped to return to the 2006 proposals to reduce property taxes, many of which were watered down or left on the shelf.

Democrats, too, said they hoped to revisit those ideas, and so far both sides are stressing cooperation.

But there is likely to be a clear difference on social issues. Christie campaigned on the economy, but did not hide his conservative views on subjects such as abortion. Asked about the issue Friday, he emphasized that the economy would be his primary focus, especially at the outset, but he reiterated his support for parental-notification laws.

Asked whether it was an issue he might press in his first term, Christie said, "Well, sure."

"I don't think that my 14-year-old daughter, who I have to sign a permission slip for to be able to take Claritin . . . on the same day should be able to walk eight or nine blocks from her school to the Planned Parenthood clinic to get an abortion without me knowing about it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


To seal his legacy, Obama must be a leader in his own way (ROCHELLE RILEY, 1/17/10, Detroit FREE PRESS)

[I] stand here, alone, in the cold, the sun on my face. And I am drawn to a greater possibility and a greater truth: President Obama, a man of black and white heritage, a man of African and American heritage and a man of the 21st Century who won election partly via e-mail and $25 a pop, is the two Americas. He is the two races that continue a civil war we thought ended long ago.

He is the biblical story extolling the wisdom of King Solomon. He has been approached by an America fighting for a single color, for a single ideology. Rather than allow America to continue its slow demise from segregation, Obama's election has taken us even closer to the America the country's forefathers described.

His election is a gift America gave herself. Had Obama done nothing but stand and say "I do solemnly swear," that moment alone would have moved America to a place from which it cannot retreat.

...but it will be a tragedy if it is ultimately reduced, as here, to a bit of tokenism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Some say Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is now vulnerable after failing to connect with voters, colleagues (Michael Mcauliff In Washington and David Saltonstall, 1/17/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

Largely because of Gillibrand's weakness, former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford - until last week a virtual unknown in New York - was able to parachute into the race and establish himself as a plausible, if longshot, possible challenger in a matter of days.

True, Gillibrand still beats Ford by a hefty 19 points, according to a Marist Poll released Friday. But for Gillibrand, the poll's more troubling number was her flimsy 24% approval rating among voters - and the 25% who had no opinion of her at all.

Many say that Gillibrand has simply failed to capture the hearts and minds of New Yorkers the way her outsized forbears - Bobby Kennedy, Pat Moynihan and Hillary Clinton - did.

"This state has a strong tradition of electing fabulous people, and I think we deserve a senator in that mold," said Maureen White, a one-time chief fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee and a Ford fan. "I don't see any incipient signs of that in Kirsten."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


'Meir Dagan is the Superman of Israel' (Jerusalem Post, 1/16/10)

Without Mossad director Meir Dagan, the Iranian nuclear program would have been successfully completed years ago, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram claimed in an op-ed published Saturday.

"Over the past seven years, he has worked in silence, away from the media," the op-ed read. "He has dealt painful blows to the Iranian nuclear program … he is the Superman of the Jewish state."

Among the steps taken by Dagan against Teheran, Al-Ahram listed diplomatic action to embarrass the Islamic republic, action to fuel opposition protests, assassinations and covert attacks against nuclear facilities.

January 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 PM


The Roots of Obama Worship: Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity finds a 21st-century savior. (James W. Ceaser, January 25, 2010, Weekly Standard)

When the history of this period is written, the 2008 campaign will almost certainly be seen as a watershed event in cultural history, above and beyond any connection it had to American politics, when a worldwide movement congealed to display its enthusiasm for Barack Obama. This perspective will also require a reassessment of the place of Obama. To be sure, the campaign will continue in one respect to be regarded as being all about Obama. This has been Obama’s perception, and understandably so. Only the most rare of persons, after being the object for over a year of such unrelenting adulation, could have resisted the temptation to think that the world revolved around him. Barack Obama is clearly not that person. His speeches and remarks are filled with references to himself in a ratio that surpasses anything yet seen in the history of the American presidency. But in another respect, the 2008 campaign was about something much larger than Barack Obama. The character of the event will not be grasped until the focus begins to shift from Barack Obama to the yearning for Barack Obama. It is in the thoughts and actions of those who adored him that the most interesting and important dimension of the campaign took place.

The rise of the Religion of Humanity is what best describes this event. This strange term designates an actual sect, now defunct, that enjoyed a considerable following and prestige in intellectual circles in the 19th century. John Stuart Mill was a prominent convert, pronouncing the “culte de l’humanité [to be] capable of fully supplying the place for a religion, or rather (to say the truth) of being a religion.” In America, where the religion wore the respectable label of the “Church of Humanity,” the acolytes included the well-known journalist David Croly and his son Herbert, the founder and longtime editor of the New Republic. If it were not for the Religion of Humanity, Americans today might not have the pleasure of reading Jonathan Chait on “The Rise of Republican Nihilism” or E.J. Dionne “In Praise of Harry Reid.”

Mill and Croly were both intellectual disciples of the French social philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857). Though rarely studied in America today, Comte bequeathed an enormous legacy. He was the first to simplify and popularize the idea of a progressive movement of history, which he described as proceeding through three great epochs: the age of theological thinking, the age of metaphysical thinking, and the age of scientific or “Positivistic” thinking. (“Positivism,” referring to the scientific mindset and approach, was one of Comte’s many linguistic inventions.) The inevitable march of humanity (still with a small h) through these stages, albeit at different rates in different places, was the great story of history. Variations among nations and groups might continue, but they paled in significance next to the common destiny of humanity. Those who continued to view the world in terms of nations and their conflicts—Comte called them “retrogrades”—were caught in old thinking, unable to grasp the new global order being formed by the forces generated by Positivism.

Comte argued that it was time to expand man’s scientific knowledge of the physical world to the social realm. A new science of society, “sociology” (Comte’s term), was the latest and highest of all the sciences. Possession of knowledge of the laws of social movement was what ideally bestowed the title to rule. Comte and his circle were never much impressed by democracy and favored instead one system or another of governance by experts. (Saint-Simon, for whom Comte worked for many years, once proposed running society with “Councils of Newton.”)

But there was an important twist to Comte’s praise of science. In contrast to many who thought that the scientific method and scientific values were sufficient to bind society together, Comte insisted that people had to believe. As faith in the transcendent was no longer -possible in the Positivist age, he called for “replacing God with Humanity.” The aim of this religion without God was to build a global community that assured the betterment of man’s lot. Postulating this objective as an ideal is what Comte meant by Humanity (now with a capital H).

Given the suspicion that many today hold toward religion of any kind, Comte’s insistence on the need for a religion might seem to run counter to modern sensibilities. But set the word religion aside, and it is just on this point that Comte’s thought proves most prescient. The combination of confidence in science and a religious-like enthusiasm was the hallmark of the Obama campaign, just as it is the most salient characteristic of the contemporary progressive impulse. Confidence in experts and the pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” went hand in hand with chants of “Yes we can” and with celebrations of the gift of charismatic leadership.

What was more farfetched was Comte’s plan to establish an organized sect with churches, clergy, and calendar of Positivist saints. His movement in fact never reached much beyond the intellectual elites. But even here -Comte’s thought may be less naïve than it first appears, as he envisaged an initial period of syncretism in which existing Christian sects would adopt the fundamental premises of the new religion without officially becoming part of it. What better describes the theology of many contemporary liberal churches whose full energy in 2008 went into proselytizing for Obama?

There is one point, however, on which Comte’s idea of the Religion of Humanity, was inadequate. Social improvement, however admirable, was too elevated a goal to mobilize people and sustain their devotion. The contemporary movement has gone beyond the original to discover a new and firmer basis for promoting solidarity in the great cause of confronting climate change. Here is a project that can unite people in waging the moral equivalent of war against a common threat. The liturgy has been vastly strengthened by allowing the ecological soldiers to glimpse the moment of their glorious triumph, when, in candidate Obama’s words, “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” This moment marked the dividing time between the pre- and post-Obama eras. The cause is also perfect in its “positivity,” since the threat can only be properly gauged by the disinterested research of the “best science,” the practitioners of which must be granted a central role in planning strategy. Although the recent Copenhagen conference on climate change ended in disappointment (even with Obama’s last minute intervention), the cause has lost none of its appeal. It is the subtext of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar, which represents the next “flashpoint” in the evolutionary development of Humanity.

The confluence of the Religion of Humanity with the Obama campaign has every appearance of being a providential event. It was prepared by the advent in the 1990s of an ongoing world public opinion, something that had never previously existed. The focus was on views and attitudes about America, a symbol that was constructed under the guidance of the intellectual vanguard. This symbol, known as anti-Americanism, was given a human face in the first decade of this century when it was joined to the personage of George W. Bush. It was invested with every element deemed to be retrograde: the primacy of the nation, a claim of exceptionalism, and a set of principles—“nature and nature’s god”—grounded in theology and metaphysics. The world was depicted as comprising two fundamental “substances,” Bush and non-Bush, that were locked in a cosmic conflict.

Barack Obama’s coming served as the galvanizing force to carry the day for the cause of progress. Although Obama never conceived himself as playing a universal role when he launched his presidential bid, he awakened at some point in the campaign to the realization that he was no longer running merely for president of the United States. He was being selected for the much grander “office” of leader of a new world community. His credentials for this position were impeccable. Humanity as a concept formally includes everyone, but it is especially favorable to those who have previously been excluded from full recognition. (The old aristocrats, in Comte’s description, were hardly part of Humanity.)

Having decided as a young man to identify himself as African-American, Obama was in the category of the dispossessed, a member of a race against which some of the greatest crimes in history were perpetrated. This fact immediately commended him to Western intellectuals at the same time that it enabled him to be the plausible representative of the teeming masses of the Third World. No one from a privileged race could ever have fulfilled this role. Just as important was the fact that Obama is not purely African-American, but a product of amalgamation, what the French approvingly call métissage and Harry Reid describes less felicitously as being “light skinned.” Obama is postracial or, as he himself put it, a “mutt.” This look, favored among international fashion models, represents physically the common denominator of humanity. Religiously, too, Obama, though a Christian, has ties through his father to Islam, a fact he proclaims on some of his overseas trips. He was the embodiment of all men. Finally, while holding these biological qualities of both the dispossessed and of humanity, Obama is a member of the clerisy of the Religion of Humanity, having been credentialed at Columbia, Harvard, and Chicago and stamped as one holding progressive views.

In what measure has Barack Obama as president embraced this other role of leader of Humanity? Americans are now wondering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


Obama the Slow Learner: Time for a remedial course in how to create jobs. (Fred Barnes, January 25, 2010, Weekly Standard)

President Obama is a slow learner. For all his brainpower, he’s saddled himself with three ideas about the economy and job creation that aren’t working, either substantively or politically. And he appears to be too ideologically rigid or stubborn to consider the evidence and jettison the failed ideas.

Instead, he puts himself in embarrassing situations.

He's incapable of learning, is incoherent without his teleprompter and a bore with it, yet we still persist in bowing to his brain power?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 PM


The Backlash Is Coming! The Backlash Is Coming!: People in Massachusetts think they're at the leading edge of politics. That's not good news for Democrats. (JON KELLER, 1/16/10, WSJ)

"Around the country they look at Massachusetts and just write us off," longtime local activist Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government told me. "But people around here are really not happy with the extremes in the Democrat Party."

Those extremes are cropping up as issues in this race. One is giving civilian legal rights to terror suspects, which Ms. Coakley supports. Mr. Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard, hammered her for that even before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day. That incident has tried the patience of an electorate normally known for its civil libertarianism. Rasmussen's most recent survey found that 65% of them want Abdulmutallab tried by the military.

Another issue is taxes. Mr. Brown has scolded Ms. Coakley for supporting a repeal of the Bush tax cuts, for entertaining the idea of passing a "war tax," and for proclaiming in a recent debate that "we need to get taxes up." Ms. Coakley says she meant that tax revenues, not rates, need to rebound. Nonetheless, Mr. Brown's critique resonates with voters who are smarting from a 25% hike in sales tax last year.

Gov. Patrick's approval ratings have also crashed, fertilizing the soil for Mr. Brown's claim in a radio ad that "our government in Washington is making the same mistakes as our government here in Massachusetts."

But nothing excites Mr. Brown's supporters more than his vow to stop ObamaCare by denying Democrats the 60th vote they would need in the U.S. Senate to shut off a GOP filibuster. The Rasmussen and Suffolk polls report that once-overwhelming statewide support for the federal health reform has fallen to a wafer-thin majority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown (Jonathan Leake and Chris Hastings, 1/17/10, Times of London)

A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Actually, only the gullible portion of the world was misled, the Brights.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


Budget director blames old computers for ineffective government (Ian Swanson, 01/14/10, The Hill)

A big reason why the government is inefficient and ineffective is because Washington has outdated technology, with federal workers having better computers at home than in the office.

This startling admission came Thursday from Peter Orszag, who manages the federal bureaucracy for President Barack Obama.

The public is getting a bad return on its tax dollars because government workers are operating with outdated technologies, Orszag said in a statement that kicked off a summit between Obama and dozens of corporate CEOs.

“Twenty years ago, people who came to work in the federal government had better technology at work than at home,” said Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Now that’s no longer the case.

Computer companies ought to be required to program in Y2K type glitches so that computers fail every three years or so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


Bickering with Biden: The tension between Barack Obama and Joe Biden was far greater than between the Palin and McCain camps. (ALLYSIA FINLEY, 1/16/10, WSJ)

According to journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's new campaign exposé "Game Change," the tension was so great that aides kept Mr. Biden off internal conference calls and sometimes even refused to tell him calls were taking place. The authors report that Mr. Obama's aides would hold a separate call in order to "keep a tight rein on him."

Tensions between the running mates escalated after Mr. Biden told reporters on his campaign plane that he was more qualified than Mr. Obama to be president. After those remarks, the Obama camp limited Mr. Biden's access to the press and grilled new campaign staffers to ensure that they were more loyal to Mr. Obama than Mr. Biden.

When a series of Biden gaffes culminated in his assertion that an inexperienced President Obama would, "mark my words," be tested by an international crisis, Mr. Obama grumbled to campaign staffers: "How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?"

Only every time he opens his mouth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Cindy Sheehan leads protest at CIA, Cheney’s house (AP, 1/16/10)

A group led by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan has protested near the CIA’s headquarters and former Vice President Dick Cheney’s home in northern Virginia.

They were protesting the use of unmanned drone aircraft to attack al-Qaida and Taliban targets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Democrats Fret That Public Is Dissatisfied (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 1/17/10, NY Times)

As Mr. Obama prepares to come here on Sunday to campaign for the party’s beleaguered Senate candidate, Martha Coakley, Democrats across the country are starting to wonder aloud if they misjudged the electorate over the last year, with profound ramifications for the midterm elections this year and, potentially, for Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Thank goodness they're so Bright.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Think different, CIA: One of the biggest challenges for American intelligence? The way the brain works. (Robert Jervis, January 17, 2010, Boston Globe)

Our minds are, then, very good at forming a coherent picture, but less good at challenging it, questioning its assumptions, and coming up with alternative explanations. We are quick and often assured, but we are not self-correcting.

If there are flaws in the way that we think, then gathering more and more information isn’t a solution. What our intelligence system really needs is ways to avoid becoming trapped by the natural tendency to leap to conclusions and stick with them. This is true in other fields as well, which is why so much of professional and scientific training is designed to reduce the errors made by fallible people using weak information.

If individuals cannot avoid jumping to conclusions, there are ways for organizations to make up for this. They can systematically solicit the views of people with different perspectives, for example, or use devil’s advocates who will challenge established views.

To compensate for the tendency to rely on implicit understandings, intelligence analysts can be pushed to fully explain their reasoning, allowing others if not themselves to probe the assumptions that often play a large and unacknowledged role in their conclusions.

To better recognize the significance of absences, analysts can learn to think explicitly about what evidence should be appearing if their beliefs are correct. Gaps do not automatically mean that the established ideas are wrong, but they may signal a flaw in the prevailing thesis. Analysts can also be trained to consider, explicitly, what evidence could lead them to change their minds - not only alerting themselves to the possibility that the necessary information might be missing, but also providing an avenue for others to find evidence that might overturn established views.

Analysts should think more broadly and imaginatively about how adversaries are likely to respond, especially when it appears as though they have few alternatives and may be pushed into tactically surprising acts.

An open market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Foul Ball: Coakley Calls Schilling ‘Another Yankee Fan’ (Matthew Rose, 1/16/10, WSJ: Washington Wire)

In a local radio interview Friday, Ms. Coakley dismissed Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher and supporter of her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, as “another Yankee fan” in the vein of former Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

A startled silence hung in the air. Mr. Schilling famously vanquished the Yankees in a 2004 playoff game in which he appeared to bleed into his sock.

“Schilling?” asks the interviewer.

“Yes,” Ms. Coakley replies.

“Curt Schilling. A Yankee fan?

“No. All right. I’m wrong on my…I’m wrong.”

“The Red Sox great pitcher of the bloody sock?”

“Well, he’s not there any more.”

In Boston, obviously, sport isn’t a matter of life or death. To quote Liverpool’s great manager Bill Shankley, it’s more important than that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Haiti response shows the difference between the EU and a superpower (Christopher Booker, 1/16/10, Daily Telegraph)

Compare and contrast the initial responses of two "major world powers" to the Haitian earthquake disaster. Within hours of Port-au-Prince crumbling into ruins, the US had sent in an aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters, hospital and assault ships, the 82nd Airborne Division with 3,500 troops and hundreds of medical personnel. They put the country's small airport back on an operational footing, and President Obama pledged an initial $100 million dollars in emergency aid.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the European Union geared itself up with a Brussels press conference led by Commission Vice-President Baroness Ashton, now the EU's High Representative – our new foreign minister. A scattering of bored-looking journalists in the Commission's lavishly appointed press room heard the former head of Hertfordshire Health Authority stumbling through a prepared statement, in which she said that she had conveyed her "condolences" to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and pledged three million euros in aid.

Of course, the great minds that gave us the EU are responsible for the Haitian disaster in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Obama taps Bush, Clinton for Haiti relief role (AP, 1/15/10)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Coakley, Deeds Running From Same Playbook (Dan Roem, 1/16/10, Hotline)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Unions Cut Special Deal on Health Taxes (LAURA MECKLER And NAFTALI BENDAVID, 1/15/10, WSJ)

Democratic negotiators acceded to union demands for a scaled-back tax on high-end health-insurance plans, exempting union contracts from the tax until 2018, five years beyond the start date for other workers.

The deal helped Democrats clear a key hurdle, but the break for organized labor added to the pressure to find new revenue to pay for their health bill, which is designed to give coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

Drug companies threatening to oppose health bill (ALAN FRAM, 1/15/10, Associated Press)
The drug industry is threatening to end its support for President Barack Obama's health overhaul effort because of a rift with the administration over protecting brand-name biotech drugs from low-cost generic competitors.

In an e-mail obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America told the trade group's board members that "we could not support the bill" if the industry is given less than 12 years of competitive protection for the expensive products.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Senior Iranian envoy quits in disgust over regime’s brutal ways (Martin Fletcher, 1/16/10, Times of London)

A veteran Iranian diplomat based in Norway has resigned his post, denounced his government and urged colleagues around the world to do the same after the regime’s brutal suppression of huge opposition demonstrations last month.

Mohammed-Reza Heydari, Iran’s consul in Oslo, is the first Iranian diplomat to publicly quit and condemn the regime. He revealed that it sought to lure him back to Tehran after rumours of his defection surfaced last week. At the time, the Iranian Foreign Ministry insisted that the rumours were baseless.

In an interview with the Norwegian television channel NRK, Mr Heydari said that he decided to resign after Iranian security forces killed a dozen demonstrators on December 27.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


From Bay State to Red State? (TOBIN HARSHAW, 1/15/10, NY Times: The Thread)

Strike One: “The mission in Afghanistan was to go in because we believed that the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists … They’re gone. They’re not there anymore.”

Strike Two: “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”

Strike Three: “You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

Will there be joy in Beantown if Mighty Coakley strikes out? Or, having been born on third base (thanks to the Kennedy clan), will she be able to steal home?

...no wonder they don't let her campaign much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Democrats scramble in Massachusetts to retain Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat (Karl Vick and Chris Cillizza, January 16, 2010, Washington Post)

The fundamental dynamic of the race fell in place months ago, when Brown set off in a pickup truck for the only campaign the Republican could afford: retail, door-to-door. The campaign was so strapped for cash that aides described the $40,000 spent in the primary as a major hit. Brown could not afford to mail out absentee ballots, often so crucial in a close race. "So our program consists of e-mail and Facebook and Twitter," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a campaign official.

By working kitchens, bars and sidewalks, however, Brown was positioned to capitalize on the rising tide of discontent at the grass-roots level over taxes, unemployment and Washington. The frustration is especially evident among independents, who account for fully half of Massachusetts voters by registration. And after repeatedly winning election to the state Senate from a district Obama won with 60 percent, Brown had experience framing a message with broad appeal. "This is a big tent, folks," he said Friday. "One thing I know you all have in common is you believe in fairness and good government."

In mid-December, the National Republican Senatorial Committee conducted a poll that showed Brown trailing by only 13 points, but it kept the results to itself. Coakley continued operating on the assumption that for all intents and purposes she had won the seat with the Dec. 8 primary, a common assumption in the state known as the bluest of the blue.

"I think we overestimated the state's Democraticness and underestimated the national mood," one senior Democratic strategist said Friday. "We thought that the state's deep blue voting pattern would help us withstand national trends."

Coakley was rarely in position to detect the growing anger Brown would channel. Her strategy called for cultivating the local Democratic leaders who could be relied on to turn out enough of the faithful to win a special election, traditionally a low-turnout affair.

"I didn't think relying on the governor and the mayor and this whole trickle-down voting was going to work," said Sandy Fleishman, 69, a campaign volunteer at the Clinton rally.

As if the ironies weren't bountiful enough here, one problem for Democrats is supposedly that so many people go away because of the long weekend. How about the prospect of the Obama presidency being dealt a death blow by MLK Day?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Democrats threaten reconciliation for health bill if they lose in Mass. (Michael O'Brien - 01/16/10, The Hill)

Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said during budget reconciliation is "an option" to pass a healthcare bill. [...]

Budget reconciliation is a procedural rule allowing a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes usually needed to end debate on any given piece of legislation.

The more damage they inflict on themselves the more determined they become to do more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Obama Lonely in Office, People Mag Says (CBS, 1/15/10)

"Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith pointed out that the president talked a lot about "being in the bubble" of the powerful office.

Gleick called Barack's words on the subject "touching."

"He just talked about the loneliness of the job. And some of the loneliness, he embraces. He realizes that he has big decisions that he alone needs to make," she said. "But he misses being out among regular people."

One of the most conspicuous things about him pre-White House was that he had no friends nor even political allies, just people who used him as a vehicle for their ambitions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Wanted: a new Lawrence of Arabia: Rory Stewart, our leading commentator on Iraq, explains in a BBC documentary why he admires TE Lawrence. (Rory Stewart, 1/15/10, Daily Telegraph)

As a child, I had an image of Lawrence as a quiet Oxford school-boy who ran away to live wild in the desert, discovered lost cities, galloped across the sand-dunes, out-riding and out-shooting the Beduin, while making jokes in ancient Greek: a mixture of Mowgli from The Jungle Book, Indiana Jones and James Bond.

As an adult, I read books which described him as a masochistic fantasist, a liar, a repressed homosexual and a brutal imperial stooge. But when I was working in Iraq and Afghanistan and read his secret reports to the war office, I discovered a very different Lawrence.

His writings showed me the astonishing resources that existed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; that we should trust Iraqis and Afghans more; that they were much more competent than we acknowledged. It was a lesson in humility, which I felt we had still not learned and which had revolutionary implications for our interventions in both countries.

Lawrence was a 26-year-old archaeologist when Ottoman Turkey allied itself with Germany at the start of the First World War and declared a jihad against the British Empire. In making the documentary, I learned how Lawrence was given the task of planning secret operations against Ottoman Turkey; how he went to live with a demoralised group of Arab tribesmen and, promising them independence, forged them into a guerrilla force; how he out-fought a vast Ottoman army, and ultimately freed Arabia from Turkish rule.

When he returned to London, aged 30 in 1918, he was a global celebrity – on a par with Charlie Chaplin. More than a million watched a performance of his life in Covent Garden during 1919. He was sent to the Versailles Peace Conference, appointed as Churchill’s Middle East advisor and wrote his masterpiece, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Travelling from Syria through Israel and Jordan and from Oxford to Iraq, I found I could show things in a documentary which I could never record in writing. I had read Lawrence’s description of crawling through the desert to inspect a station before an attack and seeing a match briefly illuminate the pale face of a young Turkish officer. Only a camera, however, could catch the drama of finding that station still half-buried in the sand, with a jagged hole in the wall where a firing position had been hacked out by a desperate defender and a pale line of bullets marked the defenders’ deaths. Only a camera could fully catch the way a Bedu chief raised his chin when describing his father fighting alongside Lawrence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Indecent Proposal: a review of The Invention of the Jewish People By Shlomo Sand Translated by Yael Lotan (Hillel Halkin, January 9, 2010, New Republic)

Judaism, whether it is nearly four thousand years old, as biblical chronology would have it, or only 2,500 years old, as the revisionist Bible critics favored by Sand maintain, is inseparable from a Jewish “national consciousness.” Believing Jews throughout the ages have never doubted for a moment that they belonged to an am yisra’el, a people of Israel--nor, in modern times, have non-believing Jews with strong Jewish identities. It is precisely this that constitutes such an identity. Far from inventing Jewish peoplehood, Zionism was a modern re-conceptualization of it that was based on its long-standing prior existence.

It is of course true, as Sand delights in observing, that the claims made for Jewish peoplehood have been different from those made for other national groups. A religiously traditional Jew in nineteenth-century Poland did not share with a traditional Jew in Morocco all that a Frenchman in Paris shared with a Frenchman in Toulouse. The two Jews inhabited different continents, were ruled by different governments, spoke different languages, lived in different material cultures, and had different social mores.

But it is not quite so simple. After all, the differences between nineteenthcentury Frenchmen were not necessarily slight, either: one might be a Catholic and one a Protestant, one a speaker of standard French and one of dialect, one urban and one rural, one royalist and one republican, one northern and one Mediterranean. And conversely, the differences between our two Jews were not necessarily that great. Both were acutely conscious of being unlike their gentile neighbors; both spoke their own language or dialect, much of its distinctiveness due to the many Hebrew words in it; if sufficiently educated, they were able to communicate in Hebrew itself; and they had a jointly acknowledged though unvisited national homeland in the Land of Israel.

Above all, each would have immediately recognized the other as a kinsman. And since their religion permeated the entirety of their daily lives, these lives had a great deal in common, too. Besides attending practically identical synagogue services on Saturday morning (and even all week long) and then making the same blessings and singing more or less the same hymns around the Sabbath table, a nineteenth-century Polish and Moroccan Jew also ate a very similar long-simmering stew--called cholent in Poland and dafina in Morocco--whose method of preparation was dictated by the same ritual laws. And though few Frenchmen were so attached to being French that they would have forbidden a son or daughter to marry an otherwise eligible and attractive foreigner, Jews everywhere broke off all relations with children who married non-Jews.

To say that Jewish national identity was rooted in religion is not to say that it was merely religious. And in any case, for someone convinced, after Anderson and Gellner, that all national identities are “imagined” ones imposed on populations at some point in their history by ruling or intellectual elites, what does any of this matter? If nationhood or peoplehood is ultimately determined by subjective perceptions, Sand is barking up the wrong tree by laboring to prove that Jews lacked the objective qualifications for it. By his own standards, all that should count is what Jews felt and thought about themselves--and in all the enormous corpus of pre-nineteenth-century Jewish literature (from which, for understandable reasons, Sand does not quote), Jewish peoplehood is never treated as anything but an unchallenged and unchallengeable fact.

Were Jews always as scrupulous about preserving the purity of their bloodlines as was the nineteenth-century Polish or Moroccan Jew who said the mourner’s kaddish for the child who married out? Not at all, contends Sand in his second argument against the historical reality of a Jewish people. The notion that Jews share a lineage going back to biblical times is, he claims, a false one. Not only was much of ancient Jewry never exiled from Palestine, in which it remained and converted to Christianity and Islam in antiquity or the early Middle Ages, but large numbers of non-Jews in the Diaspora entered the Jewish fold in the same period--in at least some cases, it would seem, without undergoing the formal conversion process required by rabbinic Judaism.

Sand dwells at length on the better known of these episodes, all partially or wholly ignored by rabbinic literature: the Edomites of southern Palestine, forced to convert by the Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus in 125 B.C.E.; the numerous “God-fearers” of the Roman Empire, gentiles attracted to Judaism who often slipped unobtrusively into its ranks; the inhabitants of Yemen who became Jews under the Judaizing Himyarite kings of the fourth and fifth centuries; the Jewish Berber tribes of North Africa before its seventh-century Muslim conquest; the Khazars, a Turkic people living between the Caspian and Black seas, whose royal house embraced Judaism in the eighth century; and so on. Far from having common biblical ancestors, he argues, most contemporary Jews would discover, if they could go far back enough in time, that they have diverse non-Jewish ones.

But in fact we can go far back in time, with the help of historical DNA studies, which have burgeoned in the last twenty years, and the most disgraceful pages in Sand’s book are those in which he displays an ignorant disdain for the work that has been done in this field by serious investigators. Without the least apparent understanding of how historical genetics works or what it can tell us, he attacks some of its most distinguished practitioners, such as Batsheva Bonné-Tamir of Tel Aviv University, Karl Skorecki of the Haifa Technion, and Doron Behar of the Rappaport Institute, for “internalizing the Zionist myth” and “seeking at all costs to discover a biological homogeneity” in order to create a “new discipline” designed to confirm “the Zionist idea of the Jewish nation-race.” Having myself worked for many years on a research project with Skorecki and Behar, I can testify that this impugning of their scientific integrity is libelous.

The irony is that the genetic studies that Sand dismisses lend him a measure of support. Overall, they show that while there is a high Y-chromosome correlation with an eastern Mediterranean profile among Jewish men from most parts of the world, indicating that many of them do have common Palestinian ancestors, the mitochondrial DNA correlation of Jewish women is much lower. Or, in less technical terms: while male gentiles have on the average entered Diaspora Jewish communities in only small percentages per generation over time, female gentiles --presumably because they were local inhabitants taken for wives by Jewish men in places like Yemen or North Africa--have done so more significantly.

But again: so what? There is nothing explosive about this. Judaism has always made it clear that the Jewish people is not biologically exclusive and can be joined by outsiders. And taking Sand on his own terms, what does any of this have to do with Jewish peoplehood, or with Zionism? If our Polish Jew included among his distant ancestors Khazars who became Jews in the eighth century, and our Moroccan Jew counted seventh-century Berber tribesmen among his forbears, why should this have weakened the nineteenth-century ties between them, or their attachment to an ancient homeland from which others of their ancestors did come, or their desire to see Jewish independence restored there? Sand, who studied at the École des hautes études in Paris and has written a book on Georges Sorel, would snort derisively if told that Sorel’s fellow Frenchmen were not a people because some of their progenitors were indigenous Celts while others were Germanic or Roman invaders. Yet when it comes to the Jews, he asks us to take a similar proposition seriously.

While he does not trouble to interrogate (as he might say) his own beliefs, Sand does reveal something about their origins. He is, he tells us in his introduction, the admiring Israeli-born grandson of an anti-Zionist Polish Jewish communist, and as a young man growing up in the 1960s in mixed Arab-Jewish Jaffa he dreamed of leaving Israel forever. Two of his closest friends were a Jaffa Arab and a young Arab writer from Haifa named Mahmoud Darwish. After his army service, in the course of which, in the Six Day War, he “had to shoot at the enemy and intimidate terrified inhabitants,” he went off to Paris to study modern European history, determined to “abandon everything” Israeli. Yet in the end, he writes, speaking of himself in the third person,

despite the alienation [that he felt from Israel], he was overcome by longing for the city in which he had grown up, and so he returned to the painful place where his identity was forged. His homeland, claiming to be the “State of the Jewish people,” received him willingly. As for the rebellious poet who had been born on its soil, and the old friend [from Jaffa]--the state was too narrow to include them [and they emigrated].

By then, however, Israel had changed. The country to which Sand returned, and in which he married the daughter of a non-Jewish Spanish anarchist who was married to an Israeli woman, now teemed with post- and anti-Zionist intellectuals. Like him, they objected to what they considered Israel’s Jewish ethnocentricity; like him, too, they thought that the “state of the Jewish people” should become a “state of all its citizens.” By the early 1990s, the attitudes that had made Sand feel like an outsider in the Israel of the 1960s were chic, in the academy and beyond. Many had their justification in fashionable theories of nationalism, colonialism, racism, and the rejection of Otherness that originated in the France he had studied in. Mahmoud Darwish was now a renowned Palestinian poet. The zeitgeist and the Sand-geist were the same. Why The Invention of the Jewish People was not already written then, I don’t know. Perhaps Sand--who, while denying the existence of a Jewish people, never doubts that of a Palestinian one, even though no serious historian disputes that Palestinian national consciousness is a product of late modern times--was waiting to see if the winds of fashion would shift again. Since then, however, they have only blown harder.

...is that they're the same genetically. Their differing nationalism's are ideological, not biological. Every time one kills another they disprove Dawkins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


My Nights With Eric (ANDRÉ ACIMAN, 1/14/10, NY Times)

To see an Eric Rohmer film is not to escape from the drudgery of our daily lives; it is to sit quietly and have someone show us lives that are not entirely different from ours but different enough, situations we’ve all been in and couldn’t wait to get out of but could have learned from, if only we’d had the patience and the courage to sit through them.

Mr. Rohmer was the master of tact — tact in the way his characters behave with one another, tact in the way he himself, as a director, spun his tales, and ultimately tact with truth and fiction. In his hands, sex could be suspended, and passion, without ever boiling over, seldom went cold.

I can’t forget the scene in “My Night at Maud’s” when the very pious engineer in the business suit decides to sit on Maud’s bed while she is lying under the covers with only a T-shirt on, determined to seduce him. They stare at each other, and they talk, and she tells him things, and he tells her things, and still they talk, and it’s clear to everyone, including the characters themselves, that though this strange couple has just met hours earlier and may not share a sliver of love between them, what we’ve just witnessed is one of the most intimate scenes in movie history.

It is impossible to watch this scene or certain moments in “Tale of Autumn,” “A Good Marriage” or “Full Moon in Paris” and not envy the candor of Eric Rohmer’s men and women, their impulse to dissect each nuance of desire and then turn around and confide it right away to those who’d aroused them.

With my friends we used to call these situations Rohmerian.

Eric Rohmer 1920 - 2010: In Memoriam (STEVE VINEBERG | January 13, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


America: Maybe he can’t (Edward Luce, January 14 2010, Financial Times)

W hether it is recalcitrant foes – from obstructionist Republicans at home and America’s determined rivals and enemies abroad – or recalcitrant trends (most notably the economy and mounting public debt) Mr Obama’s first year in office has offered a sobering tutorial in the limits of presidential power.

It has also served as a reminder not to take campaign promises too literally. Mr Obama swept to power promising change – particularly to the way politics is conducted in Washington. He also promised a revitalising diplomatic agenda. Both have bumped up against familiar constraints: the first to the limits of a president’s domestic power, the second to the reality of America’s waning clout in the world.

Whatever else can be said of Mr Obama’s mostly very competent performance, there is little doubt it has failed to redeem the excitement he generated on the campaign trail. Indeed, he has taken America in some familiar-seeming directions. His 30,000 troop surge for Afghanistan may be very different from Mr Bush’s actions in Iraq. But, much like Tarp and the stimulus, the two wars have begun to blur in many people’s minds.

While the UR deserves some credit for TARP, which did save the economy, W deserves no blame for the stimulus, which has slowed recovery. It's not fair to the latter to blur the two.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Administration to allow Haitians in U.S. illegally to stay for 18 months (Spencer S. Hsu and N.C. Aizenman, 1/15/10, Washington Post)

The Obama administration will allow 100,000 to 200,000 Haitians living in the United States illegally to stay for 18 months because of Tuesday's earthquake but warned that Haitians who are newly caught trying to enter the country will be deported.

...but what decent people would ever force Haitians to return to that hellhole?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


When war is peace and right is center: It's not 1984, but Newspeak lives on in the media's skewing of the terms of our political debate (David Sirota, 1/14/10, Salon)

For a year, national reporters (with help from conservative talk-radio goons) have depicted the center-right Obama administration and its corporatist policies as quasi-Marxist. [...]

Then came a Denver Post editorial (in fairness, billed honestly as opinion) urging the city's mayor, restaurateur John Hickenlooper (D), to run for governor.

In an earlier interview with the paper's editors, Hickenlooper told the Post that his candidacy will be motivated by his belief that "there should be a lot more people in government who come out of the business community."

The Post responded in its editorial not by pointing out that the business-government revolving door is already spinning out of control, nor by noting that we're approaching the historical zenith of corporate-government corruption. Instead, the newspaper gushed.

"Even though he governs a left-leaning city, Hickenlooper has been a pro-business Democrat ... making (city services) more cost-effective," the paper wrote, before criticizing Hickenlooper's potential Democratic rival, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, as unacceptably "farther to the left than Colorado's electorate."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Consumer prices fall in 2009: The annual decrease is the first in more than 50 years. Month to month, a slow rise in the inflation indicator increases the likelihood that the Fed will keep interest rates low. (Don Lee, January 16, 2010, LA Times)

Despite growing worries about a future surge in inflation, consumer prices barely budged last month and fell for all of 2009 -- the first annual decline in more than half a century.

The latest report on the consumer price index, released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increases the likelihood that Federal Reserve officials at their next meeting later this month will stand pat on their policy of setting interest rates at near zero for "an extended period."

...now the Fed has to stop trying to make the rubble bounce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


A Prospering Chile Would Turn Right (Silvia Santacruz, 01.15.10, Forbes)

On Jan. 11 Chile moved closer to becoming the first South American member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Polls showed conservative billionaire Sebastian Piñera--the nation's richest man, owner of Chilevisión and a major shareholder of LAN airlines and the Colo-Colo soccer club--neck-in-neck with former center-left president Eduardo Frei. While the Chilean Way has revived a nation and its economy, a win for Piñera would rank it among the most advanced and prosperous economies of the OECD.

Chile has already undergone dramatic transformation. Its gross domestic product grew at an annual rate with of 7.2% between the mid-1980s and 1997 and 3.5% between 1998 and 2005. Most impressively, its poverty rate was slashed from 45% to 15%. Chile's main ingredients for success have included a flat tariff for imports, privatization of telecommunications, electricity and the pension system, and a new regulatory framework for mining. The latter two reforms were instituted by José Piñera, Sebastian's brother, who served as a secretary of labor and social security (1978--1980), and secretary of mining (1980--1981) during Augusto Pinochet's 17-year military dictatorship.

January 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


The Obama Agenda on the Precipice: We’ll soon find out whether even Massachusetts is willing to follow him off the cliff. (Mark Steyn, 1/15/10, National Review)

Now, this is Massachusetts, so the Dems may yet regain control of the spinout and get back on track for victory. If not, they’ve already taken the precaution of tossing Martha Coakley under the bus the way her minder sent that guy to the sidewalk. Martha? Oh, hopeless candidate. Terrible campaign. Difficult climate. Yes, but this is Massachusetts. Tone-deaf candidates running on nothing but a sense of their own entitlement are all but compulsory: This is a land where John Kerry demonstrates the common touch by windsurfing off Nantucket in buttock-hugging yellow Spandex.

As for the “climate,” that gets closer to the truth — but, as my colleague Jonah Goldberg pointed out, in this case the Democrats created the climate. If Scott Brown gives Martha Coakley a run for her money on Election Day, Jan. 19, 2010, will be a direct consequence of Jan. 20, 2009. Once upon a time, Barack Obama — in the words of Newsweek editor Evan Thomas — was “standing above the country, above the world, he’s sort of God.” Seeking to explain why the God of Hope had fallen farther faster than any modern president, David Brooks of the New York Times argued that the tea-party movement had declared war on “the educated class.” He seemed to think this was some sort of inverted snobbery: If “the educated class” is for it — “health” “care” “reform,” cap-&-trade, Miranda rights for terrorists — Joe Six-Pack and his fellow knuckledragging morons are reflexively opposed to it.

This almost exactly inverts what really happened over this last year. “The educated class” turned out to be not that educated — if, by “educated,” you mean knowing stuff. They were dazzled by Obama: My former National Review colleague Christopher Buckley wrote cooing paeans to his “first-class intellect” and “temperament.” I used to joke that “temperament” was for the Obammysoxers of “the educated class” what hair was to Tiger Beat reporters. But you don’t really need analogies. As David Brooks noted after his first meeting with Obama, “I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” And once you raised your eyes above pant level it only got better: “Our national oratorical superhero,” gushed New York magazine, “a honey-tongued Frankenfusion of Lincoln, Gandhi, Cicero, Jesus, and all our most cherished national acronyms (MLK, JFK, RFK, FDR).”

Where’d that guy go? “People once thought Obama could sound eloquent reading the phone book,” wrote Michael Gerson in the Washington Post last week. “Now, whatever the topic, it often sounds as though he is.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Vic Snyder retiring (Josh Kraushaar, 1/15/10, Politico)

Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced tonight that he will be retiring at the end of his term, citing the difficult political environment that he would have faced to win an eighth term in the House. [...]

He was one of the most vulnerable House Democrats, with a SurveyUSA poll released today showing him trailing his Republican challenger Tim Griffin by 17 points.

Snyder is the 11th House Democrat to announce his retirement. -- and Republicans are aggressively contesting nine of those open seats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Senior Qaeda Figures Killed in Attack, Yemen Says (ROBERT F. WORTH, 1/15/10, NY Times)

A Yemeni airstrike on Friday afternoon killed at least five senior members of Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch, Yemeni officials said, including the group’s military commander.

The airstrike, on a remote mountainous area in northern Yemen not far from the Saudi border, was the latest in a new American-backed campaign to cripple Al Qaeda’s regional arm, which has gained global attention since it claimed credit for a failed effort to bomb a Detroit-bound passenger jet on Dec. 25.

If the death of the Qaeda military commander, Qassim al-Raymi, proves accurate, it would be a serious blow to the group.

Good going, UR!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Obama to Campaign in Massachusetts Ahead of Tuesday's Election (JONATHAN WEISMAN, PETER WALLSTEN And GREG HITT, 1/15/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama will travel to Massachusetts this weekend to try to save Edward M. Kennedy's former U.S. Senate seat for his party, and with it the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority.

...having already killed the Olympic bid and the climate treaty now it's her candidacy? At least he isn't going to Haiti, they'd probably get hit by a hurricane...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM

MORONS! (via Buttercup):

Bacon and eggs could help pregnant women boost their baby's intelligence (Anny Shaw, 06th January 2010, Daily Mail)

The traditional English breakfast is not normally associated with good health.

But scientists have found that eating a plate of bacon and eggs could help pregnant women boost the intelligence of their unborn child.

They were supposed to find that kids get more intelligent if their father's eat bacon and eggs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Democratic Party Pouring Cash Into Mass. To Stop GOP Upset (DAVID HOGBERG, 1/14/10, INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY)

"No one thought this would be closer than a blowout of at least 15 percentage points," said Tobe Berkovitz, professor of advertising at Boston University. Though Berkovitz thinks Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley will pull it out, he added, "A lot of Democrats won't have much in the way of fingernails left after this." [...]

The Rothenberg Political Report on Thursday moved the race from "narrow advantage of incumbent party" to "toss-up."

"Democratic desperation and other compelling evidence strongly suggest that Democrats may well lose the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's Senate seat in Tuesday's special election," the Report said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows: Why John Yoo is suddenly going soft on Obama. (Peter Robinson, 01.15.10, Forbes)

During a recent interview, John Yoo suddenly found himself speaking admiringly--not gushingly, but with unambiguous approbation all the same--about President Barack Obama [...]

"The administration came in with naivete about national security," Yoo said. "But they're getting better at it. With his [political] base screaming to get out of Afghanistan as fast as possible, [Obama's] decision to send more troops was wise. The president rejected the idea that Afghanistan would be another Vietnam."

While the interviewer absorbed the fact that this man had just called Obama "wise," Yoo paused. Intent throughout the interview, now for a moment he looked almost amused.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Mass. Senate poll shows shift toward GOP candidate (GLEN JOHNSON, 1/15/10, The Associated Press)

The Suffolk University survey released late Thursday showed Scott Brown, a Republican state senator, with 50 percent of the vote in the race to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in this overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Democrat Martha Coakley had 46 percent. That was a statistical tie since it was within the poll's 4.4 percentage point margin of error, but far different from a 15-point lead the Massachusetts attorney general enjoyed in a Boston Globe survey released over the weekend.

The Suffolk poll also confirmed a fundamental shift in voter attitudes telegraphed in recent automated polls that Democrats had dismissed as unscientific and the product of GOP-leaning organizations.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, it's the American public that is unscientific and GOP-leaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Harry Reid can't get past Joe Lieberman flap (GLENN THRUSH & MANU RAJU, 1/14/10, Politico)

On Wednesday, just as the uproar over Reid’s racially charged remarks about then-candidate Barack Obama was flagging, The New York Times Magazine posted a preview of Sunday’s profile on Reid that quoted the Nevada Democrat as saying Lieberman “double-crossed” him by suggesting he’d support a Reid-brokered compromise that he later opposed.

The story cited unnamed associates of the majority leader who said Reid was so enraged he briefly considered scuttling the whole bill before consenting to Lieberman’s demand.

Lieberman’s staff pushed back hard on that account — providing POLITICO with a private letter he wrote Reid in early December, setting out his concerns over a Reid-brokered expansion of Medicare three days before he aired those concerns on national TV.

The Times stands behind the story — and so do several Democratic aides who say Reid made no secret of his anger with Lieberman.

...he decided to go the Jewish stab in the back route?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Conservatives plan immediate cuts if elected (Evening Standard, 1/15/10)

A Conservative government would start cutting back on state spending immediately after taking office if it wins this year's general election, shadow chancellor George Osborne said today.

For the first time, Mr Osborne said the Tories would be ready to make in-year reductions in Labour's £707 billion spending plans for 2010/11, set out in last month's Pre-Budget Report.

He named spending on advertising and consultants, tax credits for people earning more than £50,000 and Child Trust Funds for better-off families as items which would be cut during the coming financial year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Police rapped for riot shield sledge stunt (ITN, 1/14/10)

A group of policemen filmed using a riot shield as a makeshift toboggan have been reprimanded for the prank.

A passer-by filmed the moment Thames Valley Police officers arrived at the slope in Berkeley Road, Boars Hill, Oxford, in a riot van.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Brown’s run may be model for GOP: Tapping discord on health bills (Lisa Wangsness, January 15, 2010, Boston Globe)

“He’s making health care a front-and-center issue in the most liberal state in the country, and it’s working for him,’’ said Whit Ayres, who cofounded Resurgent Republic, a group of conservative pollsters and strategists formed to shape the national debate. “That’s the major message - that this bill is an albatross around the necks of the Democrats, and if it works this well in Massachusetts, just imagine how well it will work in less liberal states.’’

Brown has portrayed the Democratic health care bills as bloated, tax-stuffed mistakes that would do little to solve Massachusetts’ biggest health care challenge - controlling costs - while forcing its residents to sub sidize insurance for people in other states. He has called for Congress to “go back to the drawing board’’ and come up with a new plan. And he has capitalized on speculation about whether Democrats might try to delay his confirmation if he wins in order to ram the health bill through, stoking concerns about transparency and fairness raised by special deals Democratic leaders made last year to entice fence-sitters to vote for the bill.

“Threatening to ignore the results of a free election and steal this Senate vote from the people of Massachusetts takes their schemes to a whole new level,’’ the Brown campaign said in a recent statement, in a burst of rhetoric that has been typical of his camp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Devil's Logic: Behind Pat Robertson's Haitian blame game (Elizabeth McAlister, 01.14.10, Forbes)

According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman in French). At that ceremony on Aug. 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to encourage the participants and fortify them for the upcoming battle. The spirits were aggressive, strong and mad at the injustice of the system. The revolution was on.

The evangelical storytellers put an additional spin on this Haitian national story: Satan got the ball rolling by instituting the French slave system. Slavery was the original sin in Haiti, so terrible it created "welcome mats" for more sin and for demonic infestation. The Haitian revolutionaries had no choice but to do business with the devil as a response to his demonic system. Haitians today are burdened with the legacy of spiritual problems that stem from the root spiritual sin of slavery.

Haiti's misfortune was that it was a French colony, had a revolution modeled on France's, not Britain's, and never enjoyed the sort of fascist interlude that, for instance, the Dominican Republic did. That why GDP per capita on their part of the island is a fraction of the DR's.

More misery for a feeble country (David M. Dickson, 1/15/10, Washington Times)

"The lack of any protection of private property rights is at the core of Haiti's development problem," Mr. Roberts said. Haiti ranked 147th out of 184 countries in the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom, prepared by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. In its respect for property rights, Haiti ranked above only Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.

Because of the lack of property rights, Mr. Roberts said, massive environmental degradation has resulted in 95 percent deforestation. The result: extensive erosion and a lack of clean water.

Dan Erikson, director of the Caribbean Project at the Inter-American Dialogue, a center-left, nonpartisan think tank, also cited ineffectual property rights as a major factor in Haiti's enduring poverty.

"Haiti cannot provide a stable climate for investment because it lacks the legal and regulatory institutions to protect contractual rights," Mr. Erikson said. "Haiti has a very brittle institutional framework compared to the Dominican Republic."

The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and also has a population of 9 million. Ranked 88th in the Index of Economic Freedom, the Dominican Republic has an annual per capita income of nearly $5,000 - more than six times higher than in Haiti.

Mr. Erikson estimated that Haitians living abroad send $1.5 billion a year to their families back home.

"Haitians' success in the United States demonstrate that Haiti's problems are not due to individuals," Mr. Erikson said. "They're due to the system and the environment in which they live."

That system is extraordinarily corrupt. In a global index of corruption compiled by Transparency International for 2009, Haiti ranked 168th out of 180 countries, tied with Iran and Burundi.

Were it an Anglospheric country its revolution would have been about liberty. It got stuck with a French one, about equality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Voodoo wasps that could save the world: Genetic breakthrough could enable scientists to unleash armies of insects on deadly crop pests (Steve Connor, 15 January 2010, The Independent)

The wasps are only 1 or 2 millimetres long fully-grown but they have an ability to paralyse and destroy other insects, including many of the most destructive crop pests, by delivering a zombie-inducing venom in their sting.

Now scientists believe they have made the breakthrough that will enable them to recruit vast armies of voodoo wasps to search and destroy farm pests on a scale that could boost crop yields without polluting the wider environment with insecticides.

January 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


Ski resort shuts after 'too much snow' (Simon Johnson, 15 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

After a two-day blizzard, managers at the CairnGorm Mountain ski centre in the Highlands have had to bring in huge caterpillar vehicles and snowblowers.

Colin Matthew, operations manager at the centre near Aviemore, said roads were blocked by 15ft snow drifts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


The Tory defence policy will be simple: cut, brutally (Max Hastings, 1/14/10, The Spectator)

This week, Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute offered a projection that, if the MoD takes its share of pain in the new world of Britain’s colossal fiscal deficit, numbers of uniformed service personnel might fall by 20 per cent to 142,000 within the space of six years. He also believes the defence budget will fall by between 15 per cent and 20 per cent over the same period. As General Lord Guthrie points out, the armed forces are already so shrunken that further cuts will be imposed upon a perilously low base.

Even if a new Tory defence secretary — almost certainly Liam Fox — displays the wisdom of Socrates, he cannot escape doing harsh things. He is stuck with some massive commitments. The RAF is buying 232 Typhoon Eurofighters at a cost of £20 billion. Many are likely to go straight from the factory into mothballs, for lack of cash to man or fly them, but the contract is too expensive to cancel.

The Royal Navy took a perilous gamble by staking its future upon two big new aircraft-carriers, with 150 American-built F-35 aircraft to fly off them, at a total cost of over £20 billion. The money is simply not there to finance two behemoths without crippling the army. For present and likely future tasks, combating piracy not least among them, the navy needs more small, cheap-and-cheerful frigates. The most obvious single step towards closing the defence funding gap is to cancel the carriers and accompanying aircraft.

Opponents of draconian cuts in navy and RAF strengths cite the importance of a balanced strategy, which addresses potential future threats as well as current commitments, dominated by Afghanistan.

Why does England need any more than a token rapid deployment force?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


The Tel Aviv Cluster (DAVID BROOKS, January 11, 2010, NY Times)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation’s public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.

Tel Aviv has become one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.

As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in “Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other’s ideas. [...]

This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And, in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view in places like the West Bank and Jordan.

But it’s more likely that Israel’s economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbors. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centers. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.

Winning the Cold War removed the USSR as a sponsor of terror, gave Israel a massive influx of immigrants (delaying the demographic crisis), and put paid to the socialist version of Zionism. Fittingly, the most American of Israeli leaders got the economic reforms rolling. Now he just has to be as confident as Ariel Sharon was and force a state on the Palestinians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


Arnold’s Last Yodel (TIMOTHY EGAN, 1/13/10, NY Times: Opinionator)

In his six years as governor, he took on state employee unions, entrenched and cynical Democrats, entrenched and anti-tax Republicans, a bloated pension system that has seen costs rise by 2,000 percent in 10 years. And he lost — to every group.

He tried to make California a role model for a clean energy state, to make it more European by championing smart design and caring for its citizens. But when the economic crash came, he was left with the DNA for disaster that has determined this state’s fate for a generation.

The simple tragedy of California is that its tax and budgeting restrictions — voted in by citizens’ initiatives — make it impossible to pay for the prison, school and health mandates OK’d by those same people. [...]

The state is broke, and broken. The latest Band-Aids — plans to legalize marijuana so it can be taxed to pay for substance-abuse clinics, and drilling for oil off Santa Barbara to keep parks from closing — will do nothing to fix it.

What it needs, as many are advocating, is a constitutional convention — and there a chance to rewrite its basic governing documents. And the governor, in his final year in office, should join the call. Yodel it, if he wants.

...the more important reform is to divide it into at least three states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Thanks! (Matthew Cohen)

All of you made donations to my cause, and your money wasn't wasted. While I didn't raise enough money to get into the Top 4, I did raise enough to get VIP treatment that night while preparing for battle.

I had to play my way into the celebrity round, but this I did. Oh did I ever. I beat some eye surgeon who thought he could show up 5 minutes before gametime and lock horns, then some British guy who clearly thought he was winning the tournament, then some guy who wasn't even very good honestly, but he had a big smug face and I was glad to beat him.

Then after waiting for 90 minutes, I saw that the top 4 were playing Mike Myers, Mario Batali, Will Shortz, and Sean Avery. I asked the woman in charge if I could choose who was left as she was penciling Schwimmer's name next to somebody (that's who I would have chosen). Based on who was left (Sarah Vowell, Peter Saarsgard, Dave Eggers) I chose Saarsgard.

5 minutes later she comes up to me and says that I'm playing Mike Myers, the top-4 guy who she had down for Myers really wanted to play Peter Saarsgard (whatever).

So I had my "battle" with Mike Myers, and I humiliated him, but he seemed like a great guy. I didn't go on to win the tournament, but I had my little moment, and I raised about $1500 for this good organization so thanks again for all the support.

All the best, Matt

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Sex sting in Poconos nets former chief U.N. weapons inspector (Andrew Scott, 1/14/10, Pocono Record)

A former chief United Nations weapons inspector is accused of contacting what he thought was a 15-year-old girl in an Internet chat room, engaging in a sexual conversation and showing himself masturbating on a Web camera.

Scott Ritter of Delmar, N.Y., who served as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-98 and who was an outspoken critic of the second Bush administration in the run-up to the war in Iraq, is accused of contacting what turned out to be a Barrett Township police officer posing undercover as a teen girl. [...]

This is not the first time Ritter has been in such trouble.

According to reports, Ritter was charged in a June 2001 Internet sex sting in New York, but that case was dismissed.

He had been charged with attempted child endangerment after arranging in an online chatroom to meet what he thought was a 16-year-old girl at a Burger King restaurant. The girl turned out to be an undercover policewoman.

Ritter said the criminal charge was a smear campaign in response to his criticizing U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The New York Post reported Ritter had been caught in a similar case involving a 14-year-old girl in April 2001, but that he was not charged.

In 1998, Ritter resigned from the United Nations Special Commission weapons inspection team and has been the most outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Baghdad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


California's Proposition 71 Failure (IBD, 01/12/2010)

Supporters of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, passed in 2004, held out hopes of imminent medical miracles that were being held up only by President Bush's policy of not allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) beyond existing stem cell lines and which involved the destruction of embryos created for that purpose.

Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research. It not only has treated real people with real results; it also does not come with the moral baggage ESCR does.

Next they'll be telling us he was right and man made warming is no big deal....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


Doomsday Deferred: End-of-World Clock Set Back 1 Minute (LiveScience.com, Jan 14, 2007)

The Doomsday Clock has been set back 1 minute for the first time in its 63-year history. [...]

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2007, when it was pushed forward by two minutes, from seven to five minutes before midnight. The change was meant to reflect two major sources of potential catastrophe that could bring us closer to "doomsday," according to the board of "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists," a magazine focused on warning the world of the dangers that the invention of the atomic bomb helped to unleash.

...than that these nitwits haven't moved it back when the USSR fell, when nuke programs ended in Brazil, South Africa, Libya, and Iraq, or when the US allied itself with India?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Brown’s best hope is a chilly Coakley (Joan Vennochi, January 7, 2010, Boston Globe)

The Coakley-Brown showdown comes at a challenging time for Democrats. President Obama’s ratings have been dropping. Two longtime Democratic senators - Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota - are not seeking re-election. In Dodd’s case, there was a good chance he could not win.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick is having trouble raising money. Charles D. Baker, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, has amassed a $1.85 million war chest over five months. Against that backdrop, Coakley is running a flat campaign.

It’s an extension of the strategy that ended in victory against three primary rivals who were wary of roughing up the only woman in the race. But it’s dangerous up against Brown. Like George W. Bush, he’s making the case that he stands for something, like it or not.

Coakley seems afraid to say what she believes in, giving voters reason to conclude she believes in nothing. With healthcare reform, she sounds like she believes in what’s necessary at any given moment. During the primary, she said she would vote against a bill that restricted abortion funding. Now, she supports a Senate bill that includes restrictions less severe than those in the House version.

There are other examples of a campaign lacking in soul and a candidate lacking in heart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Boehner Plans ‘Contract With America’ Redux (CQ, 1/14/10)

With Republicans feeling increasingly optimistic about their prospects in November’s mid-term elections, one source who attended the morning meeting said Boehner, R-Ohio, told Republicans he has assigned Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., to head up the platform-writing effort, in conjunction with the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP.

Boehner said the idea of a common platform for GOP candidates, with pledges they would keep if Republicans take back the House in November, had been discussed among top GOP leaders. Boehner said “that the effort — whether it ends up being called a ‘contract’ or an agenda or something else — would involve members of the conference and our candidates.”

About time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


2006 GOP sweep victims plot return (ALEX ISENSTADT | 1/14/10, Politico)

Four years after getting swept out of office by a Democratic tide, nearly one-third of the 21 GOP House members who lost reelection bids in 2006 are plotting their 2010 comebacks.

Some of them are running for their old seats. Others are looking at higher office. The common denominator is that the current environment has spurred them to re-enter the political fray after their careers were abruptly cut short.

“Every politician wants to run during a high tide for his or her party. Republicans have reason to believe that 2010 will be a high tide for them, certainly compared to the disastrous low tides in 2006 and 2008,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Democrats Fight to Hold Crucial Seat: Kennedy’s (ABBY GOODNOUGH, 1/14/10, NY Times)

Ms. Coakley, 56, said she had not invested much time in pressing the flesh around the state because the campaign had been so brief — the primaries were on Dec. 8 — and she believed it was more useful to meet with politicians, union leaders and others who could help get her message out.

“You simply do not have enough time,” she said. “Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 19, you can’t possibly shake enough hands of people who don’t know you to be successful in a campaign.”

By contrast, Mr. Brown says he has put hundreds of miles on his pickup truck and seems more suited to campaigning. Visiting a medical device company Wednesday in Chelmsford, he spouted questions and never missed a chance to ham it up as he asked for votes.

“Clear!” he said as he pretended to resuscitate a plastic cart with defibrillator paddles, then held them to the chest of the company’s president as amused employees looked on.

Mr. Brown, 50, is taking every chance to emphasize that he is a “Scott Brown Republican” — an independent thinker who will not necessarily toe his party’s line but will free Massachusetts, whose Congressional delegation is composed entirely of Democrats, from the strictures of one-party rule. More than half the state’s registered voters are unaffiliated with a political party, and polls indicate that many of them are gravitating toward Mr. Brown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


Roasted Chicken With Root Vegetables And Garlic (Miami Herald, 1/14/10)

• 1 teaspoon garlic powder

• 2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 3 to 4-pound whole chicken

• 3 tablespoons butter

• 4 sprigs fresh thyme

• 3 sprigs (each about 4 inches long) fresh rosemary

• 1 yellow onion, quartered

• 12-ounce bag baby carrots

• 1 pound new potatoes

• 1 lemon, quartered

• 6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

• Ground pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the salt and garlic powder, then rub the mixture over and under the skin of the chicken. Set aside.

In a 5 ½-quart (or larger) Dutch oven over medium, melt the butter. Add the thyme and rosemary. Heat for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken, breast down, and brown for 4 minutes. Use tongs to carefully turn the chicken and brown on the bottom for 6 minutes.

Arrange the onion, carrots, potatoes, lemon and garlic cloves around the chicken, then place the lid over the pot. Transfer to the oven and roast for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the breast reads 160 F on an instant thermometer.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent with foil. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl. Cover to keep warm. Discard the lemons and any herb stems from the pot.

Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook juices until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled over the chicken and vegetables. Makes 4 servings.

January 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Blair and Bush ‘set a trap’ for Saddam (Jim Pickard, January 13 2010, Financial Times)

Britain and the US agreed to seek a United Nations resolution against Iraq in late 2002 to “set a trap” for Saddam Hussein, according to the former head of the British civil service.

Lord Turnbull said that the idea of a single resolution to serve as an ultimatum to the Iraqi government was agreed between George W. Bush and Tony Blair at Camp David in September 2002.

The resolution, which was adopted in November 2002, was presented at the time as an attempt to force Iraq to fulfil its obligations to disarm – and therefore avoid military conflict. But Lord Turnbull’s comment lends weight to the idea that the allies were bent on confrontation long before the March 2003 invasion. It has been suggested that the US and Britain knew Saddam would be unwilling or unable to meet the resolution.

How much clearer could W have made it than in his UN speech in September 2002?

Among the UN Resolutions that the dictator was already in violation of was one requiring him to stop repressing his own people. In order to comply he'd have had to regime change himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Harold Ford's Play Against Obama Health Care Bill (Rick Klein, 1/13/10, ABC News)

As Harold Ford Jr. contemplates a Senate run in New York State, he’s taking a provocative tack in the Democratic primary: He’s coming out against President Obama’s health care plan, as currently written.

Expanding on an interview he gave to The New York Times, Ford sent identical letters today to New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, asking them to commit to voting against the health care bill if it imposes “increased financial burdens on New Yorkers.”

“The health reform bill that you voted to pass would add at least $1 billion a year in new costs to New Yorkers,” Ford writes. “In light of the state's $14 billion budget deficit and the city's projected $5.5 billion budget deficit, I ask you to protect hard-working New Yorkers from paying the additional fees and taxes that the health bill as currently proposed would surely impose on us.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Special election gets more so: Scott Brown nude photos! (Julie Mason, 1/13/10, DC Examiner)

Something about the Republican running for Ted Kennedy's open Senate seat must have rung some bells over at Cosmopolitan. Mediate reports the ladymag sifted through the archives and found Scott Brown very naked in their June 1982 issue -- the winner of that summer's "America's Sexiest Man" contest. Hello!

Brown at the time was a 22 year-old law student at Boston College, with blow-dried hair and a whiff of the JFK Jr/Scott Baio vibe, we're thinking. So far in the race, no naked photos of Democrat Martha Coakley have surfaced -- but the election is not until Jan. 19 so anything can happen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Obama says he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, will refocus effort in 2010 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/13/10)

President Barack Obama says he has not succeeded in bringing Americans together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling that surrounded his inauguration a year ago.

"That's what's been lost this year ... that whole sense of changing how Washington works," Obama conceded in an interview with People magazine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Tea Party, Meet the Religious Right: The upcoming tea-party convention has attracted a large number of high-profile conservative Christians. Could an alliance be next? (Michelle Goldberg | January 13, 2010, American Prospect)

Next month's Tea Party National Convention has been making news for the fat fee Sarah Palin is commanding -- $100,000, according to many reports. But the gathering, to be held at Nashville's Opryland Hotel, is interesting for another reason as well: It marks the attempt of the old-school Christian right to take over the tea-party movement. Speakers joining Palin include Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards. Their presence shows that the tea-party movement is no longer merely populist, libertarian, or anti-government, if it ever was. It is theocratic. Indeed, after several months in which the religious right seemed lost and dispirited, it has found a way to ride the tea-party express into renewed relevance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


Massachusetts election has Democrats on edge (Chris Frates, 1/12/10, Politico)

[R]epublican Scott Brown has got Democrats nervous — not just for his opponent Martha Coakley but about the fact that a loss in Massachusetts would be a body blow to Democratic reform efforts in Washington.

Republicans are watching public approval of reform continue to tank while their candidates’ poll numbers rise. And they still view the bill’s Medicare cuts, tax increases and lack of transparency as key to a 2010 message that voters should bring GOP checks and balances to a Democratic-run Washington. [...]

[B]rown’s threat to health reform is in some ways larger. He’s showing how Republicans can run against reform — something sure to play out in other high-profile campaigns this fall, such as those of Reps. Frank Kratovil Jr. (D-Md.) and John Adler (D-N.J.), along with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Voting against the bill may not be enough to inoculate Democrats from attack.

Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) said he did four town halls over the holiday recess. “That was the consistent theme: strong opposition based on talk radio talking points,” said Minnick, who voted no on the bill. He took straw polls at each event, and found “all of [the] audiences have been opposed to the president’s proposal, save one.”

“Most of my audiences are strongly opposed to it. The administration simply didn’t get through, certainly in more rural areas. The message just didn’t get through because there’s neither an understanding nor support for it in vast swaths of my district. Heck, there’s no support for it in any place.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Should Evolutionary Theory Evolve?: Some biologists are calling for a rethink of the rules of evolution (Bob Grant, The Scientist)

According to the Modern Synthesis, populations containing some level of genetic variation evolve via changes in gene frequency induced mostly by natural selection. Phenotypic changes are gradual, and speciation and diversification into higher taxonomic levels come about over long periods of change. These ideas have remained largely unchallenged for more than a half-century.

But since the 1940s, science’s concept of evolutionary dynamics has, well, evolved. Indeed, these days, calling the Modern Synthesis “modern” might be a stretch.

Some evolutionary biologists say that the body of knowledge concerning evolutionary processes has simply outgrown the confines of the Modern Synthesis, which was crafted before science had a strong grasp of genomics, molecular biology, developmental biology, and other, more recently derived disciplines, such as systems biology.

City University of New York evolutionary biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci insists that expanding evolutionary theory so that it captures recent insights doesn’t mean throwing out 150 years of sound thinking.

The theory has to evolve because species don't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Cracks in the Jihad (Thomas Rid, Winter 2010, Wilson Quarterly)

Perhaps the greatest tension between the local and global levels of the jihad grows out of a divide over appropriate targets and tactics. Classical Islamic legal doctrine sees armed jihad as a defensive struggle against persecution, oppression, and incursions into Muslim lands. In an attempt to mobilize Muslims around the world to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, Abdallah Azzam, an influential radical cleric who was assassinated in 1989, helped expand the doctrine of jihad into a transnational struggle by declaring the Afghan jihad an individual duty for all Muslims. Azzam also advocated takfir, a practice of designating fellow Muslims as infidels (kaffir) by remote excommunication in order to justify their slaughter. Al Qaeda ideologues upped the aggressive potential of such arguments and expanded the defensive jihad into a global struggle, effectively blurring the line between the “near” enemy—the Arab regimes deemed illegitimate “apostates” by the purists—and the “far” enemy, these regimes’ Western supporters.

In the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that produce many of today’s radicals, however, local and tribal affiliations are powerful. One U.S. political adviser who worked in Afghanistan’s Zabul Province, a hotbed of the insurgency, describes prevailing local sentiment as “valleyism” rather than nationalism. It is a force that drives the tribes to oppose anybody who threatens their traditional power base, foreign or not—a problem not just for the Taliban and Al Qaeda but for any Afghan government. Al-Zawahiri complained of this in a Even the students (talib) themselves had stronger affiliations to their tribes and villages . . . than to the Islamic emirate.” The provincial valleyists, to the distress of Al Qaeda’s more cosmopolitan agitators, are selfishly eyeing their own interests, with little appetite for international aggression and globe-spanning terrorist operations.

The contrast with the character of jihad in the Muslim diaspora could not be starker. For radical Islamists in Europe, the local jihad doesn’t exist. And they understand that toppling governments in, say, London or Amsterdam is a fantasy. These radicals are less interest driven than identity driven. Many young European Muslims are out of touch with their ancestral countries, yet not fully at home in France or Sweden or Denmark. For some, the resulting identity crisis creates a hunger for clear spiritual guidelines. The ideology of global jihad, according to a report by EUROPOL, the European Union’s police agency, “gives meaning to the feeling of exclusion” prevalent among the second- and third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants. For these alienated youth, the idea of becoming “citizens” of the virtual worldwide Islamic community may be more attractive than it is for first-generation immigrants, who tend to retain strong roots in their native countries.

The identity problems of these young people seem to have affected the character of the jihad itself. Like the disoriented Muslim youth of the diaspora, the global jihad has loose residential roots and numb political fingertips. One sign of this disconnection from the local is that Al Qaeda’s rank and file does not include many men who could otherwise join a jihad at home: There seem to be few Palestinians, Chechens, Iraqis, or Afghans among the traveling jihadis, who tend to come from countries where jihad has failed, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria.

Al Qaeda’s identity crisis is also illustrated by how it treats radicalized converts, often people without religious schooling and consolidated personalities. Olivier Roy, one of France’s leading specialists on radical Islamism, has pointed out that convert groups assume responsibilities “beyond all comparison with any other Islamic organization.” Roy has put the proportion of converts in Al Qaeda at between 10 and 25 percent, an indicator that the movement has become “de-culturalized.”

These contrary trends, in turn, create chinks in Al Qaeda’s recruitment system. The most extreme Salafists, deprived of identity and cultural orientation, have an appetite for utopia, for extreme views that appeal to the margin of society, be it in Holland or Helmand. Recruitment in the diaspora, as a result, follows a distinctive pattern, not partisan and political but offbeat and outré. The grievances and motivations of European extremists and the rare American militants tend to be idiosyncratic, the product of unstable individual personalities and a history of personal discrimination. Many take the initiative to join the movement themselves, and because they are not recruited by a member of the existing organization, their ties to it may remain loose. In 2008 alone, 190 individuals were sentenced for Islamist terrorist activities in Europe, most of them in Britain, France, and Spain. “A majority of the arrested individuals belonged to small autonomous cells rather than to known terrorist organizations,” EUROPOL reports.

As a result of the change in its membership, the global Al Qaeda movement is encountering strong centrifugal forces. The rank and file and the center are losing touch with each other. The vision of Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, who laid much of the ideological foundation for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, blends a Marxist-inspired focus on popular mass support with 21st-century ideas of networked, individual action. Al-Suri’s aim was to devise a method “for transforming excellent individual initiatives, performed over the past decades, from emotional pulse beats and scattered reactions into a phenomenon which is guided and utilized, and whereby the project of jihad is advanced so that it becomes the Islamic Nation’s battle, and not a struggle of an elite.” The global jihad was to function like an “operative system,” without vulnerable, old-fashioned organizational hierarchies. That method is intuitively attractive for a Facebook generation of well-connected young sympathizers, but the theory contains an internal contradiction. Self-recruited and “homegrown” terrorists present a wicked problem for Al Qaeda. As a bizarre type of self-appointed elite, they undermine the movement’s ambition to represent the Muslim “masses.” [...]

The goal of leading Islamists has always been to turn their battle into “the Islamic Nation’s battle,” as al-Suri wrote. Far from reaching this goal, the jihad is veering the other way. Eight years after 9/11, support for Islamic extremism in the Muslim world is at its lowest point. Support for Al Qaeda has slipped most dramatically in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Jordan. In 2003, more than 50 percent of those surveyed in these countries agreed that bin Laden would “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” the Pew Global Attitudes Project found. By 2009 the overall level of support had dropped by half, to about 25 percent. In Pakistan, traditionally a stronghold of extremism, only nine percent of Muslims have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, down from 25 percent in 2008. Even an American failure to stabilize Afghanistan and its terror-ridden neighborhood would be unlikely to ease Al Qaeda’s crisis of legitimacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Tree-top protester ends 52-day hunger strike (Paul Maley, 1/14/10, The Australian)

PETER Spencer, the NSW farmer who claimed to have gone on a 52-day hunger strike over land clearing laws, has ended his protest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


The Catholic Case for Immigration Reform (Lisa Fabrizio, 1.13.10, American Spectator)

Those who are Catholics should remember the Lord's command to St. Peter to feed his sheep and tend his lambs. Do you really think the race or nationality of the sheep matters to the Church? If you do, then you'd better do some research into the millions of poor and sick around the world who are tended by her. Indeed, go to the Mother House of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and you will everywhere see the words, "As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me."

Is the Church's record in worldly affairs perfect? Hardly. Throughout her history, many representatives of the Church have erred gravely; a common saying purports that the road to Hell is paved with bishops' skulls. And although the Church's main concern is for the immigrants that are already here, they agree that it's a good idea to tighten laws that will prevent further illegal immigration and protect our sovereignty.

Yet it's also true that too many people merely look at this question in terms of legality and ignore the dictates of Christianity as it pertains to heavenly affairs. They cite our Savior's injunction to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Yet many Christians agree that if a law or practice is immoral -- such as forcing doctors to perform abortions -- they will defy that law. But when it comes to immigration, this moral imperative doesn't seem to apply.

...is that Christianity can not be reconciled with nativism, which is why the overwhelming majority of Americans support amnesty..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Why Obama Can't Stop Meddling (Richard Wolffe, 1/13/10, Daily Beast)

The president and his political operatives know that their most important job is to stay focused on passing health-care reform and spurring job creation in the new year. And they’re once bitten, twice shy: The administration drew fire for its attempt to persuade Gov. Paterson not to run for reelection—a move that backfired badly, making Obama’s crew seem obsessed with petty politics at a time of grave national crisis, and making the foundering Paterson seem almost heroically independent for standing up to the Washington bosses.

Still, these guys are from Chicago, and they can’t quite help themselves.

So now they'll make Harold Ford look heroic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Reid It And Weep: Democrats have much more to be embarrassed about than their Senate leader's latest gaffe. (Dan Gerstein, 01.13.10, Forbes)

[T]he most damning indictment to emerge from the mess was the Democrats' relief at Reid's survival. Our party knew of his severe limitations before we made him leader--same with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We have watched them consistently hurt the party's image and undermine its productivity. And while much of the country is now mocking Reid's obvious liabilities, we cheer his staying in power. Talk about tone-deafness--Reid's is nothing compared to the Democrats who continue to uncritically accept his and Pelosi's chronic embarrassments and ineffectiveness.

No one's happier to have him survive than the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Where has Obama's inspiring oratory gone? (Michael Gerson, January 13, 2010, Washington Post)

Along with President Obama's declining public standing has come a declining rhetorical reputation. There is, of course, a relationship between the two. Even Ronald Reagan seemed a less-than-great communicator after the 1981-82 recession, with his job approval rating in the 30s.

While it does folks like Mr. Gerson no great discredit that they paid no attention to the UR's speeches back when they thought him full of promise, it does mean that they are now blaming him for a failure of oratorical skills that he never possessed. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan's Westminster Speech was in June of '82 and the Evil Empire speech in March '83. .

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM

Kahlua Chocolate Pecan Pie (Laurel Cohen, 1/12/10, The Bay Area News Group)

9-inch unbaked pie shell

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips

3 large eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 to 4 tablespoons Kahlua (can substitute strong coffee or espresso)

1¾ cups pecan halves (about 7 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Beat eggs slightly and stir in the corn syrup, salt, vanilla, brown sugar, butter, Kahlua and chocolate. Stir in nuts.

2. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until outer edge of filling seems set.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Brandon Darby foiled terror attack, but the men convicted of plotting against 2008 Republican Convention win recognition ( Matthew Vadum, 1/12/10, The DC)

You’ve probably never heard of Brandon Darby.

The former community organizer who saved American lives by undermining a left-wing terrorist plot at the 2008 Republican convention used to be a proud member of the radical left.

He called for the overthrow of the U.S. government. He hated cops. He consorted with eco-terrorist tree-spikers, radical feminists and black nationalists. He was approached to rob an armored car and asked to commit arson to fight gentrification. He mouthed politically correct slogans about the Bush administration. Government didn’t care about people, and he thought the botched response to Katrina proved it.

When he learned people were suffering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he moved there, defying police orders not to enter the stricken city. With $50 he co-founded Common Ground Relief in the home of a former Black Panther. Despite many obstacles, Common Ground alleviated some suffering in the devastated city, especially the hard-hit Ninth Ward. The group gutted flood-damaged houses and provided free health care and meals. In its first three years it accommodated 22,000 volunteers.

Gradually Darby began to question his political beliefs. After initially having rocky relations with the New Orleans police, he came to realize that they were all on the same side because they wanted to help people.

“Everybody else [in Common Ground] remained with this protest, ‘fight the power’ deal but I started developing relationships with people in the power structure in the city and in different levels of government so my ideas started to really change,” he told “This American Life.” “I was, ‘Why are we wearing masks and protesting? I mean we should go meet with them. I have the mayor’s cell phone number. I eat dinner with their families. Why are we acting this way?’”

After years of in-your-face protests and confrontational tactics, Darby rejected the radical left and its culture of political violence. He came to realize that America, for all its faults, wasn’t such a bad place after all.

“I felt I had a duty to atone after badmouthing my country for so many years,” Darby told The Daily Caller. “I love my country.”

When he learned of a plan to attack the 2008 Republican convention in Saint Paul, Minn., he felt compelled to act.

Turncoat (This American Life, 5/22/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


White House changes job-count rule (BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE, 1/12/10, Associated Press)

The White House has abandoned its controversial method of counting jobs under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus, making it impossible to track the number of jobs saved or created with the $787 billion in recovery money.

Despite mounting a vigorous defense of its earlier count of more than 640,000 jobs credited to the stimulus, even after numerous errors were identified, the Obama administration now is making it easier to give the stimulus credit for hiring. It's no longer about counting a job as saved or created; now it's a matter of counting jobs funded by the stimulus.

That means that any stimulus money used to cover payroll will be included in the jobs credited to the program, including pay raises for existing employees and pay for people who never were in jeopardy of losing their positions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Dem base feels no love for Lincoln (ALEX ISENSTADT, 1/13/10, Politico)

Even before Lincoln announced her opposition to the public health insurance option, she had frustrated Arkansas progressives with her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. Some in the African-American community, meanwhile, have complained that the senator hasn’t been aggressive enough in promoting black judges to the federal courts.

While, according to some state political observers’ estimates, liberal voters account for only 15 percent to 25 percent of the voting public in Arkansas, their unrest has further imperiled her political standing as the sole Southern Democratic senator up for reelection in 2010.

Polling shows Lincoln’s support from liberals in the state has fallen precipitously in recent months. A survey in late August by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed Lincoln with 66 percent approval among voters who identified themselves as liberal. By November, another PPP survey found her approval among that group dropping to 50 percent.

The disaffection from the party base comes as a slew of public polls show Lincoln badly trailing several prospective GOP opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Ford camp calls Gillibrand a White House puppet, accuses Obama of interfering in 'free election' (David Saltonstall and Michael Saul, 1/12/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

The West Wing squeeze play to stop a Ford primary challenge sparked a backlash. Top New York Democrats, including Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, spoke up for Ford's right to run.

A Ford bid looked likelier Tuesday as aides to the ex-Tennessee congressman rolled out attack lines against Gillibrand.

"The unelected senator does what she's told by a political establishment unaccustomed to tolerating independent thinking," said Davidson Goldin, Ford's spokesman. Ford's "priority would be putting to use his clout as an independent Democrat to do what's best for New Yorkers, not what he's told," he said.

Jefrey Pollock, a Gillibrand adviser, shot back, "As a conservative congressman, 'Tennessee' Harold Ford Jr.'s idea of 'independent' thinking was voting more with George Bush than pro-choice women."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Rory Reid's Gubernatorial Bid Suffers as Dad Harry Faces Declining Polls (FOXNews.com , 1/12/10)

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seeks an electoral victory in the face of low approval ratings, so too does his eldest son, Rory, whose bid to become governor of Nevada has also taken a plunge.

The pair's growing unpopularity among Nevadans has made each a liability for the other's campaign -- giving fodder to Republican candidates striving for wins in the Silver State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Bitter words cut short US-Cuba progress (Marc Frank, January 13 2010, Financial Times)

A year after Barack Obama became US president, pledging “a new beginning” in relations with Cuba and winning praise from Fidel Castro, vitriolic rhetoric is once more flying between the two governments.

Governments, investors and residents – both on the island and off – who had hoped that relations would improve are wondering whether recent events will plunge them back to the gloom of the past 50 years.

You can't say hopey-changey in Spanish.

January 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Initiatives poor substitute for leadership (Ben Boychuk, 1/12/10, The Sacramento Bee)

The initiative, referendum and recall are legacies of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Progressives were big on uplift. They believed – against the weight of reason and experience – that the cure for the ills of democracy was more democracy. Direct democracy, Progressives argued, would let the people counteract the outsize influence of big corporations and special interests on the Legislature.

In truth, the initiative process has contributed to California's dysfunction by encouraging voters and legislators alike to shirk and shift their responsibilities. The initiative lets legislators off the hook by letting them punt hard policy decisions to voters. Californians may have finally wised up to this scheme when they overwhelmingly rejected the slate of complex tax and budget reform initiatives in last May's special election.

But the initiative lets voters off the hook, too, by leading voters to believe that tighter restrictions on legislative activity are a substitute for due diligence and civic participation. Term limits and supermajority requirements are the most notorious examples of this. Yet the quality of legislators and the legislation they produce is no better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM

DONE BEING EVIL? (via The Other Brother):

Google to end China censorship after e-mail breach (MICHAEL LIEDTKE, 1/12/10, AP)

Google Inc. will stop censoring its search results in China and may pull out of the country completely after discovering that computers hackers had tricked human rights activists into opening their e-mail accounts to outsiders. [...]

"Google has taken a bold and difficult step for Internet freedom in support of fundamental human rights," said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a civil-liberties group in Washington. "No company should be forced to operate under government threat to its core values or to the rights and safety of its users."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM

I STILL DON'T GET THE HURRY (via Glenn Dryfoos)

Madrid to Barcelona in a flash : Forget flying and all that entails these days -- Spain's AVE high-speed trains are a relaxing and fun way to travel. In fact, they've proved so popular, they're giving airlines a run for their money. (Bruce Selcraig, January 06, 2010, LA Times)

Spain's first and very controversial high-speed rail line ran from Madrid, atop a vast interior plain, to Seville in the south, and was unveiled in 1992. Despite early suspicions about its cost to taxpayers and which cities would benefit, the AVE trains (Alta Velocidad Española -- ave is "bird" in Spanish) proved so successful that by this year, Spanish rail officials say they will have more high-speed track (1,386 miles) than any nation, with a promise of reaching 6,000 miles in another decade.

That was incentive enough for my teenage son, Cole, and I to spend a train-centric week in Spain last summer, but then we learned that one of the world's newest fast trains was the long-awaited Madrid-to-Barcelona line, which had begun service in 2008.

At any speed, we've come to love European train culture, from Milan's mammoth fascist-era Italian masterpiece, the Centrale station, to the restful cafes and local shops that make waiting for a train almost a pleasure. Sure, we miss the pat-down service at American airports, but there's nothing quite like hopping a train minutes before it pulls out, having Yao Ming legroom (even Wi-Fi sometimes) and arriving in the heart of a world-class walkable city, not a $60 cab ride away at Gooberville Regional.

Europe's trains are smart and dependable. Spain's high-speed trains have a 98.5% on-time record, second only to Japan's; delays of five minutes or more will get you a full refund in cash, and these things, for us, make transportation a destination. Trains have become our airline antidote, a refuge for intelligent, restorative travel with a view.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Judge Declines to Stop Scott Roeder Manslaughter Defense in George Tiller Trial (Steven Ertelt, January 12, 2010, LifeNews.com)

Roeder has been charged with first-degree murder and lesser assault charges for waving a gun at two church members and threatening them on the way out of the church after the shooting.[...]

[H]is defense attorneys are asking that they be allowed to mount a manslaughter defense on his behalf, employing a rarely-used section of Kansas law.

Voluntary manslaughter is defined in Kansas law as ''an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.''

In legal papers today, Roeder's attorneys said Tiller "presented a clear danger to unborn children."

Today, Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert refused a second time to block the request for the manslaughter defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


AP sources: Employer health mandate may be dropped ( ERICA WERNER, 1/12/10, Associated Press)

House and Senate negotiators working on President Barack Obama's health overhaul bill appear likely to drop a proposed income tax increase on high-wage earners and possibly jettison a requirement for large businesses to offer coverage to their employees, Democratic officials said Tuesday. [...]

Obama met with union leaders Monday, and one union official familiar with the discussions said labor leaders and White House staff also explored the possibility of exempting or delaying health plans covered by collective bargaining agreements from being subject to the tax. They also discussed possible carve-outs for state and government employees, many of whom are unionized.

But some union officials are concerned about any compromise that would appear to give unions special treatment. They want a fix that protects both union and nonunion middle-class workers from paying higher taxes on health plans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Death of a Genius (James Bowman, 1.12.10, American Spectator)

The greatest of these six are, in my opinion, The Aviator's Wife (La femme de l'aviateur) of 1981 and Pauline at the Beach (Pauline à la Plage) of 1983, both of which explore -- as, indeed, do the other films in the series -- the links between love and self-deception. That may make them sound "deep" and depressing but in fact the Rohmerian lightness of touch, affection for his characters with all their imperfections, and precise observation of manners and morals in a world often supposed to have little of either all work together to make them live up to their description as comedies -- though comedies with a serious side to them and ambiguous or even sad endings. In his 70s, Rohmer produced another series, this time of four films, called "Tales of the Four Seasons" which combined the moralism of the "Six Moral Tales" with the focus on young love -- though it is now shading into middle-aged love -- of the "Comedies and Proverbs." These are characterized by a wintry grandeur and hard-won wisdom.

One particularly interesting way into the Rohmer oeuvre would be to take one film from each of these three series all starring the same actress, Béatrice Romand, portraying three stages of a woman's life. In Claire's Knee she plays a young girl with a reputation as a flirt who is first said to have a crush on a much older man, the film's hero played by Jean-Claude Brialy, and then rejects him, as she rejects all those whom she is able to attract. In Le Beau Mariage of 1982 she plays a young woman who breaks off an affair with an older, married man, by announcing that she has decided to get married too, even though she has no idea to whom. She sets her cap at a young lawyer, full of the sense of her own powers of attraction just like the girl she had played twelve years earlier in Claire's Knee, but he proves to be just not that into her. Almost as painful to watch is her performance in A Tale of Autumn (1998), in which she is a middle-aged divorcée who doesn't want another relationship but who finds herself falling for a man with whom she has been set up by a married, match-making friend -- who really wants him for herself.

Once again, it all sounds very heavy but somehow comes off as being very light. Rohmer doesn't permit himself to be tragic because he knows his human materials won't bear so much weight. Like the very greatest artists, like Shakespeare or Mozart, he has the almost magical ability to see his characters, and to make us see them, as God must see them -- that is, with compassion but never with sentimentalism -- all the while keeping them in their mundane, bourgeois lives, so much like that of those for whom he made his films. That, of course, he was criticized for, but the left-wing political tendencies of the rest of the Nouvelle Vague never seem to have held any charms for him. Conservatives can admire him especially, perhaps, for insisting on preserving as his own artistic sphere a world, increasingly unavailable to the rest of us, where politics is not permitted to intrude. That, to me, is the very definition of a conservative artist, which Rohmer also was, in addition to being a great one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Agriculture futures tumble amid record crop report (AP, 1/12/10)

Agriculture futures plummeted in early trading Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade as the Agriculture Department said it expected a record corn corp and grain yields. Soybean production was also the largest on record.

The increase in production of grains, corn and soybeans, higher than the government had estimated in November, sent prices tumbling on expectations of higher supplies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Can Obama Stop the War on Science?: For eight years, Republicans politicized science or ignored it. Now, Obama is trying to reverse the damage. (Paul Waldman | January 12, 2010, American Prospect)

As in so many ways, America is just different from our friends in the industrialized democratic world when it comes to our views about science. The most important reason is that science is politicized here to a degree found in few other places. It's not a recent development -- the politicization of science in America can be traced back at least as far as the Scopes trial in 1925, where the forces of religious faith in that great media event were represented by three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan. But in the latter half of the 20th century, the ideological lines between the Republican and Democratic parties became more clearly drawn. The GOP evolved into the party that opposes secularism and its rational sidekick science, a process hastened by the emergence of the Christian right in the 1980s. Bush simply turned that antipathy into policy with particular zeal.

So few people were surprised when, at an early Republican debate for the 2008 presidential nomination, three candidates – Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and Tom Tancredo – raised their hands when the group was asked who didn't believe in evolution. The irony of it is that among Western democracies, ours is the one with the longest and strongest tradition of separation between church and state, yet also the one where politicians must make the most ostentatious demonstrations of religious belief. In England or Germany or Sweden, a candidate for high office who proclaimed that he didn't believe in evolution would risk being laughed out of the race. Yet when Brownback was asked after that debate whether his views put him outside the mainstream, he replied, "Not in America." And he was right.

You get slightly different results depending on how you phrase it, but no matter how you ask the question, Americans just aren't buying the paradigm that underlies our entire understanding of the biological world. A Gallup poll taken last year found that only 39 percent of respondents "believe in the theory of evolution," while 24 percent said they didn't believe in it, and 36 percent didn't "have an opinion either way." When you give people some wiggle room to get God in there -- by offering them the possibility that evolution occurred, but God was guiding the process -- the number consenting to evolution approaches 50 percent (see here).

Except, of course, that possibility is precluded from Evolution, by definition, so the number actually falls to 14%. And even within that 14% a majority believe in God, likewise incompatible with Evolution. So how's the UR going to defeat 90% of the American people? And having gone to so much effort to at least appear religious why would he repudiate it now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


‘Cougars,’ ‘cubs’ unwelcome on Carnival cruises (AP, 1/12/10)

Carnival Cruise Lines won’t be sailing anymore with a boatload of “cougars” and their willing prey.

The Miami-based company has turned down a request from a singles travel group to book another cruise with the cougar theme. The term refers to older women who date younger men.

The singles group says the ban is unfounded. They point to their first cruise on Carnival’s Elation in December that drew about 300 women and the men they call “cubs.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Traitor, Bomber, Soldier, Spy: Stop crying "terrorism" every time we're attacked. (William Saletan, Jan. 11, 2010, Slate)

Terrorists? No, Sir. The bombing of the CIA base, like the November massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas, was an act of war. It was also espionage. But it wasn't terrorism. Terrorism targets civilians. The CIA officers killed at the Afghan base, like the soldiers shot down at Ft. Hood, were not civilians. They were running a war.

According to the U.S. Code (Title 22, Chapter 38, Section 2656f), "the term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents." That's the definition we apply to other countries when we designate them as state sponsors of terrorism.

The Sept. 11 attacks, which used planes full of civilians to hit the World Trade Center, fit this definition. So did the attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day. So did the Taliban's 2008 bombing of a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.

But the attack on the Pentagon wasn't terrorism and since United 93 may have been headed to the White House and targeting the Commander-in-Chief that wasn't either. Get it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


The real crisis in government (Paul C. Light, January 12, 2010, Washington Post)

The systemic failures that led to the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 are, sadly, all too familiar. Substitute the words "Christmas Day plot" for tainted meat, poisoned peppers, aircraft groundings, the Columbia shuttle accident, Hurricane Katrina, counterfeit Heparin, toxic toys, the banking collapse, Bernie Madoff or even Sept. 11, and the failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the "no-fly" list becomes yet another indication that the federal government can no longer guarantee the faithful execution of our laws.

You'd think someone who studies government as much as Professor Light would be devoid of the delusion that there was a magical time when government was efficient.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


When revolutionary fervor is tempered with time (Richard Cohen, January 12, 2010, Washington Post)

To the columnist's obligation to provide a 10-best list of 2009 films, I punt by offering just one. It is "The Baader Meinhof Complex," which Anthony Lane, the film critic for the New Yorker, said he saw "three or four times." When I saw it, I thought that once was enough. Yet the movie lingers because, to me, it is only incidentally about the 1970s-style radicalism of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, and more about how wrong I was when I was young. [...]

As it happened, I had cheered for the German left (although not the crazies) and had cheered, too, for the Iranian revolutionaries -- and all that came of it was the murder of innocent Germans and an Iran that went from bad to bad -- or maybe worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Poll: Only 20% of Americans object to airport body scans by security screeners (James Gordon Meek, 1/12/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

Most Americans aren't as camera-shy as the ACLU when it comes to showing airport security screeners their all in full-body image scanners, a new poll revealed Monday.

Only 20% of more than 1,000 Americans polled by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. this month said it's bad for the Transportation Security Administration to take a peek under their clothes before they fly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Labor angry over Obama-backed insurance tax (ERICA WERNER, 1/12/10, Associated Press)

A Monday evening meeting at the White House between Obama and about a dozen heads of the country's biggest labor unions capped a day when two union leaders fired broadsides at Obama and Senate Democrats over their plans to pay for overhauling the nation's health care system with a tax union leaders fear could hurt their workers.

The 40 percent tax would fall on employer health plans worth more than $8,500 for an individual or $23,000 for a family. Although Obama terms them "Cadillac" plans, union leaders say numerous working-class Americans who've negotiated good benefits in exchange for lesser pay would be hurt.

The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, warned that Democrats risk catastrophic election defeats similar to 1994 if they fail to come up with a health bill labor likes.

...that those with the best health care coverage dictate the terms of the "reform."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Iranian Nuclear Physicist Killed in Bombing (NASSER KARIMI, Jan. 12, 2010, AP)

A nuclear physics professor at Tehran University was killed Tuesday by a bomb-rigged motorcycle parked outside his home in Iran's capital, state media reported.

Massoud Ali Mohammadi had just left his house on his way to work when the remote-controlled explosion went off, state-run Press TV said. [...]

The Web site of Iran's state television declared the bombing a "terrorist act by counter revolutionaries and elements of arrogance," a reference to the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The High Cost of No Price: A simple chart will help you understand why healthcare spending has gone out of control ( Veronique de Rugy, January 12, 2010, The American)

Economists have shown that if a good’s price is zero or decreasing, then the demand for this good will likely increase. In 2008, consumers were only directly responsible for 11.9 percent of total national healthcare expenditures, down from 43 percent in 1965, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This means that someone other than consumers pays roughly 88 percent of all healthcare costs, giving consumers little incentive to mind costs and much incentive to over-consume.

If we care about costs--which there is no evidence of--the only way to get them under some control is to make people take cash out of their own pockets to pay for their health care, which means HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


GOP Flexes Recruiting Successes in Keystone State (Shira Toeplitz, 1/12/10, CQ-Roll Call)

After losing a total of five House seats in Pennsylvania over the past two cycles, a string of recent recruiting successes has boosted GOP prospects for regaining some of that lost territory in 2010.

According to several sources familiar with their decisions, former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and former U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino are poised to announce campaigns against Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire , Patrick Murphy and Christopher Carney , respectively.

What’s more, state Sen. Dave Argall (R) said Monday that he will challenge Rep. Tim Holden (D) in his conservative central Pennsylvania district, a move that is expected to give the congressman his most competitive race in six years.

January 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Audiences experience 'Avatar' blues (Jo Piazza, 1/11/10, CNN)

James Cameron's completely immersive spectacle "Avatar" may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Retail gasoline prices climb sharply (Ronald D. White, January 11, 2010, LA Times)

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California climbed 5.9 cents to $3.046, the biggest rise in 16 weeks. Nationally, the price jumped 8.6 cents to $2.751 a gallon, according to the federal government's weekly survey of filling stations around the U.S.

Analysts said gasoline prices were rising sharply at a time when most indicators of supply and demand were headed in the opposite direction.

Gas/carbon taxes are the only thing oil speculators have to worry about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Gays vs. Democratic Party: They’re fond of your checkbooks — and deaf to your demands for equal rights. What will it take for the Democratic Party to step up? (James Kirchick, February 2010, The Advocate)

Szekeres’s experience is illustrative of the problem that many gay people, one of the most loyal Democratic constituencies alongside African-Americans and Jews, have vis-à-vis their relationship with the Democratic Party. “We give money to get something,” he says. “We don’t give money to get warm fuzzies. If I wanted that, I’d give money to the cat shelter.”

In the wake of the Maine defeat, a coterie of liberal bloggers and activists called for a temporary moratorium on DNC donations. The fledgling movement, which has adopted the motto “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give” and has attracted the likes of legendary gay rights activist David Mixner, hopes to discourage donations to the party until the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of both “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. In so doing, these activists are hoping to reshape—if not completely upset—the relationship between gays and the Democratic Party.

The gay rights movement hasn’t always had a vested interest in mainstream political organizing. Most of the influential figures in early gay liberation were radicals who wanted to upend the American political and social system, not join it. The sentiment was reciprocated, as hardly anyone in the Republican or Democratic party wanted anything to do with homosexuals. Most gay activists had little choice but to spend nearly all of the 1970s as political outsiders.

But with the rise of the new right and Moral Majority in the latter part of that decade, homosexuality itself became a political issue and gay people themselves targets. If activists had earlier been content theorizing and exhorting on the political margins, they now had to plead their case to the general public. In 1978 gays in California and around the country rallied to help defeat the Briggs Initiative, which would have barred gay people from teaching in the public schools. Today, supporters of the DNC boycott point to President Carter’s cursory but effective opposition to the Briggs Initiative and say that, at the very least, is what President Obama and the Democratic Party could and should be doing in support of gay rights.

Several years later, AIDS pushed homosexuality to the forefront of the American consciousness and revitalized gay activism as a life-or-death proposition. In 1992, Bill Clinton was the first major-party presidential nominee to openly court gays as a political constituency, raising millions of dollars from them in the process. While his administration saw remarkable progress in terms of gay political visibility, it also led to a series of disastrous setbacks, from the enactment of DADT to the passage of DOMA.

According to Aravosis, a Democratic political consultant who helped initiate the DNC boycott on his blog, the current political atmosphere is beginning to “feel like 1993, but not in a good way.” Then, as now, gays were thrilled at the prospect of a fresh-faced young president who spoke about their issues in a humane and understanding fashion. Like Clinton, Obama seems to get gay concerns, and he’s personally comfortable around gay people. Although they offered pleasant speeches and frequent photo opportunities, both the Clinton and early Obama administrations provided little in terms of tangible legislative progress. And as the party apparatus tends to fall in line when its man is in the White House, the DNC has assumed the role of blocking back for the president’s inaction.

With the 2010 midterm congressional election looking increasingly perilous for progressives, thus making the imperative to pass pro-gay legislation before then all the more urgent, a picture is beginning to emerge of a Democratic president and political party that are, as Szekeres describes them, happy to take money and votes from gay people but less inclined to spend political capital on their behalf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Most original news reporting comes from traditional sources, study finds (Ben Fritz, January 11, 2010, LA Times)

A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that surveyed news gathering in Baltimore as an example of nationwide trends found that 95% of stories with fresh information came from "old media," and the vast majority of that from newspapers.

"The expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local websites -- at least in Baltimore -- played only a limited role: mainly an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places," the study's authors write.

The crisis of the press is a crisis of the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Afghans more optimistic for future, survey shows (Adam Mynott, 1/11/10, BBC)

Most Afghans are increasingly optimistic about the state of their country, a poll commissioned by the BBC, ABC News and Germany's ARD shows.

Of more than 1,500 Afghans questioned, 70% said they believed Afghanistan was going in the right direction - a big jump from 40% a year ago.

Of those questioned, 68% now back the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, compared with 63% a year ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Taking the Measure of Obama's Foreign Policy (ELIOT A. COHEN, 1/10/10, WSJ)

Part of un-Bushism as foreign policy has been a self-inflicted muteness by this most articulate of politicians on the topic of democracy, freedom and human rights. American foreign policy has always been a long and difficult dialogue between realpolitik and our values, our pursuit of our own interests, and our deliberate efforts to spread freedom abroad. Saying that the U.S. will "bear witness" to abuses and brutality around the world is, in effect, to say that we will send flowers to funerals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


A Customizable, Anatomically Correct Robotic Girlfriend With Multiple Personalities (Clay Dillow,01.11.2010, Popular Science)

Just a few blocks away from CES, at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, innovation took a different form as the world's first commercially available life-sized AI robotic girlfriend enjoyed her big coming out party.

Standing five feet seven inches and weighing 120 pounds, Roxxxy ain't your grandma's inflatable girlfriend. Five different personalities, ranging from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy (all the way up to S & M Susan, if you're into that sort of thing), are programmed into Roxxxy's AI. Based on the personality the user chooses for her, the 'bot will responds to touch and speech in different ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


As Scott Brown rises against Martha Coakley in polls, chances increase that a senator from Massachusetts could derail Obama’s health plan (Alex Pappas 01/11/10, Daily Caller)

DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan will travel to Boston to help Coakley for the last remaining days of the campaign. Over the weekend, the DNC’s Organizing for America also sent out emails soliciting volunteers nationwide for a digital phone bank to encourage Democrats to turnout for the election.

And national Republicans have been riled up since Democrat Sen. Paul Kirk, who was temporarily appointed to the seat, was quoted in the Boston Herald this weekend saying he will vote for the final version of the health-care bill even if Brown beats Coakley in the special election, but is not yet seated.

Republicans fear this means that the Democrat controlled Massachusetts state government will delay certification of the election if Brown wins long enough wins for Kirk to vote for the bill. Brown has said that if he wins next Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts he will vote against the bill, eroding away Democrats’ 60 vote filibuster-proof total. [...]

[F]ormer Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey told the Daily Caller that people should “look at the history” to see how laws regarding filling Massachusetts Senate seats have been filled.

“It’s been a political process to this point,” Healey said. “There’s no reason to believe if Scott was elected that politics would be left at the door.”

In 2004, when Healey was lieutenant governor, Democrats changed the law calling for a special election in the case of a vacancy — fearing that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican if Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won the presidency. But last year, the legislature voted to change the law again so that Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick could appoint someone to fill Kennedy’s spot and vote on important Democrat bills — such as health care — during the period before January’s special election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Eric Rohmer, French 'New Wave' film director who reshaped cinema in 1960s, dies at 89 (Reuters, January 11th 2010)

Regarded by many as a conservative, Rohmer did not follow fashion. "Rohmer's films never contain any obvious attention-getting devices such as violence, unusual camera angles or even musical scores," wrote biographer Terry Ballard.

"(He makes) films that deal with foibles and relationships of realistic if self-absorbed people." [...]

Rohmer made his first feature film, "Le Signe du Lion" ("The Sign of Leo"), in 1959. He did not become famous for a further 10 years, but worked tirelessly during this period, launching numerous projects, including his film series, "Six Moral Tales" showing men facing moral crises as they fall into temptation.

"What I call a 'conte moral' is not a tale with a moral, but a story which deals less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it," Rohmer wrote in 1971.

"You can say that my work is closer to the novel -- to a certain classic style of novel which the cinema is now taking over -- than to other forms of entertainment, like the theater."

In the 1980s, Rohmer began his second series of films under the banner "Comedies and Proverbs" which were supposed to be lighter in tone to the earlier "literary" movies.

A man with a reputation for zealously guarding his privacy, Rohmer started his third series of films at the age of 70, naming them after the four seasons and beginning with "Conte de Printemps" ("A Tale of Springtime").

In 1999, his "Conte d'Automne" ("Autumn Tale") won him strong critical success at the age of 79.

We can't recommend The Lady and the Duke strongly enough. The best French Revolution picture this side of A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

-OBIT: French filmmaker Eric Rohmer dies (AP, 12 January 2010)
-OBIT: Arthouse French film-maker Eric Rohmer dies (BBC, 1/12/10)
-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, New Wave Filmmaker, Dies at 89 (DAVE KEHR, January 11, 2010, NY Times)

Aesthetically, Mr. Rohmer was perhaps the most conservative member of the group of aggressive young critics who purveyed their writings for publications like Arts and Les Cahiers du Cinéma into careers as filmmakers beginning in the late 1950s. A former novelist and teacher of French and German literature, Mr. Rohmer emphasized the spoken and written word in his films at a time when tastes — thanks in no small part to his own pioneering writing on Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks — had begun to shift from literary adaptations to genre films grounded in strong visual styles.

His most famous film in America remains “My Night at Maud’s,” a 1969 black-and-white feature set in the grim industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. It tells the story of a shy, young engineer (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who passes a snow-bound evening in the home of an attractive, free-thinking divorcée (Françoise Fabian).

The conversation, filmed by Mr. Rohmer in a series of carefully but unobtrusively composed long takes, covers philosophy, religion and morality, and while the flow of words at times takes on a distinctly seductive subtext, the encounter ends without a physical consummation. But a bond is formed between the two characters that movingly re-emerges five years later, when they meet again in the brief postscript that closes the film.

“My Night at Maud’s” was the third title in his “Six Moral Tales,” a series of films that Mr. Rohmer began in 1963, though for economic reasons it was the fourth to be filmed. In each of the six films, a man who is married or engaged finds himself tempted to stray but is ultimately able to resist. His films are as much about what does not happen between his characters as what does, a tendency that enchanted critics as often as it drove audience members to distraction.

-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, a ‘New Wave’ Pioneer of French Cinema, Dies at 89 (Felix Kessler, 1/11/10, Bloomberg)
Born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer on April 4, 1920, in Nancy, France, he was a teacher and journalist who wrote a novel under the alias Gilbert Cordier before taking Eric Rohmer as his pseudonym, a melding of name of actor and director Eric von Stroheim and Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu crime series.

Along with Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, Rohmer wrote for the avant-garde Cahiers du Cinema and was editor of the film magazine for seven years. He wrote the script for Godard’s first French film, “All the Boys Are Named Patrick.” (It contains a shot of a man reading a French movie magazine with the headline, “French Cinema is Dying Under the Weight of False Legends.”)

Asked about their lives then, Rohmer said the would-be filmmakers responded by saying, “We don’t live.” As he put it later, “Life was the screen, life was the cinema.”

Rohmer was still struggling to get his films made when Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” (1959) and Godard’s “Breathless” in 1960 ushered in the New Wave to the acclaim of French enthusiasts. Not until “The Collector” (1967) and “My Night at Maud’s” (1969), part of his “Six Moral Tales” series, did Rohmer achieve any success.

Truffaut said colleagues had known for 20 years that their older comrade “was our master.” Truffaut stayed a kindred spirit though Rohmer, a conservative Catholic, had a falling out with the radical Godard, who urged filmmakers to join him in making “revolutionary” movies.

-OBIT: Eric Rohmer: philosopher, rhetorician, and an ally of the young: The French director's movies were quintessentially studenty - in the best possible sense
(Peter Bradshaw, 1/11/10, The Guardian)
-OBIT: Eric Rohmer, 1920-2010 (Michael Phillips, 1/11/10, Chicago Tribune)
"I was determined to be inflexible and intractable," filmmaker Eric Rohmer once wrote regarding his self-labeled "six moral tales" of love, philosophy and glancing desire, "because if you persist in an idea it seems to me that in the end you do secure a following."

It worked. To the casual American art-house patron of a certain age Rohmer's most widely distributed pictures, beginning with "My Night at Maud's" (1969), "Claire's Knee" (1970) and "Chloe in the Afternoon" (1972, and remade, uneasily, with Chris Rock as "I Think I Love My Wife") crystallized an notion of piquant, verbally obsessive French cinema.

Rohmer's men, chasing illusions of women as often as women in the flesh, were variations on a specific breed of sardonic romantic. His questing, moralizing protagonists acted as vessels for the filmmaker's own observations of life, as he also wrote, where "there's no clear-cut line of tragedy or comedy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Are Taliban descendants of Israelites? (AMIR MIZROCH, 1/09/10, Jerusalem Post)

Are the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan descendants of an Israelite tribe that migrated across Asia after it was exiled over 2,700 years ago?

This intriguing question has been asked by a variety of scholars, theologians, anthropologists and pundits over the years, but has remained somewhere between the realms of amateur speculation and serious academic research.

But now, for the first time, the government has shown official interest, with the Foreign Ministry providing a scholarship to an Indian scientist to come to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and determine whether or not the tribe that provides the hard core of today's Taliban has a blood link to any of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and specifically to the tribe of Efraim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


Let’s Talk About Faith (ROSS DOUTHAT, 1/11/09, NY Times)

Asked on a Fox News panel what advice he’d give to the embattled Tiger Woods, Hume suggested that the golfer consider converting to Christianity. “He’s said to be a Buddhist,” Hume noted. “I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. ”

A great many people immediately declared that this comment was the most outrageous thing they’d ever heard. Hume’s words were replayed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to shocked laughter from the audience. They were denounced across the blogosphere as evidence of chauvinism, bigotry and gross stupidity. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann claimed, absurdly, that Hume had tried to “threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian.” His colleague David Shuster suggested that Hume had “denigrated” his own religion by discussing it on a talk show.

The Washington Post’s TV critic, Tom Shales, mocked the idea that Christians should “run around trying to drum up new business” for their faith. Hume “doesn’t really have the authority,” Shales suggested — unless of course “one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize.” (This is, of course, exactly what Christians are supposed to believe.)

...is that he ought to know that Buddhism doesn't contain the concept of sin, which would only seem to make his case for Tiger's conversion more compelling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


The Question No U.S. Official Dare Ask (William Pfaff, 11 January, 2010, TruthDig.com)

It is time to ask a question that virtually no one in an official or political position in the United States is willing to contemplate asking. For a person in a responsible public position to pose this question would be to risk exclusion from the realm of “serious” policy discussion. It could be, as they say in the bureaucracies, “a career destroyer.”

It would be like declaring that after long analysis you had come to the conclusion that the world is indeed flat, and not round. A round earth is merely an illusion, which everyone has accepted, and adapted to—and fears challenging.

My question is the following. Has it been a terrible, and by now all but irreversible, error for the United States to have built a system of more than 700 military bases and stations girdling the world? Does it provoke war rather than provide security?

We live in the most peaceful age in human history. It is because there are so few wars that we can pretend the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan are significant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Is death better than disability?: Whom better to ask than the disabled? They give some surprising answers. (Michael Cook, 11 January 2010, MercatorNet)

When assisted suicide is legalised most of the people who will die are disabled. And American disability advocates take a very dim view of it. This is the theme of a hard-hitting series of articles in the latest issue of the Disability and Health Journal.

The editor, Suzanne McDermott, of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, writes that she changed her own mind after studying the issue. At first she believed that assisted suicide was solely a personal autonomy issue. But eventually she was persuaded that it is at the heart of the movement for disability rights: "Almost all people at the end of life can be included in the definition of ‘disability’. Thus, the practice of assisted suicide results in death for people with disabilities."

The special issue is a response to a controversial 2008 decision by the American Public Health Association (APHA) to back "aid in dying" (ie, assisted suicide). This slipped almost completely under the media’s radar, but it means that the official policy of the "oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world" – 30,000 of them – is to support assisted suicide to the hilt. Or, as they prefer to call it in Oregon, "patient-directed dying" or "physician aid-in-dying".

The idea that some lives aren't worth living is a function of health and we know where it leads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM

WHAT'D HE LEAVE? (via Jim Yates):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Hitler was an easy scapegoat: Oliver Stone (ANI, 12 January 2010)

Oliver Stone has courted controversy after suggesting that German dictator Adolf Hitler was made an “easy scapegoat” by history.

The controversial director has come up with a new documentary series, called “The Secret History of America”, which he hopes would put figures including Hitler and Stalin “in context”.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


In 2020, 24m Chinese may find no wives (AFP, 12 January 2010)

More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses in 2020, state media reported on Monday, citing a study that blamed sex-specific abortions as a major factor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


CIA's Vulnerability Is Congenital (Angelo M. Codevilla, 1.11.10, American Spectator)

CIA's model of operations practically invites all forms of betrayal, because its operatives are by no means clandestine, and because they have always been averse to serious counterintelligence. Ever since 1943, when Allen Dulles set up spy shop on Bern's Herrengasse with full coverage by the local press, nearly all of CIA's case officers have been "covered" only by the useless pretense that they work for another part of the U.S. government. But to the people they try to recruit, CIA officers make no pretense at all about who they are. They could not if they tried, because they are linguistically and culturally incapable of passing for anything other than what they are. As a result, CIA officers end up having far more contact with people who want to use them than with those whom they might wish to use. Perpetually starved for high grade information, CIA accepts sources as valid with only the thinnest pretense of quality control. Even before 1975, when CIA made the operators themselves responsible for their own operations' integrity, counterintelligence had been the Agency's stepchild. Thus, not only did the Soviet KGB routinely control CIA's operations through double agents: so did the East Germans, the Cubans, and the Iraqis, who penetrated the CIA's vaunted ROCKSTARS network from the start.

CIA's performance regarding terrorism is worsened by its increasing reliance on foreign intelligence services. The Chapman case, in which an agent provided by Jordanian intelligence proved to be hostile, is all too typical. Our officers simply had neither alternatives to the Jordanian agent, nor means independently to vet him. All they could do was to note that he had provided facts that proved to be true. How many false ones were mixed in, no one seems to have asked. And so the agent was invited to take part in deciding who America's friends and enemies are. Alas, this is a very old story. The only new part is that he decided to end the charade by killing his hosts. Probably, he would have done more harm by keeping it up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Threats (Steve Coll, January 18, 2010, The New Yorker)

Osama bin Laden sought to lead the vanguard of a spreading revolution. Instead, he and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hunkered down, presumably along the Afghan-Pakistani border, surrounded by only about two hundred hard-core followers. Their adherents in Yemen and Africa number no more than a few thousand. Al Qaeda in Iraq is a tiny fragment of its former self. Bin Laden’s relations with the Taliban seem brittle. Unlike Hezbollah, Al Qaeda provides no social services and thus has built no political movement. Unlike Hamas, its bloody nihilism has attracted no states that are willing to defend its legitimacy. In a world of at least one and a half billion Muslims, this does not a revolution, or even a vanguard, make.

Many of bin Laden’s declared goals, such as the removal of American soldiers from Muslim lands, still resonate in Islamic societies. Yet, in polls conducted across the Muslim world, large majorities repudiate Al Qaeda, and particularly its tactic of murdering civilians. It is common to observe that bin Laden’s poll ratings have collapsed in recent years because his violence has taken the lives of Muslims as well as infidels. Actually, polling shows that citizens of Islamic countries, as elsewhere, overwhelmingly disapprove of any indiscriminate killing, whatever the victims’ religious beliefs, and no matter the cause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Green Guilt (Stephen T. Asma, The Chronicle Review)

Recently while I was brushing my teeth, my 6-year-old son scolded me for running the water too long. He severely reprimanded me, and at the end of his censure asked me, with real outrage, "Don't you love the earth?" And lately he has taken up the energy cause, scampering virtuously around the house turning off lights, even while I'm using them. He seems as stressed and anxious about the sins of environmentalism as I was about masturbation in the days of my Roman Catholic childhood.

Not too long ago, at a party, a friend confessed in a group conversation that he didn't really recycle. It was as if his casual comment had sucked the air out of the room—I think the CD player even skipped. He suddenly became a pariah. A heretic had been detected among the orthodox flock. During the indignant tongue-lashing that followed, people's faces twisted with moral outrage.

...that the dinner she just enjoyed was made from manatee meat....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The numbers behind Americans' everyday lives (Robert J. Samuelson, January 11, 2010, Washington Post)

Being optimistic, Americans commit suicide at fairly low rates, 10.2 for every 100,000 people in 2004, less than the 11.9 average for all industrial countries or Japan's 20.3 and France's 15.1. Food is cheaper here than almost anywhere else. In 2007, only about 6.9 percent of U.S. consumer spending went for food at home; Germans spent more (11.4 percent), as did Italians (14.5 percent) and Mexicans (24.2 percent). [...]

Considering today's economic slump, America may seem a land where progress has died. Not so. The Stat Abstract offers many counterexamples. Crime is one.

Two decades ago, governments seemed helpless against a rising tide of murders, assaults and drug deals. Then crime began to subside. From 1993 to 2007, murders dropped from 25,000 to 17,000 and robberies from 660,000 to 445,000. Crime rates per 100,000 declined more, because the population rose 16 percent over the same period. There is no consensus as to why. Possibilities include better policing techniques and tougher sentencing (the incarcerated population doubled from 1.15 million in 1990 to 2.29 million in 2007). But crime still remains serious, especially for the young: In 2007, 18 percent of high school students reported carrying a weapon sometime in the previous year.

There are other signs of progress. Smoking continues to decline, from 25.3 percent of adults in 1990 to 19.7 percent in 2007. Five-year survival rates for cancer are up: from 62.4 percent in 1990-92 to 69.1 percent in 1999-2005 for whites; and from 48.2 percent to 59.4 percent for blacks. Voting is also up; the 57.1 percent turnout in 2008 was the highest since 1968. Garbage per person has stabilized; it was 4.5 pounds per day in 1990 and 4.6 pounds in 2007. Among young adults (18 to 29), Internet usage is virtually universal: 92 percent in 2009, up from 72 percent in 2000. [...]

Since 1970, the student-teacher ratio in schools has declined dramatically, from 22 to 1 to 15 to 1 in 2007, with little effect on test results. [...]

By 2050, the U.S. population is projected at almost 440 million, up from 304 million in 2008. Almost one-quarter of elementary and high school students are immigrants or have immigrant parents.

Class size is one of those classic delusions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Jacques Maritain and Dignitatis Humanae: Natural Law as the Common Language of Religious Freedom (Brian Jones, M.A., December 09, Ignatius Insight)

In his section of Man and the State concerning the "Rights of Man", Maritain states that there is no right of man "unless a certain order—which can be violated in fact—is inviolably required by what things are in their intelligible type or their essence, or by what the nature of man is, and is cut out for". In other words, the discussion of "rights" only makes sense if the participants involved hold to a proper anthropology, one that contemplates what man is in his nature and what his destiny is. Maritain continues by saying that dialogue concerning the truths about man and his ends can only take place if we recognize that the foundation of these rights "exists in a separate Spirit, in an Absolute which is superior to the world, in what perennial philosophy calls the Eternal Law".

Professor Mary Ann Glendon of the Harvard Law School has written that one of the greatest errors of modern culture, stemming from 18th-century Enlightenment philosophy, is its absolutizing of "rights"—as if "rights" were an autonomous licensed form of freedom that rejects any form of responsibility or duty. This is exactly the interpretive key that helps to unlock the "rights" language of Dignitatis Humanae, where the document warns against those "who seem inclined to use the name of freedom as the pretext for refusing to submit to authority and for making light of the duty of obedience".

The Council affirms that the dignity of the human person rests on the truth that man is a being endowed with reason and free will, and this sacred reality is known through Divine Revelation and reason itself. This truth about man, that he has been created with intelligence and freedom, impels him to be an ardent seeker of truth, "especially religious truth". Once this truth is known, man must assent to it, but only in a freedom that is removed from all forms of religious and/or civil coercion. The dignity of the human person reveals this: "the inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth."

The philosophical anthropology that we have received since the time of the Enlightenment has built no solid foundations for the rights of the human person. The true rights of man have been squandered because "it [the Enlightenment] led men to conceive of rights as divine in themselves, hence infinite, escaping every objective measure, denying every limitation imposed upon the claims of ego". This has led to the complete independence of the human subject, with his imagined absolute right to develop his human potentialities and abilities at the expense of all other beings.

Maritain believes that the best philosophy with which to refute this tendency is one that is rooted in a specific ontological structure, one which affirms that man possesses ends which necessarily correspond to his essential constitution and pertain to all. Since man is endowed with "intelligence and determines his own ends, it is up to him to put himself in tune with the ends necessarily demanded by his nature . . . this means that there is, by virtue of human nature, an order or a disposition which human reason can discover and according to which the human will must act in order to attune itself to the essential and necessary ends of the human being".

There are few things more amusing than listening to those who can't derive Rights insist on them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


The Notorious Blago: The former Illinois governor has a new dog (Skittles), a new source of income (Elvis impersonations) and — despite an old worry (prison) — a confounding optimism. You have to read this. (Scott Raab, 1/11/10, Esquire)

"It's such a cynical business, and most of the people in the business are full of [***} and phonies, but I was real, man — and am real. This guy, he was catapulted in on hope and change, what we hope the guy is. What the [****]? Everything he's saying's on the teleprompter. I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up."
Who isn't?
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven to announce Senate bid (DAVID CATANESE | 1/10/10, Politico)

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted last month showed Hoeven lead Dorgan by 22 percentage points. Dorgan's abrupt and unexpected exit from the campaign made the race even more appealing to the widely popular three-term governor.

In recent days, top Republicans, including 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, have encouraged Hoeven to make the run in a contest in which he's presumed to be the favorite.

Hoeven, the nation's longest-serving governor, is expected to begin speaking to the Bismarck Republican District Convention around 6:00 p.m. Monday in order to snag live coverage from the local evening newscasts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Is Obama Moving Off-Base? (David Corn, 1/11/10, Politics Daily)

Unions. Labor leaders are livid that Obama is supporting a tax on high-priced, employer-sponsored health insurance policies. The Senate version of the health care reform bill contains such a provision to raise money to cover its costs; the House legislation does not, relying on a surtax on wealthy taxpayers. About 30 million workers will be effected by this tax on generous health plans, and union officials point out that many employees accepted lower wages in return for high-end insurance policies. [...]

Enviros. The final deal that Obama cut at the Copenhagen climate summit was a muddy one. American environmentalists have been debating whether it was a useful step forward or a time-wasting sidestep. But during the Copenhagen conference, environmentalists, sensing that US actions at the talks would fall short, issued a simple political demand: after Congress finishes health care, Obama must make the climate change bill pending in the Senate his next legislative priority. That doesn't seem likely. [...]

Abortion rights. The Obama White House appears to be willing to accept restrictions on abortion in the health care bill that go beyond the usual limits applied to federal measures. [...]

Peaceniks. Afghanistan, 'nuf said. And disenchantment within the Democratic base regarding Obama's expansion of the Afghanistan war is likely to intensify in the months ahead, as the Obama surge hits the ground--and there are more casualties.

...by making it seem to the public at large like he's shifted Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Can the Dems Bridge Their Health Care 'Cadillac' Tax Divide?
(Karen Tumulty, Jan. 11, 2010, TIME)

At this point, about three-quarters of the House Democratic caucus has signed a letter sponsored by Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney expressing opposition to the tax.

Opponents argue that the people who are covered by those policies are, in many instances, far from wealthy. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 1 in 5 workers would be affected by the tax in 2016. And among unionized workers, particularly in states where health costs are higher than average, the percentages are even higher. For instance, the Connecticut Education Association, which delivered petitions to its congressional delegation that were signed by 10,000 of the state's teachers, estimates that the tax would hit 40% of its members the first year alone. And under the provision's indexing formula, even greater numbers of policies would be affected in subsequent years.

Courtney contends that swallowing this tax would be even more difficult for many House Democrats than abandoning the public option, which would have provided a new government-run alternative for covering the uninsured. That is because it would require tens of millions of Americans to give up a benefit they now enjoy — tax-free treatment of their health benefits.

However, Obama has already indicated that he favors the tax.

January 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Australians believe in God: poll (AAP, 12/19/09)

A poll has revealed that most Australians believe in God or a similar universal spirit, but a majority also believe in miracles, life after death and angels, and many believe in astrology and UFOs. [...]

The research shows that Australians are more religious than we might have thought - 68 per cent of us believe in God or a universal spirit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


Populate and prosper (Julie Novak, 12/23/09, The Australian)

What has tended to be overlooked is a balanced discussion incorporating the benefits of a larger population.

At the outset, having more people means that economic activity is greater than would otherwise be the case.

Markets expand as more producers and consumers find plentiful opportunities to trade with each other for mutual benefit.

Increasing production of goods and services to cater for the needs of growing numbers of people leads to an overall improvement in living standards.

The idea that having a larger population base can grow an economy is recognised by federal and state treasuries under their population, participation and productivity, or "triple P" growth frameworks.

Yet, this argument has come under challenge during the past two decades in the form of a growing and more headstrong environmental movement. According to this view, how could we possibly sustain demographic expansion on the hottest, driest continent on earth? For many environmentalists, the arguments for a larger population come across as nothing more than some sort of pro-growth corporate conspiracy.

Convinced that a growing humanity is laying waste to the environment, some groups have gone so far as to suggest Australia should seek to reduce its human population, presumably to make way for other species.

The problem with these arguments is that they miss perhaps the most profound reason of all for having more Australians.

Julian Simon, who famously won a wager on resource prices against environmental doomsayer Paul Ehrlich, dismissed the radical green idea that people are little more than parasites destroying the planet.

Simon once wrote that "human beings are not just more mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man's problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run."

If any one trait characterises humankind it is its irrepressible drive to tackle all manner of problems by discovering innovative solutions. More people increase the probability of resolving problems more quickly, leaving a larger base of economic riches behind for our children and their children.

The ultimate renewable resource on this planet is you, me and every other person alive today and to be born tomorrow.

Having more creative human minds is unambiguously of net benefit for our country, and indeed the entire world.

Simon goes one step further to suggest that the underlying basis for all wealth, including our natural resource endowments, is our minds. After all, if some bright spark hadn't discovered that oil, coal or uranium could be used to unlock physical energy we might still be looking upon these materials as having no use at all.

It is because we have people with ingenious minds that we can also work towards solutions to promote ecological sustainability where appropriate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


Karl Malden and Budd Schulberg: Naming Names (ANTHONY GIARDINA, 12/27/09, NY Times)

[M]aybe Malden never accepted the connection between the film and the chapter of American history that has ridden uncomfortably beside it. Not only Kazan but the film’s writer, Budd Schulberg (who died within a few weeks of Malden), named names to the committee before making the film. Kazan, who had a huge part in shaping the careers of Malden and Schulberg, was always open about the relationship between Terry Malloy’s turning “canary” in the film and the director’s own choice to inform. “When Brando at the end yells . . . ‘I’m glad what I done!’ ” Kazan wrote, “that was me saying, with identical heat, that I was glad I’d testified as I had.” But Schulberg took an opposite tack, insisting that the movie was solely about the struggles of the longshoremen whose trials he witnessed. “To see the film as a metaphor for McCarthyism is to trivialize their courage,” he wrote.

A lot of very smart people have said the same thing, that this particular work of movie art should not have to suffer for the political choices of its makers. The filmmakers transcended those choices, such people argue, in making a magnificent film. But something in the way the crisis of HUAC stays with us, haunting us even 60 years after the fact, makes giving the filmmakers such an easy pass increasingly difficult. In The New Republic, David Thomson called the HUAC hearings “the crisis [that] would never fade away.” By now, the story has taken on the moral dimensions of a tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which those who informed bear the burden of a sin that has never been unambiguously termed a punishable sin. As in Hawthorne, the punishment has to land somewhere, and so it has settled on “On the Waterfront” itself. It has become virtually impossible to watch the film outside of the framework imposed by the actions of its makers.

Except, of course, that the movie makes quite clear that the sin lies in collaborating--even if only through one's silence--with evil. That is why it is only those who approve of the Communist Party USA and its fellow travelers find themselves tormented by their admiration for the film. The average American has no trouble recognizing the similarity between the corrupt union bosses and the totalitarian communists.

What's interesting is that the only other great work of art that is tied to the period carries the same message, though it was written by one who died still collaborating: Dashiell Hammet's Maltese Falcon. While Mr. Giardina is trying to associate himself with the morally repellent standard of E. M. Forster--“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country"--Sam Spade famously makes exactly the opposite choice, Kazan and Schulberg's choice, doing the morally right thing instead of the emotional (and, inevitably, wrong) one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Cameron is our Disraeli (Peter Oborne, 9 January 2010, Spectator)

Cameron’s own political philosophy predates Thatcher and, for that matter, Heath. It can be traced back to a purer school of Conservatism which was first articulated by Burke, reached its apotheosis with Disraeli and Baldwin, and appeared to have died out when Macmillan left office in 1963. This kind of Conservatism sees itself as above class or faction and profoundly believes that it acts only in the national interest. This is why Cameron says again and again that he feels as profound a sense of responsibility for the poor and the unprivileged as New Labour claims to do. It’s just that he believes that New Labour’s target-setting, centralised edicts, and top-down government have failed miserably.

So a Cameron Tory party will seek to restore the local structures of the British state that have been wiped out over the last 50 years, and rebuild our great institutions, above all the family, which have been undermined by New Labour. He believes that only society, and emphatically not the state, can solve Britain’s most wicked problems of crime, poverty and so on.

He has come into politics out of a sense of personal service and duty. He believes in self-reliance, patriotism and personal independence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


EXCERPT: Of God and Man: The Two Cities in the Third Millennium: chapter one from The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture (FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, O.M.I., CERC)

At the heart of Christianity is a provocative claim: In Jesus Christ, God has become a creature, without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes. Many pre-Christian myths and legends spoke of God or the gods "becoming" creaturely, but such incarnations always resulted in uneasy mixtures of the divine and the nondivine. Thus Achilles and Hercules are quasi-godly and quasi-mortal, their divinity compromised by theIr humanity and vice versa. But as the Greek and Latin theologians of the patristic period struggled to express their incarnational faith, they consciously abandoned this mythological construal. The council of Chalcedon in 451 expressed the radicality of Christian belIef when it said that in the divine person of Jesus Christ, two natures -- divine and human -- come together in a hypostatic union, without mixing, mingling, or confusion. This means that in Jesus the divine and the human unite without competition or compromise. Christ is not quasi-divine and quasi-human; in fact, Just such a mythological reading was rejected in 325 at the Council Nicea during the struggle against Arianism. Rather, Jesus is fully divine and fully human, the proximity of the divine enhancing and not weakening the integrity of the human.

But the condition for the possibility of such a claim is a new understanding of the nature of God. Finite things exist necessarily in a son of mutual exclusivity: the being of one is predicated, at least in part, on its not being the other. Hence, when one finite thing "becomes" another, it does so through ontological aggression and surrender: the desk becomes a pile of ashes through being destroyed by fire, and the lion assimilates the antelope by devouring It. Competition characterizes the play between conditional realities. Therefore, when the Church proclaims that in Jesus Christ the divine and the human have come together without competition and compromise, she is saying something of extraordinary novelty. She is claiming that God is not a worldly nature, not a being, not one thing alongside others. God is not in competition with nature because God does not belong to created nature; God does not overwhelm finite being, because God is not a finite being.

When Christian theologians, inspired by their faith in the Incarnation, attempted to name God, they accordingly reached for language that evoked this distinctiveness. Thus St. Anselm said that God is not so much the supreme being as "that than which no greater can be thought," implying, paradoxically, that God plus the world is not greater than God alone. And when St. Thomas Aquinas named God, he avoided the term ens summum (highest being) and opted for ipsum esse subsistens (the subsistent act of to-be itself).

Both of these theologians thought of God as non competitively transcendent to the realm of finite things and therefore totally immanent to all things as the cause of their being. God is transcendent cause, and therefore Christianity is not a form of pantheism or Emersonian panentheism; but God is therefore closer to his creatures than they are to themselves. God is not related to the world, for that would create too great a division between God and the world, but neither is God identified with the world. The transcendent God is within his creation as the cause of its very being.

It is from this understanding of God, rooted in but developed from Jewish faith, that the peculiarly Christian sense of creation flows. Because God is not one being among others but rather the sheer energy of to-be itself, God does not make the world through manipulation, change, or violence, as the gods of philosophy and mythology do. Since there is literally nothing outside of God, he makes the entirety of the finite realm ex nihilo, through an act of purest and gentlest generosity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Why Marlowe is still the chief of detectives: Fifty years after Raymond Chandler died, we need his ‘shop-soiled’ Galahad Philip Marlowe as much as ever to put our mixed-up world to rights. (Mick Hume, 12/30/09, Spiked Review of Books)

Chandler led the final charge in the American revolution, begun by pulp magazines such as Black Mask, that overthrew the old English-dominated order in the mystery novel. He had no time for the phoney plot twists and cardboard characters deployed by the likes of Agatha Christie in country house murders, and acknowledged Hammett as the writer who first ‘gave murder back to the people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse’. By the time George Orwell’s 1946 essay was bemoaning the ‘Decline of the English Murder’, Chandler had already buried that tired genre. As Marlowe says, ‘It’s not that kind of story… It’s just dark and full of blood.’

Barry Forshaw, whose books include The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction and British Crime Writing: an Encyclopaedia, says ‘Chandler is the master. Hammett may have been the original progenitor of the hardboiled private eye novel, but Chandler refined the form to its nth degree.’ Mark Billingham, whose Tom Thorne novels have marked him out as a rising star of crime writing, thinks that without Chandler, British detective writers ‘would still be writing crime novels set in vicarages, in which the murder would be nice and bloodless and the culprit would almost certainly be lower-class or worse, foreign.’

The revolution in content was reflected in one of style. Chandler had little interest in plotting. When The Big Sleep was turned into a Hollywood movie, director Howard Hawks and star Humphrey Bogart could not agree if one character, the family chauffeur, had been murdered or committed suicide. They wrote to Chandler for clarification of the plot, ‘and dammit’, he later recalled, ‘I didn’t know either’. His interest was in human drama, character and emotion, and he brought them to life through simile-loaded description and dialogue as sharp as an ice pick in the back of the neck that has often been imitated but never bettered.

Ian Rankin, whose Rebus novels top many lists of detective writing, says that: ‘The opening paragraph of The Big Sleep is one of my favourite openings in all literature. Chandler famously saw his task as bringing crime fiction back to the mean streets from the stately homes of the English whodunit. But he did so with style and elegance, as befits a man with a classical English education.’

Chandler did more than update the detective novel. Most importantly he turned it into a moral mirror held up to American society. Despite famously advising aspiring writers that ‘when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns’, little of Chandler fits that simple stereotype. As American crime writer Jeffrey Deaver has noted, ‘There are conflicts aplenty in Philip Marlowe’s world, but they’re usually not the sort that can be solved with a bullet from a .38 or roundhouse punch to a thug’s chin.’

It was through his investigation of those human conflicts that Chandler’s work rose above other traditions in crime writing. Protesting about literary snobbishness towards crime writing, Chandler lashed out against the elitist categorisation of ‘significant literature’: ‘If you have to have significance… it is just possible that the tensions in a novel of murder are the simplest and yet most complete pattern of the tensions on which we live in this generation.’

This is the deeper enduring appeal of the Chandler crime novel: as a never-exhausted form for investigating the moral tensions and contradictions in the modern city and society, and for resolving them in a way that real life rarely allows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Amtrak "Train From Hell" Delayed Almost 24 Hours: "The snow drifts were more than two stories tall," said an Amtrak spokesman (CHARLIE WOJCIECHOWSKI, Jan 8, 2010, NBC Chicago)

Arriving almost 24 hours behind schedule, Amtrak's California Zephyr arrived in Chicago with a trainload of passengers who described themselves as "tired, hungry and stinky."

The train, which left Sacramento five days ago, was delayed by severe weather and numerous mishaps on route and pulled into Union Station more than 19 hours late.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Fiscal liberalism has tarnished California gold (George F. Will, January 10, 2010, Washington Post)

It took years for liberalism's redistributive itch to create an income tax so steeply progressive that it prompts the flight from the state of wealth-creators: "Between 1990 and 2007," Voegeli writes, "some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state."

And the state's income tax -- liberalism codified -- intensifies the effects of business cycles on the state's revenue stream: During booms, the stream surges and stimulates government spending; during contractions, revenue dwindles, but the new government spending continues. Voegeli says that if California's spending had grown no faster than population growth and inflation from 1992 to 2006, it would have been $65 billion less in 2006, and per capita government outlays then would have equaled not those of Somalia or Mississippi but of Oregon, which is hardly "a hellish paradigm of Social Darwinism."

It took years for liberalism's mania for micromanaging life with entangling regulations to make California's once-creative economy resemble Gulliver immobilized by the Lilliputians' many threads. The state, which between 1990 and 2007 lost 26 percent of its factory jobs and 35 percent of its high-tech manufacturing jobs, ranks behind only New York, another of liberalism's laboratories, in the number of outward-bound moving vans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


As 401(k) accounts spring back, calls for reform recede (Walter Hamilton, January 9, 2010, LA Times)

[W]ith the stock market's stunning rebound since March, Coleman no longer delays opening her statement, and the urgency felt for reforming the 401(k) system has dissipated. Federal legislation designed to improve disclosure of fees and to guard against conflicts of interest is on hold while Washington deals with healthcare. And enthusiasm for a fundamental revamping of the entire system has waned considerably.

"The market gains have definitely contributed to the slowing of the momentum and enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for reform, and certainly for wholesale, huge reform," said Michael Townsend, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs at Charles Schwab & Co.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Evolution's Bad Girl: Ardi shakes up the fossil record (Bruce Bower, January 16th, 2010, Science News)

Disputes over Ardi’s evolutionary relationships to living and extinct apes seem cordial compared with debate over her sexual relationships and their implications for ancient hominid social life.

This fracas goes back to 1981, when Lovejoy published a paper in Science about the sex life of what was, at that time, the earliest known hominid species,

Australopithecus afarensis. The most famous member of that species is Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old partial female skeleton found at another Ethiopian site in 1974. Lovejoy proposed that Lucy’s kind possessed traits consistent with what amounted to a sexual revolution in the ape world (SN: 6/11/05, p. 379).

In most ape species, males are much larger than females and fight viciously to mate with fertile females, who advertise their availability with swollen red tissue. Females raise offspring on their own.

Lucy’s kind upended that arrangement, Lovejoy argued. Males grew only slightly larger than females and had small canines. Adults of both sexes favored long-term relationships as a matter of survival, he theorized. Males supplied food to regular partners with whom they had children, allowing females to spend more time raising their own children.

Monogamy worked, in Lovejoy’s view, because female anatomy evolved to mask obvious signs of ovulation that signal sexual readiness to males, instead developing features such as permanently enlarged breasts. Hit-and-run unions stood a good chance of yielding no offspring and thus became unappealing to both sexes.

Lovejoy’s evidence for minimal size differences between A. afarensis sexes has been sharply criticized. Critics charge that he’s underestimated the size disparities.

Detractors add that upright males with diminutive canines could have found plenty of ways to pummel one another in mating battles, even if they had to resort to fisticuffs.

With Ardi in tow, Lovejoy has now elaborated on his argument. A transition to monogamous relationships, expanded child care by mothers and hidden female ovulation first occurred before Lucy, in Ardipithecus, he proposes. Ardi’s kind displays even smaller sex differences in canine size than Lucy’s species. “Australopithecus represents a more intense version of what was already evolving in Ardipithecus,” Lovejoy says.

Cooperation among males later expanded in A. afarensis, he posits. Male bands scoured forests and savannas for food and worked together to avoid and defend against predators. [...]

To portray early hominids as a peaceful, monogamous crowd “is phenomenally speculative,” Plavcan says. Although large-bodied primate males with fanglike canines usually fight over mates, minimal sex differences can result in any of a variety of mating arrangements, he contends.

What’s more, Ardipithecus ramidus fossils do display size differences between the sexes sufficient to assume that males mated with several females, as in many other primates with size disparities, McGrew remarks.

“Lovejoy’s social hypothesis is an interesting just-so story,” Richmond asserts. “He’s winning the competition for the title of the Rudyard Kipling of paleoanthropology.”


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


The old delusion of protectionism (Jeff Jacoby, January 10, 2010, Boston Globe)

WHEN SENATOR Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced his support for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, he told reporters that a key factor in his endorsement was that Obama “has always opposed NAFTA’’ - the North American Free Trade Agreement linking Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Dorgan is a strident protectionist, so there was nothing unusual about his slap at NAFTA. Except this: The same week that Dorgan came out for Obama, the US Commercial Service reported that North Dakota had ranked first in the nation for export growth the previous year. And the top destinations for the North Dakota merchandise exported in 2007? Canada and Mexico.

Dorgan - who announced on Tuesday that he will not seek reelection this year - is far from alone in his antipathy to the free movement of goods and services across borders.

...of human capital.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Round One goes to Baker and his big bucks (Joan Vennochi, January 10, 2010, Boston Globe)

The Bay State’s first black governor, and the first Democrat to win the corner office in 16 years, is at risk of turning into a blip in Massachusetts political history - a one-term governor whose legacy becomes the zeal to replace him with a Republican.

In the early voting - money - Republican Charlie Baker is winning.

Baker raised $1.85 million over five months of campaigning, giving him three times more cash on hand than Patrick. That’s a fairly serious wake-up call for an incumbent Democrat who is best friends with a president.

Some of Baker’s money is coming from traditional Democratic donors, including previous Patrick supporters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


What happened to Obama’s ‘government transparency’ pledge?: As a candidate, Obama said healthcare reform negotiations should be televised on C-SPAN. But now that House and Senate are hashing out their differences, the White House is backing away from that pledge. (Brad Knickerbocker, January 9, 2010, CS Monitor)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by the White House, has said the House and Senate – each of which have passed versions of healthcare reform – were putting the final bill together “behind closed doors according to an agreement by top Democrats.” [...]

“The negotiations are obviously being done in secret and the American people really just want to know what they are trying to hide,” said Rep. Tom Price, (R) of Georgia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Democrats' likely nominee in race for governor stumps all (CHRIS CHRISTOFF, 1/09/10, Detroit FREE PRESS)

Lt. Gov. John Cherry's sudden exit from the Democratic race for governor last week left big questions.

Who is the party's front-runner now, with seven months to the primary? Who can raise the money? Who's the one for Democrats?

Nobody for now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


The Play's the Thing: a review of On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd (Michael Berube, American Scientist)

Let me explain a thing or two about humanists like me. There are legions of us who reach for our guns when we hear the word genome. That's because we're all too familiar with the history of eugenics, and we flinch whenever someone attempts an "evolutionary" explanation of Why Society Is the Way It Is; we suspect them, with good reason, of trying to justify some outrageous social injustice on the grounds that it's only natural. Likewise, there are legions of us who clap our hands over our ears when we hear the term evolutionary psychology. That's because we're all too familiar with the follies of sociobiology, and we've suffered through lectures claiming that our species is hardwired for middle-aged guys dumping their wives for young secretaries and students (I sat through that lecture myself) or that men run the world because women have wide hips for childbearing, whereas men can rotate three-dimensional shapes in their heads (okay, that one is a mash-up of two different lectures).

Brian Boyd is here to change all that. On the Origin of Stories attempts an evolutionary explanation of the appearance of art -- and, more specifically, of the utility of fiction. From its title (with its obvious echo of Darwin) to its readings of The Odyssey and Horton Hears a Who!, Boyd's book argues that the evolution of the brain (itself a development of some significance to the world) has slowly and fitfully managed to produce a species of primate whose members habitually try to entertain and edify one another by making stuff up.

Just So.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Young Bastards: The Replacements were a lot better than they wanted you to think they were. (Stephen Metcalf, Dec. 17, 2009, Slate)
This talent for mindless (or, if you think about it, really quite mindful) audience baiting didn't come from nowhere. The Replacements were four working-class kids from South Minneapolis. Being Catholic, of Scandinavian descent, and snowbound 10 months of the year produces a streak of modesty lying just this side of suicide. The 'Mats were always at pains to make their music sound tossed together, a dog's breakfast, nothing anyone without guitars, some chops, a case of Leinies, Chuck Taylors, maybe a pair of clown pants, and a complexion the color of raw cookie dough, couldn't re-create in their own (parents') garage. What total rubbish. Track by track, Let It Be is a perfectly crafted collection of perfectly crafted songs. "I Will Dare," "Unsatisfied," "Favorite Things," and "Answering Machine" are actually classics—–music the caliber of the Dolls and the Stooges but also the Beatles and the Stones. The idea that the title Let It Be is just a doofus lark is itself a doofus lark. For all the punk attitudinizing, Westerberg is one of nature's tunesmiths and a wildly inventive rhythm guitarist. He sets his instrument to an Open A tuning, then flat picks, often playing arpeggios with highly elaborated hammers and pulls, reaching for peculiar off-notes. This is punk rock liberated from the tyranny of the bar chord. It was so good nobody noticed. But that was the point.

Westerberg was a shy stoner who worshiped Johnny Thunders but also privately Joni Mitchell's Blue. He wrapped his sensitive side in layers of defensive posturing, one of several "lay low" strategies mastered, presumably, as a vassal in the jockocracy of Minneapolis Central High, where he was a year behind Prince. "I don't think a well-adjusted class president could have made it to play lead guitar for us," Westerberg has said. "There was not a high school diploma on that stage." Westerberg was the melody maker, but the Replacements were a band: That is, the ensemble sound of incendiary mutual antagonisms barely resolving themselves into a whole. Bob Stinson, the lead guitarist (listen to the towering solo at the end of "Sixteen Blue"), and Tommy Stinson, his younger brother and the bassist, wanted to rock relentlessly hard and fast, to compete with their Minnesota brethren, the speed/noise merchants Husker Du. They hated Paul's ballads, but that hatred only makes the balladry reverberate in its strangely cavernous way.

"It's the college rock album of all time," someone in Shouting says of Let It Be, and therein lies the rub. What do you do if, after recording a masterpiece, you're still headlining a no-I.D. show at the Regina High School auditorium? The album was put out by TwinTone, an independent label that existed for little more than the glory of its one band. Let It Be has sold 250,000 copies, a succèss fou, if you look at one way, but it didn't perform well enough at the time to lift the band out of touring in a van and playing for little more than gas money. Bob still worked a day job as a pizza chef. Tommy, meanwhile, looked like he'd ridden his banana bike to the show. He had been 12 years old—12—when the band started. He dropped out of 10th grade to tour for Let It Be. A friend of mine once said, unforgettably, that the overwhelming affect of the Replacements is homesickness. "Everybody in the band has cried in the van on the way to the show," Westerberg has said. "And Tommy did it the best once, when he was 15 or 16. He was looking out the window as we were passing some farm area, and he's going, 'That's real, that's life—a [****]ing house, a home where you can stay, where you live, where you wake up, where you work.' "
Except, of course, that Pleased to Meet Me is their masterpiece.

January 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Book: Obama, Biden clashed in '08 (JONATHAN MARTIN, 1/9/10, Politico)

The relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden grew so strained during the 2008 campaign, according to a new book, that the two rarely spoke and aides not only kept Biden off internal conference calls but refused to even tell him they existed.

....he wouldn't have been the last person in America to realize Joe Biden is an idiot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster: A candidate whose aides were prepared to block him from becoming president. A wife whose virtuous image was a mirage. A mistress with a video camera. In an excerpt from the new book Game Change—their sweeping account of the 2008 campaign—the authors reveal that, inside the Edwards triangle, nothing was too crazy to be true. (John Heilemann & Mark Halperin, Jan 9, 2010, New York Magazine)

To Edwards, the pathway to the nomination seemed clear: beat Clinton in Iowa, where his surprising second-place finish in 2004 had catapulted him to national prominence; survive New Hampshire; then kill her off in the South Carolina primary, which he’d carried the last time around. Over and over, he proclaimed to his aides, “I am going to be the next president of the United States.”

Some of Edwards’s advisers dismissed his outsize confidence as pro forma, but others took it as a sign of something deeper—a burgeoning megalomania. He was not the same guy who’d come out of nowhere and defeated the incumbent Republican senator Lauch Faircloth in 1998. Back then, everyone who met Edwards was struck by how down-to-earth he seemed. He had fewer airs about him than most other wealthy trial lawyers, let alone most senators.

Many of his friends started noticing a change—the arrival of what one of his aides referred to as “the ego monster”—after he was nearly chosen by Al Gore to be his running mate in 2000: the sudden interest in superficial stuff to which Edwards had been oblivious before, from the labels on his clothes to the size of his entourage. But the real transformation occurred in the 2004 race, and especially during the general election. Edwards reveled in being inside the bubble: the Secret Service, the chartered jet, the press pack, the swarm of factotums catering to his every whim. And the crowds! The ovations! The adoration! He ate it up. In the old days, when his aides asked how a rally had gone, he would roll his eyes and self-mockingly say, “Oh, they love me.” Now he would bound down from the stage beaming and exclaim, without the slightest shred of irony, “They looooove me!”

Once Edwards had been warm and considerate with his staffers; now he was disdainful, ignoring them, dismissing their ideas, demanding that they perform the most menial of tasks. He made his schedulers find out what movies were available on different flights so he could decide which ones to take. He would fly only first class or on private planes he cadged from donors.

As Edwards’s mistreatment of his staff and supporters got worse through 2005, aides interceded, trying to set him straight. “You can’t talk to people that way,” Hickman scolded him after one off-putting display. People are attracted to the nice John Edwards, and for a lot of them, you’re not that John Edwards anymore.

Edwards bridled at the criticism. “I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he snapped. “You have to consider the source … A lot of these people are hangers-on.”

One of the lessons that John and Elizabeth took away from 2004 was that they had relied too much on aides, advisers, and consultants. The political people hadn’t helped Edwards; they’d gotten in his way. If they’d just let John be John, he might have been president. Edwards had a phrase he used all the time to describe the problem: “the valley of staff.” In his next bid for the White House, he and Elizabeth agreed, they would circumvent the handlers, while John forged his own path. Rather than a campaign, it would be a cause.

The denizens of the valley of staff were astonished by the narcissism that had infused their candidate.

...we're supposed to believe this was all because Al Gore (Al Freakin' Gore) picked him to play second banana? At best it made him a peer of Spiro Agnew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Obama accepts Reid apology for racial remark (PHILIP ELLIOTT, 1/09/10, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama says he's accepted an apology from the Senate's top Democrat for calling him a "light skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Though, it's not about dialect but the cadences of the pulpit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Scott Brown swearing-in would be stalled to pass health-care reform (Frank Quaratiello, January 9, 2010, Boston Herald)

Another source told the Herald that Galvin’s office has said the election won’t be certified until Feb. 20 - well after the president’s address.

Since the U.S. Senate doesn’t meet again in formal session until Jan. 20, Bay State voters will have made their decision before a vote on health-care reform could be held. But Kirk and Galvin’s office said today a victorious Brown would be left in limbo.

In contrast, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) was sworn in at the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 18, 2007, just two days after winning a special election to replace Martin Meehan. In that case, Tsongas made it to Capitol Hill in time to override a presidential veto of the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Yesterday, Brown, who has been closing the gap with Coakley in polls and fund raising, blasted the political double standard.

“This is a stunning admission by Paul Kirk and the Beacon Hill political machine,” said Brown in a statement. “Paul Kirk appears to be suggesting that he, Deval Patrick, and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid intend to stall the election certification until the health care bill is rammed through Congress, even if that means defying the will of the people of Massachusetts. As we’ve already seen from the backroom deals and kickbacks cut by the Democrats in Washington, they intend to do anything and everything to pass their controversial health care plan. But threatening to ignore the results of a free election and steal this Senate vote from the people of Massachusetts takes their schemes to a whole new level. Martha Coakley should immediately disavow this threat from one of her campaign’s leading supporters.”

A spokeswoman for Coakley’s campaign declined to comment today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Nancy Pelosi's uphill health bill battle (PATRICK O'CONNOR & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 1/9/10, Politico)

The public option is out. Employer mandates could prove too tough to change. And the president has already taken the Senate’s side in the fight over a tax on high-end health care plans.

“Each of the provisions at issue has already been negotiated ad nauseam in the Senate,” said a Senate Democratic aide. “The physics of this are unlikely to change much.”

Pelosi even seemed to concede one of her top priorities during the call – suggesting she could live with pushing the start date for reforms from 2013 to 2014, the date in the Senate bill. That alone would save $100 billion in the House bill, according to several congressional aides, money the speaker told her caucus could be plowed into making insurance more affordable.

If it's made Democrats nauseus, think what it's done to everyone else...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Obama, Unions to Talk Health Care Tax (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 1/07/10)

Union officials say President Barack Obama plans to meet with them next week to discuss their concerns about a proposed tax on high-cost insurance plans that would help pay for his health care overhaul plan.

The officials say they view the meeting Monday as a chance to forcefully make their case that the tax is bad policy and bad politics. Unions contend that taxes on so-called Cadillac plans would be passed along to workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM

Karl Denson's Genre-Busting Tiny Universe (Claudia Marshall, 1/07/10, NPR)

Karl Denson wears several hats, literally and musically. He's a jazz cat and a funk brother, and it must be tough to keep track of which band he's in at any given moment; he has at least three, including The Greyboy Allstars and The Karl Denson Trio. But it's Karl Denson's Tiny Universe that filled our studio recently, sharing the most song-driven of Denson's projects — though it doesn't lack for improv, as you'll hear.