February 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


We took our eye off the ball: Rudd (CHRIS JOHNSON, 01 Mar, 2010, Canberra Times)

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has acknowledged his Government is a disappointment to many Australians, admitting yesterday that Labor is struggling to keep election promises and deliver critical services.

In an extraordinary confession during an interview on ABC television, Mr Rudd said he and his team did not realise how hard it was going to be in Government.

He said federal Labor deserved its current slump in opinion polls because it had so far not stepped up to the mark.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


President Obama, Prime Minister Harper Place Wager on Today's Hockey Game (Political Punch, 2/28/10)

President Obama and Prime Minister Harper have made a friendly wager on the Men's Hockey Gold Medal Game set to begin at 3:15 ET, a White House official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Crosby’s goal gives Canada hockey gold (AP, 02/28/10)

Crosby’s shot from the lower part of the left circle eluded goalie Ryan Miller, the tournament MVP.

The United States had forced overtime on Zach Parise’s goal with 24.4 seconds left in regulation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


UN's climate link to hurricanes in doubt (Jonathan Leake, 2/28/10, Times of London)

Research by hurricane scientists may force the UN’s climate panel to reconsider its claims that greenhouse gas emissions have caused an increase in the number of tropical storms. [...]

The cover of Gore’s newest book, Our Choice, even depicts an artist's impression of a world beset by a series of huge super-hurricanes as a warning of what might happen if carbon emissions continue to rise.

However, the latest research, just published in Nature Geoscience, paints a very different picture.

It suggests that the rise in hurricane frequency since 1995 was just part of a natural cycle, and that several similar previous increases have been recorded, each followed by a decline.

Looking to the future, it also draws on computer modelling to predict that the most likely impact of global warming will be to decrease the frequency of tropical storms, by up to 34% by 2100.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Changing Face in Poland: Skinhead Puts on Skullcap (DAN BILEFSKY, 2/28/10, NY Times)

[M]ichael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, said he considered Poland the most pro-Israel country in the European Union. He said the attitude of Pope John Paul II, a Pole, who called Jews “our elder brothers,” had finally entered the public consciousness.

Ten years after the revelation that 1,600 Jews of the town of Jedwabne were burned alive by their Polish neighbors in July 1941, he said the national myth that all Poles were victims of World War II had finally been shattered.

“Before 1989 there was a feeling that it was not safe to say, ‘I am a Jew,’ ” Rabbi Schudrich said. “But two decades later, there is a growing feeling that Jews are a missing limb in Poland. The level of anti-Semitism remains unacceptable, but the image of the murderous Pole seared in the consciousness of many Jews after the war doesn’t correspond to the Poland of 2010.”

The small Jewish revival has been under way for several years around eastern Europe. Hundreds of Poles, a majority of them raised as Catholics, are either converting to Judaism or discovering Jewish roots submerged for decades in the aftermath of World War II.

In the past five years, Warsaw’s Jewish community had grown to 600 families from 250. The cafes and bars of the old Jewish quarter in Krakow brim with young Jewish converts listening to Israeli hip hop music.

Michal Pirog, a popular Polish dancer and television star, who recently proclaimed his Jewish roots on national television, said the revelation had won him more fans than enemies. “Poland is changing,” he said. “I am Jewish and I feel good,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Pelosi: Lawmakers Should Sacrifice Jobs for Health Care (AP, 2/28/10)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her colleagues to back a major overhaul of U.S. health care even if it threatens their political careers, a call to arms that underscores the issue's massive role in this election year.

Lawmakers sometimes must enact policies that, even if unpopular at the moment, will help the public, Pelosi said in an interview being broadcast Sunday the ABC News program "This Week."
"We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress," she said. "We're here to do the job for the American people."

Passing her health bill will cost them their careers because the American people are so opposed to it but they are obligated to do it for the American people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


What the Torture Prof Teaches: After authorizing torture for the Bush administration, John Yoo has returned to Berkeley Law School without any apparent professional repercussions. Paul Campos on what Yoo's students can learn from him. (Paul Campos, 2/28/10, Daily Beast)

Yoo’s continuing and apparently permanent position on the faculty of one of the nation’s leading law schools does have some significant educational value for his students. For one thing, I am reliably informed that, when he’s not busy arguing that the president has the legal authority to massacre villages and crush the testicles of children, Professor Yoo teaches a very fine class in civil procedure.

Beyond that, having Yoo as one of their professors teaches Berkeley’s law students several valuable lessons.

First, if you’re a person of high social status and have good enough political connections, nothing will happen to you even if you commit the most serious crimes. (This applies even more obviously to Yoo’s former White House employers, but the fact that it’s impossible in this country to levy even the mildest professional sanctions against a mere law professor illustrates the absurdity of imagining it might be possible to actually prosecute the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.) Second, the legal profession’s system of self-regulation is largely dedicated to protecting lawyers at almost any cost rather than protecting the public from the consequences of incompetent or immoral lawyering.

Third, legal argument is a sufficiently flexible tool that, under the right circumstances, it’s possible to argue successfully that torture isn’t torture , that laws which explicitly make no exceptions for exceptional circumstances actually do make exceptions for exceptional circumstances, that in time of war America is essentially a dictatorship, and that we are always at war. These are all very valuable lessons, which American law schools generally do their best to avoid conveying to the students. John Yoo’s brilliant career makes these lessons easier for his students–and are we not all, in this matter at least, his students?–to learn.

...but in my Con Law class we learned that if the war was ongoing the Court wouldn't be much bothered by a president having the military round up American citizens he thought suspicious and put them in concentration camps. Waterboarding a few foreigners seems pretty mild, especially by comparison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


The political divide over the health-care debate (Dan Balz, February 28, 2010, Washington Post)

In the aftermath of President Obama's White House health-care summit, it's clear that both sides are certain they are right on substance. Where they differ is over the politics. Democrats and Republicans believe that, in the end, they can win the political argument. As Obama said at the end of Thursday's gathering, "That's what elections are for."

Thursday's largely civil and intelligent summit underscored the deep philosophical gulf that remains between the two sides over health care (and many other issues). Both agree that the health-care system needs repair but significantly disagree over how to fix it. That is a genuine difference that seven hours of talking did not begin to narrow.

Democrats think more government is the answer; Republicans say the opposite, that market competition is the best antidote to the ailing system. Republicans are focused on cost, both rising premiums and government expenditures. They haven't made universal coverage anything close to a priority. Democrats are more determined to expand coverage to many millions more who lack insurance.

Consumer costs and Government spending vs. expanding the entitlement is at best a 60-40 divide, maybe even 70-30.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Ex-UN nuclear chief: change in Egypt is inevitable (SARAH EL DEEB, 2/28/10, AP)

Respected worldwide and untouched by the corruption tainting much of Egypt's current regime, ElBaradei has turned his focus to promoting electoral reforms and constitutional amendments that would allow a credible rival candidate to run in next year's presidential election.

He has been meeting with various groups at his house since returning to Cairo a week ago after nearly three decades abroad, including women and youth representatives who initiated a petition calling on him to run for presidency. Over 100,000 people have joined a Facebook group supporting his candidacy. [...]

ElBaradei said the majority of Egyptians need to be educated about basic rights and freedom, and he hopes to persuade them to join his movement as a way out of increasing poverty and political stagnation.

"People need to understand the linkage between the bread they eat and democracy. That is not easy. They are not used to that," he said. [...]

The regime would not be able to ignore the demands for guarantees for free and fair elections and the removal of candidacy restrictions if millions of people sign on, he said.

Hassan Nafaa, the coordinator for the new group, said other demands included independent monitoring of the election and the lifting of emergency laws.

The first test will be parliamentary elections in October, followed by the 2011 presidential vote.

When asked if Egypt's government could face protests like those that broke out in Iran, ElBaradei said he hoped to avoid that but it was up to the government.

"It is inevitable that change will come to Egypt. What I'm trying to do is pre-empt a point of clash between the government and the people," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Democrats’ Obama bounce in California disappearing (KEVIN FREKING, 02/28/10, AP)

“Every state is now in play,” Boxer warned fellow Democrats after Brown’s victory.

Democrats hold both of California’s U.S. Senate seats and 34 of its 53 seats in the U.S. House. A year ago they were looking to pick up as many as eight more from Republicans in districts that President Barack Obama won in 2008.

That list of takeover targets has now been winnowed down to three: GOP Reps. Dan Lungren in Sacramento, Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs and Ken Calvert of Corona, in Southern California.

Republicans, meanwhile, have expanded their takeover list.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who’s recruiting Republicans to challenge incumbent California Democrats, said he has no worries that the GOP will lose any of the House seats it now holds in the state. Democrats, he said, will have to focus on keeping seats in perennially competitive districts in other states.

“They have too many of their own members playing defense and needing money,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy named four California House Democrats on the GOP’s target list: Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, who represents a district in which Republicans are a majority; Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, who faces a Republican challenger seeking to motivate the district’s growing Vietnamese population; and Jim Costa of Fresno and Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, who represent agriculture-dependent districts decimated by high unemployment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Be Careful What You Wish For (Eleanor Clift, Feb 26, 2010, Newsweek)

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg points out that it took Democrats a decade after the defining election of 1980, when President Reagan ushered in a new conservative era, to embrace new policy ideas with Clinton in '92. Greenberg studied the hopes, dreams, and voting habits of Reagan Democrats for years to find the road map back to "the forgotten middle class." Republicans are skipping the soul-searching. They are so giddy with the prospect that they could be returned to power after only two short years of Obama that they have done nothing to prepare a narrative for legislating or governing.

Candidate Clinton ran against the GHWB tax hikes and appeasement of Moscow and Beijing and in favor of Welfare reform, personalized SS accounts, national service, free trade, more police and executions. His path to the forgotten middle class was almost entirely a radical shift to conservative positions. Republicans need only finish the Clinton/W agenda to succeed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


The next health fight: Summit leaves Dems stymied (GRACE-MARIE TURNER, February 27, 2010, NY Post)

The president's advisers seemed to expect the Blair House event to repeat President Obama's triumph at last month's House Republican retreat in Baltimore. But there, he was on stage, flanked by flags and behind a microphone and podium looking down on Republicans who were sitting around tables at lunch.

The staging there put that GOP crowd at a disadvantage, subordinating substance to style. Thursday's gathering was a different story.

With the president and members of Congress all around a table talking with each other as equals, it was clear that Republicans held their own on health care -- an issue they're clearly taking ownership of. They got far less than half the airtime, but still succeeded in making coordinated arguments on behalf of a step-by-step approach to reform.

The summit was not the game-changer the White House hoped it would be.

It could have been a glorified committee meeting if he'd ever run a committee before.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Hardly working gov's final daze: Aides tell of laziness, tantrums and deceit (ANNIE KARNI and GINGER ADAMS OTIS, February 28, 2010, NY Post)

The crumbling of David Paterson's accidental governorship comes as no surprise to former top aides, who say Paterson loves the trappings of power, but not the work.

The governor -- who announced Friday he would suspend his election campaign amid calls from Democratic leaders that he resign -- shows little interest in policy. He resorts to grilling press handlers about what to do about big budget and policy issues and has told his budget director to "just decide what to do." He is often unreachable for up to three days at a time.

But Paterson cloaks his lightweight status in the garb of formality. Top staffers need an appointment to walk into his office, and even his most senior aides have to check in with his secretary to confirm that they can approach him.

He takes a daily lunch break from noon to 1 p.m., which no one is allowed to interrupt.

No one on staff -- not even his top aide, David "D.J." Johnson -- is permitted to call him "David." Everyone must refer to him as "Governor."

A spike of activity occurs between 1 and 3 p.m., which is marked on his schedule as "suggested desk time," a phrase that has become something of a joke among staffers, as if real work is only optional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Organized labor's agenda hits roadblock; what now? (SAM HANANEL, 2/28/10, Associated Press)

This wasn't what unions expected a year ago after spending more than $400 million to help elect Obama and increase the size of Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. [...]

Some labor experts say unions have come up flat in mounting an effective liberal response to "tea party" activists who helped Republican Scott Brown win the special Senate election in Washington to succeed Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who died last year. An AFL-CIO poll showed that 49 percent of union households supported Brown.

"There's been no indication that there's muscle behind their money," said Leon Fink, a labor historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "There was no equivalent mobilization for public works or for a progressive health care measure."

Even more troubling for unions, their membership in the private sector fell 10 percent during Obama's first year in office to a historic low of 7.2 percent. A poll this past week from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 41 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view of unions, compared with 58 percent in a similar survey in 2007.

Wait'll they see what his deficit commission suggests taking from public employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Bush says he won't criticize Obama (AP, 2/28/10)

"You won't see me out there opining ... or criticizing my successor," Bush said, later adding that he is writing a book about his decisions in office so that "you can draw your own conclusions."

His speech touched on various topics, including the war in Iraq, 9-11, foreign policy, the economy and faith-based programs -- as well as previous presidents and the relationship with his father, former President George H.W. Bush.

Bush said he was guided in part by the principle that democracy yields peace.

"It's in the interest of the United States to promote freedom -- all places, all times," he said.

Bush said he remained "in awe" of U.S. troops and that his numerous meetings with families of troops killed in the war were uplifting.

"The U.S. is full of people who will do what it takes to protect the United States," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Poll setback tests Taiwan’s China-friendly leader (DEBBY WU, 02/28/10, AP)

On Saturday, the Nationalists, who maintain a strong majority in parliament, suffered their third electoral setback in two months following a string of government blunders in domestic affairs.

They secured only one of four legislative seats up for grabs, losing the other three to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which says Ma’s initiatives to boost ties with Beijing threatens Taiwan’s sovereignty and economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Obama should back our claim to the Falklands: The US president has yet to find his feet when dealing with international affairs (Nick Cohen, 2/28/10, The Observer)

Washington's neutral policy and its failure to uphold automatically the right to self-determination is fuelling the already widespread suspicion that Obama's America has more respect for its enemies than its friends. The Telegraph and Conservative thinktanks see the unwillingness to help an ally as part of a pattern which includes Obama's failure to win concessions after his appeasement of Ahmadinejad's Iran and Putin's Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Rep. Charles Rangel and possible Senate hopeful Harold Ford butt heads in Harlem: sources (Celeste Katz, 2/28/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

One source said "the tensest moment was when [Ford] took on [Rangel], saying [a] jobs bill should come before health care" and that a health bill shouldn't hike New Yorkers' taxes or leave businesses unable to hire people.

Sources said Ford also warned the assembled leaders against losing touch with the will of the voters - and subsequently losing their offices - even if they felt they were doing what was best.

Rangel, in turn, insisted on defending his work with President Obama on health care, witnesses said, retorting that the final reforms passed will be in Americans' best interest - and telling Ford and the rest of the room that taxes here are less onerous than elsewhere.

"The tone that Rangel adopted seemed a little bit contemptuous - but that was consistent with how a lot of us reacted," a source said. "It was almost as if [Ford] delivered a lecture to us."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Chile was ready for quake, Haiti wasn't (FRANK BAJAK, 2/27/10, Associated Press)

The earthquake in Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti last month — yet the death toll in this Caribbean nation is magnitudes higher.

The reasons are simple.

Chile is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes. No living Haitian had experienced a quake at home when the Jan. 12 disaster crumbled their poorly constructed buildings.

And Chile was relatively lucky this time.

Saturday's quake was centered offshore an estimated 21 miles (34 kilometers) underground in a relatively unpopulated area while Haiti's tectonic mayhem struck closer to the surface — about 8 miles (13 kilometers) — and right on the edge of Port-au-Prince, factors that increased its destructiveness.

February 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Bills targeting illegal immigration have yet to make much headway in the state Legislature (LAURA FIGUEROA, 4/17/08, MiamiHerald.com

The dozen bills being pitched in the House and Senate would increase employer verification requirements, give local law enforcement agencies more authority to check for immigration status of people pulled over for DUIs, and ban county or city funding for day-laborer centers such as one that exists in South Dade.

Florida lawmakers looking to pass bills targeted at curbing illegal immigration faced one major hurdle this session -- convincing South Florida legislators, who hold key leadership positions in the House and Senate, to support their cause.

Without the backing of House Speaker Marco Rubio, the first Cuban-American to hold the position, the bills failed to get any major play in their committees. Six weeks into the session, a three-hour workshop was held on the six House bills, but even that failed to produce its desired intent of combining the bills into one larger committee bill.

''Speaker Rubio outlined the priorities of the session and this didn't fall under that list,'' said Rivera, one of Rubio's lieutenants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Let These Women Pray!: In an uprising reminiscent of the lunch-counter protests of the 1960s, women at one of Washington D.C.'s most popular mosques are copying the tactics of the civil-rights movement, and refusing to follow rules that ban them from praying with the men. Asra Q. Nomani on the arrest threats and outrage that followed. (Asra Q. Nomani, February 27, 2010, Daily Beast)

The women’s prayer was a “Stand In,” a civil-rights protest against gender segregation in mosques, inspired by Black History Month. The 21st-century suffragettes are part of an emerging movement that challenges traditional interpretations of Islam—and questions the disturbing fact that women’s rights take a back seat to civil rights in America when freedom of religion is invoked. So, today, a mosque can’t tell a woman of color she has to sit separately because of her race, but it can banish her to a corner, as most do, because of her gender. Some even ban women altogether.

Police officer Barry Goodwin soon arrived and awkwardly walked over to the line of women—in his socks, because he couldn’t enter the mosque in shoes—to search for the organizers. It wasn’t long before it dawned on the visiting women that trouble was brewing.

Goodwin eventually found Thompson and her small troop of protesters. “I’m not a Muslim. I’m just here to do my job” he said politely. “Ladies, this is how it works. You have to obey the rules of the church here… I’m sorry. The church or temple. However you want to call it. You have to obey the rules.” He continued: “If they ask you to leave. You have to leave.” Failure to leave, he pointed out, would be grounds for arrest for unlawful entry. He said: “I don’t want to do that.”

Three mosque officials hovered over the women. What irked them, they later said, was that late-arriving men had to pray behind women. Their position was that the women could stay if they prayed behind the partition. “If you want to come here to pray,” one administrator, a woman, told the group, “you can pray. But you cannot come here and disrespect the mosque.”

What unfolded that day inside the mosque underscores a growing agitation inside the American-Muslim community by women frustrated by separate-and-unequal status. A survey by the Council on American Islamic Relations showed that two of three mosques in 2000 required women to pray in a separate area, up from one of two in 1994. In 2003, I challenged rules at my mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, that women enter through a back door and pray in a secluded balcony. I argued that, in the 7th century, the prophet Muhammad didn’t put women behind partitions, and the barriers were just emblematic of sexist man-made rules. The men at my mosque put me on trial to be banished.

To me, the women’s space in a mosque is an indicator of whether the interpretation of Islam being practiced is puritanical and dogmatic, or open and inclusive. This one choice is a harbinger for other controversial interpretations of Islam, including domestic violence, honor killings, suicide bombings, violence and interfaith relations. Just this week, a hard-line Saudi cleric issued a fatwa on his Arabic-language Web site calling for the killing of Muslims who don’t enforce strict gender segregation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


Music connects Trucks family: Former Tigers great, kin share love of the game (Peter Gammons, 02/27/10, MLB.com)

Virgil Trucks had just turned 91 two years ago when this boyish kid who looked as if he were 20 showed up at his door. The kid introduced himself as Derek Trucks, Virgil's nephew's son, and they spent the day tying together the frayed generations of Trucks, of baseball stories Derek loved hearing, and music that Virgil says he didn't fully understand. [...]

Derek was more interested in Virgil and never did much on his biography, how he was the youngest of the Rolling Stone Top 100 Guitarists of all time published in 2003, how the Wall Street Journal called him the "most awe-inspiring slide guitar players" ever, and how peers have put him in the class of the half-dozen guitarists who ever lived. He proudly got a copy of Virgil's book, and listened to stories about the two no-hitters he threw in 1952 for the Tigers and how he went right from World War II to the World Series, about the day he matched zeroes against Satchel Paige in a game the Hall of Famer won in the 12th.

Virgil says he has never met Butch, but he was thrilled to "meet so fine a young man as Derek. I don't know where the musical part of the family came from, but I'm proud of him."

He was told that when Derek, Susan and their son Charlie went to a Red Sox Spring Training game last March, Susan -- whose family have had season tickets at Fenway Park, where Susan has many times sung the National Anthem -- sat next to Johnny Pesky. She introduced Derek, that he is Virgil's great-nephew. "That coot is still alive?" Pesky replied. "No one wanted to hit off that [guy] he threw so hard." [...]

After a strong 1939 split between Alexandria and Beaumont, in 1940 he pitched for Beaumont in the Texas League and threw another no-hitter, in 1941 threw another no-no for Buffalo in the International League and by the time he made his debut on Sept. 27, 1941, he had four Minor League no-hitters on his resume.

Somewhere along the way, they tried to figure out how hard he threw. "They found an old Army gun," says Trucks. "It read 105 miles an hour."

Just 71 days after his Major League debut, Pearl Harbor was hit, and by the end of the 1943 season, Trucks enlisted. When the war in Europe ended in April 1945, Trucks was sent to a base in Norman, Okla., to await his discharge papers. Fortunately, there was a former Minor League catcher on the base, so the two would work out, run and throw every day. Problem is, the papers didn't come.

Finally, in September, he pushed his case, got the papers and got released a week before the end of the season. The Tigers were in a pennant race, so Trucks got his release and called the Tigers. "They were ending the season in St. Louis the coming weekend," Trucks recalls. "So I got a bus to Oklahoma City, took a train to St. Louis and arrived in time for the final series."

The final day of the season was Sunday. If the Tigers won, they clinched the pennant. If they lost, they had to take a train back to Detroit to play a one game playoff with Washington. To Trucks' surprise, manager Steve O'Neill told him he was starting that final game. After two years off and six months in Norman, Okla., Fire Trucks was asked to start the game to get the Tigers to the World Series.

So much for the notion that pitchers need a seven-week Spring Training.

Trucks gave the Tigers 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run and leaving with a big lead. Unfortunately, Newhouser came in and blew the lead, but Hank Greenberg hit a grand slam in the eighth inning and the Tigers were in the World Series. In the first live game action in two years, Virgil Trucks had his quality start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Barack Obama ‘destroys first year in office’ (Christina Lamb, 2/28/10, Sunday Times of London)

WHEN President Barack Obama took office last year he was compared to Superman, even joking at a dinner that he had been “born on Krypton and sent here ... to save the planet Earth”. Last January he appeared on the cover of Spider-Man.

Now, with his ambitious legislative agenda in tatters, the once invincible president has moved from comic-strip hero to comparisons to one of the great flawed figures of American literature. [...]

“I think choosing to take a Captain Ahab-like approach to healthcare — I’m going to push for this even in the worst downturn since the Great Depression — is roughly comparable to Bush’s decision to go to war [in Iraq],” Cook told Politico. “It basically destroyed the first year of a presidency.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


The Strangest Story in the World (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man)

The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumor. just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognize the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people! Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had so been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honored forever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; orin any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


Obama's Middle-Class Meltdown (Joel Kotkin, 02/27/2010, New Geography)

The Great Disconnect reflects a growing chasm between the normative “wisdom” within political parties and their aligned media, academic and policy cadres. The Disconnect in part derives from the tendency of politicos and their associates to converse mostly with each other—and not develop much of a direct feel for that vast, and increasingly complex, country beyond the Beltway.

As President, Barack Obama’s Great Disconnect seems most obvious. Although he occasionally uses populist middle-class rhetoric, both Obama’s priorities and body language suggest his inspiration comes largely from the rarified world of the universities and Democratic Party contributors.

Not surprising then that he started with a stimulus package that, although one was needed, offered little to private sector Main Street businesses. Instead, the primary beneficiaries turned out to be Wall Street grandees, whose high salaries he variously denounces and excuses, and public employee unions.

Obama’s move was encouraged by the aging leadership of the Democratic Party, shaped by places like Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco and Henry Waxman’s lushly affluent Beverly Hills. It has little to do with the views of the middle class who reside generally in smaller towns and less-than-tony suburbs—but some of the wealthiest, and most privileged, populations on earth.

President Obama’s other key constituency lies in the public sector unions, whose power in his home state of Illinois now rivals and perhaps surpasses that of Daley machine. Even as middle-class voters see their pensions dwindle along with their housing prices and jobs, the public sector has waxed into something resembling the Blue Meanie in Yellow Submarine who consumes everything in sight, and ultimately itself.

Perhaps nothing so illustrates the Great Disconnect than the president and the congressional lions embrace of the radical green climate change agenda. Still popular in upper-class urban areas and university towns, this agenda is notably less well-supported in middle and working class communities, particularly in the middle of the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


White House social secretary Desiree Rogers resigns (Michael D. Shear and Jason Horowitz, 2/27/10, Washington Post)

White House social secretary Desirée Rogers, a friend of President Obama's from Chicago, is leaving her job to return to the private sector, the White House announced Friday.

Rogers's tenure as the top party and events planner for the administration was marred by the Salahi gate-crashing incident, in which a Virginia couple managed to enter the White House grounds during Obama's first state dinner in November.

...but the sister gets canned for one bad invite pitch?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


What President Obama should have realized about Rahm Emanuel (Colbert I. King, February 27, 2010, Washington Post)

It's hard to recall the last time differences between a White House chief of staff and his boss have been aired so publicly -- and to the president's distinct disadvantage.

The column made it clear that on those key decisions that ended up landing the administration in trouble, it was the president -- not Rahm Emanuel -- who got it wrong.


-- Emanuel "bitterly" opposed former White House counsel Greg Craig's plan to close Guantanamo within a year but was overruled by Obama. "The president would have been better off heeding Emanuel's counsel";

-- Emanuel fought against Attorney General Eric Holder's plan to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York and lost. "Another political fiasco";

-- Emanuel argued for a smaller, more politically popular health-care bill, but Obama disregarded that strategy. "The result was . . . disastrous";

-- Emanuel successfully got 11 substantive bills on Obama's desk in the first half of 2009, but in the second half, Obama let himself get bogged down with big-ticket items and the momentum stopped. "Congress has ground to a halt."

When Obama wasn't screwing up, the column suggested, his close confidants -- Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod (dubbed "the Cult of Obama") -- were.

There's this jewel of an inside jab: "A good example was Obama's unproductive China trip in November. Jarrett, Gibbs and Axelrod went along as courtiers; Emanuel remained at his desk in Washington, struggling to keep alive the big health-care bill that he didn't want in the first place."

...what does not firing someone as self-serving as Rahmbo say about the UR?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


President Barack Obama abandons Rep. Charles Rangel against ethics charges (Michael Mcauliff and Richard Sisk, 2/27/10, NY Daily News)

President Obama abandoned his defense of Rep. Charles Rangel against a raft of ethics charges Friday as a handful of rank-and-file Dems echoed GOP demands to demand that Rangel give up his chairman's gavel.
...because the UR cut and ran.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Jumping Off the Summit: Obamacare vertigo. (John Heilemann, Feb 26, 2010, New York)

So what did we learn from the seven hours of speechifying that constituted the much-ballyhooed health-care summit? First, that Barack Obama was the smartest guy in the room—and occasionally can’t help showing that he knows it. Second, that congressional Democratic leaders suffer immeasurably by comparison to the president. (Harry, Nancy, I’m looking at you.) Third, that the representatives of neither party were remotely interested in putting aside their tired talking points long enough to have an actual, ahem, conversation. Fourth, that John McCain remains as fabulously, irrepressibly cranky as ever. And finally, that the congressional GOP is capable of putting a calm and non-crazy face on its steadfast intransigence.

As a political matter, this last point may have mattered most of all. To no small extent, the health-care summit was intended to expose the Republicans’ recalcitrance and make them pay for it. To make them appear utterly unreasonable and, ideally, quite loony. But at Blair House, they managed to avoid howling at the moon. There was no talk of death panels, socialism, or government takeovers. Instead, what Republicans put forth were a passel of fairly wonky arguments about insurance premiums, regulatory overreach, and the advantages of incrementalism over comprehensiveness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 AM


Webinar (BRYAN A. GARNER, 2/27/10, NY Times)

Webinar (Web + seminar) seems like a fine neologism for a seminar offered online. A blend of two common terms, it’s immediately understood by most people. I’ve been taking Webinars lately; I like them and appreciate having a handy word for them — even though I’m often inclined to object to linguistic “innovations.”

Lewis Carroll famously called blends like Webinar “portmanteau” words because they’re two words packed into one. (A portmanteau was essentially a suitcase with two compartments folded together.) Carroll made up several such words for his poem “Jabberwocky” (1871), including chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). Chortle has stayed with us, while galumph appears to have gone the way of gyre and gimble. Why? Because chortle is so handy and so onomatopoeically evocative (think of the laugh of a portly chum).

We enjoy making up portmanteau words. Some stick. Many don’t. [...]

How, in short, do you judge the relative utility and quality of neologisms?

The answer is that the entire language community becomes the judge. Once a word acquires general currency, only a hopelessly out-of-touch pedant would take up quixotic arms against it. Through the force of linguistic natural selection, some words win their way. Others don’t.

Predicting what will happen is dodgy business. Whether it’s a blend or any other type of neologism, it helps if the word denotes something new. No one seems to have objected to astronaut, breathalyzer or Chunnel when they were first needed. Contrast that with a word that Simon Winchester recently proposed on Twitter (yes, he tweeted about it — see, there’s another handy word). He thinks that drimmens is the perfect word for droplets left by snowy boots on a warm kitchen floor. Although Winchester is one of my favorite writers, that’s balderdash. Who needs such a word? O.K., prove me wrong, if you like, and just try to help that one catch on.

...Don Criqui used to ask one of our fraternity brothers to supply him with the latest terms from campus, which he'd the repeat on air. Which is where "Not!" and many others came from. And the land-speed record from coinage to usage had be "nutbag" which Mark Shields used on CNN within weeks.

Unicorn Rider hasn't caught on, but someone in the national media is going to refer to the midterm elections as the O-pocalypse™ (Opocalypse™) or your money back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


He's No FDR: Barack Obama’s shrinking presidency. (Fred Barnes, March 8, 2010, Weekly Standard)

President Obama spent seven hours last week acting like a committee chairman, not a president. Rather than preside over the nationally televised health care “summit” of Democratic and Republican members of Congress, Obama was a participant. He big-footed Democrats and responded to Republican statements himself. He talked and talked and talked, considerably more than anyone else and for a total of two hours. When Obama delivered a concluding monologue, the TV cameras panned to a drowsy and bored group of senators and House members, the Republicans especially.

Did Obama lower the presidency to the level of mere legislator? Perhaps. But I think Obama’s behavior at the summit answers a separate question, one that’s lingered since he was elected more than 15 months ago. Is Obama the new FDR? The answer is no.

If Franklin Delano Roosevelt were president today, the summit never would have happened. As the top priority on his agenda, liberal health care reform would have been enacted already. For Obama, the summit was a last-gasp attempt to revive his moribund legislation. More than likely, it will fail.

The reason is tied to what is probably the greatest difference between FDR and Obama. Roosevelt took command of Washington. Obama hasn’t. “FDR became the father of the modern presidency by moving the Chief Executive to the center of the American political universe,” John Yoo writes in his new book on presidential power, Crisis and Command. “Roosevelt’s revolution radically shifted the balance of power among the three branches of government.”

Obama has weakened the presidency and strengthened the power of Congress—a shift in the other direction.

...the UR was a legislator who never even managed to pass a bill. He's exactly the sort of ineffectual president his prior career suggested he'd be be. Even worse for him, there's no Axis to save his presidency, the way FDR's was saved by WWII.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Why Does the American Left Fear the Rise of India?: Our Asian ally is a kindred spirit. (N.M. Guariglia, 2/27/10, PJM)

The American relationship with the republic of India is heading in the wrong direction. Given recent history, where strong and positive U.S.-Indo relations were in full bloom, this is especially disconcerting. President George W. Bush’s administration, long maligned as arrogantly unilateralist, solidified a close bilateral partnership — friendship, even — with the rising South Asian power. Bush saw India as a natural ally: the world’s largest multiethnic democracy, looking at its place in the world at the turn of this century through much the same prism our own ancestors looked through in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Harvard historian Sugata Bose observed, the strengthening of ties between India and the United States “may turn out to be the most significant foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration.”

Under President Barack Obama, however, those ties are in moderate though steady and not insignificant decline. Since Obama’s inauguration, our relationship with India has begun to erode. [...]

The American left simply prefers to play hardball with allies than with adversaries. Recall President Carter’s handling of Iran: the allied shah was condemned as an autocrat; the enemy Khomeini, a “holy man.” For Carter, our anticommunist allies were violators of human rights first, second, and third; the Soviets, murderers of tens of millions, were benign enough for Carter to proclaim Americans had an “inordinate fear of communism.”

Contemporaneously, the left’s is a world where dictatorial Venezuela is to be apologized for, democratic Colombia economically punished; where the fascists and racists and bus-bombers in Palestine are “misunderstood” and the democrats in Israel are Nazi brownshirts incarnate. Anti-American terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lebanon are euphemized as “guerrillas,” whereas pro-American militiamen are castigated as “warlords” — and on and on it goes.

Embroiling the Indians in such amoral nonsense would threaten not only our present rapport with India, but also what could potentially become the most significant American alliance with another country this century — an alliance rooted in a commonality of values, genuine companionship and affection for one another, and solidarity against the totalitarian evils of the world.

For the Left (and Right), alliances represent only the danger we'll get involved in foreign wars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Russia's Olympic Choke Job: The Russian Olympic machine broke down in Vancouver, leaving Moscow in a state of despair. Michael Idov on the demise of a sporting superpower. (Michael Idov, 2/26/10, Daily Beast)

I'm writing this from a land defeated, angry, hurt, questioning its very self, and ready to erupt in chaotic unrest; in other words, it's Wednesday in Russia. The current drag on the national mood, however, has nothing to do with the Kremlin's empty promises of liberalization or the cratered economy. It's Russia's performance in Vancouver. I had never seen a country take a lackluster showing at a Winter Olympics so dramatically.

To fully feel the depth of the Russian humiliation, you would have to have witnessed the torque of its rev-up. There were the usual signs, of course: Evgeni Plushenko's face hawked a new perfume from bus stops while McDonalds claimed that "By buying a Big Mac, you help the Olympic cause." (Russian ad copy tends to get right to the point.) But then there was the weirder stuff. The prayers for the athletes, the public blessing from the Patriarch. The government-issue billboards along Moscow's roads, addressing the Olympians on behalf of the nation itself: They read, simply, Rodnye vy nashi, an untranslatable expression of histrionic endearment roughly renderable as "Oh You Our Precious Ones."

Then it all came crashing down. A Russian or Soviet pair failed to win the gold in figure skating for the first time since 1964. Plushenko got silver. Skiers choked. Ice dancers introduced a brownface "aboriginal" routine that drew embarrassed giggles (and couldn't help but bring to mind the Russian media's icky habit of referring to the Winter Games as "the White Olympics"). By the fourth day, the pundit conversation was not about whether heads would roll in the Kremlin, but whose in particular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Opposition leader: A cult ruling Iran (AP, 2/27/10)

Iran’s opposition leader says a dictatorial cult is ruling Iran in the name of Islam.

The criticism was the strongest yet by Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


A shot at gold: Team Canada fends off furious late rally to edge Slovakia 3-2 (Rosie DiManno, 2/27.10, Toronto Star)

With a weird complement of semis out of the way – Finland and Slovakia? No Russia, no Czechs, no Swedes? – the world has unfolded like an NBC peacock fanning its feathers open, amidst visions of a record TV audience.

But Lordy-Lordy, that was scary, Team Canada one goalpost away from blowing a three-goal lead against Slovakia on Friday, hanging on desperately for a 3-2 victory.

We, North of the 49th Parallel, don't have to be lured into hockey-hockey-hockey eyes-on – would have been quite content with any finals opponent – but there would have been keening across the land had Team Canada somehow bungled it against the impressive, underestimated and wildly underdog Slovaks last night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM

Deadly earthquake hits central Chile: President declares 'state of catastrophe' as quake of magnitude 8.8 rocks capital and triggers tsunami (David Batty, 2/27/10, guardian.co.uk)

A massive earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 has struck central Chile, killing at least 47 people and triggering a tsunami.

The tremor shook the capital, Santiago, for a minute and a half early this morning, bringing down telephone and power lines. Declaring a "state of catastrophe", the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, said 47 people were confirmed dead and more deaths were likely.

"We have had a huge earthquake," Bachelet said. "We're doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately. Without a doubt, with an earthquake of this magnitude, there will be more deaths."

Speaking to a local television station in Temuco, one witness said: "Never in my life have I experienced a quake like this, it's like the end of the world."

The Pacific tsunami warning centre said the quake generated a tsunami that could cause destruction along nearby shores "and could also be a threat to more distant coasts". It issued a tsunami warning for Chile and Peru, while Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica are also on alert.

February 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


City removes trash cans, streetlights to save cash (Jim Spellman, 2/26/10, CNN)

If you come to a neighborhood park in Colorado Springs, plan on bringing your own trash bags.

To save money, the city has removed the trash cans.

Need to catch a bus? Don't try on evenings or weekends. The city has cut that service, too.

And when the sun goes down, Colorado Springs is going to look a little bit dimmer. Crews are removing a third of the city's streetlight to save money on electricity and light bulbs. [...]

It's not a new concept in Colorado Springs, touted on some Web sites as a "libertarian paradise."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


David Feherty becomes U.S. citizen (Art Stricklin, February 25, 2010, Golf)

CBS golf analyst and Golf Magazine columnist David Feherty turned briefly serious and emotional Tuesday as he officially became a U.S. citizen at the new Citizenship and Immigration Building in Irving, Texas. [...]

After the official ceremony, Feherty, 51, was surprised by his wife, Anita, with a party. The participants included longtime friend and golf legend Tom Watson and several wounded combat veterans. Feherty has been active in supporting charities that help wounded soldiers, including organizing golf tournaments and traveling to Iraq with other golfers.

Several of the wounded soldiers came down from Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside of Washington, and others came in from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Watson, Feherty and long-drive champion Art Sellinger have all been to Iraq together to visit the U.S. troops. [...]

The highlight of the celebration lunch came when some of the wounded soldiers presented their friend with a folded American flag that had flown over a U.S. base that Feherty had visited in Iraq.

Probably has a home loan too....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


James Cameron on 'Avatar': Fox wanted me to take out 'tree-hugging, 'FernGully' crap' (Gina Salamone, 2/18/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

"If you're tuned in to what's happening in 'Avatar,' you start to feel a sense of moral outrage when you see the tree fall [destroying the Na'vi's home], and it's a compassionate response for these people," Cameron explained. "Then you feel a sense of uplift at the end as good vanquishes evil. If you put those two things together, it actually creates a ripe emotional matrix for people to want to do something about it."

But the activism-inspiring parts of the film could have wound up on the cutting room floor. When bigwigs at Fox first read the script, they were surprised at the scenes likely to stoke environmentalist fervor, since Cameron had not prepared them for those themes.

"When they read it, they sort of said, 'Can we take some of this tree-hugging, "FernGully" crap out of this movie?'" Cameron dishes. "And I said, 'No, because that's why I'm making the film.'"

Okay, I get that I'm not exactly the target audience for the film, but couldn't help thinking: the sorts of folks who worship trees are the ones who have no culture worth recording on paper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


What Was Obama Thinking?: He was a testy clock-Nazi, the GOP was surprisingly well-briefed—and the outcome was never in doubt. Why don’t the Dems just ram health care through and spare us the spectacle? (Tunku Varadarajan, 2/26/10, Daily Beast)

Was he trying to make the Republicans look bad—retrograde ogres who would leave uninsured babies to die in their cribs? If so, he didn’t succeed at all. On the contrary, they came out of it looking rather alert and grownup.

Was he trying to establish—perhaps in all sincerity—that the differences between the two sides were not unbridgeable, and that there was nothing that separated the two that couldn’t be resolved by a good, cathartic heart-to-heart on TV? If so, he didn’t succeed. On the contrary, he gave the Republicans a national stage on which to air their disagreements with the health-care bill—and air them they did, with something approaching panache.

Did he believe that he would, somehow, by his sheer charisma, “win it” for his side? If so, he didn’t succeed. On the contrary, he may have chipped his image in significant ways.

The marathon TV teach-in—in which Obama was more schoolmarm than president—should be regarded by Democrats as a great disappointment.

"How can six hours of me be a bad thing?!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Blackwater Rescued Progressive House Rep. Alan Grayson from Niger's 'Civil Unrest' (Daniel Schulman, February 25, 2010, Mother Jones)

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who made his substantial fortune by suing military contractors and later lambasted them as a lawmmaker, was indeed evacuated from Niger by personnel working for Xe Services (the private security empire formally known as Blackwater), his spokesman confirms. [...]

The lawmaker was quickly evacuated out the country to neighborhing Burkina Faso. "The flight was arranged through the State Department," Todd Jukowski, Grayson's spokesman, told me. "The Congressman did not know, and frankly did not care, who owned the plane.” Later, Jurkowski followed up with an email confirming that Grayson was flown out of the country on a "Xe helicopter."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Time for a nap, then a retreat (Wesley Pruden, 2/26/10, Washington Times)

Only an hour into the great health care summit and Barack Obama, though trying to stay awake, thought he could safely call it a success. Joe Biden had slipped into the land of dreamy dreams, and the president, resting his chin on his hand, was trying hard not to nod off. The C-SPAN camera caught nap time for all to see.

Deprived of his teleprompter, the president was having a devil of a time not only staying awake but trying to shape the concentrated argle-bargle to fit his agenda. He couldn't get a speech going, try as he might, and though he had promised to meet Republicans as equals at one point the Democrats were getting about twice more speaking time as the Republicans. "I don't count my time," he said, "because I'm the president."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Push to Oversimplify at Climate Panel (JEFFREY BALL And KEITH JOHNSON, 2/26/10, WSJ)

Richard Alley, a geoscientist who helped write the IPCC's latest report, issued in 2007, described a trip that summer to Greenland's ice sheet with senators who urged him to be as specific as possible about the potential for sea-level rise. The point many of them made, he said: Give more explicit advice—because, if the sea rises, "the levee has to be built some height."

The tension within the IPCC stretches back a decade or more, according to interviews with scientists and a review of hundreds of IPCC documents and emails. It has complicated the panel's work on matters ranging from the study of tree rings to the proper use of massively complex climate computer models.

The IPCC has faced withering criticism. Emails hacked from a U.K. climate lab and posted online late last year appear to show scientists trying to squelch researchers who disagreed with their conclusion that humans are largely responsible for climate change. And last month, the IPCC admitted its celebrated 2007 report contained an error: a false claim that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. The IPCC report got the date from a World Wildlife Fund report.

Even some who agree with the IPCC conclusion that humans are significantly contributing to climate change say the IPCC has morphed from a scientific analyst to a political actor. "It's very much an advocacy organization that's couched in the role of advice," says Roger Pielke, a University of Colorado political scientist.

Even the results of experiments are influenced by what the observer wants them to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


'Mitch the knife' eyes 2012 run (JONATHAN MARTIN, 2/26/10, Politico)

At 60, Daniels’s résumé is exhaustive: He’s a Princeton-educated former Senate chief of staff-turned political operative-turned think tank chief-turned Fortune 500 executive-turned White House budget director-turned two-term governor.

And since winning the governorship in 2004, he has practiced the sort of fiscal conservatism that he preached as “The Blade” during his tenure as President George W. Bush’s head of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Mitch is the real thing,” said Nancy Dorn, his deputy at OMB and now the head of General Electric Co.’s Washington office. “He’s a true fiscal conservative.”

He has cut spending, cut taxes, leased the state’s toll road to a private company for billions and expanded health insurance and prescription drug access in a market-friendly way. The result is an approval rating of 70 percent, according to one recent survey, placing him among the country’s most popular governors.

“Mitch Daniels is one of the best policy-oriented governors in the U.S.,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote in an e-mail.

February 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Intel bill pulled over controversial added interrogation provision (Susan Crabtree, 02/25/10, The Hill)

A controversial bill that would have levied criminal punishments on intelligence officers for harsh interrogations was pulled Thursday evening. [...]

Democrats inserted an 11-page addition into the bill late Wednesday night as the House Rules Committee considered the legislation.

The provision, previously not vetted in committee, applied to “any officer or employee of the intelligence community” who during interrogations engages in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts. The bill said the acts covered by the provision would include inducing hypothermia, conducting mock executions or “depriving the [detainee] of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


The Toyota Witch Hunt: Much of the testimony from Congress's Toyota hearings is riveting and emotional but can't be trusted (Ed Wallace, 2/25/10, Business Week)

On Feb. 23, a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee held lengthy hearings on the Toyota situation. Their first witnesses after the committee members' opening statements were Eddie and Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tenn., who related the story of their 2007 Lexus ES 350.

Ms. Smith claimed she had been driving toward Interstate 40 when, immediately after entering the highway, her Lexus started accelerating out of control. Ms. Smith related how the cruise-control light came on, so she turned that system off. She put the automatic transmission into all of its gears, including neutral and reserve. She put both feet on the brakes and still nothing. According to her testimony and an article published at WATE.com on Aug. 29, 2007, she also engaged the parking brake. She called her husband—not that she felt he could help, but "just to hear his voice one more time"—and then, according to her testimony, "prayed for God to help me." Ms. Smith credited God with intervening after she'd gone six miles at more than 100 mph. The car simply started slowing down, and she could finally bring it to a complete stop.

Smith's testimony was riveting and highly emotional, and anyone watching could see she honestly believed she was relating what actually happened. No viewer could have been untouched by her sincerity. But that's not the end of her story.

Her local Lexus dealer examined her car and could find nothing. Then, as Ms. Smith related, the NHTSA actually sent an employee down to Tennessee to investigate her complaint. Only the NHTSA concluded that she had two sets of floor mats in her car—a rubber all-weather floor mat, placed on top of the standard factory issue—and it was likely that situation had created her problem. In fact, Smith was quoted in 2007 as saying, "I think it's sad that these mats were installed like they were."

...you should have to take a Wonderlic Test to unlock the ignition?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Healthcare summit ends: GOP scores, but both sides still far apart (Linda Feldmann, February 25, 2010 , CS Monitor)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, came armed with numbers about the Senate Democratic bill from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Calling the Senate bill “full of gimmicks and smoke-and-mirrors,” Representative Ryan said it “has 10 years of tax increases, about a half a trillion dollars, with 10 years of Medicare cuts, about half a trillion dollars, to pay for six years of spending.”

“Now, what’s the true 10-year cost of this bill in 10 years?” he continued. “That’s $2.3 trillion.”

Obama sought to frame the numbers differently, but Ryan had made his point. If Obama gets credit for welcoming Republicans to the table, the Republicans get credit for coming prepared.

GOP 1, Obama 1, Democrats 0: Obama and Republicans seemed reasonable. That's bad news for Democrats. (John Dickerson, Feb. 25, 2010, Slate)
If the White House health care summit was political theater, here's a 30-second review: President Obama won. So did congressional Republicans. Democrats in Congress need another act. This is not because Obama is such a better speaker and advocate for the legislation than his allies, though he is. It's because Democrats didn't get much political benefit from the event. [...]

According to strategists involved in 2010 races, fence-sitting Democrats needed to see Obama change the political dynamic. He needed to show how health care reform could be defended and how Republicans could be brought low. He did neither. White House aides and the president himself said he was going to press Republicans for how their plans would work, but he did that only twice—and mildly. There was no put-up-or-shut-up moment.

Obama debated Republicans vigorously and with precision—but it looked like a debate among people with actual philosophical differences, which in part it was. After an in-the-weeds debate about how the Congressional Budget Office accounted for premium increases, it became clear that the debate was between Democrats who want to set minimum standards for coverage and Republicans who want the market and individual choice to rule.

...one might be tempted to conclude he was showing that he can work with the GOP and congressional Democrats are just a nuisance to be gotten rid of in November. The reality is things probably didn't go the way he expected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


The Shape of Things to Come (Steve Forbes, 2/25/10, Forbes)

Newly minted Republican Governor Chris Christie, facing a fiscal disaster, is doing the unthinkable: slashing spending and pushing for tax cuts as a way to revive New Jersey's moribund economy.

Last month Christie told the Democrat-dominated legislature that he was impounding more than $2 billion of this year's budget. [...]

[T]he governor made it clear that ever more drastic surgery is needed in next year's budget, which he will submit this month. The howls will then be truly deafening.

School budgets will be hit hard as state aid is cut. But this dire situation will finally force school districts--under the ever more watchful eyes of tax-strapped parents--to cut bureaucratic bloat.

New Jersey's 566 cities and municipalities will also urgently do what they should have done years ago--consolidate services across municipal lines.

The biggest push will be on pensions. "Pensions and benefits are the major drivers of our spending increases at all levels of government--state, county, municipal and school board," the governor declared. "The special interests have already begun to scream their favorite word--which, coincidentally, is my 9-year-old son's favorite word when we are making him do something he knows is right but does not want to do--'unfair.' One state retiree, 49 years old, paid, over the course of his entire career, a total of $124,000 toward his retirement pension and health benefits. What will we pay him? $3.3 million in pension payments over his life and nearly $500,000 for health care benefits--a total of $3.8 million on a $120,000 investment. Is that fair?

"A retired teacher paid $62,000 toward her pension and nothing, yes nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her entire career. What will we pay her? $1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime. Is it 'fair' for all of us and our children to have to pay for this excess?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Senate Dems abandon reforms, vote to extend Patriot Act (Raw Story, February 25th, 2010)

Unable to find the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, Senate Democrats abandoned proposals to reform the Patriot Act and voted Wednesday night to extend key parts of the controversial security law to 2011.

If the House approves the legislation as well, the Patriot Act -- an omnibus security bill passed in the wake of 9/11 that civil libertarians argue amounts to a major roll-back of civil rights -- will see three of its most controversial elements extended by a year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


The Sickness of the West: The collapse in global leadership (Paul Johnson, 02.25.10, Forbes Magazine)

Seldom in modern history has the lack of trust, now verging on contempt, been so deep, universal and comprehensive.

At the very top we have a sad bunch of flawed mediocrities.

--President Barack Obama. To quote Benjamin Disraeli, "A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity." If only he would talk less, and think more.

--Chancellor Angela Merkel. A well-meaning hausfrau with the steely will of a dishcloth.

--President Nicolas Sarkozy. An operator who is clever at everything except what matters most.

--Prime Minister Gordon Brown. A machine politician whose own machinery is visibly breaking down.

--Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A splendid advertisement for Viagra, a man whose antics would have afforded us much amusement in a time of normal prosperity.

...you can count the good--nevermind great--leaders of France, Italy and Germany on one hand. And that would be Mordechai Brown's right, not either of Antonio Alfonseca's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Spirit level: Why the human race has needed religion to survive: a review of The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures. By Nicholas Wade (The Economist, 12/17/09)

Whatever Darwin’s personal sensibilities, Mr Wade is convinced that a Darwinian approach offers the key to understanding religion. In other words, he sides with those who think man’s propensity for religion has some adaptive function. According to this view, faith would not have persisted over thousands of generations if it had not helped the human race to survive. Among evolutionary biologists, this idea is contested. Critics of religion, like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, suggest that faith is a useless (or worse) by-product of other human characteristics.

And that controversy leads to another one. Does Darwinian selection take place at the level only of individuals, or of groups as well? As Mr Wade makes clear, the notion of religion as an “adaptive” phenomenon makes better sense if one accepts the idea of group selection. Groups which practised religion effectively and enjoyed its benefits were likely to prevail over those which lacked these advantages.

Likewise, a Darwinian approach offers the key to understanding Darwinism. It has failed in the course of just 150 years because it did not help the races that adopted it to survive. Groups that practiced religion--known as Americans--have prevailed over those who lacked the advantages: secular Europeans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


The Great Grocery Smackdown: Will Walmart, not Whole Foods, save the small farm and make America healthy? (Corby Kummer, March 2010, The Atlantic)

In the grocery section of the Raynham supercenter, 45 minutes south of Boston, I had trouble believing I was in a Walmart. The very reasonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized, was in black plastic bins (as in British supermarkets, where the look is common; the idea is to make the colors pop). The first thing I saw, McIntosh apples, came from the same local orchard whose apples I’d just seen in the same bags at Whole Foods. The bunched beets were from Muranaka Farm, whose beets I often buy at other markets—but these looked much fresher. The service people I could find (it wasn’t hard) were unfailingly enthusiastic, though I did wonder whether they got let out at night.

During a few days of tasting, the results were mixed. Those beets handily beat (sorry) ones I’d just bought at Whole Foods, and compared nicely with beets I’d recently bought at the farmers’ market. But packaged carrots and celery, both organic, were flavorless. Organic bananas and “tree ripened” California peaches, already out of season, were better than the ones in most supermarkets, and most of the Walmart food was cheaper—though when I went to my usual Whole Foods to compare prices for local produce, they were surprisingly similar (dry goods and dairy products were considerably less expensive at Walmart).

Walmart holding its own against Whole Foods? This called for a blind tasting.

I conspired with my contrarian friend James McWilliams, an agricultural historian at Texas State University at San Marcos and the author of the new Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. He enlisted his friends at Fino, a restaurant in Austin that pays special attention to where the food it serves comes from, as co-conspirators. I would buy two complete sets of ingredients, one at Walmart and the other at Whole Foods. The chef would prepare them as simply as possible, and serve two versions of each course, side by side on the same plate, to a group of local food experts invited to judge. [...]

[1]6 critics, bloggers, and general food lovers gathered around a long, high table at the restaurant. Stubbs passed out scoring sheets with bullets for grades of one (worst) to five (best) for each of the four courses, and lines for comments.

The first course, bowls of almonds and pieces of fried goat cheese with red-onion jam and honey, was a clear win for Walmart. The Walmart almonds were described as “aromatic,” “mellow,” “pure,” and “yummy,” the Whole Foods almonds as “raw,” though also more “natural”; they were in fact fresher, though duller in flavor. (Like the best of the food I saw at the Austin Walmart, the packaging for the almonds had a homegrown Mexican look.) The second course, mixed spring greens in a sherry vinaigrette, was another Walmart win: only a few tasters preferred the Whole Foods greens, calling them fresher and heartier-flavored. And only one noticed the little brown age spots on a few Walmart leaves, but she was a ringer—Carol Ann Sayle, a local farmer famous for her greens.

So far Walmart was ahead. But then came the chicken, served with a poached egg on a bed of spinach and golden raisins. A woman whose taste I already thought uncanny—she works as an aromatherapist—compared the broth-infused meat to something out of a hospital cafeteria: “It’s like they injected it with something to make it taste like fast food.” I thought it was salty, damp, and dismal. The spinach, though, was another story: even the most ardent brothy-breast haters thought the Walmart spinach was fresher.

Dessert was the most puzzling. I had thought that Walmart’s locally sourced milk and exotic-looking vanilla would be the gold standard, but the Whole Foods house brands slaughtered them (“Kicks A’s ass,” one taster wrote). People couldn’t find enough words to diss the Walmart panna cotta (“artificial, thin”) and praise the Whole Foods one (“like a good Christmas”). I wished I’d bought the identical Promised Land milk at Whole Foods, to see if there is in fact a difference in the branded food products that suppliers give Walmart, as there is in the case of other branded products. The pomegranate seeds, sadly, were wan, with barely any flavor, particularly compared with the garnet gems from Whole Foods. But Walmart got points from the chef, and from me, for carrying pomegranates at all.

As I had been in my own kitchen, the tasters were surprised when the results were unblinded at the end of the meal and they learned that in a number of instances they had adamantly preferred Walmart produce. And they weren’t entirely happy.

...if the unwashed masses live better?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Favorability Ratings of Labor Unions Fall Sharply (Pew Research, 2/25/10)

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions’ purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

Is there any Left bastion the UR isn't going to destroy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Most 'tea party' followers are baby boomers reliving the '60s: A poll debunks assumptions about the movement, showing that it's largely middle-class, college-educated, white and male. (Jim Spencer and Curtis Ellis, February 24, 2010, LA Times)

Neither "average Americans," as they like to portray themselves, nor trailer-park "Deliverance" throwbacks, as their lefty detractors would have us believe, tea partyers are more highly educated and wealthier than the rest of America. Nearly 75% are college educated, and two-thirds earn more than $50,000.

More likely to be white and male than the general population, tea partyers also skew toward middle age or older. That's the tell. Most came of age in the 1960s, an era distinguished by widespread disrespect for government. In their wonder years, they learned that politics was about protesting the Establishment and shouting down the Man. No wonder they're doing that now.

Look closely at the tea partyer and what you see is a famil- iar American genus: a solidly middle-class, college-educated boomer, endowed by his creator with possessions, opinions and certain inalienable rights, the most important of which is the right to make sure you hear what he has to say.

The tea party is a harbinger of midlife crisis, not political crisis. For men of a certain age, it offers a counterculture experience familiar from adolescence -- underground radio, esoteric tracts, consciousness-raising teach-ins and rallies replete with extroverted behavior to shock the squares -- all paid for with ample cash.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


If Barack Obama fails today, we’ll all be swept away (Anatole Kaletsky, 2/25/10, Times of London)

If nothing is done to change the US healthcare system, it can be stated with mathematical certainty that the US Government and many leading US companies will be driven into bankruptcy, a fate that befell General Motors and Chrysler largely because of their inability to meet retired workers’ contractually guaranteed medical costs.

...it can be said that the US healthcare system changes every day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Capitalism: a Love Story (Lisa Mullen, 25 February 2010, New Statesman)

[C]apitalism: a Love Story is not so much tub-thumping as the exasperated outburst of a revolutionary who has just noticed that he's all alone out there on the barricades. This time, Moore trains his sights on the bankers who have trousered Treasury bailout money while they snuff out the jobs and homes of a vulnerable working class. He employs his trademark visual gags, surrounding Wall Street with yellow "crime scene" tape, or backing an armoured truck up to the doors of Goldman Sachs. Yet as he is frogmarched out of the usual series of shiny lobbies, it becomes obvious that he's not getting anywhere by being cute. At one point, he attempts to vox-pop bankers about how derivatives actually work. "Can anybody give me some advice?" he yells. "Don't make any more movies," a passer-by snaps back.

Moore keeps his ad hoc critic in the edit, partly because the exchange is funny, but also, perhaps, as a warning to his audience that he may not be making very many more films of this sort. Moore's shambling clown act doesn't show the passion it once did; he is at his most compelling here when meeting victims of the credit crunch. Even if these sequences have a makeshift quality - there's a sense that he simply scooped them up along the way rather than pieced them into a linear argument - the plight of the tearful interviewees is genuinely moving.

Likewise, Moore burns with conviction when presenting the results of the patient, unflashy research that underpins his rhetoric. It's impossible not to recoil in horror at evidence that many large companies such as Wal-Mart gamble on their employees dying young and take out secret life policies on them. In the jargon, this is known as "dead peasant insurance".

Moore argues, albeit haphazardly, that in fact it's capitalism that is dead, mortally wounded when the supposedly immutable, win-or-die law of the market was revoked by corporations deemed "too big to fail". Along the way he rallies God, Roosevelt and the revolutionary principles of the US constitution to his cause, before attempting to find crumbs of hope in Barack Obama's election victory and the prospect of a popular uprising among those "peasants" who remain inconveniently alive.

Yet this is precisely where Moore loses his nerve. He cheers on squatters who break back into their repossessed homes, and he urges his audience to take collective action. But the word "socialism" dies on his lips. Interviewing the only left-wing politician in Congress, Senator Bernie Sanders, he carefully stresses that he is a democratic socialist and not, you know, the evil kind. From a European perspective, it seems perverse to spend two hours criticising capitalism without once referring to Marx or attempting to extract any lessons from the chequered history of socialist experiment in other parts of the world. But clearly, even when preaching to his own undeniably converted audience, the s-word is too big a leap for Moore.

...he's perverse from any perspective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Fat cats and evangelicals: what a Tory win would really mean: With Cameron in power, largely unnoticed shifts will affect all our lives (Johann Hari, 25 February 2010, Independent)

At the same time, a very different force is swelling within the Tory ranks – with an agenda of their own. Evangelical Christian fundamentalists have preferred the Conservatives to the other parties for a very long time – but it is only now that their relative weight within the party is swelling so rapidly that one panicked Tory MP recently told the FT (in a separate story): "They're taking over the party."

As the Conservative Party has shed its mass membership – like every other party – even a relatively small number of people with a determined agenda can become dominant. So evangelicals have been signing up as Cameron's Militant Tendency. Where the Tories have held open primaries to select its candidates, they pack the meetings to secure one of their own. Candidates are increasingly frightened to take on their agenda. A ConservativeHome poll of candidates selected to fight marginal seats for the Party found that large majorities want to curtail a woman's right to choose an abortion, and say it's OK to discriminate against gay couples who want to provide a home for an orphan.

While David Cameron has defied the evangelicals on a few issues – to his credit, he supports civil partnerships, for example – he is poised to deliver them the biggest gift they will have received in generations. He will provide state funding for any group of parents who want to set up a school and can attract pupils. We know from Sweden – where this idea was taken from – that one sector is always waiting with the willpower and the organisation and the disgust with the existing schools system: religious fundamentalists.

As the National Secular Society has shown, Cameron's proposals will cause an explosion in fundamentalist schools. This will, over time, subtly alter the shape of Britain. Far more kids will be taught that abortion is evil, homosexuality is sinful, and evolution didn't happen. (Gay kids are 10 per cent more likely to be attacked in faith schools, a Stonewall study found.) And the horrible effects caused by New Labour's expansion of faith schools will get even worse.

If Tony Blair could only get straight with Church doctrine, he'd be the ideal Tory leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Gallup Poll: American Support for Israel Near 20 Year High (Malkah Fleisher, 2/25/10, IsraelNN.com)

American sympathy for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict has surged, with 63% of Americans saying they side more with Israelis than with Palestinians, according to a new Gallup poll. [...]

The last time Israel enjoyed such high popularity in the United States was almost 20 years ago in January 1991, just after Israel was attacked by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with Scud missiles during the First Gulf War.

Support from Republicans stands at a towering 85%, up from 77% in recent years, with Democratic and Independent support remaining about the same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


What to Expect in November: An Update on the House of Representatives (Alan I. Abramowitz, February 25th, 201, Center for Politics)

According to a statistical model that has proven highly accurate in forecasting the outcomes of congressional elections, Republicans now have a good chance of regaining control of the House of Representatives in November. The model uses four independent variables to predict Republican seat change in congressional elections: the president’s net approval rating in the Gallup Poll, the results of the generic ballot question in the Gallup Poll, a dummy variable for midterm elections that is positive in Democratic midterm years and negative in Republican midterm years, and the number of seats held by Republicans before the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Birther defends J.D. Hayworth, hits John McCain (ANDY BARR, 2/25/10, Politico)

One the leaders of the so-called “birthers” is stepping up to defend former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Olry Taitz – a California dentist and lawyer who has filed lawsuits alleging that Barack Obama is not a citizen and therefore ineligible to be president – is taking offense at an ad McCain’s campaign released Wednesday linking Hayworth with her.

Maverick's last act of patriotism can be to save the Party from these nutbags.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Throw it in a stream: a review of Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran (Jonathan Mirsky, 2/24/10, Spectator)

I know a British couple with a Chinese daughter, pretty and fluent in English. Of course the little girl was adopted. It is necessary to steel one’s self against three agonising thoughts: how did such children come to be here, why does one never meet an adopted Chinese boy, and what does one reply when the adopted Chinese child asks, ‘Why did my real mother let me go?’

There is already substantial information on this subject, including television documentaries, none of it mentioned by Xinran. No one has exposed the scandal of Chinese orphanages, the starting point for the traffic in babies to foreigners — there are now well over 120,000 such children living abroad — better than the Scottish academic and journalist Robin Munro and it would make this troubling book even better had his exposés been noted by Xinran.

But never mind. No bleaker picture exists of the fate of Chinese female infants, whether murdered at birth or abandoned, than Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother. One woman’s story reveals this black mark in Chinese culture, both traditional and contemporary. She had lived and worked almost her entire life in orphanages, and told Xinran that little girls sometimes arrived there with scars between their legs. Oil lamps or candles had burned them.

The first thing the village midwives did when the baby was born was not to clear its airway but to check [by the light of the lamp or candle] whether it was a boy or girl, because that was what the family wanted to hear. Some of the burns were on the baby’s private parts …

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Illegal Workers Slip by System: Homeland Security Program Seen Failing to Catch Half of Unauthorized Hires (LOUISE RADNOFSKY and MIRIAM JORDAN, 2/25/10, WSJ)

The Department of Homeland Security's controversial and much-touted E-Verify program might be failing to detect one out of two illegal workers whose employment authorizations are screened, outside consultants have told the agency. [...]

An evaluation of E-Verify carried out for DHS by research group Westat found the program couldn't confirm whether information workers were presenting was their own, and, as a result, "many unauthorized workers obtain employment by committing identity fraud that cannot be detected by E-Verify," Westat told the department. Westat put the "inaccuracy rate for unauthorized workers" at about 54%.

E-Verify has previously faced criticism for failing to authorize individuals who are permitted to work in the U.S.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Carl Oglesby Was Right (Daniel McCarthy, 2/24/10, American Conservative)

I’m skeptical of what under-funded advocacy groups can achieve in politics, but there are at least a few steps a Left-Right coalition can take toward cracking the ideological ice of contemporary politics. There are significant differences of principle among the journalists, intellectuals, and activists who attended the meeting, but that doesn’t mean cooperation has to be unprincipled. As my headline suggests, I think Carl Oglesby was on to something when he suggested that the Old Right and New Left have (some) common ground. Oglesby’s 1967 thoughts on the topic (from Containment and Change) were included in the conference’s reading packet, and they’re worth quoting at length:

It would be a piece of great good fortune for America and the world if the libertarian right could be reminded that besides the debased Republicanism of the Knowlands and the Judds there is another tradition available to them—their own: the tradition of Congressman Howard Buffett, Senator Taft’s midwestern campaign manager in 1952, who attacked the Truman Doctrine with the words: “Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns…We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.” There is the right of Frank Chodorov, whose response to the domestic Red Menace was abruptly to the point: “The way to get rid of communists in government jobs is to abolish the jobs.” And of Dean Russell, who wrote in 1955: “Those who advocate the ‘temporary loss’ of our freedom in order to preserve it permanently are advocating only one thing: the abolition of liberty…We are rapidly becoming a caricature of the thing we profess to hate.” Most engaging, there is the right of the tough-minded Garet Garrett, who produced in 1952 a short analysis of the totalitarian impulse of imperialism which the events of the intervening years have reverified over and again. Beginning with the words, “We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire,” Garrett’s pamphlet unerringly names the features of the imperial pathology: dominance of the national executive over Congress, court, and Constitution; subordination of domestic policy to foreign policy; ascendency of the military influence; the creation of political and military satellites; a complex of arrogance and fearfulness toward the “barbarian”; and, most insidiously, casting off the national identity—the republic is free; the empire is history’s hostage.

This style of political thought, rootedly American, is carried forward today by the Negro freedom movement and the student movement against Great Society-Free World imperialism. That these movements are called leftist means nothing. They are of the grain of American humanist individualism and voluntaristic associational action; and it is only through them that the libertarian tradition is activated and kept alive. In a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate.

Just because they take different routes doesn't mean they can't arrive in the same place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Wall Street Political Donations Move to GOP (Christopher Weber, 02/24/10, Politics Daily)

Political donations from Wall Street firms are increasingly going to Republicans after Democrats promised to crack down on lending practices, outsize profits, and fat executive bonuses, according to new research.

The Center for Responsive Politics found that banks and their workers gave nearly twice as much to the GOP during the last three months of last year, The Washington Post reported.

Securities and investment firms started out 2009 giving to Democrats by a 2-1 margin, but finished the year with nearly half of their donations ending up with Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


New Tack Pays Few Dividends for White House (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 2/25/10, WSJ)

In the case of health care, some lawmakers complained the content of the White House plan took them by surprise, coming just four days before a "summit" meant to to yield some bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

Meetings of the House Democratic Caucus on Monday and Tuesday showed the White House gambit did little to bridge rifts within the party, according to congressional aides. Conservative Democrats expressed surprise that Mr. Obama hadn't scaled back the proposed overhaul. Liberals remained angry about his decision to drop a government-run insurance option.

On financial regulation, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) was one of few lawmakers with advance warning of a proposal to separate commercial and investment banking, dubbed the "Volcker Rule" after its originator, Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman and current White House adviser. Mr. Dodd pressed the White House not to announce the plan on Jan. 21, just two days after Democrats lost a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, fearing it would look "political" and disrupt financial-overhaul talks in Congress, according to a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the events.

Mr. Dodd was overruled; the aide said he left "as frustrated as he's ever been as a senator."

The banking committee's top-ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, accused the White House of "airdropping" the proposal into negotiations.

...you have a pretty bad formula for a presidency.

February 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Former Bush aide Griffin: I'm all Arkansas (JOSH KRAUSHAAR | 2/24/10, Politico)

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin, who worked as an opposition research specialist for President Bush’s first campaign and in Karl Rove’s political shop for Bush’s second term, said he had few concerns about being tagged as a Washington insider as he runs for the first time as a candidate.

Griffin is now running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), and starts out as the early frontrunner. He led Snyder by 17 points in a SurveyUSA poll released on the day the congressman announced his retirement.

The thing that should really be scaring Democrats about '10 is that the GOP is nominating guys who know what they're doing, unlike '80 and '94.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


How the 'liberal' mob did Rod Liddle in: Rod Liddle would have made a fine editor of the Independent but, thanks to a vicious campaign, he will never get the chance (Tim Luckhurst, 2/19/10, guardian.co.uk)

Rod Liddle will not be editor of the Independent. The screechingly intolerant campaign of hostility directed against him by metropolitan critics has done its job. They call themselves liberals. If they are right then the word has come to have as little meaning as its common counterpart "progressive". Sincere liberals do not censor opinion, still less should they caricature it in order to intensify hostility. True liberals oppose arguments they despise by demonstrating the greater value of better ones. [...]

His critics imagine that they know a purer truth. Not for them the Press Complaints Commission's assertion that, in the publication of sincerely held opinion, freedom of expression must take precedence over distaste and even distress. Liddle has been trashed mercilessly for daring to advance arguments his enemies would ban.

A national newspaper edited by an iconoclast determined to challenge the tyranny of the liberal metropolitan elite would have been a real addition to the national conversation, not least because Liddle's challenge would have come from the left.

In a declining market for newsprint it might, perhaps, have grabbed a little new attention. It would certainly have been stimulating. But it will not now exist. No newspaper proprietor will find the courage to hire as editor a man whose reputation has been so reprehensibly trashed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


US liberals have lost their thunder (Clancy Sigal, 2/24/10, guardian.co.uk)

There is an astonishing lack of anger among liberals, progressives and radicals who have abandoned emotion to the right. Our role model continues to be not FDR, still less Malcolm X, but our "bipartisan" and apparently tone-deaf President Obama. In this second or third year of a devastating depression, not just recession, that has inflicted an epidemic of suffering on the lower half of the American nation, Obama is very busy being fluent and civil while being essentially untouched by the rage felt by so many of us. Our world, as we have known it, is being annihilated, and nobody in power shows signs of giving a damn.

...after all, they just spent 8 years raving as crazily as tea partiers. Hating W that passionately had to take something out of them, especially when they realized the UR is Bush-lite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Tim Burton based Alice in Wonderland's White Queen on Nigella Lawson (Ed Pilkington, 2/24/10, guardian.co.uk)

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times's entertainment blog, Burton said he was inspired by Lawson, a "very beautiful cooking show host in England". But it was her submerged eerie edge that excited him. "She's really beautiful and she does all this cooking, but then there's this glint in her eye and when you see it you go, Oh, whoa, she's like really … nuts. I mean in a good way. Well, maybe. I don't know."

That duality is applied in the film by Anne Hathaway, who plays the White Queen with what the LA Times calls an unsettling pearly grin, part Glinda the Good Witch and part Stepford wife.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


My Gift to the Obama Presidency: Though the White House won't want to admit it, Bush lawyers were protecting the executive's power to fight a vigorous war on terror. (John Yoo, 2/24/10, WSJ)

Rank bias and sheer incompetence infused OPR's investigation. OPR attorneys, for example, omitted a number of precedents that squarely supported the approach in the memoranda and undermined OPR's preferred outcome. They declared that no Americans have a right of self-defense against a criminal prosecution, not even when they or their government agents attempt to stop terrorist attacks on the United States. OPR claimed that Congress enjoyed full authority over wartime strategy and tactics, despite decades of Justice Department opinions and practice defending the president's commander-in-chief power. They accused us of violating ethical standards without ever defining them. They concocted bizarre conspiracy theories about which they never asked us, and for which they had no evidence, even though we both patiently—and with no legal obligation to do so—sat through days of questioning.

OPR's investigation was so biased, so flawed, and so beneath the Justice Department's own standards that last week the department's ranking civil servant and senior ethicist, David Margolis, completely rejected its recommendations.

Attorney General Holder could have stopped this sorry mess earlier, just as his predecessor had tried to do. OPR slow-rolled Attorney General Michael Mukasey by refusing to deliver a draft of its report until the 2008 Christmas and New Year holidays. OPR informed Mr. Mukasey of its intention to release the report on Jan. 12, 2009, without giving me or Judge Bybee the chance to see it—as was our right and as we'd been promised.

Mr. Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip found so many errors in the report that they told OPR that the entire enterprise should be abandoned. OPR decided to run out the clock and push the investigation into the lap of the Obama administration. It would have been easy for Mr. Holder to concur with his predecessors—in fact, it was critical that he do so to preserve the Justice Department's impartiality. Instead the new attorney general let OPR's investigators run wild. Only Mr. Margolis's rejection of the OPR report last week forced the Obama administration to drop its ethics charges against Bush legal advisers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Obama's task: One tune, five crowds (Ben Smith, February 24, 2010, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s “summit” Thursday is officially billed as a meeting of the minds with congressional Republicans — but, in truth, Republicans are the least of his concerns.

Obama will kick off the event, according to its schedule, by speaking to the congressional leaders seated around the table with him. But his most important listeners may not be in the small room at Blair House where the event will take place.

He’ll be making the sale, for the umpteenth time, to an American public that supports aspects of health care legislation but opposes the bill. He’ll be pitching Beltway graybeards obsessed, as always, with bipartisanship. He’ll be appealing to moderate Senate Democrats to back reconciliation.

But most important will be his pitch to a handful of conservative Democrats in the House who will have to switch their votes and vote for the Senate health care bill for it to pass into law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


US refuses to endorse British sovereignty in Falklands oil dispute (Giles Whittell and James Bone, 2/24/10, Times of London)

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falklands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London and Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close military alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue. [...]

Senior US officials insisted that Washington’s position on the Falklands was one of longstanding neutrality. This is in stark contrast to the public backing and vital intelligence offered by President Reagan to Margaret Thatcher once she had made the decision to recover the islands by force in 1982.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Supreme Court puts expiration date on 'right to remain silent': The justices rule that a suspect who invokes that protection can be questioned again after 14 days. (David G. Savage, February 25, 2010, LA Times)

If there has been a "break in custody" and the suspect has gone free, Scalia said the police should be allowed to speak with him after some period of time. "It seems to us that period is 14 days," he said.

They aren't judges, they're the NFL rules committee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


So Long, Salad Days (Owen Matthews, 2/24/10, Newsweek)

Five years ago, when oil prices were climbing steadily and economists were stoking fears about peak oil and gas, it seemed that major energy producers like Russia were holding all the cards. Then-president Vladimir Putin spoke of his country as an "energy superpower" and used energy supplies as a blunt instrument of Kremlin foreign policy. Gas cutoffs to Ukraine caused panic in Europe, while Western energy companies fell over each other to get a slice of Russia's oil and gas fields.

But all that is over. Today, the super-giant Shtockmann natural-gas field under the Arctic sea—Russia's only big hydrocarbon discovery since Soviet times—has just been mothballed due to the towering cost of extracting the undersea gas. At the same time, worldwide demand for Russia's gas has plummeted. And meanwhile, the government has punctured investor confidence by pressuring BP, one of the few major foreign investors left in Russia's energy sector, to hand over a giant Siberian gas field to a government-owned rival. It's time for Moscow to kiss goodbye those dreams of energy hegemony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Gentle White House Nudges Test the Power of Persuasion (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 2/24/10, NY Times)

Tempers were fraying in the White House Cabinet Room as night turned into morning on Jan. 15. President Obama had been cloistered nearly all day with House and Senate Democrats, playing “marriage counselor,” an aide said, as he coaxed, cajoled and prodded them on a health care overhaul.

As the clock neared 1 a.m., the two sides were at an impasse. Mr. Obama stood up.

“ ‘See what you guys can figure out,’ ” one participant remembers him saying, adding that the failed effort left the president mad. [...]

Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators. And while he has often succeeded by relying on Democratic leaders in Congress to do his bidding — the House and Senate, after all, both passed versions of the health legislation last year — it is not clear whether his gentle, consensus-building style will be enough.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more toughness here or there,” said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat, who contends that if Mr. Obama had pushed the Senate harder last year, the bill would have been law by now.

Like many Democrats in Congress, she praises Mr. Obama as intellectually gifted and a generous listener. But “if you are asking me if he dominates the room,” she said, “I would have to say no.”

The Oval Office, where the milk meets the toast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Rahm takes heat over Milbank column (Glenn Thrush, February 22, 2010, Politico)

[E]manuel couldn’t have mounted a more articulate defense than if he had penned the Milbank column – bluntly titled “Why Obama needs Rahm at the top” – himself.

The key paragraph contained high praise for Emanuel – at the expense of his boss: “Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.”

In the piece, the longtime Post politics watcher portrays a White House filled with Obama’s Chicagoland sycophants, and idealists veering the White House dangerously off to the left – with Emanuel the only forceful voice of pragmatism and moderation.

Milbank, who has written about Emanuel for years, is particularly tough on senior advisers Jarrett and David Axelrod, and Gibbs, the press secretary.

“Contrast Emanuel's wisdom with that of Jarrett, in charge of "intergovernmental affairs and public engagement" -- two areas of conspicuous failure, Milbank writes. “Jarrett also brought in Desiree Rogers as White House social secretary; the Salahi embarrassment ensued. Then there's Gibbs. It's hard to make the case that you're a post-partisan president when your on-camera spokesman is a hyper-partisan former campaign flack.

Milbank also offered some personnel advice to those who call for Emanuel’s scalp as compensation for the derailing of reform efforts.

“No wonder Emanuel has set up his own small press operation and outreach function to circumvent the dysfunctional ones that Jarrett and Gibbs run,” he wrote. “Obama needs an old Washington hand to replace Jarrett and somebody with gravitas on the podium to step in for Gibbs.

...whenm the staffers are more worried about themselves than the boss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


F&M: Toomey leads both Dems (JESSICA TAYLOR, 2/24/10, Politico)

Toomey leads the five-term incumbent among likely voters, 44 percent to 34 percent, with 16 percent undecided. Specter fares better among registered voters, leading Toomey by a margin of 33 percent to 29 percent.

Against Specter’s primary challenger, Rep. Joe Sestak, Toomey would fare even better. In the Franklin and Marshall poll, Toomey leads Sestak by 18 points among likely voters, 38 percent to 20 percent. More voters would be undecided in that match-up: 39 percent said they had not yet made up their minds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


Scott Brown's 'tea party' fans feel burned by jobs vote (James Oliphant, February 23, 2010, LA Times)

Literally overnight, the fledgling Republican senator who ended Democrats' filibuster-proof majority by winning a special election in Massachusetts, has gone from being the darling of America's conservative activists to being their goat.

Monday night, Brown announced that he would join four other Republicans in voting to block a GOP filibuster and move forward with a $15-billion jobs bill designed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Almost immediately, the political blogosphere exploded.

Cries of "letdown," "betrayal," "sellout," and "RINO" -- "Republican in name only" -- flew around Twitter. By late Tuesday afternoon, more than 4,200 people had left comments on Brown's Facebook page, most harshly negative. (And liberals engaged in some cyber-schadenfreude at the same time.)

Just five days earlier, Brown was cheered loudly by conservative activists at a gathering in Washington. He was so warmly received that some in the crowd began suggesting that he could be another Ronald Reagan and help usher in a new era of conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


200 not out: Sachin Tendulkar breaks one-day batting record (This is London, 24.02.10)

Sachin Tendulkar smashed a record-breaking double century as India scored an emphatic 153-run victory over South Africa in the second one-day international at Gawalior, taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

Tendulkar hit an unbeaten 200, the first ever double century in ODIs, and built partnerships with Dinesh Karthik (79), Yusuf Pathan (36) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (68) as India finished with a mammoth total of 401 for three.<./blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


CIA briefed 68 lawmakers on torture program, documents reveal (Reuters, February 24th 2010)

CIA officials briefed at least 68 U.S. lawmakers between 2001 and 2007 on enhanced interrogation methods like simulated drowning that were being considered or used against captured al Qaeda members, according to declassified documents released on Tuesday. [...]

The CIA briefed lawmakers as it began seeking expanded authority for the interrogation program. Current House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then minority whip, attended a briefing on Abu Zubaydah's interrogation April 24, 2002, along with seven other members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the documents show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


The 12 Styles of American Man: Which One Are You?: From the workman to the sportsman, find out which lifestyle you fit — then learn how to dress for it (Esquire, 2/24/10)

...and assume that, since their Workman seems like a guy who irons his sheets and watches the Figure Skating instead of the Hockey at the Olympics, no one in the Esquire offices has ever even seen a pair of Carhartt's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Ontario farmers embrace water buffalo: Water buffalo are being raised here and their porcelain-white milk transformed into cheese (Jennifer Bain, 2/23/10, Toronto Star)

Water buffalo are curious, communicative animals – "big dogs" who like to keep busy.

"If we're happy, they're happy," says Smith. "If we come in in a hurry, they know it and don't like it."

"That's the key – working with the buffalo," adds Littkemann.

"It's not like milking dairy cows as at all," he adds. "These are almost like milking a horse. You know how a horse can be temperamental? Treat them calmly."

"Call them by their names. They know their names," says Smith, introducing Farrah, Teah and Evita.

Remember the Guns, Germs, and Steel argument that some peoples remained aboriginal just because a freak of Nature stuck them with undomesticable animals?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Justices uphold Florida's 'Miranda' warning (Jesse J. Holland, 2/23/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday approved Florida's version of the well-known "Miranda" rights warning, despite complaints that it wasn't clear a suspect could have a lawyer present during questioning.

The court's 7-2 decision restoring Kevin Dwayne Powell's conviction is the first of several it will make this year clarifying exactly what the long-established Miranda rights require police to do. [...]

[J]ustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court's majority, said Powell was given enough information.

Though it would be better to dispose of the warning entirely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


"What Darwin Got Wrong": Taking down the father of evolution: A new book dares to attack the theory of evolution by using -- surprise! -- science (Thomas Rogers, Feb. 23, 2010, Salon)

What is your beef with natural selection?

The main thing Darwin had in mind with natural selection was to come up with a theory that answers the question, "Why are certain traits there?" Why do people have hair on their heads? Why do both eyes have the same color? Why does dark hair go with dark eyes? You can make up a story that explains why it was good to have those properties in the original environment of selection. Do we have any reason to think that story is true? No.

According to Darwin, traits of creatures are selected for their contribution to fitness [likelihood to survive]. But how do you distinguish a trait that is selected for from one that comes along with it? There are a lot of interesting structures in creatures that have nothing to do with fitness.

Some variants in selection are clearly environmental. If you can’t store water you’ll do worse in a dry environment than if you can. But suppose that having a high ability to carry a lot of water is correlated for genetic reasons with skin color. How do you decide which trait is selected for by environmental factors and which one is just attached to it? There isn’t anything in the Darwinist picture that allows you to answer that question.

So we have no way of knowing whether a trait serves an evolutionary purpose?

Some traits are presumably selected for by the environment, and some of them are not. If somebody says Trait A affects fitness and Trait B does not, but Trait B comes with Trait A so you’ve got both traits in the organism, it’s very natural for somebody in the Darwinian tradition to think that Trait B has been selected for by the environment. But the answer is, it’s not there for anything.

Look, everybody has toenails, so you might ask yourself, why is it such a good thing we have toenails? It may be a case that in the environment there was some factor that favored toenails but there also may not.

...makes bad ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Baring the Bam myth (Michael Goodwin, February 24, 2010, NY Post)

Something very good al ready has happened as a result of President Obama's strange entry into the health-care sweepstakes. Think of it as the death of a myth.

The myth was that Obama was an innocent bystander caught between evil forces. As supporters describe it, the president was trapped on one side by tone-deaf Democrats and on the other by obstructionist Republicans.

If only the leaders of the two parties were as smart and honest as Obama, Washington would be a marvel of efficiency and progress. As Exhibit A, Obama dead-enders promised the sun of health care would shine on every American and we could save money if we would simply follow the president.

Versions of the myth popped up each time something went wrong, even among the president's staff. Gen. Jim Jones, Obama's national security adviser, explained the failure to have terrorism specialists question the Christmas Day Detroit bomber as "one case where we didn't support the president as well as he should have been supported."

Fact is, Obama announced creation of the specialist unit five months earlier, but never followed up to make sure his words were turned into deeds. He spoke and assumed it had happened.

But it wasn't his fault when it all went wrong. Nothing ever is.

Until now.

By leaving his fingerprints, his DNA and proudly claiming ownership of yet another massive health-care plan, Obama has removed any doubts about where he stands. He can no longer hide behind the illusion he was an honest broker looking for the kind of common-sense fixes the country wants.

We have found the radical in our midst. He sits in the Oval Office.

So much for learning from Bill Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


How Israel's Biggest Drone Could Take Out Iranian Nukes: This week the Israeli Air Force held a ceremony spotlighting the "operational acceptance" of its biggest unmanned aerial vehicle. Here, we explore how Israel could use this new vehicle to take out Iranian nukes. For an in-depth look at the way the U.S. Air Force is remaking its UAV fleet, check out the cover story of the March 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics, on stands now. (Joe Pappalardo, February 23, 2010, Popular Mechanics)

This week the Israeli Air Force (IAF) held a ceremony spotlighting the "operational acceptance" of its biggest unmanned aerial vehicle, the 4.5-ton Heron TP, or "Eitan." The far-flying UAV, with a wingspan almost as long as a 737 airliner, appeared on the runway with a comparatively diminutive F-15 alongside it. The IAF already rushed this UAV into action during the 2008–'09 war in Gaza, so the ceremony really served as a reminder to Iran that its drone fleets can reach the nation. But how will Israel use them?

The Eitan can carry a ton of payload and can reach Iran's nuclear facilities, which the United Nations last week determined is hiding an active weapons program. But that does not mean these will be used as bombers. The IAF has been buying and upgrading airplanes specifically for long-distance strikes such as a potential attack against Iran. At least 50 F-15 Raam and F-16 Soufa aircraft have been converted by installing extra fuel tanks for greater range and countermeasures to defeat radar and missiles. So maybe the warplane/UAV tag team presented at the "operational acceptance ceremony" speaks to how manned and unmanned aircraft will work together on missions: The drone provides information while the manned airplanes drop the guided munitions.

Working from high altitudes, the Eitan will likely be used to provide prestrike information on targets, to eavesdrop on electronic communications and to send battle damage assessments back after an attack. It will also undoubtably be used to monitor any retaliation for the airstrike—seeking rocket launches and eavesdropping on Iran. The onboard power required to electronically jam radar and communications equipment is not in the Eitan, Israeli defense industry officials told the trade journal Defense News. But the ability to carry so much weight opens up questions about the drones' ability to conduct long-range, high-risk bombing missions on their own.

Early literature suggested the Eitan would have a role in shooting down enemy missiles in flight as well as in bombing targets. But the craft at the ceremony featured a pod under the nose that contains only sensors, which can track moving targets at high resolution, day or night. Eitanhas the eyes of a predator, but seemingly no claws. Unless, of course, the less public Israeli Eitan fleet has hidden surprises in UAVs' bays or tacked onto the wings at various hard points.

David will always beat Goliath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Dartmouth Claims Fame as Top Ivy League Producer of Olympic Talent (Jeff Greer, February 22, 2010, US News)

The Ivy League is the pinnacle of competition in the American higher education system. Schools compete with one another in everything from academics and research to endowments and college athletics. In an effort to stake its claim on a rarely discussed battlefield, one Ivy League institution wants the world to know that it has the most Winter Olympians this year in Vancouver among the Ivies—and the most ever to compete in the Winter Olympics among Ivy League schools, too.

The magic number of Dartmouth-affiliated athletes who have competed in the Winter Olympics since 1924 is 110, Dartmouth College says, although IvyLeagueSports.com and its offshoot site IviesinChina.com claim Dartmouth has even more Olympic alumni, with 124. Dartmouth has nine school-affiliated athletes at this year's games—two current undergrads and seven alumni. One alum, Andrew Weibrecht, who graduated in 2009, earned a bronze medal in the men's super-G alpine skiing race last week. Up-and-coming giant slalom skier Tommy Ford, Dartmouth class of 2012, will compete Tuesday. Meanwhile, Harvard University is the next closest with 77 athletes, including the current Olympic Games, where Harvard has five athletes competing. (Some peace of mind for Harvard: Crimson-affiliated athletes have more gold medals, with 16 to Dartmouth's 10.)

What sets Dartmouth apart? Skiing. It's still safe to call Dartmouth's ski team a pipeline of Olympic talent. The 100-year-old program, the first of its kind in collegiate athletics, has sent—by its own count—97 skiers to the Winter Games since the inception of the Winter Olympics. It makes sense: Dartmouth had five All-American skiers last year alone, and the program has won three NCAA titles since 1958 while competing against the wealthier, larger powerhouses like the University of Colorado and the University of Utah. A big part of that success has come from a two-feet-on-two-rafts mentality; over the years, the program's leaders have strongly encouraged their student-athletes to focus on school while still maintaining their athletic careers, a must if a young Ivy League student-athlete wants to survive all four years. That formula has worked for the better part of a century.

February 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


The conservative contradiction works: At its heart conservatism sees humans as social animals and offers a practical ethical framework for politics and society (Jesse Norman, 2/23/10, guardian.co.uk)

Conservatism in any form is notoriously hard to define, as the career of Benjamin Disraeli illustrates. The young Disraeli opposed social reform, for the sound conservative reasons that it eroded property rights and local independence while increasing taxation and regulation. The older Disraeli led social reform as prime minister, for the equally sound conservative reasons that it relieved poverty, squalor and hardship, and promoted social cohesion.

This tension between principles is intrinsic to conservatism itself. Independence, autonomy, freedom, loyalty, responsibility, aspiration, toleration, thrift and compassion are, in different ways, all conservative values. It is inevitable that they will conflict with each other on occasion. Conservatives accept this conflict, preferring the scope it offers to apply moral judgement in concrete situations rather than obey a foolish and ideological consistency. Indeed, the thought that there can be no absolutely consistent worthwhile ethical theory is a conservative insight, which has eluded some of the greatest moral philosophers.

If we step back from political thought to philosophy, then, what ultimately distinguishes conservatism from its rival creeds is not so much the views it holds – though some of these are unique to conservatism – as the way it holds them.

Socialism and liberalism are, at root, theories and ideologies – fundamental interpretations of the nature of history and of "the good", from which policy programs are somehow to be rationally inferred.

Conservatism is no such thing. It is instinctive, not theoretical; a disposition, not a doctrine; realistic and sceptical, not grandiose or utopian; accepting of the imperfectibility of man, not restless to overcome it; and seeking to improve the lot of the many not by referring to some plan, but by working with the grain of "the crooked timber of humanity". In ethics, it does not moralise or preach but works practically from case to case, preferring broad principles to hard and fast rules and eschewing the grand sweep of rationalist theories such as utilitarianism.

Is there, then, a distinctively conservative ethical tradition? There is, and it starts with Aristotle's claim in the Politics that "man is a social animal". The word for "social" here is politikos, which also means "political". What Aristotle means is that mankind is part of nature, and man's own nature is to be with others, in a polis (city-state).

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

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Reagan's Turning Point (Craig Shirley, 02/23/10, First Principles)

The thirty-five days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary during the 1980 presidential campaign were the most important time in Ronald Reagan’s political life. And the pivotal moment in this, his third try for the Republican nomination, occurred in a high school gymnasium just three days before the New Hampshire vote.

Long the front-runner for the Republican nomination, Reagan suffered a stunning upset in Iowa at the hands of George H. W. Bush on January 21. Worse for Reagan, his campaign’s internal polling showed the former California governor falling 21 points behind Bush in New Hampshire. If Reagan lost to Bush in New Hampshire, his campaign would be over. Forever. There was no tomorrow. This was it for the Gipper.

The Reagan campaign had dug itself into this hole. Campaign manager John Sears and his aides Jim Lake and Charlie Black had felt that Reagan could not be stopped. Revealingly, Black said of Iowa, “Hell, I didn’t know it was gonna be a primary.” Sears’s strategy had been to rein in his candidate, keeping Reagan off the campaign trail and avoiding debates with the other candidates.

Reagan finally put his foot down. He hated losing, and he impatiently told Sears that he would “campaign the way I like to campaign.” That meant going to every corner of New Hampshire, speaking his mind on issues—and debating. He abruptly announced that he would attend all debates in New Hampshire, the very “cattle shows” he had derided.

Meanwhile, Bush campaign strategists were rethinking the need to appear with all the other Republican candidates. Bush wanted Reagan in a one-on-one showdown. Giving attention to the other candidates would drain away anti-Reagan votes.

The Nashua Telegraph stepped forward to sponsor a one-on-one debate. When the Federal Election Commission ruled that the newspaper couldn’t sponsor a debate that excluded some GOP candidates, the desperate Reagan campaign agreed to foot the entire bill. The debate was on. It would be held in the Nashua High School gymnasium on Saturday, February 23—three days before the primary.

Irate at being excluded, the other Republican candidates fired off telegrams to Reagan, citing “fairness.” This weighed on the Gipper, but just one day before the Nashua showdown, Reagan’s New Hampshire campaign director, Gerald Carmen, confirmed that it would be a direct confrontation with Bush alone.

The Nashua Telegraph, Bush, Bush’s men, Reagan, Carmen, Reagan’s men—all had been boxed into the one-on-one debate format. All, that is, except for John Sears. ABC’s Barbara Walters had already reported that Sears “may well be fired,” but the canny political operative would give Ronald Reagan a final gift, one that would help open the front door to the White House for the Gipper.

Sears’s plan was to have Reagan relent at the last minute and invite the other candidates to participate. That would allow Reagan to appear magnanimous, and the maneuver would embarrass Bush into allowing the other Republicans—Senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker, Congressmen Phil Crane and John Anderson, and former Texas governor John Connally—onto the stage. Or perhaps it would create such chaos as to prevent Bush from winning the debate. Years later Charlie Black told me, “We knew he would choke.” Sears was blunter: “Our job was to show that Bush was not capable of being president.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Bernie Sanders compares climate skeptics to Nazi deniers (MARIN COGAN, 2/23/10, Politico)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is comparing climate change skeptics to those who disregarded the Nazi threat to America in the 1930s, adding a strident rhetorical shot to the already volatile debate over climate change.

The threat of man-made global warming is exactly the same as that of Nazi Germany to the United States, non-existent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


India's isolation is not good news for the West : Instead of ignoring Delhi, the West would be better served if it ceases to pander to Pakistan for short-term gains. Not supporting the only secular liberal democracy in the region will only embolden the radical Islamists in the long-term, writes Harsh V Pant.(Harsh V Pant , February 23, 2010, IST)

It would be an understatement to suggest that India [ Images ]n diplomacy faced a major setback at the Afghanistan Conference in London. India was humiliated and its concerns were summarily ignored. In one stroke, Pakistan rendered New Delhi irrelevant in the evolving security dynamic in Afghanistan.

When Indian External Affairs Minister, S M Krishna, underscored the folly of making a distinction "between a good Taliban and a bad Taliban," he was completely out of sync with the larger mood at the conference.

The West has made up its mind that it is not a question of if but when and how to exit from Afghanistan which to the leaders in Washington and London is rapidly becoming a quagmire. Days before this much-hyped conference, senior US military commanders were suggesting that peace talks with the Taliban may be imminent and that they might even be invited to be a part of the government in Kabul. It is not without significance that British Foreign Secretary David Miliband emphasised in London that the war in Afghanistan had already gone on longer than the Second World War.

And so instead of devising plans to win this war, it was decided in London that the time had come to woo the moderate section of the Taliban back to share power in Kabul. Pakistan seems to have convinced the West that it can play the role of mediator in negotiations with the Taliban, thereby underlining its centrality in the unfolding strategic dynamic in the region. [...]

Instead of ignoring Delhi, the West would be better served if it ceases to pander to Pakistan for short-term gains. Not supporting the only secular liberal democracy in the region will only embolden the radical Islamists in the long-term. And that's no way to enhance western security.

...but how do you manage to alienate all our friends at the same time?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Toyota: Recalls won't totally fix gas pedal issues (Ken Thomas and Larry Margasak, 2/23/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The president of Toyota's U.S. operations acknowledged to skeptical lawmakers on Tuesday that the company's recalls of millions of its cars may "not totally" solve the problem of sudden and dangerous acceleration.

"We are vigilant and we continue to look for potential causes," Toyota's James Lentz told a congressional panel. However, he repeated his company's position that unexpected acceleration in some of the company's most popular cars and trucks was caused by one of two problems — misplaced floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals.

He insisted electronic systems connected to the gas pedal and fuel line did not contribute to the problem, drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers who said such a possibility should be further explored — and from a tearful woman driver who could not stop her runaway Lexus.

Manufacturing the Audi Scare (Peter Huber, DECEMBER 18,1989, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
If you're the kind of driver who sometimes has trouble finding the brakes in your car, you should be driving an Audi. Last month, in 35mph crash tests of an airbage-quipped Audi 100, the mannequin in the driver's seat suffered the lowest crash force ever recorded by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, in this kind of test.

And yet, according to the Center for Auto Safety--a self-styled public interest organization that sells its research to plaintiffs' lawyers--the Audi 100's predecessor, the Audi 5000, was as deadly as the Audi 100 is safe. It exhibited "sudden acceleration," a fatal propensity to take off at full speed even as the terrified driver rammed the brake pedal to the floor.

CBS's "60 Minutes" ran a devastating expose of the Audi 5000. Audi customers fled. Lawyers cashed in. The American public was saved, yet again, from the perils of technology gone awry. Only one little noticed footnote remains at the end: There was nothing wrong with the car.

The Audi story is by now, dismally familiar. "Sudden acceleration" accidents occurred when the transmission was shifted out of "park." The driver always insisted he was standing on the brake, but after the crash the brakes always worked perfectly. A disproportionate number of accidents involved drivers new to the vehicle. When an idiotproof shift was installed so that a driver could not shift out of park if his foot was on the accelerator, reports of sudden acceleration plummeted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Jumbo mortgage market is beginning to thaw: The meltdown sent interest rates soaring and availability shrinking, but rates are declining and lenders are more willing to make loans that top the limits for Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and the FHA. (E. Scott Reckard, 2/23/10, , LA Times)

Rates on jumbo mortgages -- loans of more than $729,750 in counties with the highest-cost housing -- shot up during the financial crisis as lenders and loan investors shunned anything tainted with even a whiff of higher risk. Rates on big mortgages were especially high relative to those on smaller loans.

But in a boon for borrowers in California's expensive housing markets, the jumbo-loan market is starting to return to normal.

Two weeks ago, the average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate jumbos dropped to 5.79%, a nearly five-year low, according to rate tracker Informa Research Services of Calabasas. It edged up to 5.83% on Thursday, still very attractive by historical standards. The average is down from well above 7% in late 2008.

Rates are even lower on so-called hybrid adjustable mortgages, on which the rate is fixed for, say, five years and then adjusts annually. Kelly's new loan is a hybrid adjustable identical to his old one, except that he's paying about 5%, down from 6%.

Banks are also relaxing slightly some of their requirements for jumbo loans. That's an encouraging sign because the market for jumbos, in contrast with the rest of the mortgage business, isn't being propped up by Uncle Sam.

The lower rates and somewhat easier terms reflect newfound confidence among banks in the housing market. That's because, by definition, jumbos are too big to be bought by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or to be insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Plus, the private market for mortgage-backed bonds dried up when the meltdown hit. So lenders making jumbo loans these days must be willing to take the risk of keeping them in their portfolios.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Cook: Health Care Is Obama's Iraq (Theresa Poulson , 2/18/10, National Journal)

NJ: Name some places where Democrats should be focusing their energy, states or districts where it's really going to be a tough sell but you think that its worth making.

Cook: Well when a Democratic Senate candidates loses Barney Frank's district and loses Massachusetts, I think it raises a legitimate question of what is safe -- not what's in danger, but what is safe.

But if you were going to build a profile of where is it going to be absolutely the worst for Democrats, I would say the Deep South, Old South, the border south, states and districts with large small-town and rural populations, maybe lower percentages of college graduates -- in other words, sort of yuppie types. I would say fewer transplants from the north. Places where Obama did worse than John Kerry did in the general election.

And there's sort of like a Nike swoosh, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, down and across Tennessee, across the south and all the way to Oklahoma that Obama -- I mean, 70 percent of the counties in America, Barack Obama did much better than John Kerry, but there is a sort of a swoosh of counties where Obama underperformed John Kerry -- and let's face it, John Kerry wasn't exactly a son of the South -- so that was like particularly bad.

Or you could look at, where did Obama lose to Hillary Clinton. A lot of working class white areas, that sort of thing. I mean I think those are going to be sort of the ground zero states and districts where it's going to be bad. But I don't know that there are many places that aren't going to be bad, I mean, that are going to be good....

The thing that I think a lot of Democratic strategists are really concerned about is that some of these districts are going to be gone for a generation or more. I mean, they're not coming back. They're ones that had somehow managed to hang on in Democratic hands even after the Democratic Party fell out of favor in a lot of the South. But once they slip away, I'm not sure they're coming back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Commodities: The long-term trend is down (Kurt Brouwer, 2/23/10, Fundmastery)

This chart gives us a long-term view of commodities and surprisingly, the long-term trend has largely been down. This trend was made famous by the late and lamented Julian L. Simon, a professor at the University of Maryland.

...was surely "unsurprisingly."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


‘Attention Must Be Paid…’: Understanding Joe Stack, anger, and ideology (Lee Harris, February 19, 2010, The American)

The blind spot of the political class is that they systematically tend to overrate the importance of their own stock in trade—namely, ideas and ideologies. In their model of human behavior, people first examine various political theories and positions, and, after careful reflection and suitable debate, they adopt whatever political position most agrees with all the facts. Only after this process of rational analysis has been completed do human beings decide to become political actors, supporting whatever policies seem the most reasonable under the circumstances. Now while this may or may not accurately describe how the political class makes up its mind about what political position to adopt, it is an appallingly bad account of how most people decide on political questions. It is also an extremely dangerous account, because it overlooks the immense influence of irrational factors in the shaping of our political ideas, both at the level of the individual and at the level of society—factors like anger, fear, frustration, resentment, and the sense of being wronged.

No ideology motivated Joe Stack to kill himself by flying his plane into the side of a building. He was motivated by rage and his sense of utter helplessness. One of the features of his suicide note that has received scant attention are those passages in which he explains he once sincerely believed in the American dream, and thought that he could achieve it for himself. His intense bitterness was that which comes from a keen sense of betrayal. He believed that the nation that he once trusted to be on his side, and to stand for justice for all, had cruelly deceived him and all the other little guys, like himself, who have been marginalized and ignored, who have no say in how they are governed. Worse, the government he grew up trusting had become a mere tool of corporate greed, forcing ordinary hard-working Americans to bail out the filthy rich or conspiring to force them to cough up money to fill the coffers of insurance companies, under the specious guise of healthcare reform. President Obama is as bad as President Bush. Liberal Democrats in power are as corrupt and uncaring as conservative Republicans. The political system is rigged. It cannot be amended or ameliorated through normal channels. “Violence ... is the only answer.”

This is no ideology—it is a cry of visceral anguish.

Which is exactly the sorts of people who seek ideologies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Schools should not force girls to wear skirts - it discriminates against transsexuals, warns watchdog (Arthur Martin, 22nd February 2010, Daily Mail)

In a 68-page report on the human rights of transsexuals, the watchdog says that 'requiring pupils to wear gender-specific clothes is potentially unlawful'.

It says that research conducted for its report found that 'pupils born female with gender dysphoria experienced great discomfort being forced to wear stereotypical girls’ clothes — for example a skirt'.

...is a hate crime against men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Maybe Milton Was Right About the Euro (Desmond Lachman, February 23, 2010, The American)

At the time of the euro’s launch in January 1999, Milton Friedman famously observed that the euro would not survive the first major European economic recession. The sovereign debt crisis presently engulfing Greece, Spain, and Portugal in the wake of the “Great Recession” would suggest that, in the end, Friedman will prove to have been right. It does not seem too early for U.S. policy makers to start pondering the serious international economic and geopolitical ramifications that would flow from any eventual breakup of the euro.

The main motivation for the euro’s creation was political rather than economic. It was thought that creating a single European currency would advance the dream of an integrated Europe that could rival the United States on the international stage. While it was recognized that the euro rested on the shakiest of economic fundamentals, it was hoped that the single currency would force economic change on its wayward Mediterranean member countries. It would do so by requiring those countries to undertake deep structural economic reforms and to abide by the strict Maastricht Treaty rules for individual member countries’ budget policies.

Sadly, economic events have not played out as the euro’s founders had hoped.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Democrats’ attempts to coordinate health-care message leave Republicans scratching their heads (Jon Ward, 2/23/10, The Daily Caller)

“I was actually surprised that they’re pushing it again. The most important thing is jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. We need to focus on jobs,” said Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat and a leader of the 54-member Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats.

Shuler, speaking to The Daily Caller on his way out of a meeting of the Democratic caucus on Monday evening at the Capitol, expressed the sentiment that is increasingly common in Washington, the reason so many are scratching their heads at Obama’s insistence on trying to pass a catch-all piece of legislation.

“I don’t think a comprehensive bill can pass,” he said.

“I hate to use a football analogy,” said the former Washington Redskins quarterback, “but first downs are a lot better than throwing the bomb route or the Hail Mary.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Obama Administration’s Health Care Proposal (Director's Blog, CBO)

[P]reparing a cost estimate requires very detailed specifications of numerous provisions, and the materials that were released this morning do not provide sufficient detail on all of the provisions. Therefore, CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Iran’s reeling reformers find Khomeini family ally (BRIAN MURPHY 02/23/10, Daily Caller)

Hassan Khomeini’s name has begun to percolate — perhaps out of opposition frustration — as a possible guiding light as Iran’s internal turmoil moves toward its one-year mark in June.

“Hassan Khomeini’s story is not finished,” speculated Alireza Nourizadeh, chief researcher at the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies in London. “There is more to come.”

It’s another example of the extent of Iran’s fissures. Families at the heart of the theocracy have been left divided — or at odds with the leadership — after June’s disputed election and the bloodshed and outrage that followed.

Hadi Khamenei, the younger brother of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a prominent adviser to pro-reform groups. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is a vehement critic of Ahmadinejad.

The Assembly of Experts led by Rafsanjani is the only group with the authority to dismiss the supreme leader, and supporters of the ruling system appear in firm control.

It’s clear, however, that Hassan Khomeini has the potential to make them nervous.

Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper has denounced Khomeini for his “suspicious support” of opposition figures and hinted he was no longer fit to oversee the shrine to his grandfather or the institute dedicated to the ayatollah’s writings and speeches.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency has accused Khomeini of encouraging forces that seek to topple the system his grandfather founded.

In a rare public rebuttal, Hassan Khomeini complained last week that state media are manipulating the words of his grandfather. In a letter to the head of Iran’s state-run television, Khomeini accused the station of trying to link his grandfather’s comments about resistance to the Islamic Revolution to cast shadows on today’s opposition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Unions out of step with dynamic U.S. private sector (Daniel Griswold, 2/23/10, Washington Times)

The decline in union density in the United States has not been driven by a shift of employment from unionized sectors to non-unionized sectors, but by a broad economy-wide decline of unionization across sectors and regions. Private-sector unionization rates have fallen in virtually every manufacturing sector and most service sectors in the past three decades and across all regions of the country.

The weight of evidence indicates that, for most firms in most sectors, unionization leaves companies less able to compete successfully. The core problem is that unions cause compensation to rise faster than productivity, eroding profits while at the same time reducing the ability of firms to remain price-competitive. The result over time is that unionized firms have tended to lose market share to nonunionized firms, in domestic as well as international markets.

After studying the effects of unions on company performance, Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University concluded that unions will typically raise labor costs to a firm by 15 percent to 20 percent, while delivering a negligible increase in productivity. As a result, "Unionization is associated with lower investment in physical and intangible capital and slower growth. The combination of a union tax and sluggish governance is proving debilitating in economic environments that are highly competitive and dynamic," Mr. Hirsch wrote in a 2008 study.

To the extent that output and resources are mobile, poor union performance has led to a shift of production and employment away from unionized industries, firms and plants and into the nonunion sector or to producers overseas.

Unions have been able to thrive in the public sector because governments, by definition, exercise monopoly power to raise revenue. Public employee unions can demand higher pay and ever more generous benefits, knowing their employers can simply pass costs on to captive taxpayers. As a result of those divergent trends, 2009 marked the first time ever in the United States that union members in the public sector outnumbered those in the private sector.

Purging the private sector of millions of jobs has only made it more productive. The Public sector needs the same medicine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Some Policies Don’t Change (Leonard C. Goodman, 2/23/10, In These Times)

Obama has changed the rhetoric of the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, he has not changed the destructive policies that continue to make us less safe and that increase the likelihood of future terror attacks. Like Bush, Obama claims the right to perpetually detain any person deemed to be a threat without interference from the courts. Obama is simultaneously carrying on the Bush policy of incinerating any person deemed a threat by drone or air-strike. (Indeed, our CIA is presently conducting an undeclared war on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border—a war that is claiming an untold number of civilian casualties.)

February 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


ObamaCare at Ramming Speed (WSJ, 2/22/10)

A mere three days before President Obama's supposedly bipartisan health-care summit, the White House yesterday released a new blueprint that Democrats say they will ram through Congress with or without Republican support. So after election defeats in Virginia, New Jersey and even Massachusetts, and amid overwhelming public opposition, Democrats have decided to give the voters want they don't want anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM

XBOX 24/7:

In Marja, it's war the old-fashioned way (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 2/20/10, Washington Post)

The fight to pacify this Taliban stronghold in Helmand province is grim and grueling. For all the talk of a modern war -- of Predator drones and satellite-guided bombs and mine-resistant vehicles -- most Marines in this operation have been fighting the old-fashioned way: on foot, with rifle.

They hump their kit on their backs, bed down under the stars in abandoned compounds and defecate in plastic bags.

"This isn't all that different from the way our fathers and grandfathers fought," said Cpl. Blake Burkhart, 22, of Oviedo, Fla.

The battlefield privation here is unlike much of the combat in Iraq, which often involved day trips from large, well-appointed forward operating bases. Even when Marines there had to rough it, during the first and second campaigns for Fallujah, they didn't have to walk as far and they remained closer to logistics vehicles.

In Marja, U.S. military commanders figured, the best way to throw the insurgents off-balance and avoid the hundreds of homemade bombs buried in the roads was to airdrop almost 1,000 Marines and Afghan soldiers. That provided an element of surprise when the operation commenced, and it allowed the forces to punch into the heart of Marja. But it also meant they would have to tough it out.

Because they had to stuff their packs with food, water and ammunition, sleeping bags and tents were left behind. That seemed fine, because summer temperatures in southern Afghanistan often reach 140 degrees. But at this time of year, the mercury can dip -- and it did during the first days of the mission, to freezing temperatures at night.

Huddled under thin plastic camouflage poncho liners, the Marines lucky enough to get a few hours of sleep in between shifts of guard duty huddled close together, sometimes spooning one another, to keep warm.

It didn't always work. In those first days, more Marines were evacuated for hypothermia than for gunshot wounds. One grunt in the battalion's Alpha Company proudly displays the frostbitten tip of his middle finger as his battlefield injury.

In the mornings and evenings, the Marines huddle around small fires they build, fueled by stalks of dried poppy, the principal cash crop in Marja. But in some platoon bases, nighttime fires have been banned because they make it too easy for Taliban snipers to aim.

The snipers have become the principal concern for the troops here, not the seemingly pervasive roadside bombs, in part because there is less driving than in other missions. More Marines have died from gunshot wounds than blasts in the first days of the operation.

As a consequence, body armor and helmets are a must-wear, except when in a patrol base with thick brick walls. Even then, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades are a constant threat.

Marines who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan call the Marja operation more intense than anything else they've encountered, save for the battles in Fallujah.

"This place is crazy," said one sergeant as he ran to respond to the attack on Thursday evening. "It's more intense than anything you could have imagined."

The intensity is sharpened by the lack of any relaxation. It's all combat, all the time. [...]

None of this seems to bother anyone out here. There's a bit of harrumphing here and there -- the lack of hot coffee and the shortage of cigarettes prompt regular complaints -- but all say this is why they got into the Corps.

After Thursday's attack, which lasted 90 minutes before a volley of mortar shells and rockets presumably wiped out the insurgents who had been shooting, the Marines returned to their designated corners of the base in the darkness. Dinner was cold, and the cards were scattered. But nobody cared. All they wanted to do was talk about the fighting, and the one Marine who had been wounded by a Taliban sniper.

"This is better than 'Call of Duty,' " said Lance Cpl. Paul Stephens, 20, of Corona, Calif., referring to a series of shoot-'em-up video games.

"This is what it's all about," Cpl. Mina Mechreki added. "We didn't join the Corps to sit around. This is what we came out here to do."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Where Have All the Log Cabin Republicans Gone?: As conservatives have intensified their opposition to marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination, gay Republicans must ask whom they love more: Reagan or themselves. (Gabriel Arana | February 22, 2010, American Prospect)

[T]here's a more important question than whether it's possible to hold conservative positions on most issues without waging war against gays: Can you navigate a political movement in which the overwhelming majority of people think you should not be allowed to teach in schools, demonstrate commitment to your partner, or serve your country, all because you are gay? Political platforms are a package, and when the package includes condemning gay rights, gay conservatives who aren't completely deluded -- Gallagher said she had gays and lesbians working for her organization -- can only choose to overlook it.

In the past three presidential elections, at least 20 percent of gay people did just that and voted for the Republican candidate. It's a cost-benefit analysis: Gay rights are important, but some may think they are worth sacrificing for other issues. The sacrifice wasn't so big when gay rights weren't really on the table. But as Democrats have increasingly voiced support for issues like gay marriage and employment nondiscrimination, a subset of the community is now consciously and substantively voting against their interests. People vote against their interests all the time, but it is especially difficult to understand when those interests include your basic equality under the law.

Unfortunately, gay conservatives who prize their own rights live in a one-party system; equality has become, as Herbert put it when he was able to get a word in edgewise, the "preserve of the left."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Indiana's Mitch Daniels 'open' to a White House run (Dan Balz, 2/22/10, Washington Post)

Daniels said he has had a number of conversations in recent months -- "none initiated by me" -- where the question of a 2012 campaign came up. "Just to get them off my back, I agreed to a number of people that I will now stay open to the idea," he said.

Among the people he has talked with is former president George W. Bush, though Daniels said it was not that conversation per se that tipped him to reopen a door he had seemingly closed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Brown breaks with GOP to support jobs bill (AP, 2/22/10)

The Senate’s newest member says he will break ranks Monday with fellow Republicans and support a Democratic jobs bill in an important procedural vote.

The vote of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown gets Democrats closer to the 60 they would need to end debate and vote on passage of the bill.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Obama unveils revised $1 trillion health plan (AP, 2/22/10)

Making a last-ditch effort to save his health care overhaul, President Barack Obama on Monday put forward a nearly $1 trillion, 10-year compromise that would allow the government to deny or roll back egregious insurance premium increases that infuriate consumers.

The White House immediately demanded an up-or-down vote in Congress on the plan, or something close to it. But it's highly uncertain that such sweeping legislation can pass. Republicans are virtually unanimous in opposing it, and some Democrats who previously supported a health care remake are having second thoughts in an election year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


Climate-Change Fervor Cools Amid Disputed Science (Kim Chipman, Feb. 22, 2010, Bloomberg)

“One reason people signed on to USCAP when it was trendy was the notion that the train was leaving the station,” Maisano said. “Now that movement on legislation has slowed to a crawl, many of these companies don’t see a benefit in being involved.”

Obama came to office last year pledging to enact “cap-and- trade” legislation that would limit carbon-dioxide emissions and establish a market in the trading of pollution allowances. A House-passed measure has stalled in the Senate.

“The push to move very rapidly on new climate-change laws looks like it has hit a stone wall,” said Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in December showed 54 percent of those questioned believe that action should be taken to deal with climate change, down from 64 percent in 2007.

Skepticism also may be on the rise in the U.K. A poll conducted for BBC News this month found 25 percent of people surveyed didn’t believe in global warming, a rise of 10 percentage points from November.

Public doubt has been fed by climate scientists’ e-mails obtained from computers at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. in November, Representative Inglis said.

Scientists referred in the messages to a “trick” used to smooth out data showing an anomaly in the trend toward higher global temperatures, and wrote about blocking articles by climate-change critics from a report by a UN panel.

“Now we see that that science has been pretty well debunked,” Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who has called man-made global warming a hoax, said on CNN in December.

But who isn't enjoying hearing the Brights tell us that the Science doesn't matter, we should act anyway?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Benedict XVI reflects on the temptation of Jesus in the desert, spiritual combat (Vatican Information Services, 2/21/10)

The significance of the Lenten journey was the theme of Benedict XVI's remarks before praying the Angelus this morning with thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope commented on the story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, which was the Gospel reading for today, the first Sunday of Lent, explaining that the temptations "were not a by-the-way incident, but the consequence of Jesus' decision to complete the mission entrusted to Him by the Father".

"Christ came into the world to free us from sin and from the ambiguous lure of seeking to plan our lives without God. He did this not with high-sounding proclamations but by struggling personally with the Tempter, all the way to the Cross. This example holds true for us all: that the world is improved by beginning with ourselves, by changing, with God's grace, what is wrong with our lives".

Of the three temptations of Jesus, the first "had its origin in hunger, in material want", said the Pope. "But Jesus responded with the words: 'One does not live by bread alone'". The second temptation came when the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the earth; this, the Holy Father explained, "is the lure of power which Jesus unmasked and rejected". To the third temptation, the proposal to perform a miracle that everyone might believe in Him, Jesus responded: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

"Making constant reference to Holy Scripture", the Pope added, Jesus "made human criteria subject to the only true criterion: obedience to the will of God. This is a fundamental lesson for us too: if we carry the Word of God in our minds and hearts, if it enters our lives, then we too can reject all the tricks of the Tempter".

...when He succumbed to Temptation and doubted Himself on the Cross. Having put Himself to the test He too failed. Thence were we reconciled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Transsexual cabaret performer vomits on Susan Sarandon (James Hirsen, 2/21/10, The Examiner)

Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon has had a bad time of it lately. The actress recently separated from her long time partner, actor Tim Robbins. Sarandon attended the third anniversary of The Box in New York’s Lower East Side.

A transsexual cabaret performer named Rose Wood engaged in projectile vomiting on stage and hit Sarandon with it.

How about a tv series where the audience gets to vote on which Hollywood nitwit get the the dousing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


...doesn't the name of last night's venue, Canada Hockey Place, sound like what Homer Simpson would call the Montreal Forum after a few too many Duff's?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels: Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report's author now says true estimate is still unknown (David Adam, 2/21/10, guardian.co.uk)

The study, published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience, one of the top journals in its field, confirmed the conclusions of the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It used data over the last 22,000 years to predict that sea level would rise by between 7cm and 82cm by the end of the century.

At the time, Mark Siddall, from the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Bristol, said the study "strengthens the confidence with which one may interpret the IPCC results". The IPCC said that sea level would probably rise by 18cm-59cm by 2100, though stressed this was based on incomplete information about ice sheet melting and that the true rise could be higher.

Many scientists criticised the IPCC approach as too conservative, and several papers since have suggested that sea level could rise more. [...]

Announcing the formal retraction of the paper from the journal, Siddall said: "It's one of those things that happens. People make mistakes and mistakes happen in science." He said there were two separate technical mistakes in the paper, which were pointed out by other scientists after it was published. A formal retraction was required, rather than a correction, because the errors undermined the study's conclusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


What Went Wrong? (Susan Estrich, 2/22/10, creators.com)

So what went wrong? Every Democrat I talk to has a different answer or, rather, a different person to blame. It was Nancy Pelosi's fault or Harry Reid's or Rahm Emanuel's. Should have made a bigger show of reaching out to Republicans; shouldn't have cut those deals behind closed doors. It is, I am told every day, a communications problem.

Years ago, when I was working in politics, I had a meeting with our pollsters that I'll never forget. After a particularly detailed (and negative) survey, one of the guys who had been polling for years leaned over to me and said, "We have a very big problem. People just don't like our candidate." Not an ideological problem. Not a problem with his experience or positions. They just didn't like him.

Of course, you can't tell your candidate that the people don't like him. So we looked at each other and shook our heads. There is only one way to translate that result. Candidate, we said to him, the people don't know you.

The White House is trying to treat the problem with its health care proposal as a communications problem.

...was that there was nothing objectionable to anyone about candidate Obama. The downside comes if you ever try filling the suit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Debt Deals Haunt Europe: Investors Re-Examine Complex Financial Maneuvers Used to Hide Borrowings (CHARLES FORELLE AND SUSANNE CRAIG, 2/22/10, WSJ)

Investors long turned a blind eye to European governments' aggressive bookkeeping, aimed at meeting the euro zone's fiscal ceilings. Countries using the euro currency have a rich history of exotic maneuvers aimed at meeting rules requiring members to cap debt levels at 60% of their gross domestic product and their annual budget deficits to no more than 3%. Despite criticism, European leaders deemed many of these moves acceptable as they sought the long-planned currency union.

To try to meet the targets, which were aimed at building trust in the stability of the euro, governments over the years have sold state assets, bundled expected future payments into securities to hawk and even, in the case of Greece, insisted to the Eurostat statistics authority that large portions of its military spending were "confidential" and thus excluded from deficit calculations. [...]

Countries "look for things because it helps their arsenal of techniques used to reduce their budget deficits," says James D. Savage, a University of Virginia professor who is an authority on EU budgeting. "The problem for Eurostat is the flourishing of new financial instruments and techniques. Member states are going to try to take advantage of them." [...]

In recent weeks, countries' use of currency swaps has drawn attention. In such transactions, often benign, countries might borrow in a currency not their own, for example, and use a derivative to offset the risk of currency fluctuations. But these instruments can also be used to artificially massage cash flows and liabilities, to meet debt and deficit thresholds.

Investors paid little attention to the often-opaque derivative deals until concern of a Greek default began to rattle markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Outrage in Italy over anti-Down Syndrome website (AFP, 2/22/10)

Politicians and Internet activists in Italy have denounced a page on the social networking site Facebook that calls for children with Down Syndrome to be used for target practice.

Police were trying to track down who set up the page, which features a photo of a Down Syndrome baby with the word "idiot" superimposed on it, and by late Sunday had attracted nearly 1,700 members.

The page proposed what it said was "an easy and amusing solution" to get rid of "these foul creatures": use them as targets at shooting centres.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Kids trump the stars: US hockey upsets Canada (ALAN ROBINSON, 02/22/10, AP)

Happy anniversary, U.S. Olympic hockey team.

The goaltending couldn’t haven’t been better in the U.S. defeat of much-hyped Canada. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, either.

Now, the latest hockey team to capture the American public imagination’s needs only to write a happy ending to this success story in the making, just like the 1960 and 1980 teams did.

Winning the game they supposedly couldn’t against a virtual NHL all-star team that Canadians believed was ordained for gold, the Americans’ unexpected 5-3 victory Sunday advanced them to Wednesday’s quarterfinals as the top-seeded team.

This game wasn’t for a medal. Canada wasn’t eliminated; the Americans are assured of nothing but a bye before they play the Switzerland-Belarus winner. Even so, this was a magical moment for U.S. hockey that, at least in the Olympics, hasn’t been matched since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

The barrage Ryan Miller withstood at the end of the game was horrifying.

February 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Japan PM's party loses local election as support sinks (AFP, Feb 22, 2010)

Japan's ruling party lost a local election at the weekend amid funding scandals as a poll showed support for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's cabinet almost halved since he took office five months ago. [...]

The election loss came after a series of accounting irregularities that have led to the indictment of former aides of Hatoyama and DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.

The election, seen as a prelude to elections for the national parliament's upper house in July, "showed the 'money-and-politics' problems... are dampening the DPJ's steam," the nationwide daily Mainichi Shimbun reported Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Time to vote for democracy (Daily Star, February 22, 2010)

Speaker Nabih Berri has called for a session on Monday to discuss a constitutional amendment which would lower the voting age from 21 to 18, but many Christian deputies have been bandying about the possibility of rejecting the amendment or boycotting the session.

Their behavior is regrettable, because it stems solely from actuarial concerns for their own fiefdoms. To be sure, the sectarian balance in Lebanon remains fragile, as it has been for decades. In addition, these Christian members of Parliament might well be acting out of sincere concern for their constituents, believing that the measure would only further dilute the long-eroding political influence of their co-religionists.

Actuary is existential.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Several Downing St staff 'have called anti-bullying helpline' (Times Online, 2/21/10)

The head of an anti-bullying charity hit out at Gordon Brown tonight after revealing several Downing Street staff have called its helpline.

Christine Pratt said she had “seen red” after ministers rallied round to deny claims in a new book that the Prime Minister had been warned over his treatment of staff.

Lord Mandelson said the Prime Minister was emotional, demanding and impatient but not a bully after a new book detailed a string of alleged outbursts. But Mrs Pratt, who founded the National Bullying Helpline after being a workplace victim herself accused them of failing staff by “going into denial”.

“I have personally taken a call from staff in the Prime Minister’s office, staff who believe they are working in a bullying culture and that it has caused them some stress.

“We would have hoped Gordon Brown would lead by example. If an employer receives complaints they should investigate,” she said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Blinded by Science (George Will, 2/21/10, Townhall)

Last week, Todd Stern, America's Special Envoy for Climate Change -- yes, there is one; and people wonder where to begin cutting government -- warned that those interested in "undermining action on climate change" will seize on "whatever tidbit they can find." Tidbits like specious science, and the absence of warming?

It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern's portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions which everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.

...given his own faith in the similar speciousness and circularity of Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


China finds new ways to buy U.S. debt: Anonymous purchases made through unconventional channels would allow Chinese to remain biggest holders of American bonds (BRIAN MILNER, 2/21/10, Globe and Mail )

"We do not believe that the Chinese are dumping Treasuries," Arthur Kroeber, managing director of GaveKal Dragonomics, a Beijing research firm, told Associated Press. "What they are doing is diversifying the channels through which they make these purchases so that it is much more difficult for the market to ascertain what they are doing." [...]

U.S. data show that China reduced its holding of Treasury bills in December by $34.2-billion (U.S.) - a 4.3-per-cent decline - which pushed it into second place behind Japan as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

But the Chinese increased their holdings of longer-term U.S. government bonds, even though rates at the long end of the yield curve are expected to rise.

"It's a little odd for the Chinese to be getting rid of short-term U.S. Treasuries and buying long-term bonds right now," Dr. Prasad said.

Such a shift makes some sense, because short-term notes are paying virtually nothing, while 10-year bonds carry close to 3-per-cent interest. "But the Chinese have expressed a lot of concerns about the high levels of U.S. debt and deficits," Dr. Prasad said.

As always, follow the money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Paying for cellphone services as you go: Staying connected without a contract can be a money saver for the right kind of user, though some extras may not be available.(Kathy M. Kristof, 2/21/10, LA Times)

With a standard plan, you sign a contract in which you agree to maintain your service for a set amount of time -- most commonly two years -- at a set price. In exchange, you usually get unlimited calling and receive a phone free or at a deeply discounted price.

You are effectively paying for the phone over time through monthly service fees that are slightly padded to account for the phone's cost. If you cancel before the contract term is up, you'll pay a fee that can range from $50 to $400, depending on the plan, when you canceled and the phone you bought.

With a pay-as-you-go plan -- also called a prepaid plan -- everything is a la carte. First you buy your own phone upfront, making sure it's compatible with your chosen provider's service.

Then you can buy a month's worth of phone connection services, a set number of minutes (that will last for a month or longer), Internet access, text messaging or a bundle of these services.

You can choose to be billed by the minute/text or choose a plan that gives you a set number of days (usually 30) for a set rate. If you don't like the service -- or find yourself too strapped to pay for it -- you don't have to continue after your minutes are used up.

That's particularly attractive for people who need basic service on the cheap, perhaps because they're unemployed and looking for work, Naji said. PlatinumTel, for example, has a limited service plan for as little as $10 a month. Add in $40 or so for a basic phone and you're spending $160 for the year.

Here's a TracFone with double minutes that would cost you $80 for a year:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


To thrive we need to distinguish between morality and economics: The current battle between the economists may seem to be about economics. It is not. It is about the morality of debt (Will Hutton, 2/21/10, The Observer)

Nothing is more certain to arouse the armchair moralist than too much debt. Every principle of fair and moral dealing seems to be offended. It is mortgaging the future. If fair rewards are the proportional and due result of one's efforts, debt is a means of unfairly living high on the hog today only to pay a bigger bill tomorrow. Borrowing to buy an asset such as a home or to fix an unanticipated piece of bad luck such as dry rot is more than justifiable. What is amoral is to try to escape the limits of what one fairly earns, worse still to pass the bill on to your children.

If private debt arouses these sentiments, fast-growing public debt is even more provocative. We are now having our future mortgaged for us. It is public imprudence, a nation living beyond its means. If, on top, the annual deficit is the largest in Britain's peacetime history – as it will be this year – and it has been delivered by a discredited Labour government under a prime minister widely held to dissimulate to the point of outright dishonesty, then moral concern swells to outrage. Politicians are at their most effective if they are crusading with the moral force behind them. Debt is an issue on which David Cameron and the Conservatives feel they can take the high ground. We cannot go on like this, they insist. The deficit must be cut as a matter of moral urgency, more deeply and faster than the government plans.

However, debt morality should never be confused with good economics. Good economics attempts to deliver a functioning economic system that works for all its members. Necessarily, credit and debt play crucial economic functions, allowing the system to manage the inevitable mismatches between flows of revenue and costs over time.

The dying nations of Europe are obviously a different kettle of fish, but for America, the current debt spike tracks that of the British to defeat Napoleon and us to defeat Slavery, Nazism and Communism. Today we're just finishing the coda to that Long War, defeating Islamicism, with the corresponding temporary debt increase. That ability to borrow to fund warmaking is a major part of why the democracies of the Anglosphere keep winning so easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Alexander Haig obituary: US secretary of state who failed to avert the Falklands war, and the chief of staff who sustained Richard Nixon's presidency (Harold Jackson, 2/20/10, guardian.co.uk)

The pattern of Haig's life was set very early. Born and brought up in Bala Cynwyd, one of the classier suburbs of Philadelphia, he was the middle child of a prosperous lawyer. But the family's comfortable life was suddenly shattered when his father died of cancer at the age of 38. Haig was then 10 years old, and no more than average academically. He had gained a scholarship to a Roman Catholic preparatory school but did not do well. It was withdrawn after a couple of years and he transferred to a local high school. Though his mother was keen he should follow his father's calling, he was intent on a military career. Confirming his headmaster's view that "Al is definitely not West Point material", his initial application to the US military academy failed.

Then his uncle, who had been largely supporting Haig's mother and siblings, intervened with his considerable local influence and Haig scraped into the military college, situated to the north of New York, in 1944 as an acknowledged political appointee. Under the stress of war, the normal four-year course for officers had been cut to three. The topics removed from the curriculum included English, social sciences and history, in all of which Haig later proved notably deficient.

He graduated from West Point in 1947, finishing 214th out of 310. His classmates shrewdly assessed him as having "strong convictions and even stronger ambitions". Haig opted for the cavalry and, after a year's training, was posted to the American occupation forces in Japan.

Eighteen months into that posting he married Patricia Fox, the daughter of one of the top brass in Tokyo, General Alonzo Fox, and was then appointed the general's aide-de-camp. This brought the young lieutenant into the extraordinary military headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur, run more or less as an alternative court to Emperor Hirohito's.

The experience of MacArthur's imperious megalomania left an indelible impression on Haig. He commented later that "I was always interested in politics and started early in Japan, with a rather sophisticated view of how the military ran it." The outbreak of the Korean war also fixed his career-long belief that the Communist enemy was always at the door.

The initial North Korean assault in June 1950 was a disaster for US forces on the peninsula and brought home how ill-prepared MacArthur's command had become for its military role. Although Haig's unit was rushed to Korea and suffered heavy casualties, he did not go with it: instead, he was sent to accompany his father-in-law to Taiwan, on a liaison mission to Chiang Kai-shek.

When he was eventually assigned to the battle zone, it was as a military assistant on the headquarters staff of an old friend of his father-in-law's, General Edward Almond. MacArthur's selection of Almond as commander of US troops preparing to land in force behind the enemy's rear was later described as "an act of military nepotism".

Haig's role in the highly successful Inchon landings remained obscure, but the ensuing campaign led to the first of many controversial episodes in his military advance. During the battle for Seoul, Haig was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery during a crossing of the Han River. The official citation referred to his outstanding heroism.

However, the later official history of the crossing said there had been "no enemy resistance" and that the North Korean positions were "lightly manned". General Almond had recommended the decoration for his assistant and later awarded him two further Silver Stars for flying over enemy positions in a light aircraft.

Haig left Korea as a captain in 1951, suffering from hepatitis, and picked up his interrupted career. In 1953 he was appointed to the staff of West Point as a disciplinary officer, remembered for his obsession with spit and polish, and was then assigned to a tank battalion with the American forces in Europe. He gained a routine promotion to major and, redeployed to the European Command headquarters in Germany, had his first experience of diplomacy.

Congress had been grumbling about the cost of maintaining the US presence in Germany, and Haig took part in the 18-month negotiations to persuade the West Germans to shoulder more of the burden. This brought him another medal for "remarkable foresight, ingenuity, and mature judgment".

It also seemed to increase his taste for the administrative and political aspects of military life. In 1959 he enrolled on a military staff course and then went on to a further course at Georgetown University in Washington, where American diplomats traditionally trained.

The thesis for his Georgetown master's degree showed how his ambitions were developing. It spoke of the need for a new breed of military professional occupying a prominent seat among presidential advisers. It also gave an early glimpse of his infamously tormented prose, with incomprehensible references to "interpretive vagaries" and "a permeating nexus".

Armed with these new qualifications, Haig was assigned to a staff position at the Pentagon, where his father-in-law had become deputy to the assistant secretary for international affairs. Though Haig's own job was in military planning, his very presence at the defence department, allied to his family connections, pitched him into the tangled world of Washington's cold-war politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Meir Dagan: the mastermind behind Mossad's secret war (Uzi Mahnaimi, 2/21/10, Times of London)

IN early January two black Audi A6 limousines drove up to the main gate of a building on a small hill in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv: the headquarters of Mossad, the Israeli secret intelligence agency, known as the “midrasha”.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, stepped out of his car and was greeted by Meir Dagan, the 64-year-old head of the agency. Dagan, who has walked with a stick since he was injured in action as a young man, led Netanyahu and a general to a briefing room.

According to sources with knowledge of Mossad, inside the briefing room were some members of a hit squad. As the man who gives final authorisation for such operations, Netanyahu was briefed on plans to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a member of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza. [...]

The tone of his directorship is set by a photograph on the wall of his modest office in the Tel Aviv headquarters. It shows an old Jew standing on the edge of a trench. An SS officer is aiming his rifle at the old man’s head.

“This old Jew was my grandfather,” Dagan tells visitors. The picture reflects in a nutshell his philosophy of Jewish self-defence for survival. “We should be strong, use our brain, and defend ourselves so that the Holocaust will never be repeated,” he once said.

One hit he masterminded was in Damascus two years ago against Imad Mughniyeh, a founder of Hezbollah and one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. Mughniyeh was decapitated when the headrest of his car seat exploded — close to the headquarters of Syrian intelligence.

Six months later, Mossad, in co-operation with special forces, struck again at the heart of the Syrian establishment. General Mohammed Suleiman, Syria’s liaison to North Korea’s nuclear programme, was relaxing in the back garden of his villa on the Mediterranean shore.

His bodyguards were monitoring the front of the villa. Out to sea a yacht sailed slowly by. No noise was heard, but suddenly the general fell, a bullet through his head.

One of Dagan’s most recent concerns has been the rise of the Iranian threat to Israel, both directly and through its links with Hamas. It is in that context that the operation to eliminate Mabhouh should be understood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Thompson encouraged by polls, not ruling out Feingold challenge (Sean J. Miller, 02/19/10, The Hill)

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R-Wis.) is encouraged by polls showing him leading Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in a hypothetical matchup.

He hasn’t announced a 2010 Senate run but admits he’s spoken to the head of National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and several other senators about the possibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Our Hero Socrates: A similar version of this essay appears as the introduction to Nalin Ranasinghe’s Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias (Peter Augustine Lawler, February 1, 2010, Clarion Review)

The deepest depth of the Platonic dialogue is a return to its surface, which is genuinely illuminating conversation about the moral or purpose-driven concerns we really share in common. We learn that the true purpose of the capacity for speech given to particular members of our species is neither technical nor transgressive. It is an error to view words as primarily weapons for either practical manipulation or for destroying the various articulations of the moral responsibilities given to social persons open to the truth.

Socrates finally confirms the goodness of all that we’ve been given as the beings with eros and logos, which means that all pretensions to solitary liberation or autonomous self-sufficiency are revealed, deep down, to be nothing but unnecessarily misery-producing illusions. Speech directed by reason and pulled toward reality by eros is, most of all, what keeps us from being alone. It also allows each of us to make genuine progress toward personal moral perfection. Our truth-inspired responsibilities are both personal and social.

“The crucial question,” as Ranasinghe articulates it, “has to do with how seriously one takes Socrates’ understanding of the soul as the seat of moral agency.” Do we really know enough to be able to say with confidence, against the skeptics, that our perception of moral choice is real? Socrates’ “knowledge of ignorance” is his awareness that omniscience is not a human possibility. We can’t really resolve the question of human freedom through the study of natural science, and one condition of our freedom is our ability to know that we can’t fully comprehend or control all that exists. We don’t have the power, in fact, to make ourselves more or less than humans stuck between the other animals and God. Divine freedom or blind determination by impersonal necessity will never characterize us.

Do we still know enough to know that being good and being happy are really choices open to us? Do we really know that any effort to feel good—to be happy—without really being good is bound to fail us? Socrates, Ranasinghe patiently explains, gives a psychic account of evil; good and evil are both profoundly personal.

I am evil, I can say, because I’m to blame if my soul is disordered, if I’ve been choosing against what I really know about myself. Evil is real and personal, and so it has a real and personal remedy. Telling the truth to myself as a rational and erotic being is the precondition for my choosing good over evil. That means that no radical social or technological transformation—no mega-effort to escape from the reality we’ve been given—can solve or even address the problem of evil. The Socratic way, which is the only way that respects the mystery of human freedom, is to proceed one soul at a time.

The Socratic teaching is morally demanding. The truth is, we’re not excused from doing the right thing by being victims or playthings of arbitrary gods or impersonal forces. But it is also reassuring. An ugly old guy trapped in an unhappy marriage turns out to be the best and the happiest Athenian of all. We can live well in the most adverse circumstances. Our happiness doesn’t depend on happenstance or what’s beyond our control, just as it doesn’t depend on being a successful control freak.

Socrates, Ranasinghe shows, was no Stoic. The Stoics were also tough-minded men. They did their duty as rational beings in what they saw as a cold, deterministic world, and so they thought it was possible to keep one’s own fate in one’s own control. The Stoics actually thought life is tougher than it really is. In their self-understanding, there’s no room for freedom or love or real happiness.

The world would be evil if the Stoics are right, and one appropriate response would be tight-lipped rational endurance of what can’t be changed. The Stoics were unerotic because they thought the only way to think of themselves as happy is to think of themselves as minds, and not as whole human beings. But Socrates was actually happy in thinking about who he really is, because the pull of his eros was away from the illusion connecting rational self-sufficiency with happiness.

If the Stoics are right on the facts, then the Epicureans (or the Epicurean sophists) actually make more sense. The world is evil insofar as it’s hostile to my very existence. Everything human is ephemeral and pointless, and so both hope and fear make me stupid. Such sophists argue that since evil isn’t caused by me and can’t be remedied by me, my proper response to worldly events is apathy. I might as well try to lose myself in imaginary pleasures, including taking some proud pleasure in being able to rise above the futile sound and fury that surrounds me. My personal assault on reality is, in fact, a value judgment on reality. I’m free to do whatever it takes to get me through this hell of a life.

But the truth is that I can’t ever fully believe that my perception of reality is nothing but a private fantasy. I can’t turn what I really know about my death into “death” or a linguistic construction amenable to reconstruction with my happiness in mind. In a certain way the Epicurean teaching is tougher than the Stoic position. Losing oneself is a full-time job; there’s no real break from the pursuit of pleasurable diversions. There’s no greater source of human misery, perhaps, than believing that nothing makes us more miserable than thinking clearly about what we really know. The fact that that thought is very un- or anti-erotic also helps to explain why Epicureans don’t actually have much fun; they, like the Stoics, mistakenly refuse to go where their erotic longings could take them.

One of the most wonderful and genuinely useful features of Socrates in the Underworld is the large number of pointed and witty contemporary applications of the way Socrates reconciles truth, virtue, and happiness. Here’s the Socratic good news for us: Our alternatives extend beyond fatalistic Stoicism (as practiced by our Southern aristocrats), emotive religion (as practiced, say, by our Evangelicals) aimed at opposing the loving will of God to scientific or empirical nihilism, and the unerotic and otherwise boring Epicureanism promulgated by our academic deconstructionists, which animates the creeping (and often creepy) libertarianism that characterizes our culture as a whole.

Our lefty postmodernists and our right-wing free marketers, Ranasinghe shows, serve the same sophisticated cause of liberating us from any responsibility to moral truth. They think we’ll be better off if we believe that what Socrates says we most need to know is unknowable, and succumb to their cynical claim that even the bonds of love are for suckers. By causing us to flee from what we really know and thus from our real potential for virtue, our sophisticates lead us to think and act as less than we really are. But it’s still possible to recover who we really are; we can still imitate Socrates’ ennobling example.

February 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


Evan Bayh, Tough Chooser: Another senator who’s too good for Washington. (Andrew Ferguson, March 1, 2010, Weekly Standard)

The last rash of Tough Choosing politicians appeared in the 1990s: Senators Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas, Warren Rudman, a handful of others. They fashioned themselves “raging moderates” or “radical centrists,” hoping that the oxymorons would sound ironic and provocative rather than nonsensical. They were neither ideological nor partisan, they said; they were problem solvers, pragmatic idealists and idealistic pragmatists. And they were sick at heart over the government’s deficit and its inability to make the tough choices that would bring the federal budget into balance.

So they all quit. “Politics is broken,” said Bradley upon his retirement, and Tsongas, having also retired, echoed the phrase, saying “government is broken.” Rudman was a Republican Tough Chooser, with a brusquer demeanor: “I’m tired of it,” he said, heading for the door. “I’m angry at the entire government.”

When Bayh made his exit this month, with his wife and hapless sons arranged behind him as if posing for a hostage video, he made sure to sound the same timeless theme of a broken government, gummed up by partisanship and manned by pols too self-interested or gutless to muck out the works. After the deep drafts of self-flattery that have become common in political rhetoric—“I have often been a lonely voice for balancing the budget .  .  . I have fought .  .  . I have continued to fight .  .  . I have championed”​—​he announced that “Congress is not operating as it should.” There was “partisanship” rather than “progress,” “slogans” in place of “solutions,” “alliteration” instead of “action.” (I made up the last one.)

Tough Choosers always insist that the problems of the present era are unprecedented. The past, in contrast to the fallen world we face now, was idyllic, and the golden age always ended the day before yesterday. Bayh fondly recollected the years when his father Birch Bayh worked as a senator, in the 1970s, a prelapsarian era when legislators “worked together” and “got things done.” The voters at the time saw it differently. At the end of Birch Bayh’s third term, they voted him and 11 of his colleagues out of office in a mass turnover that was truly unprecedented—a kind of electoral upchuck. If the Senate was getting things done in the 1970s, they were evidently the wrong things. [...]

In practice, in other words, Evan Bayh is just a reliable, conventional, loyal Democrat. Nothing wrong with that! In his reputation, however, Bayh has wanted to be so much more. When he says he’s not satisfied with politics as usual, he really means it. So he’s become a Tough Chooser. With the forelock tugging, the tortured rumination, the joint resolutions with John McCain and Olympia Snowe, the lectures to his colleagues about the tough choices they refuse to face, he can live rhetorically, in a realm of pure possibility.

In the realm of politics, though, you have to choose. You have to join the side you’re on. You have to make the tough decisions. Which is why the Tough Choosers always quit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Ron Paul Wins Presidential Straw Poll at CPAC (FOXNews.com, 2/20/10)

Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas known for his libertarian views, ran for president in 2008 but was never a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


The Indo-Pakistan cliff of hoary cliches (Vir Sanghvi, 21 Feb 2010, Indian Express)

Here is a small sample of what you’re probably hearing — and a short explanation about why it makes very little sense.

One: A strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s best interests.

This argument is as old as the hills. The underlying assumption is that were Pakistan to break up, thousands of mad militants would attack India. There is a tiny grain of truth to this view so I will not dismiss it out of hand but consider the opposite view.

In 1971, Pakistan broke up. Half of the country actually seceded and became Bangladesh. The immediate consequence of this weak and enfeebled Pakistan was two decades of peace. Throughout the 70s and the 80s, we had very little trouble from Islamabad. Plus, with East Pakistan gone, funding for rebels in Nagaland and Mizoram dried up. Consequently, both problems were solved and the insurgencies ended.

If Pakistan were to break up, if Sindh or Baluchistan seceded, there is no way this could do India any harm. Rather Pakistan would be so obsessed with its own problems that we would have a degree of peace.

Further, the real threat to India is not from freelance jihadis. They are quite happy killing other Pakistanis. The threat to us comes from organised terror planned by state and semi-state actors. Such forces are at their peak when Pakistan is strong and stable.

Not only would we all benefit from turning the violence further inwards, but it is futile to try and contain the centrifugal forces driving the artificial remnants of colonialism apart. Of course, that includes India....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Uncle Sam vs the Dragon: The growing rift between the United States and China has chilling similarities to America’s old rivalry with the Soviet Union (Daniel W. Drezner, 2/20/10, Spectator)

When Barack Obama burst into the room to disrupt China’s meeting with its fellow climate change sceptics at the Copen-hagen summit, it was clear that something was not right in the relationship between the two countries. The American president had made his way past reporters, with a face like thunder, and shouted at his Chinese counterpart, ‘Mr Premier, are you ready for me?’ Wen Jiabao was not; and according to numerous press reports, Mr Obama was berated by a mid-ranking Chinese official for his rudeness. It was obvious to all present that the relative amicability that had defined Sino-American relations for most of last year was over. [....]

The fundamentals of China’s economy are stronger than those of the old Soviet Union. It has the world’s largest population, a rapidly expanding middle class and a frightening amount of US bonds — but again, in comparison with America, its weaknesses are legion. The one-child policy has created a rapidly ageing population and, in common with the old Soviet leaders, the Beijing elite is painfully aware of simmering ethnic tensions on its own border regions.

Beijing faces periodic riots in Xinjiang and Tibet, daily worker unrest, unruly provincial leaders, and mounting ecological catastrophes. It has three enduring rivals (Japan, India and Vietnam) as neighbours. Its allies — North Korea and Myanmar — are sources of international embarrassment. And for all the fuss about Chinese cyber-attacks, internet experts agree that the United States possesses more ‘online offensive capabilities’ than any other country in the world. Even more than the old Soviet Union, China is both a great power and an extremely poor country.

...that the UR's much vaunted improvement of America's relations with the rest of the world has instead turned into open enmity with nearly everyone, but imagine if you were one of the poor benighted dupes who voted for him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Why is Obama failing? (Robert Fulford, 2/20/10, National Post)

Lately he’s been masquerading as a populist, a severe critic of the banks. But few graduates of Harvard Law can do populism and Obama isn’t among them. He fools no one. This week a CNN poll reported that 45% of his fellow citizens believe he belongs to the upper class. [...]

He’s recently taken to suggesting that his administration’s problem is a failure to communicate. That’s what politicians say when they manage to fool themselves and set out to fool others. It means that substantial matters are well under control but in their haste to create a better world they have neglected communications, a relatively trivial matter.

Obama of all people should know it’s not trivial. He didn’t become President for his accomplishments; he did it mainly on oratory. But in office his tone has changed. He doesn’t seem to care whether he makes an impact or not and rarely suggests that something crucial is at stake. You can listen to him for 20 minutes and realize an hour later that you can’t remember anything he said.

He performs a sort of dance with the cameras, turning first to the right, then to the left, then back again. It seemed spontaneous for a while but it’s now pure ritual. He’s developed a manner that’s so cool it can’t be distinguished from indifference.

...it does make the animatronics version of him at Disney's Hall of Presidents seem eerily realistic....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


How murder became an accepted tool of foreign policy: The apparent consensus that assassination is legitimate is very sinister (Alasdair Palmer, 20 Feb 2010, Daily Telegraph)

David Miliband says it is "outrageous". The French foreign ministry has expressed its "deep concern". Even the Americans appear to be gearing up for a major diplomatic protest. And the cause of all the outrage? Not the murder, almost certainly by the Israelis, of Mahmoud
al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Rather, it's that the murderers used forged British and French passports – or in America's case, that they used a US credit card to book flights to Dubai for six members of the hit squad.

Forging passports is certainly a bad thing – but is it worse than murder? To judge by the international reaction to the killing of al-Mabhouh, it is much worse. Yet it was not all that long ago that it was thought to be, well, indecent for a government to go around assassinating its enemies. When the Government sent a group of SAS officers to murder suspected members of the IRA on Gibraltar, there was an enormous international outcry. Britain was hauled before the European Court and severely admonished. Would there be such a response today? Only if the killers forged their travel documents.

...it was just a matter of personal convenience for leaders to oppose it. But how are you going to convince democratic electorates that it is morally legitimate to kill several hundred thousand oppressed Iraqis through "peaceful" sanctions but evil to whack a few Ba'athist henchmen?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


The Incredible Shrinking Continent: Europe is on track to lose 52 million workers between now and 2050—unless it begins embracing immigrants fast. (Stefan Theil, 2/19/10, NEWSWEEK )

The continent is heading for serious long-term economic trouble unless it learns to manage immigration intelligently. Deaths are expected to outnumber births this year in 10 of the European Union's 27 member states. As of 2015 the EU as a whole will experience negative natural population growth, demographers say, and the gap will grow to 1 million excess deaths a year by 2035. By 2050 the EU will have 52 million fewer people of working age, the European Commission warns. Businesses across Europe are already facing severe shortages of engineers, technicians, craftspeople, and other skilled professionals, with 4 million unfilled jobs across the continent. "Every one of our clients in Europe has positions they can't fill because of continentwide shortages," says Barbara Beck, European head of the employment service Manpower. And the problem will only worsen as the job market recovers.

The trouble isn't a shortage of immigrants. The European Union has attracted 26 million migrants in the past two decades—a full 30 percent more than America's 20 million over the same span. But most European countries tried to protect homegrown labor by shutting out foreign workers. The efforts mostly backfired, encouraging a massive influx of illegal aliens, who tend to accept rock-bottom wages and benefits because they have no legal recourse. At the same time, Europe's generous social benefits encouraged a massive surge of "welfare tourism." As a result, Europe has ended up with 85 percent of all unskilled migrants to the developed countries but only 5 percent of the highly skilled. Compare that with the United States, which has honed its innovative edge by attracting 55 percent of the world's educated migrants. And because immigration happens largely via networks, with established immigrants paving the way for their peers, such trends tend to endure. "It therefore takes decades to turn immigration policy around," says Thomas Liebig, a migration specialist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

For decades most European countries have consigned immigrants to the margins: in Germany, some professions were restricted to German citizens well into the 1990s, while eligibility for citizenship itself was based on bloodlines until a landmark reform in 2001. Millions of refugees were legally barred from working, which forced them into squalid welfare dependency. Muslims especially remain unintegrated and ghettoized in many European countries, including France, Britain, and the Netherlands. Now many European countries have tabled important policy reforms such as the drafting of a continentwide asylum policy and the formulation of smarter immigration criteria based on education and skills. Others, like Spain and the Czech Re-public, are actually paying migrants to go away. The danger is that Europe's worsening hostility toward foreigners will halt or even reverse efforts to assimilate those who are already there, spawning a fast--growing, permanent underclass. According to the OECD, immigrants have been losing jobs at almost twice the rate of native-born citizens during the current crisis, and in many countries the socioeconomic gap between immigrants and natives has begun to grow again.

All this comes at a critical moment for the global economy. Economists predict that global GDP will double in the next 20 years, and as many as 1 billion new, skilled jobs will be created. To avoid being left behind, Europe will need to upgrade its workforce to compete in knowledge-intensive sectors. It can't afford to neglect the education of its immigrant populations or to give up competing for its share of the global talent pool. If it makes the wrong choice, Europe will become smaller, poorer, and angrier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Red Alert: As Obama's national-debt panel prepares for deliberations, one congressman proposes how to get back in the black. (Paul Ryan, 2/19/10, NEWSWEEK)

I call it "A Roadmap for America's Future." If followed, this is what will happen:

You, not your government or your boss, should own your health plan. The Roadmap replaces a tax break that benefits only those with job-based health insurance with tax credits that benefit every American. It addresses the key drivers of rising health-care costs, securing universal access to quality, affordable health coverage.

Everyone 55 and over will remain in the current program. For those now under 55, the Roadmap turns Medicare into a health-care program like the one enjoyed by members of Congress. Future seniors will receive a voucher and will be able to choose from a list of Medicare-certified insurance plans that best suit their needs. The government subsidy will provide additional support for those with lower incomes and higher health costs.

Everyone 55 and older will remain in the existing program with no change. My plan offers those now under 55 a choice: continue to take part in traditional Social Security or join a retirement system like Congress's own plan. Future seniors will be able to invest more than a third of their payroll taxes in savings accounts they will own. These accounts will be guaranteed and managed by the federal government—not by a private investment firm. For both Social Security and Medicare, eligibility ages will gradually increase.

To get the economy going again, the Roadmap offers the option of a simple, low-rate, two-tier personal income tax, eliminating loopholes and the double taxation of savings and investment. Corporate income taxes will be replaced by a simple 8.5 percent business consumption tax. (For specifics on these and other reforms, go to americanroadmap.org.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 AM


Amid Gigantic Deficits, the Bond Market Shrugs: With the U.S. budget gap reaching a mind-bending level, why are Treasury yields lower than when the government ran a surplus more than a decade ago? (Chris Farrell, 2/19/10, Business Week)

But here's the puzzle: If the federal government's fiscal position is so financially parlous, its need for debt financing so insatiable, and our political system so bankrupt, then why is the interest rate on U.S. government bonds lower than at the beginning of the 2000s, when the government ran a budget surplus and was paying down its debt? For example, the yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury bond is currently around 3.8%. Last year, the yield averaged 3.3%. The budget deficit in the latest Economic Report of the President is projected to be -$1.5 trillion in 2010. Last year, the White House Council of Economic Advisers pegged it at -$1.4 trillion. Yet from 1998 through 2001, when the U.S. government was in a budget surplus for the first time in three decades, the 10-year Treasury bond yield ranged between 5% and 6%.

What is the message in government bond yields? That the conventional fiscal pessimism could be wrong, deeply wrong. [...]

The most important factor behind investor steadiness may be a considered judgment that the U.S. political system may be messy and noisy, but it has also proven itself to be highly flexible and adaptable. The insight was noted by Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the mid-90s. Better known as Danny the Red, the charismatic student who briefly led the 1968 revolt in France, Cohn-Bendit was equally dismissive of the French government three decades later when the mandarins abruptly announced a series of major policy changes to close yawning deficits. The nation was rocked by strikes, and the government retreated. "In America, before major changes in anything there are Congressional hearings, public debates between Congress and the President, and a whole process of public discussion that is completely absent in France," Mr. Cohn-Bendit told the New York Times. [...]

Resilience is a hallmark of the American political system. A major strand of America's political history is that whenever widespread economic abundance is threatened, the political system adapts. In his magisterial People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and American Character, the historian David Potter argued in the 1950s that what American democracy was really committed to "was realizing the potentialities of our unmatched assets and raising our standard of living." From 19th century land reform through the New Deal, the "tactics by which this was done changed as the form of abundance itself changed, but the basic purpose—to keep our population in contact with the sources of wealth—has remained steadily in the ascendant throughout our history."

Simply put: Wall Street is betting that history still holds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


The Enemy Within: THE STRONG HORSE: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations By Lee Smith (WENDELL STEAVENSON, 2/21/10, NY Times Book Review)

Smith, a Middle East correspondent for The Weekly Standard, contends in this short, dense, nuanced polemic that the area suffers from endemic political violence. The ruling elites are caught in “a perpetual pincer movement” between regional concerns and the internal threat of overthrow. They are simply self-interested factions trying, by any measure possible, to retain their grip on power. Jihad, Smith argues, is an age-old byproduct of this struggle as the ruler pushes the energies of the young militant warrior class away from his ­capital. For Smith, the 9/11 attacks were less the result of a clash of civilizations than part of existing Middle East power struggles.

Smith wants the American left to stop blaming American foreign policy for the Middle East’s ills and concentrate instead on the structural deficiencies of the region’s societies. This is an enticing exoneration, but the United States is undeniably a player, and a certain amount of responsibility must surely go along with military hardware, troop deployments and subsidies to various regimes.

“The Strong Horse” threads its way through Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the gulf states. Smith delves into history and pits his position against those of (among others) Edward Said, Naguib Mahfouz, the Muslim Brotherhood and Omar Sharif. I suspect that readers without a fair grounding in the region may get lost in Smith’s descriptions of Lebanese politics, Syrian interests and the complexities of Islamic reform movements. But from time to time he treats us to beautifully written portraits of his Arab friends, individuals who illustrate far better than finely wrought theory the difficulties of practical reform.

One is an Egyptian named Raouf who is 23 years old, has studied Kant and can argue the merits of Thomas L. Friedman’s work, but who is isolated among his companions — they have little interest in political philosophy. Raouf burns his own unpublishable articles. “Who am I writing for except myself, anyway?” he asks in a moment filled with pathos. In such a cauldron, Smith argues, idealistic American efforts to democratize the region are doomed: “Repressive violence and terror are two aspects of a political culture that has no mechanism for either sharing power or transmitting political authority from one governing body to another except through inheritance, coup or conquest.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Obama: Social Security fix would be simple (AP, 2/19/10)

President Barack Obama says Social Security is slowly running out of money but that it can exist well into the future with a slight fix.

The system is funded with a tax on earnings, up to $109,000 a year. Obama says lifting that cap to tax a larger share of income would be one way to extend the system of monthly payments for retirees. It also would be unpopular with some.

...and the program never "goes broke." Unfortunately, that alleviates the pressure on politicians to reform/personalize/privatize the program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Obama Agenda in Traction (John Fund, 2/19/10, WSJ)

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report released a new update on the 2010 elections yesterday. A full 54 Democratic seats in the House are now rated as "highly competitive," with nearly half already seeing the GOP challenger running even or ahead of the Democratic incumbent. Only six GOP-held seats are in play as possible Democratic pickups. Republicans need to win 40 seats to take back control of the House.

Nervousness in Democratic ranks will be heightened even more by Cook's finding that a total of 95 Democratic seats are potentially vulnerable -- almost two-fifths of the entire Democratic caucus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Tech-Driven Natgas Boom Shifts Energy Balance Of Power To U.S. (MARK J. PERRY, 2/19/10, Investors.com)

A new technique being used to drill through a type of rock known as shale has led to a surge in domestic natural gas production over the last three years and enabled the United States to overtake Russia recently as the world's No. 1 producer of natural gas. [...]

Thanks to a breakthrough in drilling technology, involving the use of three-dimensional seismic imaging and hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, huge amounts of natural gas are being produced in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and other states. Instead of declining, domestic natural gas production is booming to record-high levels.

If estimates hold up, energy experts say the shale gas that underlies large parts of the United States will be able meet our country's needs for the next 100 years. The Department of Energy expects shale gas to account for 50% of natural gas production by 2020 if not sooner.

What's more, the same drilling techniques for shale gas are now being used in several European countries, including France and Poland, to extract their own supplies. Both China and India have huge shale-gas resources. Geologists say shale gas is so plentiful in some parts of the world that it could meet global needs for several centuries.

February 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 PM


Lautenberg’s illness could hurt Senate Democrats (ANDREW MIGA, 02/20/10, AP)

If Lautenberg, 86, has to miss multiple votes for health reasons, Democrats could struggle to fill the void. A first test could come Monday when a vote is expected on a Democratic jobs bill. A Lautenberg spokesman said Friday the senator would miss the vote.

“It’s one less vote, simple math,” said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego. “It just makes it a little harder.”

The nation’s second-oldest senator is expected to return to work between treatments. Lautenberg is to undergo six to eight chemotherapy treatments and should make a full recovery, his doctor said. [...]

Any decline in Lautenberg’s recovery would be a serious concern for Democrats in New Jersey as well.

Republicans there won control of the governor’s office in November. If Lautenberg were unable to finish his term, Gov. Chris Christie would appoint an interim successor. That could give a Republican candidate the added advantage of incumbency in an already favorable environment for the GOP.

New Jersey Democrats failed to advance legislation to take the interim appointment power away from Christie. The legislation was introduced during the lame-duck session with Lautenberg in mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Holder admits nine Obama Dept. of Justice officials worked for terrorist detainees, offers no details (Byron York, 02/19/10, Washington Examiner)

Attorney General Eric Holder says nine Obama appointees in the Justice Department have represented or advocated for terrorist detainees before joining the Justice Department. But he does not reveal any names beyond the two officials whose work has already been publicly reported. And all the lawyers, according to Holder, are eligible to work on general detainee matters, even if there are specific parts of some cases they cannot be involved in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Seven Deadly Traits: Decoding the confession of the Austin plane bomber. (Dave Cullen, Feb. 19, 2010, Slate)

I spoke with several experts in mass murder Thursday, and we identified seven deadly traits of impending danger in Stack's manifesto.

Narcissism/egocentricity: Joseph Stack ended his life with a supreme act of narcissism, and that quality leaps out of every line of his rationalization. It's all about him. Through 30 years of his torture, "thieves, liars and self-serving scumbags" in Congress continually targeted Stack personally. The IRS and his own accountant joined in to make him their personal whipping boy. When the Senate redrew the tax code in 1986, "they may as well have put my name right in the text of section (d)," Stack writes. [...]

Superiority masking self-loathing (projection): Stack lashes out at "the incredible stupidity of the American public": "brainwashed" "zombies" who follow along dutifully, incapable of his keen insights to look right through the horror of "the real American nightmare." It's a feeble claim of superiority, when the entire treatise reeks of self-loathing. Stark ends with an attack on capitalism—"From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed." But this is not a man who rejected the system. He only rejected the idea of paying his taxes. He spent his life creating businesses, working the system, and constantly keeping score with his bank balance. Stack embraced capitalism and then convinced himself he was a dismal failure at it.

There is a strong hint of projection in Stack's thinking. When he complains of moving to a better life in Austin and discovering "a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance," he might as well be describing the document he's composing. Projection is common among depressed people, who take a personal trait they despise in themselves and apply it to something external to bat around and ridicule. The televangelist who decries immorality in the midst of an affair is a classic example. It looks to us like conscious hypocrisy, but it's really just a dirty little reusable tool for him to beat up on his own sins.

Isolationist thinking: This served as an aggravating factor for Stack. He presents himself as battling a monolithic series of adversaries: big business, big government, Big Brother, big religion. He sees himself as a shrunken David unable to match this Goliath. There is a suggestion of paranoia here. Stack is a supremely unreliable narrator of his own story, but he does seem to have created real financial hardship for himself. When he repeatedly chose not to pay his taxes, one or more of his business licenses was suspended.

That seems to be at the heart of Stack's whole mess. Unnamed, but ever-present in his commentary, is his immersion in a fringe group or groups who believed they were exempt from the federal income tax. By his account, Stack devoted enormous time, energy, and possibly money to this cause.

Stack made some awful choices on his taxes, but surrounding himself with like-minded zealots may have been just as dangerous in the long run. In his insightful FBI study "The Lethal Triad," Dr. Kevin Gilmartin describes intellectual isolation as a key factor when extremists lash out violently. It's counterintuitive, but joining certain groups can be more isolating than living alone. Stack found a group that encouraged and validated the idea of avoiding taxation, which might have been difficult for him to sustain on his own. The moral support he found appears to have helped him sustain a rather nutty concept for 20 to 30 years, in spite of the economic distress it inflicted on him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


The Barack-Bill Parallels: The 2010 midterms are looking a lot like the 1994 election. Why that might not be bad for Obama. (Eleanor Clift, 2/19/10, Newsweek)

Obama's tenure so far is strikingly similar to '93 and '94 when another young Democratic president entered office with high expectations and soon found himself down in the polls and battling a wave of conservative sentiment. The advisers around Obama would never admit it, but losing one or even both houses of Congress might be better for Obama than the gridlock paralyzing his agenda. History in our partisan age suggests that for a president to be truly successful and get big legislative achievements, a divided Congress may be necessary. Only then does each party have some stake in governing, and maneuvering room to compromise.

Clinton never would have been able to sign welfare reform if the Democrats controlled Congress, and the same is true of the balanced budget that Clinton achieved in '97. These were Republican initiatives that many Democrats would have resisted.

History demonstrates that the Gipper and W had significant victories with full or partial control of Congress. It is only Democrats who need the GOP in control in order to govern effectively. Which reveals an awful lot about the nature of congressional Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


“There will be casualties”: Euthanasia activists in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands have lost touch with reality. (Michael Cook, 19 February 2010, MercatorNet)

Australian euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke loves publicity. But whenever he opens his mouth, even the most progressive journalists avert their eyes in squeamish embarrassment. This week’s gaffe was to defend his barely legal promotion of a suicide drug for the elderly and terminally ill. It turns out that nearly two-thirds of the Australians who died after quaffing Nembutal – at least 51 over the past 10 years -- were under 60, and quite a few were in the 20s and 30s. This suggests that mental illness or depression, not unbearable pain, was the reason for the suicide. So how did Nitschke respond?

''There will be some casualties,” he said ....

Euthanasia, by definition, preys on the mentally ill. It ought be bno comfort that the victims are usually older folks who feel they've become too burdensome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


What Ever Happened to Candidate Obama? (Katha Pollitt, 2/18/10, The Nation)

I'm still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something--whatever!--men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan--which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness--for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can't blame this on a woman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Consumer prices excluding food and energy fall (Associated Press, February 19, 2010)

Consumer prices rose less than expected in January while prices excluding food and energy actually fell, something that hasn't happened in more than a quarter-century.

The Labor Department said Friday that consumer prices edged up 0.2 percent in January while prices excluding food and energy slipped 0.1 percent. That was the first monthly decline since December 1982.

The benign inflation news gives the Federal Reserve more time to keep interest rates at record-low levels to shore up the economy and should ease worries in financial markets that a Fed rate hike is more imminent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Sestak says federal job was offered to quit race (Thomas Fitzgerald, 2/19/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) said yesterday that the White House offered him a federal job in an effort to dissuade him from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in the state's Democratic primary.

The disclosure came during an afternoon taping of Larry Kane: Voice of Reason, a Sunday news-analysis show on the Comcast Network. Sestak would not elaborate on the circumstances and seemed chagrined after blurting out "yes" to veteran news anchor Kane's direct question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Conservatives woo Hispanics: Immigration stand key issue (Casey Curlin, 2/19/10, Washington Times)

The American Principles Project announced this week its Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, a new initiative that will promote conservative values in the Hispanic community and attempt to persuade conservatives on immigration reform, opening doors to a possible untapped mass of support in the nation's growing Hispanic community.

"We believe that it is time that the conservative movement proactively and intelligently reach out to Latinos, because we believe strongly that Latinos are conservative, that Latino values are conservative values," said Alfonso Aguilar, a spokesman for the partnership.

Clarissa Martinez De Castro, the director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, agreed that Hispanics are traditionally socially conservative and pro-family.

But she said the immigration issue is so important to Hispanic voters that conservatives, who generally oppose paths to citizenship and favor tighter border security, would have to clearly change their stances to have many more Hispanics vote for them.

Many Republicans "have used the issue in a way that has demonized the Latino community," Ms. Martinez De Castro said.

Statistics appear to support Ms. Martinez De Castro's statement that immigration is the biggest factor in Hispanic political sidings. A 2009 study by America's Voice, an immigration reform organization, found that 82 percent of Hispanics said the immigration issue is "very important" or "somewhat important" to them and their families. Additionally, 69 percent said they personally know an undocumented immigrant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Climate pact appears increasingly fragile; U.N. official quits (Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, 2/19/10, Washington Post)

Pessimism about global climate talks deepened Thursday as Yvo de Boer, the United Nations' top climate official, resigned after struggling for 3 1/2 years to produce a binding legal treaty requiring the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases to slash their carbon output in the coming decades. He will step down July 1 with that goal unmet.

"It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge," said de Boer, who will join the consulting group KPMG as an adviser on climate and sustainability and also work with several universities.

Many observers saw de Boer's resignation as recognition that the U.N. role had been overtaken by the big emitting nations, which hammered out the accord at the last minute in Copenhagen.

"It's a death knell for the U.N. process," said Frank Maisano, a lobbyist on energy issues at Bracewell & Giuliani. "It's clear now that you're going to have to solve this issue through agreements with major emitters."

"What Copenhagen did in my mind was put to bed the notion that there will be a global binding treaty that sets targets," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a China expert who has been tracking climate talks. Instead, he said, countries would try to "develop mutual trust that will enhance their willingness to do more rather than less."

Comedic gold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Austin Pilot’s Dispute With IRS Began in Early 1980s, Note Says (Ryan J. Donmoyer, 2/19/10, Bloomberg)

Joseph Stack, the software engineer police say flew a small plane into an Austin, Texas, building housing offices of the Internal Revenue Service, may have been feuding with the U.S. agency for almost 30 years.

In the posting, Stack said his tax troubles began when he was working in Southern California in the 1980s. He described becoming involved in an organization that sought to exploit a tax-code section that exempts churches from taxes.

“We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the ‘best,’ high-paid experienced tax lawyers in the business) and then began to do exactly what the ‘big boys’ were doing,” Stack wrote in his note, referring to tax exemptions claimed by the Catholic Church. That “little lesson,” he wrote, cost him “$40,000 and 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0.”

In a statement yesterday, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said his department is “working with law-enforcement agencies to fully investigate the events that led up to this plane crash.”

IRS Targeted

Stack’s posting, which was taken down from his Web site at the request of authorities, mentioned the IRS as a target.

“Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer,” it said. “Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

J.J. McNabb, a Bethesda, Maryland, author working on a book about tax protesters who has testified before Congress twice on the subject, said the posting echoes the beliefs of such activists.

“He fits the mold,” she said in an interview. “Blaming the government for your failures in life is unfortunately a big factor in the tax protester movement.”

These are the guys who ought to be on no-fly lists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Taliban leader's brother killed in US missile strike in Pakistan: Pakistan officials say Muhammad, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, has been killed in a US missile strike in North Waziristan (James Sturcke, 19 February 2010, The Guardian)

The two officials said that Muhammad Haqqani and three other close associates of the Taliban leader were killed when missiles struck a house in the Dande Darpa Khel area of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan.

They said the attack was apparently aimed at Sirajuddin, a senior Taliban commander who is accused of involvement in the ambush of American troops in Afghanistan including the killing of seven CIA operatives in December.

The US state department has a $5m (£3.25m) bounty on Sirajuddin, also known as Siraj. It claims Siraj is a senior leader of the Haqqani terrorist network founded by his father Jalaluddin , and maintains close ties to al-Qaida.

Siraj has admitted planning a 2008 attack against the Serena hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including an American man, Thor David Hesla.

Siraj also admitted to having planned the 2008 assassination attempt on the Afghan president Hamid Karzai. He has co-ordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to the state department.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


U.S. Bets Best Ally In Surge Is Old One (MATTHEW ROSENBERG and PETER SPIEGEL, 2/19/10, WSJ)

A few hours after dusk last Friday, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, stepped into an armored car for the short drive from his headquarters to the presidential palace in Kabul. The time had come to decide whether to assault the Taliban town of Marjah. It was up to President Hamid Karzai to make the call.

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: "No one has ever asked me to decide before."

The exchange, described by Western and Afghan officials with knowledge of the meeting, encapsulates the new American strategy that is at the heart of the effort to reverse the tide of the war, beginning with the offensive in Marjah in southern Afghanistan. By giving Mr. Karzai responsibility over key elements of the campaign, Western officials are hoping he will seize the battlefield advantage given to him by the arrival of thousands of fresh American troops and turn it into a chance to re-establish his government's—and his own—credibility.

Of course, this Administration was trying to topple him just a few months ago, but credit for moving on after their failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Cheney: Administration 'thin-skinned,' Biden's 'not the best responder' (Sam Youngman - 02/18/10, The Hill)

"Once, they sent out the president himself, scheduled him prime smack on top of my speech trying to distract. That didn’t work," Cheney said. "This time around, they had Joe Biden all the way from the Olympics in Vancouver to respond to things I said on the Sunday shows. I just think they’re thin-skinned and they don’t like being criticized. And they feel like they have to go out to respond as it happens. I mean Joe Biden’s probably not the best responder they’ve ever seen."

Cheney insisted that he doesn't "plan my schedule based on their schedule -- and I don't go out that often, frankly."

Cheney said Obama "totally misread the results of the last election."

"He really believed he had some kind of a mandate to take the country in a radical direction ... healthcare policy, cap and trade, economic policies, size of the government, the counterterrorism policy, and I think he’s been proven wrong on virtually every point," Cheney said.

The former vice president said that recent Republican wins in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey indicate "we’re beginning to see the ramification of that now."

...is a chief of staff like Dick Cheney to compensate for his own lack of executive experience..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Ukulele sends UK crazy: Why ukuleles are making a comeback (Judy Fladmark, 2/18/10, BBC News)

The modest ukulele is enjoying a surge in popularity. Once considered a novelty, the four-stringed instrument is ready to be taken seriously.

In Spitalfields, where London's financial district borders the city's East End, stands the Duke of Uke, the only specialist Ukulele shop in the UK. Dozens of brightly coloured ukuleles adorn its ceiling and walls.

Shop owner Matt Reynolds explains how he first got the idea after his home became over run with his own ukulele collection.

"It seemed a good idea to start selling some of them off. Little did he realise that he would soon be riding the ukulele wave.

"In many ways they sell themselves," says Mr Reynolds. "It's so portable and occupies not much space around you. It doesn't have the baggage associated with the guitar. It's very unintimidating, it just says hold me and play me." [...]

Back at the Duke of Uke, Matt Reynolds is preparing for a group lesson. He says the magic of the uke is that with its four strings - as opposed to the guitar's six - it is easy to play. As a consequence, "there are a lot of groups forming and running through songs together".

"It's not long before you have a few chords down so that you can play a large amount of music that has been produced in the 20th Century".

"Indie music has picked it up and in the aftermath of the digital age and back to acoustic feel there is a bigger interest in folk instruments and it happened to be one of them."

"Then there is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who, in doing covers of songs, have really popularised the karaoke, sing-along aspect that is there."

So could the ukulele replace the recorder as first instrument of choice for schoolchildren ?

Peter Hudson, a ukulele teacher for the Kitchen School of Music says it continues to grow in popularity with primary schools and demand for lessons is secondary school.

"The ukulele is brilliant for kids to learn. It really comes to life when played in groups and they get a lot out of writing their own song. It would be great if everyone could learn the ukulele. It is a good way into any form of music."

The internet has helped fuel the popularity of the ukulele. Al Wood who runs a website for fans of the instrument, called Ukulele Hunt, says that two years ago he had 700 daily visitors and now there are almost 7,000 a day.

February 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Curling Strategy, by the Numbers (Mark McClusky, February 18, 2010 , Wired)

One of the key strategic elements in curling is which team has the hammer — the curling term for the last rock in an end. It’s obviously an advantage, but how much? And how important is it? Again, math to the rescue. My new favorite website, Curl With Math, has collected data on years’ worth of elite curling matches and broken down the winning percentage of teams in all sorts of score situations.

A curling game has 10 ends (like innings, a complete set of stones for each team). At the start of the game, with a tie score, the team with the hammer has about a 60 percent chance to win the game — that is, the hammer gives them about a 10 percent edge. Significant, but not huge.

It’s more interesting to look at decisions during the game. Often, teams with the hammer will chose to blank an end, knocking out the rocks so that no one scores, and so they can keep the hammer. That is, they choose keeping the hammer over scoring 1 point. Does that make sense?

Well, here are the numbers for a game that’s tied when the skip has to make the decision. The decimals in the chart are the winning percentages of teams in the various positions, i.e., if you’re tied with the hammer with 7 ends remaining, you win 60.7 percent of the time.

The only watchable Winter Olympic sport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


In Dubai attack, signs of Mossad shadow war (MATTI FRIEDMAN , 02.18.10, AP)

Israel's Mossad spy agency - the prime suspect in the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month in Dubai - has known both triumph and embarrassment in decades of covert warfare, and the latest episode would appear to include elements of each.

The killers, whoever they are, got their man and escaped. But they were caught on video and left behind what appears to be significant evidence: A Dubai police force that proved competent perhaps beyond the agents' expectations found that at least seven of them used the names of real Israelis with European passports.

...to all that nonsense about it being especially appalling to fight a war in civilian garb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:25 PM


Dalai Lama Meets With Obama (JONATHAN WEISMAN And SKY CANAVES, 2/18/10, WSJ)

The Dalai Lama, speaking to reporters after the meeting, took advantage of a moment before the cameras on the White House grounds to thank the U.S. president for the meeting and declare himself "very happy."

"Since my childhood, I always admired America not as a military power, but mainly as a champion of democracy, freedom, human value, human creativity," the Dalai Lama said, wearing the robes of a Tibetan monk and flip-flops in snowy, cold Washington.

...the PRC has and can have no response to this and you understand why it's silly to speak of them as a peer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Why the Democrats Are Losing (E.J. Dionne, 2/17/10, TruthDig)

Pause to consider where we would be if a Democrat had won January’s Massachusetts Senate race. In all likelihood, health reform would be law, Democrats could have moved on to economic matters, and Obama would be seen as shrewd and successful. [...]

On health care, months of delay in a futile quest for Republican support got the Democrats the worst of all worlds. The media gave them no credit for reaching out to the other side but did blame them for an ugly, gridlocked process.

The demands of moderate Democrats for concessions—remember the politically lethal Nebraska payoff for Sen. Ben Nelson?—made the process look even seamier. The bill’s conservative opponents shrewdly focused on such side issues and on made-up issues like the “death panels.”

Nobody wants to admit that on health care the moderates won all the big fights. Single-payer was out at the start. The public option died. A Medicare buy-in died. The number of Americans who would be covered shrank. The insurance companies held on to their antitrust exemption. If a bill eventually becomes law—as it must if the Democrats are not to look like a feckless, useless lot—the final proposal will be much closer to the moderate Senate version than to the more progressive bill passed by the House.

Just because it was predictable that Democrats would argue that but-for the Coakley loss they'd have passed health care doesn't make it any less amusing. The reality, of course, is that it was already on life-support and awaiting the coup-de-grace. Mr. Dionne accidentally concedes as much when he refers to the Nelson deal as "lethal."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Elusive Libertarians: Do “libertarian leanings” constitute a significant political movement? (John Zogby and Zeljka Buturovi, 2/18/10, National Review)

ifferent as conservative and libertarian positions can be on some issues, this appears not to matter very much. The reason is that economic issues are central to the libertarian worldview, and on these issues, libertarians have far more in common with the Right than with the Left. According to our July 2009 survey, 69 percent of conservative and 68 percent of very conservative adults share the view of 64 percent of libertarians that “Economic freedom is the foundation for all other freedoms.” In that survey, we asked: Which of the following issue categories is most important to your current ideology: social/cultural issues (abortion, gay rights, gun control); economic issues (free markets, free trade, union rights); foreign-policy issues (intervention in other countries, national defense); or environmental/energy issues (government subsidies, global warming)?

In the past, we at Zogby were often pestered by libertarians. “We are unfairly forced in your surveys,” they complained, “to choose between two crude views neither of which captures our philosophy.” It was in reaction to their insistence that they are fundamentally different from both liberals and conservatives that we added the “libertarian” category on our ideology question.

In this, we were not alone. Theories have been developed to accommodate ideological patterns that do not fit the somewhat limited Left–Right continuum. For example, The Political Compass has attempted to map attitudes toward economic and social freedom more accurately by creating four possible ideological types (authoritarian Left, authoritarian Right, libertarian Left, and libertarian Right). More elaborately, Brian Mitchell’s Eight Ways to Run the Country uses attitudes toward hierarchy and use of force to establish eight political types, two of which serve merely to disentangle the Hayek from the von Mises variety of libertarianism.

Let us for a moment follow these writers’ assumption that a person’s ideology is solely determined by his policy views. And let us also assume that social and economic liberties can largely be disentangled and that libertarians are as close to liberals on social issues as they are to conservatives on economic ones — a view implicit in the argument for liberaltarianism. Still, our data show that different aspects of ideology are not equally important for a person’s ideological identity, and, somewhat ironically, that this is especially true of libertarians. For all their insistence that liberty has multiple facets, libertarians appear to cherish one of them much more than others. This means that liberaltarians should not hold their breath waiting for self-described libertarians to join them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Big capture, big questions: Number's up for Taliban No. 2 (Ralph Peters, February 17, 2010, NY Post)

While it's excellent news that Baradar's been nabbed, his capture in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, raises questions Washington yearns to ignore:

* Why did the ISI and its overseers agree to bust him now? They've known his whereabouts for years -- intermittently, if not consistently -- just as they monitor the movements of most insurgent bigwigs.

* Did the Pakistanis act at last because the CIA cornered them into it? Or is this a deeper tale of rivalries, betrayals and Pakistan's long-term ambitions? Perhaps Baradar was too effective a commander for Islamabad's plans -- or too independent for the ISI.

Reportedly, Baradar had been defying commands from Mullah Omar, who the ISI has backed for almost 20 years. Was this the intel equivalent of a gangland hit?

And what role did the other insurgent groups play? Pledged to cooperate with the Taliban, the savage Haqqani network based in North Waziristan is protective of its turf. Was Baradar's growing power a threat to Maulavi Jalajuddin Haqqani and his bloodthirsty son, Sirajuddin? Did they rat him out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Democrat Caddell rips White House for obeisance to organized labor (Jon Ward, 2/17/10, The Daily Caller)

Longtime Democratic strategist Pat Caddell on Wednesday blasted the Obama White House for creating “a world in which there is no dissent,” following his banishment from Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff’s campaign for Senate. [...]

Caddell’s larger point is that Obama has allowed the Democratic party to be run by special interests such as the SEIU, and that the White House itself has reinforced the idea that no disagreement with their policies or ideas can be expressed.

“What they have created is a world in which there is no dissent. Don’t look at me. Look at [Sen.] Evan Bayh. People, with some justification, may think that I’m crazy. But he is the center of the establishment if there was ever was someone,” Caddell said. “When there’s no room in the Democratic party for him and there’s no room in the Democratic party for me, and the unions do get to make those kinds of calls in defense of the indefensible, because, ‘We own you,’ well, the Democratic party will be finished.”

Caddell said he is being ostracized for sounding alarms about the problem that public sector unions are posing for the Democratic party. He said he supports industrial unions but that government employee unions such as the SEIU — which is one of the Democratic party’s biggest campaign contributors — violate the raison d’etre of the party, which is to “stand up for ordinary average Americans, not money and special interests.”

“I think the public unions are going to take the country and the Democratic party down the tubes,” Caddell said. “They’re in the business of taking care of — of asking taxpayers, asking ordinary people, to pay for people who make twice as much as they make, with benefit packages they will never see, and they’re told, you may not cut those.”

Civil Service reform is the great anti-Progressive cause of our time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Hezbollah Tries to Break Out of Militant Mold (AP, 2/18/10)

[D]espite the tough talk, Hezbollah seems more concerned these days with its position at home, trying to show it can work with Lebanon's many other factions, some of which oppose any military entanglement with Israel. That means moderating its actions and playing within the system.

The shift was forced by the seismic events that had shaken Lebanon over the past few years, analysts say. In particular, Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel and 2008 sectarian clashes with political rivals raised criticism among some Lebanese that the movement was dragging the country into violent conflicts. Moreover, Hezbollah now has a place in a fragile national unity government, putting further pressure on it to stay in line.

Notably, Hezbollah has not carried out a single rocket attack into Israel since the 2006 war. It has also yet to avenge the assassination of its top military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a 2008 car bombing in Damascus that was widely blamed on Israel. Nasrallah on Tuesday repeated pledges that revenge would eventually come.

Hezbollah "is emphasizing that it also has other roles to play besides the resistance," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an analyst specializing in Hezbollah. The group is trying to highlight its "nationalist dimension" as opposed to its strictly Islamic or Arab identity.

A key step was Nasrallah's announcement in November of the group's platform, only the second since Hezbollah was founded in 1982 following Israel's invasion.

The new language was strikingly conciliatory. While the group's first platform, released in 1985, called for establishing an Islamic republic in Lebanon, the new manifesto does not mention an Islamic state and underscores the importance of coexistence among Lebanon's 18 religious sects.

It also speaks of a "consensual democracy" and says it seeks a "sovereign, free and independent" Lebanon with a strong state that preserves public liberties.

"Welcome to the Lebanese political club," the publisher of one leading Lebanese newspaper joked to Nasrallah when he presented the 30-page platform at a packed Nov. 30 news conference.

Hard to see how they don't eventually get supplanted within the Shi'a soouth if they're serious about a state of Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM

Subject: helping MercatorNet

Hi there, MercatorNet fans,

Could I ask a favour?

We want to make MercatorNet the world’s biggest on-line community of people who value human dignity. Our goal this year is to increase subscribers to our newsletter by 50%.

Could you message your Facebook friends and ask them to subscribe?

We’ve got an attractive site, with fascinating articles and great blogs on everything from fashion to bioethics.

It would be a terrific help for us.
Thanks muchly,
Michael Cook

February 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Imagining Cicero's life offers insight into Roman history (Robert Fulford, 2/15/10, National Post)

Among the many slave owners of ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero must have been one of the luckiest. A great lawyer, orator and writer, he depended through much of his career on a superb secretary, editor, friend and personal manager who also happened to be his slave.

History can't say how Cicero became the owner of young Tiro; possibly his mother was a slave in Cicero's own household. But we know that Cicero spotted the boy's talent and had him carefully schooled in law, politics, language (Greek as well as Latin) and the functioning of a household. By the time Cicero was in middle age, Tiro's sympathetic intelligence was a major element in running his owner's life.

Was ever a man more loyal and useful to the man who owned him? Tiro looked after Cicero's household accounts, supervised his gardeners and organized his dinner parties, learning which distinguished citizens should never be invited along with which other distinguished citizens.

Tiro negotiated with money lenders on those many occasions when Cicero was short of cash -- and later offered excuses for tardy repayment. He devised a form of shorthand so that he could take dictation as quickly as Cicero could speak. (Later called Tironian Notes, it was used in Christian monasteries for centuries.) Tiro was like an uncle to Cicero's children and Cicero, in a letter, said Tiro was more friend than slave. Most important, he edited his master's books and speeches with such skill that Cicero said he didn't like to have anyone else read his work till Tiro had vetted it.

After Cicero's death, Tiro wrote a four-volume biography of his master. It was lost, along with most Roman literature; only the bits quoted by other writers survive. But in recent years Robert Harris, an accomplished British storyteller, has been constructing a trilogy on Cicero's life, written as if in Tiro's words. It's a deft, witty replacement for the vanished text that, had it endured, might well be a precious account of Roman life. [...]

The fictionalized Tiro writes as an admirer of Cicero's oratory and his ethical view of public life. But he's not blind to his master's faults. He tells us that Cicero became a bore after his triumph over the plotters, painfully eager to tell everyone he knew about his own cleverness. Much worse, Harris has Tiro discover that when sufficiently committed to a policy, Cicero violates his own morals and the laws against forgery and false testimony.

And Tiro? We know that he received his freedom from Cicero. Like many ex-slaves, he continued to work with for his former master. He saved enough money to buy a small farm and some degree of independence. After Cicero's death he devoted much of his life to burnishing his employer's reputation. He outlived just about every Roman he knew during the desperate years that Lustrum describes. According to one account, he died at the age of 99. No doubt Robert Harris's third volume, a year or two from now, will have a great deal to tell us about all that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


The Disappearing Science of Global Warming (Peter Ferrara, 2.17.10, American Spectator)

As a result of this unscientific behavior, the only reliable temperature record now is the one produced by U.S. weather satellites measuring global atmospheric temperatures. Such satellites have only been in operation since 1979, but show no increase in global temperature trends until the unrelated El Nino spike of 1998, with temperatures declining back down since then. By April of this year, that decline had completely offset the 1998 spike, with temperatures back to where they were in 1980. In recent months, another El Nino effect may be causing increased temperatures, but El Nino effects are a normal, temporary, temperature pattern not related to global warming.

Even the distorted surface temperature record was not consistent with man-caused global warming. That record still showed declining temperatures from 1940 until the late 1970s, despite all the burning of fossil fuels during that time, prompting media alarms about a returning ice age. U.S. temperatures by then were little different than in 1900. Heartland Institute President Joe Bast recently summarized, "Earlier this year, the onset of global cooling in 2000 was recognized by all leading scientists and could no longer be kept hidden by the mainstream media. Some scientists forecast two more decades of cooling before any warming returns."

In a shocking recent BBC interview, even CRU director and IPCC temperature guru Phil Jones admits that there has been no global warming over the last decade, and that he doesn't believe "the vast majority of climate scientists think" the debate on climate change is over. Most importantly, he confesses that even the increase in surface temperatures in the record, such as it is, for 1975 to 1998, which is the foundation for IPCC global warming claims, is not unprecedented. He admits that the record shows similar and not statistically significant warming for 1910 to 1940 and 1860 to 1880. That means the ballyhooed warming from 1975 to 1998, for which we have been asked to repeal the industrial revolution, is not outside the range of natural variability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Man accused of brandishing box-cutter found in box (AP, 2/17/10)

Shreveport police said a man accused of brandishing a box-cutter in an attempted holdup was found inside a box, in his bedroom closet. Cpl. Bill Goodin, a police spokesman, said a 34-year-old man was arrested late Tuesday and booked into the Caddo Parish jail on one count of attempted armed robbery. He was held in lieu of $250,000 bond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Davis: Best GOP recruits ever (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 2/17/10, Politico)

Former GOP Congressman Tom Davis, who heads the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, praised the party’s recruiting classes in the House and Senate as the best in modern political history and predicted sizable Republican gains this year in both bodies.

Davis, a noted political junkie and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, met with political reporters Wednesday morning to give his view of the 2010 political landscape. Since retiring from the House in 2008, he’s emerged as a frank voice willing to criticize elements of his own party.

“Republicans have had the best recruiting year in history, as near as I can tell, although you might argue 1946 for unique reasons. … It’s hard to think of a better recruiting year than the one we’re in,” Davis said.

It'll be nice to avoid that hangover when we realize the flock of dodos our party just inflicted on the country and to have folks who deserve reelection.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Contract Renewal (William Tucker, 2.17.10, American Prospect)

Here are Newt's suggestions for a 2010 Contract With America:

1) Jobs, jobs, jobs. Gingrich recommends a 50 percent reduction in payroll taxes, a 100 percent write-off for small business investment in tools and technology, zero capital gains, and lowering the corporate tax to 12.5 percent. Obviously, we are talking about private sector job creation.

2) Balance the budget. From 1994 to 1998, federal spending growth was held to 2.9 percent annually, the smallest increases since Calvin Coolidge. The result was four years of surpluses and a $405 billion reduction in the national debt. Much would now accomplished by devolving power to the states under the 10th Amendment.

3) An American Energy Plan. Drill here, drill now. Build nuclear reactors. Rein in the Environmental Protection Agency's "bureaucratic dictatorship on energy production."

4) Congressional Appropriation Reform. Eliminate earmarks, post bills 72 hours before voting, reverse the Republican spending habits that undermined fiscal discipline during the Bush Administration.

5) Litigation Reform. The states have found the quickest and cleanest road to tort reform is to cap open-ended "non-economic damages." Compensating hospital costs and lost wages is fine, but open-ended awards for pain-and-suffering or punitive damages are limited only by jurors' imagination. With these few limitations, we can have lawsuits without throwing whole industries out of balance.

6) Real Health Reform. Allow the sale of health insurance across state lines, extend the tax benefits given to employees of large corporations to everyone, promote Health Savings Accounts -- all the things that Republicans perennially propose and Democrats dutifully dismiss.

7) Every Child Gets Ahead. The best and only way to improve education is to promote and facilitate vouchers, grants, and charter schools. If the public school system ever comes around, it will be in response to this competition.

8) Protect Religious Liberty. Defend the religious majority from a "shockingly and increasingly anti-religious elite" and "block every effort to coerce religious people on abortion, marriage and other issues of conscience and drive God out of public life."

9) Protect Americans, Not the Rights of Terrorists. Let's put an end to the nonsense about treating invading terrorists as domestic criminals and see them for what they are -- enemy combatants.

10) Defend America. "Rebuild our capital investment in the powerful defensive force in the world." If done properly, this can be reconciled with balancing the budget.

President Obama is just waiting to be led.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Dems' blues: States reverting to red (JONATHAN MARTIN & BEN SMITH, 2/17/10, Politico)

While off-year and down-ballot elections are inherently different than presidential contests, the rapid reversal in Democratic fortunes in the very places where Obama's success brought so much attention suggests that predictions of a lasting realignment were premature.

And it's raising the question of whether the president's 2008 win was the result of a unique set of circumstances that will be difficult for him to replicate again and perhaps downright impossible for other Democrats on the ballot to reprise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


US congressman claims Israelis snubbed him (AP, 2/17/10)

Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts is touring the region with a congressional delegation hosted by J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has questioned J Street’s commitment to the Jewish state. J Street says it sought a meeting with Israeli diplomats but was turned down.

Delahunt told a Tel Aviv news conference Wednesday the alleged rebuff was “very disturbing” and “an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Poll: Large majority opposes Supreme Court's decision on campaign financing (Dan Eggen, 2/17/10, Washington Post)

Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent). [...]

Nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservative Republicans say they oppose the Supreme Court ruling, with most of them strongly opposed. Some two-thirds of conservative Republicans favor congressional efforts to limit corporate and union spending, though with less enthusiasm than liberal Democrats.

Indeed, the poll shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 alike oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels also appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.

Only ideologues can convince themselves that corporations are persons and we're not an ideological people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


Democrats risking their majority in Congress with political infighting (Alexander Bolton, 02/17/10, The Hill)

Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, is not pointing a finger at party leadership. But he said the political danger Democrats face is as grave as it was in 1994, when they lost their majorities in the House and Senate. Among lawmakers, the blame is being tossed in many directions. House Democrats point at President Barack Obama and the Senate. Senate Democrats point at each other, and back at the House.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even took what many interpreted as a rare public dig at Obama.

The crypto-anti-Semitism of blaming bankers backfired and pointing the finger at Hoover, Reagan and W has gotten old. There just has to be a target....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:31 AM


Breakthrough Danish Enzymes to Lower Biofuel Price Point To Petroleum Levels (Stuart Fox, 02.17.2010, Pop Sci)

Producing a biofuel cheap enough to compete at the pump with oil has remained as elusive as a ghost on the walls of Elsinore castle. But this week, two Danish companies announced they had developed enzymes capable of breaking down cellulose into ethanol cheaply enough to produce $2-a-gallon gas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Ignore Expiration Dates: "Best by," "Sell by," and all those other labels mean very little. (Nadia Arumugam, Feb. 17, 2010, Slate)

The fact is that expiration dates mean very little. Food starts to deteriorate from the moment it's harvested, butchered, or processed, but the rate at which it spoils depends less on time than on the conditions under which it's stored. Moisture and warmth are especially detrimental. A package of ground meat, say, will stay fresher longer if placed near the coldest part of a refrigerator (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit), than next to the heat-emitting light bulb. Besides, as University of Minnesota food scientist Ted Labuza explained to me, expiration dates address quality—optimum freshness—rather than safety and are extremely conservative. To account for all manner of consumer, manufacturers imagine how the laziest people with the most undesirable kitchens might store and handle their food, then test their products based on these criteria.

With perishables like milk and meat, most responsible consumers (those who refrigerate their groceries as soon as they get home, for instance) have a three–to-seven-day grace period after the "Sell by" date has elapsed. As for pre-packaged greens, studies show that nutrient loss in vegetables is linked to a decline in appearance. When your broccoli florets yellow or your green beans shrivel, this signals a depletion of vitamins. But if they haven't lost their looks, ignore the printed date. Pasta and rice will taste fine for a year. Unopened packs of cookies are edible for months before the fat oxidizes and they turn rancid. Pancake and cake mixes have at least six months. Canned items are potentially the safest foods around and will keep five years or more if stored in a cold pantry. Labuza recalls a seven-year-old can of chicken chunks he ate recently. "It tasted just like chicken," he said.

...always tear off the date before The Wife sees it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty: The Master of the Rolls has shown no understanding beyond courtroom niceties (Bruce Anderson, 15 February 2010, Independent)

[T]here is one benefit from the Americans' experiments with robust interrogation methods: water-boarding. Christopher Hitchens wanted to demonstrate that it was absurd to demonise water-boarding and that it was only girlie-man's torture. So he subjected himself to it. He cried off after seven seconds. That is comforting, and not only to Mr Hitchens's critics. Thus far, there has been no need for either the UK or the US to consider torture, because neither of us has been confronted by a ticking bomb. As a result of the Hitchens trial run, we know that we have something which could work.

That might sound frivolous. But there would be nothing frivolous about a ticking bomb. Cobra, the Cabinet's emergency committee, is in permanent session somewhere under Whitehall: the intelligence chiefs, grey and drawn from lack of sleep, inform the Prime Minister, ditto, that it seems almost certain that a nuclear device is primed to explode in the next few hours. There is a man in custody who probably knows where it is. They are ready to use whatever methods are necessary to extract the information...

Before 9/11, in front of some serious lawyers, I once argued that if there were a ticking bomb, the Government would not only have a right to use torture. It would have a duty to use torture. Up sprang Sydney Kentridge, one of the great liberals of our age and a fearless defender of unpopular causes, from Nelson Mandela in the old South Africa to fox-hunting in modern Britain. I prepared to receive incoming fire. It came, in the form of a devilish intellectual challenge. "Let's take your hypothesis a bit further. We have captured a terrorist, but he is a hardened character. We cannot be certain that he will crack in time. We have also captured his wife and children".

After much agonising, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one answer to Sydney's question. Torture the wife and children. It is a disgusting idea. It is almost a tragedy that we even have to discuss it, let alone think of acting upon it. But there is nothing to be gained from refusing to face facts, in the way that the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuburger, did last week. His Lordship wrapped himself in a cloak of self-righteousness, traduced an entire security service, showed no understanding of the courage which its officers routinely display: no understanding, indeed, of anything beyond courtroom niceties.

There is a threat not only to individual lives, which is of minor importance, but to our way of life and our civilisation. Torture is revolting, but we cannot substitute aesthetics for thought. Anyway, which is the greater aesthetic affront: torture, or the destruction of the National Gallery?

...wherein the refusal to torture for the exclusive purpose of obtaining intelligence from enemies is woth innocent human lives?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Obama and the State of Democrats: We ignore the lesson of 1931, 1948, 1984 and 1988 at our peril. (Vic Fingerhut, 2/17/10, In These Times)

Lost in the discussion about the unclear White House policy choices leading up to the State of the Union address was the fact that a weak White House response to the nation’s economic distress threatened the basis of Democratic electoral strength. For more than 70 years, pollsters have consistently found that the strength of the Democrats is that they represent working people, ordinary folks, the common man, middle-income Americans and so on.

Conversely, while scoring strong points on national defense, fighting terrorism and keeping taxes down, the greatest single negative for the Republicans among swing voters was that they represented Corporate America and the rich. And this sentiment is shared by 40 percent of self-identified Republicans!

In short, the strength of the Democratic Party is found in its “representational” character—in being seen as on the side of ordinary working and middle-income Americans. This may deflate the egos of the folks who staff liberal think tanks, but it is these “representational” factors—rather than perceived competence that undergird Democratic strength at the ballot box.

Thus, counter to the popular narrative, Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-N.Y.) was actually seen as more competent to be president—even by the late shifters who provided Harry Truman with his upset presidential victory in 1948. But these same voters saw Truman as the candidate of the party that represented ordinary folks, even if he was not especially skilled at governing. The result: Truman’s representational strength trumped Dewey’s perceived competence.

In 1988, 40 years later, a last-minute survey of swing voters convinced Democratic presidential candidate Mike Dukakis to jettison his disastrous “competence” message and move to a populist “which side are you on?” theme that triggered a 10-point Dukakis rally (for probably the least populist-appearing populist in the history of populism). This reduced Bush’s lead from 16 to six points, probably saving Democratic control of Congress that year.

If voters perceive that the Democratic Party is no longer representing ordinary people, it will lose not only particular elections, but its long-term underlying strength as a party. To millions of Americans, the huge bailout of the giant banks and other financial institutions contrasted sharply with what appeared to be Obama’s unclear, halting and lukewarm response to the plight of millions of economically distressed Americans. The perception that the Democrats no longer represented regular folks started to pick up steam. It didn’t help that, as late as December, when the media was daily reporting multi-billion dollar profits for these same financial institutions, the administration was advancing a plan to tax the benefits of those in the workforce fortunate enough to still have both good jobs and good health benefits.

...is demonstrate how estranged the values of the Party are from those of average Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Obama Goes Nuclear in a Tough Winter for Enviros (David Corn, 2/17/10, Politics Daily)

In December, Obama forged a muddy and non-binding deal at the Copenhagen climate change summit that fell short of what most scientists say is necessary. (Environmental groups split over whether Obama had saved the summit by crafting a better-than-nothing accord that included the major emerging emitters, such as China and India, or whether he had helped undermine an international process that could produce a global treaty setting firm and significant deadlines for emissions reductions.) Then this week, Obama went nuclear.

On Tuesday, the White House announced -- make that, proudly announced -- that the administration would be granting the first federal loan guarantees in years for the construction of new nuclear plants. While a handful of enviros have pushed nuclear energy as an emissions-free process that can help prevent climate change, most are opposed to more nuclear power plants -- especially when there is no solution to the perennial problem of what to do about nuclear waste. (The administration remains opposed to dumping it at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.) And some conservative budget-watchers oppose nuclear subsidies, asking why the government should finance controversial and risky energy projects that cannot survive on their own within the market. (The Congressional Budget Office in 2003 noted that there's a 50 percent chance of default for nuclear power plant loans. Yet on a call with reporters on Tuesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he was unaware of this report.)

At an event yesterday in Maryland, where Obama unveiled the initial $8.3 billion loan guarantee, which will go toward building two new nuclear reactors at an existing plant in Burke, Ga., he reiterated his support for a climate change legislation that would enact a cap-and-trade system. But in recent weeks -- such as during his State of the Union address -- Obama has come across as more enthusiastic about reviving nuclear power than forestalling climate change. That's not surprising, given that the climate change bill (which was passed by the House last year) has hit a major stall in the Senate. It might be dead -- or nearly so. Meanwhile, Obama does seem more focused on jobs and financial reform. In promoting the nuclear plant loan guarantees, the White House has repeatedly emphasized that building these reactors in Georgia will create 3,500 construction jobs and about 800 permanent jobs.

With Obama backing off the climate change charge -- at least, in terms of priorities -- enviros have also had to contend with controversies regarding the science of global warming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Paterson Aide’s Quick Rise Draws Scrutiny (DANNY HAKIM and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, 2/16/10, NY Times)

David W. Johnson has worked for Gov. David A. Paterson for much of his adult life. He began as a young, ambitious intern from Harlem when Mr. Paterson was a state legislator. He rose to be Mr. Paterson’s driver, serving as a kind of protector and scheduler.

In recent months, however, Mr. Johnson’s ascent has been striking: he is now one of the most senior people in the governor’s administration, paid $132,000. He is described as Mr. Paterson’s closest confidant, a man with a designated room for his overnight stays in the Executive Mansion, and a broadening role in areas like campaign strategy, government initiatives and the management of the governor’s staff.

A review of Mr. Johnson’s rise and his history, undertaken after he emerged as perhaps the man closest to the state’s chief executive, shows that he was twice arrested on felony drug charges as a teenager, including a charge of selling cocaine to an undercover officer in Harlem.

The examination of his background, based on interviews and records, shows he has at least one other arrest, for misdemeanor assault in the 1990s, although there is very little publicly available about that case. [...]

Mr. Johnson’s increasing prominence, and Mr. Paterson’s reliance on him, have worried some veteran aides to the governor, who themselves are trying to assist Mr. Paterson as he faces an enormous fiscal crisis and a daunting election effort. They would not speak by name, but more than four current or former officials expressed concern that Mr. Johnson and another aide, a former state trooper, had become the governor’s innermost circle and were simply not best equipped to help him tackle the multiple challenges facing him.

Some heads of significant government agencies have said they feel they have to go through Mr. Johnson, often known as D. J., to get to the governor. And several current and former administration officials said that Mr. Johnson’s dressing down of the governor’s Washington office in September contributed to the departure of several seasoned people from the office.

“I started getting messages from D. J. telling me to call certain players in my industry,” said one former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor.

Mr. Johnson, the official said, started to manage administration press conferences, dictating the order and seating of speakers and calling agencies to request they draft statements on particular issues. [...]

Mr. Johnson, the colleague said, was also valued because of the imposing figure he cast. At 6-foot-7, with a booming voice, he made Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, feel secure, and so he was often scheduled to travel with him.

Mr. Johnson also helped keep people in line on those occasions when a troublesome constituent threatened to raise a ruckus in the Harlem office.

“Every now and then it was good to have a big guy in the office,” the colleague said.

February 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


US vs. China: a dangerous phase has begun: China is a formidable adversary whose ultimate strength is not its military hardware but its economic prowess, and whose diplomatic weapon is not saber rattling but great patience. (Martin Jacques, February 16, 2010, CS Monitor)

The fact that the US has only just begun to wake up to the fact that it is in decline is a cause for serious concern. It is completely unprepared for what this might mean: that it can no longer deal with others in the way that it has, that it can no longer assume a relationship of superiority in its dealings with China, and that it has to seek a new understanding of China rather than expect the latter to continue to play second fiddle. [...]

China must not be confused in the American mind with a Soviet Union Mark 2. It is a very different and far more formidable adversary whose ultimate strength is not its military hardware but its economic prowess, and whose diplomatic weapon is not saber rattling but great patience.

America has a TFR of 2.05 and a GDP per capita of $46,600.

China has a GDP per capita of $6,500 and a TFR of 1.79.

It can ill afford patience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Central Falls to fire every high school teacher (Jennifer D. Jordan and LINDA bORG, 2/13/10, The Providence Journal)

The teachers didn’t blink.

Under threat of losing their jobs if they didn’t go along with extra work for not a lot of extra pay, the Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused Friday morning to accept a reform plan for one of the worst-performing high schools in the state.

The superintendent didn’t blink either.

After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was switching to an alternative she was hoping to avoid: firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


The Velvet Philosophical Revolution: Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the battle for political freedom goes on. (André Glucksmann, Winter 2010, City Journal)

On the evening of November 9, 1989, the wall of shame was breached. The next morning, I took off for Berlin; shortly afterward, I experienced the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and finally the fall of Ceauşescu in Bucharest. The year 1990 opened joyfully for the human race. But I was struck by the difference in the emotions felt in the East and in the West. Representative of the West was Francis Fukuyama and his idea, which caused a sensation, that history had just come to an end. But those in the East realized that this was far from the case. Less than a month before the Berlin Wall fell, I had given a speech in front of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the cream of the Federal Republic of Germany in honor of Czech dissident Václav Havel, who was receiving the Frankfurt Book Fair’s prestigious Peace Prize while still a prisoner in his own country. I entitled the speech “To Leave Communism Is to Enter History”—the view of those emerging from behind the Iron Curtain.

The West’s confusion arose because it wasn’t prepared for such a fundamental unsettling of postwar geopolitics. During four decades of ideological confrontation, theoreticians and journalists had argued about how a society should move from capitalism to socialism. There was no research on the opposite question—that is, on the transition from socialism to capitalism—apart from a few inconclusive studies, most notably in Poland, concerning the possibility of introducing some elements of the free market into a Communist society. As the philosopher Josep Ramoneda has observed, the whole world—Communists, anti-Communists, and those in between—took it as given that the Soviet Union and its satellites could not “return” to capitalism. So when, during the Velvet Revolution, demonstrators posed exactly this question—How can we go from socialism to capitalism?—there was no ready answer.

But that is, of course, where they're going.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Plus 10 in the Senate? GOP Not There Yet (Stuart Rothenberg, 2/15/10, Roll Call)

For the moment, let’s assume the GOP avoids losing any of its own seats.

Republicans have the advantage in four Democratic-held Senate seats — North Dakota, Delaware, Arkansas and Nevada. In addition, they are no worse than even money in four others — Indiana, Illinois, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

So, any chance of gaining 10 seats would require Republican candidates to win at least two of the following five states: Connecticut, California, Wisconsin and Washington.

Even Slade Gorton and Bob Kasten managed to win two of these seats in a prior wave, nevermind competent candidates like Tommy Thompson and Dino Rossi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Dems rip new Hamsher polls (ALEX ISENSTADT, 2/16/10, Politico)

Frustrated by a series of polls detailing the electoral jeopardy faced by a handful of House Democrats, the party establishment in Washington is pushing back against liberal blogger Jane Hamsher, whose prominent blog Firedoglake commissioned the surveys. [...]

The methodology is not the only issue Democrats have with the polls. By surveying and then reporting on the fortunes of members targeted by the GOP, Washington Democrats believe, Firedoglake’s outspoken founder, Jane Hamsher, is advancing a debilitating narrative about the party’s November prospects that will only exacerbate the problem.

“I think it, in some ways, gives momentum to the challengers and contributes to this narrative that Democrats are in disarray or in trouble,” Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), one of the polled Democrats, told POLITICO. “And, by the way, that may be true in some districts, but I don’t think that’s true in mine or others.”

In any case, the GOP is reveling in the Democratic recriminations: The National Republican Congressional Committee has gleefully promoted the polls in news releases, including one titled “Bishop Gets Firedogged.”

The Left exists only to amuse us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


A Disgrace to Science (Tom Bethell, February 2010, American Spectator)

[T]he betrayers of science have found that public opinion is easily manipulated, especially with press cooperation. The principles that, starting in the 17th century, turned science into one of the great human enterprises can be subverted. Most Americans—most people in the world—know so little about these things that the methods of science can be twisted with hardly anyone noticing.

Today, many scientists and opinion leaders think that if an elite consensus in favor of certain “policies” can be generated, the underlying science must be right. The corrupt system of “peer review” will reliably exclude dissenters, and if the naysayers continue making themselves heard they will be called denialists, tools of right-wing talk radio, etc.

This is where climate science has been heading. It is also where other major fields of science stand today—at the mercy of a contrived consensus. “Climate change” has attracted major attention not because its methods of subversion are much different from now-standard practice, but because literally trillions of dollars are at stake.

Those who promoted the bogus certainties of global warming not only sought to upend a whole way of life but came close to doing so. They have been aided by hundreds of well-known politicians, writers, reporters, and politicized scientists. Among politicians, Al Gore is only the best known. In the last category, James Hansen and Michael Mann are among the major U.S. culprits.

Christopher Booker, who has long covered these issues for the Sunday Telegraph and is one of the few British journalists to have done so, calls climate fraud “the greatest scientific scandal of our age.” He notes that the Royal Society, a once great institution founded in 1662, has become “a shameless propagandist for the warmist cause.”

Government funding has been the major subversive force. If you read Science, as I do, you see that the issue the magazine cares about above all others, and editorializes about week after week, is funding. Government funding. The constant concern about money means that Science and other journals feel obliged to keep up a drumbeat of articles that sustain the mood of crisis surrounding a given issue. Climate change is the leading illustration today, but there are others.

One example—a comparatively innocent one as these things go—is the flu-scare industry. It comes around like clockwork. SARS (’03) was replaced by avian flu (’05), then by swine flu (’09). Don’t panic but do worry (is the message), because it’s pandemic time. The key point is that death from infectious disease is way down compared to what it was in earlier centuries, and yet these agencies exist and need to keep puffing up their budgets.

So a scientific-seeming scare emerges from the World Health Organization and is magnified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The media, hungry for viewers, lavish uncritical attention. More cautious newsroom voices, should they exist, will be frightened off: “Be responsible! You could cause the deaths of millions of people!” Budgets for WHO and CDC are duly fattened. Infectious disease boss Anthony Fauci appears on TV on schedule. He tells us to stay calm, take our shots, and be alert for news bulletins. Laurie Garrett publishes another scary tome and Michael Fumento remains the lone dissenter. Within two or three years it’s time for another cycle.

The scientists who promote these self-serving scares are employed by government agencies or by universities. The latter are under constant pressure to attract grants, whether from the NIH, NASA, the National Science Foundation, or other government agencies.

You have to enjoy the fact though that, when it comes to Science, skeptics believe in the scientific method and the believers don't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Mount Vernon Conservatives (W. James Antle, III, 2.16.10, American Spectator)

Unlike the Contract With America, the Mount Vernon Statement is not a detailed legislative agenda. Instead, it intended as a set of philosophical principles that can serve as the foundation for policy formulation later. It is less Frank Luntz than Frank Meyer.

In fact, parts read like Meyer's "fusionist" conception of conservatism. The document reminds "economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to Americas safety and leadership role in the world."

The Mount Vernon Statement specifically calls for a new "fusion provided by American principles" through "constitutional conservatism." "In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics," the document reads. "The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant."

"Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new," the statement continues. "But where would this lead -- forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?" The Mount Vernon conservatives assert "we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

"The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature's God," the platform reads. "It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man's self-interest but also his capacity for virtue."

"I think it's an excellent statement of conservative first principles," former Congressman David McIntosh, a leading participant in the Conservative Action Project, told TAS. "The objective was to unify various people who were conservatives who care about different aspects of conservatism. It unites all of those principles under kind of a stron hold of constitutional government."

Obama/Reid/Pelosi is what happens when the wings of the Right storm off in a a snit at conservatism. Then they get scared back into Fusionism

February 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander (MARK MAZZETTI and DEXTER FILKINS, 2/15/10, NY Times)

The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder, and was a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks. [...]

The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.

The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.

Several American government officials gave details about the raid on the condition that they not be named, because the operation was classified.

American officials believe that besides running the Taliban’s military operations, Mullah Baradar runs the group’s leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura because its leaders for years have been thought to be hiding near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan.

The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban. Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan — as they have quietly done for years — without endangering themselves. Indeed, American officials have speculated that Pakistani security officials could have picked up Mullah Baradar long ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


Inventing the Gettysburg Address: a review of Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. by Garry Wills (Harry V. Jaffa, Fall 1992 issue of The Intercollegiate Review)

Lincoln at Gettysburg is the sequel to Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, which was published in 1978. In the Prologue to that book, Wills reveals that even then he was less concerned with the Declaration itself than with undoing the myths about it perpetrated by the Gettysburg Address. In that book, as in this one, Lincoln’s deception is said to have begun with the assertion in the Gettysburg Address of the bond between independence and union. Here is how Lincoln himself summarized his view—long before Gettysburg—in his Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861:

The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”

The words from the Preamble were italicized by Lincoln himself, since he evidently thought it impossible to deny that the Union preceded the Constitution, if the Constitution itself speaks of forming “a more perfect Union.”

However, in his 1978 book, Garry Wills ridicules the “four-score and seven years ago” of the Gettysburg Address. He says Lincoln chose “his Biblically shrouded figure” because it:

. . . takes us back to 1776, the year of the Declaration, of the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. But there aresome fairly self-evident objections to that mode of calculating. All thirteen original colonies subscribed to the Declaration with instructions to their delegates that this was not to imply formation of a single nation. If anything, July 4, 1776, produced twelve new nations (with a thirteenth coming in on July 15)—conceived in liberty perhaps, but more dedicated to theproposition that the colonies they severed from the mother country were equal to each other than that their inhabitants were equal.

In 1981, I reviewed Inventing America. I pointed out that Wills’s confident assertion about the instructions of all thirteen colonies to their delegates in the Continental Congress was simply not true. I quoted from these documents—which Wills, perhaps relying upon Kendall, apparently had never seen. (I surmise also that Kendall, relying upon either Calhoun or Jefferson Davis, had never seen them either.) In the majority of cases, the colonies had instructed their delegates to vote for independence and union. Not one instructed to the contrary. All of them did, however, reserve to themselves individually their “internal police.” This reservation marks what is probably the first appearance in our political literature of the principle of American federalism. Although Americans have been disputing for 200 years how to draw the line between state and federal authority, no one thought, either then or now, that federalism is inconsistent with union, or that union is inconsistent with nationhood. In adopting Kendall’s thesis that the thirteen colonies, in becoming independent of Great Britain, became independent of each other, Wills is simply—shall we say it?—swindling his readers.

Let us consider further how the relationship of independence and union was looked back upon in the after-light of the Founding. In 1825, Jefferson asked Madison for his recommendation of books or documents that ought to be made authoritative—norma docendi—for instruction by the law faculty of the new University of Virginia. In response, Madison did recommend—and Jefferson incorporated his recommendation into a resolution adopted by the Board of Visitors of the University—some of the “best guides” to “the distinctive principles of the government of our own State, and of that of the United States.” The first was the “Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental act of Union of these States.”

In his earlier book, Wills refers to the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address together as “war propaganda with no legal force” (362). But this is to ignore the testimony of Madison and Jefferson, that the Declaration was “the fundamental act of Union.” “Act” here means “law.” Article VI of the Constitution declares that:

All debts contracted and engagements entered into before the adoption of this Constitution shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution as under the Confederation.

Article XII of the Articles of Confederation declares, in like manner, that all debts contracted under the authority of Congress before the Articles went into effect shall be considered charges against the United States, and honored as such. This more than confirms Lincoln’s contention that the legal and moral personality of the United States, as a Union, extends continuously not only to the Declaration of Independence, but before that to the Congress of the Union that declared independence, and which had incurred debts from the beginning of the war in 1775. The Declaration of Independence is today the first of the four organic laws of the United States, according to the United States Code, as adopted by the United States Congress. [3] Article VII of the Constitution, as signed by George Washington, and submitted to the states for ratification declares that it was “done in Convention in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth.” All acts and deeds of the United States are by the Constitution itself dated from the Declaration of Independence. How anyone could write two books on this topic, as Garry Wills has done, and remain ignorant of these most elementary historical and legal facts, is difficult to understand.

The enduring significance of the Declaration of Independence—embodied in the Gettysburg Address—is accordingly less in marking the separation of the colonies from Great Britain, than of marking the union of the states with each other. This enduring significance, however, is constituted less by the legal fact of union, than by the moral fact that—according to Madison and Jefferson—the Declaration embodies the principles of government of the States severally, and of the United States corporately. Moreover, the Constitution of 1787 guarantees “to every state of this union a republican form of government,” without ever defining that form. Can there be any doubt that, as indicated by the testimony of the aforesaid witnesses, such form is best defined in the Declaration of Independence?

What made the Declaration of Independence the best of all guides to educating the guardians of republican freedom? In 1978, as we have seen, Wills, following Kendall, thought that the equality mentioned in the Declaration referred to the collective legal equality of the States with each other, not to the moral equality of the human persons who were their “inhabitants.” We have seen Wills quote with full approval—in opposition to Lincoln—the assertion that:

. . . the statesmen who founded the government . . . were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that Negroes were their equals. . . .

That the Declaration of Independence included Negroes in the proposition of human equality is the heart of hearts of Lincoln’s alleged “new past.” Wills also inherited this thesis from Kendall, who had charged Lincoln with “a startling new interpretation of . . . ‘all men are created equal’” (39). The denial that Negroes had been included in the humanity of the Declaration had also been the contention of Chief Justice Taney in his opinion for the Court in Dred Scott. By a strange twist of fate, what was an article of faith for the old defenders of slavery has become unquestionable orthodoxy among “black power” historians and their allies of the radical Left, who take it as proof of the racism of the American Founding.

Where does the truth lie? Are individuals equal, or are only “peoples” collectively equal? Consider the Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780—whose author was John Adams, a member of the committee charged by the Congress in 1776 to draft the Declaration:

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good . . .

And the premise upon which this voluntary association is formed is that:

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Here is an authoritative gloss upon the doctrine of the Declaration, prefaced to a Revolutionary state constitution.

In 1835, after being engaged in mortal combat against the doctrine of state rights enunciated by Calhoun during the nullification crisis (1828–33), James Madison drafted an essay on the meaning of sovereignty in constitutional jurisprudence. He wrote:

To go to the bottom of the subject let us consult the theory which contemplates a certain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in order that the rights, the safety, and the interest of each may be under the safeguard of the whole.
The first supposition is, that each individual being previously independent of the others, the compact which is to make them one society must result from the free consent of every individual.

Therefore, there can be no doubt that the consent that brings the body politic into existence, the consent upon which majority rule and the “just powers of government” depend, is “the free consent of every individual.” It is true that communities of men founded in this way are themselves equal to other independent communities. But this collective equality is a by-product of the equality that individuals enjoyed, as contracting parties, prior to forming themselves into a people. The equality enjoyed by citizens and persons under the constitutional law of a free society is a consequence of the antecedent equality belonging to them under the laws of nature and of nature’s God. It is this natural equality that defines the ends, and limits the powers, of all legitimate governments. This is the philosophical core of the idea of limited government. For Calhoun—and his followers to this day—state rights are sui generis—that is to say, they have no anterior justification. State rights, severed from the natural rights of human persons, are not limited in what they can do—and what they did do was to place the legal right to own human persons on the same level as all other rights.

The proposition of human equality, understood to refer first and foremost to the rights of individuals, forms the core of the Gettysburg Address because it forms the core of the Declaration of Independence. Even more importantly, it forms the moral core of our existence as civilized human beings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


The 2007 Solution:Senator LeMieux’s plan for the federal budget (Fred Barnes, February 15, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Republican senator George LeMieux of Florida has done the math. If government spending were reduced to its 2007 level, we’d have a balanced budget (with a $163 billion surplus). Returning to the 2008 level of spending, the budget would be balanced in 2014 (a $133 billion surplus). And in both cases, that’s while keeping the Bush tax cuts across the board and indexing the loathed alternative minimum tax for inflation.

“Could we live with what we did in 2007?” LeMieux asks—the “we” a collective reference to Congress, the federal government, and the country. He thinks so. Because of the recession, “most Americans are living with less than they had in 2007.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


A New Conservatism? : Either it will be Christian or not at all (Anthony Esolen, Catholic World Report)

It must recognize zones of authority. Libertarianism is, I am afraid, a false friend. It assumes that my freedom is defined by what others cannot legitimately prevent me from doing: from learning how to play the violin, if I so choose (to use Isaiah Berlin’s example), or, far more sinister, from destroying the offspring in the womb. But that is a cramped view of freedom, and assumes that the relationship between freedom and authority is adversarial.

For authority is not opposed to freedom; it is rather its precondition. We can divine this from the suggestive Latin etymology: the “auctor” is one who gives increase. When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him. He becomes a responsible young man capable of shingling a roof, or changing the oil in the car, or kneeling before the Lord in humble and exalting prayer.

The family, for instance, ought to be an area of freedom from state intrusion not, principally, because the individuals in it should be allowed to do as they please within the bounds of the civil law, nor even because the family can accomplish what the state cannot, but because it is in itself an area of law-giving and law-abiding. It has its own authority, which demands respect. The school, the parish, the neighborhood, the city, the workplace, the football team, indeed all free associations of human beings—both those that arise by nature and those that men create and choose—should be afforded freedom, not as part of a Madisonian compromise among competing factions, but as an acknowledgment by the state of what is after all human reality.

Such a vision would, paradoxically, help deliver the freedom which libertarians long for while grounding it in the virtue of obedience and breaking the terrible reduction of human life to the conflict between individual will and state control. [...]

It must recognize that our greatest threat is Nothing. The false gods of pagan Greece and Rome are no more. It is now, for western man, as David Hart has put it, Christ or nothing. He did not mean simply that a belief in the Messiah (having come, or, for the faithful Jew, yet to come) is the only belief left standing. He meant also that the world now offers, as a totem of worship, the god of Nothingness, meaninglessness. “Ye shall be as gods,” said the serpent in the garden; but our new tempters improve upon the old. “Ye are no more than serpents,” they say, or collocations of atoms in the void, and once you understand this—once you understand that there is no objective reality to good and evil, and no such thing as human dignity, you may then do as you please. You may then, for example, act as a serpent does, one long alimentary canal, consuming what you like, and excreting what is not to your use. You may be gods—serpent-gods.

We must learn to “see” this faceless Nothing, this spiritual death. For it cloaks itself in the shabbiest ways. When we hear that all cultures are equal, meaning that man never makes any progress toward the truth, because there is no truth, then we must see Nothing hovering near, like a sinister Cheshire cat, no body and all grin. When we hear that there are no differences between man and woman, then we should turn around and see Nothing, flipping through a magazine, yawning, bored. When we hear that the State must assume all our duties for caring for one another, must feed our children, fill their brains with fog, and put them to bed at night, we must see the Nothing sitting enthroned in our parlors, in front of the television.

Nothing beckons, because Nothing promises freedom: as of a body falling from a great height, but indefinitely.

As befits conservatism, it's not new.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Under Obama, labor should have made more progress (Harold Meyerson, February 10, 2010, Washington Post)

For American labor, year one of Barack Obama's presidency has been close to an unmitigated disaster.

Labor's primary priority -- the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- died when the Democrats lost their 60-vote majority in the Senate. Labor's normal priority -- a functioning National Labor Relations Board -- also seems out of reach, with Republicans on Tuesday blocking the appointment of Obama nominee Craig Becker (that's why Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown scurried down to Washington last week to take his seat). Other key legislation for which labor has lobbied, including health-care reform and financial regulations, languishes in the Senate.

For the unions, the Senate's inability to pass EFCA is devastating and galling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Where we are in 2010: Collapsing Arab states may well be a pattern in the future if the key fault lines between and within these states are not boldly addressed (Amr Hamzawi, 1/13/10, Al-Ahram Weekly)

The term "failed state" seems appropriate to the four previous cases, whether the state is verging on collapse or is in the grips of an existential legitimacy crisis. But there are two additional levels of the crisis of the nation state. While they are more prevalent in the Arab world, they are more difficult to capture in buzzwords and snappy phrases. In the Gulf (apart from Kuwait), Syria and Libya we find a dangerous dichotomy between societies whose economic, social and administrative structures have undergone rapid modernisation and the regimes that govern these societies on the basis of pre-state autocratic political arrangements that have constantly demonstrated their failure to respond to the needs and horizons of societal evolution. For example, while political plurality and the division of powers is non-existent in the Gulf, where civil and individual liberties are heavily restricted within the framework of authoritarian rule uninterrupted since the creation or independence of these states, market-oriented economic structures -- and the complex administrative systems similar to those in the capitalist West -- present an image of a modern society that cannot be reduced to the tribe, sect or other primary allegiances. A similar situation exists in Syria and Libya, even if the autocratic state has donned a republican façade and blazoned progressive slogans. In spite of considerable success Gulf countries, Syria and Libya have had in sustaining the stability of their governments, relying on the calculated distribution of rentier incomes, and/or on the repressive capacities of their security agencies, the perpetuation of the dichotomy between an advanced society and traditional state is certain to court tensions between the state and more active segments of society seeking greater civil and individual liberties and an institutionalised democratic order.

At the next level there is popular dissatisfaction with the policies and politicians of the state in societies such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. Yet in these countries, the modernisation of the state, at least superficially, has proceeded more or less in tandem with the modernisation of society, and the legitimacy of that state is not subject to widespread question. These societies differ in terms of their political arrangements, the components of the ruling elite, the abilities of their governments to provide essential economic and social services, the trajectory of the gap between the rich and poor (which is shrinking in the case of Tunisia whose middle class has developed rapidly over the past three decades, while it is expanding in Morocco and Egypt in both of which the poverty rate is pushing beyond 20 per cent). Nevertheless, these societies share a growing level of popular discontent directed at government agencies and officials, and widespread despair at the prospect of a better future, in spite of the relative stability of the state. The most salient sign of popular dissatisfaction has been the sporadic but increasingly frequent protests generally sparked by poor public services, wage and working condition demands, and other economic and daily life concerns. Another indication, although not as clear cut, is reluctance to participate in official political processes by actively boycotting elections and by refusing to join political parties over which hangs considerable scepticism with regards to their ability to systematically and effectively advocate for and meet the needs and aspirations of the people.

The crisis of the nation state, in the four degrees of intensity described above, weighs heavily on the Arab world. At best it hampers the ability of the state to perform its primary functions and it obstructs the prospects of sustained development and democratic transformation. At worst, it lends itself to forces propelling towards the disintegration of the state and the fragmentation of society.

Had the Middle East been allowed to evolve into natural nations after WWI it would have avoided these pathologies. But Wilson traded their sovereignty for his League.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


Bayh to Obama: take this job and shove it (Charles Lane, 2/15/10, Washington Post)

Millions of Americans long to tell their bosses “take this job and shove it.” Hardly any have the power and money to do so, especially in these recessionary times. Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, however, is the exception. His stunning retirement from the Senate is essentially a loud and emphatic “screw you” to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For months now, Bayh has been screaming at the top of his voice that the party needs to reorient toward a more popular, centrist agenda -- one that emphasizes jobs and fiscal responsibility over health care and cap and trade. Neither the White House nor the Senate leadership has given him the response he wanted. Their bungling of what should have been a routine bipartisan jobs bill last week seems to have been the last straw. [...]

Quitting the Senate was a no-lose move for the presidentially ambitious Bayh, since he can now crawl away from the political wreckage for a couple of years, plausibly alleging that he tried to steer the party in a different direction -- and then be perfectly positioned to mount a centrist primary challenge to Obama in 2012, depending on circumstances.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Newspoll: Rudd hits a new low (Dennis Shanahan, 2/16/10, The Australian)

KEVIN Rudd's personal voter appeal is at its lowest since he became Labor leader more than three years ago as support for Labor's emissions trading scheme slumps and the ALP's primary support sits at its lowest since Kim Beazley was opposition leader.

Labor's primary vote has dropped below 40 per cent for the first time since 2006 and the Coalition has managed to hold its primary vote at 40 per cent for a month for the first time since the 2007 election loss.

On the weekend after the Rudd government reintroduced its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by putting a market price on carbon, public support for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme dropped to a new low after the fiasco of the UN's Copenhagen climate conference in December and Coalition opposition to an ETS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Run, Mort, run! (NY Post, February 15, 2010)

The emergence of real-estate magnate -- and Daily News Publisher -- Mortimer Zuckerman as a potential candidate for the United States Senate is an event all New Yorkers of good will can welcome.

This isn't an endorsement of Zuckerman's candidacy. Indeed, it's not at all clear that he'll even make the run.

But here's hoping he does. [...]

Zuckerman...is a heavyweight -- an internationalist with a firm grasp on the challenges facing the nation in that realm, a fierce supporter of Israel at a time of grave peril for that embattled nation and an experienced businessman with a clear appreciation of how much damage anti-growth fiscal policies can do to America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


W.H. considers indefinite detention (JOSH GERSTEIN | 2/15/10, Politico)

The White House is considering endorsing a law that would allow the indefinite detention of some alleged terrorists without trial as part of efforts to break a logjam with Congress over President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.

Sure, it's funny watching them go all Cheney, but when have we ever released prisoners before their war was over?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


N.J. bill would let parents move their kids to out-of-district public schools (The Associated Press, February 14, 2010)

If approved, schools seeking to participate in the program would apply to the state education commissioner, detailing services available to their students. The applications also would include an accounting of fiscal issues schools could face by taking part in the program.

Students wishing to transfer to new schools would have to submit applications to the receiving districts, which would review them and make decisions based in part on the student's interests in their school's offerings. Schools also would be allowed to hold lotteries if the number of applications outpace the number of available seats.

Sending districts would have to provide or pay for transportation for elementary school pupils who live more than two miles from the receiving district, and for secondary school students who live more than 2½ miles from their new school. Sending districts, though, would not have to pay these costs if the student's new school is more than 20 miles from their home.

"Public school choice is an important step to ensuring each child has the ability to attend a school that is best-suited to their individual needs and talents," said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange). "More importantly, public school choice programs can improve educational outcomes for students without seeing taxpayer money funneled out of New Jersey's strong public school system."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


John McCain recruits Sarah Palin to help defend Arizona seat (Alex Spillius, 15 Feb 2010, Daily Telegraph)

"I'm looking forward to getting back on the campaign trail with my former running mate, and I know my fellow Arizonans will welcome her as well," said Sen McCain. "Sarah energised our nation and remains a leading voice in the Republican Party."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Painting a sign of Hitler-Freud friendship? (PTI, 16 February 2010)

A painting by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, that may have belonged to Jewish-Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, will be up for auction next month in London raising speculation that the two may have known each other during their early days in Vienna.

The watercolour depicting a church and mountains signed, “A Hitler, 1910”, with “Sigmund Freud, Vienna,” written on the back of the painting will be up for sale at a starting price of £10,000.

Too bad it isn't a portrait of Marx.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Fallen Angel (Der Spiegel, 2/15/10)

Carnival in Germany may last five days, but many would argue that the best of those five is Rose Monday, when the irreverent parade floats take to the streets of Cologne, Düsseldorf and elsewhere. [...] Here, President Barack Obama as a fallen angel.

It reads: Obama, the redeemer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Troops: Strict War Rules Slow Afghan Offensive (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/15/10)

''I understand the reason behind it, but it's so hard to fight a war like this,'' said Lance Cpl. Travis Anderson, 20, of Altoona, Iowa. ''They're using our rules of engagement against us,'' he said, adding that his platoon had repeatedly seen men drop their guns into ditches and walk away to blend in with civilians.

If a man emerges from a Taliban hideout after shooting erupts, U.S. troops say they cannot fire at him if he is not seen carrying a weapon -- or if they did not personally watch him drop one.

What this means, some contend, is that a militant can fire at them, then set aside his weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location. It was unclear how often this has happened. In another example, Marines pinned down by a barrage of insurgent bullets say they can't count on quick air support because it takes time to positively identify shooters.

''This is difficult,'' Lance Cpl. Michael Andrejczuk, 20, of Knoxville, Tenn., said Monday. ''We are trained like when we see something, we obliterate it. But here, we have to see them and when we do, they don't have guns.''

NATO and Afghan military officials say killing militants is not the goal of a 3-day-old attack to take control of this Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Obama's Dreadful Sudan Policy (Daniel Allott, 2.15.10, American Spectator)

Senator Obama was one of the upper chamber's most vocal advocates of strong action against the Sudanese regime. As a presidential candidate, he endorsed tougher sanctions on the Sudanese government and implementation of a no fly zone. He promised to end the genocide in Darfur and preserve a fragile North-South peace.

At her confirmation hearing, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton said preserving the North South peace agreement would be a "top priority." Obama's chief Sudan advisor, Susan Rice (now ambassador to the United Nations), hinted at U.S. military action against Khartoum, and vowed to "go down in flames" advocating tough measures.

Joe Biden even said, "I would use American force now [in Darfur]."

But like so many of its promises, the Obama administration's tough talk about Sudan has not translated into tough policy. In fact, after years of blasting George W. Bush's Sudan policy, Obama is now being slammed for offering too much carrot and not enough stick to a government whose president is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Garrett's roofing fire admission (Sid Maher and Nicola Berkovic, 2/13/10, The Australian)

PETER Garrett has admitted his troubled $2.5 billion insulation program has been linked to 86 house fires around the nation as the opposition stepped up calls for him to resign over his handling of the scheme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Bayh Decides Against Re-election Bid ( BERNIE BECKER AND JEFF ZELENY, 2/15/10,. NY Times)

Senator Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat, has decided not to run for a third term this year.

Mr. Bayh will announce his decision in a press conference at 2 p.m. on Monday, an aide confirmed. The decision was closely held by Mr. Bayh, a party official in Indiana said, and came as a surprise to Democrats in his state who had already started working on his campaign.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


What Bill Clinton could teach President Obama (E.J. Dionne Jr., February 15, 2010, Washington Post)

[R]epublicans (and in retrospect, you can say this was shrewd politics) understood in 1994, as they do in 2010, that allowing these talented icon smashers to govern differently and draw in members of their own party would be fatal to a GOP comeback.

So in Clinton's case, Republicans voted to a person against his economic recovery plan that -- combined with President George H.W. Bush's deficit-reduction moves -- put the nation on the road to budget surpluses. Remember those? And then they killed Clinton's health-care plan.

Under Obama, Republicans have used precisely the same tactics without facing any criticism for a lack of originality. Obama's stimulus bill got three Republican votes in the Senate, none in the House, and GOP lawmakers rail against it even as they claim credit for projects financed by a bill they opposed. And Republicans are doing all they can to make sure that Health Care 2.0 is ruined by the same political viruses that infected Health Care 1.0 under Clinton.

Republicans had just lost the White House in 1992 because of a needless tax increase but they were supposed to help Bill Clinton pass another one after he'd run on cutting taxes? Meanwhile, the entire difference between the big deficits under Reagan/Bush and the surplus under Clinton/Gingrich was the 3% of GDP we got back as a Peace Dividend.The two tax hikes were just too comparatively trivial to do much harm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Controversial Ga. billboards link abortion, race (ERRIN HAINES, 2/14/10, Associated Press)

The message on dozens of billboards across the city is provocative: Black children are an "endangered species."

The eyebrow-raising ads featuring a young black child are an effort by the anti-abortion movement to use race to rally support within the black community. The reaction from black leaders has been mixed, but the "Too Many Aborted" campaign, which so far is unique to only Georgia, is drawing support from other anti-abortion groups across the country.

"It's ingenious," said the Rev. Johnny Hunter, national director of the Life Education and Resource Network, a North Carolina-based anti-abortion group aimed at African-Americans that operates in 27 states. "This campaign is in your face, and nobody can ignore it."

The Place of Women on the Court (EMILY BAZELON, July 7, 2009 , NY Times Magazine)
JUSTICE GINSBURG: [....] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


How to Write A Piece On How to Save the President (Mickey Kaus, KausFiles)

The rules are:

1) Blame the campaigners. The problem is the President relies for close advise on his closest advisers-- those who saw him through the campaign. For Carter it was the boys from Georgia--e.g. Hamilton Jordan. For Obama it's the Chicago interlopers: Axelrod, Gibbs, Jarrett, plus Rahm Emanuel. If only the circle were broadened! This reflexive Washington kvetch allows DC experts to think that the decisions would be better if only experts like them were consulted. Time to bring in a "Team B" consisting of [insert list of your friends here]. As if Chuck Hagel is going to save Obama.

2) Blame campaigning: "The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing," says Luce. This implies that the serious business of policy and governance is qualitatively different--and superior to--the grimy business of getting elected. ("To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics. That still isn't happening," says one of Obama's "close allies.") All the more reason for getting those campaign hacks out of there! And very flattering for DC policy types who would in theory take their places.

3) Blame process: If only the process were changed--the circle of advisers broadened, the "stream" of advice augmented, with cabinet officers and State department officials consulted--better results would pop out (no matter what the elected official in question actually believes in). This avoids messy arguments about substance and offers the prized Neutral Story Line--an MSM-safe narrative that seems to explain everything without taking ideological sides.

4) Never Blame the President. Goes without saying. What good would that do? ....

And of course,

5) Call David Gergen. ("[T]he lightbulb must want to change," he says of Obama.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


The Attorney General's Friendly Fire: The GOP has been out for Eric Holder's head for weeks over his handling of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial. But lately, some Democrats worry the White House may be Holder's most dangerous enemy. (Philip Shenon, 2/15/10, Daily Beast)

[N]ow, it seems, Holder has a far worse problem: being second-guessed, very publicly, from within the administration—by the president himself.

On Friday, the White House disclosed that the president will become involved in the decision of how and where to try to terrorist suspects—decisions that Holder had previously described as free of political influence because they were his and his alone.

The drumbeat of criticism has anxious Democrats wondering if the attorney general, despite what appears to be a genuine friendship with Obama, can hold on to the job that admirers say he has coveted since he first signed on at the Justice Department as an ambitious young prosecutor in the 1970s.

"Eric needs to fight back hard," a senior Senate Democrat tells The Daily Beast. "He has real enemies among the Republicans, who want to make him the face of how Democrats have supposedly gone soft on terrorism. And it looks like he has real adversaries in the White House, too."

...that attacking his subordinates is thoroughly plausible. Does anyone think they--any more than Congress--were listening to or following him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


White House revamps communications strategy (Michael D. Shear, 2/15/10, Washington Post)

White House officials are retooling the administration's communications strategy to produce faster responses to political adversaries, a more disciplined focus on President Obama's call for "change" in Washington and an increasingly selective use of the president's time. [...]

Vice President Biden's appearances on two Sunday morning talk shows were part of the new response -- in this case, to rebut former vice president Richard B. Cheney's accusations that the administration is weak on terrorism. Biden, who taped one of the shows in advance, said his predecessor was attempting to "rewrite history."

Obama's surprise news conference last week -- his first in nearly seven months -- is another example. After a bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders, Obama faced the media to declare his willingness to work with Republicans. But he warned: "I also won't hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that's rooted not in substantive disagreements but in political expedience."

The UR is desperately overexposed, but is wending him out for a pointless press appearance a step towards ending that? And why either respond at all to Dick Cheney or allow Joe Biden to ever speak?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


The Compelling Case For The Cable Car (Steven Dale, 02/14/2010 , New Geography)

San Francisco cable cars are not so much cable transit as they are a living history of cable transit’s past. So why, then, is cable re-emerging as a technology of choice — preferred to buses, streetcars and light rail — to many public transit agencies around the world? Cities are discovering that cable’s inherent flexibility and adaptability gives it capabilities that no other transit technology shares. Adaptability, safety, reliability, price, environmental impact, speed, capacity, and a successful track record all contribute to these newfound positive impressions.

Yet despite cable’s growth in the last 10 years, the US transit industry is still largely ignorant about the technology. Ironic, considering the technology has a uniquely American history.
Around 1890 there were roughly 500 miles of US cable car lines. While cable had been invented primarily as a means to ascend steep hills, the simple technology spread. Chicago, for instance, moved 27 million passengers per year. The system was a tremendous money-maker and the poster-boy for cable because - against all conventional wisdom - engineers had the chutzpah to install lines in one of the coldest, flattest cities in the country. A line in St. Paul, Minnesota was soon to follow.

But by the turn-of-the-century, virtually all cable car systems had been converted to electrified streetcars, which at the time were more cost-effective and safer. Perhaps as a result of that legacy, more often than not today’s planners assume cable is a slow, expensive and dangerous technology, only useful in mountain regions for carrying a few skiers from one chalet to another. A 1989 study from the University of West Virginia confirmed this perspective, and it seems that perceptions haven’t changed much in the last 20 years.

Here’s the real record...

February 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


US, India, Israel again in action (Sikander Shaheen, February 14, 2010, The Nation)

The coming together of the US, Israel, and India, in an unholy alliance to tighten the noose around a Muslim lady reflects the new realities of global power politics.

The prejudiced decision against Dr Aafia Siddiqui traces its roots to the active involvement of Israel in collusion with Indians like Preet Bharara who hold powerful legal positions in the US, under the support and shelter of the US.

Why Aafia’s case was assigned to a judge with controversial prejudiced past, who was more a Jew than juror, is too obvious to seek a reply. It is also astonishing that the burning news regarding Judge Richard Berman, being an orthodox Jew, and a member of jury who convicted Aafia has barely been noticed in international community and media. Apart from a few select forums, the issue was not raised elsewhere.

'Lady Al Qaeda' Aafia Siddiqui convicted of attempted murder (Alison Gendar, 2/03/10, NY DAILY NEWS)
The woman dubbed "Lady Al Qaeda" was convicted Wednesday of shooting at Americans in Afghanistan, and she reacted with yet another bizarre rant.

"This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America," Aafia Siddiqui exclaimed, raising one hand and pointing up before being led out of the Manhattan courtroom.

"That's where the anger belongs. I can testify to this. And I have proof."

The defense said it hopes to appeal the conviction on the grounds that Siddiqui, 37, was too crazy to stand trial. [...]

Siddiqui was arrested in 2008 after being caught in Afghanistan with 2 pounds of poisonous chemicals, bomb-making instructions and a list of New York landmarks.

She grabbed a rifle at an Afghan police station and started shooting at the Americans sent to grill her. She was shot by the soldier whose weapon she swiped.

She was not charged with terrorism, and Judge Richard Berman barred any mention of the chemicals or Siddiqui's supposed ties to Al Qaeda.

During the trial, she disrupted the proceedings several times with strange outbursts - including claims she could broker peace with the Taliban.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Delahunt says he might be the next to go (Farah Stockman, February 13, 2010, Boston Globe)

Delahunt has held office so long that Democratic strategists said it is not clear who in his party might seek the seat if he were to retire. Some have floated the name of Therese Murray, president of the Massachusetts State Senate, who is from Plymouth. But she has recently indicated that she believes Delahunt will run and win.

Still, several Republicans see a chance to recapture one of the state’s conservative districts, where Brown received some of his highest margins of victory on Jan. 19. And they have seized on an unlikely issue: Venezuela. Or, more specifically, Delahunt’s good relations with Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, who once called President Bush “the devil’’ in a speech at the United Nations.

In 2005, Delahunt persuaded Chávez to agree to give deep discounts on home heating oil for more than 30,000 low-income residents in Massachusetts annually. Citgo, an oil company controlled by Chávez, already supplies about 13 percent of US crude oil imports.

Delahunt’s deal opened the door for low-income households in Massachusetts to receive 100 gallons of free heating oil - enough to last several weeks or more - through a program run by Citizens Energy, a nonprofit arm company run by Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former Massachusetts congressman.

Joseph Malone, a Republican former state treasurer who is seen as Delahunt’s strongest potential challenger, has criticized the deal, calling Chávez “a dictator who has stripped his citizens of their rights.’’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


U.S. has best health care in world (Walter F. Johnson, 2/14/10, Daily Progress)

[A] survey by the U.N. International Health Organization has reported:

Percentage of men and women who survived a cancer five years after diagnosis: U.S. 65 percent, England 46 percent, Canada 42 percent.

Percentage of patients diagnosed with diabetes who received treatment within six months: U.S. 93 percent, England 15 percent, Canada 43 percent.

Percentage of seniors needing hip replacement who received it within six months: U.S. 90 percent, England 15 percent, Canada 43 percent.

Percentage referred to a medical specialist who see one within one month: U.S. 77 percent, England 40 percent, Canada 43 percent.

Number of MRI scanners (a prime diagnostic tool) per million people: U.S. 71, England 14, Canada 18.

Percentage of seniors (65 and older) with low income who say they are in “excellent health”: U.S. 12 percent, England 2 percent, Canada 6 percent.

The dirty secret is that our big health care problem is that we have too much of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Global warming: How much carbon dioxide is enough, Einstein? (Paul Mulshine, 2/14/10, The Star Ledger)

Well it happened, right on schedule.

On Monday I interviewed Princeton physicist William Happer on the questionable science behind the great global warming scare. He pointed out to me that the alarmists have a "heads I win, tails you lose" philosophy. Any natural event that occurs can be made to fit into their theory.

Sure enough, a major magazine soon came out with an article in which the author pointed out that the snowfall blanketing the nation’s capital was actually the sort of thing you’d expect to see if the theory of man-made global warming was correct.

"It’s unbelievable," said Happer when I spoke with him again Friday. "You hear of an event when the weather’s warm and it’s proof of global warming. Then if the weather’s cold, that’s proof of global warming as well."

And that reveals the problem with the theory that man-made greenhouse gases are causing a climate catastrophe, says Happer. It’s not falsifiable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Can Sarah Palin translate celebrity into real political power? (Dan Balz, 2/14/10, Washington Post)

If Palin harbors presidential ambitions, she has a huge mountain to climb. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 71 percent of Americans do not think the politician who was Sen. John McCain's running mate in 2008 is qualified to be president.

Those numbers are so daunting that some Republicans who otherwise admire what she has accomplished doubt that she will run in 2012. Others say that unless she can transform attitudes dramatically, she cannot hope to win a general election. Still, GOP strategist Phil Musser said, "if she ran for president today, she would be the Republican nominee." [...]

Since leaving the governorship last summer, Palin has taken steps to expand her political operation, which was derided even by those in the Republican Party as thin and inexperienced.

Tim Crawford, who has been working in GOP politics for 30 years, serves as the treasurer of her political action committee. Others who are helping include Randy Scheunemann, who offers foreign policy advice as he did during her vice presidential campaign. Longtime adviser Meg Stapleton continues to serve as principal liaison to the news media.

Palin told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace that she receives a daily e-mail from advisers outlining domestic and international developments. Asked by Wallace if she is more knowledgeable about domestic and foreign affairs now than she was two years ago, she replied: "Well, I would hope so. Yes, I am."

Those in Palin's circle said there is no single person to whom she turns most often for advice. There is no Karl Rove to George W. Bush, or Lee Atwater to Bush's father. "It's not like there's this last person she talks to before she goes to bed to get her marching orders," said one person knowledgeable about her operation who declined to be identified in order to share information. "It's her instincts and her thinking that's driving this."

Nothing in the indiscipline of her performance since reaching the national stage suggests that she can put together and then obey the sort of staff she'd need to win IA and she'll get slaughtered in NH. Republican nominees never lose both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Poll shows solid backing for GST rise if income tax cut (Claire Trevett and Simon Collins, Feb 13, 2010, New Zealand Herald)

Herald readers have given the thumbs-up to Prime Minister John Key's plan to raise the goods and services tax and cut income taxes.

They were asked, "What would you prefer? GST to be increased to 15 per cent but the rise to be compensated with a personal tax cut, or GST to remain the same but no tax cuts."

Of the 1407 Aucklanders on the Herald's online reader panel who replied, 56 per cent opted for higher GST with tax cuts.

The Anglosphere will replace taxation of income with taxation of consumption.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


The sweet smell of morality (Courtney Humphries, February 14, 2010, Boston Globe)

A team of researchers found that when people were in a room recently spritzed with a citrus-scented cleanser, they behaved more fairly when playing a classic trust game. In another experiment, the smell of cleanser made subjects more likely to volunteer for a charity.

The findings suggest that simply smelling something clean makes people clean up their behavior - that a smell can provoke a mental leap between cleanliness and morality, making people think differently about the world around them. The authors even suggested that clean smells could be employed as a tool to influence how people act.

The idea that a smell can affect something as complex as ethical behavior seems surprising, not least because smell has long been seen as a “lower” sense, playing on our emotions and instincts while our reason and judgment operate on another plane. But research increasingly shows that smell doesn’t just affect how we feel: It affects how we think, in ways that are just beginning to be understood.

Other studies have confirmed that scents can trigger generosity, and that they affect our decision-making processes and judgments rather than just emotions. Even when smells aren’t on the forefront of our consciousness, our minds are trying to match them with other sensory information to interpret our surroundings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Under Obama, more targeted killings than captures in counterterrorism efforts (Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick, 2/14/10, Washington Post)

The Nabhan decision was one of a number of similar choices the administration has faced over the past year as President Obama has escalated U.S. attacks on the leadership of al-Qaeda and its allies around the globe. The result has been dozens of targeted killings and no reports of high-value detentions.

Although senior administration officials say that no policy determination has been made to emphasize kills over captures, several factors appear to have tipped the balance in that direction. The Obama administration has authorized such attacks more frequently than the George W. Bush administration did in its final years, including in countries where U.S. ground operations are officially unwelcome or especially dangerous. Improvements in electronic surveillance and precision targeting have made killing from a distance much more of a sure thing. At the same time, options for where to keep U.S. captives have dwindled.

...no more getting our hands dirty with captives, we just shoot on sight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Progressives and the growing dependency agenda (George F. Will, February 14, 2010, Washington Post)

Only two things are infinite -- the expanding universe and Democrats' hostility to the District of Columbia's school choice program. Killing this small program, which benefits 1,300 mostly poor and minority children, is odious and indicative. It is a small piece of something large -- the Democrats' dependency agenda, which aims to multiply the ways Americans are dependent on government.

...to figure out the genius of W's compassionate conservatism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


The Myth of the One-Term Wonder (ROBERT W. MERRY, 2/14/10, NY Times)

No doubt President Obama was sincere when he recently told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that he’d “rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” The president seemed to be saying that he would make decisions with history in mind rather than voter sentiment, even if voter sentiment would get him tossed out at the next election.

This is perhaps a noble sensibility — and one worth reflecting on as President’s Day approaches. But it’s also misguided. The judgment of history — in the form of presidential rankings yielded up by those periodic polls of heavyweight historians — coincides to a remarkable degree with the contemporaneous judgment of the electorate. With few exceptions, history has not smiled upon one-term presidents. Only one such chief executive has managed with any consistency to get into the historians’ “near great” category.

That president is James K. Polk, who announced upon getting his party’s nomination in 1844 that, if elected, he would serve only one term. He did this in part because, as a small-government man, he possessed a philosophical aversion to entrenched power. But his vow was pragmatic, not just idealistic: he felt the powerful figures of his party would be more likely to unite behind him in the general election if they thought they would have their own shot at the presidency in four years.

Polk was in many ways a smaller-than-life figure — sanctimonious, suspicious by nature, uncomfortable in social settings. But he harbored larger-than-life ambitions. Upon getting elected, he embraced four big goals: reduce tariffs; create an independent treasury; establish American control of California and most of the Oregon Territory. [...]

In the end, he succeeded in all four goals and annexed Texas along the way, thus expanding the United States by a third and creating a transcontinental nation positioned to dominate two oceans. In doing all that, he accomplished what the American people wanted him to do and won the respect of future historians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


We can be safe without torturing (Martin Iven, 2/14/10, Times of London)

[O]f course a democratic society wants security. We want rigorous checks within airports to safeguard flights. We cheerfully give more money for agents and resources to combat the jihadist threat. We will even accept intelligence from dubious sources taken by dubious means if it helps to prevent terrorist plots. But that doesn’t mean we should participate as active bystanders or facilitate the torture of suspects. Unlike many liberals, I won’t pretend that torture can’t sometimes work — though its victims may confess to anything to stop the pain, intelligence agencies can use it to corroborate what they already know. However, it is morally wrong at all times.

False either/or choices are presented by the civil-liberties lobby too. As a human being, Mohamed did not deserve degrading treatment.

...we wouldn't even be able to lead them away in cuffs. But, more important, notice that he doesn't even bother engaging the question of why it is preferable morally to allow an attack on innocents to go ahead rather than to use torture to expose plots, which he concedes can work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Poll indicates signs of a GOP resurgence in some N.E. districts (Brian C. Mooney, February 14, 2010, Boston Globe)

Since the 2008 election, no Republicans represent the six New England states in the US House of Representatives. But a recent WMUR Granite State poll indicates that if the election were held now, the New Hampshire GOP would probably recapture both congressional seats lost to the Democrats four years ago and retain the Senate seat Judd Gregg is relinquishing.

In the First Congressional District in the eastern part of the state, the more conservative of the state’s two congressional districts, two-term Democratic in cumbent Carol Shea-Porter, whose favorability ratings have plunged since last fall, appears to be in the most peril.

Democrats and Republicans enjoy roughly equal party registration in New Hampshire, but independents are a plurality that holds the balance of political power in the state. Shea-Porter fares poorly with self-identified independents in the WMUR poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


A Stink Bomb (Uri Avnery, 14 Feburary, 2010, Gush Shalom)

Netanyahu has decided to teach Abbas a lesson. For three days, day after day and program after program, Channel 10 (Israel’s second biggest TV station) has broadcast shocking “disclosures” about financial and sexual scandals at the top of the Palestinian Authority.

A person who was presented as a “senior commander” of the Palestinian Security Service, with the rank of general, appeared on Israeli television and accused the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and committing disgusting sexual offences.

The “disclosures” may endanger the very existence of the Authority and Fatah.

Such material would not have been broadcast if the Israel Security Agency (known as Shin Bet or Shabak) had objected to it. It is reasonable to assume that it is deeply involved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


BNP to vote on allowing non-whites to join party (Haroon Siddique, 2/14/10, The Guardian)

The BNP will vote today on whether to change its constitution to allow non-whites to join the party.

Following a legal challenge by the Equality and ­Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last year the BNP agreed to use "all reasonable endeavours" to revise its constitution to ensure it did not fall foul of race equality legislation. But the far-right party has so far failed to follow through on that promise and last month it was ordered to amend its rules, which restrict membership to "indigenous Caucasians", or face prosecution.

...the the BNP is just being demonized for its views on immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Doctor Who 'had anti-Thatcher agenda' (Stephen Adams, 14 Feb 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Left-wing script writers infiltrated Doctor Who to give it anti-Thatcher plot lines in the late 1980s in a failed attempt "to overthrow the Government" Sylvester McCoy has claimed.

McCoy, who played the seventh doctor from 1987 to 1989, and Andrew Cartmel, the script editor at the time, both admitted the conspiracy, saying that it "seemed the right thing to do".

However, the secret messages remained a secret to all but Doctor Who insiders. Meanwhile the show's popularity went into freefall and it was taken off air in 1989.

February 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 PM


Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995 (Jonathan Petre, 14th February 2010, Daily Mail)

The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.

Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers. [...]

The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


The Off-Center President: Obama says he'd settle for a single term—and seems to mean it. (Peggy Noonan, 2/13/10, WSJ)

There is, I think, an amazing political fact right now that is hiding in plain sight and is rich with implications. It was there in President Obama's Jan. 25, pre-State of the Union interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, who was pressing him about his political predicaments. "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president," he said. "And I—and I believe that."

Now this is the sort of thing presidents say, and often believe they believe, but at the end of the day they all want two terms. Except that Mr. Obama shows every sign of meaning it, and if he does, it explains a lot about his recent decisions and actions.

...how'd you enjoy that vote for the UR?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Home Alone: a review of MARRY HIM: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough By Lori Gottlieb (AMY FINNERTY, 2/14/10, NY Times Magazine)

While many books about relationships flatter women and promote strategies to attract elusive men — don’t sleep with him, let him “chase you till you catch him” — Gottlieb asks readers to reconsider the less-than-perfect men who are available to them, and to do so while still young enough to close the deal.

Like many of us, Gottlieb went shopping with a mental checklist of attributes for her fantasy husband. Believing that the One was at large, she squandered opportunities with seemingly flawed, flesh-and-blood men.

Expanding on a provocative article she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in 2008, and interviewing, among many others, therapists, members of the clergy, and both single and married people, Gottlieb makes a case that many women today end up alone because they hold men to insanely high standards. The feminist ideal of having it all, on our own terms, she argues, “is exactly how many of us empowered ourselves out of a good mate.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


World may not be warming, say scientists (Jonathan Leake, 2/14/10, Times of London)

“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”

The IPCC faces similar criticisms from Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph, Canada, who was invited by the panel to review its last report.

The experience turned him into a strong critic and he has since published a research paper questioning its methods.

“We concluded, with overwhelming statistical significance, that the IPCC’s climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialisation and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


How Christian Were the Founders? (RUSSELL SHORTO, 2/14/10, NY Times Magazine)

This year’s social-studies review has drawn the most attention for the battles over what names should be included in the roll call of history. But while ignoring Kennedy and upgrading Gingrich are significant moves, something more fundamental is on the agenda. The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Imet Don McLeroy last November in a dental office — that is to say, his dental office — in a professional complex in the Brazos Valley city of Bryan, not far from the sprawling campus of Texas A&M University. The buzz of his hygienist at work sounded through the thin wall separating his office from the rest of the suite. McLeroy makes no bones about the fact that his professional qualifications have nothing to do with education. “I’m a dentist, not a historian,” he said. “But I’m fascinated by history, so I’ve read a lot.”

Indeed, dentistry is only a job for McLeroy; his real passions are his faith and the state board of education. He has been a member of the board since 1999 and served as its chairman from 2007 until he was demoted from that role by the State Senate last May because of concerns over his religious views. Until now those views have stood McLeroy in good stead with the constituents of his district, which meanders from Houston to Dallas and beyond, but he is currently in a heated re-election battle in the Republican primary, which takes place March 2.

McLeroy is a robust, cheerful and inexorable man, whose personality is perhaps typified by the framed letter T on the wall of his office, which he earned as a “yell leader” (Texas A&M nomenclature for cheerleader) in his undergraduate days in the late 1960s. “I consider myself a Christian fundamentalist,” he announced almost as soon as we sat down. He also identifies himself as a young-earth creationist who believes that the earth was created in six days, as the book of Genesis has it, less than 10,000 years ago. He went on to explain how his Christian perspective both governs his work on the state board and guides him in the current effort to adjust American-history textbooks to highlight the role of Christianity. “Textbooks are mostly the product of the liberal establishment, and they’re written with the idea that our religion and our liberty are in conflict,” he said. “But Christianity has had a deep impact on our system. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible. The Western development of the free-market system owes a lot to biblical principles.”

For McLeroy, separation of church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberals. “There are two basic facts about man,” he said. “He was created in the image of God, and he is fallen. You can’t appreciate the founding of our country without realizing that the founders understood that. For our kids to not know our history, that could kill a society. That’s why to me this is a huge thing.” [...]

There is, however, one slightly awkward issue for hard-core secularists who would combat what they see as a Christian whitewashing of American history: the Christian activists have a certain amount of history on their side.

IN 1801, A GROUP of Baptist ministers in Danbury, Conn., wrote a letter to the new president, Thomas Jefferson, congratulating him on his victory. They also had a favor to ask. Baptists were a minority group, and they felt insecure. In the colonial period, there were two major Christian factions, both of which derived from England. The Congregationalists, in New England, had evolved from the Puritan settlers, and in the South and middle colonies, the Anglicans came from the Church of England. Nine colonies developed state churches, which were supported financially by the colonial governments and whose power was woven in with that of the governments. Other Christians — Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers — and, of course, those of other faiths were made unwelcome, if not persecuted outright.

There was a religious element to the American Revolution, which was so pronounced that you could just as well view the event in religious as in political terms. Many of the founders, especially the Southerners, were rebelling simultaneously against state-church oppression and English rule. The Connecticut Baptists saw Jefferson — an anti-Federalist who was bitterly opposed to the idea of establishment churches — as a friend. “Our constitution of government,” they wrote, “is not specific” with regard to a guarantee of religious freedoms that would protect them. Might the president offer some thoughts that, “like the radiant beams of the sun,” would shed light on the intent of the framers? In his reply, Jefferson said it was not the place of the president to involve himself in religion, and he expressed his belief that the First Amendment’s clauses — that the government must not establish a state religion (the so-called establishment clause) but also that it must ensure the free exercise of religion (what became known as the free-exercise clause) — meant, as far as he was concerned, that there was “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This little episode, culminating in the famous “wall of separation” metaphor, highlights a number of points about teaching religion in American history. For one, it suggests — as the Christian activists maintain — how thoroughly the colonies were shot through with religion and how basic religion was to the cause of the revolutionaries. The period in the early- to mid-1700s, called the Great Awakening, in which populist evangelical preachers challenged the major denominations, is considered a spark for the Revolution. And if religion influenced democracy then, in the Second Great Awakening, decades later, the democratic fervor of the Revolution spread through the two mainline denominations and resulted in a massive growth of the sort of populist churches that typify American Christianity to this day.

Christian activists argue that American-history textbooks basically ignore religion — to the point that they distort history outright — and mainline religious historians tend to agree with them on this.

You can't even explain the Constitution to kids without teaching them about the Fall

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus Into Rolling Study Hall (SAM DILLON, 2/12/10, NY Times)

[O]n this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 PM


Democrats and Republicans Can Be Differentiated from Their Faces (Nicholas O. Rule, Nalini Ambady, plosone)

People are adept at accurately inferring numerous traits and qualities of others based on their nonverbal behaviors and appearance. Consistent with this, here we found that both professional politicians' and college seniors' political affiliations could be accurately judged from static, grayscale photos of their faces. The basis for these effects appears to rest in perceivers' stereotypes of Republicans as appearing powerful and Democrats as appearing warm [24], [25], with perceptions of Power being a significant predictor of the targets' actual political affiliations.

These data extend what is known about our capacity to make reliable and accurate inferences of others based on their appearance. In particular, these findings add to the literature on the categorization of group memberships that are not perceptually obvious, such as sexual orientation [11] and religious group membership [14], [19]. Similar to what has been found for these other perceptually ambiguous groups, the effects for accuracy in Studies 1 and 2 were not driven by a subset of highly identifiable faces (as shown in Figures 1 and 2). Rather, the distribution of accuracy across targets—with none being entirely accurately categorized and none being entirely inaccurately categorized—represents a general and imperfect ability to accurately infer political group membership from nonverbal and appearance cues. This imperfection is similar to what is found for the distribution of accuracy in other perceptually ambiguous groups [12].

Moreover, the ability to judge political group membership from faces is explicated by perceivers' reliance on stereotypes to make their decisions. Study 3 showed that faces perceived as warm were likely to be those categorized as Democrats in Study 2 and that faces perceived as powerful were likely to be those categorized as Republicans in Study 2. Not surprisingly, these stereotypes lead to perceptual errors. Not at all Democrats appear warm and not all Republicans appear powerful. However, the linearity of these effects is noteworthy: appearing warmer led to a greater chance that a target would be perceived as a Democrat and appearing more powerful led to a greater chance that a target would be perceived as a Republican.

Men are Republican. Women are Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


Is al Qaeda Bankrupt?: Desperate for funds, the terrorist group has turned to affiliates that rely more and more on crime. (Nathan Vardi, 02.11.10, Forbes Magazine)

Jihadists had a name for Abd al Hamid al Mujil--"the million dollar man." Al Mujil had forged a personal relationship with Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, spending parts of the late 1990s in Afghanistan. In those days the Kuwaiti-born al Mujil traveled to various Arab countries to meet with bin Laden's deputies. As recently as 2006 al Mujil conducted fundraising in Saudi Arabia, where he was executive director of the eastern province branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization, a charitable group. He provided donor funds directly to al Qaeda, says the U.S. government, and was particularly focused on helping al Qaeda affiliates in the Philippines by handing out cash to a supporter who pretended to be on an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. These days al Mujil is out of business. That's largely thanks to efforts by the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.N. Security Council. Designating al Mujil as a terrorist financier and singling out the Philippine and Indonesian offices of his charity, they have prohibited U.S. financial firms from conducting any transaction with him or those offices and required U.N. member states to freeze his assets. The Saudi Arabian government has met that requirement, in addition to restricting the transfer of iiro funds outside of the kingdom. The charity's U.S. lawyer says the iiro is not a terrorist organization and has done nothing wrong. Al Mujil, he adds, no longer has a role with the charity.

Such actions, across many fronts, have made a significant dent in al Qaeda's treasury. On the eve of the attacks on America al Qaeda was running a $30 million annual budget, according to the CIA. The terrorists were tapping into deep-pocketed Saudi and other Arab donors. Now they are hard up. Witness the pathetically ill-equipped and mistrained underwear bomber.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Democrats hit back on political advertising (Stephanie Kirchgaessner, February 12 2010, Financial Times)

Senior Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation yesterday that would force some of the most powerful political organisations in the US - including the US Chamber of Commerce on the right and MoveOn.org on the left - to reveal the names of the corporations and individuals who fund their advertising campaigns.

The proposal would also force US corporations to notify shareholders immediately of "all political expenditures" and bar companies that have "foreign ownership" of more than 20 per cent from spending money on US elections. [...]

Some provisions in the bill might also face opposition from Democrats, who might object to disclosure requirements for unions and other liberal organisations that do not currently have to reveal information about political expenditures. Mr Schumer said he had the support of liberal organisations that had "nothing to hide" about the identity of donors.

In what the lawmakers said was an attempt to "mitigate the ability of corporate spenders to mask their electioneering activities through the use of intermediaries", the bill would require corporations, unions and other groups organised under certain tax rules - so-called 501c 3, 4, 5 or 6 and 527 organisations - to establish separate "political activities" accounts to receive and disperse political expenditures.

...so just repeal those tax rules and tax them like individuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Collapse of the euro is 'inevitable': Bailing out the Greek economy futile, says FRENCH banking chief (Sam Fleming and Tim Shipman, 12th February 2010, Daily Mail)

The European single currency is facing an 'inevitable break-up' a leading French bank claimed yesterday.

Strategists at Paris-based Société Générale said that any bailout of the stricken Greek economy would only provide 'sticking plasters' to cover the deep- seated flaws in the eurozone bloc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Pitchers and catchers report to camps next week (AP, 2/13/10)

In the snowy Northeast and chilly Midwest -- even in sunny California -- it's the signal that baseball is coming back. Pitchers and catchers report to camps over the next nine days, finally shifting the biggest winter moves from podiums and conference calls to the field.

"Spring training is a special thing," Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


AP source: Obama to announce nuke plant loan (BEN FELLER, 2/12/10, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama next week will announce a loan guarantee to build the first nuclear power plant in the United States in almost three decades, an administration official said Friday.

The two new Southern Co. reactors to be built in Burke, Ga., are part of a White House energy plan administration officials hope will draw Republican support. Obama's direct involvement in announcing the award underscores the political weight the White House is putting behind its effort to use nuclear power and alternative energy sources to lessen American dependence on foreign oil and reduce the use of other fossil fuels blamed for global warming.

February 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 PM


Obama will help select location of Khalid Sheik Mohammed terrorism trial (Anne E. Kornblut and Carrie Johnson, 2/12/10, Washington Post)

President Obama is planning to insert himself into the debate about where to try the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, three administration officials said Thursday, signaling a recognition that the administration had mishandled the process and triggered a political backlash.

Obama initially had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to choose the site of the trial in an effort to maintain an independent Justice Department. But the White House has been taken aback by the intense criticism from political opponents and local officials of Holder's decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian courtroom in New York.

Administration officials acknowledge that Holder and Obama advisers were unable to build political support for the trial.

...fair to amateurs that is...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


Zero Point Of Systemic Collapse (Chris Hedges, 12 February, 2010, Adbusters.org)

We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.

...the insight that apocalyptism is about people trying to make their own lives and times seem more important than they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 PM


Why the Eurosceptics were right all along (Peter Wilby, 12 February 2010, New Statesman)

The Eurosceptics are in the ascendancy. They may be mostly Tories, but they have been proven right. In previous recessions, the troubled eurozone countries -- Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain -- would have eased their economic problems by devaluing the currency, printing money (now called "quantitative easing") and cutting interest rates. These levers are no longer available, so they have no alternatives to immediate cuts in public spending, together with steeply rising unemployment, falls in wages and drastic reductions in benefits.

Thus, as the Eurosceptics warned, a single currency leads to loss of sovereignty, which sounds like an abstract idea until you get a crisis like this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Family feud: Nancy Pelosi at odds with President Obama (MIKE ALLEN & PATRICK O'CONNOR, 2/12/10, Politico)

“Both ends of the Capitol — the House and the Senate — are starting to wonder if they’re on their own,” the official continued. “You have a lot of frustration there. And the White House’s reaction to all of that seems to be, ‘Run against Congress’ — which, as you can imagine, doesn’t go over very well with House members. The White House reaction seems to be, ‘Position ourselves against Congress.’” [...]

One Democratic official went further, saying some Democratic House members actually believe that the White House “wouldn’t mind having a foil, and that foil is a Republican [House] majority — that would serve their political purposes going into 2012.”

These House Democrats say privately that veterans of Bill Clinton’s administration working in Obama’s White House may think having a Republican majority in Congress will help Obama win reelection, as it did Clinton in 1996. House Democrats know that Obama will do whatever it takes to win reelection, whether or not it helps members keep their seats this year.

...all that Bill Clintion's presidency is remembered for is the bills he and the GOP passed over the heads of the Democrats: NAFTA, GATT, & Welfare Reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


...disembarks the unicorn ride?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Reid rejects bipartisan jobs bill endorsed by White House (Jon Ward, 2/11/10, The Daily Caller)

The Democratic leader of the Senate abandoned the bill after hearing complaints from within his own caucus, but only after the White House had already endorsed the Baucus and Grassley bill in the early afternoon.

Before Reid’s about-face, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement saying the president was “gratified” by the release of the bipartisan legislation, saying the bill “includes several of the president’s top priorities for job creation.”

“The president looks forward to working with members from both parties on this bill,” said Gibbs in the statement.

Too bad the White House is politically inept they don't recognize a big opportunity to start triangulating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Kansas proclaims its sovereignty (David Klepper, February 11, 2010, Kansas City Star)

Legislation giving Washington D.C. a firm tongue lashing was approved Thursday by the Kansas Senate.

The resolution calls on the federal government to “cease and desist” from passing onerous mandates on the states. If passed by the House the resolution would be sent to the President and other federal leaders.

It demands that Washington repeal existing mandates and respect Kansas’ sovereignty under the 10th Amendment, which reserves for the states rights not delegated to the federal government.

A state the size of America can not feel as respresentative as our ideals demand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Wieseltier/Sullivan again; and why Alterman doesn’t get it (Ron Kampeas, February 12, 2010, Capital J)

Alterman basically says Wieseltier is crazy, and thinks Jonathan Chait (who defended both Wieseltier and Sullivan in his post) is headed there:

Jonathan Chait was, onceupon a time, immune to this kind of thing and was a fine liberal writer. But he's caught the disease now as well. With considerable political dexterity, he embraces Wieseltier's thesis while distancing himself from the particulars. But here's the bottom line. "His obsession with the singular power of the Israel lobby, writes Leon 'has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.' Agreed. But just because an idea has a revolting provenance, it does not follow that everybody who subscribes to any version of it shares the same motive."

Got that? Andrew may not be an anti-Semite but anyone who is concerned with the Israel's lobby's ability to thwart the peace process or interfere with the conduct of a sensible policy toward the region is guilty of holding an idea of "revolting provenance" and hence, is only asking to be described this way, true or not. Remember inside TNR Walt and Mearsheimer are literally treated as the equivalent of David Duke and Louis Farrakhan. Jimmy Carter will go down in history primarily as a "Jew-hater." Etc, etc. And if you, yourself find any cause for concern in the actions of the Israel lobby, prepare to find yourself similarly smeared.

First, Wieseltier is "criminalizing" no one, as Alterman alleges elsewhere in his post, he is exercising his right, as he says in his reply to Sullivan, to "refute" arguments. Alterman, on the other hand, by intimating "crazy" (actually, saying it straight out) seems to want to institutionalize folks.

More substantively, here's the thing: A lot of us who are watchful for instances of these slides into bigotry would love to have that discussion about the "lobby," about AIPAC's influence and whether it is truly doing America, Israel or the Jews any favors. But with obscurantists like Walt and Mearsheimer mucking up the debate, that becomes impossible. It's like a cancer patient who has a hernia: Before we even get to that abdominal bump, we have to clear out the toxins.

And that is what Chait is referring to with the critical word Alterman, whether by design or sloppiness, ignores in his quote: "singular." You want to have the lobby discussion? Please, bring it on, and we may even agree in a lot of areas. But do not make it seem that the lobby has supernatural powers. The "revolting provenance" of which Chait and Wieseltier speak does not refer to "the Israel's lobby's ability to thwart the peace process or interfere with the conduct of a sensible policy toward the region."

It refers to the depiction of the lobby as more powerful than any other group influencing foreign policy (which is what Walt and Mearsheimer posit), or even more fantastically, any other group seeking influence, period (which is what Glenn Greenwald has posited, to Sullivan's approval.) As a "singular power."

The reality is that Jews and the Jewish Lobby don't matter. Even politicians who don't love Israel themselves have to bow and scrape before the overwhelming majority of Americans who do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


The End of the Beijing Consensus: Can China's Model of Authoritarian Growth Survive? (Yang Yao, February 2, 2010, Foreign Affairs)

Many analysts attribute the country's economic success to its unconventional approach to economic policy -- a combination of mixed ownership, basic property rights, and heavy government intervention. Time magazine's former foreign editor, Joshua Cooper Ramo, has even given it a name: the Beijing consensus.

But, in fact, over the last 30 years, the Chinese economy has moved unmistakably toward the market doctrines of neoclassical economics, with an emphasis on prudent fiscal policy, economic openness, privatization, market liberalization, and the protection of private property. Beijing has been extremely cautious in maintaining a balanced budget and keeping inflation down. Purely redistributive programs have been kept to a minimum, and central government transfers have been primarily limited to infrastructure spending. The overall tax burden (measured by the ratio of tax revenue to GDP) is in the range of 20 to 25 percent. The country is the world's second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment, and domestically, more than 80 percent of its state-owned enterprises have been released to private hands or transformed into publicly listed companies. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lacks legitimacy in the classic democratic sense, it has been forced to seek performance-based legitimacy instead, by continuously improving the living standards of Chinese citizens. So far, this strategy has succeeded, but there are signs that it will not last because of the growing income inequality and the internal and external imbalances it has created.

The CCP's free-market policies have, predictably, led to major income disparities in China. The overall Gini coefficient -- a measure of economic inequality in which zero equals perfect equality and one absolute inequality -- reached 0.47 in 2008, the same level as in the United States. More disturbing, Chinese city dwellers are now earning three and a half times as much as their fellow citizens in the countryside, the highest urban-rural income gap in the world.

And at the end of the day all they achieved was a temporarily optimal sweatshop for assembling stuff we design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


History's Isle: a review of Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent by Richard J. Evans (Mark Mazower, February 3, 2010, New Republic)

The problem is an interesting one: how to explain the divergence between Britain (and the United States), where a large proportion of historians concern themselves with the history of other countries, and its EU partners, where professional scholarship is much more nationally focused? Evans offers some rough and ready statistics to support his account of this difference, but one has no reason to doubt his basic thesis. British universities may offer expertise in Baltic, Balkan, or Iberian history, and no decent department lacks a goodly array of non-British subjects; but the poor Czech, Polish, or French student who is interested in digesting something other than the glories of his national story will find a much thinner menu.

Evans offers a range of explanations, some more persuasive than others. The most pertinent concerns the university’s relationship to state and society. British history departments are not in the business of churning out high school history teachers. Moreover, a commonly accepted conceptual division between ‘British’ and ‘European’ history encouraged some newer universities in the 1960s, seeking to distinguish themselves from Oxbridge and the red-bricks, to build up expertise in the latter. (Oxbridge colleges remained heavily concentrated in British history going back to the Anglo-Saxons, while places such as Warwick, York, and Sussex made a name for themselves in exploring the background to the then-emerging European Community.) Continental universities, operating with less autonomy and under greater central ministerial control, could never shape their own place in the academic market.

And in the background of this institutional analysis lurks something more general—an implicit contrast between the Continentals, egocentrically worrying about their own national identities, and the British, almost as obsessively unconcerned with theirs, and drawn for all sorts of reasons to the Sturm und Drang of the European past. Some British Europeanists, says Evans, take up the challenge out of what he calls a “sense of adventure.” Others simply find the stability of modern political life in Britain less noteworthy than the radical instability of the world of fascism and totalitarianism. Why bother with Oswald Mosley—a study in failure—when the Nazis give you the real thing?

Then there is the asymmetry of influence—between the British historian whose work on, say, Italy or Poland, is immediately read and discussed in those countries, and the rare Polish or Italian historian of Britain whose work, if noted at all, circulates only in small scholarly spheres. There are good and bad reasons for this. On the one hand—a note of self-congratulation sounds here—Brits just write better than most mainland scholars, encouraged as they are by a strong public demand for stylish, jargon-free general history. On the other hand, that same public has little interest in translated works, and British publishers do little to foster that interest. The result is a largely one-way stream of readable history translated from English into other languages.

...we inevitably understand it better than they do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Obama's secret prisons in Afghanistan endanger us all: He was elected in part to drag us out of this trap. Instead, he's dragging us further in (Johann Hari, 2/12/10, Independent)

Obama ran on an inspiring promise to shut down Bush's network of kidnappings and secret prisons. He said bluntly: "I do not want to hear this is a new world and we face a new kind of enemy. I know that... but as a parent I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence." He said it made the US "less safe" because any gain in safety by Gitmo-ing one suspected jihadi – along with dozens of innocents – is wiped out by the huge number of young men tipped over into the vile madness of jihadism by seeing their brothers disappear into a vast military machine where they may never be heard from again. Indeed, following the failed attack in Detroit, Obama pointed out the wannabe-murderer named Guantanamo as the reason he signed up for the jihad.

Yet a string of recent exposes has shown that Obama is in fact maintaining a battery of secret prisons where people are held without charge indefinitely – and he is even expanding them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


A home from home: saving species from climate change: How can we save some of our most charismatic animals from extinction due to climate change? One US biologist, Camille Parmesan, has a radical suggestion: just pick them up and move them (Suzanne Goldenberg, 2/12/10, The Guardian)

Camille Parmesan, a butterfly ­biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, has been monitoring the effects of rapid climate change on ­species – particularly those threatened because they cannot adapt to or ­escape from rising temperatures – for more than a decade now. But her idea for a modern day's Noah's ark remains hugely controversial.

"The idea is that, for certain ­species at very high risk of extinction due to climate change, we should actively pick them up and move them to ­suitable locations that are outside their historic range," she tells me in her ­office at the university campus, near the biology laboratory in which she and her ­husband keep myriad caterpillar samples in the cold store.

One ought never underestimate the degree to which Darwinism was accepted among the smart set because it is self-flattering.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Obama strategy widens assault on terrorists (MATT APUZZO, 2/12/10, Associated Press)

CIA drones, the remote-controlled spy planes that can hunt terrorists from miles overhead, are responsible for many of the deaths. Drone strikes began increasing in the final months of the Bush administration, thanks in part to expanded use of the Reaper, a newer generation aircraft with better targeting systems and greater, more accurate firepower.

Obama has increased their use even further. A month after Mehsud's death, drone strikes in Pakistan killed Najmiddin Jalolov, whose Islamic Jihad Union claimed responsibility for bombings in 2004 at U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan. Senior al-Qaida operatives Saleh al-Somali and Abdallah Sa'id were killed in airstrikes in December. And Mehsud's successor at the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, died following an attack last month.

Intelligence officials and analysts say the drawdown of troops in an increasingly stable Iraq is part of the reason for the increase in drone strikes. The military once relied on drones for around-the-clock surveillance to flush out insurgents, support troops in battle and help avoid roadside bombs.

With fewer of those missions required, the U.S. has moved many of those planes to Afghanistan, roughly doubling the size of the military and CIA fleet that can patrol the lawless border with Pakistan, officials said.

"These tools were not Obama creations, but he's increased their use and he has shifted the U.S. attention full front to Afghanistan," said Thomas Sanderson, a defense analyst and national security fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


China demands U-turn on Obama's Dalai Lama meet (AFP, 2/12/10)

China on Friday demanded the White House cancel a meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, warning that already strained ties between the two powers would be damaged further.

Beijing reacted angrily to the White House announcement that Obama would next week receive the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, accused by China of seeking independence for his homeland.

"We firmly oppose the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.

Pssst...no one cares what the PRC wants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


The Blind Side (Rich Karlgaard, 03.01.10, Forbes)

In football or basketball, if two teams of equal talent are separated by only one factor and

--Team A watches Team B's practices and reads its playbook

--Team B watches only itself and reads only its own playbook,

you would reasonably conclude that Team A has a huge advantage.

Something like this exists in American politics today. Going into January's U.S. Senate vote in Massachusetts, Scott Brown's campaign benefited from a phenomenon that's gotten little attention. I'm not talking about Brown's two rather obvious advantages: the rising anger over deficits and unemployment under an all-Democratic federal government that set up conditions for a revolt; and an unusually weak opponent in Martha Coakley. Rather, I'm talking about something akin to my sports analogy. Conservatives, in general, know quite a bit about liberals--their dreams, thinking, habits, tactics, culture, etc. But liberals (blue state and big city ones especially--or what Forbes.com columnist Joel Kotkin calls the "liberal gentry") appear to know little about conservatives.[...]

Here is President Obama's dilemma in a nutshell: He is the most insular President we've ever had. It is impossible to imagine Barack Obama as the liberals' equivalent of Ronald Reagan. Remember that Reagan himself was a Hollywood liberal and union head until the 1950s. Reagan knew how the other side lived and thought. He even liked many liberals. Obama has had no such experience. He has had almost no personal relationships or consequential political dealings with conservatives during his entire life. Exclude donors and he counts few entrepreneurs and businesspeople among his friends. That's a blind side.

That's one of the huge advantages that governors bring to the presidential table, they've dealt with the other party before.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Why vote for Cameron? Just look to Australia's Abbott: The Liberal leader offers a foretaste of a much nastier leader for Britain's centrist Tories (Julian Glover, 2/11/10, guardian.co.uk)

Sometimes you can see things more clearly from halfway round the world, the routines of one ­political culture exposing the strengths of another. Viewed from Britain, Australia's Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd looks like a model for the left to follow, a kind of Gordon Brown - only with a future, and added smiles. But from Australia, it is the British Conservative party that stands to be admired as relatively sane, centrist and capable. Beware, British progressives, of what you might get if Cameron falters. Australia is busy offering us a foretaste of a far nastier alternative.

The trigger here in Australia is climate change, but the battle is really wider, between the awkward uncertainty of the political centre ground and the easy simplicities of left and right. Australia's opposition Liberal party tried to live in the centre for a few months last year under its former leader Malcolm Turnbull, a rich, cocky Sydney lawyer with plenty of faults but nonetheless the potential to be something like his country's Cameron. A modernising and intelligent man, he fell in a party coup, which was largely about climate change, last November, and has been replaced by Tony Abbott, whose iron-man physique and much-mocked "budgie smuggler" tight swimwear is only equalled by the firmness of his views. He notoriously described climate change as "absolute crap", and has now managed to derail even Australia's plan for a mild cut in carbon emissions and the lightest touch of emissions trading schemes.

We should watch out for Abbott in Britain. Both our main parties have intimate links with their Antipodean partners. Alan Milburn, exiled from Brown's Labour party, drafted Rudd's 2007 election night speech, while Australian pollsters and strategists shaped Boris Johnson's victory. The alarming thing is that Abbott's ordinary bloke, taxi-driver approach to climate change is proving popular among Australians in the wake of the half-understood controversy over leaked emails in East Anglia.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Charlie Wilson's CIA Adventures: When the legendary congressman passed away this week, attention once again turned to his exploits with the CIA. The Daily Beast presents an exclusive excerpt from the book that made him a household name. (George Crile, 2/11/10, Daily Beast)

The director quickly came to the point. “The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. There were many heroes in this battle, but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition.” Woolsey compared Wilson’s role to that of Lech Walesa climbing over the fence at Gdansk to launch the Solidarity movement. He described how invincible the Soviets had appeared to be just 13 years before and how Wilson had engineered one of the lethal body blows that had wrecked the communist empire. Without him, Woolsey concluded, “History might have been hugely different and sadly different.”

Sitting in the third row of the audience, a man in his fifties with thick glasses and a bushy mustache chewed gum manically, as if he were about to explode. Twenty-five years of clandestine service had accustomed him to looking beneath the surface of events. Wheels within wheels moved in his brain as he thought of the incredible irony of this ceremony. He hadn’t been back to the agency for three years, but one thing was certain: The men currently running the CIA weren’t about to tip their hat to the role he had played with Wilson in turning a timid, uncertain operation into the biggest, meanest, and far and away most successful CIA campaign in history. The truth was, Gust Avrakotos was the only person in the room who understood how it had all happened, how he had broken the rules to make it happen, and how easy it would have been, if he had let the bureaucrats have their way, for things to have gone very, very differently. The gray man, so used to operating in the shadows, recognized that once again he would have to sit back and let Charlie take the honors for both of them.

The screen with the “Charlie Did It” slide on it was now being lowered into the stage floor as Frank Anderson took command of the proceedings. “To say that this is an unusual moment would be to underplay how unique it really is.”

The Near East Division had been Anderson’s home ever since he had been recruited out of the University of Illinois and joined the agency’s Clandestine Services. Now he was responsible for all American espionage activities from Morocco to Bangladesh. It was his great good fortune to have been in charge of the South Asia task force in the final years when his men, funneling billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the mujahideen, had chased the Red Army, tail between its legs, out of Afghanistan. Then, promoted to division chief, Anderson had watched the mystical process unfold as the entire Soviet Bloc disintegrated, until an exhausted and helpless foe stood vanquished before America’s secret warriors.

Anderson explained that he and the CIA were about to do something that had never been done for a civilian nonmember of the Agency. They were about to anoint Charlie Wilson as one of their own. “This moment is about elitism. Within the Clandestine Services we are a self-proclaimed elite unit called the Near East Division. It is an organization whose greatest weakness is hubris. One of the things about elites is that they only care about the approbation of the members of their own elites. So within the division we created an Honored Colleague award, something never before presented to anyone outside the service.”

Perhaps no one but the handpicked officers of the Near East Division could fully understand how unusual it was to grant this recognition to an outsider, especially to a member of Congress. Any wariness and hostility that Congress seems to harbor for the CIA is more than reciprocated by the spies who suffer the politicians’ scrutiny and endless criticism. But for some reason this man was different. “We really do feel that you are a member of our community,” Anderson said with the look of a man who knew he was about to give out the most precious of all gifts. “So if you would, stand with me, Charlie, and be our Honored Colleague.” There were no television cameras present. No newspaper articles the following day would register the event. But curiously, even if the CIA had decided that day that it was appropriate to tell the real story of the CIA’s Afghan war and how “Charlie did it,” no one there would have been able to explain how it all began.

It's a great book.

February 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 PM


Patrick Kennedy won’t run for re-election in RI (AP, 02/11/10)

A Democratic official says Rep. Patrick Kennedy has decided not to seek re-election for his seat representing Rhode Island in the U.S. Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Satchmo and Diz Reign at Newport ‘60 (Bill Milkowski, 2/09/10)

The iconic Satchmo follows with a typically swinging set from the 1960 edition of his All-Stars, featuring fellow New Orleans native and longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard, trombonist Trummy Young, pianist Billy Kyle and drummer Danny Barcelona along with bassist Mort Herbert. They open with Armstrong’s sentimental theme song, “When It’s Sleepy Town Down South,” a tune that perfectly captures the Big Easy ambiance of his hometown New Orleans. From that laid back number they smoothly segue into a blazing uptempo rendition of “Back Home in Indiana,” which has Armstrong blowing in peak form, hitting those high notes with clarity and gusto. Pianist Kyle, clarinetist Bigard and trombonist Young also turn in heated solos of their own on this spirited rendition of the classic jazz jam vehicle, which was first recorded in 1917 by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Next up is a relaxed New Orleans style reading of “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” which has drummer Barcelona simultaneously providing a midtempo swing feel on the ride cymbal and a N’awlins flavored second line groove on the bass drum. Bigard takes a wonderful clarinet solo on this traditional number that was a hit in 1949 for country star Hank Williams and covered in 1958 by budding pop star Ricky Nelson. Young also engages Armstrong on some vocal trade-offs before taking a raucous trombone solo.

Barcelona’s drum flurry kicks off a runaway romp through “Tiger Rag,” a classic Dixieland jam vehicle first recorded in 1922 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The ensemble then launches into “Now You Has Jazz,” the show-stopping number from the 1956 Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Frank Sinatra film High Society, which Louis appeared in as himself. Everybody in the band gets a taste here, and for the triumphant vocal climax, Armstrong engages in playful call-and-response with Trummy Young (or as Louis calls him, “Bing Crosby in Technicolor”). They follow with the title track from that popular movie, a calypso flavored “High Society.”

“Ole Miss” is a classic Dixieland jam that explodes with collective improvisation from Young, Bigard and Armstrong. Bassist Herbert alludes to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s tune “The Golden Striker” at the beginning of his bass solo before Bigard extrapolates on the familiar theme in his extended clarinet solo. Young follows with an expressive trombone solo before Armstrong lets loose with one of his patented high-note trumpet solos that rises above the collective fray. At the outset of the easy midtempo toe-tapper “Girl of My Dreams,” Armstrong addresses the crowd: “Thank you, folks. We’re trying to get you out of this rain, we’re gonna keep it rollin’. Here’s our piano man Billy Kyle.” And with that introduction they head into the engaging number from 1927, which is essentially a showcase for Kyle’s deft ivory-tickling.

Clarinetist Bigard is next featured on a popular tune he recorded in 1942 with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, “C Jam Blues.” Armstrong then returns to exercise his plaintive pipes on “Blueberry Hill,” a tune written in 1940 and covered that year by the Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa big bands before Satchmo’s orchestral version in 1949. (The tune became an international hit in 1956 for another New Orleans icon, Fats Domino). Armstrong and his All-Stars follow with a blazing uptempo rendition of the 1938 Charlie Shavers tune “Undecided,” which features scorching solos from trombonist Young, Kyle and Armstrong, who generates some sparks here. Bigard steps forward to announce another Ellington composition, “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” which turns out to be an extended feature for bassist Herbert, who carries the familiar melody from the outset before launching into a lengthy solo. The horns follow with some relaxed Dixieland-styled interaction on the front line and Herbert wraps it up with more deep tones on his upright.

Armstrong saves the crowd-pleasers for last, beginning with “Mack the Knife,” the Kurt Weill tune (from the 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera) which Satchmo popularized in his 1956 version. A surprising take on “Stompin at the Savoy,” a Swing Era staple associated with both the Chick Webb and Benny Goodman big bands, features an extroverted solo showcase by drummer Barcelona. Vocalist Velma Middleton joins the group for a medley of “St. Louis Blues/Kokomo I Love You So.” Showman extraordinaire Armstrong engages his vocal foil in some playful double entendre on this spirited medley (which gets particularly risqué on the calypso flavored “Kokomo”). The band runs through a swinging medley of “After You’ve Gone,” a 1918 composition that became a Swing Era staple during the 1930s, and the New Orleans standard “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Then Armstrong bids the crowd adieu: “We had a wonderful time, even in the rain.” But it doesn’t end there. The band follows with a strangely reverent take on “The Star Spangled Banner” and for a finale the whole Newport crowd serenades Louis with a joyful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to mark his 60th birthday. (Armstrong claimed he was born on July 4th, 1900 but biographers later discovered that his New Orleans birth certificate revealed August 4, 1901 to be this actual date of birth).

A George Wein favorite, Armstrong would return to Newport on several occasions, including his 70th birthday gala (which will be upcoming on Wolfgang’s Vault).

The Wolfgang's Vault app is a must for your iPod.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Clueless (Paul Krugman, 2/10/10, NY Times)

[H]ow is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.”

“I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”

Obama sought to combat perceptions that his administration is anti-business and trumpeted the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies. He plans to reiterate that message when he speaks to the Business Roundtable, which represents the heads of many of the biggest U.S. companies, on Feb. 24 in Washington.

Oh. My. God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


To Cut Debt, Obama Shifts on No Tax Vow (JACKIE CALMES, 2/11/10, NY Times)

Mr. Obama, in the interview, said “our real problem” is neither the spike in stimulus spending of the last year — as many Republicans charge–or the sharply lower tax collections from hard-hit businesses and individual taxpayers. “The real problem,” he said, “has to do with the fact that there is a just a mismatch between the amount of money coming in and the amount of money going out. And that is going to require some big, tough choices that, so far, the political system has been unable to deal with.”

The president’s tax shift is a gamble not unlike the one the first President Bush took in 1990 when he dropped his “no new taxes” promise to reach a deficit-reduction deal with Congressional Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


GOP Suddenly Has Northeastern Opportunities (Tim Sahd, 2/11/10, Hotline)

[E]vidence suggests that the '10 wave that's building for the GOP could even manage to reach the untouchable Northeast.

And NY will be central to any resurgence. There, 5 Dems are being seriously contested by GOPers, and 2 more seats could potentially be in play.

As proof that the party isn't just tilting at windmills, 2 suburban NYC CDs have already provided evidence of movement toward the GOP. Earlier this week, the party picked up 2 state Assembly seats in special elections.

One was in Rep. John Hall's (D) Westchester Co.-based CD, where the GOPer took back a seat that was in Dem hands for 17 years. This was the second surprising GOP pickup in the last 4 months in the Dem-trending county; last Nov., the party also captured the county executive position.

And in Suffolk Co. -- the base of Rep. Tim Bishop's (D) seat -- a GOPer appears to have defeated a Dem for an Assembly seat in the CD's population center of Brookhaven.

Because the GOP didn't realize how many seats it was going to win in 1994 it passed up the chance to knock off Bernie Sanders when he was in the House. That seat should be a target this year and the Senator in 2012.

Election 2010: New Hampshire Senate (Rasmussen Reports, 2/11/10)

Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte remains the strongest Republican running against Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes in New Hampshire’s race for the U.S. Senate, but the numbers have changed very little over the past few months.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows Ayotte leading Hodes 46% to 39%. Three percent (3%) prefer another candidate, and 13% are undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


What Is the First Amendment For? (STANLEY FISH, 2/01/10, NY Times: Opinionator)

The idea that you may have to regulate speech in order to preserve its First Amendment value is called consequentialism. For a consequentialist like Stevens, freedom of speech is not a stand-alone value to be cherished for its own sake, but a policy that is adhered to because of the benign consequences it is thought to produce, consequences that are catalogued in the usual answers to the question, what is the First Amendment for?

Answers like the First Amendment facilitates the search for truth, or the First Amendment is essential to the free flow of ideas in a democratic polity, or the First Amendment encourages dissent, or the First Amendment provides the materials necessary for informed choice and individual self-realization. If you think of the First Amendment as a mechanism for achieving goals like these, you have to contemplate the possibility that some forms of speech will be subversive of those goals because, for instance, they impede the search for truth or block the free flow of ideas or crowd out dissent. And if such forms of speech appear along with their attendant dangers, you will be obligated — not in violation of the First Amendment, but in fidelity to it — to move against them, as Stevens advises us to do in his opinion.

The opposite view of the First Amendment — the view that leads you to be wary of chilling any speech even if it harbors a potential for corruption — is the principled or libertarian or deontological view. Rather than asking what is the First Amendment for and worrying about the negative effects a form of speech may have on the achievement of its goals, the principled view asks what does the First Amendment say and answers, simply, it says no state abridgement of speech. Not no abridgment of speech unless we dislike it or fear it or think of it as having low or no value, but no abridgment of speech, period, especially if the speech in question is implicated in the political process.

The cleanest formulation of this position I know is given by the distinguished First Amendment scholar William Van Alstyne: “The First Amendment does not link the protection it provides with any particular objective and may, accordingly, be deemed to operate without regard to anyone’s view of how well the speech it protects may or may not serve such an objective.”

In other words, forget about what speech does or does not do in the world; just take care not to restrict it. This makes things relatively easy. All you have to do is determine that it’s speech and then protect it, as Kennedy does when he observes that “Section 441b’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is . . . a ban on speech.” That’s it. Nothing more need be said, although Kennedy says a lot more, largely in order to explain why nothing more need be said and why everything Stevens says — about corruption, distortion, electoral integrity and undue influence — is beside the doctrinal point.

The majority’s purity of principle is somewhat alloyed when it upholds the disclosure requirements of the statute it is considering on the reasoning that the public has a right to be informed about the identity of those who fund a corporation’s ads and videos. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions.”

Justice Thomas disagrees. The interest “in providing voters with additional relevant information” does not, he says, outweigh “’the right to anonymous speech.’” The majority’s claim that disclosure requirements do not prevent anyone from speaking is, Thomas declares, false; those who know that their names will be on a list may refrain from contributing for fear of reprisals and thus be engaged in an act of self-censoring. The effect of disclosure requirements, he admonishes, is “to curtail campaign-related activity and prevent the lawful, peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Only Thomas has the courage of the majority’s declared convictions. Often the most principled of the judges (which doesn’t mean that I always like his principles), he is willing to follow a principle all the way, and so he rebukes his colleagues in the majority for preferring the value of more information to the value the First Amendment mandates — absolutely free speech unburdened by any restriction whatsoever including the restriction of having to sign your name. Thomas has caught his fellow conservatives in a consequentialist moment.

Boy, reading documents is really a lost skill. To even speak of "free speech" as a stand alone value requires ignoring the text to which it is a mere amendment. Indeed, it has value (and maybe even some substance) only to the extent that it furthers the ends of the general text: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." As Robert Bork has written, not only does its location in the document that outlines a political regime impose a de facto limitation on its meaning to political speech but the notion that even that political speech it can be said to protect must include speech intended to subvert the regime is insupportable on its face. Mr. Van Alstyne's assertion that the Amendment is not linked to any objective is spectacularly ignorant.

Who's afraid of Robert Bork? (Richard Vigilante, 8/28/1987, National Review)

The Architecture of Liberty

POLITICAL CONSERVATIVES have long sought refuge in such slogans as "judicial restraint,' "strict construction,' "interpretivism,' and "original intent,' as if all that was required for good constitutional interpretation were intellectual honesty. But Bork's enterprise starts from his discovery that honest interpretation, though "not an impossible task by any means . . . is a good deal more complex than [such] slogans' would suggest.

He has used the slogans himself, but his writings belie them. He has endorsed "original intent,' or "intentionalism,' but his writings on the subject make it clear he is not so naive as to think we have any way of determining the Founders' states of mind individually or collectively. For him, intentionalism means discovering core constitutional principles with indisputable anchors in the text itself. In other words, it's not intentionalism.

He has endorsed "interpretivism,' but some of his most important articles and decisions firmly reject "crabbed interpretation,' the insistence that the meaning of a controversial passage can be discovered only by a close calculation of the literal meaning of each word in the passage. To the contrary, he argues, such passages must be interpreted so that they make sense within the context of well-established constitutional values and form a coherent part of the mechanics of the Constitution. Consistently, he asks of controverted passages: Given what we already know, and assuming the Constitution to be a coherent document with all its moving parts in the right places, what must this mean? As a strategy for interpreting individual passages this procedure has the advantages of being both principled, and more persuasive than most other strategies. As a way of thinking about the Constitution as a whole it has even broader and more important implications.

Bork gave this interpretive method its fullest exposition in a now famous 1971 Indiana Law Journal article, "Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems.' The first half of the article is devoted to a carefully constructed argument for a judge's obligation to use "neutral principles' of interpretation so as to avoid imposing his personal values on the law, and some observations on how such principles might be discovered and applied.

There are, in this first section, several points of interest. In the course of trying to determine on what level of generality a principle must operate in order to be neutral, Bork takes up Brown v. Board of Education, on which he believes the Warren Court reached the correct result for the wrong reason. His method for reaching the same result is devastating to simple intentionalism. We know, he wrote, "two crucial facts about the history of the Fourteenth Amendment.' Its authors intended to "secure against government action some large measure of racial equality.' But those same authors "were not agreed about what the concept of racial equality requires. Many or most of them had not even thought the matter through.' Some probably believed in black property rights but not voting rights; others, that blacks should be allowed to sit on juries but not to intermarry with whites. The Supreme Court cannot know how these men would have resolved such issues. But it is charged with enforcing a core idea of racial equality:

And the Court, because it must be neutral, cannot pick and choose between competing gratifications and, likewise, cannot write the detailed code the Framers omitted, requiring equality in one case but not in another. The Court must for that reason choose a general principle of equality that applies to all cases. For the same reason, the Court cannot decide that physical equality is important but psychological equality is not. Thus the no-state-enforced-discrimination rule of Brown must overturn and replace the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The principle he suggests is broad enough to prevent judges from imposing narrower personal preferences, and yet narrow enough to avoid absurdities. By contrast, he argues, the principle of a "right of privacy' derived by Douglas in Griswold v. Connecticut (and later used as the basis of Roe v. Wade) has no logical boundary tighter than a general right to be free of government coercion. Since no such rule can possibly be applied in practice, judges will always use it in an unprincipled way, defending freedoms they approve, such as the right to an abortion, but neglecting others, such as the right to sodomy.

Already we can see a "coherence' or "architectural' (Bork doesn't use those terms) theory of constitutional interpretation emerging. But the heart of the article comes in its discussion of the First Amendment. Bork starts with an irrefutable but quite disturbing observation: It is impossible to believe the First Amendment forbids all restrictions on speaking. Even if the First Amendment applies only to the Federal Government--which Bork does not believe--it is not possible to maintain that the amendment protects incitements to mutiny on naval vessels or shouting "Fire!' in a crowded District of Columbia theater. We thus start from the position that the common literal meaning cannot answer our interpretive needs.

So, we ask, what must "freedom of speech' mean? Well, Bork argues, some of the rights enshrined in the Constitution are clearly meant as direct benefits to individuals: "primary individual rights,' he calls them. And some are "instrumental rights,' granted because an individual's use of them and protection of them in court will help preserve constitutional democracy. But sometimes rights that seem like primary individual rights turn out to make no sense when viewed that way. Free speech is clearly one of these, because the only neutral principle by which we could interpret it thus is, "All speaking is protected,' and we already know that doesn't work. But we can discover principled boundaries for free speech if we view it instrumentally, as part of the mechanics of the Constitution, or --though Bork would never use such a grand and cheery phrase--as part of the Constitution's architecture of liberty.

After a complicated analysis Bork arrives at the conclusion that the First Amendment protects only political speech. His reasoning: Free political speech is a necessary precondition to democracy. "[T]he entire structure of the Constitution creates a representative democracy, a form of government that would be meaningless without freedom to discuss government and its policies.' Therefore, within the structure of the Constitution, the purpose of the First Amendment must be to protect political speech.

Bork's natural inclination as a writer is to sharpen points and face controversy. In the 1971 article, he went so far as to say that only explicitly political speech, speech about policy and politics, was protected, dismissing the idea that speech with implicit political effects, such as scientific or philosophical speech, was also protected. Even at the time, he appended a partial disclaimer, calling his remarks "tentative and exploratory,' put forth only because "at this moment I do not see how I can avoid the conclusions stated.' In a 1983 interview he told me he now included virtually all intellectually important speech in the category of political speech. That would still exclude pornography or "Fire!' in a crowded theater, a reasonable result.

Nevertheless, it is important to note with what attention to the project of the Constitution Bork's original specification of explicitly political speech was made. For political speech is not only the essential speech for democratic government, it is the only speech that government as government, acting in its own institutional interest, has a motive for suppressing. Citizens might demand the suppression of pornography as a government service, but that is a different thing. There is no instance in American history of a powerful popular movement to suppress important, disinterested intellectual speech. There have been assaults on religious or anti-religious speech, but religion is separately protected. Given our history, one must be impressed at Bork's grasp of the symmetry and mechanics of the Constitution. The moving parts fit; lacking an acceptable literal reading, his is a good if not perfect method of interpretation; it is certainly principled and neutral.

As I have been suggesting, however, the importance of this architectural approach to the Constitution goes beyond yielding a workable and principled method of interpretation for difficult passages. It forces us to contemplate how the Constitution has succeeded in preserving our liberties for two hundred years whereas most documents with similarly noble intentions have failed.

Probably the greatest danger presented by a written Constitution is that it may do its job too well. The purpose of most rules, especially written rules, is to excuse us from thought. It is not necessary each time a hitter safely overruns first base for the players, managers, and umpires to engage in philosophical debate over the justice of allowing overruns at first but not at second and third. We have a rule; without it we could not have a game. On the other hand, if for two hundred years no one involved in baseball felt the need to contemplate its rules and argue their virtues, the baseball community might grow decedent and become unable to withstand challenges to the rules.

Unwritten constitutions, though unwieldy, are less risky in this one regard. Maintaining unwritten rules requires an active sense of their history and virtues; their very indefiniteness encourages continued debate and contemplation. Among written constitutions, those that lack evident internal logic are most vulnerable to decay. Documents such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man or the UN Declaration are in this category: They quickly come to seem like arbitrary lists of some rights and not others, with little power to bind those who would make a different list. The impulse is to pick them apart, in pursuit of moral perfection, as if some decadent baseballer, discovering that home runs were a good, should knock down all the fences.

In American constitutional theory, such as it is, the Bill of Rights is usually regarded as a list of individual benefits that in themselves express our important political values. The guts of the Constitution, Articles I through VII, get only diminished reverence as dry expressions of the rules of the game. This has twin bad results. The Bill of Rights, however important, must seem arbitrary when it is limited not by any requirements of coherence but only by the opinion of the Supreme Court. This arbitrariness may make these provisions fall into disrepute with many citizens, as has already happened with the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Disengaged and contextless, but nevertheless regarded as the essential bulwark of our liberty, they will inevitably provoke strident, unprincipled, and demoralizing arguments over their meaning, which will be thoughtlessly expanded and perverted.

At the same time, such an approach will encourage us to neglect the "guts' of the Constitution and, worse, to consider these structural sections value-free. We will concentrate on enumerating our desired liberties rather than on nurturing a structure by which they may be protected. Our respect and understanding for the constitutional scheme will degenerate, as it has done.

The architectural approach, by contrast, forces us to look at the Constitution as a whole, to contemplate our good fortune with an eye to preserving it. We discover that our rights are not the product of the Founders' (or the Court's) charity. Rather, the Constitution established the conditions under which we create our own liberty.

Decmocracy in itself is favorable for liberty. Beyond that, the separation of powers; the mix of democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical styles of governance; the federal system; the protections against avaricious factions found in the preservation of contract and the various protections of private property; the strict definition of treason; the prohibition against religious tests for voting or office-holding; the protections for political debate, including free speech, a free press, and the right to assemble and petition for a redress of grievances; the right to bear arms; the prohibition against the quartering of troops in peacetime; the Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections for the accused (which, given the limited criminal-law responsibilities of the Federal Government at the time of the Founding, were probably meant to protect political dissidents); and many other provisions fit together like the stones of the Capitol dome, pushing against each other, supporting each other, to create beneath a vast protected space for liberty.

Lists are easy. Any man may call upon a list of rights. But will they come when he does call to them? Engineering a republic is a more demanding task.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Nelson defects from Dems over trials (J. Taylor Rushing - 02/10/10, The Hill)

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson joined a bipartisan effort on Wednesday to block the administration from trying the Sept. 11th suspects in civilian courts.

Nelson (Neb.) signed onto legislation offered by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) to require military commission trials for those suspects. Nelson made the announcement in a conference call with reporters, primarily citing the costs of security for the trials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Positive friends can lead to a longer life (Robert Alison, 8/02/2010, Winnipeg Free Press)

Research by Bruce Sacerdote at Dartmouth College, and others, shows that clusters of friends "infect" each other with obesity and unhappiness. Friends comprising social groups often become obese simultaneously, and according to researchers, an individual is 57 per cent more apt to become obese if friends are obese.

According to information presented at the 2009 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference, social networking influences candidate evaluations in elections.

Extensive research by Lisa Berkman at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that "the degree to which an individual is interconnected and embedded" in a social network is vital to one's health.

"Social integration and cohesion influence mortality," she says. "Social facts explain disease patterns, especially serious diseases.

"Studies consistently show that the lack of social ties or social networks predict mortality for almost every cause of death," she concluded.

Longer lifespans and good health often depend on "close friends and relatives, marital status and affiliations or memberships in religious and volunteering associations," the researchers say.

The degree of one's social integration is the "underlying explanation for suicide rates, they added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Watchdog fears hard-up city may buy pricey panic button (Thomas Grillo, February 10, 2010, Boston Herald)

A plan to install electronic panic buttons on city employees’ computers is being called “a complete waste of money” as Boston faces a $140 million shortfall.

Under the expensive proposal uncovered by a city watchdog group, workers would be able to hit a button on their computer or push a pedal on the floor to summon help if an angry taxpayer storms into City Hall or if someone arguing a parking ticket gets out of hand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


South American Sublimity: Church's monumental 'Heart of the Andes' (BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER, 2/06/10, WSJ)

For all their powerful visual drama, many of the iconic landscapes of the American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) are relatively small in size and were originally intended for private collections. But one of his greatest paintings is also one of his largest, the monumental "Heart of the Andes," currently on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Lehman Wing. Painted in 1859, this canvas (measuring more than 10 feet by 5 feet) embodies Church's large-scale vision of scenic majesty and his overriding belief that God was revealed in the wonders of nature.

Like other members of the Hudson River School, Church was influenced by the idea of the "sublime and picturesque" initially published by the 18th-century Anglo-Irish writer and statesman Edmund Burke. A 1756 Burke essay attempted to identify the differences between that which is beautiful and that which is sublime or great. Beautiful objects, wrote Burke, are "comparatively small," "smooth and polished," "light and delicate." Burke identified sublime or great objects as "vast in their dimensions . . . rugged and negligent"; "the great ought to be dark and gloomy . . . solid, and even massive."

Hudson River School painters ventured beyond the picturesque rolling scenery of the Catskills and New England in search of the sublime. Church set his sights toward South America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Political prayer breakfasts are bad religion (James Carroll, February 8, 2010, Boston Globe)

THERE ARE only three things wrong with the National Prayer Breakfast: the past, the present, and the future. Last week, President Obama presided at the annual Washington event before what the New York Times called “a bipartisan array’’ of national and international figures. “I assure you,’’ he told them, “I’m praying a lot these days.’’ The president went with the flow of public piety, singing prayer’s praises as a source of calm, strength, and civility. It “can touch our hearts with humility,’’ he said. That had the ring of truth, since the prayer breakfast confronts the president with how little personal freedom he has. He could no more boycott the toe-curling display of religiosity than he could remove that flag pin from his lapel. Religion is not supposed to be coercive in this country, but the prayer breakfast is the ultimate command performance, and that is only part of the problem.

Washington is the Vatican of a larger cult.

The quintessential Progressive, at war with America's past, present and future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Put health costs on a diet (Boston Globe, February 8, 2010)

PAYING FOR health care on a fee-for-service basis is an engine for inflation. [...]

Not only does Massachusetts have the highest health costs in the country, but according to the report the higher-cost hospitals do not necessarily provide the best care or treat the most complicated cases. Instead, the high rates often reflect the special advantage of a hospital’s brand name, its inclusion in a large provider network, or its location in an isolated geographic area.

So turn the patients into consumers and they'll shop around.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


A fearsome foursome (Edward Luce, February 4 2010, Financial Times)

Pundits, Democratic lawmakers and opinion pollsters offer a smorgasbord of reasons - from Mr Obama's decision to devote his first year in office to healthcare reform, to the president's inability to convince voters he can "feel their [economic] pain", to the apparent ungovernability of today's Washington. All may indeed have contributed to the quandary in which Mr Obama finds himself. But those around him have a more specific diagnosis - and one that is striking in its uniformity. The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing, they say.

In dozens of interviews with his closest allies and friends in Washington - most of them given unattributably in order to protect their access to the Oval Office - each observes that the president draws on the advice of a very tight circle. The inner core consists of just four people - Rahm Emanuel, the pugnacious chief of staff; David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, his senior advisers; and Robert Gibbs, his communications chief. [...]

"Historians will puzzle over the fact that Barack Obama, the best communicator of his generation, totally lost control of the narrative in his first year in office and allowed people to view something they had voted for as something they suddenly didn't want," says Jim Morone, America's leading political scientist on healthcare reform.

Okay, that's got to be the funniest quote of the day. Unless all of the videos of him speaking are destroyed, no historian will think him an even adequate communicator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


U.S. would reap billions from $1 cigarette tax hike (Maggie Fox, Feb 10, 2010, Reuters)

Adding a $1 per pack tax to cigarettes could raise more than $9 billion a year for states, health advocates said on Wednesday, and a poll released with the study shows Americans would support such a tax.

The poll, conducted by International Communications Research, found 60 percent of voters would support the tax to help struggling states and would prefer it over other tax increases or budget cuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


...that dwelt less on such a provocation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


A new era for video games (Jesse Singal, February 10, 2010 , Boston Globe)

As it turns out, [Andrew Ryan is] the villain of the video game BioShock. You first hear his voice as you descend in a submarine toward the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, where Ryan has built Rapture, a staggering Art Deco city. He envisioned it, he says, as a place “where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small!’’

Ryan’s statement of principle comes with an offer: “And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.’’ But even before you exit the submarine , it becomes clear that Ryan’s libertarian utopia lies in ruins, overrun by its crazed denizens.

BioShock garnered universal acclaim when it was released in 2007, and for good reason: it is a terrifying first-person shooter set in an astounding environment, and it demands a fair amount of tactical prowess.

But, if you have some level of familiarity with the source material, the game also serves as a critique of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy (Andrew Ryan, Ayn Rand - get it?), a brand of libertarianism in which altruism is weakness and the story of modern society is told as a conflict between productive, hard-working industrialists and the countless nattering parasites (the government, organized religion, advocates for the poor) seeking to leech off of their brilliance and initiative. [...]

At their core, they’re still games. You can blast your way through BioShock II or Mass Effect II if you wish, ignoring the political and aesthetic accouterments that set them apart from their predecessors. It would be like watching “The Sopranos’’ as merely an entertaining mafioso epic. But the players who race through these games, like the folks who burn through “Sopranos’’ DVDs without fully taking note of, say, the line of genetic misfortune that connects Tony to his father and to his son, are missing out.

There’s depth here if you want it: Mass Effect 2, like the original, is a soaring space opera that marries Hollywood-level production values (Martin Sheen and other actors lend their voices to the sequel) with questions about politics, galactic-level “foreign policy,’’ and technology. In BioShock 2, the villain is a collectivist who has seized control of Rapture, proving that the game’s designers are equal-opportunity critics of utopian political philosophies. In all these games, the player makes moral choices that affect the story down the road.

February 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


A Simple Health-Care Fix Fizzles Out (KEITH J. WINSTEIN, 2/10/10, WSJ)

The study, known as "Courage" and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, shook the world of cardiology. It found that the most common heart surgery—a $15,000 procedure that unclogs arteries using a small scaffold or stent—usually yields no additional benefit when used with a cocktail of generic drugs in patients suffering from chronic chest pain.

The Courage trial was led by William Boden, a Buffalo, N.Y., cardiologist, and funded largely by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It tracked 2,287 patients for five years and found that trying drugs first, and adding stents only if chest pain persisted, didn't affect the rate of deaths and heart attacks, although stents did produce quicker pain relief.

Steven Nissen, then chairman of the American College of Cardiology, called the study a "blockbuster." Shares of leading stent maker Boston Scientific Corp. fell on the day the news broke, as many doctors and investors expected stent usage to fall off.

For a brief while, they were right. U.S. stent implants declined 13% in the month after the study's release. But as the headlines about Courage faded, stentings soon began to rise again, and are now back at peak levels of about one million a year, according to hospital surveyor Millennium Research Group.

"Most [cardiologists] haven't voluntarily incorporated the Courage criteria into their practice," says Dr. Boden. "What's going to continue to drive practice is reimbursement."

Such is the nature of a service industry disconnected from market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Republicans and the Health Care Pow-Wow: It's an opportunity to show which party has better ideas. (Karl Rove, 2/10/10, WSJ)

This is the party's best opportunity yet to contrast its good ideas with Democratic legislation.

Those ideas are far-reaching and significant. They include allowing small businesses to band together to get the same insurance discounts big companies get, passing tort reform to eliminate junk lawsuits that drive up the price of health care, and enacting reforms that would make health insurance portable for workers. They also include allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines, giving families the same health insurance tax breaks companies get, and empowering patients by making health prices more transparent.

By contrasting those ideas with ObamaCare, Republicans can give the lie to the White House charge that the GOP is the "party of no." For example, Republicans want Americans to be able to save more money tax free for health-care expenses. Democrats would reduce the existing amount that can be saved tax free, which this year is $3,050 for individuals, and tax people for using their savings to pay for over-the-counter drugs.

...the GOP just let one congressman do all the talking (maybe Paul Ryan) and made it a straight debate against the UR instead of a chance for every blowhard in the caucus to preen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


What Became of the 'Freedom Agenda'?: President Obama can avoid his predecessor's mistakes without alienating the people of countries like Iran. (Francis Fukuyama, 2/10/10, WSJ)

[T]he core premises of the Freedom Agenda remain essentially correct, even as its enunciation in the midst of the Iraq invasion undercut its credibility. Mr. Obama runs the risk of falling in bed with the same set of Middle Eastern authoritarians and alienating broad political populations in the region. He may even live to see them blow up in his face for lack of legitimacy, just as the Shah of Iran did in 1979.

The Bush administration asserted a number of points under the rubric of the Freedom Agenda that remain valid to the present moment. Back in 2003, President Bush said that "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom . . . did nothing to make us safe. . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."

In his second inaugural in January 2005, Mr. Bush went on to say that there was no cultural reason why the Arab world should remain the one part of the world resistant to the broad wave of democracy evident everywhere else.

As a report published last month by the U.S. Institute of Peace, "In Pursuit of Democracy and Security in the Greater Middle East," argues, there are good reasons for thinking that the lack of democracy in the Arab world is political rather than cultural. Arab authoritarians like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt have tolerated—and in some cases promoted—the participation of Islamist candidates in elections as part of a strategy to prove to Western backers that they are the only thing standing in the way of cataclysmic Islamic revolution.

They've also gotten good at a cynical game of state-managed liberalization, whereby they open up their political systems just enough to convince outsiders that they are "transitioning" to genuine democracy, only to clamp down again once their control is threatened.

All of this has led, in the view of the Institute of Peace report, to an increasingly dangerous political, social and ideological gap between rulers and their societies. And in this struggle between state and society, the U.S. is widely seen throughout the region as selfishly propping up an unjust and corrupt old order.

The high-flown rhetoric of Bush's second inaugural, when he asserted that there could be no difference between U.S. security interests and our democratic ideals, was manifestly hyperbolic and led to inevitable charges of hypocrisy when the U.S. failed to endorse Hamas as the sole representatives of the Palestinians in Gaza. By making Middle East democracy promotion an instrument of the war on terror, the U.S. both tainted the cause of democracy itself and undermined the credibility of its own foreign policy.

...were W's four big mistakes in the region.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


The Scalia v. Stevens Smackdown: In President Obama's view, corporations are anathema. (DANIEL HENNINGER, 2/10/10, WSJ)

"The Framers thus took it as a given," in Justice Stevens's opinion, "that corporations could be comprehensively regulated (my emphasis) in the service of the public welfare."

In short, private corporations have not much, if anything, to do with the public good.

In his crack-back concurrence, Justice Scalia ridicules "the corporation-hating quotations the dissent has dredged up." He notes that most corporations back then had "state-granted monopoly privileges" (sort of like Fannie and Freddie today—columnist's footnote) and that modern corporations without these state privileges "would probably have been favored by most of our enterprising Founders—excluding, perhaps, Thomas Jefferson and others favoring perpetuation of an agrarian society."

...Justice Scalia concedes that Justice Stevens is right about how the Founders actually viewed corporations--as having received such privileges from the state that they couldn't also claim rights from the state--but can envision certain scenarios where they might have thought differently. And so he followed his imagination rather than the Founding. It's like he had Brennan or Blackmun as a ghostwriter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Unions bash Dems, warn of political fallout (JAMES HOHMANN, 2/10/10, , Politico)

The Senate’s failure to confirm labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board was just the latest blow, but the frustrations have been building for months. [...]

The so-called “card check” bill that would make it easier to unionize employees has gone nowhere. A pro-union Transportation Security Administration nominee quit before he even got a confirmation vote. And even though unions got a sweetheart deal to keep their health plans tax-free under the Senate health care bill, that bill has collapsed, leaving unions exposed again.

Union leaders warn that the Democrats' lackluster performance in power is sapping the morale of activists going into the midterm elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Primordial soup (David Warren, 2/06/10, Ottawa Citizen)

That is one leg upon which our contemporary Darwinism stands: appropriated genuine science. The other is in what has long been known colloquially as the "Primordial Soup." J.B.S. Haldane proposed this in 1929: that the whole evolutionary process was kick-started by ultraviolet radiation, providing the energy to turn methane, ammonia and water into the first organic compounds.

This murk was desperately needed to cover the scandal of origins.

Darwin had titled his famous work The Origin of Species yet could himself see that he had explained no such thing. He had only told just-so stories about how one sort of pre-existing creature might evolve into another under environmental pressures. Few have ever disputed "common descent," but many have asked: What sort of "accident" hatched the first reproducing creature?

The sort of environmental flukes on which the Darwinian depends for his salvation are all very well if you have infinite time. But as we began to realize, about the time Primordial Soup was first served, the universe wasn't nearly old enough -- by a factor approaching infinity -- for any meandering and purposeless scheme to achieve the sort of results we see all around us.

The alternative, of course, is that the universe was in some sense "programmed," that biological and ultimately human life was implicit in the Big Bang. This is called the "anthropic cosmological principle," and it fits with every observable fact of nature. It is resisted by atheists, however, because it is highly suggestive of Creation by God, and is described with great clarity in for example the Book of Isaiah. (See 45:18, for starters.)

In a series of laughable experiments through the 1960s and '70s, Darwinian biologists mixed various recipes for this hypothetical soup, then zapped them with energy this way and that, without any success whatever. Frankenstein's monster simply would not stir from their puddle.

This soup nonsense is still presented in biology textbooks, as if it were true. But in an important paper in the journal BioEssays this week, William Martin et al., of the Institute of Botany III in Düsseldorf, spilled the last drop of it onto the trash heap of history. They summarize effectively why it not only did not work, but could not work, under laboratory or any other conditions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Europe loses seat at top table: In Washington they're not sure who's in charge. In Brussels they're squabbling. Ian Traynor reports on the EU's crisis of confidence (Ian Traynor, 8 February 2010, Guardian)

The first EU summit under Van Rompuy's stewardship sees Europe slumped in a mood of unusually persistent gloom. Van Rompuy, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and the rest are in charge of a Europe engulfed by a sense of defeatism and decline and exhausted by nine long years of trying to construct a new European regime. [...]

"What we saw in Copenhagen is that Europe does not count," Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, told a conference of Brussels thinktanks. [...]

Obama announced last week he was too busy for a slated summit with the Europeans in Madrid in May. When Mongolia's leader, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, visited Brussels last week he was nonplussed by the plethora of "European presidents" whom protocol prescribed he must meet (there are currently four).

The US state department made plain that one reason for Obama's absence is that, under Lisbon, it was not clear with whom the Americans should be dealing.

Matthias Matthijs, a Washington-based academic who is visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University's Bologna Centre, said the post-Lisbon fiasco over who is in charge may take a year to sort out. "There is a sense in Washington that Europe needs to get its act together," he said. "It's another missed opportunity for Europe. They do not have anyone to put on the world stage."

That person is supposed to be Van Rompuy or Catherine Ashton, the new EU foreign policy chief also created by the Lisbon treaty.

But no one appears to have told the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU last month determined not to forfeit any of its perks and privileges to Van Rompuy who, under the Lisbon terms, chairs all summits of EU leaders.

The Spanish government website bragged that the Obama summit in Madrid in May would be a highlight of its presidency, though it forgot to consult the Americans. In addition, in the next four months alone, the Spanish have scheduled themselves to host as many as 10 EU summits with other parts of the world.

This appetite for summitry sits oddly with perceptions of European weakness. But it is of a piece with the European insistence on disproportionate attendance at the big global pow-wows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Obama's empty threats weaken US: If Iran continues to break non-proliferation rules, Barack Obama needs international consensus before threatening Tehran again (Johan Bergenäs, 2/10/10, guardian.co.uk)

Obama ascended to the presidency vowing to engage Iran in dialogue about its nuclear weapons programme. As president, he has also talked tough about his determination to work multilaterally to prevent further nuclear weapons proliferation. "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished … The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons," Obama said in Prague in April 2009. And yet, since his remarks, international non-proliferation rules have been circumvented, violations have gone unpunished and the world is divided over how to deal with Iran – a country widely accused of pursuing nuclear weapons.

The threat of increased pressure, such as sanctions, is as much a policy device as the sanctions themselves, and must only be used if the US can back it up with effective action. This has not been the case under Obama – and with unfortunate consequences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


GOP Rep. Paul Ryan tackles Obama's path to deficit disaster (Michael Gerson, February 10, 2010, Washington Post)

During his question time at the House Republican retreat, President Obama elevated congressman and budget expert Paul Ryan as a "sincere guy" whose budget blueprint -- which, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), eventually achieves a balanced budget -- has "some ideas in there that I would agree with." Days later, Democratic legislators held a conference call to lambaste Ryan's plan as a vicious, voucherizing, privatizing assault on Social Security, Medicare and every non-millionaire American. Progressive advocacy groups and liberal bloggers joined the jeering in practiced harmony.

The attack "came out of the Democratic National Committee, and that is the White House," Ryan told me recently, sounding both disappointed and unsurprised. On the deficit, Obama's outreach to Republicans has been a ploy, which is to say, a deception. Once again, a president so impressed by his own idealism has become the nation's main manufacturer of public cynicism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Audi’s Gorewellian Super Bowl Ad: The ad is absurd, of course, but not nearly as absurd as Audi thinks. (Jonah Goldberg, 2/10/10, National Review)

Audi’s “Green Police” (available on YouTube) depicts an America where citizens are arrested — roughly — for even minor environmental infractions. A man at the supermarket asks for a plastic shopping bag and has his head slammed against the counter as he’s cuffed by a Green Police officer. “You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy,” quips the cop. When officers find a battery in the wrong suburban garbage bin, one big cop yells, “Battery! Let’s go! Take the house!”

It’s a fascinating commercial. They even got Cheap Trick to rerecord “Dream Police” as “Green Police.” But just as the satire becomes enjoyable, the message changes. Until the pitch for Audi intrudes, you’d think it was a fun parody from a right-wing, free-market outfit about the pending dystopian environmental police state.

The pitch involves an “eco roadblock.” A man driving an Audi A3 TDI is singled out by an inspector. “We’ve got a TDI here,” he says. “Clean diesel,” he adds approvingly.

“You’re good to go, sir,” the cops inform the driver. The smiling Audi owner accelerates to happiness on the open road. The screen fades to black and the tagline appears — “Green has never felt so right.”

So, instead of some healthy don’t-tread-on-me mockery, the moral of the story is that we should welcome our new green overlords and, if we know what’s good for us, surrender to the New Green Order.

If you want to use humor your message can't be PC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


The Thirteen Races to Watch: Republicans’ prospects for major pickups in the Senate have improved significantly over the past year. Here’s a closer look. (John C. Fortier, February 10, 2010, The American)

13. New York—For now, Democrats are clearly favored to hold this seat, but appointed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is not well-known statewide and faces a potential primary challenge from former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. Gillibrand and Ford would beat their potential GOP opponents, but New Yorkers are waiting to see if former Republican Governor George Pataki enters the race. He leads Gillibrand in polls and would give Republicans a real shot of winning the seat.

All in all, it looks like a good year for the GOP after two disastrous elections in 2006 and 2008. However, the odds of gaining ten seats to take back the majority are very slim. All the races would have to break for Republicans, and they would need surprise wins in places such as California, Wisconsin, or Washington to have a small hope of taking back a majority. Very unlikely, but significant gains are almost certain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


In poll, Republicans gaining political ground on Obama (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, 2/10/10, Washington Post)

Republicans have significantly narrowed the gap with Democrats on who is trusted to deal with the country's problems and have sharply reduced several of President Obama's main political advantages, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey paints a portrait of a restless and dissatisfied electorate at the beginning of a critical election year. More than seven in 10 Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and as many say they're inclined to look for new congressional representation as said so in 1994 and 2006, the last times that control of Congress shifted. [...]

Only on fighting terrorism does Obama receive majority support for his performance, with 56 percent saying they approve. But the poll shows majority opposition to the administration's plan to try terrorism suspects in federal courts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Corporate free-speech ruling speaks of shift in Supreme Court: All five justices who made up the majority in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision were appointed by President Reagan or worked as lawyers in his administration. (David G. Savage, February 9, 2010, LA Times)

The Supreme Court's ruling last month giving corporations the right to spend freely on elections reflects a profound shift among the conservative justices on the importance of the 1st Amendment and the nature of corporations.

In the 1970s, Justices William H. Rehnquist and Byron R. White said business corporations were "creatures of the law," capable of amassing wealth but due none of the rights of voters.

By contrast, the court's current majority described a corporation as an "association of citizens" that deserves the same free-speech rights as an individual. Because speech and debate are good for democracy, they said, the public should welcome more corporate-funded campaign ads.

It is no less appalling that 5 justices ignore the Constitution and centuries of American history and legal precedent just because you like the result.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Obama and Counterterrorism: The Debate Moves Right (Massimo Calabresi, 2/10/10, TIME)

The debate over counterterrorism tactics has seen a shift to the right over the past year. Republicans are now criticizing Obama for policies that were embraced by Bush during his last years in office, like closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, pursuing civilian trials for terrorism suspects and repatriating and releasing detainees held in U.S. custody. At the same time, Obama is touting the use of Bush-era tactics he once deplored, like the use of military tribunals, detention without trial and an expansive interpretation of the state's secrecy doctrine.

Brennan is not only citing the Bush-like policies that are being adopted by Obama; he's even turning to the Dick Cheney playbook to put opponents back on their heels. On Meet the Press on Feb. 7, Brennan used the "We briefed them" gambit, saying he had informed GOP leaders immediately after the failed Dec. 25 bomb attempt that the suspect was in FBI custody. He said it was clear by implication that the suspect would be read his Miranda rights, a fact to which the Republicans now object. "None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point," Brennan said.

To the extent that Brennan and the White House adopt the Bush Administration's approach on security, they win with the public.

...why wasn't the UR weakening the country and the p[resident when he was deploring W but any criticism of him borders on treason?

February 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


America On The Rise (Joel Kotkin, 02.09.10, Forbes)

Rarely mentioned in such analyses is China's own aging problem. The population of the People's Republic will be considerably older than the U.S.' by 2050. It also has far more boys than girls--a rather insidious problem. Among the younger generation there are already an estimated 24 million more men of marrying age than women. This is not going to end well--except perhaps for investors in prostitution and pornography.

In the longer term demographic trends actually place the U.S. in a relatively strong position. By the end of the first half of the 21st century, the American population aged 15 to 64--essentially your economically active cohort--are projected to grow by 42%; China's will shrink by 10%. Comparisons with other competitors are even larger, with the E.U. shrinking by 25%, Korea by 30% and Japan by a remarkable 44%.

The Japanese experience best illustrates how wrong punditry can be. Back in the 1970s and 1980s it was commonplace for pundits--particularly on the left--to predict Japan's ascendance into world leadership. At the time distinguished commentators like George Lodge, Lester Thurow and Robert Reich all pointed to Europe and Japan as the nations slated to beat the U.S. on the economic battlefield. "Japan is replacing America as the world's strongest economic power," one prominent scholar told a Joint Economic Committee of Congress in 1986. "It is in everyone's interest that the transition goes smoothly."

This was not unusual or even shocking at the time. It followed a grand tradition of declinism that over the past 70 years has declared America ill-suited to compete with everyone from fascist Germany and Italy to the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s a majority were convinced that we were losing the Cold War. In the 1980s Harvard's John Kenneth Galbraith thought the Soviet model successful enough that the two systems would eventually "converge."

We all know how that convergence worked out. Even the Chinese abandoned the Stalinist economic model so admired by many American intellectuals once Mao was safely a-moldering in his grave. Outside of the European and American academe, the only strong advocates of state socialism can be found in such economic basket cases as Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM

Shortbread pan cookies (Denise Drower Swidey, 2/09/10, Boston Globe)

Butter (for the pan, if necessary)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Extra sugar (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 300 degrees. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Have on hand a 9-inch nonstick cake pan (it does not need to be buttered) or a regular 9-inch layer cake pan (butter lightly).

2. In a mixer with the paddle attachment or the beaters, cream the butter, salt, and sugar at a medium speed for 30 seconds or until well combined. Add the flour and mix on low speed for 1 minute or until blended. Don’t overmix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. The dough will look like large, moist crumbs.

3. Press the dough into the cake pan. With a fork, pierce the dough in a decorative pattern. For traditional shortbread, bake for 1 hour or until the surface is barely colored and set. For a crisp texture, bake for 1 1/4 hours or until the surface is pale golden brown and set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Immediately sprinkle with extra sugar (1 tablespoon).

4. Cool the shortbread in the pan for 20 minutes. Invert the round onto a cutting board and then set right-side up. If necessary, loosen the round from the pan by running an offset spatula around the edge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Bush Was Right, Says Obama: 'We're not handling any of these cases any different from the Bush administration.' (WILLIAM MCGURN, 2/08/10, WSJ)

Mr. Obama's explanation came in an interview with Katie Couric just before the Super Bowl. Ms. Couric asked about trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York. After listing some of the difficulties, the president offered a startling defense for civilian trials:

"I think that the most important thing for the public to understand," he told Ms. Couric, "is we're not handling any of these cases any different than the Bush administration handled them all through 9/11." Mr. Obama went on to add that "190 folks"—folks presumably just like the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks—had been tried and convicted in civilian court during Mr. Bush's tenure.

Leave aside, for just a moment, the substance. Far more arresting is that Mr. Obama now defends himself by invoking a man he has spent the past year blaming for al Qaeda's growth. You know—all those Niebuhrian speeches about how America had gone "off course," "shown arrogance and been dismissive," and "made decisions based on fear rather than foresight," thus handing al Qaeda a valuable recruiting tool.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord (NORIMITSU ONISHI, 2/07/10, NY Times)

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.

...is "Killing Me Softly"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Tucker was right, the bastard (Paul Begala, 02/09/10, The DC)

[T]hroughout 2008, when tens of millions of Americans were chanting, “Change!” Tucker saw the collision coming.

He would invariably point out that when most Americans—especially independents—use the word, “change,” what they really mean is incremental improvement. “Shorter lines at the DMV,” he’d say, “or a FEMA that shows up within six months of a hurricane.” He cautioned that the Obama administration risked pushing too much fundamental change too quickly, which would alienate the independent voters who really just wanted things to get a bit better.

At the same time, he warned, there were some people for whom “change” meant radical restructuring: throw open the Bastille, cancel all the debts, declare a Jubilee. These people, Tucker warned, required a pace of change exponentially faster than the steady incrementalism of the independents. Case in point: Tucker and I debated at a gathering of thousands of young people the day before the Obama inaugural. I opened with a joke about the new president walking across the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. No one laughed. In fact, several of them whipped out their cellphones to text each other with the news that The One would be walking on water, as usual. Health care? If we but touch the hem of His garment, they figured, we shall be healed.

It would be, Tucker predicted, impossible to reconcile those two visions of change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Minnesota Billboard Asks: Missing George W. Bush Yet? (Karen Travers, February 09, 2010, ABC News)

If you are driving down I-35 near Wyoming, MN, look up and consider the question being posed from the side of the highway.

A billboard with a large grinning picture of former President George W. Bush asks: “Miss Me Yet?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Blue Dogs push to go further than Obama spending freeze (Walter Alarkon, 02/08/10, The Hill)

Blue Dog Democrats want Congress to go further than President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze spending in next year’s budget.

The group of House centrists will soon introduce a bill capping discretionary spending at specific levels. The move would challenge their leadership and the president, who are balancing concerns with the nearly $1.6 trillion deficit in 2010 with those who say government spending on job creation is the way out of the recession.

...by giving the UR and congressional leaders the credibility they lack in the realm of Defense spending and push for cutting it back to under 3% of GDP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Ben Nelson will back GOP filibuster (MANU RAJU | 2/8/10, Politico)

The move is likely to infuriate labor groups who have fought hard for Craig Becker's nomination to serve on the five-member NLRB - and will likely give Republicans enough support to sustain a filibuster Tuesday.

“Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB, and that he would pursue a personal agenda there, rather than that of the administration,” Nelson said in a statement. “This is of great concern, considering that the board’s main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


After 1929 a generation leapt leftward. Not today. Socialism has been buried: Europe has witnessed a tectonic shift to the right since the war. No wonder the Tories might feel short of breathing space (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, 2/08/10, The Guardian)

Looking back over the last 50 or 60 years, what have been the most ­important changes, and the most surprising? The fact that Europe has been at peace, outside the ­Balkans, since 1945 would have been a surprise and relief to those ­living in the shadow of the two great wars. On the other hand, enlightened ­people would have been shocked by the ­recrudescence of religion as a ­public force, from ­militant Islam to American evangelicalism.

But for Europeans, the most ­remarkable development of all has surely been the decline and fall of socialism. This has been disguised, or confused. It has been truly said that the story of the past generation is that the right has won politically and the left has won culturally. That great truth has been variously illustrated by the German election in September, the New Left Review, and the latest social ­attitudes survey in the UK.

Halfway through the past century socialism in one form or another seemed irresistible. Stalin was in the Kremlin and Attlee in Downing Street, with flourishing socialist parties throughout western Europe. Since then there has been a tectonic shift to the right, and those who deny this are whistling in the dark. We are sometimes told that Britain remains a fundamentally social ­democratic country. Maybe it's literal-minded to ask, but in that case, how come Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were prime ministers for 21 of the last 31 years? If either of those is a social ­democrat, I'm a Maoist.

Following the implosion of Soviet Communism, the Italian left barely exists any more, the French Socialists are in disarray, and the Social ­Democrats were the big losers in the German ­election, having fallen in 15 years from 40% to 23% of the vote. [...]

We have had 13 years of a so-called Labour government which accepted the whole Thatcherite economic settlement, has seen an increase in social and ­economic inequality; worshipped wealth and fawned on high finance at home and abroad; passed a vast array of repressive laws; betrayed all its ­promises on the single currency – and in the end did more damage to the ­European Union than Thatcher did; allowed Rupert ­Murdoch to dictate its foreign policy; and took Britain – with flagrant dishonesty – into a needless, illegal and murderous war in order to support the most reactionary American president of modern times. After all that, you can understand why the Tories might feel short of breathing space.

It's about twenty years too late to notice the End of History, but Mr. Wheatcroft was the one pundit whoi understood what the election of Tony Blair meant at the time it happened, quoting in the Atlantic a friend who said: "You have to remember that the great passion in Tony's life is his hatred of the Labour party."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Getting It Backwards: Obama misunderstands his constitutional role. (John Yoo, February 15, 2010, Weekly Standard)

The latest Democratic president is repeating the mistake of the first. When Thomas Jefferson entered office 210 years ago, Chief Justice John Marshall warned that Jefferson would “embody himself in the House of Representatives.” This would “increase his personal power,” Marshall predicted, but it would lead to the “weakening of the office of the President.” The chief justice meant that his political rival (and distant cousin) would gain power by joining forces with his party’s legislative majorities. But the combination would realize the Framers’ fear that Congress would come to dominate the executive branch.

Marshall’s observation explains much about Obama’s first year. By associating himself so closely with congressional Democrats, Obama became responsible for their every misstep. Their reckless overspending and earmarks became his. Their corrupt deal to buy Senator Ben Nelson’s support for nationalized health care became his sordid bargain. Their command-and-control approach to global warming, which will set nationwide limits on energy use and industrial production, became his socialist program.

Putting the president’s fortune in Congress’s hands not only makes for poor politics, it runs counter to the Framers’ plans for the office. They saw Congress, not the presidency, as the main threat to the people’s liberties. In a democracy, James Madison wrote in The Federalist, “the legislative authority, necessarily, predominates” because it has access to the “pockets of the people.” He warned that “it is against the enterprising ambition” of Congress “that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.”

The Framers expected the presidency to counterbalance the “impetuous vortex” of Congress. A vigorous executive, Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, would protect against those “irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice” and provide security against “enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy” which would emanate from the “humours of the legislature.” The great threat to the Constitution, Hamilton wrote, was the “propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights and absorb the powers of other departments” such as the executive branch, the courts, and the states. The president’s veto would not only protect the executive’s constitutional rights from Congress, he wrote, it would also furnish “an additional security against the enaction of improper laws” and allow the president “to guard the community against the effects of faction, precipitancy, or of any impulse unfriendly to the public good.”

The initiative to regulate the domestic economy and society—limited as it originally was to have been—rested with Congress. The president was to restrain the legislature when it favored party or special interests over the public good. This was no easy job. To give it institutional backbone, the Framers clothed the presidency with independent election, consistent pay, and control over the execution of the laws. Still, Hamilton could only hope that when the legislature gave in to demagogues or temporary passions, the president would “be in a situation to dare to act his own opinion with vigor and decision.” Obama has inverted the presidency in domestic affairs by transforming it from a check into a facilitator of Congress.

...no amount of facilitation would enable this Congress to get anything done.

February 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


How to get the country to solvency on entitlements (George F. Will, February 7, 2010, Washington Post)

[Paul] Ryan's map connects three destinations: economic vitality, diminished public debt, and health and retirement security.

To make the economy -- on which all else hinges -- hum, Ryan proposes tax reform. Masochists would be permitted to continue paying income taxes under the current system. Others could use a radically simplified code, filing a form that fits on a postcard. It would have just two rates: 10 percent on incomes up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000 for single filers; 25 percent on higher incomes. There would be no deductions, credits or exclusions, other than the health-care tax credit (see below). [...]

Ryan would eliminate taxes on interest, capital gains, dividends and death. The corporate income tax, the world's second-highest, would be replaced by an 8.5 percent business consumption tax. Because this would be about half the average tax burden that other nations place on corporations, U.S. companies would instantly become more competitive -- and more able and eager to hire.

Medicare and Social Security would be preserved for those currently receiving benefits or becoming eligible in the next 10 years (those 55 and older today). Both programs would be made permanently solvent.

Universal access to affordable health care would be guaranteed by refundable tax credits ($2,300 for individuals, $5,700 for families) for purchasing portable coverage in any state. As persons younger than 55 became Medicare-eligible, they would receive payments averaging $11,000 a year, indexed to inflation and pegged to income, with low-income people receiving more support.

Ryan's plan would fund medical savings accounts from which low-income people would pay minor out-of-pocket expenses. All Americans, regardless of income, would be allowed to establish MSAs -- tax-preferred accounts for paying such expenses.

Ryan's plan would allow workers younger than 55 the choice of investing more than one-third of their current Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts similar to the Thrift Savings Plan long available to, and immensely popular with, federal employees. This investment would be inheritable property, guaranteeing that individuals will never lose the ability to dispose of every dollar they put into these accounts.

The whole West is headed in this direction: the Third Way and Neoconomics. All we're arguing abpout is the pace at which we get there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Big, Not Easy: How Sean Payton's daring play-calling won the New Orleans Saints their first Super Bowl. (Josh Levin, Feb. 8, 2010, Slate)

[N]ew Orleans' second half comeback wasn't solely the product of momentum or an audacious onside kick. The Saints won for the reason they usually win: Drew Brees' scary accuracy. After the 2008 season, a show called Sport Science asked Brees to throw a football at an archery target 10 times; he hit the bull's-eye on all 10 throws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 PM


Obama's rating plunges underwater for first time in new poll as just 44% give him their approval (Michael Mcauliff, 2/08/10, NY Daily News)

President Obama's job approval rating has taken another dive, putting him underwater for the first time in the latest Marist poll.

Just 44% of the country approve of the work Obama is doing, while 47% don't like what they see. [...]

Forty-seven percent of voters say Obama has not lived up to their expectations, with just 42% saying he has.

A narrow plurality - 38% - think Obama's change has been bad, and 37% think it's been good.

What change?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


John Murtha dies, special election looms (Chris Cillizza, 2/08/10, Washington Post)

According to state law, the governor has ten days once the vacancy is officially declared to decide on the date for the special election, which can come no sooner than 60 days following that proclamation.

That likely means the special election will be held on May 18, which is the date already set for federal primaries around the state. (Special elections costs the state huge sums of money and it's likely that Gov. Ed Rendell will choose to go with an already established election day to save some cash.)

Murtha's passing comes at a tenuous time for House Democrats as they seek to convince some of their older members to re-up for another term in the face of what looks to be a difficult national political environment for the party. [...]

Without Murtha in the 12th district, however, the special election will be seriously contested. Murtha's district is the only one in the country won by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, according to Republican sources, and that trend line coupled with the volatile national environment for Democrats ensures Republicans will heavily target the contest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Sarah Palin's Storm at the Tea Party: Why haven't responsible Republicans spoken out against her? (Fred Kaplan, Feb. 8, 2010, Slate)

If there is a terrorist attack on the United States in the next few years, we could deal with it more confidently, and respond more effectively, if the president were able to rally a spirit of national unity. George W. Bush was given a chance to do this after Sept. 11 and, despite some initial fumbling, rose well to the occasion, at least for a few months.

But if the Republican Party's most popular aspirant declares that the sitting president doesn't know we're at war, isn't even a commander-in-chief (and crowds roar at this charge with approval), then Obama would have a much harder time repairing a wounded nation.

Clinton: Obama government to drop 'war on terror' from lexicon (Reuters, 3/31/09)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the Obama administration had dropped "war on terror" from its lexicon, rhetoric former President George W. Bush used to justify many of his actions.

"The [Obama] administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself. Obviously," Clinton told reporters...

...if Mr. Obama's own administration claims we are not in a war and Mr. Kaplan thinks that will make it harder for him to respond after the next time we're attacked, then why is he attacking Ms Palin instead of the President?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Poll: Special interests more influential under Obama (Stephen Dinan, 2/08/10, Washington Times)

The poll, paid for by groups looking to curb the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance ruling, found that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say special interests have increased their influence since the president took office, and they say Mr. Obama has not done enough to fight back.

"People think special interests are dominant," said Stan Greenberg, a leading Democratic pollster who worked with Republican pollster Mark McKinnon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Amid drug war, Mexico less deadly than decade ago (ALEXANDRA OLSON, 2/08/10, Associated Press)

Mexico City's homicide rate today is about on par with Los Angeles and is less than a third of that for Washington, D.C. [...]

"What we hear is, 'Oh the drug war! The dead people on the streets, and the policeman losing his head,'" said Tobias Schluter, 34, a civil engineer from Berlin having a beer at a cafe behind Mexico City's 16th-century cathedral. "But we don't see it. We haven't heard a gunshot or anything."

Mexico's homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies.

By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil's was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.

Mexico City's rate was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Drinking beer could help prevent weak bones : A new study claims that certain types of beer are a rich source of dietary silicon, and can help prevent osteoporosis (Press Association, 8 February 2010, The Guardian)

The experts said beer was a major source of dietary silicon – roughly half of the silicon in beer can be readily absorbed by the body.

Charles Bamforth, lead author of the study, said: "Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon.

"Wheat contains less silicon than barley because it is the husk of the barley that is rich in this element.

"While most of the silicon remains in the husk during brewing, significant quantities of silicon nonetheless are extracted into wort and much of this survives into beer."

Dr Claire Bowring, from the National Osteoporosis Society, said: "These findings mirror results from previous studies which concluded that moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial to bones."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Is the world really poorer without Bo?:The death of tribal languages is sometimes a good thing, revealing the itchy dynamism of human society. (Tim Black, 2/08/10, Spiked)

he death of a language is also a frequently occurring fact of human history, and by no means an undesirable one. As human societies have developed and expanded, as interaction between once isolated peoples has increased, so particular cultures and particular languages have given way to increasingly universal languages. This isn’t just a polite way of talking of bloody conquest either. As one commentator put it: ‘Often people choose to move to the city for work and therefore speak traditional languages less and less. It therefore becomes natural not to teach them to their children.’ In fact, while there might currently be just under 7,000 languages spoken globally, 80 per cent of the world’s population speak just 83 of them.

Yet despite what looks like a progressive development – an overcoming of Babylonian partiality, a movement towards a common language – many in the West today tend to think differently. In the words of Stephen Corry, the director of the tribal peoples’ campaign group Survival International, ‘With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory. Boa’s loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands.’

Views like Corry’s are far from unusual today. BBC News accompanied its report of Boa Snr’s death with a feature entitled ‘The tragedy of dying languages’. Asserting that with language death, we are losing a ‘significant portion of humanity’s intellectual wealth’, the BBC reporter challenges Western complacency: ‘What hubris allows us, cocooned comfortably in our cyber-world, to think that we have nothing to learn from people who a generation ago were hunter-gatherers?’

In fact, over the past couple of decades, the angst-ridden focus on ‘the tragedy of dying languages’ has become an international concern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Free London Evening Standard readership surges (New Statesman, 08 February 2010)

The London Evening Standard's readership has increased from 556,000 in April to 1.37m in September, according to the National Readership Survey (NRS).

The NRS figures showed that 76.7 per cent of ABC1 readers read the Standard, with increasing readership among the young. In the 15-44 year olds segment, the readership has grown from 56.7 to 62 per cent.

The readership reportedly increased after the paper declared that it was going free on 12 October and boosted its distribution to 600,000 copies.

The paper reportedly increased its advertising rates while promising certain targets, as it went free. The paper has exceeded the targets, according to the Standard's managing director Andrew Mullins.

The model is the tv one, to be paid for being viewed not by viewers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Why China is stoking war of words with US: Beijing’s belligerence is a diversionary tactic. There’s nothing like nationalist outrage to sweeten unpopular economic reform (Bill Emmott, 2/08/10, Times of London)

For the past two decades the country’s official policy has been to keep its head down in international affairs, in line with a dictum of Deng Xiaoping, its great leader of the 1980s: “keep a low profile and hide your claws”, he said, while focusing on building up your strength. That was a good description of Chinese policy in the 1990s and for much of this decade. But it now looks out of date.

One tempting explanation is Chinese confidence. China has been the big winner from the global economic crisis, runs this argument. Not only did it survive the crisis without suffering social unrest, it has seen its growth rebound strongly — indeed, back into double digits during the most recent quarter. Its huge fiscal stimulus package and expansion of lending by state-owned banks has been much lauded. It was popular in Davos last week to claim that China is in the vanguard of a revival of state-led capitalism, with the Beijing model being increasingly admired by other emerging economies.

This interpretation is tempting for any American or European who feels weak and self-critical about their region’s power and prospects. It is certainly true that China is increasingly viewed with awe by others, even if many countries (notably India) also fear or resent it. It is also true that many Chinese feel that their country is on a roll.

But there is another explanation. If you look more closely, China’s economy starts to look much less strong. The huge increase in money supply and bank lending that revived its GDP growth is bound to lead to inflation — and is already doing so. If its apparent strength is to be sustained, China needs to find a new model, a new source of growth, now that reliance on exports to the US and Europe looks like a thing of the past. For even a state-run banking system cannot continue to boost lending by 35 per cent a year indefinitely without causing problems.

That is why a popular debate in the markets concerns whether China is experiencing an asset bubble and whether there is a risk of its growth collapsing in the same way as Japan’s did in 1990.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Why are liberals so condescending? (Gerard Alexander, February 7, 2010, Washington Post)

Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.

It's an odd time for liberals to feel smug. But even with Democratic fortunes on the wane, leading liberals insist that they have almost nothing to learn from conservatives. Many Democrats describe their troubles simply as a PR challenge, a combination of conservative misinformation -- as when Obama charges that critics of health-care reform are peddling fake fears of a "Bolshevik plot" -- and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments. "We were so busy just getting stuff done . . . that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are," the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview. The benighted public is either uncomprehending or deliberately misinformed (by conservatives).

This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever. [...]

This attitude comes in the form of four major narratives about who conservatives are and how they think and function.

The first is the "vast right-wing conspiracy," a narrative made famous by Hillary Rodham Clinton but hardly limited to her. This vision maintains that conservatives win elections and policy debates not because they triumph in the open battle of ideas but because they deploy brilliant and sinister campaign tactics. A dense network of professional political strategists such as Karl Rove, think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and industry groups allegedly manipulate information and mislead the public. Democratic strategist Rob Stein crafted a celebrated PowerPoint presentation during George W. Bush's presidency that traced conservative success to such organizational factors.

This liberal vision emphasizes the dissemination of ideologically driven views from sympathetic media such as the Fox News Channel. For example, Chris Mooney's book "The Republican War on Science" argues that policy debates in the scientific arena are distorted by conservatives who disregard evidence and reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity. In this interpretation, conservative arguments are invariably false and deployed only cynically. Evidence of the costs of cap-and-trade carbon rationing is waved away as corporate propaganda; arguments against health-care reform are written off as hype orchestrated by insurance companies.

The problem for liberals is that their rationalism only works in the mind (their own minds), not in the real world. Insisting upon the truth of the imaginary world they build up in their minds they must go to war with the reality that contradicts it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Treasury Bulls Expect Yield to Peak at 4% (MARK GONGLOFF, 2/08/10, WSJ)

At the start of the year, the consensus was that long-term U.S. Treasury debt would be the dud investment of 2010. Just weeks later, some investors are beginning to reconsider.

With Greece in turmoil and threatening to spread its woes throughout Europe, Treasurys are again benefiting from their safe-haven status. Treasury debt prices surged this past week, pushing their interest rates, or yields, lower.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


New Delhi looks to play facilitator in Indian Ocean region (Rajat Pandit, 2/08/10, TNN)

With Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters generating sonic booms over the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago on Sunday, even as the 3,500-km Agni-III missile created fireworks off the Orissa coast, India sent a strong strategic message across Bay of Bengal that it is ready to play the role of a security facilitator in the larger Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

India might not want to be seen as a regional supercop in the IOR, nor as the prime mover of a naval military bloc in the Asia-Pacific region . But yes, it has legitimate security concerns in the IOR, which falls in its strategic backyard, especially with China making strategic maritime moves in the region.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


India-Pakistan thaw key to Afghan peace (Siddharth Srivastava , 2/09/10, Asia Times)

Washington's focus has shifted to the western frontiers of Pakistan, where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are thought to have their biggest base, and the US is keen for simmering India-Pakistan relations to cool.

This would enable a redeployment of the massive Pakistani troop presence on its eastern borders with India to the Afghan front, possibly paving the way for a reduced American military presence in Afghanistan. However, it is unclear if the proposed India-Pakistan talks have come at the prodding of Washington.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said in a recent interview that the peace process should be resumed and not be held hostage to fallout from the Mumbai attack. Islamabad has indicated that is it amenable to using Indian evidence against the plotters of the attack, and has accepted that the small boats used were launched from Karachi.

There are larger geopolitical factors in play, particularly America's involvement in Afghanistan.

India's offer of talks can be seen in the context of global powers endorsing in London last month a US-backed Afghan plan to seek reconciliation with the Taliban. Pakistan is expected to play a big role in this, especially in persuading the fundamentalist group to come to the negotiating table.

Pakistan will continue to remain a crucial cog in America's "war on terror'' and be a continued recipient of increased military aid. For now, Islamabad has also managed to keep out the influence of India in brokering any deal with the Taliban.

Delhi wants to have a say in Afghanistan, a role that Pakistan has kept for itself until now, with the backing of some Muslim majority nations.

...it is willing to help with the Pashtun problem, fighting militants and creating an independent Pashtunistan.

February 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 PM


Democratic Climate Revolt: A bipartisan effort to stop the EPA's anticarbon crusade. (WSJ, 2/07/10)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is busy writing new rules that would let her drive a tax-and-regulation bulldozer through the U.S. economy under laws never meant to apply to greenhouse gases. Ms. Jackson is expected to issue new anticarbon regulations for cars and trucks next month before moving on to power plants and other industries.

This is all too much for Missouri's Ike Skelton and Minnesota's Collin Peterson, the Chairmen of the House Armed Services and Agriculture Committees, respectively. Along with Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson, they are pushing a two-page bill that would amend the Clean Air Act to restore Congress's original intent and strip CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the statutory language.

This is bipartisanship we can believe in. Such legislation would vaporize the EPA's "endangerment finding" for carbon and thus require the Administration to use democratic debate and persuasion if it really wants to reshape the energy markets and impose huge new costs on American consumers. What a thought.

...even if it is in opposition to his presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


PIIGS no longer flying (Kurt Brouwer, 2/05/10, Fundmastery Blog)

Earlier, I wrote about the national debt troubles of Greece and Portugal (see, National debt crisis in Greece & Portugal). In doing some reading on this issue, I came across this story, which struck me as an example of political correctness gone a bit mad. Caution: this is a ‘not so serious’ post. Here’s the background: Greece and Portugal have been grouped in an acronym, PIIGS, which stands for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece & Spain. Though I don’t think I’ve used PIIGS in any post, it has been fairly common. This and other acronyms stem largely from the fact that bond traders communicate in shorthand so things get reduced to acronyms — BRICs, MAVINS and so on.

Apparently, one dismal soul at Barclay’s Capital took offense to the use of PIIGS to refer to those Mediterranean countries and banned the use internally.

Bloomberg wrote a piece on this with the awesome headline, ‘At Barclay’s Capital, PiiGS No Longer Fly.’ Unfortunately, another dismal soul at Bloomberg must have taken offense and updated the online headline in the piece it to this [emphasis added]:

Swine Acronym Ordered Out of Barclay’s Reports (Bloomberg, Feb. 5, 2010, Alexis Xydias, Rita Nazareth and Lynn Thomasson)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 PM


Corporation Says It Will Run for Congress (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 2/02/10, NY Times: Economix)

Following the Supreme Court decision implicitly granting corporations the right to free speech (by determining that political spending is a kind of speech), a corporation has decided to take what it believes to be “democracy’s next step”: It is running for Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


NY Gov. Paterson meets with lawmakers over future (MICHAEL GORMLEY, 2/07/10, Associated Press)

Gov. David Paterson met privately with key Democratic leaders about his re-election plans as questions swirl around the state capitol about a variety of unproven accusations involving the Democratic governor's personal conduct. [...]

A Democrat close to the situation, though, said the meetings included discussions about whether Paterson would resign or announce he will not run. The Democrat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

One recent New York Post article about the accusations drew a denial by Paterson's spokeswoman and a strong rebuke by the superintendent of state police.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


The size of nations (Andrew Leigh, 8 February 2010, Online Opinion)

n The Size of Nations, Alberto Alesina (Harvard) and Enrico Spolaore (Tufts) present a theory of country size that is as simple as it is powerful. In determining how big countries should be (and therefore how many countries there are in the world), they argue that there are two opposing forces. For economic reasons, nations should be big. For political reasons, countries should be small.

Economics favours large nations because it means more of us share the costs of running the central bank, paying for embassies, and maintaining an air force. And because commerce is easier within borders than across them, businesses are more likely to prosper in a big nation than a small one.

But politics drives towards smaller nations because large nations are hard to control. Smaller nations are more homogenous on several dimensions. Incomes tend to be more equally distributed, there is less ethnic and racial tension, and people are more likely to share a common language and religion. It’s a lot easier to find common ground when you’re the President of Costa Rica than if you happen to be President of the United States.

Sure, you say, but why are countries these days breaking up quicker than a Hollywood marriage?

The answer is that the two great forces of the post-war era - globalisation and democratisation - both favour smaller nations. Globalisation does it by making secession more attractive. In 1950, when average tariffs were around 40 per cent, regions paid a large price for going it alone. Now that the average tariff is around 5 per cent, breaking up is easier to do.

Democratisation raises the pressure to split off because it gives voice to regional interests.

Ten USA's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Rep. Ryan proposes radical solution to budget problem (Ezra Klein, 2/07/10, Washington Post)

[Rep. Paul D.] Ryan's budget is a radical document that takes current policy and rolls a live grenade underneath it. Social Security? Ryan's adds private accounts. Medicaid? Ryan privatizes it. Medicare? Same thing. Health care? Ryan repeals the subsidy for employer-provided insurance, replacing it with a tax credit.

The boyish Ryan is a conservative darling and the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, but there's nothing conservative about this document. It does not respect, much less preserve, the status quo. But then, that's a point in Ryan's favor. The status quo does not deserve our respect. It is unsustainable. Left unchecked, it will bankrupt our country. On that, Ryan's radicalism is welcome, and all too rare. The size of his proposal is shocking, but it is proportionate to the size of our problem: According to the Congressional Budget Office, which examined a simplified version of his proposal, it would wipe out our projected long-term deficits.

Facing up to how he does this is a worthwhile exercise in understanding our budget problem. It's not the privatization that does it. His proposal to add optional private accounts to Social Security actually increases the program's cost, which is a good reminder that Social Security plays little role in our long-term deficits. Similarly, his proposal to privatize Medicare increases costs. As the CBO points out, Medicare negotiates lower prices than private providers and is run more efficiently. "Beneficiaries would therefore face higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare," the wonks conclude.

Ryan saves his money after he privatizes the programs. Under his proposal, seniors stop getting Medicare, which is both government-run and pays for any procedures that can be shown to help improve their condition. Instead, the seniors get a voucher to buy private insurance, and that voucher grows more slowly than medical costs. That means the coverage that voucher buys is going to grow more slowly than medical costs. Seniors will be in the same position the rest of us are in: Either you can afford the coverage and care you need through savings or subsidies or both, or . . . you can't.

That, at least, is what the CBO is scoring. Ryan's hopes are different. "You compartmentalize the programs," he tells me. "Don't do that." In his telling, his proposal unleashes market forces by pulling people out of Medicare, out of Medicaid and out of the employer-based market. He envisions insurance exchanges and better information on quality and cost. Combine that many consumers with that much money and that much transparency, and it'll have to reform itself into something we can afford. "This sector isn't immune from free-market principles," he says.

The notion that procedures improve conditions is comical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


US foreign policy has not made breakthroughs (Daniel Dombey, February 7 2010, Financial Times)

Barack Obama’s foreign policy of engagement has yet to make any breakthroughs and the US president’s second year in office is set to be tested by an intransigent Iran and North Korea, top administration officials have acknowledged. [...]

“I am fairly realistic about foreign policy, and countries don’t just give up what they view as their interests in order to make nice with you,” [Hillary Clinton] told CNN.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Public loses faith in climate change science after leaked emails scandal: Surveys show increase in number of people who believe claims are exaggerated (Jo Adetunji, 2/07/10, guardian.co.uk)

A BBC poll, which surveyed 1,000 people, revealed that 25% of adults did not believe in global warming – a rise of 8% since a similar poll in November – and the percentage of those who thought climate change was a reality fell to 75%. Of those who believed, one in three felt climate change had been exaggerated. Only 26% of people thought climate change was "established as largely manmade".

Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the results were "very disappointing". "The fact that there has been a very significant drop in the number of people that believe that we humans are changing the Earth's climate is serious," he told the BBC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Haiti's Hidden Treasures (WILL FRIEDWALD, 2/04/10, WSJ)

Decades before last month's tragic earthquake, Haiti was in the news because of an upheaval of an entirely different kind. The republic had been occupied by American troops for 19 years. But after a series of bloody massacres and insurrections, the U.S. Marines were withdrawn in 1934. Two years later, an American named Alan Lomax landed in Haiti not with weapons but with a portable recording device. He'd been commissioned by the Library of Congress to document Haiti's ethnomusic traditions.

Encouraged by the writer Zora Neale Hurston (who sings on three tracks), Lomax recorded local music in Haiti for four months. During that period, the 21-year-old scholar and historian captured roughly 50 hours of sound recordings that were then buried in a U.S. government vault for more than seven decades, never seeing the light of day. Until now. "Alan Lomax in Haiti," 10 discs and a copiously illustrated and annotated booklet, have recently been released by Harte Recordings in conjunction with the Lomax Estate and the Library of Congress. (The price of the box set has just been reduced, with a portion of sales going directly to local disaster-relief organizations in Haiti. For more details go to thehaitibox.blogspot.com)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


In North Korea, angry crowds and rising prices spur power plays: North Korea fired its chief financial planner in wake of a currency revaluation that sparked public anger, according to reports in South Korean media. One outlet reported that crowds were besieging marketplaces as prices rise. (Donald Kirk, February 4, 2010, CS Monitor)

Good Friends, an aid organization here that disseminates information from sources in the North, reports an angry crowd in one provincial center shouting, “Households who can afford barely one meal a day are increasing,” and “Will you starve us to death?”

The mounting shortages evoke memories of the famine of the 1990s, in which 2 million people are estimated to have died from starvation and disease. Daily NK, another organization here that puts out reports based on source inside North Korea, reported “an explosion in the number of casualties resulting from popular resentment at harsh regulations of market activities.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


The Problem With Pro-Choice Men: Why do male pro-lifers speak their minds while pro-choice guys stay silent? Hugh Ryan on the fight's glaring gender divide—and why men are turning against abortion rights in droves. (Hugh Ryan, 2/05/10, Daily Beast)

This weekend, Tim Tebow, the Florida Gators quarterback, will star in a contentious anti-abortion Super Bowl ad sponsored by the conservative Christian group, Focus on the Family. The ad comes just over a week after another man, Scott Roeder, was found guilty of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of the only doctors in the country providing legal and safe third-trimester abortions.

As usual, it seems men have a lot to say about the things women shouldn’t do. Indeed, the pro-life camp seems to have little trouble finding men who will stump for it loudly and forcefully. Mel Gibson, Ben Stein, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas have all lent their voices to the anti-abortion movement, to say nothing of more radically religious actors like Stephen Baldwin and Kirk Cameron. Male professional athletes have also been willing to speak out against abortion—besides Tebow, Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green and three-time Super Bowl winner Chad Hennings have both done so. In 1989, six members of the New York Giants Super Bowl-winning team went so far as to make a video called Champions for Life for the anti-abortion group, American Life League.

When male celebrities talk about abortion, they’re usually saying that it should be illegal. The pro-life side of the debate has far outpaced the pro-choice side in lining up strong men’s voices. The Tebow ad threw this into relief, and in response, Planned Parenthood Federation has crafted its own video featuring former professional athletes Al Joyner and Sean James.

But in a way, the spot only seems to highlight how far behind in the gender game the pro-choice side is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Fusion at core of power dream (Tamsin Carlisle, February 06. 2010, The National)

Nuclear fusion holds the promise of virtually limitless energy supplies from a fuel source available to everyone, without the carbon emissions of combustion, the intermittency problems and huge land requirements of most renewable energy sources, and with fewer safety and security issues and much less radioactive waste than fission-fired atomic power.

Nuclear fusion releases 10 million times as much energy per unit mass as burning petrol. If it could be harnessed on earth, it would solve the planet’s energy problems.

That “if”, however, is huge. Despite decades of high-priced tinkering, no one has yet produced a sustainable fusion reaction by a method yielding more energy than it took to produce.

“Nuclear fusion as currently understood occurs only in the core of stars, in nuclear weapons, in high-temperature plasmas or in inertially confined high-energy collisions,” states a recent analysis report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency.

By all indications, a so-called practical fusion reactor is still a far-off figment of futurists’ imaginations. Even so, the vision refuses to fade.

That is why the EU, US, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and India are collaborating to develop the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in the south of France at a projected cost of €12.8 billion (Dh64.34bn). The ITER website says the world’s biggest fusion machine should start test operations in 2018 and could inject power into the grid “as early as 2040”.

“Iter” means road in Latin, but the ITER project is not the only possible path to commercial fusion power. Here is an inventory of some potential routes to clean energy’s holy grail...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Is India's neighbourhood set to get even more dangerous? (Indrani Bagchi, 6 February 2010 , TOI Crest)

The Afghanistan conference in London last week was a shocker for Indian mandarins who had hoped to muscle in and get a larger say in Afghan policy given the money and effort New Delhi has put into the reconstruction efforts. But what happened was that India got blindsided by the British swallowing the Pakistani line that Islamabad could deliver peace by negotiating a deal with the Taliban. Shivshankar Menon, the new national security adviser, along with foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, is leading a massive review of India's own Af-Pak policy, which will determine not just India's approach to Afghanistan, but also craft out a new policy of engagement with Pakistan. The announcement on Thursday of resumption of foreign secretary-level talks between New Delhi and Islamabad is a movement in that direction.

Pakistan has pushed hard to remain in the driver's seat on Afghan policy. And, at least for now, it appears to be winning by hard-selling the line that without the involvement of the ISI, re-integration will remain a non-starter. That was evident first at the Istanbul Af-Pak meeting leading up to the January 28 London conference , where Pakistan insisted India be kept out of the talks, and even a feeble attempt by Karzai to get India to the table was brushed off. India fretted and fumed impotently, but found itself completely dealt out of the game by Pakistan and the UK leading the charge, letting Karzai announce that he was going to draw his brothers back into the tent, and requesting the Saudis to mediate a 'reintegration and reconciliation' with the Taliban.

This was only formalizing a process that had started in 2009, when the Taliban leadership had met with the Afghan government in the desert kingdom . These meetings broke the ice, even quietly blessed by US special envoy to Af-Pak , Richard Holbrooke. After the London
conference, Saudi envoy to India Faisal Tarab told Crest in a carefully worded comment, "We are ready to mediate with the Taliban, but we will not talk to terrorists.'' Saudi King Abdullah has just met Karzai and the outcome of that conversation could determine the success or otherwise of the proposed venture.

For India, global approval of the reconciliation process implies Pakistan, with its ISI and army, is likely to take a leading role. As Holbrooke told MK Narayanan, who was till recently NSA, and Nirupama Rao quietly during his last visit a couple of weeks ago, Pakistan has worked itself into a paranoia about India's presence in Afghanistan; India would have to be removed from all decision-making on Afghanistan, they insisted. As London showed, Islamabad got its way.

For the US and UK, even though India's assistance programme punches all the right buttons, India had to be sacrificed . Therefore, when British foreign secretary David Miliband was asked about India's role, he hummed and hawed saying "by and by" . In London, India insisted on putting in phrases like the process should be "Afghan-led'' and "transparent and inclusive'' - words to prevent the British and Pakistanis from controlling it. But as every diplomat understands, these are words than cannot , and indeed, will not be enforced.

The Pakistani demand has been succinctly laid out by Munir Akram, one of its top diplomats: "Pakistan's cooperation should be offered only in exchange for tangible and immediate US support for Pakistan's national objectives: an end to Indian-Afghan interference in Baluchistan and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas); a Kashmir solution; a military balance between Pakistan and India; parity with India on nuclear issues; transfer of equipment and technology for counter-terrorism ; unconditional defense and economic assistance; free trade access.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


The Real Chinese Threat: The Quadrennial Defense Review's treatment of China isn't just dull -- it's tone deaf. (Matthew Yglesias | February 4, 2010, American Prospect)

Pretty much everyone agrees that China is the only nation with any chance of challenging American military superiority in the foreseeable future. So it's awfully strange that the Department of Defense's new Quadrennial Defense Review has little to say about the country. Explicit discussion is mostly limited to a single paragraph atop page 60, which begins with the banal observation that "China's growing presence and influence in regional and global economic and security affairs is one of the most consequential aspects of the evolving strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region and globally." The Defense Department then reaches the banal conclusion that our two countries "should sustain open channels of communication to discuss disagreements in order to manage and ultimately reduce the risks of conflict that are inherent in any relationship as broad and complex as that shared by these two nations."

Dull, dull stuff.

...is that no one who understands it considers it a long term threat. It is dull in terms of geopolitics. Though its collapse will be exciting for the Han.

Dazzled by Asia: When will China lead the world? Don’t hold your breath. (Joshua Kurlantzick, February 7, 2010 , Boston Globe)

[T]here are many good reasons to think that Asia’s rise may turn out to be an illusion. Asia’s growth has built-in stumbling blocks. Demographics, for one. Because of its One Child policy, China’s population is aging rapidly: According to one comprehensive study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, by 2040 China will have at least 400 million elderly, most of whom will have no retirement pensions. This aging poses a severe challenge, since China may not have enough working-age people to support its elderly. In other words, says CSIS, China will grow old before it grows rich, a disastrous combination. Other Asian powers also are aging rapidly - Japan’s population likely will fall from around 130 million today to 90 million in 2055 - or, due to traditional preferences for male children, have a dangerous sex imbalance in which there are far more men than women. This is a scenario likely to destabilize a country, since, at other periods in history when many men could not marry, the unmarried hordes turned to crime or political violence.

Looming political unrest also threatens Asia’s rise. China alone already faces some 90,000 annual “mass incidents,” the name given by Chinese security forces to protests, and this number is likely to grow as income inequality soars and environmental problems add more stresses to society. India, too, faces severe threats. The Naxalites, Maoists operating mostly in eastern India who attack large landowners, businesses, police, and other local officials, have caused the death of at least 800 people last year alone, and have destabilized large portions of eastern India. Other Asian states, too, face looming unrest, from the ongoing insurgency in southern Thailand to the rising racial and religious conflicts in Malaysia.

Also, despite predictions that Asia will eventually integrate, building a European Union-like organization, the region actually seems to be coming apart. Asia has not tamed the menace of nationalism, which Europe and North America largely have put in the past, albeit after two bloody world wars. Even as China and India have cooperated on climate change, on many other issues they are at each other’s throats. Over the past year, both countries have fortified their common border in the Himalayas, claiming overlapping pieces of territory. Meanwhile, Japan is constantly seeking ways to blunt Chinese military power. People in many Asian nations have extremely negative views of their neighbors - even though they maintain positive images of the United States.

More broadly, few Asian leaders have any idea what values, ideas, or histories should hold Asia together. “The argument of an Asian century is fundamentally flawed in that Asia is a Western concept, one that is not widely agreed upon [in Asia],” says Devin Stewart, a Japan specialist at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs.

Even as Asia’s miracle seems, on closer inspection, less miraculous, America’s decline has been vastly overstated. To become a global superpower requires economic, political, and military might, and on the last two counts, the United States remains leagues ahead of any Asian rival. Despite boosting defense budgets by 20 percent annually, Asian powers like India, China, or Indonesia will not rival the US military for decades, if ever - only the Pentagon could launch a war in a place like Afghanistan, so far from its homeland. When a tsunami struck South and Southeast Asia five years ago, the region’s nations, including Indonesia, Thailand, and India, had to rely on the US Navy to coordinate relief efforts.

America also has other advantages that will be nearly impossible to remove. With Asian nations still squabbling amongst themselves, many look to the United States as a neutral power broker, a role America plays around the world. German writer and scholar Joseph Joffe calls the United States today the “default power”: No one in the world trusts anyone else to play the global hegemon, so it still falls to Washington.

Even in the economic realm, the United States remains strong. As Zakaria admits, the United States accounted for 32 percent of global output in 1913, 26 percent in 1960, and 26 percent in 2007, remarkably consistent figures. The United States remains atop nearly every ranking of economies according to openness and innovation. While Asia’s centrally planned economies can build infrastructure without worrying about public opposition - China has built impressive networks of airports and highways - they are less successful at nurturing world-beating companies, which thrive on risk-taking and hands-off government. Compared to Intel, Google, or Apple, China’s major companies still are state-linked behemoths that do little innovation of their own. The leading corporations in most other Asian nations (with the exception of Japan and South Korea) also are either giant state-linked firms or trading companies that invest little in innovation. And censorship or tight government controls alienate the most innovative firms - Google is now threatening to pull out of China entirely.

As Asia throws up barriers to immigration, in the United States immigration helps ensure long-term economic vitality. Chinese and Indian immigrants accounted for almost one-quarter of all companies in Silicon Valley, according to research by AnnaLee Saxenian at the University of California-Berkeley. According to the most comprehensive global ranking of universities, compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, American schools, powered by immigrants and flush with cash, dominate the top 100, with Harvard ranked first. Asia has no schools in the top 10.

Most important, the United States is a champion of an idea that has global appeal, and Asia is not. During the opposition protests in Iran, demonstrators look to the United States, not China or Indonesia or even India, to make a statement. In a reversal of the Iranian regime’s rhetoric, some protestors even chant “Death to China” because of Beijing’s support for the repressive government in Tehran. As long as protestors in places like Iran, or Burma or Ukraine, call out for the American president, and not China’s leader or India’s prime minister, the United States will remain the preeminent power.

To be the global hegemon requires military, economic, and political might, but it also means offering a vision for the world. As Mahbubani admits, during Britain’s imperial period, elites in places like Malaya, India, or the Caribbean wanted to study in England, or read British authors and philosophers, because they believed that the ideas Britain had imparted - the rule of law, the Westminster political system, an idea of fair play, a meritocratic civil service, evidence-based scientific exploration - had merit for the entire world. Even men and women who, ultimately, became some of the biggest thorns in Britain’s side, like Jawarhal Nehru, cherished their British studies and their links to British culture.

So, too, since World War II the United States has been, for many foreign publics, the nation looked up to in this way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


-VIDEO: The last horse fishermen of Belgium: Oostduinkerke on the West Flanders coast is the only place in the world where you will still see the 500-year-old tradition of fishermen trawling for shrimp on horseback. (Alex Healey and Cosimo Bizzarri, 4 February 2010, guardian.co.uk)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Ambassador at very large: Arab states reject Pakistani diplomat whose name refers to large male genitals in Arabic. (BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT, 07/02/2010, Jerusalem Post)

Up until just over a month ago, His Excellency Miangul Akbar Zeb had lived an esteemed life as one of Pakistan's most senior diplomats. [...]

A relatively common Muslim name, Akbar means 'biggest' or 'greatest' in Arabic. While Zeb is a common Urdu name, in Arabic it is a slang reference to the male genitals and not used in polite conversation. [...]

According to the Arab Times, the United Arab Emirates refused to accredit Mr Zeb as ambassador. Undeterred, Pakistan then tried to send Mr Zeb to neighboring Bahrain instead, where the emissary was rejected again. Then, most recently, Pakistan tried sending Mr Zeb to Saudi Arabia, only to be rebuffed a third time.

None of the Gulf States have made a statement as to why Mr Zeb was refused accreditation.

"It's hard to imagine that someone's name would be a problem, especially on this level, but I understand why the governments reacted this way," Ahmed Al-Omran, a Saudi cultural critic told The Media Line. "It crosses a cultural red line so I don't think the media would dare to publish a name like this. So every time he would be in the media they would have to face the name issue and it would make it difficult to work with him. That would just be an embarrassment for Pakistan."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


The Tories have the answers, but not the strength to deliver: David Cameron and George Osborne are creating a new Tory philosophy. Now all they have to do is revolutionise the party (Will Hutton, 2//07/10, The Observer)

[A]part from the odd tract, there is no canon of red Tory ideas from which to borrow. Liberal Conservatives don't have a John Rawls, Maynard Keynes, Joe Stiglitz, Amartya Sen or Michael Sandel to inform their thinking. They have to make it up themselves with most of their natural supporters sullen or sceptical and an over-powerful, bullying right-wing media whose default position is unthinking populism. Little wonder that it is not the most sure-footed of enterprises. David Cameron in the last six months has managed both to claim that the state is the problem and later that a fit-for-purpose state is part of the solution – and that spending cuts must be deep and early, but not, it seems, at first particularly extensive.

Last week, Osborne offered his most ambitious attempt to set out what a liberal Conservative government may do in office economically: "A new economic model, eight benchmarks for Britain". It is a curious document, reflecting the half-formed nature of the philosophy he and Cameron claim and their own uncertainties about what they dare do and what might work. There is some clear-sighted analysis, not least that as the sources of economic growth in the decade up to 2007 – the credit-fuelled bubble economy and rapidly rising public spending – are plainly over, the country has to migrate to a new model of higher investment, saving and exports. For Conservatives, this requires a red Tory approach and some ideas are even signalled. But in area after area, the wannabe liberal Conservative interventionists shrink at the last.

...is that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were Red Tories and that the body of ideas that David Cameron needs to run on is visible in the econo-politics of everyone from Augusto Pinochet to George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Roger Ferguson: 'A Retirement System for the 21st Century': The TIAA-CREF CEO and ex-Fed vice-chairman tells Bloomberg BusinessWeek what needs to be done to improve Americans' retirement readiness (Business Week, 2/05/10)

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF CHOICE. One of the weaknesses of the 401(k) system may be too much choice in investment options. You can overwhelm people with too much choice. What's optimal is 15 to 20 investment choices.

ON CREATING A RETIREMENT SYSTEM THAT GETS PEOPLE INCOME FOR LIFE. The 401(k) system was never meant to be the core retirement system. It doesn't get you through retirement—it gets you to retirement. People should annuitize for basic expenses, such as rent or mortgage, and utilities [meaning they would receive a set monthly check to cover that amount]. You need the option of secure income for life. If annuities were required—if the government said this is one characteristic that a qualified plan must have—the sponsors would do it. If you wait for plan sponsors, it will only be as fast as the slowest person. [But] individuals should not be forced to take that. Mandated options are not popular and not likely to get through Congress.

ON THE ONE THING HE'D CHANGE TO SHORE UP AMERICA'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM. It's always dangerous to choose one thing that is most important. But the most important thing is to get people to start saving. [Offering participants] advice can be part of that. Auto-enrollment can be part of that. The overarching goal is to get people to save, and to get them to save enough. To get a 70% income replacement ratio [to be able to spend 70% of pre-retirement income in your non-working years], you need to save 10% to 14% of your income each year. It's an eye-opening number for the vast majority of people.

February 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Thatcher and Carter: the not-so special relationship: Newly released documents from Margaret Thatcher's first year in office reveal her widespread distrust of the Establishment - especially the BBC - and her growing impatience with the Carter administration (Anthony Seldon, 06 Feb 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Thatcher's close relationship with Ronald Reagan was a key feature of her premiership. Was it foreshadowed in her year and a half with Carter? Her fondness for the United States shines through the documents.

In her first full letter to the Democrat Carter in June 1979, she assures him of total British support in the ratification of the SALT II nuclear arms treaty ("We will do all we can to assist you"). But a certain froideur is in evidence with Carter himself from the outset.

When he phones her to congratulate her on the general election victory, he speaks, almost mechanically, of a "tremendous personal victory for you. […] We look forward to working with you on an official basis."

Contrast this with the warmth, later that month, when she phoned Joe Clark, the incoming prime minister of Canada who had beaten Pierre Trudeau's Liberals. Thatcher tells him: "We've been watching [the election] anxiously the last few days. […] The great thing is that the tide is moving all over." Clark asked for her advice. "You just get stuck in, that's all," she says, "you have to get stuck in, and really rely on your own instincts."

It is evident from the documents that Thatcher does not consider Carter a soulmate, worries that he is naive when it came to relations with the Soviets, and shows herself willing to stand up to him, as over Iran, where she refuses resolutely to agree to reduce the British embassy presence at his behest. On Northern Ireland, she bemoans that attitudes to Ireland in America "are still apt to owe more to the 19th century than to the facts of the present day world". In December 1979, on her visit to the United States, she berated Carter for not allowing the sale of weapons to equip the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Thatcher's tough and critical stance towards the Soviet Union had earned her the "Iron Lady" sobriquet several years before she became Prime Minister. The papers suggest she lost none of her Cold War warrior zeal inside No 10.

In October 1979, she writes to Carter: "I share your concern about Cuban and Soviet intentions in the Caribbean. This danger exists more widely in the developing world. It is essential that the Soviet Union should recognise your resolve in this matter. […] I am therefore especially encouraged by your statement that you are accelerating efforts to increase the capability of the United States to use its military forces world wide."

Her appetite is abundantly clear when she tells, or perhaps lectures Carter, that "I welcome our continuing personal conversation". And again, three days after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, on Christmas Eve 1979, when she wrote to Brezhnev that she was "profoundly disturbed", and "frankly puzzled" by the defence that the Soviet invasion was at the invitation of the Afghan government. "It is clear that the Soviet Union has sought a pretext to impose its will on a smaller neighbour. . . I should welcome your assurance that all Soviet troops will be withdrawn at a very early date."

Thatcher's euroscepticism is also on display. In 1979, the Conservatives were still the "party of Europe" in British politics, having taken the UK into the European Community, in the face of Labour hostility, earlier in the decade under Heath. But the salaries of "Eurocrats" was one of the first issues to prick her: "They are paid much too much – from our taxpayers' money. It looks like a real gravy train."

During the European elections held in June 1979, she refused to deliver a speech prepared for her by scriptwriter Ronnie Millar, scribbling: "This is not a script for me – I just couldn't say some of those things." When Millar wrote back to her that "the British had never entirely understood Europe", she responded in the margin: "Maybe they did understand it! That's what it sounds like!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 AM


Bayh a tough sell in Indiana (Donald Lambro, 2/06/10, Washington Times)

Within hours of former Sen. Dan Coats' announcement Wednesday that he is considering challenging Mr. Bayh, the dynamics of the race changed dramatically. The conservative Republican's "likely entry into the Indiana Senate race puts another seat into play," said election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg. "Move from Currently Safe to Narrow Advantage for the Incumbent Party," he wrote .

However, the senator's "narrow advantage" may be precarious, according to recent polls that show growing disapproval of the two-term senator, who once had presidential ambitions. [...]

A statewide Rasmussen poll of likely voters released Jan. 25 showed him trailing Rep. Mike Pence, the House Republican Conference chairman, by 44 percent to 47 percent. Mr. Pence, however, has decided to remain in his leadership post. A matchup with Republican former Rep. John Hostettler was a virtual dead heat.

More troubling, Rasmussen found that just 23 percent of likely Indiana voters had a "very favorable" impression of Mr. Bayh, while more than 40 percent had a very or somewhat unfavorable view or were unsure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Democrats chafe as White House wavers on health care bill (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 2/6/10, Politico)

President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message.

Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution. [...]

And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.

He campaigned on not letting John McCain tax health benefits. What more do they expect from him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


The story everybody’s talking about (but no one’s read) (Casey Seiler, 2/05/10, Albany Times-Union)

No one, that is, except for reporters, editors and lawyers at the New York Times, which has according to an avalanche of first-, second- and third-hand accounts been working on a piece about Gov. David Paterson that, depending on who you talk to, could prove to be anything from mildly embarrassing to politically apocalyptic.

The last few weeks have brought two major eruptions of rumors concerning Paterson’s private life: reports of nuzzling at a New Jersey restaurant and being caught in semi-flagrante in a utility closet in the Governor’s Mansion — stories that Paterson and his press office have vehemently denied.

According to sources who have actually been interviewed for the Times’ story, its central narrative is the role played by members of Paterson’s inner circle in his personal and political activities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


The double standard at CBS (Derrick Z. Jackson, February 6, 2010, Boston Globe)

The ad, funded by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, features the decision by Tebow’s mother to reject the advice of doctors to have an abortion when she was very sick while the future Heisman Trophy winner was in her womb. That story is an unqualified, beautiful individual testament to faith and love.

But Focus on the Family wants to twist the free choice of this mother into a political vehicle to eliminate choice for all other women. But not even that ultimately offends me. Where CBS bears false witness is the fact that they accepted that ad while rejecting a Super Bowl ad for a gay dating service. The ad starts with one man in a Green Bay Packers jersey and the other in a Minnesota Vikings shirt cheering against each other. It ends with them making out on the couch.

...are they required to run an ad advocating an immoral practice? Mr. Jackson is demanding a double standard, not objecting to one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


'Permission' needed to kill U.S. terrorists (Eli Lake, 2/04/10, Washington Times)

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and ranking member of the House intelligence committee, asked Mr. Blair about the policy of targeting American citizens at a hearing. It was the first time there was public discussion about one of the most sensitive U.S. counterterrorism policies.

Mr. Blair's remarks follow a report in The Washington Post last week that disclosed President Obama had personally authorized a Christmas eve drone attack against Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen in Yemen who is chief cleric for the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Awlaki is thought to have survived the attack.

Al-Awlaki was in contact with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried and failed to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

Al-Awlaki was a former imam at a Falls Church, Va., mosque where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the officer accused of killing 13 of his fellow service members at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, is said to have attended sermons and sought his advice over e-mail.

In recent years al-Awlaki has developed a following on the Internet for his English-language jihadist rants. This is a new development for al Qaeda because most of its Web propagandists write in Arabic.

Another American al Qaeda operative recently outed to the press is David Coleman Headley. Last month, the FBI charged Mr. Headley with participating in the jihadist rampage in Mumbai in 2008 and plotting to attack the offices of the Danish newspaper that in 2005 published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Hoekstra made an indirect reference to al-Awlaki, who was born in Las Cruces, N.M., in 1971.

"So there is a framework and a policy for what's hypothetically a radical born cleric … who's living outside of the United States, there's a clear path as to when this person may be engaging in free speech overseas and when he may have moved into recruitment or when he may have moved into actual coordinating and carrying out or coordinating attacks against the United States?"

Mr. Blair responded that he would rather not discuss the details of this criteria in open session, but he assured: "We don't target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans or has resulted in it."

He added, "The reason I went this far in open session is I just don't want other Americans who are watching to think that we are careless about endangering … lives at all. But we especially are not careless about endangering American lives, as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country and I think we ought to go into details in closed session."

Why aren't we targeting them for treasonous speech abroad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Is Democracy Killing Democracy?: The founding fathers saw this coming, but the walls they erected to contain the mob may no longer hold. (Kurt Andersen, Feb 5, 2010, New York)

The tea-party movement takes its name from the mob of angry people in Boston who, in 1773, committed a zany criminal stunt as a protest against taxes and the distant, out-of-touch government that imposed them. Two years later, the revolution was under way and—voilà!—democracy was born out of a wild moment of populist insurrection.

Except not, because in 1787 several dozen coolheaded members of the American Establishment had to meet and debate and horse-trade for four months to do the real work of creating an apparatus to make self-government practicable—that is, to write the Constitution. And what those thoughtful, educated, well-off, well-regarded gentlemen did was invent a democracy sufficiently undemocratic to function and endure. They wanted a government run by an American elite like themselves, as James Madison wrote, “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” They wanted to make sure the mass of ordinary citizens, too easily “stimulated by some irregular passion … or misled by the artful misrepresentations” and thus prone to hysteria—like, say, the rabble who’d run amok in Boston Harbor—be kept in check. That’s why they created a Senate and a Supreme Court and didn’t allow voters to elect senators or presidents directly. By the people and for the people, definitely; of the people, not so much.

So now we have a country absolutely teeming with irregular passions and artful misrepresentations, whipped up to an unprecedented pitch and volume by the fundamentally new means of 24/7 cable and the hyperdemocratic web. And instead of a calm club of like-minded wise men (and women) in Washington compromising and legislating, we have a Republican Establishment almost entirely unwilling to defy or at least gracefully ignore its angriest, most intemperate and frenzied faction—the way Reagan did with his right wing in the eighties and the way Obama is doing with his unhappy left wing now. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and their compatriots are ideologues who default to uncivil, unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance, as Keith Olbermann does on the left. Fine; in free-speech America, that’s the way we roll. But the tea-party citizens are under the misapprehension that democratic governing is supposed to be the same as democratic discourse, that elected officials are virtuous to the extent that they too default to unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance and refusal. And the elected officials, as never before, are indulging that populist fantasy.

Just as the founders feared, American democracy has gotten way too democratic. [...]

The framers worried about democratic government working in a country as large as this one, and it’s possible that we’ve finally reached the unmanageable tipping point they feared: Maybe our republic’s constitutional operating system simply can’t scale up to deal satisfactorily with a heterogeneous population of 310 million. When the Constitution was written and the Senate created, there were around 4 million people in America, or about one senator for every 150,000 people. For Congress to be as representative as it was in 1789, we’d need to elect 2,000 senators and 5,000 House members. And so I wonder, as I watch Senate leaders irresponsibly playing to the noisiest, angriest parts of the peanut gallery, if the current, possibly suicidal spectacle of anti-government “populism” in Washington isn’t connected to our bloated people-to-Congresspeople ratios. As the institution grows ever more unrepresentative, more numerically elite, members of Congress may feel irresistible pressure to act like wild and crazy small-d democrats.

Power will either devolve directly to the citizens--via the Third Way--or to a smaller set of countries carved out of the current Union or both. Maximum optimal state size aound the world tends to top out at about 40 million--the US being nearly the sole exception--while we're headed to 400-500 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Unsustainable (Mark Steyn, 2/06/10, National Review)

At the National Prayer Breakfast, Barack Obama singled out for praise Navy Corpsman Christian Bouchard. Or as the president called him, “Corpseman Bouchard.” Twice.

Hey, not a big deal. Throughout his life, the commander-in-chief has had little contact with the military, and less interest. And, when you give as many speeches as this guy does, there’s no time to rehearse or read through: You just gotta fire up the prompter and wing it. But it’s revealing that nobody around him in the so-called smartest administration of all time thought to spell it out phonetically for him when the speech got typed up and loaded into the machine. Which suggests that either his minders don’t know that he doesn’t know that kinda stuff, or they don’t know it either. To put it in Rumsfeldian terms, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Which is embarrassingly true. Hence, the awful flop speeches, from the Copenhagen Olympics to the Berlin Wall anniversary video to the Martha Coakley rally. The palpable whiff given off by the White House inner circle is that they’re the last people on the planet still besotted by Barack Obama, and that they’re having such a cool time starring in their own reality-show remake of The West Wing they can only conceive of the public — and, indeed, the world — as crowd-scene extras in The Barack Obama Show: They expect you to cheer and wave flags when the floor-manager tells you to, but the notion that in return he should be able to persuade you of the merits of his policies seems entirely to have eluded them.

What policies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


February 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Moving the Deck Chairs: a review of FREEFALL: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy By Joseph E. Stiglitz (KEVIN PHILLIPS, 2/07/10, NY Times Book Review)

Stiglitz supported Obama for president and still finds things to praise about him. But the criticism starts to flow as early as his second chapter, where Stiglitz contends that Obama chose a conservative strategy that he calls muddling through. The president may have been concerned to maintain national unity, but the risk, Stiglitz writes, “was that the problems were more like festering wounds that could be healed only be exposing them to the antiseptic effects of sunlight.”

He amplifies: “The Obama administration also didn’t have (or at least didn’t articulate) a clear view of why the U.S. financial system failed. Without a vision of the future and an understanding of the failures of the past, its response floundered. At first, it offered little more than the usual platitudes of better regulation and more responsible banking. Instead of redesigning the system, the administration spent much of the money on reinforcing the existing failed system.”

Warming to his indignation, Stiglitz adds: “Remarkably, President Obama, who had campaigned on the promise of ‘change you can believe in,’ only slightly rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. Those on Wall Street had used their usual instrument — fear of ‘roiling’ the markets — to get what they wanted, a team that had already demonstrated a willingness to give banks ample money at favorable terms.” Members of the team included Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, “who proclaimed that one of his greatest achievements as secretary of the treasury in 1999-2001 was ensuring that the explosive derivatives would remain unregulated.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Why Climate Science Is On Trial (Walter Russell Mead, 2/05/10, American Interest)

Scientists and intellectuals often think of confrontations between lay skepticism and scientific results as a meeting of the Flat Earth Society of idiot deniers with the brave and resourceful Christopher Columbus. That is sometimes all too true — but it isn’t always and laypeople have a right and even a duty to think these things through for themselves. Sometimes the big institutions and the big money scientists just get things wrong — and sometimes we need the little kid in the crowd to pipe up and say that the emperor isn’t wearing anything at all. The ‘army of Davids‘ can sometimes see things the big boys have missed.

Moreover, once a controversy leaves the realm of pure science and moves into the realms of policy and politics, scientists aren’t — and can’t be — in charge anymore. If the lesser spotted skink turns out to be an endangered species rather than a rare subspecies, whether it should be protected or not is a political question not a scientific one.

...that whether it's a species isn't a scientific question anymore either, just an ideological claim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: Majority of Americans Wants U.S. Supreme Court to Reject Same-Sex “Marriage” (Peter J. Smith, 2/05/10, LifeSiteNews)

52 percent of 1,000 adult respondents told Angus Reid pollsters that they believed the U.S. Supreme Court would reject the constitutional arguments made by opponents of Prop. 8, and rule that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

58 percent said they would prefer such a ruling, while 34 percent wanted a ruling legalizing same-sex “marriage.” The same percentage split defined a majority saying they would vote to keep the natural definition of marriage in their home state if the question came up via a referendum.

“I think that those numbers tie into what we’ve seen time and time again. The majority of Americans just oppose same-sex ‘marriage,’” said Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


Obama dismisses Blanche Lincoln's plea to be more centrist (Charles Lane, February 4, 2010, Washington Post)

The pivotal moment came when Sen. Blanche Lincoln of deep-red Arkansas, a centrist who’s on her way to defeat in November, practically begged the president to repudiate “extreme” liberals -- a clear reference to the Nancy Pelosi-led House -- and tack to the center. Arguing that the Democrats’ ambitious legislative agenda was sowing job-destroying “uncertainty” in the business community, she asked: “Are we willing as Democrats to push back on our own party?”

Obama’s reply, in a nutshell: Sorry, Blanche.

If the price of certainty is essentially for us to adopt the exact same proposals that were in place for eight years leading up to the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression -- we don’t tinker with health care, let the insurance companies do what they want, we don’t put in place any insurance reforms, we don’t mess with the banks, let them keep on doing what they’re doing now because we don’t want to stir up Wall Street -- the result is going to be the same. I don’t know why we would expect a different outcome pursuing the exact same policy that got us into this fix in the first place.

But the president is not only against a centrist shift on policy grounds; he also thinks it is a political loser:

If our response ends up being, you know, because we don’t want to -- we don’t want to stir things up here, we’re just going to do the same thing that was being done before, then I don’t know what differentiates us from the other guys. And I don’t know why people would say, boy, we really want to make sure that those Democrats are in Washington fighting for us.

Two things struck me as extraordinary about Obama’s reply.

The first was the ease with which he cast Lincoln’s plea for a bit more centrism as a call for a return to Bushism -- the “exact same proposals that were in place for the last eight years.” That’s not what she was advocating; it’s not what any Democrat who’s questioning his approach is advocating. But the president set up this strawman, and he pummeled it, rather than engaging Lincoln’s valid concerns.

The second striking thing was how easily he appeared to write off Lincoln politically.

We can't really be 13 months into this presidency with people still just figuring out that all he argues with are straw men that he sets up and that he doesn't care about any of his colleagues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


A Course Correction On Terrorism (Stuart Taylor Jr., Feb. 6, 2010, National Journal)

[P]risks permanent political damage unless he dispels the soft-on-terrorism charge.

The charge is unfair. But it is gaining traction because of two glaring mistakes.

One was the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department to advise Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after only 50 minutes of interrogation that he had a right to stop talking -- which he did. This blunder was compounded by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's fantasy that "the system worked," by Obama's fatuous assertion that Abdulmutallab was "an isolated extremist," and by Holder's unconvincing defense of the initial mistake in a five-page letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on February 3.

The other mistake was Holder's decision to put the 9/11 defendants on trial in Manhattan.

The administration will apparently reverse that decision. But it also needs to put an effective interrogation policy in place before the next would-be bomber is captured. Doing that would be an implicit admission that the administration bungled the Abdulmutallab interrogation. Better to make the admission explicit, and thereby to demonstrate a thus-far-invisible capacity to learn from mistakes.

The recent leaks that the suspect has started talking to interrogators again do not redeem the decision to Mirandize him. His more than a month of silence gave his co-conspirators plenty of time to cover their tracks and to advance a wave of attacks had that been their plan. The administration also claims that Abdulmutallab gave up important information the day he was captured. But that only underscores the foolishness of stopping the interrogation after 50 minutes.

"I have some experience with interrogation, and 50 minutes does not get you what you need," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He also understands a distinction that appears to escape Holder: Although torture is a moral horror, aggressive interrogation is a moral imperative when lives could be at stake.

Don't be soft-headed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Kennedys shaken as GOP eyes R.I. too (Hillary Chabot, 2./05/10, Boston Herald)

The Kennedy political dynasty is shaking in the aftershock of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s earth-shattering election, with a new poll showing U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy losing ground as he faces a well-financed GOP foe backed by Brown’s top strategists.

The WPRI-12 poll showed the Rhode Island Democrat with a 56 percent unfavorability rating in his district - a negative that grows to 62 percent statewide.

Only 35 percent of voters in Kennedy’s district said they would vote to re-elect him. Another 31 percent said they’d consider a different candidate and 28 percent said they would vote to replace him, according to the poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Keeping Faith, Courting Conservatives: Obama's Willingness to Continue Bush Approach to Religious Charities Aims to Woo Evangelicals but Vexes Liberals (PETER WALLSTEN, 2/04/10, WSJ)

Mr. Obama has left in place a contentious Bush policy permitting charities that receive federal aid to hire employees based on their religious beliefs—a policy that civil-liberties groups consider unconstitutional and that candidate Obama had criticized.

The president will consider retaining a Bush-era practice of allowing government-backed religious charities to display crucifixes, "Jesus saves" posters and other symbols in the rooms where people receive aid, according to people involved in the discussions. Critics say that essentially amounts to taxpayer-funded proselytizing. This week, a majority of a faith advisory council appointed by Mr. Obama to examine the program voted against requiring charities to remove the images, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


US swine flu epidemic shows signs of being over (MIKE STOBBE, 2/05/10, AP)

Is the U.S. swine flu epidemic over? Federal health officials won't go so far as to say that, but on Friday they reported for the fourth week in a row that no states had widespread flu activity.

Is it possible that scientists are the least responsible group in modern society?

'The Lancet' Pricks Itself (Henry I. Miller, 02.05.10, Forbes)

Another egregious and exceedingly harmful example of a failure of peer review and editorial judgment at The Lancet was a 1998 paper by Scottish scientist Arpad Pusztai, which described feeding studies of genetically engineered and non-engineered potatoes to laboratory rats. Pusztai claimed to show that feeding potatoes genetically engineered to express a protein known to be toxic to certain insects caused damage to the immune system and stimulated abnormal cell division in the digestive tract of the rats.

However, many research groups--including some of Pusztai's own collaborators--concluded that his research methodology was fundamentally flawed, that he misinterpreted his own data and that no conclusions about the safety of genetically engineered foods can be drawn from his data--or, indeed, from his experimental design. The experiments have been criticized for the small number of animals, the use of inappropriate statistical procedures and the fact that a diet of raw potatoes is an inadequate and even harmful diet. [...]

After an extensive review by experts in several pertinent fields, the British Royal Society issued a statement in 1999 that detailed the ways in which the Pusztai experiment was fatally flawed. It concluded, "On the basis of this paper, it is wrong to conclude that there are human health concerns with the process of [genetic engineering] itself, or even with the particular genes inserted into these [genetically engineered] potatoes.

Similar to their response to the scientific community's outrage over the Wakefield vaccine-autism paper, the editors of The Lancet demonstrated that in spite of the article's admittedly deficient methodology--and over the strenuous objections of the paper's reviewers--they published it to "make constructive progress in the debate between scientists, the media and the general public" about a very politically charged issue.

Why The WHO Faked A Pandemic (Michael Fumento, 02.05.10, Forbes)
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a human rights watchdog, is publicly investigating the WHO's motives in declaring a pandemic. Indeed, the chairman of its influential health committee, epidemiologist Wolfgang Wodarg, has declared that the "false pandemic" is "one of the greatest medicine scandals of the century."

Even within the agency, the director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Epidemiology in Munster, Germany, Dr. Ulrich Kiel, has essentially labeled the pandemic a hoax. "We are witnessing a gigantic misallocation of resources [$18 billion so far] in terms of public health," he said.

They're right. This wasn't merely overcautiousness or simple misjudgment. The pandemic declaration and all the Klaxon-ringing since reflect sheer dishonesty motivated not by medical concerns but political ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Public sector emissions grew by 6.25% in 2008 (Adam Vaughn, 2/05/10, The Guardian)

Public sector greenhouse gas emissions rose by 6.25% in 2008 despite overall UK emissions falling by almost 2%, analysis of government figures showed today.

While sectors such as energy supply, agriculture, transport, businesses and industrial processes saw emissions drop, the public sector saw emissions rise from 9.6m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e) to 10.2 MtCO2e.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Signs of Shia courage: Despite the latest wave of suicide attacks in Iraq, millions of Shia Muslim pilgrims continue to flock to the shrine of Imam Hussein. (Sayed Mahdi Al-Modaressi - 05 February 2010, New Statesman)

Just looking at the crowds leaves you breathless. What adds to the peculiarity of the phenomenon is that, as the security conditions get worse, even more people are motivated, it seems, to challenge the terrorist threats and march in defiance to Karbala.

When, days before Arba'een, a female suicide bomber blew herself up after inviting pilgrims to eat in her tent in Alexandria, 45 kilometres south of Baghdad, the crowds turned out in even greater numbers. They chanted in unison:

If they sever our legs and hands,
We shall crawl to the Holy Lands.

And it is not just peasants who take part in this multimillion-man march. There are doctors, engineers, teachers, academics, as well as wealthy entrepreneurs and leading politicians, all of whom participate in what is today one of the biggest annual mass demonstrations in the world. They journey from all over the globe -- Iran, India, Pakistan, Britain, Canada, the United States.

This year, the total number of pilgrims visiting Karbala for Arba'een is officially estimated to have reached ten million. Some say that as security improves in Iraq the figure may one day top 20 million.

Seeing the crowds and joining the procession of pilgrims, I was reminded of the questions that my Australian friend had asked himself when he witnessed the Arba'een procession of 2003: "Who is Hussein? And how does he continue to inspire so many people, over 13 centuries after his martyrdom?"

For Shias, Hussein is the ultimate moral exemplar: a man who refused to bow in the face of tyranny and despotism. Shias see his martyrdom as the greatest victory of good over evil, right over wrong, truth over falsehood. In the words of the Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal: "Imam Hussein uprooted despotism for ever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation . . . Hussein weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth."

But why would all these people walk for hundreds of miles to remember a painful event that took place over 13 centuries ago? Visitors to the shrine of Hussein and his brother Abbas in Karbala are not driven by emotion alone. They cry because they make a conscious decision to be reminded of the atrocious nature of the loss and, in doing so, they reaffirm their pledge to everything that is virtuous and holy.

The first thing that pilgrims do on facing his shrine is recite the Ziyara, a sacred text addressing Hussein with due respect for his status, position and lineage. In it, the Shia imams who followed him after the massacre in Karbala instruct their followers to begin the address by calling Hussein the "inheritor" and "heir" of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

There is something profound in making this proclamation. It shows that Hussein's message of truth and freedom is viewed as an inseparable extension of that list of divinely appointed prophets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


President Obama betrays his community-organizer roots (Michael Gerson, February 5, 2010, Washington Post)

Alkinskyism is the war on rootedness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Success of the left in Europe, the right in US (Edward Glaeser, February 5, 2010, Boston Globe)

AFTER SPENDING a week in India, I was surprised to return to the news that true blue Massachusetts had acquired its first Republican senator since Edward Brooke. I should have been less shocked. It was a mistake to think that President Obama’s sweeping victory was a sign that America had moved significantly to the left. America remains remarkably conservative by world standards, and Senator Scott Brown is just the latest manifestation of that fact.

There are underlying factors that explain the differences between the United States and Europe. Five years ago, my colleague Alberto Alesina and I wrote a book, “Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference,’’ which tried to understand why the United States devotes far less on social services and redistribution than nations in Western Europe. These differences can’t be explained by economic forces. Before taxes, incomes in the United States are more unequal and more volatile, which would seem to call for more, not less, redistribution. Some argue that America has less redistribution because disadvantaged Americans find it easier to climb out of poverty, but poor Americans are actually less likely than poor Europeans to move up the income ladder.

We concluded that the redistribution gap between the United States and Europe could best be explained by America’s greater ethnic heterogeneity and more conservative political institutions.

That our poorest and blackest (or nearly so) state, Mississippi, has a GDP per capita higher than many European nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Scientists, you are fallible. Get off the pedestal and join the common herd: Climatologists above all need to rediscover the virtue of self-criticism - or others will continue to question their evidence (Simon Jenkins, 2/04/10, guardian.co.uk)

So scientists are human after all. They are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even journalists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity, especially when a cheque or a plane ticket is on offer. As for self-criticism, that is for you, not me.

I am just ready to believe that the antics of the climate change scientists, revealed in this week's Guardian and elsewhere, have no impact on the facts of global warming. But then I must rely on those same scientists to say so. The Yamal-12 larches may be dodgy, the hockey stick limp and the Amazon stats subject to re-evaluation. The date of 2035 for a Himalayan apocalypse may have been a misprint for 2350 and 40,000 comments didn't spot it. But so what, they all say? The world is coming to an end because we are scientists and, like Nostradamus, we know.

What any layman must find alarming is the paranoia and exclusivity of the climate change community.

What do Piltdown Men, Haekel's Embryos, Peppered Moths and Hobbits matter to the faithful?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


The Quiet Energy Revolution: How ironic that during the ‘drill, baby, drill’ demonstrations as gasoline prices spiked in 2007 and 2008, a silent revolution with natural gas was already underway that will make those concerns largely irrelevant. (Max Schulz, February 4, 2010)

The first profound shift was made possible by a little-noticed technological breakthrough in the last three years that has changed the way we extract natural gas. Engineers now make use of two important innovations. One is horizontal, or directional, drilling, which permits wells to move laterally beneath the surface instead of going straight down. This technology minimizes the number of holes that have to be drilled, leaving a smaller surface footprint and accessing a larger area. The other technology is hydraulic fracturing, used to extract gas trapped in porous shale rock. In this process, also known as fracking, water and chemicals are pumped at tremendous pressure into shale rock formations to push gas into pockets for easier recovery.

By marrying and perfecting the two processes into a technology called horizontal fracking, engineering has virtually created, from nothing, new natural gas resources, previously regarded as inaccessibly locked in useless shale deposits. Suddenly, the mammoth shale formations in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, North Dakota, and elsewhere have the potential to produce abundant amounts of gas for decades to come.

How significant are these developments? Exxon Mobil announced in December that it will pay $41 billion—that’s right, billion—to acquire XTO Energy and its expertise at extracting unconventional natural gas resources. The French energy company Total SA, meanwhile, is paying $2.2 billion to acquire a 25 percent stake in Chesapeake Energy’s Barnett Shale operations in Texas.

Human ingenuity has turned theoretical gas reserves—too costly ever to be exploited—into practical resources. And just in time. Less than a decade ago, experts were noting that conventional natural gas production had begun to plateau, despite annual increases in the number of wells drilled. The National Petroleum Council warned in 2003 that “North America is moving to a period in its history in which it will no longer be self-reliant in meeting its growing natural gas needs.” In the spring of 2004, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that, driven by these looming shortages, wellhead natural gas prices might top $6 per thousand cubic feet by summer, roughly double 2002 prices; and indeed, until the recession brought down demand, natural gas did sell in the $5–$9 per thousand cubic feet range.

Horizontal fracking has helped eliminate many of those grave worries. As Pulitzer-prize winning author and energy analyst Daniel Yergin and his colleague Robert Ineson wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, production in the lower 48 states “surged an astonishing 15 percent from the beginning of 2007 to mid-2008.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as production ramps up in the nation’s shale formations, such as in Marcellus, Bakken, and Haynesville. What was once a shortage has given way to a glut, or, as Yergin and Ineson put it, a “shale gale.”

Proven reserves of natural gas in the United States have been revised upward by 50 percent in the last decade, and those numbers are sure to climb higher as more shale gas is discovered. Perhaps not surprisingly, other nations are sending geologists to the United States to study techniques for extracting gas from unconventional sources. China, India, and Australia all have enormous shale fields. In the coming decades, the shale gale won’t be just an American phenomenon; it will blow all over the globe.

A technological advance created the first shift, driven by free markets not by government edict.

The actual irony that Mr. Schulz is looking for is that, because of Republicans, the profits from this period of artificially high oil prices have gone to rotten regimes and speculators rather than to the US Treasury.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Cost Cutting Boosts Profits: After a Long Decline, Revenue for S&P 500 Companies Is Climbing Again (PAUL VIGNA And JOHN SHIPMAN, 2/05/10, WSJ)

Perhaps most heartening about the quarter's results is that sales are on track to break a string of four consecutive double-digit-percentage declines. Still, the projected increase is well below the average 3.95% gain since 1994, according to S&P.

Despite modest sales growth, corporations have managed to craft their profit growth mainly through massive cost cutting. For the beat to continue, companies will need to drive the top line, and that looks to be a key challenge for an economy where demand is depressed, with at least 10% of the work force unemployed and another large swath underemployed.

"Until nonfinancials [corporations] see sustained sales growth, they will not be hiring, and that is the whole ballgame," said Howard Silverblatt, S&P's senior index analyst.

For 2009, S&P 500 members should see sales down about $1.1 trillion, or 13% from the prior year. For the fourth quarter, sales are expected to total about $2.05 trillion, which gets the group back to the level of the first quarter of 2006. In other words, the intense recession has set sales of the nation's 500-largest companies back nearly four years.

The S&P 500 companies are just breaking a string of nine-straight quarters of profit declines. Many are going to be reluctant to eat into that newfound earnings growth by ramping up the work force, given that compensation is one of the largest costs for any company. Automated Data Processing Inc. said it is hiring new sales staff, even though it expects that to be a drag on earnings for at least a year.

Cisco Systems Inc. came out with the boldest outlook this earnings season, pegging sales growth around 25% and announcing it will hire 2,000 to 3,000 new people to help it handle its growing business. Not many companies have outlined such a bullish near-term view.

Unfortunately, more companies, including Verizon Communications Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Diebold Inc., continue to pare workers. And Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. this week froze employee salaries world-wide for 2010.

And we all know what we need to do to boost demand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Washington Forgets Best Case for Immigration Reform (Richard Herman, 12/31/09, ImmigrationProfBlog)

Economic policy has never driven immigration debates ---- that must change.

In the new book, Immigrant, Inc. ---- Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Are Driving the New Economy
(and how they will save the American worker) (John Wiley, November, 2009), which I co-wrote with Robert L. Smith, we document how immigrants have created millions of jobs for Americans and now represent the most powerful job-creating force today.

Consider the following:

* Immigrants are almost twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business.

* Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to file for a U.S. patent.

* Immigrants constitute the majority of Ph.D. candidates in many science and engineering programs at U.S. universities

* Immigrants founded more than half of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, and twenty-five percent nationwide.

* Many brilliant immigrants are turned away from this country because of an immigration system that does not value their skills.

To succeed in a knowledge-based economy, America needs an advanced-degreed, entrepreneurial, and globally-connected population. Today's immigrants bring these skills to the table --- with aces. Their world-class talents translate into the creation of new industries and generations of new jobs for Americans.

Immigration reform would also inject billions of dollars into the economy.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that $66 billion in new revenue over 10 years would have been generated if supporters of the 2006 immigration reform bill had succeeded in legalizing most undocumented immigrants.

Jobs and fiscal responsibility ----- this should be the message ----- not earned amnesty and candlelight vigils.

It's no coincidence that the economy--especially the housing market--slowed when the GOP blocked W's plan to add 1-200 million new Americans.

February 4, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Productivity rises more than expected (Washington Times, 2/04/10)

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity rose by a seasonally adjusted 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter, above analysts' expectations of a 6 percent rise.

The increase follows two quarters of sharply rising productivity. Overall, productivity has risen 5.1 percent in the past four quarters, the most since the 12 months ending with the first quarter of 2002.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Poll: Early Kirk lead (Politico, 2/04/10)

Kirk leads Giannoulias by six points, 46 percent to 40 percent, in Rasmussen's first poll of the race since Tuesday's Senate primary elections. Ten percent said they were undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


How the Democrats Could Lose the Senate ( Jay Newton-Small, Feb. 04, 2010, Time)

Even if they can win all of these contests, Republicans would still need to find two more seats in order to gain back the majority. But, if the election ends up of becoming a real wave year - as the last two cycles have been for Democrats - it's possible to imagine even the bluest states flipping. Look no further than the upset in Massachusetts last month for evidence of why senators from even the most progressive states, such as New York, California, Wisconsin and Washington, are worried. "Republicans still need a few things to break our way but clearly there is a path forward that was previously unimaginable at the start of this election cycle," says Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. "There's still a long way to go until November so we're taking nothing for granted but particularly after our victory in Massachusetts, there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm which is putting more states in play and helping with fundraising across the board."

In California Senator Barbara Boxer is facing one of the toughest re-elections of her career. Polls show her comfortably leading her likely opponent, self-funding millionaire Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. But Boxer's negatives are ten points higher than they were during her last campaign — a troubling sign that Dems are watching closely.

In New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, a former congresswoman from upstate New York who was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's seat, is facing a potential primary challenge from former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford. But she'll really be in trouble if former New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican, decides to run: two hypothetical match ups last month showed Pataki beating Gillibrand by as much as 14 percentage points.

Republicans have yet to find strong challengers for Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold though they still have plenty of time. "Clearly, the environment for Democrats continues to deteriorate, which might make recruiting in these states easier," Duffy says. And they'd only need to win two of these four seats in order to get to 10.

...and replaced the liberal Jacob Javits with Al D'Amato in NY.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Israel warns Syria it would lose future war (AP, 2/04/10)

Israel is warning Syria not to attack the Jewish state and says the Syrian president’s regime would collapse in case of a future conflict.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s made the warning at a lecture at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


India unprepared and unwilling to defend democracy (Bharat Verma, February 04, 2010, Rediff)

Islamabad aims to create a caliphate with the help of the Islamic regimes running from Central Asia to West Asia and Southeast Asia. India stands in the way. Beijing desires to unravel India into multiple parts based on the pre-British model as it cannot digest the challenge to its supremacy offered in Asia by a liberal union of multi-religious and multi-ethnic States.

The simple truth is that Indian democratic values contradict and thereby pose a threat to the authoritarian philosophy of both, the Communists in Beijing, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Islamabad. Similarly, many regimes in Islamic West Asia feel uncomfortable with India's ability to generate unprecedented soft power. Regression to medieval times helps keep these autocratic regimes in the saddle.

The all-pervading Indian soft power, therefore, poses a serious challenge. Hence, Pakistan is supported by the petro-dollars dished out on a Wahabbi checkbook to neutralise the threat posed by liberal India.

It is obvious that if the Indian model wins, autocratic regimes like China and Pakistan lose.

Primarily, there have been no terrorist attacks on India after Mumbai [ Images ] 26/11 on two counts. First, the raging civil war within has kept Pakistan preoccupied. Second, the intervention of the American forces has forced diversion of the Pakistan army and its non-State actors's resources away from India. The stated exit of the Western forces beginning July 2010 from the Af-Pak region will render India extremely vulnerable.

The truth is that American forces in many ways are fighting India's war too. However, New Delhi's expectation that they will continue to fight such a war without India chipping is being naive.

While China and Pakistan have joined hands against India and bide their time for the American forces to leave, New Delhi has appealed to Washington not to exit from Afghanistan, but is unprepared and unwilling to assist. The Catch-22 is that neither the West led by America can win without Indian help nor can India prevail without a concrete alliance with the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Shi'ite, devout, American (Rachel Zoll ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sayyid Haider Bahar al-Uloom paces before his students seated in two neat rows - men in one, women in the other. They meet each week in a small but growing office in an old storefront downtown, its shelves lined with Arabic texts on Islamic jurisprudence.

Tonight's lesson is on justice, but Sayyid Bahar al-Uloom's lecture ranges wide of Muslim teaching. He cites the Federalist Papers, slavery in U.S. history and spirituality in "The Audacity of Hope." A 37-year-old Iraqi Shi'ite, he consumes books on American culture and religion, analyzing the works of celebrity pastors Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and others to learn their appeal.

"We should not fear introducing people to other ideas," said Sayyid Bahar al-Uloom, whose title sayyid is for those who trace their lineage to the Prophet Muhammad.

On this night in Michigan, he ends his lecture with the same message he brings to Shi'ite groups across the country: Your ideals, rooted in Islam, are not alien here.

"We call them Islamic values, but they are universal values," he says in near accentless English. "If it's a principle or act that would help all Americans, all I need to do is speak it in a language that is universal." [...]

But the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror strikes, the war in Iraq and other world events have prompted some significant changes in the U.S. Shi'ite community in recent years. Shi'ite clerics and activists are pushing community members beyond the protective walls they built, encouraging them to fully embrace their American citizenship.

At the forefront of the effort is the nonprofit that Sayyid Bahar al-Uloom helps represent. Called I.M.A.M., the nonprofit tells Shi'ites that they can vote, participate in the 2010 U.S. census and hold public office without abandoning their faith.

"In the United States, the law here is not against Islam," said Sheik Mohammed el-Ali al-Halabi, a Syrian who came to the United States a decade ago, sitting in his bare-bones office at I.M.A.M. "I can be a good Muslim and a good American."

Half a world away from Dearborn lies the inspiration for this drive, an unexpected source for dramatic change: an elderly holy man who rarely leaves his home in the old quarter of the Iraqi holy city of Najaf and who probably will never visit the United States.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani isn't widely known in the United States outside public-policy circles, but he should be. He is one of the most revered thinkers in global Shi'ism, a moderate in outlook and a powerful force in Iraq. His behind-the-scenes interventions were key to guiding the country's fledgling democracy.

The grand ayatollah and his advisers lead lives dedicated to religious tradition, but they are also pioneers in using the Web to reach the globally dispersed faithful. They teach that good Muslims must be active citizens of whatever country they call home.

As Shi'ites emigrate around the world, the grand ayatollah sends along his representatives to guide them on how to remain devout in a foreign culture.

I.M.A.M., or the Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya, is the liaison office in the United States for Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani.

The organization's lecturers and scholars crisscross the country to support fledgling Shi'ite institutions. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani is far from the only marja, or top-level religious authority, with American followers, but he is one of the most prominent. Through the Dearborn office, he is helping shape American Shi'ism.

"It's kind of a status symbol that you are recognized and trusted by the office of the ayatollah," said Liyakat Takim, author of "Shi'ism in America" and professor at McMaster University in Canada. "It builds your credibility."

There's buzz among the foreign policy crowd these days about an Arab-Sunni alliance with the West against the Shi-ites/Iran. All they have wrong is the nature of Shi'ism of and of what Iran will be like after the regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


HOLMES: When China rules the world? Sorry, not likely (Kim R. Holmes, 2/04/10, Washington Times)

China's economy is as large as it is because it has well over a billion people, not because it has unlocked any great secret to economic prosperity. Its economy remains largely closed, as indicated in its abysmal ranking of 140 out of 179 countries graded on this year's Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom. Its undervalued currency, state-controlled export policies and closed domestic economy are wholly out of step with what truly makes a global economic leader - namely, economic liberalization.

Nor should we fear China's ownership of U.S. debt. As my colleague, Derek Scissors, explains, there is little danger that China will be able to control America's economy. Official Chinese holdings of Treasuries amount to less than 7 percent of U.S. Treasury debt. That's a lot of money, unfortunately, but it's hardly enough to exercise control.

Not only that, China's ownership of our debt is actually a sign of dependence on us, rather than the other way around. The Chinese have no choice but to buy U.S. bonds, because ours is the only market sound enough and big enough to park their excess funds. Since China's currency is tightly controlled, they can't spend those dollars on their own economy. They invest even more in the U.S. economy, thus funneling billions of dollars we spend on Chinese goods right back to us.

If anything, China's investment in U.S. bonds reflects domestic weakness. If Beijing's economy were freer, the Chinese could invest in their own economy instead. But they know this is bad idea under current conditions. China's authoritarianism is like a yoke around its own neck. It both fosters investment in the U.S. economy and blocks domestic reforms that would enable China to compete in an open economic sys

February 3, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Patient ‘locked in’ by brain injury answers question using thoughts alone (Mark Henderson, 2/03/10, Times of London)

A man who was presumed to be in a vegetative state for five years has answered questions using his thoughts alone in a ground-breaking experiment that promises to allow some patients who are “locked in” by brain injuries to communicate.

The 29-year-old Belgian was able to reply to simple “yes”/”no” questions such as “Is your father’s name Alexander?” by changing his brain activity. Scientists then read his answers by studying functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Herzliya Diary: Fayyad appeals for peace, and so does Barak, who warns Israel could become an ‘apartheid state’ (Judith Miller, Feb 1, 2010, The Tablet)

Ignoring threats and condemnations by his rivals in Hamas for his decision to appear here in the packed auditorium, Fayyad called upon Israel to stop expanding settlements on the land of the future Palestinian state.

His message was not particularly new. Nor was that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who also appeared to restate Israel’s official position. But both men made gestures that went beyond what the stalled peace process would seem to allow. Fayyad did that simply by showing up on Tuesday night, rather than canceling, as he has done before. And Barak delivered a shot across the bow of his fractious coalition government by warning that unless progress on the peace front occurred now, Israel would either become a “bi-national” or an “apartheid state” headed inexorably into global isolation.

A few participants gasped to hear the defense minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government use the language of Israel’s most virulent critics. Apartheid state? One of the panels here at Herzliya had described the effort to paint Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank as analogous to South African apartheid as part of a “soft war” against the Jewish state.

One veteran European diplomat called the dueling appearances by Barak and Fayyad at the highly charged conference a “mood-changing moment.” “Both sides were signaling what they really wanted to do,” the diplomat said. Now they just have to figure out how to do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Monaco to Mongolia: population density and prosperity: The next big population bogeyman could well be 'overcrowding'. Should we worry? (Vincenzina Santoro, 3 February 2010, MercatorNet)

This begs the question: Which is the most densely populated country on earth? It happens to be Monaco – that wonderful principality bordering France on the Mediterranean. Monaco is by far the most densely populated country, with a population of only 32,140 but a population density of 41,971 per square mile. Singapore is the distant second, followed by Malta.

What is life like in Monaco? Certainly not what the population doomsayers would predict. The tiny country has one of the highest standards of living, quality of life and personal wealth anywhere on earth. Per capita income is the 20th highest in the world, according to the World Bank. Monaco’s population density is 2.5 times that of next ranking Singapore, which is also among the most prosperous countries, and life in Malta is equally pleasant. [...]

At a conference in New York on January 22nd, a highly acclaimed demographer who formerly headed the Population Division at the United Nations asked the hypothetical question: What would happen if all the 6.8 billion people currently on earth were to move to the United States? His answer was that the U.S. population density would become the same as that of the Netherlands!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Obama denounces tactic he used as senator (Stephen Dinan and Kara Rowland, 2/03/10, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Mr. Obama made use of that power when he was in the Senate. He was one of several senators in 2007 to put a hold on Hans A. von Spakovsky, whom Mr. Bush nominated to serve on the Federal Election Commission.

And, according to news reports, Mr. Obama in late 2005 also put a hold on all Environmental Protection Agency nominees. Mr. Obama said he was trying to force the EPA to move more quickly to issue rules on lead-paint exposure. [...]

As for the 2007 hold on the FEC nominee, Mr. Obama disagreed with Mr. von Spakovsky's support for allowing states to impose voter-identification requirements at the polls.

Mr. von Spakovsky, who is now senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the standoff was funny because federal courts had upheld voter-identification laws in both Georgia and Indiana.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


...that nominates the fatally flawed candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Unlikely Revolutionaries
: How a former Iranian official and a U.S. foreign-policy guru are shifting Washington’s stance toward regime change in Tehran (Lee Smith, Feb 2, 2010, The Tablet)

[T]he realists in Washington are led by Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations—who opposed the Bush administration’s Iran policy as too aggressive and famously argued that the US had no interest in throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

While neither man is a household name, the fact is that the policymaking process in Washington can be as inscrutable to outsiders as the inner workings of Iran’s famously opaque clerical regime. Public figures like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or James Jones, the national security adviser, are simply the most visible members of a broad circle of policymakers who cross the aisle just as frequently as they stick to partisan prejudices, and who speak to each other through private channels, thinktanks, and the media.

Haass’ influence on the tone of foreign policy discourse in Obama’s 2008 campaign and on the staffing of the State Department and White House makes him perhaps the most influential foreign policy expert in Washington who is not a member of the Obama administration. The fact that the tone-setter of much of Obama’s public discourse about foreign policy has now become a proponent of “regime change”—the phrase associated with George W. Bush’s brazen invasion of Iraq—is enough to make any observer do a double take. During the reign of the neoconservatives in Washington, Haass and the realists delighted in savaging the Bush administration’s miscues and recommended a return to a more pragmatic foreign policy. Haass even invited Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the Council in a controversial 2006 session, paving the way for candidate Barack Obama’s campaign promise that he would talk to anyone, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran.

However, now more than a year into Obama’s term, the engagement with Tehran that Haass and the realists wanted has led nowhere. Moreover, the anti-government demonstrations taking place throughout Iran have not abated, as some had prophesied in June.

With more protests expected for the 30th anniversary of the revolution on February 11, it seems the realists are now jumping off the “engagement with Iran” bandwagon. “The nuclear talks are going nowhere,” Haass wrote in a January issue of Newsweek. Instead, he argued:

we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago…. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

If some in the realist camp, like Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, were appalled by Haass’ conversion, the neoconservatives welcomed it. “I hope his many minions will follow his lead,” says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who worked in the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration. “And that the disruptions they’ve caused in preventing us from creating an effective Iran policy will end as will their fantasy that Iran is a regime like any other.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


Top 10 apologies Obama should make to the world (Nile Gardner, 04 Feb 2010, The Daily Telegraph)

Apology to the British people: Obama’s treatment of US’ closest ally has been little short of appalling. It started off badly when he threw a bust of Churchill out of the Oval Office. He humiliated the British PM during his visit to Washington last March, treating him like the leader of a Third World country, and sent him packing with a gift of 25 DVDs. A senior state department official put it — “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

Apology to allies in Eastern and Central Europe: The Obama administration’s decision to appease Moscow by pulling out of an agreement to install missile interceptors and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic was an appalling betrayal of allies who had faced up to intimidation from Russia.

Apology to Iranian dissidents: Barack Obama’s appeasement of the brutal Iranian regime in the name of ‘engagement’ has not only emboldened Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, but has also undercut the Iranians who have bravely protested against the theocracy. Obama’s refusal to take a strong stand is a disgrace, and a damning indictment of his world leadership.

Apology to the victims of communism...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM

MORE LIKE US (via Lou Gots):

New groups mobilize as Indians embrace the right to bear arms (Rama Lakshmi, 2/03/10, Washington Post)

In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian gun owners are coming out of the shadows for the first time to mobilize, U.S.-style, against proposed new curbs on bearing arms.

When gunmen attacked 10 sites in Mumbai in November 2008, including two five-star hotels and a train station, Mumbai resident Kumar Verma sat at home glued to the television, feeling outraged and unsafe.

Before the end of December, Verma and his friends had applied for gun licenses. He read up on India's gun laws and joined the Web forum Indians for Guns. When he got his license seven months later, he bought a black, secondhand, snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver with a walnut grip.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Making Djou The Next Scott Brown (Reid Wilson, 2/03/10, Hotline)

GOPers are now actively touting Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) as the next Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-MA), and the party sees him as a strong contender to take over for resigning Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D). And the comparisons, Djou said, help his case.

"Scott Brown's win put a lot of wind in the sails of my campaign. It clearly shows that the American people are in the mood for a change of direction in Congress," Djou said in an interview. "His focus on fiscal responsibility but also his more moderate views on social issues, coupled with his focus on the average family, that is my campaign."

Meanwhile, one of Djou's consultants is actively encouraging the comparisons. In a memo released this week, web strategist Patrick Ruffini touted Djou's potential as the candidate next able to take down a Dem-held seat.

"As in Massachusetts, Charles Djou is strongly positioned to benefit from 'perfect storm' conditions that include a great candidate, message, and organization, the district's recent history of Republican voting, and Hawaii's unique special election rules," Ruffini wrote. Djou's win, Ruffini wrote, would "once again shock the political world."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


Democrats and journalists ‘bored’ by Obama question-and-answer session (Jon Ward, 2/03/10, The Daily Caller)

“This Q&A was a lot more boring than the last Q&A,” wrote Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein.

The fact that five of the six Democrats who asked questions are up for reelection in November did not go unnoticed either.

“Takeaway from obama sen dems meeting: new transparency. It’s transparent that this was forum for vulnerable dems 2 campaign,” wrote CNN’s Dana Bash.

And liberal bloggers were irritated by what they saw as lots of talk but no action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Dan Coats to challenge Sen. Evan Bayh (JOSH KRAUSHAAR | 2/2/10, Politico)

Coats held the seat Bayh currently occupies for 10 years before retiring in 1998. Since leaving Congress, he has worked as a lobbyist and served as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration.

"Coats deciding to run is a product of the environment we're in right now," the GOP official said. "This is a great opportunity for us. We have a real player on the field that they weren't expecting us to have."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


So Much for Openness (Ruth Conniff, February 2, 2010, The Progressive)

This "earmark" idea, though it might have some traction with Ross Perot independents, is a pretty pitiful stab at transparency from an Administration that has taken to making many of the biggest and most expensive governing decisions behind closed doors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


The Galbraith Revival: The aristocratic economist’s big-government ideas are back in vogue. (Theodore Dalrymple, Winter 2010, City Journal)

There remains, however, an astonishingly gaping absence in Galbraith’s worldview. While he is perfectly able to see the defects of businessmen—their inclination to megalomania, greed, hypocrisy, and special pleading—he is quite unable to see the same traits in government bureaucrats. It is as if he has read, and taken to heart, the work of Sinclair Lewis, but never even skimmed the work of Kafka.

For example, the chapter entitled “The Bureaucratic Syndrome” in his book The Culture of Contentment refers only to bureaucracy in corporations (and in the one government department he despises, the military). Galbraith appears to believe in the absurd idea that bureaucrats administer tax revenues to produce socially desirable ends without friction, waste, or mistake. It is clearly beyond the range of his thought that government action can, even with the best intentions, produce harmful effects. For Galbraith, a dollar spent on, say, public education results in a dollar’s worth of educated person, virtually without deduction. Troubling evidence to the contrary—for example, the fact that Britain spends nearly $100,000 per child on public education, and yet a fifth of the population is unable to read with facility or do simple arithmetic—does not figure in his work; he always writes as if all would be well if only $200,000 were spent.

He should have known better. In his 1981 autobiography, A Life in Our Times, he recalls the way academics flocked to Washington at the beginning of the New Deal. “Word had . . . reached the university that a nearly unlimited number of jobs were open for economists at unbelievably high pay in the federal government,” he writes. “All the new agencies needed this talent. Students who had been resisting for years the completion of theses and the resulting unemployment now finished them up in weeks. Some did not even stop to do that. So a new gold rush began.” One might think that this would have opened his eyes to the vested interests of bureaucracy—to the possibility that large government programs might operate more for the interest of the apparatchiks than for that of the alleged beneficiaries. But it never did.

Nor did it change his ideas about the politics of taxation. Over and again in his work, Galbraith alludes with disdain to the resistance that the affluent mount to tax increases, insisting that they do so only out of self-interest and indifference to the fate of the poor. In The Good Society, for example, he writes that “the comfortably affluent resist public action for the poor because of the threat of increased taxes.” It is true, of course, that the well-to-do resist tax increases in large part because they do not want to give up what they have; practically no one likes to be deprived of what he has. But in light of the “gold rush” described above by Galbraith, is it not at least equally likely that those who propose tax increases do so in order to increase their own power and emoluments?

Galbraith’s epistemology is, in fact, neo-Marxian. Just as Marx famously wrote that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness,” Galbraith explains resistance to higher taxation thus: “It is the nature of privileged position that it develops its own political justification and often the economic and social doctrine that serves it best.” In other words, men—except for Marx and Galbraith—believe what it is in their interest to believe. It is hardly surprising that Galbraith always writes as if what he says is revealed truth and counterarguments are the desperate, last-ditch efforts of the self-interested and corrupt.

Galbraith never solved, or even appeared to notice, the mystery of how he himself could see through self-interest and arrive at disinterested truth. In general, his self-knowledge was severely limited. In the introduction to Journey to Poland and Yugoslavia (1958), he writes that “the publishing industry is sustained by authors who are busily plagiarizing themselves.” Yet few authors of nonfiction are more repetitive than Galbraith, down to the very locutions he uses and the anecdotes he tells. To have read three books by Galbraith is to have read ten times as many. He is like the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, using repetition as independent confirmation of the truth of what he says.

There is, of course, a deep psychological tension in Galbraith. He always talks about the rich as though he were not one of them; but the impoverished rarely spend their winters at Gstaad, Switzerland, as he did. He accepts that enrichment can be licit, no doubt thinking primarily of his own; but his enrichment came about by advocating in best-selling books the governmental expropriation of the riches of others. This enabled him to maintain his image of himself as one of the moral elect, one of those generous souls among the rich whom he describes in The Good Society, patrons of the poor—who themselves “are largely without political voice except as they are supported and represented by the considerable number in the more fortunate brackets who feel and express concern.”

Here we reach the heart of the matter. Galbraith’s thinking about social and economic matters was always de haut en bas; his solutions emerged from the Olympian heights of his own ratiocination, to be applied to the clueless multitudes below. (No doubt his own great height, over 6 foot 8, accustomed him to looking down on people.) His literary style is symptomatic of his attitude, a true case of the style being the man himself. Hundreds of times, he uses question-begging locutions that intimidate with their orotund grandeur. I open a book of his at random and find the following: “The controlling fact is”; “This trade-off is present in all accepted thought”; “Nor should one wish otherwise”; “It has now been adequately urged”; “This is not a matter of choice; it is the modern imperative”; “It would, of course, be a serious error”; “This has long been recognized”; “All of this is to be welcomed”; “The lesson is clear”; “The solution is not difficult; it has the advantage of inevitability.”

The cumulative effect is to intimidate those who believe themselves not well enough informed to contradict so high an authority. We are far from the realm of Jane Austen’s light and ironic “It is a truth universally acknowledged.” When J. K. Galbraith enunciates a truth universally acknowledged, he does not want us to smile inwardly; he wants us to fear not being included in le tout Paris of correct, generous, and humane thought.

Ironically, the Randian Right has the opposite blind spot, seeing only the problem with government power, not corporate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Despite his roots, Obama struggles to show he's connected to middle class (Eli Saslow, Washington Post)

During his recent tour of blue-collar towns, factories and burger joints, Obama has tried to reconcile two pieces of his reputation. He turned down high-paying jobs after graduating from Harvard Law School and became a community organizer, compelled by the experience of growing up with a single mother who sometimes lived on food stamps. He married a woman from a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago, and they rented a walk-up condominium in Hyde Park.

But during his campaign for the presidency, Obama bungled some of his early attempts to connect with blue-collar workers, complaining about the price of arugula at Whole Foods and visiting a bowling alley only to roll an embarrassing score of 37. Some political rivals continue to disparage him as an elitist. Even his aides have sometimes worried that his intellect can be mistaken for condescension and that his composure can seem like detachment.

Those shortcomings were evident last month when Obama invited the previous two presidents to join him at the White House for a news conference about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. George W. Bush was simple and frank: "Just send us your cash," he said. Bill Clinton spoke without notes and verged on tears as he recalled his personal connection to the devastated country: "I have no words to say what I feel," he said. "I had meals with people who are dead." Obama, meanwhile, spoke from prepared notes, looking all business, glancing to his left and to his right to establish eye contact while standing with perfect posture behind the lectern.

It isn't possible to speak of the idea that the Ur has roots without laughing. He is defined by the lack of said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Obama Retreats From Goal of Cap-Trade Bill (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, 2/03/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama said for the first time Tuesday that legislation that would require industries to pay for emissions of greenhouse gases may need to be separated from a more popular "green jobs" bill in the Senate, a maneuver that could kill what once had been one of the administration's top policy priorities. [...]

Isolating the cap-and-trade proposal would make it easier for Democrats who oppose putting a price on greenhouse-gas emissions to set that part of the climate bill aside, and vote for the more popular jobs incentives now contained in the wide-ranging measure.

...is like being a drummer for Spinal Tap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Kirk Wins Primary for Illinois (DOUGLAS BELKIN, 2/03/10, WSJ)

In the first midterm election of the year, with the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama up for grabs, voters sent a moderate five-term congressman from a wealthy suburb to face off against a 33-year-old state Treasurer who used to play basketball with the president.

Marl Kirk, the Republican congressman, won his primary by nearly 40 percentage points, according to the Associated Press. His Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, beat former Chicago Inspector David Hoffman – a relative unknown – by five percentage points.

The election comes less than a month after Republican Scott Brown tapped into an anti-establishment mood among voters and shocked Democrats by winning a special election to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. At his victory speech, Mr. Kirk wasted no time in evoking that victory and challenging the Democrats stronghold in Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Europe Feels Snubbed by Obama (STEVEN ERLANGER, 2/03/10, NY Times)

President Obama’s decision to skip a United States-European Union summit meeting scheduled for Madrid in May has predictably upset European officials, who suggested Tuesday that the summit meeting itself would now be postponed, possibly to the autumn. [...]

European Union officials found out about the decision through the news media late on Monday, senior European officials said Tuesday morning. The decision was first reported on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal.

Now that he's folded to Israel and is even taking some steps against China and Iran the UR has accomplished the seemingly impossible, alienating all our allies even as he fosters tension with our enemies. Is there any country witrh which we have better relations than we did in 2008?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Largest-ever federal payroll to hit 2.15 million (Stephen Dinan, 2/02/10, Washington Times)

The Obama administration says the government will grow to 2.15 million employees this year, topping 2 million for the first time since President Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over" and joined forces with a Republican-led Congress in the 1990s to pare back the federal work force.

February 2, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Sen. Kerry backs changing Constitution to deal with Supreme Court decision (Susan Crabtree, 02/02/10, The Hill)

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday said he’d support the uphill battle to amend the Constitution to gut the impact of a Supreme Court decision lifting restrictions on corporate campaign spending.

“I think we need a constitutional amendment to make it clear, once and for all, that corporations do not have the same free-speech rights as individuals,” Kerry said during a Senate Rules Committee hearing.

Just use the congressional power that's at your disposal to make corporations law clear on the point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Obama to meet Dalai Lama: White House (PTI, 3 February 2010)

"The President told China's leaders during his trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so. The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the President will meet him in that capacity," Bill Burton, the White House Deputy Press Secretary said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


No Surprise: Abstinence Works (Investor's Business Daily, 2/02/10)

[N]ow a study financed by the federal government and conducted by a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers, led by Dr. John Jemmott, has found that an abstinence-only approach can be superior to the kinds of sexual education programs that presume early sexual activity to be inevitable.

The study's findings, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, were based on an experiment involving 662 black grade-school students who were mostly 12 years old. They were divided into three groups, one of which took a program discouraging sexual activity, another that took one teaching safe sex, and a third longer-instruction program that used both approaches.

During the following two years, only 33% of those in the abstinence-only program had become sexually active. About 42% of those attending the mixed or "comprehensive" instruction became active. And most — 52% — of those who took the safe-sex-only course had engaged in sexual activity.

While Jemmott said that abstinence should be just one of "a variety of interventions" used against the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent teen pregnancy, the evidence has been mounting in favor of basing instruction on abstinence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Lancet retracts 'utterly false' MMR paper: After medical council ruling last week that MMR doctor Andrew Wakefield was dishonest, journal finally quashes paper (Sarah Boseley, 2/02/10, guardian.co.uk)

The Lancet today finally retracted the paper that sparked a crisis in MMR vaccination across the UK, following the General Medical Council's decision that its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, had been dishonest.

The medical journal's editor, Richard Horton, told the Guardian today that he realised as soon as he read the GMC findings that the paper, published in February 1998, had to be retracted. "It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false," he said. "I feel I was deceived."

There's a certain mindset that needs to find medical causes for social disorders, whether they're there or not. Genuine autism is a difficult enough disease for all concerned that pretending there's been a massive increase does all a disservice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Television Review | Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities (MIKE HALE, 2/02/10, NY Times)

Given that much of the show’s action revolves around brutal skirmishes among rival drug gangs, “The Underbelly” has been called Australia’s answer to “The Sopranos” (and has won the country’s major television awards for best drama). It’s not at all the same sort of show, though — it’s pulpier and more lurid, and its narrative meanders as it follows the wandering course of more or less actual events. It’s closer, in both form and quality, to a high-end cable docudrama that can afford reasonably good actors for the re-creations.

And that’s not a bad thing, especially when the place being documented is as entertaining as Australia in the late 1970s and early ’80s, which, on the evidence of “The Underbelly,” was the Wild West with big hair and white suits. Or maybe it was just Miami. DirecTV is showing the series’s second season, which depicts events that took place before those in Season 1; it opens in Australia in 1976 with the arrival of a small-time New Zealand dealer named Terry Clark (Matthew Newton), who will not only revolutionize the narcotics business and cut the heads off several of his friends and rivals but also have lots of acrobatic sex. (Season 1 will follow Season 2 on DirecTV; a third season is about to begin in Australia.)

“Australia was invaded twice in the 1970s,” says the narrator (Caroline Craig), the daughter of a fictional Melbourne policewoman. “First by heroin. Then by New Zealanders.” It’s a funny line, but it can be hard for the non-Australian to tell whether something is a joke or just a touch of realism, as when a frustrated crime boss snaps at his wife, “Put the ferret outside where he belongs, will you.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


‘Hakimullah’s likely successor also killed’ (PTI, 3 February 2010)

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud’s close aide Qari Hussain, the top trainer of suicide bombers and one of his potential successors, was killed in the same US drone attack that fatally injured him, sources said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Bipartisan Push Builds to Stop Terrorist Trials in Civilian Courts (Z. Byron Wolf, February 02, 2010, ABC News)

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. [...]

Lincoln was today joined by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, of Virginia, whose state includes the federal court where 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui was tried.

Webb said today that the US should not be the criminal court for the world and argued government plans to permanently incarcerate some GTMO detainees it does not feel comfortable trying would create legal issues in the civilian court system.

“Confuses place with process,” Webb said. “The Issue is not Guantanamo Bay.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


Barack Obama’s former mentor criticises ‘complacent Administration’ (Giles Whittell, 2/01/10, Times of London)

President Obama’s self-confidence borders on complacency. He is ill served by senior staff, especially his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. He does not appear to be learning on the job as he did when campaigning for the White House. His Administration is too deferential to Congress, too reliant on the President’s personal charm, and as a result is regarded by its enemies as weak and ineffectual.

As Mr Obama prepared to release his $3.8 trillion (£2.4 trillion) budget today, this assessment of his first year in office came not from one of his established critics on the Right, but from one of his most respected mentors — his former professor at Harvard Law School, Chris Edley.

“What I fear is that having made history, having won a Nobel prize, having been celebrated around the world, a measure of complacency may have set in,” Professor Edley told The Times.

After all, he accomplished everything his campaign was about on the day he was sworn in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Danny Williams going to U.S. for heart surgery (CBC, February 2, 2010)

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is set to undergo heart surgery this week in the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Scientists: Why Haiti Should Move Its Capital (TIM PADGETT, Feb. 01, 2010, TIME)

The image on Falk Amelung's laptop screen looks like 1960s psychedelia. But the interferogram, a composite radar snapshot of Haiti captured by Japanese satellite before and just after the Jan. 12 earthquake, is a trove of geological information. And much of it has surprised the University of Miami professor of geology and geophysics. "In theory, this should have been an earthquake of simple left-lateral movement along the fault line," says Amelung. Then he points to the kaleidoscopic color contours rippling from the quake's epicenter, west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which indicate vertical quake movement as well. "It's more than we would have thought to see in this region," he says. "We're puzzling over this."

As a result of that anomaly and others they've seen so far, Amelung and many of his colleagues are urging Haiti's government and international donors to consider relocating the capital, which was largely reduced to rubble by the quake. The most important infrastructure should be rebuilt at a site well away from a fault line that they believe will rupture again within the next generation or two but even closer to Port-au-Prince. "If this were a typical earthquake, the risk of future incidents would decline over the next few months," says Tim Dixon, also a geology and geophysics professor at Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "The stress would be relieved, and we could all go back to sleep for another 250 years," which is about how long ago Haiti's Enriquillo Fault last convulsed. "But that's not the case here — our findings suggest another shoe has to drop."

...that New Orleans be rebuilt exactly where it is?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


Another Cornhusker Kickback? (Jonathan Karl, 2/02/10, ABC News)

The timing doesn't look good. Four days after Sen. Ben Nelson voted in favor of the Senate health care reform bill, the Democratic National Committee cut a $459,000 check to the Nebraska Democratic Party, which was promptly used to tout Nelson’s "courageous" vote. Three days later, the DNC sent the Nebraska party another $20,000.

The transfer is noted in the last FEC filings and was first noticed by the left-leaning Americablog, which says the payment looks like a "payoff": “I'm sure a lot of Democratic candidates running in 2010 would appreciate that kind of spending on their behalf, too. Nelson, however, isn't up for reelection until 2012, so why get the money now, only four days after Nelson voted for the weakened health care bill?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Hong Kong 'referendum' sets China on edge: With five pieces of paper, democrats in Hong Kong have addressed a defiant challenge to China's one-party Communist leadership and its consuming devotion to political stability. (Polly Hui, 02 Feb 2010, Daily Telegraph)

When the five lawmakers tendered their resignations last week, bidding to turn the resulting by-elections into a referendum for democracy, Civic Party leader Audrey Eu said there was "no reason to fear the people's will".

"We are going to do it by five pieces of paper, by five resignation letters," she said.

But political observers say Beijing has much to fear from the symbolism of a fully fledged democracy campaign taking root on a part of its soil.

"Hong Kong has always been looked upon as the best model for those who want to push for democracy in mainland China," said Johnny Lau, a veteran commentator on China affairs.

"We should never underestimate the implications of the city's democratic movement on other parts of China," he said.

"Civic groups have already emerged in China. However, their actions have not yet been able to effect changes because wealth is still concentrated in the pockets of top bureaucrats."

Pro-Beijing parties are vowing to boycott the forthcoming by-elections, and China's cabinet has condemned the democrats' campaign as a "blatant challenge" to the city's constitutional set-up under mainland rule.

There are other signs that people in Hong Kong are chafing at Beijing's stewardship.

What's that old Tex Antoine saying? If devolution is inevitable, sit back and enjoy it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


A Race Of Races (Joel Kotkin 02/02/2010, New Geography)

By 2039, due largely to immigrants and their offspring, non-Europeans will constitute the majority of working-age Americans, and by around 2050 non-Hispanic whites could well be in the minority.

But this should not be seen so much as a matter of ethnic succession as multiracial amalgamation. The group likely to grow fastest, for example, will be made up of people, like President Obama himself, who are of mixed race. Theirs is no more demonstrable evidence of the changing racial attitudes of Americans. As recently as 1987 slightly less than half of Americans approved of interracial couples. By 2007, according to the Pew Center, 83% supported them. Among the millennial generation, who will make up the majority of adults in 2050, 94% approve of such matches.

Today roughly 20% of Americans, according to Pew Research Center, say they have a relative married to someone of another race. Mixed-race couples tend to be younger; over two-fifths of mixed-race Americans are under 18 years of age. In the coming decades this group will play an ever greater role in society. According to sociologists at UC, Irvine, by 2050 mixed-race people could account for one in five Americans.

The result will be a U.S. best described in Walt Whitman's prophetic phrase as "the race of races." No other advanced, populous country will enjoy such ethnic diversity.

The U.S. will likely remain militarily and even economically preeminent, but much of its power will stem from its status as the world's only multiracial superpower. America's global reach will extend well beyond Coca-Cola, Boeing and the Seventh Fleet and express itself in the most intimate cultural and familial ties.

America's example is always a more important weapon than its arms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Why Do The Chinese Save So Much?: There are too many men--and hoarding cash is one way to triumph in a competitive marriage market. (Shang-Jin Wei, 02.02.10, Forbes)

The resulting pressure on the marriage market in China might induce men and parents with sons to do things to make themselves more competitive. Increasing savings, mostly by cutting down on the family's spending, is one logical way to do that. Wealth helps to increase a man's competitive edge in the marriage market. Ironically, increased savings does not change the total number of men who get married in the aggregate. In this sense, the increased savings is socially inefficient. However, from an individual household's viewpoint, when the competition for a marriage partner is tough, it cannot afford to save less than its competitors. I call this effect "keeping up with the Zhangs."

In our study we compared savings data across regions and in households with sons versus those with daughters. We found that not only did households with sons save more than households with daughters on average, but also that households with sons tend to raise their savings rate if they happen to live in a region with a more skewed sex ratio.

Even those not competing in the marriage market must compete to buy housing and make other significant purchases, pushing up the savings rate for all households.

The effect is significant. The household savings rate in China rose from about 16% of disposable income in 1990 to over 30% today, which is much higher than most countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Afflictions of liberty (Tristram Riley-Smith, 2/02/10, The Guardian)

[A]nother feature of this address is just as remarkable – for its absence. The word "liberty" was entirely missing, and the term "freedom" was used only once.

Prior to Obama's election, these terms had been liberally sprinkled over every address for the last 25 years. They ­represent a mission statement for America that has become hardwired into its logic circuitry.

There is no way of knowing if Obama is seeking to wean his fellow citizens off the "f" word. But my analysis of the conflicted state of contemporary US society points to a country that is hooked on freedom – and suffering from the afflictions of liberty. This ideal has grown inflated and unstable, and is now fracturing the society it defines.

The US is not, of course, a Hobbesian dystopia.

...had us worried for a moment there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Polish Nobel winner Walesa campaigns for Tea Party candidate in Illinois governor’s race (Aleksandra Kulczuga, 2/02/10, The Daily Caller)

As the Scott Brown effect reverberates across the country, a little-known Tea Party candidate enlisted the help of Poland’s Lech Walesa to come from behind in a bid for the Illinois governor’s seat. Adam Andrzejewski, a 40-year-old businessman and third-generation Pole welcomed the Nobel Prize winner’s endorsement on Friday during a luncheon in Chicago.

In almost 30 years on the international political stage, Walesa has campaigned for only one other American candidate — Ronald Reagan.

“There are many similarities between the Tea Party movement and Solidarity,” said Bruno Behrend, the campaign’s policy director. “Obviously we are not dealing with Soviet Russia, but there are lessons to be learned on how to deal with a corrupt government.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


President Obama meeting with Dalai Lama would harm China-U.S. relations, Beijing warns (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, February 2nd 2010)

An Obama meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader would "seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations," said Zhu Weiqun, executive deputy head of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department in charge of recent talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives.

Because the foundation is rotten.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Run, Larry, Run: A Kudlow challenge to Chuck Schumer would expose the ruinous economics of Washington’s current social agenda. (Michael Knox Beran, 2/02/10, National Review)

Just when the gloom in the Empire State seemed thicker than ever, a ray of light pierced the darkness. The New York Post reported on Friday that economist and CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow was said to be contemplating a challenge to Sen. Chuck Schumer in response to a Draft Kudlow movement.

Could the revolt taking place in other states spread to the epicenter of the tax-and-spend ideal? Voters in New Jersey (who just installed Chris Christie in the governor’s mansion) and Massachusetts (who just sent Scott Brown to the senate) have rejected their state’s machines. That couldn’t happen in New York, right? [...[

At this critical juncture, Candidate Kudlow could make a vital contribution to the debate. That’s because the combination of gifts he possesses is so rare. Kudlow is at once an economic expert and an expert communicator. As an economist, he was “present at the creation” of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in the Eighties, when he served as associate director of economics and planning in Reagan’s OMB. As a communicator, he reaches a vast audience through CNBC’s The Kudlow Report and WABC radio’s The Larry Kudlow Show. He can tell you the top marginal income tax rate when President Kennedy proposed his own epochal tax cuts in 1962 (91 percent). What’s more, he can make you understand the significance of those cuts in a way few other economists can.

Sen. Chuck Schumer's approval rating continues to slide (Elizabeth Benjamin
2/02/10, DAILY NEWS)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand isn't the only one whose poll numbers are slipping.

Her political champion and mentor, Sen. Chuck Schumer, has seen his approval rating continue a downward slide.

He's dropped below the all-important 50% approval mark for the first time since 2001, according to a Marist Poll released Monday.

February 1, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


A Nation of Racist Dwarfs: Kim Jong-il's regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought. (Christopher Hitchens, Feb. 1, 2010, Slate)

I have recently donned the bifocals provided by B.R. Myers in his electrifying new book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, and I understand now that I got the picture either upside down or inside out. The whole idea of communism is dead in North Korea, and its most recent "Constitution," "ratified" last April, has dropped all mention of the word. The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. Myers makes a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian "military first" mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia. [...]

Myers also points out that many of the slogans employed and displayed by the North Korean state are borrowed directly—this really does count as some kind of irony—from the kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism. Every child is told every day of the wonderful possibility of death by immolation in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of war, not even a nuclear one.

The regime cannot rule by terror alone, and now all it has left is its race-based military ideology. [...]

[A] North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

But this is what proves Myers right. Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species.

As Mr. Hitchens accidentally makes clear, that would make North Korea the quintessential regime of the Left. After all, we Stupid conservative don't even believe in speciation. It's a Bright trope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM

ANYONE EDIT THE ATLANTIC (wonders Steve Jacobson):

Jersey Shore Joins the Canon: From Pride and Prejudice to Archie to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jersey Shore is following in a longstanding artistic tradition of humiliation and bad decisions at the beach. (Alyssa Rosenberg, 1/26/10, Atlantic)

And Bath is the setting for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s immortal comic play The Rivals, first performed in 1775. Whether the sea air is responsible for Mrs. Malaprop’s linguistic manglings is open to dispute, but there’s no question that the social whirl in the resort drives everyone else to hilariously desperate straits. Whether they’re disguising themselves as poor soldiers to give the girls they want to marry properly romantic affairs, or tricking elderly gentlemen into fits of passion, sea-bathing seems less like a cure than a cause of strained nerves.

Not to dispute by any non-ignoramus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Barack Obama and the Fading of Hope (Matthew Rothschild, February 1, 2010, The Progressive)

Face it: A lot of people fooled themselves. When Barack Obama was running for President, and when he won, people filled his empty but gift-wrapped box labeled “Hope” with huge dreams of a better America.

We wanted him to be a mix of Martin Luther King and FDR, but the odds always were that he would be a mix of Bill Clinton and George Bush the First, and so it has turned out, with a little George Bush the Second thrown in for bad measure and Jimmy Carter for good.

The poor guy's upside is Jimmy Carter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


US high-speed rail to the rescue: Bullet trains will save time, money, and the environment. (Steve Yetiv and Lowell Feld, February 1, 2010, CS Monitor)

Around the world, high-speed trains have roundly beaten planes on price, overall travel time, and convenience at ranges of up to 600 miles.

Consider what happened in Europe: Commercial flights all but disappeared after high-speed trains were established between Paris and Lyon. And in the first year of operation, a Madrid-to-Barcelona high-speed link cut the air travel market about 50 percent. Traveling by train from London to Paris generates just 1/10th the amount of carbon dioxide as traveling by plane, according to one study.

Consider Asia: While America fumbles, China has seen the light. It plans to build 42 high-speed rail lines across 13,000 kilometers (some 8,000 miles) in the next three years. The Chinese Railway Ministry says that rail can transport 160 million people per year compared with 80 million for a four-lane highway.

In addition to the central goal of decreasing oil use and pollution, China seeks to bolster its economy with investment in rail and also to satisfy the demands for mobility of its growing middle class.

For America, as fewer people opt for gas-guzzling air or car travel, a high-speed rail system would hit US oil dependence right where it counts: in the gas tank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


Obama's Dangerous China Game: Obama’s arms sale deal with Taiwan has provoked Beijing at a particularly delicate moment. Leslie H. Gelb on why neither nation has thought through the consequences of a collision. (Leslie H. Gelb, 2/01/10, Daily Beast)

Don’t be surprised if the United States and China start rattling each other’s cages again, and this time, perhaps seriously. The Obama administration triggered this latest round by announcing on Friday a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. For Chinese leaders, this is the worst affront, since they consider Taiwan part of China. They retaliated immediately, mainly by announcing sanctions against unspecified U.S. companies involved in the arms sale. Similar byplay has occurred many times before, but never at a time when American fortunes seemed on the decline and Chinese prospects so bright—and never before with Chinese leaders at once so self-confident, even arrogant, about their international power, yet still so insecure and paranoid about their internal control over political and ethnic dissidents.

A state that can't hear the truth about itself ought not be taken seriously. No one was served well by the West pretending that the USSR was a superpower and it didn't take much more than Ronald Reagan branding them a failed state--on their own terms, as well as ours--for their collapse to begin.

Suppose that President Obama decided to emulate the Gipper instead of Ike and rub the PRC's nose in the futility of its quest for great nation status. To begin with, he could point out that not only is Taiwan never reverting to control by the mainland but that Tibet, Hong Kong, and Uighurstan--to begin with--will soon be free and independent as well. Follow that up by pointing out that because of the demographic catastrophe their inhuman regime has inflicted on itself they'll tip over into the same sort of decline Japan and secular Europe face, but will do so before ever attaining the affluence of the others. Mention the obvious geostrategic fact that America has encircled them with an alliance of democratic states--India, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Russia-sort-of, etc.--against which they would be overwhelmed in the event of a war (though it really only takes the U.S. to do the overwhelming). And remind them that their "economic miracle" is not based on any Chinese innovation--not political nor economic--but on their willingness to assemble stuff for us more cheaply than a grown-up nation would do the work.

Give it to them with the bark on. It'll help them in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Progressive evangelicals frustrated with White House over health care and abortion (Mike Riggs, 2/01/10, The Daily Caller)

Campolo points to the stalled health care bill as a wasted opportunity for Obama to make good on his desire to provide low-income single women with abortion alternatives and a missed chance for Democrats “to put the screws” on lawyers.

Progressive evangelicals, said Campolo, hoped to see language in the health care bill that would provide financial assistance to low-income pregnant women. “Here’s a woman, let’s say, who works at a super market with no way to pay for a hospital if she gets pregnant. Whether she should or shouldn’t be pregnant is not our place to say. What we want for her, if she doesn’t want to have an abortion, is for the law to guarantee two weeks off to deliver the baby. Secondly we need to be able to say that woman will have complete medical coverage. Also, we’re going to have to raise the minimum wage. Not a great deal, but a little more than what they’re getting now. And we need to be able to provide some degree of daycare for the child born to the single mother.”

In hindsight, Campolo isn’t surprised that Obama hasn’t been more sympathetic to abortion issues. “There’s nothing to be disappointed about,” he said, besides the fact that Obama “has a pro-choice position.” And the dwindling possibility of a pro-life-friendly health-care bill — or any bill — has Campolo feeling nostalgic for the days when a Hillary Clinton nomination was possible. “We really feel that Hillary Clinton was more committed to a pro-life position by far than Obama. We saw it, as she sees it, that something is very, very wrong.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


How to Think About: Jewish Bankers (Michael Kinsley, January 29, 2010, Atlatic)

Is it legitimate to talk about Goldman as a Jewish firm? That's a different question. Many American Jews think "Jewish" when they hear the words "Goldman" and "Sachs," but still cringe whenever they hear the connection made in public, especially by non-Jews. Certainly any explicit suggestion that Goldman's alleged misbehavior and its Jewishness are related in any way is anti-Semitic.

But what about comments about Goldman Sachs that draw on the classic stereotype about Jews and money, without making any explicit connection to it being a Jewish firm? That depends on which stereotype you mean. There is the stereotype that Jews thrive and tend to predominate on Wall Street and in the financial professions generally. This is true, but so what? There is no mystery or conspiracy involved. Jews in Europe were excluded from many occupations for centuries. They couldn't own land and be farmers. Here in the United States they couldn't climb the executive ladder at big corporations. They were not welcome at investment banks run by Protestants. So they founded their own.

The stereotype that Jews gravitate toward, and often do well in, finance is so innocent that, ironically, bringing it up is suspicious. What does it have to do with anything?

Rush Limbaugh brought it up the other day. He said on his radio show that President Obama may be appealing to anti-Semitism with his recent populist criticism of banks and bankers. "There are a lot of people," Limbaugh said, "when you say banker, people think Jewish." He didn't mention Goldman Sachs. Abe Foxman, longtime head of the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, declared that Limbaugh's remark was "offensive and inappropriate" and "borderline anti-Semitic." Limbaugh and his defenders protest that Limbaugh clearly was referring to other people, "people who have--what's the best way to say--a little prejudice about them," and not endorsing such views himself. And the transcript bears him out.

By Foxman's standard, even to mention that many bankers are Jewish is anti-Semitic (even though it's true), and attributing this view to others (while professing to be worried about it) is no excuse This may be over-the top.

...then this column and this post about it are both anti-Semitic. However, merely pointing out the anti-Semitism would itself be anti-Semitic, because it too requires discussion of the stereotype. No one ever sounds dumber than when they are being PC.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


World isn't buying Israel's explanations anymore (Aluf Benn, 2/01/10, Ha'aretz)

The Palestinian Authority is conducting a campaign to isolate Israel, based on the Goldstone report and the hatred for the Netanyahu government. Political scientists Shaul Mishal and Doron Mazza are calling it "the white intifada," which is aimed at enlisting international support for a unilateral declaration of independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. In a document they distributed last week, they warn of Israeli complaisance and present a disturbing scenario: The Palestinians declare independence, and Israel refuses to recognize it and is faced with a boycott. Regardless of whether it yields or reacts with force, Israel cannot win, and will also lose control of the process. Therefore the two scholars recommend a preemptive diplomatic move.

Recognize their statehood before they declare it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Ayn Rand: engineer of souls: A critical account of the "Chernyshevsky of individualism." (Anthony Daniels, February 2010, New Criterion)

Rand believed all people to be possessed of equal rights, but she found relations of equality with others insupportable. Though she could be charming, it was not something she could keep up for long. She was deeply ungrateful to those who had helped her and many of her friendships ended in acrimony. Her biographer tells us that she sometimes told jokes, but, in the absence of any supportive evidence, I treat reports of her sense of humor much as I treat reports of sightings of the Loch Ness monster: apocryphal at best.

A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational; she could not distinguish between rationalism and rationality. Of narrow aesthetic sympathies, she laid down the law in matters of artistic judgment like a panjandrum; a believer in honesty, she was adept at self-deception and special pleading. I have rarely read a biography of a writer I should have cared so little to meet.

The Russian tradition to which Rand belongs is not that of Gogol, Turgenev, and Chekhov but that of Dobrolyubov, Pisarev, and Chernyshevsky: that is to say, of angry literary and social critics, pamphleteers and ideologues. She was neither fully a philosopher, nor fully a novelist, but something in between the two—the characters in her novels are not creatures of flesh and blood but opinions on legs, and her expository prose has the quality of speechifying. This is not to say that a woman of her intelligence and life experience had nothing interesting to say or no insights to convey. She did, on occasion, put things very well. She was often shrewd, seeing the dangers of statism very clearly, when few others did.

Rand’s statement that racism is the lowest and most primitive form of collectivism is a striking apothegm. Likewise, she was among the first to appreciate that the notion of collective rights (a mirror image of racial discrimination) would “disintegrate a country into an institutionalized civil war of pressure groups, each fighting for legislative favors and special privileges at the expense of one another.” This could hardly be expressed better; neither could her observation that “Even if it were proved … that the incidence of men of potentially superior brain power is greater among the members of certain races than among the members of others, it would still tell us nothing about any given individual and it would be irrelevant to one’s judgment of him.”

Unfortunately, Rand’s vices as a writer are never very far from her virtues. Not only does the above passage suggest that people are to be judged mainly by reference to their brain power, a very narrow and inhumane criterion, but she continues: “A genius is a genius … and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race.” This grates because one knows that she not only divides the world into creators and parasites with no intermediate category, but also because she never expresses any sympathy or understanding for the weak or ill, always referring to them with disdain at best and eugenicist hatred at worst. A moron is to be blamed for his own lack of intelligence.

Rand treats the physically ill as if their misfortunes were always their own fault, and a sign of their moral and human worthlessness. In The Fountainhead, for example, she compares “the bright, the strong, the able boys” of Ellsworth Toohey’s class during his childhood with Skinny Dix, who “got infantile paralysis, and would lie in bed.” This comparison is indicative of a truly loathsome and disgusting hardness of heart and lack of compassion as well as a crude intellectual error (made, no doubt, partly as a result of her loathing for Roosevelt—infantile paralysis does not affect the intelligence and therefore cannot be taken as a symbolic opposite of ability).

Rand’s hardness of heart was not only confined to the page. There is a chilling account in the biography of how she treated her long-suffering husband, Frank O’Connor, when he suffered from dementia:

She nagged at him continually, to onlookers’ distress. “Don’t humor him,” she [said]. “Make him try to remember.” She insisted that his mental lapses were “psycho-epistemological,” and she gave him long, grueling lessons in how to think and remember. She assigned him papers on aspects of his mental functioning, which he was entirely unable to write.

This downright cruelty (as well as downright stupidity) derived from her overvaluation of supposed intellectual consistency in the conduct of daily life. She believed that it was more important to adhere to a principle than to behave well. Among her many bad ideas was the compatibility of all human desiderata, and that any conflict of a man’s interests was merely the consequence of his not having thought through his situation sufficiently, and applied a fundamental and indubitable principle correctly and consistently. For Rand, there was no ambiguity in the world: if it is true that man has free will and is responsible for his conduct, it cannot also be that there is a condition such as dementia that robs a man of his capacity for choice. Hence her husband’s lapses were wilful and deliberate, to be corrected by Randian brainwashing. This is authentically horrible.

Rand’s crude dichotomizing is evident throughout her work. Her rejection of compassion is Nietzschean in tone, seeing in pity merely an attempt by the weak and ill-favored to overcome the power and influence of the strong and healthy. But this is an elementary error. From the correct psychological insight that the allegedly compassionate sometimes use the existence of the weak and needy as a tool for their own social ascent and attainment of power—whole political parties, in almost every country, are founded upon this principle—it does not in the least follow that there are no people in need of assistance or that compassion for them is ipso facto bogus and a cover for the will to power. From the insight that government assistance to the unfortunate increases the number of the unfortunate, often imprisoning them in their misfortune, it does not follow in the least that it is right for human beings to be utterly callous and indifferent to the fate of the unfortunate. Human sympathy is, as Adam Smith himself pointed out, implanted by nature in the human breast, but Ayn Rand, to a greater extent even than Pharaoh, hardened her heart and expunged sympathy from it utterly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Jarvis was part of Shea's fabric: Mets reporter remembers ballpark's organist (Marty Noble, 1/30/10, MLB.com)

The older ballparks had unmistakable aromas, mixtures of stale beer, cigar smoke and cement. The ramps of Yankee Stadium, pre-1974 renovations, had more cigar than the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field. To me, the Dodgers' home had a unique scent that suggested wood was burning. The Polo Grounds just smelled. But that odious odor was part of the distinction.

Yankee Stadium had the wonderful sound of Bob Sheppard's voice -- "Num-ber fawty-too, Tom Sturd-i-vant." The Polo Grounds sounded hollow. Ebbets Field sounded as if the treble had been turned up and the bass turned down. More distinctions.

Shea Stadium was in its infancy the first time I climbed its ramps. No cigar smell or eau d'Rheingold. Its distinctions were its roundness (noticed most by trips to and from LaGuardia), the rattle of those blue and orange corrugated metal things attached to exterior of the park and the dreadful din of the departing jets.

And Jane Jarvis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


The Depressing News About Antidepressants: Studies suggest that the popular drugs are no more effective than a placebo. In fact, they may be worse. (Sharon Begley, 1/29/10, NEWSWEEK)

Although the year is young, it has already brought my first moral dilemma. In early January a friend mentioned that his New Year's resolution was to beat his chronic depression once and for all. Over the years he had tried a medicine chest's worth of antidepressants, but none had really helped in any enduring way, and when the side effects became so unpleasant that he stopped taking them, the withdrawal symptoms (cramps, dizziness, headaches) were torture. Did I know of any research that might help him decide whether a new antidepressant his doctor recommended might finally lift his chronic darkness at noon? [...]

The placebo effect—that is, a medical benefit you get from an inert pill or other sham treatment—rests on the holy trinity of belief, expectation, and hope. But telling someone with depression who is being helped by antidepressants, or who (like my friend) hopes to be helped, threatens to topple the whole house of cards. Explain that it's all in their heads, that the reason they're benefiting is the same reason why Disney's Dumbo could initially fly only with a feather clutched in his teeth—believing makes it so—and the magic dissipates like fairy dust in a windstorm. So rather than tell my friend all this, I chickened out. Sure, I said, there's lots of research showing that a new kind of antidepressant might help you. Come, let me show you the studies on PubMed.

...and then give him Pez or something?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Jon Stewart's Obama barbs on 'The Daily Show' are creating buzz (Howard Kurtz, 2/01/10, Washington Post )

Last week, though, the president was the punch line. After showing video of Obama speaking to schoolkids, the "Daily Show" host said in amazement: "You set up a presidential podium and a teleprompter in a sixth-grade classroom? . . . I'm not a political adviser, campaign strategist, et cetera, but that's not a great photo op in a middle school classroom."

It was inevitable that Obama would become a late-night target, at least when Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Dave Letterman have taken time out from sliming one another. But Stewart, who makes no secret of leaning left, is a pop-culture bellwether. And while the White House notes that Obama used the prompter to address journalists, not the students, the details matter little in comedy. [...]

None of these jokes are particularly cutting, but what's telling is that they're being told at all. During the campaign, Lichter says, comedians made far more jokes about George W. Bush and John McCain than about Obama.

Jon Stewart is. He was so deep in the bag for Mr. Obama that it's amusing to watch him have to acknowledge how easy a target he was passing up.