March 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


The More, the Better: As Europe and Asia become 'veritable old-age homes,' the U.S. will enjoy the benefits of a growing population: a review of The Next Hundred Million By Joel Kotkin (Nick Schulz, 3/31/10, WSJ)

For Mr. Kotkin, population growth translates into economic vitality—the capacity to create wealth, raise the standard of living and meet the burdens of future commitments. Thus a country with a youthful demographic, in relative terms, enjoys a big advantage over its global counterparts. In the next four decades, Mr. Kotkin observes, "most of the developed countries in both Europe and Asia will become veritable old-age homes" because of stagnant population growth. And the economies of these countries, already devoted to a vast welfare-state apparatus, will face crushing pension obligations—but without the young workers to defray the cost.

Inevitably, Europe and Asia will decline, Mr. Kotkin predicts, and America will thrive. Indeed, the U.S. will emerge, he says, "as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history." What about the billion-person behemoth across the Pacific? Not to worry. Mr. Kotkin thinks that, by midcentury, China's one-child policy will cause it, too, to suffer from the burdens of an aging population.

If Mr. Kotkin is right about America's "next hundred million" people being the key to its happy destiny, where are these people going to live? In the suburbs, he believes—and why not? For most Americans, Mr. Kotkin writes, the suburbs represent "the best, most practical choice for raising their families and enjoying the benefits of community." He adds that, even with one hundred million more people, the U.S. "will still be only one sixth as crowded as Germany." In short, there is lots of room to grow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


US foreign policy: Waiting on a sun king (Edward Luce and Daniel Dombey, March 30 2010, Financial Times)

Fifteen months after he took office, the character and structure of Mr Obama’s foreign policy machinery is still evolving. But from interviews with dozens of insiders and outsiders, including senior officials both authorised and unauthorised to speak, and three former national security advisers, it is clear the buck not only stops with, but often floats for quite a long time around, Mr Obama himself. [...]

“On the positive side, we have a very conscientious president who takes advice widely,” says the official. “On the debit side, for all the president’s intelligence, Barack Obama came to office with very little experience. He just doesn’t have much depth on some issues.”

...centering around a non-entity is a terrible one. It wouldn't matter that Mr. Obama doesn't know much and has no executive experience if he were willing to delegate. But his insistence on being the bridesmaid at every wedding makes for lousy governance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Jaime Escalante dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver' (Elaine Woo, March 31, 2010, LA Times)

Escalante gained national prominence in the aftermath of a 1982 scandal surrounding 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating.

The story of their eventual triumph -- and of Escalante's battle to raise standards at a struggling campus of working-class, largely Mexican American students -- became the subject of the movie, which turned the balding, middle-aged Bolivian immigrant into the most famous teacher in America.

Escalante was a maverick who did not get along with many of his public school colleagues, but he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation.

"Jaime Escalante has left a deep and enduring legacy in the struggle for academic equity in American education," said Gaston Caperton, former West Virginia governor and president of the College Board, which sponsors the Scholastic Assessment Test and the Advanced Placement exams.

"His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed."

Escalante's rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation's schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.

He was called a traitor for his opposition to bilingual education. He said the hate mail he received for championing Proposition 227, the successful 1998 ballot measure to dismantle bilingual programs in California, was a factor in his decision to retire that year after leaving Garfield and teaching at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento for seven years.

He moved back to Bolivia, where he propelled himself into a classroom again, apparently intent on fulfilling a vow to die doing what he knew best -- teach. But he returned frequently to the United States to speak to education groups and continued to ally himself with conservative politics. He considered becoming an education advisor to President George W. Bush, and in 2003 signed on as an education consultant for Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign in California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


A high-fat breakfast of bacon and eggs may be the healthiest start to the day, report shows (Daily Telegraph, 31 Mar 2010 )

For the first meal eaten after a night's sleep appears to programme the metabolism for the rest of the day, the researchers found.

And the age-old maxim "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper" may in fact be the best advice to follow to prevent metabolic syndrome, according to a new University of Alabama at Birmingham study.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


In his new novel, 'The Exorcist' author balances philosophy and thrills: William Peter Blatty's 'Dimiter' enfolds a message of faith in a fast-paced thriller set in the Holy Land -- just in time for Easter. (Nick Owchar, April 1, 2010, LA Times)

More than 13 million copies, according to some estimates, have been sold in the United States alone. Several more novels -- and films -- followed, giving Blatty more opportunities to explore the workings of divine redemption and demonic evil. His new novel, "Dimiter," published in March, is similarly preoccupied with good and evil, with the mysterious and the miraculous, although it is also something of a departure.

Set in the 1970s, "Dimiter" introduces us, in a riveting opening scene, to an enigmatic inmate in an Albanian prison during the gray days of Enver Hoxha's regime. The man coolly withstands unbearable torture and then escapes, vanishing like a phantom . . . only to later turn up in the Holy Land. He becomes a shadowy presence in the lives of several people, including an Arab Christian policeman and a Jewish doctor, both of whom puzzle over several mysterious deaths somehow linked to this figure, who is named Paul Dimiter.

If you look more closely, the story also makes a sly, theological nod to the essential mystery of the Gospels that Christians everywhere will celebrate on Sunday: the Resurrection. Blatty has taken a message of religious faith and enfolded it within a fast-paced plot for a basic reason.

"I had to make a page-turner," he says, "or else who would want to read it?"

The demonic is a hot commodity today, but don't try to credit Blatty as the elder statesman of this surge in horror movies, books and TV shows. He wants no part of it.

"When I look around the culture, it makes me want to projectile vomit," he says, recalling that infamous moment in "The Exorcist." "The more blood, the more chain saws, the better. The studios have so debased the tastes of kids that that's all the kids want now."

This might sound strange coming from the author of a story associated with harrowing uses of puke, spinning heads and a crucifix, but Blatty's brand of horror has always been about more than shock effect. Characters wrestle with metaphysical doubts even as the bodies pile up.

Some people forget the philosophy -- just as studio execs forgot Blatty's abilities as a comic writer after "The Exorcist."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Soybean, corn prices tumble after crop report (STEPHEN BERNARD, 03/31/10, AP)

Soybeans plunged Wednesday after the government reported that stockpiles of beans are larger than expected. Corn and wheat also fell sharply in response to the Agriculture Department report.

The department said 2010 looks to be another record year of soybean production. [...]

Feltes noted that farmers will likely end up planting even more soybeans and corn than are estimated in the initial report. That would extend the pattern of the past two years. Corn for May delivery fell 8.25 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $3.4625 a bushel.

The USDA estimates farmers will plant 88.8 million acres of corn this year, a 3 percent jump from each of the past two years.

Wheat prices also fell, dropping 20 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $4.52 a bushel.

Just wait'll you see how mad the Tea Partiers are when their gold returns to its natural level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Gordon's Tennessee Seat All But Gone for Democrats (John McArdle, 3/31/10, CQ-Roll Call)

With one day to go before Tennessee's filing deadline, it's safe to say that Democrats are waving the white flag in the race to hold the seat of retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D) in Middle Tennessee's 6th district.

With no top-tier Democrat stepping forward to enter the race and a slew of strong Republicans already raising big money in a GOP-trending district, CQ Politics is moving the rating of the 6th district race from Likely Republican to Safe Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM


GOP on bank reform: Weak bill not weak enough (Andrew Leonard, 3/31/10, Salon)

The fight -- and this appears to be an emerging narrative of the entire Obama administration -- is to keep imperfect legislation from being further watered down, rather than striving to improve it.

Which is why America has no fascist tendency--we have one party rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Herb Ellis, Jazz Guitarist, Is Dead at 88 (PETER KEEPNEWS, 3/31/10, NY Times)

Mr. Ellis was an early disciple of Charlie Christian, whose deft improvisations, built on long single-note lines, established the template for modern jazz guitar in the 1940s. But he was always more than an imitator: his style mixed the harmonic sophistication of bebop with the earthy directness of the blues and seasoned the blend with a twang more typical of country music than jazz. [...]

In 1947 he and two associates from Jimmy Dorsey’s band, the pianist Lou Carter and the bassist Johnny Frigo, formed the vocal and instrumental trio the Soft Winds, whose song “Detour Ahead” became a jazz standard, recorded most memorably by Billie Holiday.

He first attracted wide attention during his five-year stint with Peterson’s popular group, which, like the Soft Winds, included a bassist (Ray Brown) but no drummer. The absence of a percussionist required Mr. Ellis to provide the rhythmic foundation for Peterson’s energetic playing as well as the guitar solos; he did it so well that when he left the trio in 1958, Peterson replaced him not with another guitarist but with a drummer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Sports Viewers Largely Republican (Reid Wilson, 3/31/10, Hotline)

Overall, GOPers hold advantages among die-hard fans of most sports, albeit by slimmer margins than golf fans. Those who watch Major League Baseball and the NFL are only slightly more conservative than the average voter, while those who watch college basketball are about 5% more likely to vote with the GOP.

Among the major sports, college football fans say they are most likely to vote, followed closely by MLB aficianados. NFL fans rate with NASCAR fans as less likely voters. Fans of extreme sports, the WWE, monster trucks and soccer -- all of whom tend to be younger -- are the least likely to vote, according to the survey.

The data is fun to peruse, but it has practical implications as well. Ad buyers should focus on sports programming, according to the analysis. That's because sports fans are most likely to view events live instead of on a DVR machine, meaning they don't skip the ads.

Dems tend to watch more TV than GOPers, and they dominate most kinds of programming. That means GOP ad buyers have fewer choices, and sports offer the best opportunity to reach their voters.

The Wife watches a fair number of Bruins and Red Sox games and always gets angry at how much better the ads are for guy tv.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Al-Sadr calls vote on which Iraqi leader to back (AP, 3/31/10)

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is calling on his supporters and other Iraqis to vote in a referendum this weekend to decide which political leader he should support for prime minister.

Al-Sadr’s hardline, religious Shiite party, which won 39 of the 325 parliamentary seats in the March 7 election, has emerged as a key powerbroker whose support will prove crucial in determining which of the two leading blocs will form the next government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Hermit economics hobbles Pyongyang (Aidan Foster-Carter, March 30 2010, Financial Times)

Great Leader? Pyongyang’s fawning hagiography not only grates, but is singularly unearned. Even by its own dim lights, North Korea’s decision-making is going from bad to worse.

Last year saw two spectacular own goals. Missile and nuclear tests were a weird way to greet a new US president ready to reach out to old foes. The predictable outcome was condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, plus sanctions on arms exports that are biting.

Domestic policy is just as disastrous. December’s currency “reform” beggars belief. Did Kim Jong-il really fail to grasp that redenomination would not cure inflation, but worsen it? Or that brazenly stealing people’s savings – beyond a paltry minimum, citizens only got 10 per cent of their money back – would finally goad his long-suffering subjects into rioting? Forced to retreat, officials even apologised. One scapegoat was sacked – and possibly shot.

Such is what comes of sanctions rather than regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Health care law too costly, most say (Susan Page, 3/30/10, USA TODAY)

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government's role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


World-Class Club: a review of Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World by David L. Bosco (Rahul Chandran,

In the sweltering summer of 1944, two months after D-Day, British and Soviet diplomats joined the Americans in Washington to discuss how the three powers that were shaping the world could preserve the peace in the years to come. Their answer was a grand body of member states -- the United Nations -- with responsibility for peace and security falling to a "Security Council." This elite club would have five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, plus France and China -- with the power to veto any proposed resolution, and 10 other members elected on a rotating basis from the galaxy of states. In the 65 years since its creation, the Security Council has frustrated those who thought it would mean an end to violent conflict, disappointed many who assumed that nations would actually unite, and alienated the American Right, which considers it a constraint on U.S. power. Yet the fact remains that the Security Council is a critical venue for international dialogue.

At a minimum the US should require that the Council be remade to reflect geographic/demographic realities and to conform to the UN's founding ideals. No non-democracy should be allowed and one country from each continent should get a seat. America, Brazil, India, England, Australia, and (maybe) South Africa would be acceptable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


A Moveable FeastSearching for the best adult lunchboxes on the market.
By Julia FelsenthalPosted Tuesday, March 30, 2010,

L.L. Bean Turbo Transit Lunchbox

$22 on

From the outside, the L.L. Bean Turbo Transit looks like a travel accessory—the kind obsessive packers use for tightly rolled underwear. Judging from the inside (thick, white nylon insulation), L.L. Bean has tried to create a bona fide portable refrigerator. Alas, the Turbo Transit is a little too snug for my liking—I was just able to squeeze in my sandwich, yogurt, juice, and utensils. And it ranked only average in its ability to keep my food cold. I was also surprised to find that the Turbo Transit was designed with just a carrying handle, not a strap.

But never mind these practical details: The Turbo Transit is more than just a lunchbox. The product description on the Web site suggests that you keep your wallet and keys in one of the interior mesh pockets, and there's a strange little rubber sphincter on the outside for your iPod headphones. In addition, the outside zippers are outfitted with 3M Scotchlite reflective pulls, in case, I suppose, you'd like to alert passing motorists to your presence.

The Turbo Transit's ripstop exterior is durable as they come, and since you can easily wipe down the interior with soap and water, this bag will go the distance. At $22, it's probably worth the investment. After all, in a pinch you can use it to pack your underwear.

Aesthetics: 4
Utility: 5
Perks: 6
Value: 7
Total: 22/40

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Is America ‘Yearning For Fascism?’ (Chris Hedges, 30 March, 2010, TruthDig)

The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

"We are ruled not by two parties but one party," Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. "It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded." [....]

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, "In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented." It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous.

Except that the appeal of fascism is that imposes at least a semblance of unity and defends institutions at times when societies are so fractured that the two parties (of the left and of the right) are irreconcilable. So when you point out that there's no difference between our parties--as there very seldom has been in our history--you're conceding that we have no need for fascism. Which is why Ms McKinney and Mr. Hedges want a revolution. It is America they abhor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Blair's gaffe (Peter Williams, March 30, 2010 , Foreign Policy)

In a speech today at a Labour Party rally held in his old constituency of Sedgefield, former Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly threw his weight behind incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown. While some may have been surprised or even amused by Blair's endorsement of Brown, given their strained relationship, what I found most interesting was Blair's description of Conservative Leader David Cameron's campaign slogan "Time for Change" as "the most vacuous [slogan] in politics." [...]

What's so risible about Blair's comment is the awkward position in which it puts him: by mocking Cameron's "Time for Change," he also mocks Obama's "Change We Can Believe In." There just really isn't any way to simultaneously skewer "Time for Change" and hold up "Change We Can Believe In" as a paradigm of pith and profundity.

That last sentence needs editing: there isn't any way to hold up "Change We Can Believe In" as profound.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Barack Obama struggles to capitalize in polls (JOSH GERSTEIN, 3/29/10, Politico)

Democrats who held out hopes that President Barack Obama’s health reform win would mean a quick boost to the party’s political fortunes are getting a reality check — a reminder that it takes more than one good week to shake up a year of sliding polls. [...]

“It helped a little bit, but I think it’s within the margin of error,” said Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac poll, which recorded a slight drop in disapproval of Obama after the bill passed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time (JOHN M. BRODER, 3/31/10, NY Times)

The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.

It's a terrible idea, but, amusingly, another massive corporate giveaway.

March 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Ehrlich announces run for governor (Julie Bykowicz, 3/30/10, Baltimore Sun)

Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. confirmed Tuesday that he will challenge Gov. Martin O'Malley this fall.

Ehrlich, the state's only Republican governor in a generation, lost to O'Malley, a Democrat, by six percentage points in November 2006, after one term in office.

This is shaping up as the greatest slate of GOP candidates since before the Great Depression. Recall that the party stumbled into unexpected landslides in '80 and '94.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Bodies of 21 infants found in river in China (AFP, March 31, 2010)

At least eight bodies had tags indicating they were from the hospital of Jining Medical University in Shandong province, Xinhua news agency reported.

Authorities were quoted by Beijing News saying the corpses could have been those of aborted foetuses or babies who had died of illness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


What the Frack? Natural Gas from Subterranean Shale Promises U.S. Energy Independence--With Environmental Costs: Natural gas cracked out of shale deposits may mean the U.S. has a stable supply for a century--but at what cost to the environment and human health? (David Biello , 3/30/10, Scientific American)

The Barnett Shale, a geologic formation more than two kilometers deep and more than 13,000 square kilometers in extent, holds as much as 735 billion cubic meters of natural gas—and the city of Fort Worth alone boasts hundreds of wells, according to Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, an industry group. "It's urban drilling, so you literally have drilling rigs that are located next door to subdivisions or shopping malls."

Although the first well was drilled in 1982, it took until 2002 for the boom to really get started. Now there are more than 14,000 wells in the Barnett Shale, thanks to a combination of being able to drill horizontally and fracking—pumping water at high pressure deep beneath the ground to literally crack the rock and release natural gas.

"They pump a mixture of water and sand—and half a percent of that is some chemicals, like lubricants," Ireland explains. "They pump that into the formation at a very high pressure. Cracks it just like a windshield. And the cracks go out a couple hundred feet on either side and that forms the pathway for the natural gas to migrate to the well bore and up to the surface."

All that natural gas may prove a boon to a U.S. bid for energy independence. Plus, burning natural gas to produce electricity releases roughly 40 percent less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than burning coal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


The Reason of Revelation; a review of Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity Essays and Lectures in Modern Jewish Thought by Leo Strauss, Edited by Kenneth Hart Green (Peter Berkowitz, May 25, 1998, Weekly Standard)

As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy in the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.

According to Strauss, in Germany in the 1920s, liberalism secured a privacy that protected the autonomy of the individual. But that privacy provided at the same time shelter to the determination on the part of the non-Jewish German majority to view Jews as an inferior people and consign them to second- class status. In response, "a small minority of the German Jews, but a considerable minority of the German Jewish youth studying at the universities" were impelled to turn to Zionism. One of that considerable minority was Strauss.

Strauss declines to report the details of his personal involvement in the Zionist movement. Rather, he analyzes the instability in the strictly political Zionism to which he was drawn as a young man, and he shows how, when its premises are clarified and its aspirations are fully thought through, Zionism reveals the need for a return to Jewish faith. Political Zionism, the Zionism of Herzl, proposed a political solution to what it perceived to be a fundamentally political problem: The failure of the liberal state to secure equality for Jews. Political Zionism's solution was to create a modern nation state -- liberal, democratic, and secular -- for the Jewish people.

Strauss was unstinting in his admiration for political Zionism, both because of its devotion to restoring Jewish self-sufficiency and because of its decisive role in the creation of the state of Israel, which in Strauss's eyes "procured a blessing for all Jews everywhere regardless of whether they admit it or not." But political Zionism, in his judgment, was insufficient because it neglected the moral and spiritual life of the Jews it was seeking to save.

Strauss agreed with the cultural Zionists -- those inspired by Ahad Ha'am -- that the Jewish people could not be defined primarily in political terms on the basis of a common history of exclusion and degradation. Neither could they be rescued by a purely political solution. But when the cultural Zionists contended that the Jewish people were constituted by a common heritage or community of mind, Strauss considered their analysis true but incomplete -- and misleading insofar as it implied that a recovery of Jewish culture, of Jewish art and dance and literature, could solve the Jewish problem.

Cultural Zionism suffered from a failure to reflect on the meaning of its central insight. To understand the heritage of the Jewish people solely in terms of culture is to misunderstand it, because "the foundation, the authoritative layer, of the Jewish heritage presents itself, not as a product of the human mind, but as a divine gift, as divine revelation." The clarification of its core insight transforms cultural Zionism into religious Zionism, a Zionism that takes his bearings from the Torah and Talmud.

But is a return to Jewish faith and devotion to fulfilling God's law even possible for modern, enlightened, and liberal people? Strauss reminds his readers that, according to Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, the leading Jewish thinkers in Weimar Germany, a return to Jewish faith was both necessary and possible.

It was made necessary by the realization that liberalism alone could not, even at his best, satisfy man's religious hunger. And it was possible despite the presumption, routinely embraced by intellectuals now as well as then, that modern science and scholarship had once and for all refuted religious faith. Buber and Rosenzweig contended that the trouble with all alleged scientific refutations of faith was not that they inappropriately appealed to empirical evidence but that they were not empirical enough -- blind to religious experience.

The atheist challenge was on its own terms based neither on a direct, unmediated perception of the essential character of the world nor on a comprehensive philosophical system that answered all questions and solved all mysteries. Rather, even more than the theism it rejected, atheism could not honestly deny that it too was an interpretation and hence uncertain and questionable.

The question becomes how to choose between an uncertain and questionable religious interpretation of the human condition and an uncertain and questionable atheistic interpretation. Strauss turned to Nietzsche, the greatest skeptic of his age, and came away with a surprising answer. Nietzsche, on Strauss's reading, "made clear that the denial of the biblical God demands the denial of biblical morality, however secularized, which, so far from being self-evident or rational, has no other support than the biblical God; mercy, compassion, egalitarianism, brotherly love, or altruism must give way to cruelty and its kin." But the logic that Nietzsche saw -- that the renunciation of the biblical God demands a renunciation of biblical morality -- is obligatory only if there is a demand placed upon us to confront our condition with intellectual probity. And that demand, Strauss points out, comes to us -- as Nietzsche himself proclaims -- only from the morality taught in the Bible. Strauss's startling suggestion, in other words, is that Nietzsche cannot escape the biblical God because he cannot escape biblical morality -- even his critique of the Bible deriving from the Bible.

Strauss's study of Spinoza was the first step in his reconsideration of biblical religion, because Spinoza had taken religion most seriously and rejected it most emphatically. But after extended engagement with the arguments, Strauss concludes that Spinoza's critique of religion, was, even at its most forceful, inconclusive. It did not prove but rather presupposed the impossibility of miracles. And Spinoza's ethics did not demonstrate the truth of his new account of man and the moral life, but rather proceeded from hypotheses about human nature that were left unconfirmed by the system and so remained open to doubt.

In subsequent books, Strauss determined that the critique of religion developed by Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke was no more conclusive than that of Spinoza. In short, Strauss concluded, modern rationalism is incapable of deciding between belief and unbelief.

The presupposition that Reason is possible is unsupported by reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Sarkozy joins Obama in condemning settlements (The Associated Press, March 30, 2010)

France is standing with the United States in condemning Israeli settlement activity in east Jerusalem.

Believe it or not, it gets worse, 2010: Perry's "My Preference," Baker Says (Reeve Hamilton, March 24, 2010 , Texas Tribune)
As notable as Baker's support for Perry is his apparent support for the overwhelming majority of Barack Obama's foreign policy agenda. Baker said he agreed with Obama's handling of Iraq, his handling of Israel's controversial stance on the building of settlements in Jerusalem, and his handling of Afghanistan (with the small exception of the president's "date certain" for withdrawal).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Poll: Pataki and Gillibrand in hypothetical dead heat (Paul Steinhauser, March 29th, 2010, CNN)

According to a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion survey released Monday, 47 percent of New York State voters would back Pataki and 45 percent would support Gillibrand if the general election were held today, with 8 percent undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Nissan will sell electric car for just over $25K (AP, 3/30/10)

Nissan Motor Co. said Tuesday its new electric car will cost just over $25,000 in the U.S., a move that could force rivals to lower prices on similar vehicles.

The Leaf, a four-door hatchback due in showrooms late this year, will have a base price of $32,780, but buyers can get a $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit, Nissan said.

The price tag puts the Leaf, which can go up to 100 miles on a single charge from a home outlet, within reach of mainstream car buyers, and it also will force competitors to respond when they introduce their cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


National poll shows support for more money for public transit (Jon Schmitz, 3/30/10, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

A majority of Americans supports increased spending on public transit and a slim majority is willing to pay higher taxes for it, according to a poll released today. [...]

In the survey, 59 percent said public transportation was a better way to reduce congestion than building or expanding roads. Some 51 percent expressed support for a "small" tax increase to pay for better public transit, while 46 percent were opposed.

The poll showed that most Americans have no choice but to drive, and would prefer more options -- including transit, walking and biking. Some 73 percent said they have no choices other than car travel; 57 percent said they would like to spend less time in their cars; and 82 percent said America would benefit from expanded transit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Obama's Treatment of Israel is Shocking (Ed Koch, 3/29/10, Real Clear Politics)

President Obama's abysmal attitude toward the State of Israel and his humiliating treatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shocking. In the Washington Post on March 24th, Jackson Diehl wrote, "Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president's meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to."

I have not heard or read statements criticizing the president by New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand or many other supporters of Israel for his blatantly hostile attitude toward Israel and his discourtesy displayed at the White House. President Obama orchestrated the hostile statements of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, voiced by Biden in Israel and by Clinton in a 43-minute telephone call to Bibi Netanyahu, and then invited the latter to the White House to further berate him. He then left Prime Minister Netanyahu to have dinner at the White House with his family, conveying he would only be available to meet again if Netanyahu had further information - read concessions - to impart.

It is unimaginable that the President would treat any of our NATO allies, large or small, in such a degrading fashion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Women Who Blow Themselves Up: After two female suicide bombers struck the Moscow subway, the hunt is now on for a 21-strong "Black Widow" terror cell. (David Satter, 3/30/10, Daily Beast)

The two Chechen wars, fought in 1994-96 and 1999-2000, were almost unparalleled in their barbarity in the postwar era. The women of Chechnya regularly witnessed the abduction of their husbands, fathers, and brothers, whom Chechen tradition treats as their protectors. In some cases, they were involved in trying to ransom them from Russian custody, an exercise that usually ended with them having to pay to receive a mutilated corpse.

The result was a desire for revenge and a break with the Chechen tradition that men do not send women into war. The Black Widows have participated in two-thirds of the almost 40 rebel attacks that have killed about 900 people in Russia in the last 10 years. In the words of the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, they “are trying to force Russians to feel the same pain that they have felt.” [...]

After the 2004 terrorist acts, the security situation in Chechnya underwent a change. The republic was handed over to Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel, who with the support of two of Chechnya’s most influential clans and Russian military and financial aid, established his own reign of terror, overseeing thousands of abductions and summary executions. The result, however, was a hiatus in terrorist attacks outside the North Caucasus region, and the residents of Moscow and other major Russian cities gave President Vladimir Putin and Kadyrov credit as the terrorist threat seemed to recede.

The solution, however, now appears to have been short-lived. Russian support for corrupt and brutal leaders like Kadyrov in the republics of the North Caucasus breathed new life into the Islamic terrorist movements that were supplied by a growing pool of female volunteers.

Chechnya and Tolstoy's Hadji Murad (Joe Palmer, nth position)
During World War II, in 1943 and 1944, German troops occupied Chechnya (oil!), whose leaders were collaborating with the Nazis. Consequently, Stalin dissolved the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, and deported by boxcar the half-million Chechens to Kazakhstan, where 100,000 perished. Survivors were allowed to return in 1957.

Who are these disagreeable Chechens? They are a relic people living in a linguistically and culturally complex area, the Caucasus, the mountainous region between Europe and Asia and between the Black and Caspian Seas, location of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and part of Russia, each country in the Caucasus comprised of numerous ethnic groups. The language of the Chechens is similar to that of their neighbors, the Ingush, and the Avars who live in Dagestan, also a Russian republic.

Before 1500 AD the Chechens were nominally Christians, but they were converted to Islam by missionaries from Baghdad in the 1500s. In 1559 the Russian Tsar Ivan IV (The Terrible) stationed Cossack troops nearby. Ivan was in the process of pacifying the Tatars, Turkic-speaking descendants of the Mongols, the "Golden Horde", who had invaded and dominated much of Russia and Siberia in the 13th Century.

Cossacks were Russian mercenaries of a sort, soldiers from peasant communities who paid for their independence with military service, and who continued to fight for the Czar against the Bolsheviks even after the revolution of 1918. Cossacks and Armenians in large numbers immigrated to Chechnya when it was finally made part of the Russian Empire in 1859. Chechnya and its neighbor Ingushetia were made an Autonomous Soviet Republic in 1936.

Moreover, Chechnya was earlier a part of the Khanate of Crimea, ruled by the Ottoman Turks until its annexation by Russia in 1783. Then the Russian colonization of Chechnya began. Violent resistance to Russian occupation followed, led by the Chechen Muslim leader Sheikh Mansur, who was captured in 1791. After the Treaty of Adrianople 1829 further resistance to Russian domination was led by the Imam Shamil, whose policies were opposed by the brave Avar "Tartar" Hadji Murad. His valiant attempts to free his family from Shamil's captivity are the subject of a formerly little-known masterpiece written by Count Leo Tolstoy.

In 1851 Tolstoy joined the Tsar's army and went to the Caucasus where he learned the true story of Hadji Murad, a hero of the new democratic age.

Tolstoy's military service (much akin to that of Hemingway, his assiduous student) consisted mostly of talking, writing, hunting, seducing Cossack girls, and being treated for his venereal infections at a rest home.

Hadji Murad, caught between his Russian oppressors (Tsar Nicholas) and Muslim religious fanatics (Imam Shamil), has only the freedom to die heroically. Shamil is attended by an executioner carrying a big axe; Hadji Murad dies in battle, defiantly and with grace.

Tolstoy's War and Peace (1865-69), about the Napoleonic wars, and Anna Karenina (1875-77), a social tragedy, were followed by his founding a cult of Christian love, anarchism, non-violence, and the simple life. He wanted to live as an ascetic, so he gave away his considerable property, dying penniless in public. One would certainly expect his final work to reflect the Gospel, but it does not. Hadji Murad is the simple, vivid story of the selfless courage of a Muslim Tatar who is completely wrapped up in himself, full of daring and purpose.

The world would little note nor long remember the book Hadji Murad were it not for Harold Bloom, who in his 1994 treatise The Western Canon praises Tolstoy's novella as "my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best I have ever read." Left unpublished when Tolstoy died in 1910, the book is an artfully simple, intense, obvious, clear, pure and direct presentation of the paradox: violence is the chief evil; we must resist evil even by using violence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 AM


Green guru James Lovelock: We’re too stupid to deal with climate change (Terry Kirby, 30.03.10, Evening Standard)

Mankind is not clever enough yet to tackle climate change, one of the world's foremost environmentalists warned today.

James Lovelock, whose work has been a key inspiration of the green movement, also said the issue could be as “severe as war” and democracy might have to be put on hold to deal with it.

It always comes down to our betters deciding who will live and who will die.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


A Nation Like Ours: Why Americans stand with Israel (David Gelernter, 5/02, Jewish World Review)
[I]f no Jew had ever set foot in America, the United States and Israel would tend to understand each other nonetheless--because they are two of a kind.

Both are pick-up nations created out of ideas, with populations drawn from all over the globe; they are self-made nations in a world where most nations had
nationhood handed to them on a silver platter. A Frenchman or Japanese is so far removed from nation-building that he no longer has any moral stake in it; the energy and struggle that created France or Japan are none of his business. He washes his hands of them. Americans and Israelis still remember that nations do not create themselves.

Proto-Americans arrived here and proto-Israelis over there uninvited, from Europe, and set about making homes for themselves in the large empty spaces between indigenous settlements. They were small minorities at first, far from home and (in many cases) in strikingly unworldly frames of mind. Europeans can't conceive of creating a nation in such a manner.

The indigenous Indians and Palestinians confronted America and Israel with roughly similar moral problems from the start. But American and Israeli settlers had to leave Europe; they felt the pressure at their backs. And once they arrived in their new lands, everywhere they looked they saw empty space, and so they naively assumed that there would be room for everybody. In the years immediately after the First World War, Martin Gilbert writes, "less than 10 percent of the land area of Palestine was under cultivation. The rest, whether stony or fertile, was uncultivated. No Arab cultivator need be dispossessed for the Zionists to make substantial land purchases. The potential of the land, on which fewer than a million people were living on both sides of the Jordan, was regarded as enormous."

WHY DOES THE United States belong to Americans? Because we built it. We conceived the idea and put it into practice bit by bit. Why does Israel belong to Israelis? True, Jews have lived there in unbroken succession since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in the year 70. True, Jews were hounded out of their homes in Europe and the Arab Middle East, had nowhere else to go, and demanded the right to live. But ultimately, the land of Israel belongs to Israelis for the same reason America belongs to Americans: Because Israelis conceived and built it--and what you create is yours.

Excellent essay by Mr. Gelernter, whose memoir of being blown up by the Unabomber we highly recommend. I'd merely point out that much of what he says applied to Afrikaaner South Africa too, but demographics eventually caught up to them. Israel's long term prospects are similarly grim. [originally posted: 5/13/02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Japan - land of the setting sun (Martin Hutchinson, 3/31/10, Asia Times)

The budget for the year to March 2011 thus has record public spending, a record deficit and, for the first time, tax receipts covering less than 50% of public spending.

That's not good. The most notorious example of a government whose tax receipts covered less than 50% of public spending in peacetime was the German Weimar government of 1919-1923, and we know how that turned out.

Needless to say, Japan does not at present appear in danger of trillion-percent inflation, and it's worth reflecting on why not. Almost certainly, the Post Bank, which owns more than US$1.7 trillion in Japanese government debt - more than a quarter of the total outstanding - is a key bulwark of systemic stability.

In the Weimar Republic, which began with inflation already running well into double digits, nobody wanted to buy government debt at interest rates well below the inflation rate, while the government didn't want to issue debt at market rates, which would have appeared horribly expensive when the interest was subtracted from the budget balance (there wasn't much experience with high inflation then). So the Reichsbank printed more money and lent it to the government, resulting in hyperinflation.

In present-day Japan, most of the deficit is financed through domestic savings, whether directly or through the intermediation of the Post Bank. The Post Bank group has $3 trillion in financial assets, more than enough to ramp up its holdings of government bonds. To limit the danger of it running out of money, the government has now doubled the limit on postal savings accounts, to 20 million yen (US$220,000) per person. Thus the mechanism by which savings are channeled into the government's coffers is extremely efficient, and in the short term offers no danger of hyperinflation.

There are two dangers here, both of them very bad news for the Japanese economy. Domestic savings may become inadequate to fund the deficits (currently running at $500 billion a year) even with the help of the Post Bank - after all even at its current gigantic size, 50% larger than Bank of America, it could finance only 2ฝ more years of deficits at their current rate before finding itself with 100% of its assets in government bonds and no money. In that case, since Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio would then be so high that foreigners would see a severe risk of default, the Bank of Japan would have to monetize the deficit. Very quickly, Japan would be into Weimar territory - in those extreme circumstances it would probably transition from price deflation to triple-digit inflation within no more than 18-24 months.

The opposite risk, even while the Post Bank was sucking in private savings effectively and funding the deficit with them, is that private business could find it impossible to get funding. After all, with deflation of 1.3% in the year to January, Japan's 30-year government bond yield of 2.27 represents a real yield of 3.57%, high in a deep recession. If the Post Bank funds the government and the private banking system cuts back lending, then the private sector is likely to become starved of funding (except for the largest exporters, which can raise money internationally).

The Post Bank, by sucking in savings and funneling money into the giant deficit maw, would be intensifying the "crowding out" of the private sector. Bankruptcies throughout the private sector would then follow, pushing Japan into ever deeper recession.

This is the true danger of Keynesian deficit spending, kept at a high rate for two decades and then intensified. "Crowding out" of the private sector becomes a truly serious problem and the economy dives into deep recession. The only solution is that found by Neville Chamberlain in Britain in 1931 (when the country, which had suffered a low-growth 1920s, was in a similar position to Japan today). He devalued the pound and cut public sector salaries by 10%, pushing hard to balance the budget through spending cuts. The result was an astonishing economic boom, by British standards. Even while world trade was deep in depression, Britain enjoyed in 1932-37 the fastest five-year growth it has ever enjoyed.

That solution, of a weak yen and sharp cuts in government spending, is the answer for Japan today - essentially Koizumi's policy, but pursued more vigorously and without Koizumi's hesitation. The policy must be kept in place until full recovery occurs and the public debt is reduced to a manageable level of around 100% of GDP - for at least a decade, in other words. Given the dominance of the high-spending forces within the DPJ, and their adherence to Keynesian nonsense, Japan is unlikely to get any such policy from the current government - Fujii, who might have attempted it, is 78 and in poor health.

Bill Emmott explained why its high savings rate was disastrous, rather than advantrageous, for Japan twenty years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


McCollum leads, Florida supports suit (ALEXANDER BURNS, 3/30/10, Politico)

Republican state Attorney General Bill McCollum leads Democratic state CFO Alex Sink by 14 points in the Florida governor race, according to a Mason-Dixon poll reased Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The power of pretty: why fifties fashion is on trend (Laura Craik, 30.03.10, Evening Standard)

Grace Kelly has a lot to answer for. Like Betty Draper of the hit US television series Mad Men. Could Betty have existed if Grace hadn't come first? Given that she is a carbon copy of La Kelly, it is doubtful. For a generation of twentysomethings, hazy about who Grace Kelly was, it is Mad Men's Betty Draper who now best embodies the glacial glamour of the Fifties/early Sixties. It is Betty's weekly chic that has inspired them to explore the decade, in the same way that Kelly did for an older generation.

Anyone doubting the huge sartorial impact of Mad Men need only glance at the last round of autumn/winter collections, shown earlier this month in Paris, to be convinced. When two of the most influential brands in fashion — Prada and Louis Vuitton — evoke the Fifties, you know that this is a look with legs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


CNN Poll: Big shift on closing of Guantanamo Bay facility (CNN, 3/30/10)

Attitudes about the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have changed dramatically since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new national poll.

Support for closing the facility has dropped 12 points over the past 14 months, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings (BILL CARTER, 3/30/10, NY Times)

CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.

The trend in news ratings for the first three months of this year is all up for one network, the Fox News Channel, which enjoyed its best quarter ever in ratings, and down for both MSNBC and CNN.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


America As We Knew It? (Daily News Record, 2010-03-30)

The United States is, and long has been, “exceptional.” As Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore explore in their book “The Size of Nations,” of the world’s 10 richest countries, only four have populations of more than a million. With 300 million within our borders, the United States dwarfs the populations of the other three — Switzerland (7 million), Norway (4 million), and Singapore (3 million).

This invites an obvious question: If great wealth normally accrues to smaller, more cohesive, and more homogeneous nation-states, how does one explain the long-standing miracle that is America?

The answer, obviously, is that we're the most homogenous society on Earth. But we will devolve into several America's just for reasons of administrative efficiency and immediacy of political representation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Reports: part of ceiling of Nero palace collapses (AP, 3/30/10)

Italian news reports say that part of the ceiling of Nero’s Golden Palace in Rome has collapsed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Sarkozy, Obama set to face off for market control (David M. Dickson, 3/29/10, Washington Times)

Even as Mr. Obama spars with congressional Republicans over tougher regulations of the U.S. financial markets, he faces criticism from Mr. Sarkozy and other Western European leaders that Washington is being too timid, criticisms that Mr. Sarkozy repeated in only slightly veiled form the day before his Washington stop.

"You should reflect on what it means to be the world's No. 1 power," the French leader said in an address at Columbia University on Monday, inviting the United States to join its allies to create a "new global monetary order." means we don't have to pretend Europe matters.

March 29, 2010

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Drunk man found in engine of Indian Airlines Airbus (The Daily Telegraph, March 30, 2010)

AN ALLEGEDLY drunk man was found in a commercial jet engine as it was being prepared for take-off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


You don't need to believe in God to learn from religion: The common messages of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are too valuable to be ignored (Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian)
So the same ideas recur: freedom, redemption, justice. Jews dream of reaching the promised land, Christians hanker for the kingdom of heaven, Muslims yearn for paradise. Does this mean these three great faiths should all get along - that they should discover the vast common ground between them, throw down their swords and rush to embrace each other? Of course not. Only the naive believe that shared origins make for peaceful relations. The rest know that there is no war as bitter as a civil war, no argument more enduring than a family row and no dispute more inflammable than one between neighbours. Islam, Christianity and Judaism fight because of, not despite, their shared lineage, forefathers and neighbourhood.

No, the shared ideals of the children of Abraham are not likely to prompt a sudden, hugging reunion between the three traditions. But the fact that they have so much in common should at least arouse the curiosity of those who stand outside these three faiths and, indeed, outside faith itself. For this much collective and enduring wisdom is surely too valuable to be ignored: if so many people over so many centuries are speaking of the same ideas, they can't all be wrong.

Some secular Britons simply can't open their ears to this kind of talk. The very fact that it comes from a religious source, or sources, is enough to render it irrelevant or worse. Since faith is founded on superstitious nonsense - fairies at the bottom of the garden - nothing it says can be of any value. But this is an odd prejudice. We don't believe in magic any more, but that doesn't stop us marvelling at The Tempest. We don't believe in witches or ghosts, either, but we can still see the human wisdom in Macbeth and Hamlet.

Even the most secular should retune to hear what these traditions are saying to us now. Of course there is bellicose bigotry contained in sacred texts; selective quotation could make any holy work look like a racist's, or terrorist's, handbook. And of course there are hypocrisies: countless examples where religions' practitioners do not live up to their own teachings. But there is great sanity there, too. Environmentalist Jews have reinterpreted Passover as a time for stocktaking: besides bread, what else can I do without? What do I really need to eat, buy or own? Green Christians have done the same with Lent, while progressive Muslims can point to the legal requirement known as Zakat, which demands believers give away 2.5% of their wealth in order to purify the rest.

There is a yearning, particularly in the west, for a life beyond the material: people want their lives to be about something more than just jobs, houses and cars. The phenomenon may even have a political dimension. Labour minister Douglas Alexander, who has written on the need for politics to connect more deeply, says voters are not fired up by the mere provision of services aimed at their material needs: "What gets them out of bed in the morning are non-material values: how they raise their kids, whether they live in a genuine community."

People, in other words, are hungry for sustenance of the spirit.

The primary insights of the Abrahamic faiths are even more fundamental than those above. The first is that Man is made in God's image. The second that Man is Fallen. Combined, the two tell us that though we can't attain godhood, we are unique in all Creation and can (must) strive to transcend our flawed nature. Materialism, when it denies these truths, destroys our aspirations and turns our focus in upon ourselves, where we're unlikely to like what we find. Treating ourselves and each other like mere material we end up creating a society that we recognize as despicable, even if we've forgotten why we find it so.

Robert Kraynak put this particularly well:
Modern culture has cut out the highest part of the human soul, the part that longs for eternity and for spiritual transcendence of the here and now, the part that seeks the presence of the Incarnate God in worship and daily life and even hopes for a dim reflection of the city of God in social and political institutions. Instead of focusing on eternal life, we have become absorbed in one-dimensional materialism, trivialized life and death, and learned to avoid thinking or talking about life after death.
[Originally posted: May 11, 2003]
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Posted by David Cohen at 4:09 PM

FROM THE ARCHIVES: L'shanah haba'ah biyerushalayim

Tonight is the first night of Passover, marked by the Seder, a ritual meal. Our Seder tonight will just be our immediate family, and I will be leading the service portion of the meal from the Haggadah, the text for the Seder. When we come to the line above (it means "next year in Jerusalem"), I will say it, but will I really mean it?

We are taught that there are two Jerusalems (the Hebrew word, "yerushalayim" is plural), the earthly city, shel mata, and the ideal or Heavenly city, shel ma'ala. I have no desire to live in the actual Jerusalem. Unlike previous generations of Jews, I am free both to leave my home and to live in Israel, but I am American through and through and know that any emigration would be my loss. (Some argue that the wish is simply to celebrate the Seder in Jerusalem, not to move permanently to Israel, but tourism as religious obligation has no appeal to me.)

Turning to the ideal Jerusalem, the prayer is often understood as a hope that we will find peace and justice next year. I am as much in favor of peace and justice as the next Jew (everywhere but on bumperstickers), but I find this understanding of the prayer as unsatisfying as the first. First, unlike most Jews of my acquaintance, I don't believe that peace and justice go hand in hand, but rather I believe that they are often at odds. Second, during the many centuries of Jewish persecution during which Israel was forbidden to us, this was a powerful prayer of physical redemption. Turning it into an anodyne wish that we could all just get along is offensive to me.

So, assuming for the sake of argument that I'm not satisfied to simply be a hypocrite, what will I mean when I say "next year in Jerusalem." It came to me a few years ago that I had subconsciously come to identify the United States with Jerusalem. I don't mean this as an argument that Americans are now G-d's chosen people (although I'm open to that argument) or that the US is shel ma'ala, the ideal city. But I do believe that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and, most importantly, American life as we live it are now the best practical example to mankind of how life should be lived. Tonight, when I say L'shanah haba'ah biyerushalayim, I will be praying that next year, the world will be that much closer to living in freedom and prosperity, as Americans do.

P.S. For the non-Jews among us, I urge you, at least once, to try to attend a Seder. If you don't have any Jews conveniently close to hand, nothing can go badly wrong if you just buy some Haggadahs and take a stab at it (don't feel compelled to read the whole thing aloud. We don't). The exodus from Egypt, which the Seder recreates, is the seminal event in Judaism and is thus an important event in western culture. The Seder itself is at the core of modern Judaism and, because the Last Supper was a Seder, it is also at the core of Christianity. I would think that it could only help to appreciate Easter to recreate what was most likely Jesus' last public ritual. [Originally posted: 4/16/03]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


The Passover Song (NATHAN ENGLANDER, 4/08/09, NY Times)

Beyond the famed medieval manuscripts — the illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah, and the German Bird’s Head Haggadah — there are versions geared toward seders of every stripe. There are feminist editions, a vegetarian take for “the Liberated Lamb,” “The Anonymous Haggadah” for 12-steppers, one for the United States Armed Forces, the Santa Cruz liturgy, which is both “gender-neutral and God-name-Free,” and a Facebook Haggadah that ends by threatening a twitter version for next year (Google it yourself).

The Haggadah advises us to venture-off and learn but when it comes to choosing a liturgy, I don’t venture far. I came to discover that there’s no one more fiercely traditional than a fallen Jew, and found myself recoiling in horror when an ancient Hebrew word-puzzle was absent from the text I’m using as a guide (don’t worry, I put it back).

In the middle of all the figuring and arguing, the pondering of biblical prose, I often find myself remembering, a sweet side effect I didn’t expect. I remember the ritual search for hametz the night before the holiday: a little boy standing in a darkened basement at my father’s side, a lighted candle aloft, a feather in hand, ready to sweep up any crumbs missed along the way.

I remember the seasons when Easter and Passover crossed; walking to our suburban Long Island synagogue in a yarmulke and tiny suit, and waving up at the Easter Bunny perched atop one of the town’s fire trucks, the volunteer-fireman Bunny waving back on his rounds. I remember us laughing, my sister and father and I, the firemen too.

It was not lost, the sweetness of it: Passover suit or bunny suit, the firemen in their uniforms and me in mine, an acknowledgment of the different rituals and ceremonies that make up a town.

And the rituals in our home were many.

[originally posted: 4/08/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Matza and macaroons: As the Jewish festival of Passover nears, Naomi Alderman celebrates its annual food rituals and offers two classic recipes from her grandmother's favourite cookery book (Naomi Alderman, April 16, 2008, Guardian)

The festival celebrates, and at times attempts to relive, the story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from their captivity in Egypt. God, so the Bible relates, rescued the Children of Israel from slavery by smiting Egypt with 10 plagues; when Pharaoh finally agreed to release them, they had to leave so quickly that they didn't even have time to allow their bread to rise. So, for the eight days of Passover - this year from sunset next Saturday to sunset on Sunday April 27 - observant Jews eat no bread products, or anything made with flour that could potentially have had time to rise. These foods are called "chametz" and it's the prohibition against owning even a crumb of the stuff during Passover that creates the greatest levels of anxiety. In the preceding weeks, Jewish homes are cleaned with a fervour that borders on obsessive-compulsive. Furniture is pulled out. Books are opened and shaken. Curtains - as if they were known to attract breadcrumbs magnetically - are taken down and washed. [...]

The foods - especially the ritualised Seder meals on the first and second nights of the festival - become all the more alluring for being seen, smelled and tasted only once a year. Matza brei, the soft-yet-crunchy, delicious breakfast made from matza (cracker-like flatbread made from flour and water) soaked in an egg-and-milk mixture, and then fried in walnut oil, transports me instantly back to the kitchen of my grandmother, who died two years ago. I miss her, but I feel close to her again when I cook the meals she used to make - sometimes with her utensils as, being used only one week in the year, Passover cookware survives the generations. I have her recipe book, a battered 1958 edition of Florence Greenberg's Jewish Cookery (an updated and expanded version of Greenberg's first Jewish Chronicle Cookery Book published in 1934), bulging with yellowed recipes cut from newspapers and handwritten notes stuffed between the pages.

Passover, like all ritual, has the ability to telescope time. When I visit my parents' house and eat the same chicken soup my mother always makes, with the same kneidlach - little dumplings made from matza meal and eggs - floating in it, it's not exactly that I'm transported back to childhood. But the continuity between each Passover and all those that have gone before is almost stronger than the continuity between the day before the festival starts and the festival itself. There is a satisfaction, and a sense of permanence and stability, to be found in eating the same foods that I did at that time last year. This feeling swells further with the thought that the same rituals were performed not only by my parents and grandparents but ancestors whose names had been forgotten 100 years ago.

[originally posted; 4/16/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


The Passover Story, Illuminated (GABRIELLE BIRKNER, April 18, 2008, NY Sun)

At the ritual Passover meal, or seder, many Jewish families will be reading an abbreviated story of the Jews' exodus from Egypt from wine-stained, center-stapled Haggadahs. A more select group will be reading the same slavery-to-freedom story from a leather-bound volume that features 48 brilliant-hued reproductions from an illuminated manuscript by Arthur Szyk — the Lodz-born art ist who became one of America's most influential political cartoonists during World War II.

Irvin Ungar, a rabbi turned antiquarian, is publishing 300 numbered reproductions of the Szyk Haggadah, available in two editions, priced at $8,500 and $15,000, respectively. This rerelease comes more than seven decades after the Haggadah was rejected by Eastern European publishers, apparently for its incorporation of Nazi caricatures: In Szyk's original, snakes had swastikas painted on their backs, and the "wicked son" of the Passover story wore Hitler's iconic mustache. "For Szyk, the story of Passover was taking place in his own day; it was something unfolding before his eyes," Mr. Ungar said. "He saw Hitler as Pharaoh, and the Nazis as the new Egyptians who had come to enslave, and ultimately annihilate, the Jewish people."

The London press that agreed to publish his book in 1940 did so on the condition that Szyk paint over much of the Nazi imagery. [...]

A lecturer at University of California, Los Angeles who is writing a book about political art in America, Paul Von Blum, said the Szyk Haggadah provides a more activistic message than do other seder-table texts — and that is a good thing. "You can make tremendously contemporary applications of the story of escaping from tyranny and slavery, and that should apply to all oppressed people," he said, noting that Szyk was also an advocate for the civil rights of black Americans. "The Haggadah service should be political."

A few years ago, as we read, the Mother-In-Law commented: "This sounds like a speech by George Bush!?"

Anti-Nazi Haggadah is the legacy of an activist artist (rafael medoff, 4/07/06, Jewish Weekly News))
The classic Szyk haggadah becomes a modern masterpiece of the digital age: The Art of the Seder (Tom Tugend, 4/18/08, Jewish Journal)

[originally posted: 4/20/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


The Hagadah: The story of a People in flux: Pay close attention to the primary Passover text you pick. It says much about the society we live -- and lived -- in (Rabbi Berel Wein, 4/04. Jewish World Review)

There have been numerous revisionist Hagadahs printed and distributed over the centuries. In the early twentieth century, the believing Leftists amongst us produced a Hagadah according to the teachings of Marx and Engels. It was intended not so much to remember the Exodus from Egypt as it was to extol the wonders of socialism and communism and trumpet the collapse of the capitalist chains that enslaved the proletariat.

Somehow, Stalin diminished the popularity of this Hagadah though there are still kibbutzim in Israel that have such Leftist Hagadahs in use. Jews are true believers till the end. For all of us raised in the United States in the early and middle parts of the last century, the "Maxwell House" Hagadah was a staple of our existence. Many food companies and supermarkets produced Hagadahs that they distributed "free" to their customers.

Safe to assume the Kerry's use the Stalinist version.

[Originally posted: April 2, 2004]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


The season of the lambs: Christians are trying to analyse their responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice, and to examine their own faith's Jewish roots (The Economist, Apr 7th 2004)

FOR the Judeo-Christian world, this is the week. For Jews, celebrations of Passover or Pesach--recalling the children of Israel's escape from Egyptian bondage--reach their central moment. Over a family meal, millions of households have remembered the lamb's blood which the Jews in Egypt daubed on their doors to escape the angel of death. All over the Christian world (this is one of those years when the western and eastern halves of Christendom celebrate on the same date), the story of Easter or Pascha, which draws deeply on Passover symbols, is being relived. As people hail the resurrected Jesus Christ, they rejoice in their own redemption "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish". Thus, in many corners of the world, there is talk of lambs being slain, either literally, or as a metaphor for God incarnate.

For many centuries, the Christians' season of hope was a time of fear in Jewish ghettos, as religious fervour spilled over in murderous anti-Semitic violence. Now, though the demon of anti-Semitism is far from dead--and is on the rise in certain parts--the sort of anti-Jewish sentiments that were directly inspired by Christian preaching are a thing of the past in most areas of the historically Christian world. This has been largely brought about by the deep and searching dialogue between leaders of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as both traditions struggle to make some spiritual sense of the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi death camps.

A token of the new Jewish-Christian understanding is the passage into common, unselfconscious use of the term Judeo-Christian to describe the religious heritage of the western world. Even now, admittedly, the word is not problem-free. Colin Powell, America's secretary of state, stumbled into a controversy last autumn when he said of Iraq that it was "an Islamic country by faith, just as we are Judeo-Christian". Out of deference to Americans of other religions or none, Mr Powell quickly corrected himself, saying "we are a country of many faiths now".

American Muslims nonetheless protested strongly, pointing out that in certain ways--in particular, its reverence for Jesus and Mary--Islam is closer to Christianity than Judaism is. They urged that some new, more inclusive term (Abrahamic, perhaps) be found to describe the commonality between all three monotheistic faiths.

But Mr Powell's use of the term does reflect something real in recent religious history. Over the past half-century, Christians have tried harder than at any time in the previous two millennia to analyse their own faith's responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice and violence; and to look at their own faith's Jewish roots.

If you attended a seder last week you'll have no problem understanding why Americans put the "Judeo" in Judeo-Christian. At least when telling the story of Exodus, Judaism is a theology of liberation from oppression. Perhaps because the Muslims so quickly became overlords, Islam contains nothing similar.

[Originally posted: 4/07/04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


'Black Widow' female suicide bombers kill 37 in Moscow metro blasts (Bill Roggio, March 29, 2010, Long War Journal)

Two female suicide bombers detonated their vests during morning rush hour at metro stations in Moscow, killing 37 people and wounding 65 more. The attack was carried out by the Caucasus Emirate's 'Black Widows,' and was foreshadowed by the leader of the terror group in a statement in February. [...]

The FSB believes the attacks were carried out by the 'Black Widows,' members of the Caucasus Emirate's female suicide bomber cadre. The chief of the FSB said the heads of two women have been recovered at the blast sites. The Black Widows are typically wives or daughters of family members killed during the wars against the Russians in Chechnya.

The Black Widows have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater in 2003 (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); and the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed).

Chechnya is not now and never was Russian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM



Within the 84 percent who think the middle class will have to sacrifice, 92 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of independent voters feel that way. But on the question of raising taxes on the middle class, 83 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of independent voters and 75 percent of Democrats are opposed.

The relative lack of a partisan gap also is evident in limiting the growth of Social Security and Medicare. On Social Security, 73 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independent voters are opposed. On Medicare, 75 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents are opposed.

Women are generally more opposed to limiting either program than are men and those with more education and higher incomes are slightly more in favor of such restrictions on growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


White House Scrambles to Fill TSA Vacancy (Keith Johnson, 3/29/10, WSJ)

The TSA has been without a full-time boss for more than a year, even as attempted terrorist attacks, such as the Christmas Day underwear bomber, have highlighted the ongoing vulnerability of commercial aviation.

Gen. Harding was the second to withdraw his nomination to the post under theObama administration; Erroll Southers pulled out in January after coming under fire from Republican lawmakers. A White House spokesman declined to say when the administration would nominate another candidate to head the TSA.

Former security officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the TSA said they aren't aware of any particular names that might be on the administration's short list.

...that they can have run out of incompetents to staff the Administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


A Deal With the Devil: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a vicious, brutal, devious warlord. He could also be one of America's tickets out of Afghanistan. (Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai, 3/28/10, NEWSWEEK)

Officials in Washington express mixed reactions to the idea of negotiating with Hekmatyar. His fighters are thought to have led assaults that nearly overran two small American bases in Nuristan province last October, killing eight American soldiers and wounding 24. Many national-security professionals, especially in the intelligence field, say they're disgusted to think of cutting deals with someone who has so much blood on his hands. On the other hand, as Gen. David Petraeus likes to say, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. People at the Pentagon are speaking more cautiously, mostly echoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates's recent assertion that it's too soon to begin discussing peace in Afghanistan.

In this case, America's view may be beside the point. "Karzai's showing us he's not our puppet," says Bruce -Riedel, the former CIA analyst who led last year's review of Afghan policy for the Obama administration. "This isn't really our dance. This is an Afghan dance." All the same, some in the American government seem to like the tune. They speculate that with enough U.S. cash to sweeten the deal, Karzai just might be able to direct Hekmatyar's forces against the Taliban. Although personal comforts and luxuries have never seemed to exert much appeal for Hekmatyar, his appetite for power is vast, and money could help him get more of what he craves.

...get him out in the open by pretending to make a deal and then kill him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Tea-Party Candidates Face Hard Reality of Campaigns (NEIL KING JR. And DOUGLAS BELKIN, 3/29/10, WSJ)

Jason Meade of New Franklin, Ohio, is among hundreds of political hopefuls looking to ride the "tea party" wave to Washington this year. Like most, he's finding it a tough go.

Mr. Meade is running in the Republican primary in Ohio's 13th Congressional District against five candidates while juggling a 50-hour workweek at a plastics plant. His headquarters "is in the second-floor living room in the corner where the computer is," he says. His campaign has $3,000 to its name.

Mr. Meade's experience goes to the heart of a debate roiling the nascent movement: Should it back fervent long shots who hew to its antigovernment views, or should it rally around more traditional candidates, even if they don't perfectly reflect the movement's distaste for incumbents, taxes and spending?

The question is being asked as homegrown candidates confront brute realities of politics: reluctant donors, limited party support, inexperienced staffers and the uphill fight against incumbents. [...]

"The problem with the tea-party movement is it has inspired too many candidates," says Patrick Hughes, a candidate with tea-party backing who was trounced by Rep. Mark Kirk in the crowded Illinois Republican Senate primary. "The movement will fail if it can't coalesce behind candidates who can win." [...]

Handicappers are predicting heavy Democratic losses in November. Democrats hope the tea-party surge will soften that blow by diluting Republican campaign coffers and pulling mainstream conservatives to the right, imperiling their chances in the general election.

"This is great news for us," says Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC has launched a Web site to highlight divisions in the GOP primaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Health overhaul likely to strain doctor shortage (LAURAN NEERGAARD, 3/29/10, AP)

Better beat the crowd and find a doctor.

Primary care physicians already are in short supply in parts of the country, and the landmark health overhaul that will bring them millions more newly insured patients in the next few years promises extra strain.

The new law goes beyond offering coverage to the uninsured, with steps to improve the quality of care for the average person and help keep us well instead of today's seek-care-after-you're-sick culture. To benefit, you'll need a regular health provider.

Yet recently published reports predict a shortfall of roughly 40,000 primary care doctors over the next decade, a field losing out to the better pay, better hours and higher profile of many other specialties.

It's kind of like trying to reduce the cost of owning a car by taking it to a mechanic more often.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


NYC Recession Not That Bad, Says Report (Jack Phillips, 3/28/10, Epoch Times)

The current economic recession may not be as dire as previously thought, according to a report released by the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO) on Friday.

The IBO, which is a non-partisan and publicly funded agency that analyzes New York City's budget, reported that previous downturns in the economy in New York City were much more difficult to climb out of. Additionally, Wall Street has made strides forward which have boosted the entire city's economy, indicated the report.

At least this one will count as a real recession even after all the numbers are in decades from now, unlike the other mere slowdowns since the early '80s.

March 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Hawaii's shortage of doctors may double or triple over next decade (Greg Wiles, 3/28/10, Honolulu Advertiser)

An interim report on Hawai'i's physician shortage says the state is at least 500 doctors below national averages given its population and that the severity of the deficit may double or triple in the next decade if nothing is done.

The 2010 Hawai'i Health Workforce Assessment study done by John A. Burns School of Medicine researchers said the state has roughly 20 percent fewer doctors than it should when compared to physician-to-population ratios nationally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


Keeping a Republic: Overcoming the Corrupted Judiciary (The Honorable Robert Bork, 2/24/10, Heritage Foundation)

A republican form of government is about legitimate processes rather than results, except in those few instances in which the nation has adopted self-denying ordinances, such as our Bill of Rights, that rule out certain results. Obviously, those ordinances must be carefully construed so that they are effective but do not encroach on the legitimate powers of majorities. A corollary is adherence to the rule of law, for only such adherence can ensure that the will of the majority is not altered or subverted in its application to particular cases so that the power to govern is effectively denied to the majority.

Perhaps something like this is what Franklin had in mind. If so, he may have been worried about the displacement of majorities by oligarchies. Franklin was right to suggest that the success of the Republic was contingent--so it was, and so it is, and so it will always remain. There will always be people, often in well-funded organizations, who prefer the victory of their interests to republican processes. The danger becomes acute when the citizenry no longer appreciates the virtues and vulnerabilities of a republic. As Walter Bagehot put it, "The characteristic danger of great nations, like the Romans and the English, which have a long history of continuous creation, is that they may at last fail from not comprehending the great institutions which they have created."

In America's case, the great institution we have created and may be failing to comprehend is judicial supremacy: the power we have accorded courts to correct, and do so with finality, the other branches of the federal government and all branches of state governments. The judges need only announce that these other branches and governments have strayed from the principles contained in our written Constitution. Never mind that the power of judicial review is nowhere mentioned in that Constitution or that that power was established in very dubious fashion in Marbury v. Madison (1803).

The nation ultimately acquiesced, and a great institution was born--great in its capacity to do much good but also dangerous when it employs its powers to accomplish ends outside the law. After all, after Marbury came Dred Scott (1856), which denied the federal government the power to prevent slavery in any state or territory or to permit a state to bar slavery within its borders. Perhaps it should have been seen as ominous that these two cases, one greatly admired, the other now universally despised, were both instances of what today we call judicial activism.

If you accept Marbury as legitimate you yield the Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


WHO accused of losing public confidence over flu pandemic: Loss of credibility could endanger lives, says vice chair of Council of Europe's health committee (Sarah Boseley, 3/28/10,

The World Health Organisation and other public health bodies have "gambled away" public confidence by overstating the dangers of the flu pandemic, according to a draft report to the Council of Europe.

The report, by the Labour MP Paul Flynn, vice chair of the council's health committee, says that a loss of credibility could endanger lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Dutch disarm 12 pirates off coast of Somalia (AP, 3/28/10)

The Dutch navy says it has disarmed 12 more pirates off the coast of Somalia after luring them into a foolhardy attack on a warship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


The Next Scott Brown?: The health-care win has lifted Democratic hopes for the midterms. But in Massachusetts, they're worried a WASPy wonk running for governor could score another GOP upset. (Samuel P. Jacobs, 3/28/10, Daily Beast)

There’s a palpable sense of desperation around Beacon Hill. The incumbent governor, Deval Patrick, has presided over a series of budget shortfalls, leading his poll numbers to plummet. His Democratic colleagues aren’t helping much. Three straight state house speakers have faced legal investigations, giving the Democrats the stink of scandal that’s proving hard to scrub off; Patrick may be forced to testify in one of the probes this fall, just as his campaign for re-election shifts into high gear. A pair of other Democratic officials are being investigated by the federal government for bribery. Even demographics are conspiring against the Democrats, as the 2010 is likely to take away one of the state’s 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The chief beneficiary of all this turmoil? Charlie Baker, a rangey Republican charmer with an impressive resume and a background in health care, who could just become the next Scott Brown. [...]

On paper, Baker doesn’t have much in common with the pickup-truck driving, underwear-modeling populist sensation. Baker’s a WASP think-tank veteran whose father worked in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Where Brown prizes his GMC Canyon pickup, Baker prefers a minivan. The Baker camp knows it won’t be a simple matter to bottle Brown’s magic for a win this November. They also know the momentum from Brown’s shocking upset will help.

A Baker win would be felt far beyond the Bay State. Yes, all politics is local, as a Massachusetts sage once said, and Patrick’s sinking numbers have next to nothing to do with Washington politics (see a fine summary here). But a repudiation of Patrick, whose message of uplift was a blueprint for Barack Obama’s, would be felt in the West Wing. And Republicans will surely tout an upset as a sign of things to come for the president in 2012.

After a long and successful run of GOP governors, the Bay State tried out a Democrat. The results speak for themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Will the UK break up under the Tories? (James Macintyre, 28 March 2010, New Statesman)

I have long feared that the break-up of the UK -- made more likely by devolution -- will be completed by David Cameron's Tories if they win the election in May. Why? Because their strategists know that this party, which "won" England in 2005, is increasingly an English party which has given up on Scotland, where it is pretty exclusively loathed (a Scottish Tory source tells me that Cameron and George Osborne are not even much liked by Scottish Tories north of the border).

The Scots think they're a nation, so they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


Staying optimistic 'keeps you healthy' (Daily Telegraph, 3/28/10)

Staying optimistic keeps you healthy, according to a new study which also found that a "glass-half-empty" attitude can damage your immune system.

The research showed that when you are feeling more pessimistic you will be less able to fight off viruses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan (James Gordon Meek, 3/28/10, NY Daily News)

This is the President’s first trip to Afghanistan since he was a senator running for the White House in 2009. As President, Obama has escalated the war by adding more than 70,000 U.S. troops to the fight. [...]

Karzai’s own reelection to a new term in office recently - which disappointed the White House - was widely denounced for corruption in the balloting.

Obama will “make him understand that in his second term, there are certain things that have been not paid attention to, almost since day one,” Jones said.

The UR is the made, not the maker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Australian Population Exceeded 22 Million Last Year (Daniel Petrie, March 25, 2010, Bloomberg)

Australia’s population exceeded 22 million for the first time last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said today on its Web site.

The nation’s population added 451,900 people in the year to Sept. 30, reaching 22,066,000, the bureau said.

Housing shortfall likely to worsen (George Megalogenis, 3/28/10, The Australian )
OFFICIAL forecasts for the nation's housing shortage have worsened, with more than 100,000 prospective home buyers already locked out of the market by June 30 last year.

The ongoing gap between demand and supply will be greater than previously feared, as all levels of government and the building industry struggle to keep up with Australia's world-beating population growth.

By 2029, the combined shortfall could reach 500,000 homes and apartments.

If Democrats had passed immigration amnesty last year they'd have retained Congress this Fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


States shed government jobs as revenue plummets (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP)

Pennsylvania, Michigan and Washington shed government jobs last month, a result of shrinking state tax revenue that economists fear could weaken the recovery.

State and local government jobs have traditionally provided a haven during economic downturns. But as states have struggled to close growing budget gaps, job cuts have spread.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


House Majority to Clinton: Calm Down on Israel (Hillel Fendel, 3/28/10,

More than 75 percent of Congressmen in the U.S.House of Repreentatives have signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing support for Israel and demanding an end to the highly-publicized state of tensions with Israel.

Signed by 327 Representatives, out of 435, the letter calls on Clinton and the Obama Administration to settle its disputes with Israel in a non-public and friendly fashion. The current tensions “will not advance the interests the U.S. and Israel share,” the letter states, as “above all, we must remain focused on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program to Middle East peace and stability."

The letter was initiated last week by leaders of both parties, including the top Representatives of each one: Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


The Rage Is Not About Health Care (FRANK RICH, 3/28/10, NY Times)

The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Washington Post poll finds split on health-care law remains deep (Jon Cohen and Dan Balz, 3/28/10, Washington Post)
In the days since President Obama signed the farthest-reaching piece of social welfare legislation in four decades, overall public opinion has changed little, with continuing broad public skepticism about the effects of the new law and more than a quarter of Americans seeing neither side as making a good-faith effort to cooperate on the issue.

Overall, 46 percent of those polled said they support the changes in the new law; 50 percent oppose them. That is virtually identical to the pre-vote split on the proposals and similar to the divide that has existed since last summer, when the country became sharply polarized over the president's most ambitious domestic initiative.

The Wife saw a bumper sticker yesterday that read: "I think, therefore I'm liberal"

That person imagines themself to be tolerant, just like Mr. Rich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Victory's Cost: Healthcare and Abortion Rights (Kate Michelman, 3/28/10, Real Clear Politics)

Pro-choice activists are torn between celebrating the passage of health care legislation and confusion, if not anger, at the price paid to obtain it. Millions of Americans, including a disproportionate number of women, will have access to health care they desperately need. But this victory was achieved through a fundamental change in the way we treat reproductive rights. [...]

Members of Congress faced a difficult dilemma. But it is important to ask whether this price had to be paid, what this says about the commitment of Democratic leaders to reproductive rights and what the future holds on this issue. [...]

It was no accident Democrats lacked the votes to pass a bill including access to abortion as a necessary part of women's health care. It was a direct result of a calibrated Democratic strategy to recruit anti-choice candidates, a strategy based on a misunderstanding of the 2004 election. Moreover, insufficient votes for a fundamental value should not lead one to quickly surrender that value.

Many planks of the bill were controversial from the outset and, in time, the bill itself lacked majority support. But access to abortion was the one plank the leaders tossed aside without a fight. On other issues, arms were twisted, grassroots networks activated, Cornhuskers kicked-back, Louisianans purchased, and student loans made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


PM mocked in Tory poster campaign (Evening Standard, 28.03.10)

In a highly personal attack, the posters depict Gordon Brown's smiling face alongside sarcastic "Vote for me" slogans.

The new campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, includes the slogan: "I took billions from pensions - vote for me" and "I let 80,000 criminals out early - vote for me".

Previously known as Saatchi and Saatchi, the firm was the architect of the famed "Labour isn't working" campaign depicting a long snaking dole queue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


The Ghost of Maggie Thatcher: A cash-for-influence scandal and a major airline strike have hastened Gordon Brown’s tailspin. Is Britain on the brink of a Tory revival that would make the Iron Lady proud? (Alex Massie, 3/28/10, Daily Beast)

All in all, however, this shabby affair was reminiscent of the last days of John Major's government when an exhausted Tory party was battered by "sleaze" allegations en route to its annihilation at the polls in 1997. The strikes call to mind an even more depressing era—the 1970s, which culminated in a humiliating bailout from the IMF and a year of industrial unrest and strikes that reached their apogee in the so-called Winter of Discontent in the months before the 1979 election that swept Thatcher to power.

If the situation facing Britain this year isn't quite as bleak as it was then—no gravediggers have yet gone on strike, for instance—the country is still grumbling through a Disenchanted Spring. Back then, the Iron Lady tamed the over-mighty unions as ruthlessly as a medieval monarch. But now, after more than 15 years in the shadows, the labor unions are flexing their muscles again, and Gordon Brown is ill-equipped to tame them.

Though it's an idiosyncratic take on the decade, Francis Wheen's Strange Days Indeed is a helpful reminder of what genuinely difficult times are like.

Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen: Francis Wheen's dissection of the 70s hilariously reveals the paranoia that characterised that decade (Andrew Anthony, 9/06/09, The Observer)

The Seventies have inspired a host of documentaries, films, articles, fashions – and books. Many of these have focused on the overfamiliar, but in recent years there has been a revisionist movement of sorts that has set out to combat cliches. Howard Sounes's Seventies: The Sights, Sounds and Ideas of a Brilliant Decade was a riposte to the view that Love Thy Neighbour and the Austin Allegro were typical of the times. And recently Andy Beckett's When the Lights Went Out sought to rescue progressive politics from the image of suicidal industrial disputes.

Now, before the gloss has had a chance to dry, along comes Francis Wheen with what amounts to a blowtorch and an industrial sander. Wheen has no interest in playing down the turmoil that rent the country during the years of energy blackouts, strikes and urban terror. He summons up an atmosphere of almost surreal resignation, as captured in Tony Benn's diary entry of 23 December 1973: "Three more IRA bombs in London. I tidied the office and wrapped Christmas gifts."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Christie backs school choice plan: Students in underperforming public schools would get money to attend private school under a proposed bill the governor favors. (Adrienne Lu, 3/28/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R., Union) are proposing a five-year pilot program, roughly modeled on a similar program in Pennsylvania, under which low-income students in "chronically failing" public schools would be able to apply for scholarships to attend private schools, including parochial schools, or other public schools. The scholarships would be funded by private corporations, who would in turn receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits.

The program, which has been proposed for introduction in the Legislature, defines chronically failing public schools as those where, for the past two years, 40 percent or more of students scored "partially proficient" - the lowest score possible - in both language arts and math, or 65 percent or more of students scored partially proficient in either subject.

Two hundred and five public schools statewide (including charter schools) - or 8 percent - meet the criteria, including 24 in Camden, 42 in Newark, and 25 in Paterson. A handful of schools in Burlington and Gloucester Counties also meet the criteria.

The bill also would establish a competitive grant process, through which any of the so-called chronically failing public schools could compete for grants funded by the state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


With friends like this who needs ... (Ruben Navarrette, 3/28/10, San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE)

The dust-up with Israel has some folks wondering if the Obama administration is going out of its way to be unfriendly to America’s friends.

Add Mexico to the list. How galling it must be for Mexican President Felipe Calderón – who is locked in a bloody war with drug cartels that are bankrolled by the consumption habits of Americans and armed with guns smuggled to Mexico from the United States – to now have to put up with Monday-morning quarterbacking from a top U.S. official over how the war is fought. [...]

[D]uring an interview on MSNBC, Napolitano responded to the slaying of three officials with the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez by challenging the effectiveness of the Mexican government’s No. 1 weapon against the cartels: the military.

“President Calderón of Mexico has been deeply involved, even sending in the military into Juarez,” Napolitano said. “That hasn’t helped.”

Mexican officials came unglued. They rattled off instances where Mexican soldiers and Marines took down major drug cartel leaders, and suggested that the government has no choice but to use the military when local police are corrupt or otherwise compromised.

That’s the key point. Calderón is using the only tool he has, and he has a right not to be second-guessed by his strongest ally.

The UR needs a Court packing plan just so he can promote all his disastrous Administration picks out of the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


U.S. take if it sells its Citi stake to settle cost of bailout: $8 billion (David Cho, 3/28/10, Washington Post)

The Obama administration is making final preparations to sell its stake in the New York bank, according to industry and federal sources. At today's prices, the sale would net more than $8 billion, by far the largest profit returned from any firm that accepted bailout funds, and the transaction would be the second-largest stock sale in history.

On paper, the government's 27 percent stake has grown in value to $33 billion.

W not only saved the global banking system but turnmed a tidy profit on the deal. Of course, Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats deserve credit for signing off on the deal. Indeed, everyone comes out looking good except House Republicans and the Right.

March 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


The party poopers at Darwin’s 200th birthday: Following mainstream scientists’ celebration of Darwin’s big birthday last year, two new books argue that Darwin’s theory is not all it’s cracked up to be. Are they on to anything? (John Gillott , 3/26/10, Spiked Review of Books)

Within populations there exists variation in physical and behavioural traits. Darwin’s theory of natural selection states that if that variation is in turn linked to genetic variation that can be passed on from one generation to the next, then traits that confer greater reproductive success on organisms in a given environmental context will become more frequent in the population over time. As Coyne puts it in Why Evolution is True:

‘Selection is not a mechanism imposed on a population from outside. Rather, it is a process, a description of how genes that produce better adaptations become more frequent over time. When biologists say that selection is acting “on” a trait, they’re merely using shorthand saying that the trait is undergoing the process. In the same sense, species don’t try to adapt to their environment. There is no will involved, no conscious striving. Adaptation to the environment is inevitable if a species has the right kind of genetic variation.’

F & P-P are at pains to emphasise that they are not into Intelligent Design or any other kind of creationism. They are out and proud, card-carrying materialists and atheists. Rather, it is their contention that the variety and forms of order that we find in the natural world are not and could not be the product of natural selection as formulated by Darwin and developed by neo-Darwinism. Early in the book they state: ‘There must be strong, often decisive, endogenous constraints and hosts of regulations on the phenotypic options that exogenous selection operates on. We think of natural selection as tuning the piano, not as composing the melodies. That’s our story, and we think it’s the story that modern biology tells when it’s properly construed. We will stick to it throughout what follows.’

In fact, in what follows the argument is, if anything, hardened up. From the above quote the possibility of natural selection operating in a very constrained way seems to be allowed. Later the argument becomes that natural selection in the Darwinian sense does not exist, that Darwin confused himself and that Darwinists continue to confuse themselves and others through ‘just so’ stories and analogous thinking – comparing natural selection to the artificial selection of the animal breeder and the experimental and conceptual work of the human architect, two processes that involve human agency and thinking.

Furthermore, just as natural selection doesn’t operate, so species aren’t adapted to their environments, argue F & P-P. The following quote brings out this aspect of their argument and is at the same time a good example of their way of thinking:

‘Here’s the point: a creature’s ecology must not be confused with its environment. The environment that creatures live in is common to each and every one of them – it’s just “the world”… By contrast, a creature’s ecology consists of whatever-it-is-about-the-world that makes its phenotype viable. That is to say: it is constituted by those features of the world in virtue of which that kind of creature is able to make a living in the world. In effect, the notions of “ecology” and “phenotype” (unlike the notions of “environment” and “phenotype”) are interdefined. Since they are, it’s hardly surprising that a creature’s phenotype reliably turns out to be in good accord with its ecology. Do not, therefore, be amazed that the seagull’s wings meet with such remarkable perfection the demands that its airy ecology imposes. If seagulls didn’t have wings, their ecology wouldn’t be airy.’

That last sentence encapsulates the change in worldview they want to bring about. ‘If seagulls didn’t have wings…’ But why do they have wings? F & P-P spend most of the book in critical mode. Their alternative, however, is implicit, and they make it explicit in the last chapter. Building on the first half of the book that discusses, among other things, a range of sciences that suggest strong endogenous processes and constraints shape the forms of organisms, they argue that natural history, not natural selection, explains why there are the phenotypes that there are. And by history they do not mean history as understood by Marx and other nineteenth-century writers who looked for patterns and causation in history. They mean history in the sense of one damned thing after another. In this spirit they propose that we abandon any single way of looking at evolution:

‘On the present view, Darwin made the same sort of mistake that Marx did: he imagined that history is a theoretical domain; but what there is, in fact, is only a heterogeneity of causes and effects… Darwin pointed the direction to a thoroughly naturalistic – indeed a thoroughly atheistic – theory of phenotype formation; but he didn’t see how to get the whole way there. He killed off God, if you like, but Mother Nature and other pseudo-agents got away scot-free. We think it’s now time to get rid of them, too.’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Burying Malthus to save Malthusianism: The so-called ‘progressive greens’ challenging the idea that the planet is overpopulated are actually only interested in making Malthusian thinking more palatable and PC. (Brendan O’Neill, 3/26/10, spiked review of books)

Having hated and slated Malthus, Pearce moves on to explore how Malthus’s ideas had a devastating impact on later generations. He looks at how the Irish Famine of 1845-1852, in which one million people starved to death, was explained away by Malthus’s disciples as the inevitable product of overpopulation, of the fact that, in one Malthusian thinker’s words, ‘The careless, squalid, un-aspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits’. Once again, a social problem – the poverty and repression wrought by Ireland’s subordinate colonial relationship with Britain – was re-explained as a natural phenomenon. Pearce examines how Malthus’s thinking inspired the eugenics movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some of whose followers opposed the development of vaccines and other medical breakthroughs since they ‘stopped nature weeding out people vulnerable to its diseases’.

He traces Malthus’s ideas forward to William Vogt, the granddaddy of contemporary environmentalism whose green and Malthusian Road to Survival was published in 1948. Vogt also instinctively opposed medical breakthroughs and agricultural or industrial leaps forward, on the basis that they allowed people to carry on breeding. For example in India, said Vogt, ‘building irrigation works, providing means of food storage and importing food during periods of starvation [has only allowed Indians to continue in] their accustomed way, breeding with the irresponsibility of codfish’. Pearce takes us up to today’s Optimum Population Trust (OPT), an old-style Malthusian outfit, which says we must reduce the human population to three billion or face ‘nature’s brutal population policies… increasing the death rate by famines and disease’. The OPT sees the whole globe, but especially Africa and Asia, as a hotbed of potential chaos and slaughter. One of its former chairmen has argued that ‘for the whole planet to avoid the fate of Rwanda, Malthusian thinking needs rehabilitation’. Pearce points out that it simply isn’t true that Africa is overpopulated: ‘The continent contains 11 of the world’s 20 least densely populated nations and only one of the 20 most densely populated.’

Yet the driving motivation of Pearce’s demolition job on Malthus and his unreconstructed apostles is not to put the case for understanding humanity’s problems as social rather than natural and to challenge the backward idea that we live on a finite planet which will forever thwart ‘man’s unbounded yearning to multiply’. No, Pearce’s motivation is to rescue those backward ideas from their sullied association with misanthropic, racist, deeply reactionary movements of the past 200 years and from the inconvenient fact that they originated with a mad, harelipped reverend who hated the poor. Pearce wants to kill Malthus, but also preserve the very essence of Malthusian thinking.

Pearce seems to imagine that he is making a radical new contribution to the debate about people, the planet and resources when he argues that the decisive factor in humanity’s impact on its surroundings is consumption rather than population. In a chapter titled ‘Footprints on a finite planet’, which comes after 238 pages of Pearce’s attacks on old-fashioned Malthusians, Pearce finally confesses his own overpopulation concerns: ‘The quadrupling of global population during the twentieth century helped bring us to the edge of the abyss… Our sheer numbers have clearly been crucial to what has happened, but they are only part of the story.’

The main part of the story, he says, is not simply the fact of humans being born, but how much they then go on to consume. [...]

Pearce is explicitly updating and refashioning the arguments of Paul Ehrlich, one of the twentieth century’s most prolific neo-Malthusians, who (wrongly, of course) wrote in his 1971 book The Population Bomb that ‘hundreds of millions of people will starve to death’ as a result of overpopulation (4). Ehrlich himself updated traditional Malthusianism, arguing that humanity’s destructive impact is determined by three things: the number of individuals, the consumption of each individual, and the resources needed to satisfy that consumption. And now Pearce is updating Ehrlich, giving rise to what we might call ‘third-generation Malthusianism’, by arguing that ‘Ehrlich’s second factor in humanity’s impact on the planet [consumption] has come to the fore’. Population growth is actually slowing, says Pearce, so ignore the OPT and other unreconstructed Malthusians and focus instead on the main problem: the consumption habits of existing human beings rather than the projected number of future human beings.

Over the past 200 years, Malthusianism has continually reinvented itself. It has had to, since so many of its predictions have been contradicted by human experience, in particular the key claim of Malthus’s Essay: that it would be impossible for food production to keep up with population growth. Generations of Malthusians have dealt with this by arguing that some ‘unforeseen development’ has merely provided a ‘temporary respite’ from the fundamental Malthusian dilemma, and while Malthus may have been wrong on some of the facts he was right on the fundamentals. Pearce simply goes one step further, arguing not only that Malthus was wrong on some of facts but that he was a rotten piece of work with some very dodgy beliefs. Yet although he doesn’t say it out loud, Pearce, too, believes Malthus was right on the fundamentals.

Similarly, nativists always argue that while their predecessors were wrong (not least about their own wog ancestors) the current wave of immigration is TOTALLY DIFFERENT!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


America Will Survive ObamaCare (Rich Karlgaard, March 26, 2010, Forbes)

Thus far I've given you a brief American analysis of the politics that I believe will check Obama’s leftist ambitions. There's another argument. It is not rooted in American politics. It is a global argument. Follow me on this. America is 4% of the world's population, 24% of its GDP and some 40% of its net worth. America can try to go to the left, but it will not get to too far because the rest of the world will not go with it. Is China going left? China may be authoritarian, but there is no chance it will go Maoist any time soon. Is India going left? There are leftwing parties in India, but the country has trended toward free market capitalism for two decades and is not likely to reverse course. How about Germany? Merkel is not left. England? Brown faces the race of his life. France? Brazil? Russia? All have their problems, but none are seeking answers in Marxism.

The U.S. can't afford to go left in a world going right. The American population won't let it. The bond markets won't let it. America's major industries and companies won't let it. (Next time you rant about the power of lobbies, remember this.)

Yes, I hate ObamaCare as much as anyone. But I reject the idea that ObamaCare represents a major win for the left. Rather, ObamaCare is the left's last stand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Obama's health insurance rule _ it was a GOP idea (RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 3/27/10, AP)

Starting in 2014, the new law will require nearly all Americans to have health insurance through an employer, a government program or by buying it directly. That year, new insurance markets will open for business, health plans will be required to accept all applicants and tax credits will start flowing to millions of people, helping them pay the premiums.

Those who continue to go without coverage will have to pay a penalty to the IRS, except in cases of financial hardship. Fines vary by income and family size. For example, a single person making $45,000 would pay an extra $1,125 in taxes when the penalty is fully phased in, in 2016.

Conservatives today say that's unacceptable. Not long ago, many of them saw a national mandate as a free-market route to guarantee coverage for all Americans -- the answer to liberal ambitions for a government-run entitlement like Medicare. Most experts agree some kind of requirement is needed in a reformed system because health insurance doesn't work if people can put off joining the risk pool until they get sick.

In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon favored a mandate that employers provide insurance. In the 1990s, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, embraced an individual requirement. Not anymore.

"The idea of an individual mandate as an alternative to single-payer was a Republican idea," said health economist Mark Pauly of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. In 1991, he published a paper that explained how a mandate could be combined with tax credits -- two ideas that are now part of Obama's law. Pauly's paper was well-received -- by the George H.W. Bush administration. [...]

Obama rejected a key part of Pauly's proposal: doing away with the tax-free status of employer-sponsored health care and replacing it with a standard tax credit for all Americans. Labor strongly opposes that approach because union members usually have better-than-average coverage and suddenly would have to pay taxes on it. But many economists believe it's a rational solution to America's health care dilemma since it would raise enough money to cover the uninsured and nudge people with coverage into cost-conscious plans.

...will just make the default choice a more cost-conscious option (HSAs).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


City to douse lights Saturday for Earth Hour (Boston Globe, March 26, 2010)

Cambridge will turn off all nonessential lights in municipal buildings for one hour Saturday, starting at 8:30 p.m., in support of Earth Hour.

Turning out the lights for Earth Hour is intended to serve as a call for action on climate change and to symbolize a positive impact can be made by working together. the movie looks better on your giant TV.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


American Jeremiad: A Manifesto (WEN STEPHENSON, 3/28/10, NY Times Book Review)

From the 17th century on, our writers have taken their cue from the biblical prophet Jeremiah and the particular form of Puritan sermon — at once lament and indictment of the community’s sins and exhortation to return to the true faith — that bears his name. Americans aren’t supposed to write manifestos. We write jeremiads.

In his classic study “The American Jeremiad” (1978), the Harvard scholar Sacvan Bercovitch put his finger on the distinctive shading our writers have given the ancient form: “American writers have tended to see themselves as outcasts and isolates, prophets crying in the wilderness. So they have been, as a rule: American Jeremiahs, simultaneously lamenting a declension and celebrating a national dream.” We Americans, the jeremiad proclaims, have failed to live up to our founding principles, betrayed our sacred covenant as history’s (or God’s) chosen nation, and must rededicate ourselves to our ideals, reclaim our founding promise.

If the manifesto looks fearlessly to the future, seeking to replace the established order with something alto­gether new, the jeremiad is at once jittery and nostalgic, looking anxiously over its shoulder at a prelapsarian past. The American jeremiad, Bercovitch observed, “made anxiety its end as well as its means. Crisis was the social norm it sought to inculcate.” Whether “denouncing or affirming,” its vision “fed on the distance between promise and fact.” Aware that the present fails to measure up to past ideals, the jeremiad nonetheless can’t imagine a future on any other terms. It yearns to repair the breach.

Consider Thoreau, one of Bercovitch’s 19th-century Jeremiahs. Bercovitch notes that Thoreau was writing “Walden” around the same time “The Communist Manifesto” appeared in print. Whereas Marx and Engels “proposed a new form of government, based on a wholly different social system,” Bercovitch writes, Thoreau was making “a protest from within,” hoping, “like a biblical prophet,” to “wake his countrymen up to the fact that they were desecrating their own beliefs.”

Of course, it's the only country that's based on a set of beliefs.

March 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


It is now blasphemy to criticise Darwin: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong (reviewed in this issue of the spiked review of books), says Darwinism has become a new secular faith that you transgress at your peril. (Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, 3/26/10, spiked)

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.

This stunning exchange exemplifies the religious fervour with which some scholars and laypersons adhere to the Darwinian doctrine. It’s a secular religion, for sure, an atheistic banner under which the white knights of scientific rationality rally in their fight against the forces of darkness. [...]

Darwin made a wonderful move in this game: he offered a mechanistic explanation for the apparent finalism of the life forms. The differential reproduction of slight variations in traits, spontaneously produced one generation after the other, followed by the filter of natural selection, did the trick. It was all the teleology we needed, but based on a perfectly mechanistic process. This idea looked unbeatable. Immediately, applications of it were discovered in the diffusion of goods, in the financial markets, in the spread of fashions, songs, tunes, even scientific hypothesis. It was a smashing success.

Moreover, it’s a clever idea, not something obvious, not the kind of idea that everyone discovers spontaneously. Teach it to a class of kids, and they will realise that it never occurred to them beforehand, but that it’s so damn clever. They feel so damn clever just for grasping it. This is, I think, crucial. Adults also feel clever for just grasping it, and for developing on the spot an intuition of zillions of examples and applications.

It is very hard to dissuade them, to tell them that this process is indeed real and ubiquitous but cannot explain the origin of species, pace Darwin. An opinion now shared by many distinguished biologists (please read our book to see by whom and why). The sheer brilliance of the idea, and the elation one feels for having grasped it, voids the minds of any attention to counterexamples.

Indeed, one of the reasons the Brights are so resistant to the truth is because the Stupid were right all along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Muqtada's star on the rise again (Abeer Mohammed, 3/26/10, Asia Times)

The movement led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is poised to make a dramatic return to the forefront of Iraq's Shi'ite politics, combining its success in recent elections with the anticipated elevation of its leader's religious status.

The Sadrists are the main faction in the Iraqi National Alliance, which is projected to have won 68 seats in the new parliament. [...]

Alongside growing leverage over their political rivals, the Sadrists are expected to enjoy greater spiritual authority among their supporters as Muqtada continues his studies to become an eminent Shi'ite scholar, or ayatollah.

Officials close to the 36-year-old cleric say he is making swift progress in his schooling at a seminary in the Iranian holy city of Qom. It is unclear whether he will graduate soon, as most ayatollahs spend several decades attaining the rank.

It is also as yet unclear whether the Sadrists will enter government or form an opposition. Whatever they decide, analysts say the Sadrists will be impossible to ignore in the new parliament.

"They will have their word in every decision," Abdullah Jaafar, a retired professor of political sciences in Baghdad, said.

There's no reason they should have been expected to, but the neocons have never figured Mookie out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Fix Health Reform, Then Repeal It (PAUL RYAN, 3/26/10, NY Times)

Health care experts across the political spectrum acknowledge that a fundamental driver of health inflation is the regressive tax preference for employer-based health insurance. This discriminatory tax treatment lavishes the greatest benefit on the most expensive plans while providing no support for the unemployed, the self-employed or those who don’t get coverage from their employer.

Reform-minded leaders like Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, pushed legislative proposals that would directly address this issue. I helped write a plan that would replace the bias in the tax code with universal tax credits so that all Americans have the resources to purchase portable, affordable coverage that best suits their needs, with additional support provided for those with lower incomes. All these ideas, though, were dismissed early on, as they didn’t fit with the government-driven plan favored by the majority. But going forward it’s important that we reconsider this regressive tax issue.

Then, when helping Americans with pre-existing conditions obtain coverage, we should focus on innovative state-based solutions, including robust high-risk pools, reinsurance markets and risk-adjustment mechanisms. I intend to continue advancing true patient-centered reforms like attaching tax benefits to the individual rather than the job, breaking down barriers to interstate competition, and promoting transparency and consumer-friendly coverage options.

We should ensure that health care decisions are made by patients and their doctors, not by bureaucrats, whether at an insurance company or a government agency. By inviting market forces into health care, we can encourage a system where doctors, insurers and hospitals compete against one another for the business of informed consumers. [...]

The case for attempting health care reform was not difficult to make. Skyrocketing health care costs are driving more and more families and businesses to the brink of bankruptcy, leaving affordable coverage out of reach for millions of Americans and accelerating our path to fiscal ruin. The challenge was how to deal with the seemingly inexorable increase in health care costs.

Yet the Congressional majority went at this goal backward: with the force of the federal government, cover all Americans — then figure out which screws to twist to contain costs. that when the GOP reforms the system they'll make it more universal and more expensive (as a matter of federal dollars spent), in order to re-introduce and get the full benefit of market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


BARBARIAN INVASIONS (Mark Steyn, 26 March 2010, Steyn on Stage and Screen

In his mid-50s, Remy (Remy Girard), a self-described “sensual socialist”, is perforce heavy on the latter and lighter than he’d wish on the former. He’s no longer banging co-eds, though the hairless head makes him look randier than ever. He has cancer, and, worse than that, he has it in Quebec. British audiences, disheartened by the state of the National Health Service, may find it oddly comforting to discover a G7 nation whose health care system rivals the crappiness of the United Kingdom’s. Americans will be less cheered. As the film opens, Arcand’s camera weaves its way to Remy’s bed through a maze of corridors clogged with patients lying on gurneys hooked up to tubes snaking their way under miles of ceiling tiles back to wherever the overflow started. In the course of the film, no doctor ever addresses Remy by his correct name.

His son, Sébastien, is rich and successful and living in London, doing something crass and vulgar with markets that Remy has never troubled himself to enquire about. He and his son are separated by more than the Atlantic. But, at the behest of his mother (and the philandering Remy’s ex-), Sébastien flies back, and is horrified at the conditions his father is being treated in. "I'm lucky I'm not in the corridor," says Remy. His son contacts an old friend in the medical profession. Like many (most?) Québécois doctors, he’s now working in America, at a hospital in Baltimore that could help with the diagnosis if the chaps in Montreal were able to e-mail them a scan. Unfortunately, the only machine in the province that can do the scan is 90 minutes away in Sherbrooke and there’s a six-to-twelve month waiting list, by which time they’ll have to dig Remy up to do it. Or he can have it done tomorrow, if he drives an hour south to Burlington, Vermont and pays $2,000. For Americans, one of the odder aspects of the movie is to hear patients refer to "Burlington" the way outlying residents of Oz speak of the Emerald City - a glittering metropolis on the far horizon where all things are possible. Montreal has a population of two million. Burlington is a city of 40,000 people, and to most Americans a peripheral backwater. But, in Her Majesty's northern Dominion, the public health system is such an article of faith that no private hospitals are permitted: Canada’s private health care system is called “America”.

So Sébastien pays for a trip to Vermont. The differences between these two adjoining medical systems are such that the building Arcand uses as a stand-in for the American hospital as the ambulance pulls up looks, if anything, slightly too old and faded to be part of the real Fletcher Allen Medical Center. But nevertheless it's many times better than the war-zone refugee camp conditions back in Montreal. "Good morning, guys," says the chirpy nurse opening up the door. "Welcome to America!" "Praise the Lord!" responds Remy in exaggerated Bible Belt vowels. "Hallelujah!" says Sébastien. M Arcand can be allowed his little jests.

Sébastien wants his dad to go to Baltimore for treatment, but Remy roars that he’s the generation that fought passionately for socialized health care and he’s gonna stick with it even if it kills him. "I voted for Medicare," he declares. "I'll accept the consequences." So the cocky London dealer goes to work. He tries to get his dad transferred to a better facility. "The Ministry of Health forbids changing hospitals," he's told. But he doesn't give up. He pushes through the door marked "Accès Interdit" and, when the security guard demands a badge, blags his way past by saying he's from Lloyds of London. To return to my earlier analogy, this is the equivalent of the moment when The Wizard Of Oz bursts from grey Kansas dustbowl monochrome into full color: On one side of the door are the wards, the doctors, the nurses, the patients: everything is filthy and crumbling. On the other side of the door is the administration: plush carpets, pot plants, window shades, attractive prints on the walls. Having talked his way in, Sébastien tells the head lady that he's noticed that, for some reason, the second floor is entirely empty, and he’d like his dad to have a private room there. The lady explains that it's not possible to "target our responses in terms of individual beneficiaries" because "our allocation of infrastructure is determined by the Ministry’s ambulatory thrust” on "diagnostic parameters defined by the Region 02 consultations". (The obstructive bureaucratese is beautifully written.)

So he bribes her, and he bribes the union, and he bribes everyone else he needs to. "We are not in the Third World," insists the administrator. But it turns out we are, at least when it comes to get anything done. But eventually Sébastien gets his father a freshly-painted room on the abandoned floor. “You must be a friend of the Premier or a big hockey star,” says the nurse to Remy.


Rémy: We've been everything: separatists, supporters of independantists, sovereignists, sovereignity-associanists...
Pierre: At first, we were existentialists.
Dominique: We read Sartre and Camus.
Claude: Then Fanon, we became anti-colonialists.
Rémy: We read Marcuse and became Marxists.
Pierre: Marxist-Leninists.
Alessandro: Trotskyists.
Diane: Maoists.
Rémy: After Solzhenitsyn we changed, we became structuralists.
Pierre: Situationists.
Dominique: Feminists.
Claude: Deconstructionists.
Pierre: Is there an -ism we haven't worshipped?
Claude: Cretinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


The VAT Cometh (Charles Krauthammer , 3/25/10, National Review)

As a substitute for the income tax, the VAT would be a splendid idea. Taxing consumption makes infinitely more sense than taxing work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Majority of Voters Predict Obama Will Lose in 2012 (Bruce Drake, 3/25/10, Politics Daily)

A majority of voters are betting the President Obama will lose a bid for re-election in 2012, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted March 19-21.

Fifty-four percent say he will lose, 44 percent say he will win and 2 percent have no opinion.

The CNN poll says a generic Republican candidate is running evenly with Obama whether the measure is all adults or registered voters. A bunch of pollsters this week have weighed in this week on Obama's prospects for 2012 with similar results.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


In Possible Retirement, the Likelihood of an Election-Year Confrontation (PETER BAKER, 3/25/10, NY Times)

If Justice Stevens retires, Democrats close to the White House said, the leading contenders will be three runners-up from last year: Elena Kagan, the solicitor general; Diane P. Wood, an appeals court judge in Chicago; and Merrick B. Garland, an appeals court judge in Washington. [...]

The candidates who would most excite the left include the constitutional scholars Harold Hongju Koh, Cass R. Sunstein and Pamela S. Karlan. Mr. Koh and Mr. Sunstein now work in the Obama administration while Ms. Karlan teaches at Stanford Law School. But none were finalists last year, and insiders doubt Mr. Obama would pick any of them now.

“If it were a Sunstein or a Koh, you would have all-out war,” said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative advocacy group.

The front-runner with the most support among liberals would be Judge Wood, who has opposed some abortion restrictions and is respected for standing firm against strong, conservative judges on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She and Mr. Obama were colleagues at the University of Chicago.

With no judicial record, Ms. Kagan is less known. As dean at Harvard Law School, she hired conservative professors to expand academic diversity and has supported assertions of executive power. But she stirred a furor by barring military recruiters because of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.

Judge Garland might be the safest choice. A former federal prosecutor now on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he is well regarded by Democrats as well as influential Republican senators like Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. But his careful jurisprudence stirs less enthusiasm among liberal activists. promote one of his disastrous Administration picks out of his hair--Hillary or Joe Biden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Superman author's new book based on Mahabharata (Arun Kumar, 26 Mar 2010, Indian Express)

'Grant Morrison's 18 Days' is a re-imagining of the great Indian epic, Mahabharata and tells the story of three generations of super-warriors, meeting for the final battle of their age, Dynamite Entertainment and Liquid Comics said announcing a publishing partnership to release the book. [...]

Grant's groundbreaking story is matched perfectly with dozens of original illustrations created by acclaimed Indian artist, Mukesh Singh (Devi, Gamekeeper, Shadow Hunter).

Grant Morrison commented: "18 Days is a labour of love made all the more exciting by having a collaborator as original and groundbreaking as Mukesh. His techno-Vedic superheroes and spectacular scenes of cosmic warfare bring a dazzling new and contemporary dimension to one of the world's greatest stories."

March 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


When Less is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools: In an experiment, children who were taught less learned more. (Peter Gray, March 18, 2010, Psychology Today)

One of the recipients of this challenge was L. P. Benezet, superintendent of schools in Manchester, New Hampshire, who responded with this outrageous proposal: We should drop arithmetic! Benezet went on to argue that the time spent on arithmetic in the early grades was wasted effort, or worse. In fact, he wrote: "For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child's reasoning facilities." All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children's minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn't understand what they were doing and couldn't apply the calculations to real life problems. He believed that if arithmetic were not taught until later on--preferably not until seventh grade--the kids would learn it with far less effort and greater understanding. [...]

Benezet followed his outrageous suggestion with an outrageous experiment. He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop the third R from the early grades. They would not teach arithmetic--no adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. He chose schools in the poorest neighborhoods because he knew that if he tried this in the wealthier neighborhoods, where parents were high school or college graduates, the parents would rebel. As a compromise, to appease the principals who were not willing to go as far as he wished, Benezet decided on a plan in which arithmetic would be introduced in sixth grade.

As part of the plan, he asked the teachers of the earlier grades to devote some of the time that they would normally spend on arithmetic to the new third R--recitation. By "recitation" he meant, "speaking the English language." He did "not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or the textbook." The children would be asked to talk about topics that interested them--experiences they had had, movies they had seen, or anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication and discussion. This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically. He also asked the teachers to give their pupils some practice in measuring and counting things, to assure that they would have some practical experience with numbers.

In order to evaluate the experiment, Benezet arranged for a graduate student from Boston University to come up and test the Manchester children at various times in the sixth grade. The results were remarkable. At the beginning of their sixth grade year, the children in the experimental classes, who had not been taught any arithmetic, performed much better than those in the traditional classes on story problems that could be solved by common sense and a general understanding of numbers and measurement. Of course, at the beginning of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes performed worse on the standard school arithmetic tests, where the problems were set up in the usual school manner and could be solved simply by applying the rote-learned algorithms. But by the end of sixth grade those in the experimental classes had completely caught up on this and were still way ahead of the others on story problems.

In sum, Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods--the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results. Why have almost no educators heard of this experiment? Why isn't Benezet now considered to be one of the geniuses of public education? I wonder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


US drone raids could land CIA officers in court: expert (AFP, March 24, 2010)

The US government's refusal to offer a legal rationale for using unmanned drones to kill suspected militants in Pakistan could result in CIA officers facing prosecution for war crimes in foreign courts, a legal expert has told lawmakers.

"Prominent voices in the international legal community" were increasingly impatient with Washington's silence on the CIA's bombing raids in Pakistan and elsewhere, Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University, told a congressional panel on Tuesday.

Let''s see if we can think of something less intimidating than an impatient about a Marshmallow Peep?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 AM


The Music of the Spheres (Robert R. Reilly, Fall 2001, First Principles)
Music in the Western world was shaped by a shared conception of reality so profound that it endured for some twenty-five hundred years. As a result, the means of music remained essentially the same—at least to the extent that what was called music could always have been recognized as such by its forbearers, as much as they might have disapproved of its specific style. But by the early twentieth century, this was no longer true. Music was re-conceptualized so completely that it could no longer be experienced as music, i.e. with melody, harmony, and rhythm. This catastrophic rupture, expressed especially in the works of Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage, is often celebrated as just another change in the techniques of music, a further point along the parade of progress in the arts. It was, however, a reflection of a deeper metaphysical divide that severed the composer from any meaningful contact with external reality. As a result, musical art was reduced to the arbitrary manipulation of fragments of sound. Here, I will sketch of the philosophical presuppositions that undergirded the Western conception of music for most of its existence and then examine the character of the change music underwent in the twentieth century. I will conclude with a reflection on the recovery of music in our own time and the reasons for it, as exemplified in the works of two contemporary composers, the Dane Vagn Holmboe and the American John Adams. +++ According to tradition, the harmonic structure of music was discovered by Pythagoras about the fifth century b.c. Pythagoras experimented with a stretched piece of cord. When plucked, the cord sounded a certain note. When halved in length and plucked again, the cord sounded a higher note completely consonant with the first. In fact, it was the same note at a higher pitch. Pythagoras had discovered the ratio, 2:1, of the octave. Further experiments, plucking the string two-thirds of its original length produced a perfect fifth in the ratio of 3:2. When a three-quarters length of cord was plucked, a perfect fourth was sounded in the ratio of 4:3, and so forth. These sounds were all consonant and extremely pleasing to the ear. The significance that Pythagoras attributed to this discovery cannot be overestimated. Pythagoras thought that number was the key to the universe. When he found that harmonic music is expressed in exact numerical ratios of whole numbers, he concluded that music was the ordering principle of the world. The fact that music was denominated in exact numerical ratios demonstrated to him the intelligibility of reality and the existence of a reasoning intelligence behind it. Pythagoras wondered about the relationship of these ratios to the larger world. (The Greek word for ratio is logos, which also means reason or word.) He considered that the harmonious sounds that men make, either with their instruments or in their singing, were an approximation of a larger harmony that existed in the universe, also expressed by numbers, which was “the music of the spheres.” As Aristotle explained in the Metaphysics, the Pythagoreans “supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things, and the whole heaven to be a musical scale and a number.” This was meant literally. The heavenly spheres and their rotations through the sky produced tones at various levels, and in concert, these tones made a harmonious sound that man’s music, at its best, could approximate. Music was number made audible. Music was man’s participation in the harmony of the universe. This discovery was fraught with ethical significance. By participating in heavenly harmony, music could induce spiritual harmony in the soul. Following Pythagoras, Plato taught that “rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful.” In the Republic, Plato showed the political import of music’s power by invoking Damon of Athens as his musical authority. Damon said that he would rather control the modes of music in a city than its laws, because the modes of music have a more decisive effect on the formation of the character of citizens. The ancient Greeks were also wary of music’s power because they understood that, just as there was harmony, there was disharmony. Musical discord could distort the spirit, just as musical concord could properly dispose it. This idea of “the music of the spheres” runs through the history of Western civilization with an extraordinary consistency, even up to the twentieth century. At first it was meant literally, later poetically. Either way, music was seen more as a discovery than a creation, because it relied on pre-existing principles of order in nature for its operation. It is instructive to look briefly at the reiteration of this teaching in the writings of several major thinkers to appreciate its enduring significance as well as the radical nature of the challenge to it in the twentieth century. [...] Just as Holmboe, whose magnificent works are finally coming into currency, represents an unbroken line to the great Western musical tradition, John Adams is an exemplar of those indoctrinated in Schoenberg’s ideology who found their way out of it. Adams ultimately rejected his college lessons on Nietzsche’s “death of God” and the loss of tonality. Like Pythagoras, he “found that tonality was not just a stylistic phenomenon that came and went, but that it is really a natural acoustic phenomenon.” In total repudiation of Schoenberg, Adams went on to write a stunning symphony, entitled Harmonielehre (“Theory of Harmony”)that powerfully reconnects with the Western musical tradition. In this work, he wrote, “there is a sense of using key as a structural and psychological tool in building my work.” More importantly, Adams, explained, “the other shade of meaning in the title has to do with harmony in the larger sense, in the sense of spiritual and psychological harmony.” Adam’s description of his symphony is explicitly in terms of spiritual health and sickness. He explains that “the entire [second] movement is a musical scenario about impotence and spiritual sickness; . . .it has to do with an existence without grace. And then in the third movement, grace appears for no reason at all. . .that’s the way grace is, the unmerited bestowal of blessing on man. The whole piece is a kind of allegory about that quest for grace.” It is clear from Adams that the recovery of tonality and key structure is as closely related to spiritual recovery as its loss was related to spiritual loss. The destruction of tonality was thought to be historically necessary and therefore “determined.” It is no mistake that the recovery of tonality and its expressive powers should be accompanied by the notion of grace. The very possibility of grace, of the unmerited intervention of God’s love, destroys the ideology of historical determinism, whether it be expressed in music or in any other way. The possibility of grace fatally ruptures the self-enclosed world of “historically determined forces” and opens it up to the transcendent. That opening restores the freedom and full range of man’s creativity. Cicero spoke of music as enabling man to return to the divine region, implying a place once lost to man. What is it, in and about music, that gives one an experience so outside of oneself that one can see reality anew, as if newborn in a strange but wonderful world? British composer John Tavener proposes an answer to this mystery in his artistic credo: “My goal is to recover one simple memory from which all art derives. The constant memory of the paradise from which we have fallen leads to the paradise which was promised to the repentant thief. The gentleness of our sleepy recollections promises something else. That which was once perceived as in a glass darkly, we shall see face to face.” We shall not only see; we shall hear, as well, the New Song.
MORE: -TEXT: The Music of the Spheres by Jamie James Scipio's Dream (On the Republic, M. Tullius Cicero [105-43 BCE])
Here I had the following dream, occasioned, as I verily believe, by our preceding conversation---for it frequently happens that the thoughts and discourses which have employed us in the daytime, produce in our sleep an effect somewhat similar to that which Ennius writes happened to him about Homer, of whom, in his waking hours, he used frequently to think and speak.

Africanus, I thought, appeared to me in that shape, with which I was better acquainted from his picture, than from any personal knowledge of him. When I perceived it was he, I confess I trembled with consternation; but he addressed me, saying, Take courage, my Scipio, be not afraid, and carefully remember what I am saying to you.

11. Do you see that city Carthage, which, though brought under the Roman yoke by me, is now renewing former wars, and cannot live in peace? (and he pointed to Carthage from a lofty spot, full of stars, and brilliant and glittering;) to attack which city you are this day arrived in a station not much superior to that of a private soldier. Before two years, however, are elapsed, you shall be consul, and complete its overthrow; and you shall obtain, by your own merit, the surname of Africanus, which, as yet, belongs to you no otherwise than as derived from me. And when you have destroyed Carthage, and received the honor of a triumph, and been made censor, and, in quality of ambassador, visited Egypt, Syria, Asia, and Greece, you shall be elected a second time consul in your absence, and by utterly destroying Numantia, put an end to a most dangerous war.

But when you have entered the Capitol in your triumphal car, you shall find the Roman commonwealth all in a ferment, through the intrigues of my grandson Tiberius Gracchus.

12. It is on this occasion, my dear Africanus, that you show your country the greatness of your understanding, capacity and prudence. But I see that the destiny, however, of that time is, as it were, uncertain; for when your age shall have accomplished seven times eight revolutions of the sun, and your fatal hours shall be marked out by the natural product of these two numbers, each of which is esteemed a perfect one, but for different reasons,---then shall the whole city have recourse to you alone, and place its hopes in your auspicious name. On you the senate, all good citizens, the allies, the people of Latium, shall cast their eyes; on you the preservation of the state shall entirely depend. In a word, if you escape the impious machinations of your relatives, you will, in the quality of dictator, establish order and tranquility in the commonwealth.

When on this Laelius made an exclamation, and the rest of the company groaned loudly, Scipio, with a gentle smile, said---I entreat you,do not wake me out of my dream, but have patience, and hear the rest.

13. Now, in order to encourage you, my dear Africanus, continued the shade of my ancestor, to defend the state with the greater cheerfulness, be assured that for all those who have in any way conduced to the preservation, defense, and enlargement of their native country, there is a certain place in heaven, where they shall enjoy an eternity of happiness. For nothing on earth is more agreeable to God, the Supreme Governor of the universe, than the assemblies and societies of men united together by laws, which are called States. It is from heaven their rulers and preservers came, and there they return.

14. Though at these words I was extremely troubled, not so much at the fear of death, as at the perfidy of my own relations; yet I recollected myself enough to inquire, whether he himself, my father Paulus, and others whom we look upon as dead, were really living. Yes, truly, replied he, they all enjoy life who have escaped from the chains of the body as from a prison. But as to what you call life on earth, that is no more than one form of death. But see, here comes your father Paulus towards you! And as soon as I observed him, my eyes burst out into a flood of tears; but he took me in his arms, and bade me not weep.

15. When my first transports subsided, and I regained the liberty of speech, I addressed my father thus: You best and most venerable of parents, since this, as I am informed by Africanus, is the only substantial life, why do I linger on earth, and not rather hasten to come hither where you are? That, replied he, is impossible; unless that God, whose temples is all that vast expanse you behold, shall free you from the fetters of the body, you can have no admission into this place. Mankind have received their being on this very condition, that they should labor for the preservation of that globe, which is situated, as you see, in the midst of this temple, and is called earth.

Men are likewise endowed with a soul, which is a portion of the eternal fires, which you call stars and constellations; and which, being round,
spherical bodies, animated by divine intelligence, perform their cycles and revolutions with amazing rapidity. It is your duty, there fore, my Publius, and that of all who have any veneration for the gods, to preserve this wonderful union of soul and body; nor without the express command of him who gave you a soul, should the least thought be entertained of quitting human life, lest you seem to desert the post assigned to you by God himself.

But rather follow the example of your grandfather here, and of me, your father, in paying a strict regard to justice and piety; which is due in a great degree to parents and relations, but most of all to our country. Such a life as this is the true way to heaven, and to the company of those, who, after having lived on earth and escaped from the body, inhabit the place which you now behold.

16. This was the shining circle, or zone, whose remarkable brightness distinguishes it among the constellations, and which, after the Greeks, you call the Milky Way. From thence, as I took a view of the universe, everything appeared beautiful and admirable; for there, those stars are to be seen that are never visible from our globe, and everything appears of such magnitude as we could not have imagined. The least of all the stars, was that removed furthest from heaven, and situated next to earth; I mean our moon, which shines with a borrowed light. Now the globes of the stars far surpass the magnitude of our earth, which at that distance appeared so exceedingly small, that I could not but he sensibly affected on seeing our whole empire no larger than if we touched the earth with a point.

17. And as long as I continued to observe the earth with great attention, How long, I pray you, said Africanus, will your mind be fixed on that object; why don't you rather take a view of the magnificent temples among which you have arrived? The universe is composed of nine circles, or rather spheres, one of which is the heavenly one, and is exterior to all the rest, which it embraces; being itself the Supreme God, and bounding and containing the whole. In it are fixed those stars which revolve with never-varying courses. Below this are seven other spheres, which revolve in a contrary direction to that of the heavens. One of these is occupied by the globe which on earth they call Saturn. Next to that is the star of Jupiter, so benign and salutary to mankind. The third in order, is that fiery and terrible planet called Mars. Below this again, almost in the middle region, is the Sun---the leader, governor, the prince of the other luminaries; the soul of the world, which it regulates and illumines, being of such vast size that it pervades and gives light to all places. Then follow Venus and Mercury, which attend, as it were, on the Sun. Lastly, the Moon, which shines only in the reflected beams of the Sun, moves in the lowest sphere of all. Below this, if we except that gift of thegods, the soul, which has been given by the liberality of the gods to the human race, every thing is mortal, and tends to dissolution, but above the moon all is eternal. For the Earth, which is in the ninth globe, and occupies the center, is immoveable, and being the lowest, all others gravitate towards it.

18. When I had recovered myself from the astonishment occasioned by such a wonderful prospect, I thus addressed Africanus Pray what is this sound that strikes my ears in so loud and agreeable a manner? To which he replied It is that which is called the music of the spheres, being produced by their motion and impulse; and being formed by unequal intervals, but such as are divided according to the most just proportion, it produces, by duly tempering acute with grave sounds, various concerts of harmony. For it is impossible that motions so great should be performed without any noise; and it is agreeable to nature that the extremes on one side should produce sharp, and on the other flat sounds. For which reason the sphere of the fixed stars, being the highest, and being carried with a more rapid velocity, moves with a shrill and acute sound; whereas that of the moon, being the lowest, moves with a very flat one. As to the Earth, which makes the ninth sphere, it remains immovably fixed in the middle or lowest part of the universe. But those eight revolving circles, in which both Mercury and Venus are moved with the same celerity, give out sounds that are divided by seven distinct intervals, which is generally the regulating number of all things.

This celestial harmony has been imitated by learned musicians, both on stringed instruments and with the voice, whereby they have opened to themselves a way to return to the celestial regions, as have likewise many others who have employed their sublime genius while on earth in cultivating the divine sciences.

By the amazing noise of this sound, the ears of mankind have been in some degree deafened, and indeed, hearing is the dullest of all the human senses. Thus, the people who dwell near the cataracts of the Nile, which are called Catadupa, are, by the excessive roar which that river makes in precipitating itself from those lofty mountains, entirely deprived of the sense of hearing. And so inconceivably great is this sound which is produced by the rapid motion of the whole universe, that the human ear is no more capable of receiving it, than the eye is able to look steadfastly and directly on the sun, whose beams easily dazzle the strongest sight.

While I was busied in admiring the scene of wonders, I could not help casting my eyes every now and then on the earth.

19. On which Africanus said, I perceive that you are still employed in contemplating the seat and residence of mankind. But if it appears to you so small, as in fact it really is, despise its vanities, and fix your attention for ever on these heavenly objects. Is it possible that you should attain any human applause or glory that is worth the contending for? The earth, you see, is peopled but in a very few places, and those too of small extent; and they appear like so many little spots of green scattered through vast uncultivated deserts. And those who inhabit the earth are not only so remote from each other as to be cut off from all mutual correspondence, but their situation being in oblique or contrary parts of the globe, or perhaps in those diametrically opposite to yours, all expectation of universal fame must fall to the ground.

20. You may likewise observe that the same globe of the earth is girt and surrounded with certain zones, whereof those two that are most remote from each other, and lie under the opposite poles of heaven, are congealed with frost; but that one in the middle, which is far the largest, is scorched with the intense heat of the sun. The other two are habitable, one towards the south---the inhabitants of which are your Antipodes, with whom you have no connection---the other, towards the north, is that which you inhabit, whereof a very small part, as you may see, falls to your share. For the whole extent of what you see, is as it were but a little island, narrow at both ends and wide in the middle, which is surrounded by the sea which on earth you call the great Atlantic ocean, and which, notwithstanding this magnificent name, you see is very insignificant. And even in these cultivated and well-known countries, has yours, or any of our names, ever passed the heights of the Caucasus, or the currents of the Ganges? In what other parts to the north or the south, or where the sun rises and sets, will your names ever be heard? And if we leave these out of the question, how small a space is there left for your glory to spread itself abroad? and how long will it remain in the memory of those whose minds are now full of it?

21. Besides all this, if the progeny of any future generation should wish to transmit to their posterity the praises of any one of us which they have heard from their forefathers, yet the deluges and combustions of the earth which must necessarily happen at their destined periods will prevent our obtaining, not only an eternal, but even a durable glory. And after all, what does it signify, whether those who shall hereafter be born talk of you, when those who have lived before you, whose number was perhaps not less, and whose merit certainly greater, were not so much as acquainted with your name?

22. Especially since not one of those who shall hear of us is able to retain in his memory the transactions of a single year. The bulk of mankind, indeed, measure their year by the return of the sun, which is only one star. But, when all the stars shall have returned to the place whence they set out, and after long periods shall again exhibit the same aspect of the whole heavens, that is what ought properly to be called the revolution of a year, though I scarcely dare attempt to enumerate the vast multitude of ages contained in it. For as the sun in old time was eclipsed, and seemed to be extinguished, at the time when the soul of Romulus penetrated into these eternal mansions, so, when all the constellations and stars shall revert to their primary position, and the sun shall at the same point and time be again eclipsed, then you may consider that the grand year is completed. Be assured, however, that the twentieth part of it is not yet elapsed.

23. Why, if you have no hopes of returning to this place, where great and good men enjoy all that their souls can wish for, of what value, pray, is all that humanglory, which can hardly endure for a small portion of one year?

If, then, you wish to elevate your views to the contemplation of this eternal seat of splendor, you will not be satisfied with the praises of your
fellow-mortals, nor with any human rewards that your exploits can obtain; but Virtue herself must point out to you the true and only object worthy of your pursuit. Leave to others to speak of you as they may, for speak they will. Their discourses will be confined to the narrow limits of the countries you see, nor will their duration be very extensive, for they will perish like those who utter them, and will be no more remembered by their posterity.

24. When he had ceased to speak in this manner, I said Oh, Africanus, if indeed the door of heaven is open to those who have deserved well of their country, although, indeed, from my childhood, I have always followed yours and my father's steps, and have not neglected to imitate your glory, still I will from henceforth strive to follow them more closely.

Follow them, then, said he, and consider your body only, not yourself, as mortal. For it is not your outward form which constitutes your being, but your mind; not that substance which is palpable to the senses, but your spiritual nature. Know, then, that you are a god---for a god it must be which flourishes, and feels, and recollects, and foresees, and governs, regulates and moves the body over which it is set, as the Supreme Ruler does the world which is subject to him. For as that Eternal Being moves whatever is mortal in this world, so the immortal mind of man moves the frail body with which it is connected.

25. For whatever is always moving must be eternal, but that which derives its motion from a power which is foreign to itself, when that motion ceases must itself lose its animation. That alone, then, which moves itself can never cease to be moved, because it can never desert itself. Moreover, it must be the source, and origin, and principle of motion in all the rest. There can be nothing prior to a principle, for all things must originate from it, and it cannot itself derive its existence from any other source, for if it did it would no longer be a principle. And if it had no beginning it can have no end, for a beginning that is put an end to will neither be renewed by any other cause, nor will it produce anything else of itself. All things, therefore, must originate from one source. Thus it follows, that motion must have its source in something which is moved by itself, and which can neither have a beginning nor an end. Otherwise all the heavens and all nature must perish, for it is impossible that they can of themselves acquire any power of producing motion in themselves.

26. As, therefore, it is plain that what is moved by itself must be eternal, who will deny that this is the general condition and nature of minds? For, as everything is inanimate which is moved by an impulse exterior to itself, so what is animated is moved by an interior impulse of its own; for this is the peculiar nature and power of mind. And if that alone has the power of self-motion it can neither have had a beginning, nor can it have an end.

Do you, therefore, exercise this mind of yours in the best pursuits. And the best pursuits are those which consist in promoting the good of your country. Such employments will speed the flight of your mind to this its proper abode; and its flight will be still more rapid, if, even while it is enclosed in the body, it will look abroad, and disengage itself as much as possible from its bodily dwelling, by the contemplation of things which are external to itself.

This it should do to the utmost of its power. For the minds of those who have given themselves up to the pleasures of the body, paying as it were a servile obedience to their lustful impulses, have violated the laws of God and man; and therefore, when they are separated from their bodies, flutter continually round the earth on which they lived, and are not allowed to return to this celestial region, till they have been purified by the revolution of many ages.

Thus saying he vanished, and I awoke from my dream.

What vision of comparable beauty does the Enlightenment have to offer?
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Who can heal a guilty conscience?: Despite efforts to reduce conscience to conditioning, guilt persists, and science is powerless before it. (Aaron Kheriaty, 25 March 2010, MercatorNet)

This mention of sin brings me to my closing remarks. Regarding questions of conscience, the psychological and medical sciences clearly have their limits. I want to conclude with a few words on what is perhaps the most significant limit. The language of therapy – of psychiatry and clinical psychology – has often replaced the language of morality and religion in the modern world. Philip Rieff dubbed this, “the triumph of the therapeutic.” But a therapeutic approach to human problems – helpful as it sometimes is – has its limitations. Therapy or medicine cannot cure our deepest disorder, which is the problem of guilt, the problem of sin.

There is a prevalent denial of sin today, a denial often amplified by the triumph of a therapeutic mentality. Rather than liberating us from the guilt of sin by keeping the conscience in a state of invincible ignorance, such widespread denial only serves to augment our anguish and unhappiness. To put it plainly, the therapeutic mentality has often served to obscure, rather than illuminate, the precepts of the natural law written on every human heart.

And so I conclude by turning from psychology to literature – specifically, to drama, which has plumbed the depths of the human psyche more profoundly than any clinician or scientific researcher. T.S. Eliot explored the psychology of conscience in his play, The Cocktail Party.(15) One character, a young woman named Celia Copleston, is having an affair with a married man. When she suddenly realizes emptiness of this relationship, her life is shaken profoundly. One could say that beneath the rubble of her culturally-influenced character deformations, her conscience still operated – veiled and disguised, yet not quiescent. Like many people today, in her distress she turns to physician for advice. There’s something not quite right, she tells him:

“I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me –
Because, if there isn’t, there’s something wrong
Or at least, very different from what it seemed to be,
With the world itself – and that’s so much more frightening!
That would be terrible. So I’d rather believe
There is something wrong with me, that could be put right.”

She tries to name her disorder. It is not simply that she has violated some norm, but that she has failed in something more personal and perhaps more relational. She has an inchoate sense that she has fallen short in regards to something (or someone) outside of her self. These dim intuitions seem to run contrary to the conventional bourgeois ideas and values she was raised with and taught to embrace. And yet, beneath her internalized social conventions, there is a persistent anamnesis – a remembrance or recollection of something or someone else that calls to her. Finally, after floundering, she comes up with the only diagnosis she can think of to explain her symptoms:

Celia: “It sounds ridiculous—but the only word for it
That I can find, is a sense of sin.”
Doctor: “You suffer from a sense of sin, Miss Copleston? That is most unusual.”
Celia: “It seemed to me abnormal…
My bringing up was pretty conventional –
I had always been taught to disbelieve in sin.
Oh, I don’t mean that it was never mentioned!
But anything wrong from our point of view,
Was either bad form, or was psychological.
… And yet I can’t find any other word for it.
It must be some kind of hallucination;
Yet, at the same time, I’m frightened by the fear
That it might be more real than anything I believed in.”
Doctor: “What is more real than anything you believed in?”
Celia: “It’s not the feeling of anything I’ve ever done,
Which I might get away from, or of anything in me I could get rid of –
but of emptiness, of failure
Towards someone, or something, outside of myself;
And I feel I must… atone – is that the word?
Can you treat a patient for such a state of mind?”

The answer of course is no. Freud himself recognized these limits, when he said, “It would be absurd for me to say to a patient, ‘I forgive you your sins’.” The psychotherapist has no power to do this.

According to its Greek root, the word “psychiatrist” literally means, “doctor of the soul”. And yet, the psychiatrist has no cure for this greatest of all psychological maladies – the problem of sin. If he is astute, he can perhaps define and describe guilt; but he can in no way cure the guilty conscience. All of our human attempts to do so, whether by psychological defense strategies, medical ministrations, or therapeutic techniques, ultimately prove insufficient. But we need not despair. For our own failures suggest to us what faith has already revealed: that, in the last analysis, there is only one true and effective Doctor of the soul.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Obama inspires black politicians to seek office — as Republican candidates (Alex Pappas, 3/25/10, The Daily Caller)

Because many black conservatives share the same type of political experience Obama had at the state level before going to Washington, Nelson said, many are saying, “doggone it, I should throw my hat into the ring and I might be able to have success.”

Of the more than 30 black Republican congressional and senatorial candidates running for office this election cycle, the Frederick Douglass Foundation held a leadership summit for more than 15 of them this weekend.

“Because [Obama's] policies are so out of touch with most of America I think specifically you have black conservatives that are looking beyond just the image. They’re looking at policy and how it impacts us,” Nelson said.

He also said there’s “a stronger network of visible black conservatives than many have not seen in the past.”

“What we found is a lot of candidates are feeling like, ‘Hey, I’m not an island by myself, there are other black Republicans who are out there who are not afraid to say it,’ and I think that that has given them a greater sense of confidence,” Nelson said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Cicero in Rome and in Early America: A review of Bradley J. Birzer’s American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Virgil P. Nemoianu, 03/25/10, First Principles)

[I]t is Cicero who survives in the minds of many thinking people, not only because he was a splendid philosopher and essayist, and an eloquent attorney, and because he died a horribly, martyr-like death, but also because of the tenacious courage with which he defended the liberal conservatism of the traditional senatorial republic and the theoretical sagacity that he opposed to the leveling authoritarianism that inexorably overwhelmed the res publica.

Cicero was philosophically a Platonist, but his political, economic, and legal views were largely his own, at most variants of the traditions of senatorial Rome. Cicero regarded liberty and order as twins indispensable to each other. For him the role of state and government was primarily the defense and justification of private property and self-reliance, while at the same time ensuring the well-being of the community. He suggested that slaves be regarded as permanent hired employees, approved of war only as a redress for injuries suffered, placed (in politics!) reason above power and will, and ultimately thought that the purpose of institutionalized society was to assure the growth and preservation of human personality. He was rather specific on taxation and allegedly believed that a level of above 40 percent of income appropriated by taxation would lead to the decline and ruin of the whole commonwealth.

All these are rather modern issues and they tend to turn Cicero into a mighty “Founding Father” of any liberal conservatism all the way to our own times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM

60-40 NATION:

Societal Trends--and Other Good News (Ryan Streeter, March 25, 2010, Weekly Standard)

America is evolving in a conservative direction. It’s now time for conservatives to catch up. That is the conclusion one might draw from a series of data points most recently highlighted in a chapter tucked away in Joel Kotkin’s new book, The Next Hundred Million. (Full disclosure: Kotkin is an adjunct fellow of the London-based Legatum Institute, where I work.) In the chapter, “The 21st Century Community,” Kotkin, a well-respected politically neutral demographer, provides some eye-catching facts and figures about American families that have significant political implications.

The United States is riding a wave of trends into the next generation – during a period in which the United States will grow by 100 million people – that will make the workplace more family-centric, families more multi-generational, and communities more local. For starters, Americans are moving less, not more. In 1970, 20 percent of Americans moved annually. That figure dropped to 14 percent in 2004, and by 2008, it dropped to 10 percent. Ninety percent of people over 50 would rather stay where they are than move to a retirement destination such as Florida.

This decreasing mobility is accompanied by a generation of boomers who are turning into local-yokels and whose children are more family-centric than they were when they were young. Many boomers are moving into towns of less than 50,000 residents. What Kotkin calls “amenity regions,” with identifiable town life, have grown 10 times faster than other rural areas and have slowed the migration of older Americans to sunbelt cities. Regardless of what hip urban developers may say, boomers overwhelmingly prefer a suburban or town setting to dense urban life. Only 2 percent say they want to move into an exciting urban community.
Meanwhile, the boomers’ successors, the Generation Xers, are having more children than the boomers, and the Millennials (roughly those born after 1980) may be even more family-centric yet. Seventy-five percent of 13 to 24 year olds say that spending time with family contributes more to their happiness than time spent with their friends, and 80 percent want to get married. Seventy-seven percent want children compared with only 12 percent who don’t.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Can This Man Save the GOP? (Mark McKinnon, 3/25/10, Daily Beast)

Ryan fans describe him as Jack Kemp on steroids. He believes that unbridled individual initiative, innovation, and industriousness lead to competitive advantage and national greatness.

Ryan outlined bold and muscular policy prescriptions for America’s most pressing problems in his “Roadmap for America’s Future." Among the things his plan would do:

• Simplify the tax code: 10 percent of incomes up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000. for single filers; 25 percent on higher incomes (or you can continue to pay under current system). No deductions.

• Eliminate taxes on interest, capital gains, dividends and death.

• Preserve Medicare and Social Security benefits for anyone currently 55 or older, but replace Medicare benefits for people under 55 with a voucher that would average $11,000 a year that people could use to buy private insurance.

• Achieve universal access to affordable health care with guaranteed refundable tax credits ($2,300 for individuals, $5,700 for families) for portable coverage in any state.

• Allow workers 55 and under to invest more than one-third of Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts.

• Raise the retirement age. Finally, we’ve got a politician bold enough to propose this obvious solution.

Here’s how Ryan characterizes the health-care debate:

“The true shame of this debate is that there are real problems in health care that need to be fixed. Almost a year ago, I introduced the Patients' Choice Act to fix what's broken in health care, without breaking what's working. I've spoken with Wisconsinites for years about patient-centered reforms that would make possible universal access to quality, affordable health care with the patient and the doctor—not the government or insurance companies—as the nucleus of the health-care market. These alternatives were ignored by Democratic leaders in Washington—and the concerns from Wisconsinites and an engaged American public were dismissed by Washington's political class."

While a simplified tax is preferable to the current system, a consumption tax is even better and health insurance needs to be mandated, with folks pushed into HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


G.O.P. Forces New House Vote on Package of Health Bill Changes (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and ROBERT PEAR, 3/24/10, NY Times)

With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats’ sweeping health care legislation, Republicans early Thursday morning identified parliamentary problems with at least two provisions that will require the measure to be sent back to the House for yet another vote, once the Senate adopts it.

Senate Democrats had been hoping to defeat all of the amendments proposed by Republicans and to prevail on parliamentary challenges so that they could approve the measure and send it to President Obama for his signature. But the bill must comply with complex budget reconciliation rules, and Republicans identified some flaws.

March 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Old-time sounds of the Deep South making a comeback thanks to Woody Pines (Jim Gilchrist, 3/25/10, The Scotsman)

IS WOODY Pines a closet time-traveller, or has he perhaps signed some Faustian pact enabling him to stay forever young? Strictly speaking, that question should be phrased "are Woody Pines", for the man and his band share the same name.

Problematical syntax apart, however, the question remains: how does a 30-year-old singer-songwriter living in North Carolina in 2010 manage to sound as if he had projected himself from a historic American Deep South of juke joints, Cajun queens and long dusty highways?

As I noted when I reviewed their current album, Counting Alligators, Pines's nasal holler, squalling harmonica and Nashville resonator guitar, accompanied by fiddle, drums and whumping bass, combines strands of old-time country blues, jug band music and Dixieland to such potent effect that you'd swear they were at least six decades older than they really are, recording for 78rpm shellac rather than CD or iTunes.

Woody Pines Live at Pickathon (Pendarvis Farm - Fir Meadows Stage, August 3, 2008)

-INTERVIEW: program #172 - Woody Pines: Woody Pines joins us in the studio this week for five songs and a little chat. (pat radio, 10/06/09)

Name Your Link

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Breast screening `doesn't cut death rates': ROUTINE breast cancer screening may have little effect on reducing deaths from the disease and the value of national programs should be questioned, according to a new report. (Sean Parnell, 3/25/10, The Australian)

A study by the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, says national screening programs bring no benefit in terms of lives saved.

The study, based on the Danish program, is the latest work to raise questions about the efficacy of population-wide mammographies

The latest findings, based on analysis of data over a 20-year period covering the introduction of regional screening in Denmark, found that breast cancer mortality fell by 1 per cent per annum in the screened areas and 2 per cent per annum in non-screened areas.

...we need to prevent care.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


US actor Robert Culp, star of 1960s series I Spy, dies (BBC, 3/24/10)

Robert Culp, who paired with Bill Cosby in the US comedy-adventure TV series I Spy in the 1960s, has died at the age of 79.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


The best option is the Fayyad option (YOSSI ALPHER, 23/03/2010, Jerusalem Post)

Under prevailing circumstances, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s unilateral state-building plan is the best option available for all those truly concerned with advancing a two-state solution that maintains Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Not only must Fayyad succeed in the coming year, but the international community must endorse and recognize his achievement, and encourage Israel to follow suit. [...]

Make no mistake: The emergence of an internationally recognized Palestinian state in the West Bank will not officially end the conflict in the sense of resolving all claims. But it could create an entirely new and far more stable two-state reality based on Palestinian efforts, Israeli readiness to negotiate the territorial issue based on the 1967 border – but only the territorial issue – and international recognition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Obama executive order on abortion: President to sign order reaffirming restrictions at private event (NY Daily News, March 24th 2010)

In contrast to the pomp surrounding Tuesday's signing of the Democrats' landmark health care bill, President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order reaffirming restrictions on federal funding of abortion at a private signing session.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Has Obama lost his silver tongue? (Peter Feaver, March 23, 2010 , Foreign Policy)

[H]e scores the highest on the issues that he talks about the least:

* The situation in Afghanistan: 55 percent approve and 42 percent disapprove
* Terrorism: 53 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove
* The situation in Iraq: 51 percent approve and 46 percent disapprove [...]

This pattern of comparatively low scores for the handling of signature domestic policy priorities and higher scores for the handling of foreign policy may be due to several factors. Perhaps the public just disapproves of Obama's health and economic policies and approves of the national security policies. Or perhaps the public approves of the way Obama has pursued more of a bipartisan policy on national security than he has on health care, which passed on a pure partisan basis. Note that the Republicans, who were quite loud in shouting "No" on Obamacare have been the loudest "Yes" voices on Afghanistan. Perhaps the low numbers are just the direct result of all of the partisan shouting. Or perhaps Obama's numbers on domestic policy are contaminated by the public's total disdain for Congress, which has approval numbers in the low teens. Perhaps the public and the media have been so focused on health care that neither has not paid much attention to the wars and if they did they might not like what they see there. Perhaps the president is still benefiting from a commander-in-chief halo.

If I were in the White House, however, I would be concerned about yet another possible explanation: perhaps the more the president talks about an issue the more he drives his own numbers on that issue down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Private guards kill Somali pirate for first time (KATHARINE HOURELD, 3/24/10, AP)

The guards were onboard the MV Almezaan when a pirate group approached it twice, said EU Naval Force spokesman Cmdr. John Harbour. During the second approach on the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship which is United Arab Emirates owned, there was an exchange of fire between the guards and the pirates.

An EU Naval Force frigate was dispatched to the scene and launched a helicopter that located the pirates. Seven pirates were found, including one who had died from small caliber gunshot wounds, indicating he had been shot by the contractors, said Harbour. The six remaining pirates were taken into custody.

Crews are becoming increasingly adept at repelling attacks by pirates in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


A budget-balancing proposal even your state can learn (Joe Henchman, 03/24/10, The Daily Caller)

Here are five ideas for states to help both short-term and long-term fiscal woes:

* Prioritize appropriations. When the majority-Democratic Arkansas Legislature votes to appropriate money, the money isn’t immediately spent. Instead, each appropriation goes to a legislative committee that ranks them in order of priority. Items are funded only to the extent money is available, forcing debate about how best to allocate limited resources while permitting a wish list if revenue exceeds expectations.

* Review tax incentive programs. Although many states recognize they have burdensome tax systems, they use targeted incentives for particular industries rather than reducing burdens for everyone. Besides dumping a higher tax burden on everyone else, the jobs created are dependent on the handouts and often vanish when the incentives end. Tax incentive programs also often escape oversight and cost-benefit analysis. Iowa recently recommended elimination of several ineffective tax incentives after a review. Other states should do the same.

* Broaden sales taxes and use the revenue to lower tax rates. A good sales tax applies to all final goods once and only once. Exempting clothing and groceries may seem like a good idea, but doing so causes year-to-year revenue instability and drives up the rate on everything else. Gross receipts taxes and taxes on business inputs cause distortions that harm economic growth. Adopting a sales tax base of all final products and services would enable both lower rates and more predictable revenue.

# Reduce reliance on taxes on high-income earners and corporate profits. When deciding in which state to live or locate their business, one of the factors that top earners must weigh is the marginal tax rate they will face in each state. While high statutory tax rates on high incomes may bring a revenue increase in the short term, they can harm long-term economic growth as providers of jobs and capital choose to locate in lower-tax states. With these volatile revenue sources at a minimum, it may be perfect timing to minimize them.

# Establish rainy day funds and spending restraints. To ride out recessions, states need to build a rainy day fund of 12 to 18 percent of their annual spending. Setting aside 2 to 3 percent of each year’s budget in good times can accomplish that, but those structures need to be in place now or else states will be in this mess again.

...the best way to attack lobbying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


U.S.-Russia arms agreement a long time coming (Stanley Kober, 03/24/10, Daily Caller)

In 2006, Foreign Affairs, a leading publication in its field, published an article claiming the U.S. could disarm Russian nuclear capabilities in a first strike. “Russia’s leaders can no longer count on a survivable nuclear deterrent,” wrote Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press. “And unless they reverse course rapidly, Russia’s vulnerability will only increase over time.” [...]

When the Cold War ended, there were hopes of greater collaboration between the United States and Russia. And although there have been tremendous disappointments, there has been some cooperation. For example, Russia is allowing the United States to use its territory to supply American armed forces in Afghanistan.

Will such cooperation continue and expand if Moscow becomes convinced the U.S. is trying to attain nuclear primacy? That is the political question underlying the strategic arms agreement.

Trying? We always had it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Pakistan’s War of Choice (MICHAEL E. O'HANLON, 3/24/10, NY Times)

First, the Afghan Taliban’s military chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested in a raid in February. Around the same time, several of the Taliban’s “shadow governors” who operate out of Pakistan were captured by Pakistani forces. Last week, the C.I.A. director, Leon Panetta, announced that thanks in large part to increased cooperation from Pakistan, drone strikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are “seriously disrupting Al Qaeda,” and one killed the terrorist suspected of planning an attack on an American base in December that caused the deaths of seven Americans. Meanwhile, Pakistan has mounted major operations against its own extremists in places ranging from the Swat Valley in the north of the country to Bajaur on the Afghan border to South Waziristan further south. Yes, extremists continue to do great damage, as at Lahore on March 14 when about 40 civilians were killed in bombings. But after traveling across the country in recent days as a guest of the Pakistani military, I was convinced that Pakistan has become much more committed to battling extremists over the last couple of years, as the country felt its own security directly threatened.

Things are complicated, as always in this fractious land. Pakistan’s resolve is clearest against its own internal enemies. And while its will to pursue the Afghan Taliban has grown, its policies are changing incrementally, not fundamentally. It is rebuilding trust with America only slowly. And its obsession with India will continue to constrain its ability and willingness to act against the groups that threaten the NATO mission across the Afghan border.

Trusting them is like trusting the USSR because it fought the Nazis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


GM's Car Of The Future: Sit back and relax while these cute two-wheelers navigate city traffic on their own. (Joann Muller, 03.24.10, Forbes)

[W]hen this year's World Expo opens May 1 in Shanghai, a city of 19 million people intimately familiar with the problem of gridlock, GM and its Chinese partner will be offering a different concept of personal urban mobility: networked, driverless cars that don't pollute, don't crash and take up less space.

GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (SAIC) unveiled the EN-V (Electric Networked-Vehicle) concept Wednesday in Shanghai. It's a fleshed-out version of a personal mobility concept GM unveiled a year ago, in conjunction with Segway, the maker of self-balancing electric vehicles that you ride standing up. With no sides or roof, the concept looked like some sort of electric rickshaw. Because of the timing, as GM was seeking a federal bailout, the concept was greeted with snickers and raised eyebrows.

But fully dressed with lightweight carbon fiber body panels, the EN-V is easier to appreciate.

...the cure for Sudden Acceleration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Immigrants key to economy's revival (JOEL KOTKIN, 3/24/10, Politico)

Overall, some of the country’s highest rates of entrepreneurship are found among immigrants from the Middle East, Cuba, South Korea and countries of the former Soviet Union. These recent arrivals regularly build new businesses — from street-level bodegas to the most sophisticated technology firms.

Immigrants started one-quarter of all venture-backed public companies between 1990 and 2005. In addition, large U.S. firms are increasingly led by executives with roots in foreign countries, including 14 CEOs of the 2007 Fortune 100.

Nowhere is this contribution more critical than in our major cities, many of which would be economically destitute without these immigrant communities.

In Los Angeles County, for example, the self-employment rate among immigrants is more than 10 percent — almost twice that for the native-born. Nationwide, according to the last economic census, the number of all Latino establishments increased by nearly three times the national average, while those owned by all Asians expanded by two times.

Immigrant contributions extend across a range of activities, from retail and food to culture. Asian immigrants, like the Italians and Jews before them, have concentrated in specific niche markets and then expanded beyond historic ghettos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Coconutties (Recipe from Georgie Tarn and Tracey Fine "The Jewish Princess, Feasts and Festivals")

5 egg yolks

¾ cup sugar

2 cups dried, shredded coconut

1 cup mixed dried fruit with semisweet chocolate chips

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale.

2. Add the coconut and dried fruit and chocolate chip mixture.

3. Moisten your hands with water. Take a tablespoon of the mixture and mold it into a pyramid shape with a flat base. Place the pyramids on a baking sheet and bake them for 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely.

4. Melt the chocolate. Dip the base of the cookies into the chocolate, then place on a wire rack to set. Drizzle any leftover chocolate over the coconutties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


Israeli leader gets warmer welcome in Congress (MATTI FRIEDMAN and MATTHEW LEE, 3/23/10, Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a warmer public reception from Congress than from the Obama administration, with a top Democrat and Republican joining Tuesday to praise a leader who has refused to back down in a disagreement the White House says threatens new peace talks.

The bipartisan welcome underscored the breadth of congressional support for Israel even when a U.S. president wants to keep his distance. And it pointed to the limited options, beyond verbal rebukes, that the Obama administration faces in pressuring the Jewish state.

March 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


The church of Peak Oil: Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg doesn’t believe that civilization has gone wrong, but that it was a mistake. He traces the rot back to the invention of agriculture (Peter Foster, 3/23/10, National Post)

One of the intriguing aspects of the doomster mindset is that the more its dark predictions fail too materialize, the more those in its grip insist that The Coming Collapse is going to be all the more terrible. Mr. Heinberg was proud to admit that his original inspiration had been the famously-wrong 1972 Club of Rome study The Limits to Growth (This is the book that projected that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985 and of zinc by 1990). Mr. Heinberg’s next guiding light was Colin Campbell’s 1998 Scientific American article on “the end of cheap oil,” a seminal text of Peaksters. Mr. Campbell suggested that the peaking of oil production also meant “the end of economics.” And of civilization as we know it.

Mr. Heinberg doesn’t so much believe that civilization has gone wrong as that civilization has been a mistake. Indeed, he attributes the start of the rot to the invention of agriculture. Things have been getting much worse since the Industrial Revolution. Mr. Heinberg sees the vast increase in populations, life spans, leisure and material goods as a “problem.” Why? First, because not everybody has “shared” in it (Did you know that a handful of “superbillionaires” control half the world’s wealth?). And second because, well, because it just can’t go on. It obviously never occurs to people like Mr. Heinberg that this take might be a property of their minds rather than a reflection of reality. It is always others who are “in denial.” They do not see how things can go on because they have no idea how things got to where they are. All they see is that resources are finite, and that we are using them at an accelerating rate, so how can we not run out?

Mr. Heinberg cited the plateauing of oil production since around 2005 as evidence of peakishness. Why, he asked, didn’t soaring prices produce soaring supply? Well perhaps because soaring prices also induced flat demand. But Mr. Heinberg just can’t grasp, or accept, that market signals should guide us. The market is getting “the wrong information.” The Invisible Hand is “like a crazed demon.” And so we must countenance, prepare for, and indeed enforce “The End of Growth.” After all, fish stocks are going, topsoil is going, water is going, rock phosphates are going. And “we’re about to lose the tiger.”

According to Mr. Heinberg, the solution “for those of us who do get this” is straightforward: government action “on a wartime scale;” plus “transition” to more local “resilience,” which would include survivalist disaster preparation and “dispersed inventories” for when the eighteen wheelers stop making deliveries to the local supermarket.

We're with Cain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Big companies are awash in cash as economy picks up (Tom Petruno, 3/23/10, LA Times

By one prominent measure, major companies had extraordinary success weathering the recession: Industrial companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, a list that includes such giants as 3M Co., Coca-Cola Co. and United Technologies Corp., ended last year with a record $832 billion in cash and short-term securities on their books, up 27% from a year earlier.

"The big question is what do they do with it," said Susan Sterne, an economist who heads Economic Analysis Associates in Greenwich, Conn.

The U.S. economic recovery could be stunted unless a large share of that corporate wealth flows to average workers, either in the form of new jobs or higher wages, some analysts say.

"If we don't get jobs growing soon and we don't give ordinary working families a sense that they're benefiting from this recovery, there's going to be an economic price to pay," Kochan said.

Historically, smaller firms have led the way in U.S. job creation, not multinational Fortune 500 companies. But economists note that smaller companies provide many goods and services to larger firms, so the good health of the giants should help firms down the food chain.

There have been some signs that businesses overall are beginning to reinvest their cash mountain. The government's chief measure of capital spending, outlays for equipment and software, rose sharply in the last three months of 2009 after plummeting in the first half of the year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


It's free cone day at Ben & Jerry's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Next Big Issue? Social Security Pops Up Again (JACKIE CALMES, 3/23/10, NY Times)

“You would think that there ought to be a way to get together and talk about a balanced package of some changes in benefits and some increases in revenues that would actually help Social Security,” said James R. Horney, the director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research organization.

Some liberals, however, already have begun mobilizing to oppose any changes to Social Security benefits, arguing that the program does not face an imminent crisis. A group called Social Security Works began forming in January, with financing from Atlantic Philanthropies, and is seeking alliances with other groups.

In Congress, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic leaders, who last year quashed White House talk of forming a Social Security task force, are not likely to be eager after the 14-month battle over health care to confront so controversial an issue, certainly not before November’s elections.

Yet Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the moderate Democrat who is the House majority leader, gave a speech this month in which he called for the two parties to compromise on a mix of tax increases and benefit reductions to avert fiscal chaos. Among his options were proposals to gradually raise the retirement age for future Social Security recipients and to reduce benefits for those with high incomes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


The Pro-Choice Crowd Fights Back (Dana Goldstein, 3/23/10, Daily Beast)

The senator’s language, reiterated in an executive order from President Barack Obama that sealed the bill’s final passage in the House, requires women and their employers to write out two monthly checks to insurers, one for abortion coverage and another for all other health services. In a complex accounting requirement that a group of George Washington University researchers predict will eventually discourage insurance companies from providing any abortion coverage at all, the insurers would have to segregate abortion funding from all the new federal subsidy payments they will receive to bring approximately 17 million new customers into the private insurance system. [...]

In a letter to supporters, NARAL President Nancy Keenan said that although the health bill expands access to maternity care and family-planning services, the Nelson language constitutes “an unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization” that left her “extremely disappointed” and led NARAL to decline to endorse the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Life on Mars detective says what people are frightened to say in PC times: The Life on Mars detective Gene Hunt is a hero to viewers because the detective "verbalises" what people are too "frightened" to say in today's politically correct times, says the actor Philip Glenister. (Urmee Khan, 23 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Glenister, who plays DCI Hunt in the BBC police drama Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes, said people identified with the irreverant character and his style of no-nonsense policing.

He suggested the character was the antidote to Britain's "blame culture" where people were often too scared to say what they really thought for fear of being branded "misogynistic, racist or homophobic".

“It took me a while to realise he’s my alter ego – he’s every man’s in some respect," he told Radio Times. "We live in a sinister blame culture where victims wait to be offended because there’s money to be made.

“Gene Hunt verbalises what people are frightened to say in case they’re labelled misogynistic, racist or homophobic. But I’m not advocating we go around slapping women’s arses.”

They've also got a list of his ten best lines. The final episode of Life on Mars was one of the best hours of tv ever broadcast. Why ABC didn't just buy the British version and show it here is beyond me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


NY Times Reporter Confirms Obama Made Deal to Kill Public Option (Miles Mogulescu, March 16, 2010, Huffinfgton Post)

On Monday, Ed Shultz interviewed New York Times Washington reporter David Kirkpatrick on his MSNBC TV show, and Kirkpatrick confirmed the existence of the deal. Shultz quoted Chip Kahn, chief lobbyist for the for-profit hospital industry on Kahn's confidence that the White House would honor the no public option deal, and Kirkpatrick responded:

"That's a lobbyist for the hospital industry and he's talking about the hospital industry's specific deal with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee and, yeah, I think the hospital industry's got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you're interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product."

Kirkpatrick also acknowledged that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina had confirmed the existence of the deal.

This should be big news. Even while President Obama was saying that he thought a public option was a good idea and encouraging supporters to believe his healthcare plan would include one, he had promised for-profit hospital lobbyists that there would be no public option in the final bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Netanyahu Rebuffs Clinton Over Construction (JAY SOLOMON, 3/23/10, WSJ)

Mrs. Clinton took the dais first Monday and told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the future of Israel's stability very much depended on Israel's government establishing the conditions for successful negotiations with the Palestinians, specifically a cessation of building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu followed in an evening speech by telling Aipac's annual policy conference that building in East Jerusalem was his government's sovereign right and that Israel could ultimately only depend on itself to ensure its security.

"The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself," Mr. Netanyahu told the conference. He added: "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."

It was uncomfortable watching President Clinton dominate Mr. Netanyahu at Wye River, kind of like a prison shower scene. Now the Israeli PM is returning the favor to this inept Administration.

March 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Strict Abortion Rules Mean Fewer Insurers May Offer Coverage (LAURA MECKLER , 3/22/10, WSJ)

To sell a plan in the exchanges that covers abortion, insurers will have to collect two checks from customers—one to pay for the abortion coverage, and one to pay for everything else. They will have to keep the funds separate in order to assure that federal aid handed out to consumers doesn't subsidize the procedure, maintaining a long-standing federal principle.

Kristin Binns, a spokeswoman for insurer WellPoint Inc., said it could be "a little bit nightmarish" to offer the coverage because of the logistical challenges and because the company would have to create and market different products—one with abortion coverage and one without it. Ms. Binns added that the market for such coverage—women who think they may need an abortion someday—is essentially "non-existent."

Currently five states ban insurers from offering abortion as part of their comprehensive coverage, requiring customers to buy a rider. In one of these states, Kentucky, WellPoint is the market leader and Ms. Binns said the company is unaware of any individual or company that has opted for the coverage.

A January letter from Affinity Health Plan, an umbrella group that provides coverage to various associations, to a nonprofit health-care group questioned whether any insurers would be willing to offer coverage under the bill, because the related costs would "surely outweigh" the premium revenue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM

60-40 SENATE:

2012 Looks No Better For Democrats (Shira Toeplitz, 3/21/10, CQ-Roll Call)

Senate Democrats are no doubt bracing for sizeable losses in the fall elections, but an early look at 2012 map shows a rebound for the party could be difficult next cycle, when President Barack Obama will be at the top of the ticket.

Although most analysis is purely speculative at this point, there isn't a lot of guesswork in the numbers: Of the 33 Senate seats up in 2012, 24 are currently held by Democrats or Independents who caucus with them. What's more, all of the first-term Senators in this class were elected in a mid-term cycle and will likely face a different electorate in a presidential year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Extra hour in bed 'boosts pupils' exam results': A school experiment that allowed pupils an extra hour in bed has boosted exam results and slashed absenteeism. (Richard Savill, 21 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The usual 9am start for lessons at Monkseaton High School, North Tyneside, was pushed back to 10am as part of the trial.

Early results of the experiment, overseen by three scientists including an Oxford neuroscience professor, indicate that the practice could be successful if it was adopted permanently.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Nothing To Fear In Health Care Reform: The freest economies in the world all have universal health care systems of some sort. (Mark Rice, 03.22.10, Forbes)

The truth, however, is that there is nothing about health care reform that runs counter to the American values of economic freedom and personal liberty. Even if the health care bill was to lead to a government control of health care (which it won't), or a decrease in the quality of health care (which it won't), we wouldn't be any less free than we are today.

But don't take my word for it. Even the staunchly conservative Heritage Foundation recognizes that countries with universal health care systems can enjoy high levels of economic freedom. Take a look at the 2010 edition of the Index of Economic Freedom. The seven countries that are considered to have "fully free" economies all have universal health care systems of some sort.

The two countries that annually reside at the top of the Index--Hong Kong and Singapore--enjoy some of the best health indicators in the world, including low infant mortality rates and long life expectancies. Despite their high ranks of economic freedom, both have heavy government control of health care.

For Singapore this means mandatory savings accounts and government-imposed cost controls. For Hong Kong this means a system of government-run hospitals that provide most of the health care services there. Neither health care system relies on the free market forces extolled by American conservatives, yet both countries have high levels of economic freedom. [...]

The next five countries on the Index--Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Switzerland and Canada--are all strong democracies. In fact, all five of those countries have higher democracy rankings than the U.S., according to the Economist magazine's 2008 edition of its Democracy Index.

In addition to enjoying high levels of economic freedom and high levels of democracy, all five of these countries have systems of government-controlled health care.

The question isn't whether we should have unversal health care, but what kind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


This is not History with a capital H: The health reforms in the US are neither historic nor disastrous. They simply show what ‘Change’ means under Obama: tinkering on the edges. (Sean Collins, 3/22/10, Spiked)

The new law is not a major change, nor an historic achievement. It does not represent an enormous step forward, but neither is it a calamity. The reality that neither party will admit is that the reforms represent a modest change that does not address the structural problems of the healthcare system in the US.

Key reforms in the bill include: reducing the number of uninsured by 32million by 2019; requiring people to buy insurance, while providing assistance to the lower paid; creating ‘exchanges’ where people can buy insurance from an array of private providers; requiring insurance companies to accept applicants with pre-existing conditions and not allowing them to drop people who develop conditions; and introducing certain cost-cutting measures. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the reforms will cost the federal government an additional $938 billion over 10 years. However, these costs are to be covered by tax increases and cuts in the growth in Medicare (government-provided healthcare to older people), and the CBO estimates that the health-spending deficit will actually decline by $143 billion in the next 10 years.

Of course, the new law is significant, and it does contain enhancements. Changes such as having more people covered by insurance, and regulating insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage, are genuine improvements and will make a difference to many people’s lives. But in the context of the scale of the problems with healthcare in America, the reforms are conservative and minor. As Obama himself has said, this reform package is very similar to the one championed by the Republicans in 1993 in opposition to the Clinton proposals, which themselves were not all that radical.

George Santayana said: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." This kerfuffle over really rather minor reforms illustrated that nicely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


US Health Care -- Good for America, Bad for the World (Gregor Peter Schmitz, 3/22/10, Der Spiegel)

Nevertheless, he cannot really celebrate the reform that he promised for so long. Since his campaign, Obama has provided two primary justifications for universal health care. First, was the moral necessity to eliminate the existential risks posed by illness or injury to more than 40 million Americans without coverage. The second justification was an economic one -- rising health care costs, so goes the argument, must be brought under control in order to reduce stress on the US budget.

The first promise has been fulfilled -- the new legislation demonstrates solidarity with those unable to afford health coverage and with those who were refused insurance. The second promise, however, has been postponed. The reform bill only half-heartedly addresses the reduction of health care costs and those measures aimed at savings can easily be skirted. Insurance companies will get millions of new customers, but no real competition. Their shares are currently skyrocketing -- they are the true winners of US health care reform.

The president, in other words, won the moral debate, but he is paying a high price. The bid to introduce social reforms of the 1960s, providing health insurance to the poor and elderly, was also deeply controversial. And back then the Republicans also made huge efforts to block the reforms. Congress, though, passed the bill with a clear majority in the end, with votes from both parties. This time Obama has failed to get a single Republican to back his health care reform and polls show that there is a deep public mistrust.

Obama's show of strength, in fact, most closely resembles the fight for greater civil rights for African-Americans in the South during the 1960s. Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act because he believed it was the right thing to do. But he did it in the clear knowledge that the Democrats would have to pay a heavy political price.

Timeline of health care reform: Things may get worse before they gets better (David Saltonstall, 3/22/10, NYDAILY NEWS)

"It is so being pitched as a cure-all, and it isn't," said Prof. Stephen Parente, a health care expert at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Parente has estimated that because of the ongoing recession, and no firm checks on rising premiums in the near term, as many as 8 million more Americans could join the 46 million now uninsured in the next two years.

"So, the reality is that by 2012, when Barack Obama is running for reelection, there will be millions more people who still don't have insurance," he said. [...]

Yes, the law includes many quick fixes that will be noticeable this year, from tax credits for small businesses to billions in new aid for community health centers.

But the centerpiece of the reforms - namely, a network of health care exchanges through which families and businesses can use subsidies to shop for low-cost insurance - doesn't get off the ground until 2014. Many other provisions are put off to 2015, 2016 - even 2020.

While a reform requiring private health insurance -- and treating abortion as anathema -- would be a pyrrhic victory for Democrats anyway, the best part of the proposed bill is how easy it is for a Republican majority to fix. All you need to do is add an HSA/catastrophic option and expand coverage to 100% of Americans.

Obama's Failed Promise: To get the health-care bill passed, a pro-choice president reneged on his pledge to support reproductive rights for rich and poor alike. (Dana Goldstein, 3/22/10, Daily Beast)

The final health-care reform bill represents a huge loss for the pro-choice movement, and one largely dealt by Democrats. Just a year ago, feminist organizations were ecstatic about the election of a pro-choice president, one who had promised on the campaign trail to end the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal Medicaid dollars from contributing to the cost of poor women's abortions.

Now, in a Faustian bargain with Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and other Democrats who oppose abortion rights, President Obama will issue an executive order enshrining the Hyde Amendment and expanding its reach into the new private insurance exchanges created by the health-care bill. Because only about 13 percent of abortions are billed directly to insurers, it is sometimes assumed that abortion is a relatively inelastic good—that women who really want one will get one, come hell or high water. But that assumption is false. A 1999 study of poor women in North Carolina found that about one-third of them had carried pregnancies to term only because Medicaid funding for abortions was unavailable during certain parts of the year.

The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed (Chris Hedges, 3/22/10, TruthDig)
The claims made by the proponents of the bill are the usual deceptive corporate advertising. The bill will not expand coverage to 30 million uninsured, especially since government subsidies will not take effect until 2014. Families who cannot pay the high premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default, increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize local markets to shut out competitors. The $1.055 trillion spent over the next decade will add new layers of bureaucratic red tape to what is an unmanageable and ultimately unsustainable system.

The mendacity of the Democratic leadership in the face of this reality is staggering. Howard Dean, who is a doctor, said recently: “This is a vote about one thing: Are you for the insurance companies or are you for the American people?” Here is a man who once championed the public option and now has sold his soul. What is the point in supporting him or any of the other Democrats? How much more craven can they get?

Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model for what we will get nationwide. One in six people there who have the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of thousands of people have been evicted from the state program because of budget cuts. The 45,000 Americans who die each year because they cannot afford coverage will not be saved under the federal legislation. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills. The only good news is that health care stocks and bonuses for the heads of these corporations are shooting upward. Chalk this up as yet another victory for our feudal overlords and a defeat for the serfs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


A spy unsettles US-India ties (M K Bhadrakumar, 3/22/10, Asia Times)

News that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had reached a plea bargain with David Coleman Headley, who played a key role in the planning of the terrorist strike in Mumbai in November 2008 in which 166 people were killed, has caused an uproar in India.

The deal enables the US government to hold back from formally producing any evidence against Headley in a court of law that might have included details of his links with US intelligence or oblige any cross-examination of Headley by the prosecution.

Nor can the families of the 166 victims be represented by a lawyer to question Headley during his trial commencing in Chicago. Headley's links with the US intelligence will now remain classified information and the Pakistani nationals involved in the Mumbai attacks will get away scot-free. Furthermore, the FBI will not allow Headley's extradition to India and will restrict access so that Indian agencies cannot interrogate him regarding his links with US and Pakistani intelligence.

In return for pleading guilty to the charges against him Headley will get lighter punishment than the death sentence that was probably most likely.

March 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


...of Lars and the Real Girl, which we can't recommend highly enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Controversial Iraqi Shiite savors growing power: Politician Hakim Zamili represents the paradoxes of the Sadr movement, with his alleged role in the bloody sectarian war and his anticipated clout in the formation of Baghdad's new coalition government. (Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, March 21, 2010, LA Times)

[I]n the March 7 national elections, Sadr followers may end up the leading vote-getters in their Shiite political bloc, with at least 40 seats, a showing that would give them a bigger voice than Shiite religious parties that are seen as friendly to the U.S. The number, though not a surprise, is a reminder of the movement's ability to mobilize followers with an intensity that many rival groups, hobbled by years in exile, lack.

Zamili, 44, who was arrested in a raid by U.S. forces on his Health Ministry office at the beginning of the 2007 U.S. troop buildup, appears to have gained the second-highest number of votes for any Sadr candidate in the country.

The U.S. military once hoped Zamili would be convicted in an Iraqi court for the excesses of Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army; Zamili was put on trial in connection to killings, kidnapping and corruption, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Now, people in Sadr City visit his home, proud to be seen with a man they greet as their defender in Iraq's darkest days.

The soft-spoken politician, who has been studying the "Rubaiyat," the classic collection of verse by Omar Khayyam, for a graduate degree in comparative literature, is ready to assert the Sadr bloc's rights in the halls of power. He said he expected that the movement would ask for prominent positions in ministries, including Cabinet posts and director general positions, as well as leadership slots in the army and police.

"Our numbers are large and can delay some projects, many projects and laws," he said, in a warning for those who might try to isolate the Sadr movement, including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a fellow Shiite who launched an offensive against the Mahdi Army in 2008. "We want success for the government." [...]

Even as he stated his innocence, Zamili made it clear that he believed the Mahdi Army had the right to defend Iraq's Shiites from the Sunni Arab suicide bombers who have attacked the country's majority population in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

"We didn't [commit] the acts of car bombs or killing because of one's [religious] identity. We were defending ourselves, and people like me defended the Ministry of Health," Zamili said, surrounded by an approving audience. "If a thief breaks into your home and you defend it, are you the criminal and the thief is the victim?"

..about choosing the party that won the civil war for you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Eraser Duty for Bart? (MAUREEN DOWD, March 20, 2010, NY Times)

Angry nuns have been calling Congressman Bart Stupak’s office to complain about his dismissive comments on their bravura decision to make a literal Hail Mary pass, break with Catholic bishops and endorse the health care bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


East Jerusalem construction policy unchanged (AMY TEIBEL, 03/21/10, AP)

It was not clear what Netanyahu’s declared refusal to budge on east Jerusalem — the territory that lies at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — would mean for future relations with Washington and the rest of the international community.

Netanyahu’s moves go nowhere near the U.S. demand to cancel a major new housing project at the heart of the row, but apparently he has offered enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to call them “useful and productive” and dispatch an envoy back to the region this week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


NCAA: Bracket-busting day thanks to Northern Iowa (DAVE SKRETTA, 3/21/10, AP)

Another eventful day at the NCAA tournament is in the books, with Northern Iowa stunning overall No. 1 seed Kansas, 10th-seeded Saint Mary's knocking off second-seeded Villanova, and 11th-seeded Washington easily handling third-seeded New Mexico.

Talk about some bracket busting.

A whopping 40% of the NCAA Tournament entries in ESPN's contest had Kansas winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right (SAM TANENHAUS, 3/21/10, NY Times)

In the 18th century, the American writer Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, himself an immigrant from France, catalogued the continent’s bewildering mix of “English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans and Swedes.” He wondered, “What then is the American, this new man?”

He concluded that in America, “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”

That idea was later fortified by Alexis de Tocqueville’s concept of American exceptionalism, which suggested that the country was exempt from the bitter conflicts — class, religion, imperial ambition — that had convulsed Europe.

Long afterward, amid America’s own convulsions in the 1960s and ’70s, the concept of a single “race of men” looked outmoded. Didn’t race mean “white race”? And didn’t “men” exclude women? American exceptionalism might really be a form of cultural insularity.

So, universities and colleges devised new programs that prompted objections as fierce as those now being made to the Texas curriculum.

In 1968, when Harvard students demanded a black studies program, “Faculty hawks warned of the fall of Harvard, and even civilization, as they knew it,” as Morton Keller and Phyllis Keller note in “Making Harvard Modern.”

Soon an ever widening range of subjects, from gay studies to feminist legal theory and anthropology, were added, in keeping with the dictates of identity politics. Some of this thinking eventually filtered to grade schools, with children now celebrating Kwanzaa and composing essays, year after year, on the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Many of the changes were liberating, but some were narrowing and erroneous — for instance the theories espoused by Leonard Jeffries Jr., who, as head of City College’s black studies department in the 1980s, lectured on the differences between African “sun people” and European “ice people.” [...]

Though its authors say the Texas curriculum reinforces American traditions, it may instead reflect the conservative variant of identity politics, and this could invite a similar backlash.

To be fair, some of the board’s recommendations aren’t controversial. Most scholars of the cold war, left and right, think that the Venona documents — communications that record the activities of Americans who secretly spied for the Soviet Union — illuminate the anti-Communist investigations of the McCarthy period. And historians of the conservative movement will agree that Rush Limbaugh and Phyllis Schlafly are worth learning about, as are the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.

Even the Texas curriculum’s most disputed item — its assertion that the Founders envisioned America as a divinely inspired Christian nation — is not as radical as it sounds.

The point being, it's Christian, not a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


New Jersey: A Blue State Deep in Debt Rethinks What’s Important (DAVID M. HALBFINGER, 3/19/10, NY Times)

[W]hat’s most surprising about New Jersey is how in such a blue, labor-dominated state, Democrats and union members seem to be cracking under the pressure of the state’s tax burden, revealing a kind of split-personality disorder.

The syndrome surfaced last summer during Mr. Christie’s campaign, when he vowed to bring New Jersey’s property taxes, the nation’s highest, under control. As a candidate he saved his sternest threats for the teachers’ and state workers’ unions, whose healthy pay and benefits packages, he argued, were slowly strangling the schools and running the state’s finances into the ground. Union members, state workers and teachers, it turned out, weren’t offended by his rhetoric. In fact, public opinion surveys showed they ate it up.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll, said the surprising reactions were a reminder that Democrats and union members are also home owners, job seekers and parents — and that things have gotten so bad that even they might be willing to swallow some tough medicine and embrace once-unthinkable policies.

“They’re property tax payers, too,” Mr. Murray said. “People are willing to take cuts in programs that they think do good things, but they think we simply can’t afford.”

While Democratic governors have mostly closed deficits with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, Mr. Christie’s insistence on doing less with less puts him shoulder-to-shoulder with red-state governors like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Haley Barbour in Mississippi, ambitious conservatives like Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, and his fellow newcomer in Virginia, Bob McDonnell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Would you torture this man?: A spoof game show on French television has shown that the majority of us are capable of unthinkable cruelty once the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred (Michael Portillo, 20 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The documentary-makers who rigged up the game show took inspiration from the experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University in the early Sixties – as did I when I recreated them for my own documentary on anger last year. After Adolf Eichmann, one of the masterminds of the Nazi holocaust, stood trial in Israel in 1961, it reignited public debate about whether the German people were unusual in their willingness to renounce personal responsibility and participate in mass murder. Could it be that Eichmann and his millions of accomplices were just following orders?

Milgram doubted that the Germans were any different from the rest of humanity. To test this theory, he invited members of the American public into his university to help, as they thought, with an experiment on learning. In the interests of scientific research, they were asked to deliver escalating voltages of electric shock to another human being when he gave the wrong answers in a memory test. Despite the fact that they could hear him screaming with pain, the majority moved on progressively to send 450 volts through his body, a dose that could certainly be lethal.

Following this experiment, it was hard to argue that Nazism was made possible because of some unique evil or deference to authority present in the German psyche. The conclusion, that it doesn’t take much to coax good-hearted people anywhere into monstrous acts of violence, shattered complacency inside the world’s democracies.

In the Milgram test, the authority figure was not a uniformed dictator but a white-coated professor. The ideology was not a political creed but science, with all its associations of progress and betterment. Milgram perceived that we are easily persuaded to set aside moral judgments if we are convinced that we are improving human understanding.

In last week’s French spoof, the victim was also an actor. Unlike Milgram’s set-up, in which the victim was seated in another room, the “suffering” could be seen as well as heard, with the actor pretending to writhe in pain in front of a studio audience. Also, there was no scientist to persuade the “torturers” that by inflicting pain they were helping humanity: the participants were under no illusion that they were doing anything other than enjoying 15 minutes of television fame. Perhaps they reasoned that electrocuting contestants was a logical progression from incarcerating oddball characters inside the Big Brother house.

...under which it is wrong to torture not just a Frenchman but a reality show contestant to boot?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Why it's so hard to fire a Phila. police officer (Troy Graham and Allison Steele, 3/21/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

[B]ecause the police union wins most arbitrations, one thing is certain: It is very difficult to fire a Philadelphia officer.

Through arbitration in the last five years, the union has returned about two-thirds of dismissed officers to the force. [...]

Former Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said he remembered winning just one hearing during his tenure from 1998 through 2001, after he fired an officer for shooting an unarmed motorist.

"That was the one that severed whatever relationship I had with the union," he said. "It's just not a good system, but Philadelphia is a very pro-labor town."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Labour desperate to end BA strike with election looming: Gordon Brown's officials in close contact with union chiefs as Tories try to stoke row over party's funding (Dan Milmo and Toby Helm, 3/21/10, The Observer)

Desperate attempts to end the BA cabin crew strike were being mounted by government ministers last night as Labour battled to prevent the dispute from wrecking its preparations for the general election.

Gordon Brown's officials were in close touch with Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, throughout yesterday amid hopes that a settlement could be reached that would prevent the action spreading into next weekend. But sources close to the dispute said last night there was no basis for a deal and that no further talks were scheduled.

Yesterday the Tories turned up the pressure on Labour over the strike and its links with Unite by launching a new advertising campaign showing Brown dressed as a BA pilot under the headline "Gordon is doing sweet BA".

The political row surrounding the dispute deepened last night after it emerged that Unite is to give the Labour party £4m to help fund its general election campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Latino religious leader Rodriguez courts the left, right for immigration reform (Krissah Thompson, 3/21/10, Washington Post)

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez wants immigration reform, and believes building bridges across political divides is how to win it.

As president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, he has made himself at home with secular progressives and right-wing evangelicals, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. [...]

About 10 million Latinos voted in the 2008 presidential election, and evangelicals are considered to make up about one-third of the Hispanic vote. But their political impact is larger than their numbers, said Gaston Espinosa, a professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College and author of "Religion, Race, and the American Presidency" and several books about Latino Protestants.

His research also found that as many as 600,000 Latinos convert to evangelicalism every year, and Hispanic evangelicals tend to vote at higher rates than Hispanic Catholics. They are also heavily concentrated in swing states, such as Colorado, Florida and New Mexico.

Rodriguez will now find out whether the community's clout and his hold-hands-with-everyone-approach help advance the contentious issue of overhauling immigration law. He is not naive about all those friendships he has made.

"I've been with people that I pray with, who are some of my greatest friends on the right, who'll say they want to deport 12 million people," Rodriguez said. "Or they'll say -- and this is how they'll say it -- 'Why doesn't your people learn English? If they can't, they need to go.' "

He shook his head.

He has no illusions on the other side either, and some on that side, in turn, view him with suspicion. Bruce Wilson, a founder of an online publication opposed to the religious right, calls Rodriguez proof that the "new face of the politicized Christian conservative movement is not exclusively associated with the Republican Party." [...]

Last month, Rodriguez was speaking to the Oak Initiative, led by pastor and televangelist Rick Joyner, who has built a large ministry in Fort Mill, S.C. Rodriguez, who is on Oak's board, describes it as "the Christian tea party without all the anger." For the most part, the conference attendees, who came from around the country, are fans of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck and fear that big government is bankrupting the nation.

Rodriguez worried that they might be vulnerable to what he has called the "xenophobia and anti-Latino rhetoric" of some on the right.

"It's 2010. The old modus operandi will not succeed. It's going to take white, black, brown to win elections," he told them.

As evidence, he talked about the support evangelicals across racial lines were able to build for Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. After the speech, the 150 activists in South Carolina took a straw poll; each one supported making it possible for illegal immigrants to become citizens.

Rodriguez counted it a small victory.

There have been larger ones. After what he described as a few years of lobbying, the National Evangelical Association's board voted in October to support an immigration overhaul.

"Immigrants are a part of who we are, and we see the question through the lens of people we know and care about," said Galen Carey, the group's D.C.-based government affairs director. "It's not just an abstraction."

Rodriguez knows the chances for change this year are slim amid the debate over health-care and economic recovery efforts. For now, he continues to push right-wing evangelicals to support the policy. If the makeup of Congress changes after November's midterm elections, he thinks Latino evangelicals could persuade Republicans to get behind the issue.

To skeptics, Rodriguez points to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, the last major overhaul of immigration law to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.

"Ronald Reagan supported it," Rodriguez said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Under Panetta, a more aggressive CIA (Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, 3/21/10, Washington Post)

Panetta, an earthy former congressman with exquisitely honed Washington smarts, was President Obama's surprise choice to head the CIA. During his 13 months in the job, Panetta has led a relentless assault on al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan, delivering on Obama's promise to target them more aggressively than his predecessor.

Apart from a brief stint as a military intelligence officer in the 1960s, little in Panetta's résumé appeared to merit his nomination to become the 19th director of the CIA, but his willingness to use force has won over skeptics inside the agency and on Capitol Hill. Said one former senior intelligence official: "I've never sensed him shirking from it."

The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta's opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency's old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency's long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

"Any time you make decisions on life and death, I don't take that lightly. That's a serious decision," he said. "And yet, I also feel very comfortable with making those decisions because I know I'm dealing with people who threaten the safety of this country and are prepared to attack us at any moment."

Mehsud's followers and their al-Qaeda allies vowed to avenge his death, and within months they put into motion a plan that culminated in a Dec. 30 suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors at a base in eastern Afghanistan.

On the Monday after the bombing, the regular 8:30 a.m. meeting of senior staff members at CIA began with a minute of silence. Then the director spoke.

"We're in a war," Panetta said, according to one participant. "We cannot afford to be hesitant. . . . The fact is we're doing the right thing. My approach is going to be to work that much harder . . . that we beat these sons of bitches."

...that he's not chief of staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Will a Dying City Finally Turn to Immigrants? (Richard Herman, 03/19/2010, New Geography)

Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis, who is based in Cleveland, estimates that new census numbers might show Cleveland's population to be 325,000, a whopping 153,000 drop in 10 years! That would be an average of 15,000 people leaving Cleveland every year.

That’s 1,250 people jumping ship every month,

312 people fleeing the wreckage every week,

45 people evacuating every day, or

2 people running out of Cleveland every hour, 24/7, the whole year, for 10 straight years.

Even conservative estimates have us losing 10 percent of our population this decade, the fastest rate of decline of any major American city (except New Orleans). And still, remarkably, we hear no alarm bells from City Hall, no calls of urgency, just a commitment to stay the course and manage the decline.

While the extent of the exodus is debateable, it’s obvious that Cleveland, a city that once boasted 1 million residents, is not on the bright path to rebirth.

Maybe we don't really understand the problem.

New York City and Chicago, like most major cities, see significant out-migration of their existing residents each year. What is atypical is that Cleveland does not enjoy the energy of new people moving in.

Put simply, the city needs the fresh optimism and pluck of new immigrants, the most likely source of New Clevelanders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Squeeze Israel by cutting US aid? Not likely (KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, 3/21/10, Associated Press)

The diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Israel has sent a tremor through their alliance, but one key part of the bond seems virtually untouchable: the roughly $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid.

Israel's harsher critics often call for aid cuts to twist Israel's arm. Yet amid the uproar of recent days over plans to build 1,600 new homes for a Jewish neighborhood in a disputed part of Jerusalem, there has been no serious talk of using aid as a club.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


'It was like Zulu': How British troops in Afghanistan fought to the point of exhaustion against the Taliban. (Sean Rayment, 20 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

It became known as “the battle of Crossing Point One”. In a series of suicidal attacks late last year, hard-core Taliban fighters tried to over-run an isolated British base on the northern tip of Nad e’Ali. Had the insurgents succeeded, the victory would have been a propaganda coup par excellence, and the British mission in central Helmand could have been seriously jeopardised.

For two gruelling weeks in the area of Luy Mandah, 30 soldiers fought a 360-degree battle with the Taliban in the most arduous conditions. The combat was often at close quarters where bayonets were fixed and hand grenades became the weapons of choice for the beleaguered British troops. By the battle’s end, every man in the platoon was credited with at least one Taliban kill.

March 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Angry White House seeks to 'modify' Israeli regime: President Barack Obama's team hope to push Right-wing premier Benjamin Netanyahu into a coalition which will put peace talks on track. (Adrian Blomfield in Ramat Shlomo and Alex Spillius, 20 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

For Jewish settler families, there is nothing controversial about the plans to erect 1,600 new homes. But for Washington they represent an insult that has reduced relations between the United States and Israel to their lowest ebb in a generation. The friendship that has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for 40 years and sustained a small democracy in a perilously hostile neighbourhood has moved on to novel, shaky ground.

Rather than peace process, the new buzz phrase in Washington is "regime modification", as the Obama administration examines how it can force a rupture in the ruling right-wing coalition and put talks between the Israelis and Palestinians back on a real meaningful track.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Beyond the Box Tops (PAUL WESTERBERG, 3/21/10, NY Times)

It was some years back, the last time I saw Alex Chilton. We miraculously bumped into each other one autumn evening in New York, he in a Memphis Minnie T-shirt, with take-out Thai, en route to his hotel. He invited me along to watch the World Series on TV, and I immediately discarded whatever flimsy obligation I may have had. We watched baseball, talked and laughed, especially about his current residence — he was living in, get this, a tent in Tennessee.

Because we were musicians, our talk inevitably turned toward women, and Al, ever the Southern gentleman, was having a hard time between bites communicating to me the difficulty in ... you see, the difficulty in (me taking my last swig that didn’t end up on the wall, as I boldly supplied the punch line) “... in asking a young lady if she’d like to come back to your tent?” We both darn near died there in a fit of laughter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Senior al-Shabab commander assassinated in Somalia (AP, 3/20/10)

A witness says a senior commander of the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab has been assassinated in an area tightly controlled by the militants.

At least three masked men armed with pistols shot Sheikh Daud Ali Hasan several times in the head and chest as he was coming out of a mosque Friday night in Kismayo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Medicare fix would push health care into the red (AP, 3/19/10)

The Congressional Budget Office said Friday that rolling back a programmed cut in Medicare fees to doctors would cost $208 billion over 10 years. If added back to the health care overhaul bill, it would wipe out all the deficit reduction, leaving the legislation $59 billion in the red.

The so-called doc fix was part of the original House bill. Because of its high cost, Democrats decided to pursue it separately. Republicans say the cost should not be ignored

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Let's Trade With Iran: Iranians love to shop; Americans love to sell. (Jason Rezaian, March 20, 2010, Slate)

As the latest in a long line of Persian merchants, I know: Iranians are among the world's greatest shoppers.

Those of us who know Iran well understand, yet hate to admit, that the one characteristic that binds Iranians as a people is their love of commerce. And as the country becomes more urbanized, consumerism is on the rise. Since the days when it was one of the main trading posts along the ancient Silk Road, the exchange of goods has been one of the most important ways its people relate to the outside world. And they're good at it.

They are as brand-conscious as any population in the world, and since most of the fun to be had in secular societies is outlawed, shopping, eating out, and just driving around have become national pastimes.

In the posh shopping avenues in northern Tehran, European products such as Diesel jeans, Nivea skin care products, and Lindt chocolates are ubiquitous. In the more working-class sections of the city, knockoff Marlboro and Winston cigarettes and pirated copies of Lost, Prison Break, and 24 are as easy to find as Qurans. Despite soaring inflation and unemployment, Iranians throughout the country are still spending. Even on the most important religious holidays, when shops are forced to close, they reopen after sundown to attend to their customers' desires.

So it's ridiculous that the United States has kept up a series of trade embargoes and sanctions against Iran for the last 30 years. The only thing these commercial restrictions have succeeded in doing is keeping American-made goods out of one of the world's biggest economies, which also happens to be a very liquid one.

What's more, Iran is one of the few remaining countries where American products still have cachet. With almost no marketing effort, America could dominate the import market to the world's 17th-largest economy, which is home to the last 70 million foreigners who put stock in the "Made in USA" label.

The Realists who envision a US-Sunni alliance against Iran misapprehend who our friends are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Federal health takeover threatens Hawaii budget (John R. Graham, Mar 20, 2010, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

Revenue from premium taxes on health insurance can be a measurable factor in states' budgets — about $6.5 billion in 2008, generated from just under half a trillion dollars of premiums for state-regulated health insurance.

These estimates result from the new study "Taxing Health Insurance: How Much do States Earn?" The study compares estimated premium-tax revenue from health insurers to state spending on Medicaid and SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

According to this measurement, Hawaii is in the second-riskiest position of all 50 states, after Nevada. "Taxing Health Insurance" estimates that Hawaii collected about $107 million in premium tax from health insurers in 2008. The state's own Medicaid and SCHIP funding added up to $505 million. So these tax revenues accounted for one-fifth of the state's spending on these huge government programs.

Premium tax revenue is about 13 times greater than necessary to fund a state's insurance department. A full 92 cents of every premium dollar flows straight into the general fund, so state residents should be aware of how their revenues could be reduced by what purports to be insurance reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Unsettled: Why Israel and liberal American Jews are drifting apart. (Jacob Weisberg, March 20, 2010, Slate)

If you want numbers, various polls document the disenchantment. Shmuel Rosner, an astute Israeli journalist who blogs for the Jerusalem Post and writes for Slate pays a lot of attention to the partisan gap in support for Israel. It has jumped dramatically of late, with 80 percent of Republicans expressing favorable view of Israel, according to Gallup, as compared with only 53 percent of Democrats. One recent study found that only 54 percent of Jews under 35 who aren't Orthodox are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state" (as compared to more than 80 percent of those over 65). Among younger Jews, only 20 percent rated as "highly attached" to Israel in another poll. If you want examples of the shift in sentiment, read just about any Jewish columnist for a major newspaper. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times spent last week arguing that Biden under-reacted to Israel's announcement about the new housing units in East Jerusalem, comparing Israel's policies to drunken driving. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post is writing a book arguing that the founding of Israel was a well-intentioned mistake.

One might well fill a book with all the possible explanations for rising liberal, and in particular Jewish liberal, qualms about Israel. But the blame has to start with Israel's occupation of Arab lands and its settlements policy.

Okay, so liberal Jews are anti-Israel just like other liberals, but it's Israel's fault. So what did babies do to them that made them pro-abortion like the rest of the Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


7th anniversary of Iraq War passes, little noticed (ALLEN G. BREED, 3/20/10, AP)

Somewhat sheepishly, Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz acknowledged that the date's significance was lost on him. But he said he and other Americans can be forgiven for not having March 19 marked on their mental calendars.

"Unlike Sept. 11 or unlike Dec. 7, 1941, it was not a war that began with a traumatic event," said Wilentz. "There was a long buildup to it. There was a lot of debating back and forth. ... There wasn't quite the sense of drama, shall we say, of the event itself, even though there were lots of dramatic events that happened that night.

"But the date did not burn itself into one's memory the way the others did."

Master Sgt. Normand Roy of Lewiston led a Maine National Guard platoon in Iraq, and three soldiers in his battalion were killed there. He figures he fought for his fellow Americans' freedom to forget about the war.

"That's what's so great about America," he said. "People have a right to their opinions. ... Unless it's right there in front of you in plain sight, then you tend to forget."

If we spent time celebrating every people we've liberated we'd do nothing but.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


How to Be Brilliant: THE GENIUS IN ALL OF US: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong By David Shenk (ANNIE MURPHY PAUL, 3/21/10, NY Times Book Review)

Now here comes David Shenk with “The Genius in All of Us,” which argues that we have before us not a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” Our problem “isn’t our inadequate genetic assets,” but “our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have.” The truth is “that few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our ‘un­actualized potential.’ ” At first it would seem that Shenk, the author of thoughtful books on information overload, memory loss and chess, has veered into guru territory. But he has assembled a large body of research to back up his claims.

Two bodies, in fact. The first concerns the emerging science of epigenetics, the study of how the environment modifies the way genes are expressed. Since the days of Crick and Watson, we’ve tended to see genes as a set of straightforward instructions, a blueprint for constructing a person. Over the last 20 years, however, some scientists have begun to complicate that picture. “It turns out that the genetic instructions themselves are influenced by other inputs,” Shenk writes. “Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses and other genes.” That means there can be no guaranteed genetic windfalls, or fixed genetic limits, bestowed at the moment of conception. Instead there is a continually unfolding interaction between our heredity and our world, a process that may be in some measure under our control.

The second body of research investigates the nature of exceptional ability and how it arises. We’ve traditionally regarded superior talent as a rare and mysterious gift bequeathed to a lucky few. In fact, Shenk writes, science is revealing it to be the product of highly concentrated effort. He describes the work of the psychologist Anders Ericsson, who wondered if he could train an ordinary person to perform extraordinary feats of memory. When Eric­sson began working with a young man identified as S.F., his subject could, like most of us, hold only seven numbers in his short-term memory. By the end of the study, S.F. could correctly recall an astonishing 80-plus digits. With the right kind of mental discipline, Ericsson and his co-­investigator concluded, “there is seemingly no limit to memory performance.” Shenk weaves accounts of such laboratory experiments, conducted on average people, with the tales of singularly accomplished individuals — Ted Williams and Michael Jordan, Mozart and Beethoven — who all worked relentlessly to hone their skills.

Bring these two domains together, and a new vision of achievement begins to come into focus. Shenk’s “ambitious goal,” he tells us, is to take this widely dispersed research and “distill it all into a new lingua franca, adopting helpful new phrases and metaphors” to replace old and misleading ones. Forget about genes as unchanging “blueprints” and talent as a “gift,” all tied up in a bow. “We cannot allow ourselves to think that way anymore,” he declares with some fervor. Instead, Shenk proposes, imagine the genome as a giant control board, with thousands of switches and knobs that turn genes off and on or tune them up and down. And think of talent not as a thing, but as a process; not as something we have, but as something we do.

This latter notion will be familiar to anyone who's read Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule, but mere talent isn't really genius, is it? In effect, anyone with a sufficient obsessive/compulsive disorder regarding one activity can become adept at it just because they'll practice it more than any normal person. Genius is a much rarer creature. It's the guy who's never hald a golf club before and can play adequately almost immediately or never held a brush but can promptly paint with some facility or learn a new language in days or pick up chess after a game or two. Isn't it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Nuts and Dolts: a review of VOODOO HISTORIES: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History By David Aaronovitch (ROSS DOUTHAT, 3/20/10, NY Times Book Review)

[T]here’s a fish-in-a-barrel quality to some of Aaronovitch’s debunkings, and the book’s sprawl means that its insights into the conspiratorial mind-set often feel hopelessly general or disappointingly banal. (You will not be surprised to learn, for instance, that the paranoid often “fail to apply the principle of Occam’s razor to their arguments.”) Every conspiracy theory is not created equal: the dark ­anti-Trotskyist obsessions that produced Russia’s show trials, the subject of an early chapter, would seem to have little in common with the cheerful crankishness of a Velikovsky or an Erich “Chariots of the Gods” von Däniken. And an analysis that tries to account for them all won’t end up accounting for much of anything.

What’s more interesting about “Voodoo Histories” is the way its narrative subtly undercuts the popular notion that the influence of conspiracy theories has increased with the rise of the Internet and the decline of public trust in government. If anything, Aaronovitch’s book suggests that the paranoid style’s direct power over Western politics has declined precipitously over the last 50 years. (The politics of the Arab world, admittedly, are another matter entirely.)

You can draw a bright line from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to the anti-Semitic delusions of the 1920s and thence to Hitler’s criminal regime. It’s much harder to connect “birtherism,” “9/11 trutherism” or the wild fantasies surrounding the Kennedy assassination to anything save a diffuse mood of mistrust, anger and paranoia — and the occasional lunatic gunman at the Pentagon.

Yesterday’s conspiracy theorists governed countries, commanded armies and dealt out death and destruction on a vast scale. Today’s conspiracy theorists have detailed Web sites, slick videos and best-selling books, but precious little direct power. The paranoid mood helps polarize our politics, no doubt, and can inspire spasms of nihilistic violence. But for now, at least, it’s more of a sideshow than a clear and present danger.

But a danged amusing set of sideshows they make.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Pro-Choice Caucus livid at talk of deal with Stupak on abortion (Jared Allen, Jeffrey Young and Molly K. Hooper, 03/19/10, The Hill)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday evening met with a visibly angry Pro-Choice Caucus amid rumors from Democratic aides that the Speaker was working on a last-minute deal with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to give his abortion language a separate vote.

Leadership aides, including those in the Speaker’s office, would not comment, but a senior Democratic aide directly involved in the abortion debate said Pelosi appeared to have agreed to give Stupak a vote on an “enrollment resolution” offered by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a key Stupak ally.

Kaptur’s resolution contains the same abortion language that Stupak successfully attached at the 11th hour to the House healthcare bill in November. Were the resolution to pass the House, it would instruct the Senate clerk to change the healthcare bill to reflect Stupak’s more restrictive language to prohibit federal dollars from going toward abortion coverage. [...]

Pelosi spoke on the floor with Stupak for 10 minutes immediately before a group of pro-abortion rights Democrats angrily surrounded Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), and then headed into the Speaker’s office just off the House floor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Operation Blue Gum for Barack Obama visit gets the chainsaw (Hedley Thomas, 3/20/10, The Australian )

THE codename chosen for a secret policing operation to protect US President Barack Obama during his visit to Australia sounds innocuous enough.

But calling it Operation Blue Gum, after Australia's iconic native trees, almost caused an international embarrassment.

March 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Barack Obama no-show gives Kevin Rudd leverage (Brad Norington, 3/19/10, The Australian)

THE Rudd government has been handed political ammunition to resist US pressure for more troops in Afghanistan after Barack Obama cancelled his visit next week, it was claimed yesterday.

The White House confirmed that the President's trip had been postponed to June because of a domestic wrangle over health reform that has forced him to stay in Washington.

The delay in Mr Obama's trip was the second in a week.

He faces a backlash from close observers of the US relationship with Australia, including White House supporters, who question whether Mr Obama is demonstrating his commitment to its close ally and the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Obama had previously criticised his predecessor, George W. Bush, for ignoring the region.

It's impossible to imagine W treating John Howard that way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Some bright ideas just don’t work: The contribution of atheism to the sum of the world’s happiness has been very meagre indeed. (Thomas C. Reeves | Friday, 19 March 2010, MercatorNet)

Ah, but what does the atheist say about Hitler, Stalin, and Mao? They were self-declared atheists, and they murdered more than 100 million people. And then there was Communist Pol Pot, who killed as many as 2 million of his countrymen in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il are of the same bent. And how tolerant and benevolent were the atheists of, say, the French Revolution or the Spanish Civil War? They were often killers, their targets being Christians.

The way out of this problem for the atheists is to claim that the great mass murderers of the recent past were not really atheists. Sam Harris claims that Stalinism and Maoism were each “little more than political religion.” Christopher Hitchens suggests that Stalin and Mao offered their followers a substitute religion, and therefore one can’t blame atheism for their atrocities. Some atheists claim that Hitler was really a Christian who never renounced his Catholicism.

This line of historical argument just won’t wash. Dines D’Souza, in his book What’s So Great About Christianity, asks “Should religion now be responsible not only for its own crimes but also for the crimes committed by atheists on behalf of atheist ideologies?” In fact, Stalin and Mao made their atheism crystal clear. Ask the millions of Christians who suffered at their hands. (Millions of Christians are still in hiding in Communist China.) Hitler was intensely anti-religious. Privately, he hoped that Germany would be “immunized against this disease” of the Christian faith. Nazis cracked down on churches, the clergy, and the faithful in every way, including murder, earning the condemnation of Pope Pius XII. Check the record of the killing of Polish Catholics at Dachau, including 4,154 priests, 2,365 religious, 283 nuns, and 13 bishops.

The slaughter by atheist regimes was done in the belief that science and materialism were so vastly superior that those who believed in the supernatural and divine law had to be eliminated to sustain and increase human progress.

...because if the atheists were right then the body counts wouldn't matter. The dead are still material.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Schools are out -- forever -- in Kansas City, Mo.: The troubled school district is closing nearly half its campuses after 10 years of dwindling student population. It's what happens when a district loses support of the public it is meant to serve. (Nicholas Riccardi, March 20, 2010, LA Times)

During the warm months, when students at Westport High School got too hot, they cooled down by moving to one of the many vacant classrooms on campus. It was one of the advantages of having 400 students assigned to a school that could hold 1,200.

The downside became apparent last week, though, when the Kansas City school board voted to close Westport and 25 other schools -- nearly half of the district's campuses.

Big-city districts shutter schools all the time. Cities such as Denver and Portland, Ore,. have seen childless young families repopulate their urban cores and have adjusted accordingly.

But what is happening in Kansas City is different in scale than anywhere else in the country. It's an extreme example of what happens when a school system loses the support of the public it's meant to serve.

The Kansas City, Missouri School District lost half its student population in the past 10 years as parents fled to the suburbs or placed their children in private or non-district-run charter schools. District test scores have long lagged behind the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, the district continued to operate 61 schools capable of holding 75,000 students. It now has about 17,000 students.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Clinton Bows to Russian Support of Iran: After condemning Israel the previous week. (Gary Schmitt, March 19, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Now, shift to yesterday in Russia: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lands in Moscow and is greeted with news that Russian prime minister Vladmir Putin has announced his government’s intention to complete construction of the Iranian nuclear plant at Bushehr this summer, in spite of the fact that the United Nations has declared Iran to be in non-compliance with the its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. When Secretary Clinton mildly complains about the Russian announcement, does the Russian government apologize for the timing, or the substance? Of course not. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, bluntly tells Clinton and the world that the construction will indeed go forward.

A "senior administration official” told the New York Times that “he did not believe that Mr. Putin intended to embarrass Mrs. Clinton.” That person should lose their job. Of course Putin meant to embarrass Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Fresh Israeli air strikes wound 11 in Gaza Strip (BBC, 3/19/10)

At least 11 people have been injured by Israeli air strikes targeting Gaza's airport, Palestinian officials say. [...]

Earlier, the international Middle East Quartet called for Israel to freeze all settlements in Palestinian territories.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


GOP Testing a New Contract With America ( Paul Bedard, 3/19/10, US News)

One of the key findings by party officials quizzing the public so far: Voters would like a list of changes the Republicans would bring if installed as the majority in the House or Senate or both. "There would be a market" for a new contract, says a top official.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


EXCLUSIVE -- Democrats plan doc fix after reform (Politivo, 3/19/10)

Democrats are planning to introduce legislation later this spring that would permanently repeal annual Medicare cuts to doctors, but are warning lawmakers not to talk about it for fear that it will complicate their push to pass comprehensive health reform. The plans undercut the party's message that reform lowers the deficit, according to a memo obtained by POLITICO.

Democrats removed the so-called doc fix from the reform legislation last year because its $371-billion price tag would have made it impossible for Democrats to claim that their bill reduces the deficit. Republicans have argued for months that by stripping the doc fix from the bill, Democrats were playing a shell game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


The Preventive-Care Myth: Most of the time, screenings and checkups don’t save money (Michael Fumento, 3/19/10, National Review)

“Routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies,” insisted President Obama, save “money and it saves lives.” Likewise, Pelosi and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), writing in USA Today, claimed preventive care “will save money,” specifically citing “regular checkups and tests, such as mammograms and diabetes exams.”

Yet back in August, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) rejected all this. While not assigning a cost estimate, it concluded, “Researchers who have examined the effects of preventive care generally find that the added costs of widespread use of preventive services tend to exceed the savings from averted illness.” That’s because, explained CBO Director Douglas W. Elmendorf, most people don’t have the ailments for which they’re being screened: “It is usually necessary to provide preventive care to many patients, most of whom would not have suffered that illness anyway.”

A 2008 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) review of almost 600 papers found that over 80 percent of preventive measures and treatments cost more money than they save. This does indicate there can be cost savings, but neither piece of congressional legislation uses or even allows a cost-benefit approach. A 2009 Health Affairs study came to the same conclusion, finding, contra Obama, that screenings for colorectal and breast cancer are money losers. As for the diabetes exams Pelosi and Hoyer cited, Elmendorf noted that a 2008 study in the journal Circulation found that the recommended prevention activities for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes would cost almost ten times as much as the savings.

In addition to the aforementioned setasides, both bills would make insurance companies pay in full for screening and other services that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has determined have medical benefits that outweigh the risk of harm. The Task Force lists 45, beginning with “Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


Xinjiang – Where China’s Worry Intersects the World: Regional instability adds to concerns about restive Muslim minority (Christopher M. Clarke, 19 March 2010, YaleGlobal)

China’s troubles with the minority Uighurs are not new. But with the break up of the Soviet Union and the rising Islamist Taliban in once Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, the regional dynamic has changed. Since the early 1990s, China has faced recurrent waves of unrest in Xinjiang and widespread acts of violence, some of which seem to have been terrorist acts by disgruntled Uighurs. The 2008 attempted hijacking of an airplane in China by three people armed with flammable liquid was one of the latest – and scariest – examples. There also have been several attacks against perceived Uighur collaborators in China and against Chinese interests outside the country. The capture of Uighurs fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan, some two dozen of whom were imprisoned in Guantanamo, also indicate that China faces a real threat of terrorist acts against its interests at home and abroad.

The arrows are all in our quiver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Who's still biased?: Diversity training has swept corporate America. Just one problem: It doesn’t seem to work. (Drake Bennett, March 7, 2010, Boston Globe)

Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they’re finding is that there’s little evidence that diversity training works. A paper published last year by the psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University’s

Woodrow Wilson School and the Yale University political scientist Donald Green comprehensively surveyed the literature on prejudice reduction measures and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior. Similarly, a 2008 literature review paper by Carol Kulik of the University of South Australia and Loriann Roberson of Columbia University found that, on the question of changing behavior, there were few trustworthy studies - and decidedly mixed results among those. And research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.

“Even with best practices, you’re not going to get much of an effect,” says Frank Dobbin, a Harvard University sociology professor on the research team. “It doesn’t change what happens at work.” [...]

Several years ago Kalev, along with Dobbin and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota, set out to see what works. As a measure of program success, they looked at the number of women and minorities in a company’s managerial ranks - a much more concrete metric than the surveys of employee attitudes that many other studies relied on. The researchers drew on 31 years of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, specifically the annual reports that companies file detailing their racial and gender makeup. The sociologists then surveyed 829 of those companies on what diversity programs they had and when they instituted them. The results were described in a 2006 study, and in another paper that Kalev and Dobbin are currently writing.

The researchers found that while diversity training was by far the most popular approach, it was also the least effective at getting companies to hire and promote women and minorities. Some training programs were more effective than others: Voluntary programs were better than mandatory ones, and those that focused on the threat of bias and harassment lawsuits were worse than those that did not. But even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits - the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined - slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they’ve heard.

What worked much better than even the best training, the researchers found, were more structural measures: minority mentoring programs, or designating an executive or a task force with specific responsibility to change promotion practices.

“You can imagine, if you’re in a meeting for two hours once a year to refresh your diversity awareness, what’s the effect of that going to be compared to being a mentor to someone?” says Dobbin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Somali pirates mistakenly attack Dutch warship. Oops. (CS Monitor, 3/18/10)

On Wednesday, Somali pirates rolled out of bed, grabbed their AK-47s, hopped in a couple of skiffs and tried to take on the HNLMS Tromp, a Dutch warship.

“A rather silly mistake,” wryly observed Cmdr. John Harbour, the European Union navel spokesman.

When they got close enough to realize that their greed was dwarfed by their opponent, the pirates turned their skiffs around and fled. The Dutch shipped tracked them down, and boarded their mother ship, capturing 13 would-be pirates and weapons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Fence Frustrates Minutemen, Too: East of San Diego, Conservatives Rig Up Cameras and Sensors—and Encounter Same Snafus as the Feds (ANA CAMPOY, 3/18/10, WSJ)

Jim Wood doesn't think the U.S. government is adequately guarding the border with Mexico here. So he has taken on the job himself. [...]

The 45-year-old Web developer has set up 20 cameras at a private ranch here, 50 miles east of San Diego. He wants to eventually over the roughly 2,000 miles from Texas to California.

But if the goal is to show up the government, it isn't working as Mr. Wood planned, thanks to the border's tough weather and vast wilderness.

On a recent rainy afternoon, 16 of Mr. Wood's cameras, which run on solar power, were down; the water had disabled two of the remaining four. The motion detector was off because it was mostly triggered by wind-stirred vegetation, not illegal crossers. why we have to import so many Poles and Mexicans in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


The best trial option for KSM: Nothing (Benjamin Wittes and Jack L. Goldsmith, March 19, 2010, Washington Post)

The Obama administration and its critics are locked in a standoff over whether to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other alleged Sept. 11 conspirators in a military commission or in federal court. Both sides are busily ignoring the obvious solution: Don't bother trying them at all. we can just hold these guys until they die off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


The Misinformed Tea Party Movement: For an antitax group, they don't know much about taxes. (Bruce Bartlett, 03.19.10, Forbes)

Not everyone follows these numbers closely, and Tea Partyers may have been thinking of figures from a few years ago, before the recession when taxes were higher. According to the CBO, the highest figure for all federal taxes since 1970 came in the year 2000, when they reached 20.6% of GDP. As we know, after that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress cut federal taxes; they fell to 18.5% of GDP in 2007, before the recession hit, and 17.5% in 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


A duplicitous warmonger in thrall to the rich... so why DO the Tories want to be the heirs to Blair? (Stephen Glover, 3/18/10, Daily Mail)

In one sense, it should be no surprise that Mr Cameron and Mr Gove and the even younger George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, should venerate Mr Blair.

After all, he won three elections on the trot for Labour, a feat which no other leader of his party had ever achieved.

These three young Tories came of age politically in a world dominated by Tony Blair. They could hardly fail to respect the talents of the Labour leader as their own party was hammered again and again.

They were in a similar position to that once occupied by the young Gordon Brown and Tony Blair who, after entering Parliament in 1983, watched as Margaret Thatcher carried all before her.

As she was the dominant figure during their political education, so Blair and what he stood for understandably helped shape the thinking of these young Tories.

But whereas the effect of Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, on New Labour was almost wholly beneficial, encouraging the party to jettison socialist economic policies and embrace free market principles, it is difficult to see what Mr Blair achieved which should be eagerly copied by the modern Tory Party.

Can he really not figure out why the Tory Party should also be Thatcherite?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Quantum effect spotted in a visible object (Belle Dumé, 3/18/10, Physics World)

Physicists in California have observed true quantum behaviour in a macroscopic object big enough to be seen with the naked eye. This is the first time this feat has been achieved and it could shed light on the mysterious boundaries between the classical and quantum worlds. has always been one of the things that made materialists laughing-stocks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


For love or money, more families living together: Study finds rise in extended kin in same home (Hope Yen, 3/19/10, Associated Press)

Driven partly by job losses, more multigenerational families are choosing to live together as “boomerang kids’’ flock home and people help care for grandchildren or aging parents.

About 6.6 million US households in 2009 had at least three generations, an increase of 30 percent since 2000, according to census figures. When “multigenerational’’ is more broadly defined to include at least two adult generations, a record 49 million, or one in six people, live in such households, according to a study the Pew Research Center released yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


You Had Me At Hello: The Whisky Podcasts of Richard Paterson (KATE SHEA KENNON, 3/18/10, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

The podcasts for Whyte and Mackay Whisky may be superficially infomercials for its blended Scotch, but with Masterblender Richard Paterson, they are pure entertainment. If you spend a few minutes with the whisky expert, you are attending a whisky college as well as being tempted to buy a bottle. That's whiskey with no "e," don't forget.

The podcasts are not merely a "here, buy my product" marketing tool. They are an education. One podcast explains the history of the shape and color of nineteenth-century glass bottles. Another explains the distinctive flavors each area of Scotland exhibits through the country's 106 collective distilleries. As described by Mr. Paterson, some areas of Scotland have a scotch with a more peaty flavor. Others areas, close by the ocean, have a scotch with a salty taste. With no surprise and maybe more than a touch of favoritism, Mr. Paterson claims that the lowland area that Whyte and Mackay calls home gives its whisky a "light-bodied charm and and elegance."

Mr. Paterson too has a light charm and elegance.[...]

Even if you are not a whisky lover, which I confess I am not, take a look at Mr. Paterson's work; you will get an enlightenment into both drink and country. You'll get an understanding of the elaborate culture that Scotch Whisky has grown up around itself. And at the very least, you'll have a good idea of how to order a whiskey in a bar and how to dress down the bartender if he or she dares to put ice in that whisky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


The GOP's New Race Card: Republicans have recruited their biggest roster of African-American candidates ever. John Avlon on how the GOP hopes to use this group of 32 to counter charges of racial insensitivity. (John Avlon, 3/18/10, Daily Beast)

The list of 32 candidates is diverse in terms of geography and background. And while some are certainly considered long shots, Johnson believes that black Republicans can help pick up at least five seats for the GOP this fall. Some of the more notable candidates include:

• Scripps Howard columnist Star Parker, author of the controversial Uncle Sam's Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America's Poor and What We Can Do About It and a college-campus speaker for the Clare Boothe Luce Institute. She is running in California’s 37th District, which includes parts of Compton and Long Beach.

• Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, the only statewide elected African-American official in the Lone Star State, brought the house down at CPAC with a speech focused on energy independence (the Texas Railroad Commission helps regulate the oil and gas industry). He is running for the U.S. Senate, facing a likely primary against incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who lost her challenge to Texas Governor Rick Perry this month.

• The Reverend Michel Faulkner is running as a Republican in Harlem to replace the ethically embattled Rep. Charles Rangel. An inspirational speaker who has served as a pastor in northern Manhattan for the past 20 years, Faulkner is also known for having played a season for the hometown favorite New York Jets. He is campaigning on an anti-corruption, pro-growth platform, saying” I believe that the American Dream has been stolen by greed and corruption, causing hard-working, peace-loving people to become apathetic about democracy and, when that happens, democracy does not work.”

• Allen West is a highly decorated retired Army lieutenant colonel who resigned with full benefits after an investigation for misconduct in Iraq. His troops were accused of harshly interrogating an Iraqi police officer they believed had given information to insurgent forces that targeted U.S. soldiers. West was accused of firing a pistol near the man’s head. When asked if he would act the same way during a subsequent inquest, West defended his actions saying, “If it's about the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can.” He campaigned unsuccessfully for Florida’s 22nd District in 2008 and is trying again in 2010.

• Angela McGlowan is a former Fox News contributor and Capitol Hill staffer who authored the book Bamboozled. An elegant and polished presence, she spoke at the National Tea Party convention in Nashville in remarks that were carried by C-SPAN. She is running in her native Mississippi in the 1st Congressional District.

• Ryan Frazier is a highly regarded 31-year old city councilman from Aurora, Colorado, who is seen as a rising star among Western conservatives. He considered running for the U.S. Senate before switching his sights to the 7th Congressional District.

• Princella Smith is a 26 year old who won a 2004 MTV public-speaking contest that got her a speaking slot at that year’s Republican National Convention. She is running for an open seat in the 1st District of Arkansas, which is trending Republican.

These candidates—and many others on the list—have been embraced by local Republicans as powerful voices for conservative reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


The Gritty New Elmore Leonard Crime Drama: The creator and star of FX's new show, Justified, along with author Leonard, discuss its genre roots, all while asking "WWED" ("What Would Elmore Do?"). (Jace Lacob, 3/15/10, Daily Beast)

A soft-spoken but deadly lawman. A tipped Stetson. A quick-fire gun battle in a Kentucky mining town. Despite the familiar Western tropes, the action is unfolding in the present day on FX's new drama series Justified, which launches tonight, and is based on a character created by bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard.

Timothy Olyphant (Damages) plays Raylan Givens, a disgraced U.S. Marshal who is forced to return to his hometown after he shoots a fugitive in Miami—a "justified" act that is in keeping with his strict moral code. He's a man of his word, has a penchant for cowboy hats and justice, and doesn't make idle threats. In other words, he's the perfect Elmore Leonard character. Justified is earning FX rave reviews, with Time's James Poniewozik calling it "quite a weapon," the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman ranking Olyphant's performance as "incredibly riveting," and TV Guide's Matt Roush calling it the "best new series, network or cable, of the midseason."

Justified's writer/executive producer Graham Yost (Band of Brothers) has been a fan of Leonard's for more than 25 years, and he relished the chance to take Raylan Givens back to where he came from, a mining town in Harlan County, Kentucky, that's overflowing with unsavory folk and is the perfect place for a U.S. Marshal to ply his trade. But in turning Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole" into a television series, Yost found that there were inherent obstacles.

"I always felt with Out of Sight and Get Shorty that one of the great things that Scott Frank did in writing those screenplays was let Elmore come through and use some of his dialogue wherever possible," Yost said. "There's probably about 60/40 Elmore to me in the pilot. But the next part of that is the challenge of doing that on a weekly basis and suddenly you don't have a story of Elmore's to adapt. You've got to come up with your own."

...but moving past an adaptation of the original Leonard short story is the test.

N.B.: I'd not heard about the show, but saw this poster on a train on Sunday. No straight male having seen same could not watch.

The one bad moment in the show is when the marshall, who can't be older than his early 40's, refers to making an arrest at a Peter Tosh concert.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


The young and the restless: Box Elders break out of the basement (MICHAEL BRODEUR, March 17, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

"The funny thing about this record is that everyone's talking about how 'lo-fi' we did it," [Clayton McIntyre] says. "But that's all we could afford. I mean, everything was breaking all the time." Basement-quaking rave-ups like "Jackie Wood" sport equal parts youthful vigor and ancient grit — you can practically smell the pot smoke and the dryer sheets. Meanwhile, "Stay" wants to be a rueful ballad but can barely contain its own stray voltage. The whole album is kind of brilliantly reckless and beautifully damaged — which makes it a perfect souvenir for their live show.

That the Elders are actually quite young is both blessing and curse. (They were old enough to play a fest in Portland, for example, but too young to stay and watch Mudhoney.) But the fire and sugar they force into each of their garage-pop gems isn't from some tired formula — that's pure teen spirit they're tapping. And it's worth catching now, before they run out of it.

"Touring all the time kind of makes normal life seem boring," says Clayton. "It's just weird when you come home and you wake up and think, 'Where am I going today? Oh, the living room.' "

March 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Eric Holder's massive ineptness (Michael Gerson, March 19, 2010, Washington Post)

Attorney General Eric Holder is controversial on the left for preserving much of the Bush administration's legal structure for conducting the war on terror. He is controversial on the right for overturning portions of that structure in ways that seem both clueless and reckless. But Holder is the most endangered member of the Obama Cabinet for a different reason: Just about everything he has touched has backfired.

The list is oddly impressive.

You just don't want to be the worst cabinet member in an administration where only Arne Duncan hasn't embarrassed himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Obama effigy hung at RI school with fired teachers (AP, 3/18/10)

A teacher at a failing school where he and all his colleagues are being fired hung an effigy of President Barack Obama in his classroom, apparently in reaction to Obama's support of extreme measures to ensure accountability in schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Feds: brakes weren't applied on crashed NY Prius (JIM FITZGERALD and KEN THOMAS, 3/18/10, Associated Press)

Computer data from a Toyota Prius that crashed in suburban New York City show that at the time of the accident the throttle was open and the driver was not applying the brakes, U.S. safety officials said Thursday.'s that cars still require drivers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


National Hispanic survey reveals key info on demographic (Ed Goeas and Leslie Sanchez, March 17th, 2010, Daily Caller)

On the economy, reckless government spending and record federal deficits lay the groundwork for Republicans to increase their standing with Hispanic voters, 50 percent of whom believe the nation is on the wrong track. Democrat leaders boldly embrace an $800 billion-plus shovel-ready stimulus, yet Hispanic voters say it is not working and that any unspent funds should be used to reduce the deficit, 51 to 43 percent.

When asked if the federal government should spend more to help the economy recover or spend less to help reduce the budget deficit, Hispanic voters support spending less by a margin of 54 to 38 percent.

The record spending and debt is of concern to nearly 9 of 10 Hispanic voters, with 56 percent “very concerned” and 31 percent “somewhat concerned.” These voters also would be supportive of immediate action to alleviate the skyrocketing debt. By 61 to 37 percent, Hispanic voters favor Congressman B’s more conservative argument:

Congressman A says the nation’s high level of debt is a temporary response to an economic crisis, and can only be addressed after the economy turns around.

Congressman B says the nation’s high level of debt is a serious burden that will limit economic growth in this country for our children and grandchildren and must be addressed now.

This quantitative response is similar to our qualitative findings during focus groups with Independent Hispanic voters last August. Resurgent Republic observed palpable frustration expressed over the level of debt from these voters, especially women.

For all the high expectations and promise of the Obama presidency, only 15 percent believe the situation for Hispanics is better compared to a year ago. While a strong majority (61 percent) believe the situation for Hispanics is about the same, 20 percent believe it’s worse.

...and the House GOP will lose them for a generation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


'Davy Crockett' star Fess Parker dies: Was named a Disney legend in 1991 (Duane Byrge, March 18, 2010, Hollywood Reporter)

Fess Parker, who starred as the racoon-skinned Davy Crockett in "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," becoming a lifelong star to young Baby Boomers, has died of natural causes, according to reports. He was 85.

Parker also delighted young viewers with his performances in "Old Yeller" and "Daniel Boone." In more recent years, he attained a second stardom as a winery owner of the sprawling Doubletree resort along beachfront Santa Barbara, Calif., and the Wine Country Inn & Spa in Los Olivos, Calif.

He was hugely popular among kids in the late 1950s, starring in such Disney films as "The Great Locomotive Chase," "Westward Ho the Wagons!" and "The Light in the Forest." He was named a Disney legend in 1991.

His appeal peaked with the nationwide Davy Crockett craze as little tykes bought the coon-skinned caps and belted out the popular refrains of "Davy Crockett." He went on to star in other Disney creations centering on Crockett, including "Alias Jesse James" (1959), in which he appeared as Crockett. His casting by Walt Disney as Crockett was a bit of a fluke: Disney had requested to screen a sci-film film "Them!" which starred James Arness, whom Disney was considering for Crockett. Instead, Parker caught his eye in a bit role as a man frightened by an alien encounter. Arness, of course, went on to star as Matt Dillon in the popular TV series "Gunsmoke."

Before attaining stardom with "Crockett," Parker appeared in a string of Westerns and family films, beginning with "Springfield Rifle" (1952), in which he appeared with Gary Cooper and Lon Chaney. His athleticism and size -- he was 6-foot-5 -- won him the role of a baseball player in "The Kid From Left Field" (1953), his first notable role.

No one rocked rodent-wear like him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Memphis music loses ‘Big Star’ — singer, songwriter Alex Chilton dies at 59 (Jody Callahan, Bob Mehr, March 17, 2010, Commercial Appeal)

The Memphis-born Chilton rose to prominence at age 16 when his gruff vocals powered the massive Box Tops hit "The Letter," as well as "Cry Like a Baby" and "Neon Rainbow."

After the Box Tops broke up in 1970, Chilton had a brief solo run in New York before returning to Memphis. He soon joined forces with a group of Anglo-pop-obsessed musicians -- fellow songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens -- to form Big Star.

The group became the flagship act for Ardent's Stax-distributed label. Big Star's 1972 debut album, #1 Record, met with critical acclaim but poor sales.

The group briefly disbanded, but reunited without Bell to record the album Radio City. Released in 1974, the second album suffered a similar fate, plagued by Stax's distribution woes.

The group made one more album, Third/Sister Lovers, with just Chilton and Stephens -- and it, too, was a minor masterpiece. Darker and more complex than the band's previous pop-oriented material, it remained unreleased for several years.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named all three Big Star albums to its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

"It's a fork in the road that a lot of different bands stemmed from," said Jeff Powell, a respected local producer who worked on some of Chilton's records. "If you're drawing a family tree of American music, they're definitely a branch."

In the mid-'70s, Chilton began what would be a polarizing solo career, releasing several albums of material, including 1979's Like Flies on Sherbet -- a strange, chaotically recorded mix of originals and obscure covers that divided fans and critics.
Alex Chilton, of "Box Tops" and "Big Star" Fame, Dies At 59 (Ian Ritz, 3/18/10, Epoch Times)

After complaints of feeling ill earlier on Wednesday, Memphis native and 60's Pop Music Star, Alex Chilton died in hometown of New Orleans at the age of 59. [...]

Chilton received success at an early age was the recorded vocalist for multiple number one hits at the young age of 16 with the "Box Tops".

After the "Box Tops" Chilton joined "Big Star" where he contributed in writing their first number one album titled “#1 Record” which had the track “In the Street”.

"In the Street" years later was used as the theme song for the popular sitcom "That 70’s Show".

Alex Chilton also produced tracks for "The Cramps" in the late 70’s.

-TRIBUTE: Alex Chilton: An appreciation (Clark Collis, 3/18/10, Entertainment Weekly)
-OBIT: Alex Chilton, Big Star Frontman, Dead At 59: Influential rock musician was scheduled to play at SXSW this week. (Gil Kaufman, 3/18/10,
-FAN SITE: Alex Chilton, Big Star & The Box Tops
-INTERVIEW: Alex Chilton Set to Go: Alex Chilton talks about his new album, the Box Tops, Big Star and "That $70 Show" (Rolling Stone, Feb 28, 2000)
-INTERVIEW: Alex Chilton: The Gibson Interview: The reluctant big star reluctantly answers a few questions (Russell Hall, 09.07.2007, Gibson)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Fisherman's Friends Net Catchy Album Deal (Lulu Sinclair, 3/18/10, Sky News

A group of Cornish fishermen have netted a major record deal and aims to sail to the top of the charts with sea shanties.

The 10-strong Fisherman's Friends, from Port Isaac, have landed an album deal - said to be worth £1m - with Universal Music, the company behind acts like Lady Gaga, Take That and Amy Winehouse.

Founding member Jeremy Brown, who has two brothers in the group, said: "We all grew up together with the exception of one member of the group who's from Yorkshire - but he's lived in the village for 30 years, so he is almost one of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Misaligned Incentives: What’s good for Democratic House leaders is bad for members. (Michael Barone, 3/18/10, National Review)

Nationally, Pres. Barack Obama won 53 percent to 46 percent, but the average of recent polls shows disapproval of health care at 49 percent to 41 percent. Health care 2010 is polling 12 points behind Obama 2008.

To get an idea of what that means district by district, subtract 12 points from Obama’s percentage in each one. When you do that, you find that there are only 115 Democratic members in seats where the putative support for the health-care legislation is 50 percent or higher — 101 votes short of the 216 votes needed for a majority in a House with vacancies in four Democratic seats. [...]

Pushing health-care legislation poses no threat to members of the leadership, all of whom represent such districts. And they tend to believe that passing a bill would be good for the nation.

More important, they believe that failure to pass it would be disastrous for their leadership positions. The aura of inevitability they have created by rallying majorities on one tough vote after another since January 2007 would disappear. Their political capital would go the way of the financial capital of Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers.

But the political incentives for the 138 Democratic members who represent districts where the health-care bills are unpopular are entirely different.

...the post-Opocalypse™ Obama could have a SS privatization bill land on his desk. He could out-Clinton Bill Clinton and out-Blair Tony Blair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


A messiah can't do it. To reshape the world, the US must first reform itself: Obama's foreign policy so far has had disappointing results. But if he made a shaky start, more blame lies with others (Timothy Garton Ash, 3/17/10,

When was the last time you heard anyone enthusing about Barack Obama's foreign policy? When was the last time you did so yourself? Over the last year, his outstretched hand of friendship has been bitten or brushed aside by China, Russia and Iran. His administration has just been snubbed by Israel. It is not at all clear that his surge in Afghanistan is working, while Pakistan still teeters on the brink. European governments' passion for the new US president has proved fickle. His eloquent opening to the Islamic world seems to have run into the sand. The Copenhagen summit on climate change fizzled out in mutual recrimination between the US and China. Once upon a time, the world thrilled to the Obama chant of "Yes we can!" Now it seems to be shouting back: "No you can't!"

Beyond improving the US's popular standing in the world – no mean achievement, to be sure – Obama's foreign policy has so far produced no clear, significant success.

...because he's accomplished nothing and we have deteriorating relationships with everyone from our worst enemies to our closest allies. Got it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


An assault on unions is an attack on democracy itself (Seumas Milne, 3/17/10,

It may still be nearly two months until the general election, but we're already well and truly in la-la land. The prospect of a strike by British Airways cabin crew has unleashed a torrent of bizarre anti-union fantasies from the Tory leadership and its media cheerleaders. For the Mail, "red barons" and "union bullies" have Britain by the throat, dictating terms to a helpless government, bought and paid for by the BA union Unite. In the Sun, Trevor Kavanagh brands the 1.6 million-strong Unite the "terrorist wing" of the trade union movement.

Today David Cameron ditched compassionate conservatism for vintage Thatcherism, demanding that Gordon Brown call on BA workers to cross picket lines and back those "brave workers" who wanted to go to work. His sidekick, Michael Gove, insisted Labour had reverted to "1970s socialism". Even the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has been hailing Margaret Thatcher's socially devastating assault on "a vested interest, the trade unions". [...]

As chance would have it, the first large-scale industrial dispute after Tony Blair came to power in 1997 was over an abortive attempt to drive down BA cabin crew pay and conditions. The fact that what looks likely to be the last big strike of the New Labour era is a response to a far more ferocious attack on the same group of workers, only highlights how little the government has done to shift the lopsided balance of power in the workplace.

As the events of the last week have shown beyond question, it is BA's outgoing chief executive, Willie Walsh, not the 12,000 cabin crew condemned by the media and politicians, who will be responsible if this weekend's walkout goes ahead. By refusing to allow BA's own offer or Unite's alternative package of savings to be put to a ballot unless the strikes were called off, he made sure they would not be – and demonstrated that his real aim is now to break the union.

This fight was won three decades ago. Renewing it is just a sign of how reactionary the Left has become in its nostalgia for the Second Way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Bush, Obama, and the Intellectuals (TEVI TROY, Spring 2010, National Affairs)

On paper, George W. Bush (Andover '64, Yale '68, Harvard M.B.A. '75) might have held some appeal for American intellectuals. He certainly had more formal education, and at more highly regarded schools, than most American presidents. In practice, however, Bush was the epitome of everything the culturally liberal intellectuals despised. He was much more a Texas businessman — an oil man, no less — than a northeastern Ivy Leaguer. Both his personal instincts and his political ambitions led Bush to present himself as more redneck than blueblood: After he lost his first election — a 1978 congressional race, and the only election he ever lost — Bush vowed, as he would later put it, "never to get out-countried again."

But his determination not to get "out-countried" did not mean that Bush was uninterested in engaging scholars and wonks. In an interview with Time magazine's Walter Isaacson at the 2000 Republican Convention, Bush said, "My job is to get good thinkers and get the best out of them." His approach to the campaign suggested this was more than mere rhetoric: In 1998, while contemplating a run for the White House, Bush met with Hoover Institution scholars over dinner at former Secretary of State George Shultz's home. The encounter impressed Martin Anderson, who had collected intellectual support for Nixon and later Reagan. According to Anderson, the scholars "all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, this guy's really good.' " From then on, Anderson and his colleagues helped Bush gain the support of conservative think-tank scholars and writers, which proved critical to his success in the 2000 Republican primaries.

But even as he pursued the usual Republican path of drawing on the conservative intellectual community that had developed as an alternative to the increasingly liberal world of the academy, Bush also cultivated an alternative to the alternative. He assembled a group of religiously inclined and culturally conservative writers and scholars who embodied what had come to be known as "compassionate conservatism" — a set of ideas that Bush put at the center of his 2000 campaign agenda. These thinkers argued that, to win elections, the right would need to do much more than offer a vision of a smaller federal government. Conservatives, they said, should speak to the concerns of the poorest and weakest, and take up the mantle of humanitarianism through conservative means. They called for conservative-minded approaches to dealing with poverty, education reform, and assisting the children of prisoners, among other causes — approaches that would take culture and not just economics seriously, and that would seek solutions beyond welfare checks. The core of their vision was fostering greater cooperation between government and local grassroots groups — including and especially religious groups, previously denied access to most federal support — in providing social services. Their ranks included Manhattan Institute scholar Myron Magnet, former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith, University of Texas journalism professor Marvin Olasky, and the University of Pennsylvania's John DiIulio, as well as Michael Gerson — a congressional aide whom Bush hired as his chief speechwriter, and who imbued Bush's rhetoric with compassionate-conservative themes.

Bush brought only two of these prominent compassionate-conservative thinkers into the White House — Gerson, who was his chief speechwriter during his first term and an important policy advisor during both terms, and DiIulio, who briefly headed the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during Bush's first year in office. But Bush drew on the ideas that had emerged from the circle of compassionate-conservative thinkers throughout his eight years in the White House (something I observed first-hand, as a Bush domestic-policy advisor and deputy secretary of Health and Human Services).

Bush relied heavily on that close circle of thinkers, but he also went out of his way to forge links with the broader intellectual world. His approach reflected his M.B.A. training: He employed a more corporate model than previous presidents had, and explicitly assigned the role of intellectual outreach to one unit within the White House. Bush created an Office of Strategic Initiatives, to be headed by a deputy assistant to the president who would report to senior advisor Karl Rove. For most of Bush's eight years in office, OSI was headed by Peter Wehner, a conservative writer and long-time protégé of former education secretary and drug czar William Bennett.

Wehner did not come to the White House with a defined intellectual persona or an outsized national reputation, as Moynihan or Schlesinger had. But he was known and respected among the conservative intellectual set, and proved well suited to act as a bridge between the administration and the world of ideas. Wehner saw his task as two-fold: to keep the president informed about developments in the intellectual world that might have implications for his decision-making, and to communicate the administration's views and policy goals to intellectual elites in Washington and around the country. Wehner soon began the practice of sending mass e-mail messages to a large list of opinion leaders and scholars, making the president's case at a level of detail that went far beyond the typical government document. He would often answer critics at length, or direct his readers' attention to important new essays or articles. Unlike press releases or official communiqués, these messages did not go through the cumbersome White House clearance process; they were relatively informal, and therefore gave readers some fresh, genuine insight into the administration's thinking.

Wehner was also responsible for keeping the president and his senior staff informed of debates about administration policy in the world of serious opinion writing. As White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten described the job to the Washington Post in 2007: "Pete has the luxury of not having a specific line [of] responsibility so he can step back and read all of the informed commentary, digest it and draw the right conclusions from it." Wehner's other activities included, as the Post put it, "organiz[ing] meetings for the president with historians and scholars, host[ing] a lecture series and put[ting] together luncheon discussions for White House staff members to talk about the Federalist Papers, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. or Alexis de Tocqueville."

While his charge was not limited to the right, Wehner did work mainly with the conservative intellectual world, and made little headway in countering the larger liberal intelligentsia's intense hatred toward Bush. He brought left-leaning historians and other liberal scholars (including David Hackett Fischer and David Kennedy) to meet with the president on occasion, and made an effort to engage Bush's more thoughtful critics directly. But the general view among the smart set — that Bush was an untutored Texas cowboy — seemed only to worsen over time.

Bush himself contributed to that perception, of course. Part of his appeal to voters in both 2000 and 2004 was his regular-guy image, and his campaigns openly mocked the more urbane (if not effete) mannerisms of both Al Gore and John Kerry. This grated on many liberal intellectuals, who saw it as a kind of demagoguery. As Damon Linker of the New Republic put it in November 2009:

Everything about Bush — from his economically libertarian and socially conservative policies to his swaggering gait, mannered Southern drawl, and studied inarticulateness — was intended to convey the message that he was "one of us," an average American bringing his hard-won common sense to bear on the most challenging problems of our time, many if not all of which could be traced to the influence of the godless liberal elites who "really" run the country from their decadent enclaves in New York and Hollywood.

Bush may have successfully used his regular-guy appeal to win the presidency, but it could not have been a surprise — indeed, it must surely have been, in part, his intention — that this approach would draw the ire of liberal intellectuals. Linker's diatribe, and the broadly shared attitude it described, indicated the shrill partisanship of many on the intellectual left. But these objections were also reactions to cultural provocations. They represented a flare-up of the longstanding hostility between elitists and populists in American culture — a hostility that appears undiminished, even in the post-Bush era.

Apart from his fraught interactions with the left, Bush's relationship with the right-leaning intelligentsia was also far from smooth. His compassionate-conservative agenda, for all its intellectual credentials, was not the preferred, limited-government approach of most conservative scholars and writers. And his efforts at outreach notwithstanding, Bush's policies — particularly those involving domestic spending — alienated important elements of the conservative intellectual world.

As an institutional matter, Bush's outreach to intellectuals could well serve as a model for future presidents (especially Republicans). The establishment of an office specifically tasked with such outreach, and given a formal place in the White House organizational structure, helped Bush avoid some of the difficulties previous administrations had faced with their court intellectuals — such as ill-defined responsibilities, or the lack of a clear channel for getting ideas to the president. But as a matter of substance and outcomes, Bush's experience highlights the limits of intellectual outreach. Like other Republican presidents, he confronted a relentlessly hostile liberal intelligentsia; but unlike some Republican presidents, he sometimes chose sides within the conservative world — and so often divided, rather than strengthening and unifying, the right's alternative intellectual infrastructure.

Bush did, however, continue the pattern by which Republican presidents actually use intellectuals and allow them to help define presidential agendas, while the Democrats often treat intellectuals as cultural ornaments. The first year of Barack Obama's term suggests that he, too, will extend this pattern — and so also suggests that he could face real dangers in his relationship with the liberal intellectual elite.

Barack Obama's reception by academics and intellectuals could hardly have differed more from Bush's. Of course, Obama certainly has the formal credentials to be embraced by the smart set: He is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, was editor of the law review at Harvard and a law professor at the University of Chicago, and authored a thoughtful (if youthful) memoir.

More important, however, is the fact that Obama shares the cultural predilections of many liberal intellectuals. The insight he offered up at a 2008 campaign fundraiser in San Francisco — that Pennsylvanians and Midwesterners "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" — inadvertently revealed a mind very much at home on the left flank of the culture wars. Other occasions have also highlighted Obama's comfort among the intellectuals: Last year, when Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — perhaps the nation's best-known African-American professor — was involved in a bizarre confrontation with the Cambridge Police Department, Obama strangely weighed in by publicly criticizing the cops and proclaiming that "Skip Gates is a friend." It was the sort of response one might expect at a faculty meeting — but not from the president of a law-and-order nation that reveres its first responders.

Obama's style and approach to decision-making in office have also won him kudos from intellectual observers who appreciate "his deliberateness, his empiricism, and his suspicion of easy answers," as Paul Glastris wrote in Washington Monthly late in 2008. This easy praise from academics and the literati — praise that often seems to be driven as much by distaste for George W. Bush as admiration for his successor — has largely spared Obama the task of cultivating relationships with the intellectuals. While there is no shortage of Ph.D.s in his administration — most prominently among Peter Orszag's staff at the Office of Management and Budget — Obama has no liaison to the intellectual world, formal or informal. He has closed down the Office of Strategic Initiatives, and has so far avoided explicit outreach to the academic world (aside from occasional meetings with historians — a longstanding White House tradition). When recently asked by a reporter about his reading habits, Obama replied: "I don't get a chance to read things other than briefing books very often these days." It is almost impossible to imagine that any of his recent predecessors would have given such an answer (or gotten away with it if he had); all made a point of showing off their reading lists to highlight their intellectual seriousness.

Curiously, Obama's most famous meeting with public intellectuals actually involved conservatives. [...]

Obama, of course, begins from a position of much greater strength in his relationship with liberal academics and writers. But as George W. Bush learned from some conservative intellectuals, disappointed former supporters can be at least as dangerous as outright political enemies. President Obama would be foolish to assume that he can count on the support of liberal intellectuals regardless of his actions in the coming years (especially when it comes to his foreign-policy decisions, which have already stoked liberal discontent). Nor should he underestimate the damage he would suffer if the cultural and academic elites who have backed him so far suddenly turned their knives against him. Precisely because Obama's presidency rests, in part, on his status as a cultural phenomenon, he would pay a heavy price for losing their support.

...but it is fatal for a national politician to be identified too closely with intellectualism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Barack Obama does not hate Israel, says Binyamin Netanyahu (Daniel Nasaw in Washington and Ian Black, 3/18/10, The Guardian)

Hagai Ben-Artzi, the husband of the Israeli premier's wife, said on Israeli Army Radio that the US president dislikes Netanyahu and the Israeli people because he had spent years in the church of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who he said is "antisemitic, anti-Israeli, and anti-Jewish." Obama once declared the fiery liberal Chicago preacher was his spiritual mentor but disavowed him during the campaign.

"As a politician running for [the] presidency he had to hide it," Ben-Artzi said, "but it comes out every time and I think we just have to say it plainly: there is an antisemitic president in America."

Ben-Artzi then reiterated that "Jerusalem is the Israeli people's capital and the capital of the state of Israel, and it is whole and united."

"Once the Americans tried to intervene in anything related to Jerusalem we told them one simple word: 'No'," he said.

Netanyahu distanced himself from the remarks, with a spokesman saying it was not the first time the two had disagreed.

"I have a deep appreciation for President Obama's commitment to Israel's security, which he has expressed many times," Netanyahu said.'s obvious who this was a crisis for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Field Poll: Campbell leads GOP Senate field; Boxer fades (Rob Hotakainen, 3/18/10, Fresno Bee)

Former Rep. Tom Campbell has a six-point lead over his closest challenger in the three-way Republican primary to face Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose popularity has significantly eroded in the past two months, according to a Field Poll released today. [...]

While Boxer's races have historically been sleepy affairs, the poll indicates that Californians could be in for a barnburner this year. Boxer is in a statistical tie in trial matchups with both Campbell and Fiorina. In January, she had substantial double-digit percentage-point leads over all three GOP challengers.

"Formerly, I would have said this is in the Democratic column, but I would say now it's got to be moved into the tossup column," said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the poll. "There just seems to be a turning of voter opinions. I think a lot of it has to do with the Congress."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Just in Time for ‘Play Ball,’ Apps for the Baseball Afflicted (BOB TEDESCHI, 3/16/10, NY Times)

Quick, look around the office. Do people appear to be staring into their iPhones with a bit more intensity than just a few weeks ago? Remember how information technology administrators blocked all the fantasy-baseball Web sites in years past?

Two words: iPhone workaround.

As it has with so many other addictions, the iPhone is about to become the great enabler of Rotisserie baseball and other forms of baseball fanaticism. Here is a roster of impressive new apps for the iPhone, the iPad and other mobile platforms. The bonus is — cue the stadium organist for the obligatory sports metaphor — it’s a lineup that will get only stronger as the season progresses.

March 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


A Middle East Without American Influence?: That's the logical outcome of the Obama administration's current policies. (Lee Smith, March 17, 2010, Slate)

In the middle of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Henry Kissinger airlifted arms shipments to Israel in order to guarantee an Israeli victory that for a time had seemed uncertain. Kissinger's strategic intention was to show the Arabs that as long as Washington stood behind Israel, there was no way they could ever defeat the Jewish state. If they wanted concessions from Israel, they would have to petition the Americans for it, a prerogative that made Washington not merely a great power but a power broker. By breaking the Arabs, the United States made itself the regional strong horse.

Of course, with those arms shipments, Kissinger meant to drive home another lesson as well, this one to Israel—in effect, that Washington held the power of life and death over the Jewish state and that Israeli leaders had best keep in line. This arrangement—Israeli strength and Arab weakness—secured what some have called the Pax Americana of the Middle East. After Egyptian President Anwar Sadat jumped from the Soviet side to the American one after the '73 war, our regional hegemony was never again seriously contested—until now.

The new catch phrase in the Middle East is strategic realignment. Broadly speaking, this means that the balance of power is shifting from the U.S.-backed regional order to the axis of resistance. Some commentators, like Robert Malley, have argued alongside the Syrians that the Obama administration should drop its old allies—the sick horse—for new friends among the axis of resistance. From a certain perspective, it appears that the White House has done just that, albeit unintentionally.

When the Obama administration promised to engage the adversaries that the Bush White House had isolated, U.S. allies followed the strong horse's lead and also changed course. Most notably, the Saudis patched things up with the Syrians after five years of intra-Arab discord. Riyadh pushed its Lebanese allies to reconcile with Damascus, and with Beirut's pro-democracy and pro-United States March 14 movement now all but dead, Washington no longer has a Lebanese ally. When President Barack Obama indicated that the most important thing concerning Iraq was to withdraw U.S. forces, the Syrians and Saudis found a shared interest in attacking Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Even as Maliki, his Iraqi security officials, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, explained that the Syrians were behind a series of mega-terror attacks in Baghdad, the White House hushed them up for fear that identifying Syria as responsible for the attacks would jeopardize its efforts to engage Damascus. It is lost on no one in the region that Washington left two allies out on their own. But it gets worse.

Some U.S. commentators have praised the Obama administration's recent condemnation of Israel for announcing, during Vice President Joe Biden's visit, that it intended to build 1,600 apartment units in East Jerusalem. The White House's response, they argue, sends a strong message that Washington won't be bullied. In the Middle East, however, there is nothing that reeks so much of weakness as beating up on an ally in public.

...Israel is the strong horse and the Administration the weak. The UR will have to back down, not Bibi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Al-Qaeda crippled as leaders stay in hiding, CIA chief says (Joby Warrick and Peter Finn, 3/17/10, Washington Post)

Relentless attacks against al-Qaeda in the Pakistan tribal region appear to have driven Osama bin Laden and other top leaders deeper into hiding, leaving the organization rudderless and less capable of planning sophisticated operations, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday.

So profound is al-Qaeda's disarray that one of its lieutenants, in a recently intercepted message, pleaded to bin Laden to come to the group's rescue and provide some leadership, Panetta told The Washington Post in an interview.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


For New Jersey, no real alternatives to Gov. Chris Christie's 'tough love' (Michael P. Riccards, 3/17/10, The Star-Ledger)

Gov. Chris Christie’s budget for the coming fiscal year is balanced, and it does that the only way one can — with massive cuts in the areas that consume most of the state’s expenditures. Schools and municipalities have all been among the major recipients of state largesse year after year.

The budget still does not deal with the pension mess which the Hall Institute of Public Policy, among others, outlined several years ago. And as Congress debates endlessly on medical care reform, we and the rest of the states do not know what to do in meeting our Medicaid obligations to both the federal government and to the poor.

The GOP can't let the spending crisis go to waste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


U.S. commander says bringing bin Laden to justice remains goal (Craig Whitlock, 3/17/10, Washington Post)

Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Tuesday that bin Laden would never go on trial in the United States because the chances of him being caught alive were "infinitesimal." He predicted flatly that bin Laden would either be killed by U.S. forces or by al-Qaeda operatives determined to prevent him from falling into enemy hands.

On Wednesday, asked if the forces under his command had given up on trying to capture bin Laden alive, McChrystal said they had not.

"Wow. No. If Osama bin Laden comes inside Afghanistan," he told reporters by telephone from Kabul, "we would certainly go after trying to capture him alive and bring him to justice. I think that is something that is understood by everyone."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


The Crisis: Was Obama's confrontation with Israel premeditated? (Yossi Klein Halevi, March 16, 2010, New Republic)

Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas's "day of rage" over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority's call to gather on the Temple Mount to "save" the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City's Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident?

The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Astonishingly, Obama is repeating the key tactical mistake of his failed efforts to restart Middle East peace talks over the last year. Though Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze to help restart negotiations was legitimate, he went a step too far by including building in East Jerusalem. Every Israeli government over the last four decades has built in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; no government, let alone one headed by the Likud, could possibly agree to a freeze there. Obama made resumption of negotiations hostage to a demand that could not be met. The result was that Palestinian leaders were forced to adjust their demands accordingly.

Obama is directly responsible for one of the most absurd turns in the history of Middle East negotiations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Inside the Tea Party echo chamber (Tim Mak, 3/17/10, National Post)

[W]hen put together, the results reveal real insights about Tea Party perceptions. For example, they perceive a tax burden that is substantially higher than in reality:

1. Asked about how much the United States federal government takes out of the economy in taxation, the average Tea Partier approximation was around 42% of GDP, while the figure actually stands at approximately 31.5%.

2. Asked how much the typical American family earning $50,000 annually paid in income tax, the average guess was around $13,000. The actual tax bracket is 15%, which is $7,500 a year.

Further, the average Tea Party protestor was extremely pessimistic about the economy. 95% surveyed expressed the opinion that the country’s general economic situation is worse off than a year ago. Many said that they believed the economy would continue to deteriorate. [...]

Why, by proxy, did the Tea Partiers surveyed misjudge the health-care status quo? And why did they believe that ANWR is more of a panacea for the United States’ energy problem than it actually is?

Part of the answer is their lack of engagement with the mainstream media -– I was reminded many times throughout the protest of my sins as a mainstream reporter. Some protestors were outright hostile, condemning me as a member of the liberal media establishment.

Much like tort reform has become a rallying cry for conservatives hoping to stick a healthcare idea in the air, ANWR has become the cure-all for the United States’ growing energy requirements –- except neither are sustainable solutions for the future.

This may be because many Tea Partiers scorn traditional media outlets, instead focusing on the opinionized reporting of outlets they already agree with, such as WorldNetDaily, RedState and Fox News. This creates an echo chamber that exaggerates the benefit of small solutions like tort reform and hyperbolizes genuine problems like the tax burden.

"I know nothing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Palin to Obama: Hit reset button with Israel (JTA, 3/17/10)

Sarah Palin called on the Obama administration to hit the reset button with Israel.

In a statement critical of the Obama administration's outreach to countries with which the United States has strained relations, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor wrote, “In the midst of all this embracing of enemies, where does the Obama Administration choose to escalate a minor incident into a major diplomatic confrontation? With Iran, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea or Burma? No. With our treasured ally, Israel.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 PM


PHOTO GALLERY: Scantily-clad female activists from Ukrainian women's group FEMEN stage provocative protests in Kiev (Daily Telegraph)

Activists from a Ukrainian feminists' organisation called FEMEN protest in front of the venue of a Cabinet meeting in Kiev, against the country's new all-male government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Paid for not working (Marta Mossburg, March 17, 2010, Frederick News-Post)

The state estimates sick leave costs $986 per employee, but the price is almost triple because it estimates employees are out sick five days -- the average amount of time private-sector workers are absent from illness each year. The real bill should be $2,564 per employee or $115.5 million for full-time employees each year. Thousands of employees are excluded in DBM's personnel report, so the figure should be higher.

But that is only part of the story. Maryland policy allows state employees to accumulate 15 sick days per year and roll them over in perpetuity, with unused days counted toward pension payments for those smart enough to save their days, inflating retirement costs. Only union members, whose benefits helped to bankrupt General Motors and Chrysler on the taxpayer dime, enjoyed such benefits. And the vast majority of private-sector workers receive no pension and pay for their own retirement through 401(k) plans.

Private-sector workers take fewer days because they lose wages. Congress' Joint Economic Committee released a report earlier this month showing that 40 percent of private-sector employees do not receive paid sick leave. Their benefits are tied to the financial performance of their companies.

State workers do not suffer the burden of reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Tim Cahill slams Barack Obama, Dems on health care (Jessica Van Sack, March 17, 2010, Boston Herald)

State Treasurer Tim Cahill, taking swipes at both Gov. Deval Patrick and President Obama, boosted his bipartisan chops yesterday, telling Herald columnist Howie Carr on WRKO, “I voted for John McCain, believe it or not.”

Cahill, saying he was barred from the 2008 Democratic National Convention because he wouldn’t endorse either Obama or Hillary Clinton, said, “My own party basically voted me out.”

“I was afraid of what we had already been getting in Massachusetts, and at that point in 2008, I was aware that it wasn’t working,” he said. Separately yesterday, Cahill accused Obama of “propping up” the Bay State’s health plan with federal aid in order to help push the Democrats’ plan through Congress.

“The real problem is that this . . . sucking sound of money has been going into this health-care reform,” Cahill said. “And I would argue that it’s being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


U.S. Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region (Benjamin Dangl, March 2010, The Progressive)

Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”

But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.

The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.

The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”

The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.

“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”

“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.

The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.

Amen to that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Reagan 'GE Theater' tapes restored, go to library (JEFF WILSON, 3/17/10, AP)

- All 208 episodes of television's "General Electric Theater," hosted by then-actor Ronald Reagan, are being delivered to former first lady Nancy Reagan on Wednesday as part of the two-year celebration of the late president's 100th birthday.

The 1954-1962 "General Electric Theater" tapes, most believed to be damaged or lost, were recently uncovered in the General Electric/NBC Universal archives. They were restored to broadcast quality for use in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

Despite its unsustainable thesis, Thomas W. Evans's The Education of Ronald Reagan offers an interesting history of GE under Lemuel Boulware and his corporate philosophy, Boulwarism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM

THE TWAIN DONE MET (via Bryan Francoeur):

Gallup Daily: Obama Job Approval (

Friend Francoeur has followed, with some degree of fascination, the orogressive convergence of the UR's Approve and Disapprove lines, which cross today for the first time.

47% Disapprove
46% Approve

Provoking a new Intifada and trying to ram through that dog's breakfast of a health bill seems unlikely to help those numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Health care reform in Washington meets the Chicago Way (John Kass, 3/17/10, Chicago Tribune)

Not even three or four pipes full of Hopium could have convinced me that the Congress of the United States would ever start looking like the Chicago City Council.

But now, with the Chicago Way White House twisting arms for its federal health care legislation, Democrats in Congress and Chicago aldermen are beginning to share a remarkable resemblance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 PM


Allies everywhere feeling snubbed by President Obama (Robert Kagan, March 17, 2010, Washington Post)

Israelis shouldn't feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the "special relationship" with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security. Among top E.U. officials there is consternation that neither the president nor even his Cabinet seems to have time for the European Union's new president, Herman Van Rompuy, who, while less than scintillating, is nevertheless the chosen representative of the post-Lisbon Treaty continent. Europeans in general, while still fond of Obama, have concluded that he is not so fond of them -- despite his six trips to Europe -- and is more of an Asian president.

The Asians, however, are not so sure. Relations with Japan are rocky, mostly because of the actions of the new government in Tokyo but partly because of a perception that the United States can't be counted on for the long term. In India, there are worries that the burgeoning strategic partnership forged in the Bush years has been demoted in the interest of better relations with China. Although the Obama administration promised to demonstrate that the United States "is back" in Asia after the alleged neglect of the Bush years, it has not yet convinced allies that they are the focus of American attention.

U.S. officials have any number of explanations for these concerns: that they are based on misunderstandings, the product of minor errors in execution, simply Bush's fault. By now, however, a moderately self-reflective administration might be asking why so many allies, everywhere, are worried. should be noted that W had gotten rid of most of the leftwing and/or anti-American leaders--Chirac, Chretien, Schroeder, whoever was running Italy last week, etc.--and our allies uniformly have governments that tilt right or no further than center-left. So some tension between an anti-Bush president and these governments was inevitable. [God knows how he screwed up a relationship with Gordon Brown, who htes Tony Blair as much as any American Democrat does.]

It was though our enemies who were supposed to welcome the UR's Advent and he's not doing any better with them than W did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Administration announces Afghanistan debt deal (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, 03/17/10, AP)

The Obama administration says that the United States has reached an agreement with other countries to cancel $1.6 billion in foreign debt owed by Afghanistan to creditor nations and international lending organizations.

...rather than bargain as if the lenders had a case for repayment. But we'll give the UR at least a partial credit on this one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Poll: Meg Whitman narrowly leads Jerry Brown (ANDY BARR, 3/17/10, Politico)

According to a new KTVU/Field Poll, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (left) holds a 3-percentage-point lead over California Attorney General Jerry Brown in a potential general election matchup for governor.

It's important that she run as a radical and not a front-runner, because CA needs some strong medicine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 PM


Plans in Flux on Health Vote (Steven T. Dennis and Tory Newmyer, 3/16/10, Roll Call)

House Republicans had Democratic leaders tied in knots Tuesday trying to defend a special rule to enact the Senate’s health care bill without a separate vote, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted she had not yet decided whether to use it.

The procedural morass, borne of House Democrats’ distaste for deals included in the Senate health care bill, overshadowed leadership’s efforts to tout the overall package as a history-making endeavor on par with enactment of Social Security or Medicare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Dick Armey's 'tea party' history is a strange brew (Dana Milbank, March 16, 2010, Washington Post)

"The small-government conservative movement, which includes people who call themselves the tea party patriots and so forth, is about the principles of liberty as embodied in the Constitution, the understanding of which is fleshed out if you read things like the Federalist Papers," Armey explained. The problem with Democrats and other "people here who do not cherish America the way we do," he explained, is "they did not read the Federalist Papers."

And this oversight makes the tea partiers mad. "Who the heck do these people think they are to try to sit in this town with their audacity and second-guess the greatest genius, most creative genius, in the history of the world?" Armey demanded.

A member of the audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?

Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton."

It's deuced unlikely that Mr. Armey realizes that it was the Anti-Federalists who were federalist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Feb. wholesale prices drop 0.6 percent (Martin Crutsinger, 3/17/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

While overall wholesale prices have risen 4.4 percent over the past 12 months, core inflation, which excludes energy and food, is up a much more subdued 1 percent over the past year.

Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said much of the downward pressure on prices stemming from America's steep recession has yet to be felt. For that reason, Mr. Dales said, the Fed will be able to keep interest rates low for many more months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


FACT CHECK: Premiums would rise under Obama plan
(RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 3/17/10, Associated Press)

Buyers, beware: President Barack Obama says his health care overhaul will lower premiums by double digits, but check the fine print.

Premiums are likely to keep going up even if the health care bill passes, experts say. If cost controls work as advertised, annual increases would level off with time. But don't look for a rollback. Instead, the main reason premiums would be more affordable is that new government tax credits would help millions of people who can't afford the cost now.

Listening to Obama pitch his plan, you might not realize that's how it works.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


U.S.-Russia Relations: In Need of a New Reset (Simon Shuster, Mar. 16, 2010, TIME)

In Russian political circles, Barack Obama's election tended to evoke two different reactions. Many officials were curious to see what new deals he would offer, but others, in the tradition of the Cold War, dismissed him as just the latest mouthpiece of the old American élites. If any of them experienced Obamamania, they sure kept it to themselves. So it's little wonder that Obama's drive to put aside old grudges and start fresh with Moscow has come up against stubborn resistance from the Kremlin in recent months. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely face a tough test when she arrives in Moscow for a two-day visit on March 18, because, as a senior official from the Obama Administration puts it, "We've definitely overloaded the circuits in this relationship."

For Clinton, the word overloaded is itself a reminder of where things began to go wrong. Last March, she had the honor of starting Obama's charm offensive by presenting her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, with a little red button. It was supposed to have the Russian word for reset on it and was meant as a harmless bit of fun. But thanks to a spelling mistake somewhere in the State Department (presumably the Gimmicks Directorate), Lavrov had to explain that the button actually said overload. It caused some awkward laughter. "We won't let you do that to us," Clinton joked, and they went ahead and pressed the button anyway. "So that's how things have turned out," says Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO. "They pressed the wrong button, and over time the relationship was overloaded. So far the right button still hasn't been pressed."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Every (corn) dog has its day: Whatever the origin, the street-food staple endures (Chris McNamara, March 17, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

Some say the corn dog originated in the late 1920s with the Krusty Korn Dog baking machine. The people at Pronto Pup in Portland, Ore., claim that George and Versa Boyington created it when they deep-fried franks in the late '30s. Around this time, "Corny Dogs" began appearing at the Texas State Fair.

Our state capital's own Cozy Dog Drive In (2935 S. Sixth St., Springfield, 217-525-1992, claims credit for the corn dog's evolution.

"My father-in-law's version of the story is that he saw one made in a waffle iron and figured there had to be a quicker way to do it," said current owner Sue Waldmire about founder Ed Waldmire.

"He put the hot dog on a stick, his buddy's dad had a bakery where they made our special batter, he had special fryers made and the rest is history."

Whatever the origin, this street-food staple endures. These days you can buy frozen corn dogs at grocery stores and bake or microwave them at home. There are recipes online for corn dog casseroles. Bars serve mini corn dogs — stickless, bite-size mutations of the real thing.

Those will suffice in a pinch, but the real deal is something special. Deep-fried to order. A meal that comes with its own handle. A Frankensteinian hybrid of doughnut and sausage that you can eat with one hand, leaving the other hand free to salute the American flag or wield a bottle of French's mustard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Christie presents a tough budget (Jonathan Tamari and Adrienne Lu, 3/17/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Gov. Christie proposed a budget yesterday that he said would chart a "historic new course" for New Jersey by sharply reducing spending and holding down taxes, doing so by cutting deeply into state programs for the needy and suspending property-tax rebates for 2010. [...]

With many states suffering from vast budget problems, Christie said, his "tough decisions" could put New Jersey ahead of the curve when it comes to economic recovery and growth.

To that end, he stuck to his campaign promises to lower taxes on businesses and forgo an income-tax hike on the wealthy. His plan does not raise any major taxes and calls for a firm 2.5 percent cap on local property-tax increases.

With folks in crisis mode it's the perfect time to ask them to share the load. W should have asked more of us after 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Spaghetti Carbonara (The Denver Post, 03/17/2010)

1 pound dried durum wheat pasta, such as De Cecco
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta or guanciale, chopped
About 1 1/2cups freshly grated pecorino romano, plus more for the table
3 egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground pepper


In a 2-gallon pot, bring 6 quarts of water to rolling boil with about N quarter cup of salt. Sprinkle the pasta into the boiling water and stir well (this will keep the pasta from sticking together) and cover with a lid. When the water comes back to a boil, remove the lid and stir again.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan big enough to hold the pasta, heat the olive oil over medium heat and stir in the pancetta or guanciale. Cook until just crispy and turn off the heat.

When the pasta is still al dente (taste a piece, it should have a firm bite without being raw), quickly drain it into a colander, reserving some of the cooking water and making sure that some of the cooking water still clings to the pasta. Quickly stir the pasta into the saute pan (the flame should be off but the oil should still be warm), stirring in about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water. Toss in the cheese, salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Add the egg yolks and toss to mix. The pasta should be moist (but not wet) and saucy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


U.S. Chamber of Commerce sets sights on Democrats ahead of midterm elections (Dan Eggen, 3/17/10, Washington Post)

Modeled in part on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign juggernaut, the group has built a grass-roots operation known as Friends of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It has a member list of 6 million names, aimed at lobbying on legislation and swaying voters to back preferred candidates, primarily Republicans, in battleground areas, officials said.

The group will target vulnerable Democrats in up to two dozen states with ads, get-out-the-vote operations and other grass-roots efforts. The chamber plans to spend at least $50 million on political races and related activities this year, a 40 percent increase from 2008.

The strategy follows the chamber's record lobbying effort at the end of 2009, when it spent nearly $800,000 a day rallying opposition to Democratic proposals in Congress. All told, the organization spent more money on lobbying and political activities last year than either the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee, which serve as the main fundraising and grass-roots operations for the parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Democrats restive over White House, Israel feud (BEN SMITH, 3/17/10, Politico)

Pro-Israel Democrats, who had largely held their tongues during the weekend, began to make their voices heard Monday night and Tuesday, saying that the White House had overreacted to the Israeli announcement and that the administration was taking the matter — which American officials have described as an “insult” and an “affront” — too personally.

“It was personal, and I think it shouldn’t be personal. It’s clear to me that [Netanyahu] was blindsided as well” by the announcement, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “The timing was wrong, and it should have been criticized, but that should have been it.”

“Two days later we see this upswing in criticism, almost as if we wanted to grab onto the issue and use it,” he said.

“The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum,” said another New York Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner. “Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Lessons from the twilight days of the liberal consensus: An inspiring candidate has become a failing president. But a comparison with Lyndon B Johnson shows that the reasons for this outcome are more than personal. (Godfrey Hodgson, 16 March 2010, MercatorNet)

There are many ways to register the gap between promise and reality. Here are just three.

First, Obama pledged to restore the United States’s reputation in the international arena by making it plain that the country opposed torture and supported fair trials, due process and the rule of law. The signal of this commitment was a promise to close the Guantánamo prison-camp within a year. But the camp remains open, the administration’s declared intention to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the alleged architect of the 9/11 atrocities) according to US laws is uncertain, and concern with morale in the CIA seems to trump human rights.

Second, Obama the campaigner voiced doubts over the war in Afghanistan. In practice his new strategy there increases the US’s military involvement and extends its range to Pakistan, albeit as part of a plan that envisages eventual withdrawal. In other areas of foreign policy, the president has been unable to effect a rapprochement with Iran and been treated with disdain by China at the Copenhagen climate-change summit.

Third, Obama’s ambitious domestic projects included cutting America’s dependence on imported energy and intensifying efforts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. His carbon-trading plan will not reduce total emissions and is unable even to offer guaranteed business opportunities.

The picture is more mixed over two major domestic policy priorities, but even here no outstanding success can be claimed. First, Obama did succeed in pushing through Congress a vast stimulus package that has restored the profitability of the financial-services sector, but does not insist that it perform its social function by lending to individuals and small businesses. Unemployment remains high and corrosive. Second, his healthcare-reform plans have become a shadow of his original proposals and even this is reliant for progress on a parliamentary device (“reconciliation”). Washington is now waiting to see whether that will work.

However much money the Obama campaign spent in swing states like NH, its only promise on health care was that the candidate, unlike John McCain, would protect your insurance from taxation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Can the 'Bush Lied' Deniers Handle the Truth? (David Corn, 3/17/10, Politics Daily)

et's get down to it. Wehner rests much of his case on a classified October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a summation of the intelligence community's assessments. It stated,

We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of U.N. resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.

This NIE was, of course, wrong. Iraq had no active WMD programs, no stockpiles. But Wehner and others point to it as a holy writ that justifies everything Bush, Dick Cheney, and other administration officials said. Which is odd, because the Bush White House admitted after the war began that Bush had not bothered to read the entire 93-page document. Had he done so, he would have seen that the report contained important caveats regarding key aspects of the case -- particularly Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein was actively pursing nuclear weapons and close to possessing them.

But Bush needed to read the intelligence only if he cared about presenting a bound-by-the-facts argument.

Mr. Corn is obliquely right: W didn't care about the WMD, only about removing the regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Overhaul Splits Party Faithful (PETER WALLSTEN And JEAN SPENCER, 3/18/10, WSJ)

The survey found that opinions have solidified around the health-care legislation, with 48% calling it a "bad idea" and 36% viewing it as a "good idea" when presented with a choice between those two. That gap is consistent with surveys dating to the fall.

At the same time, Democratic voters strongly favor the legislation being pushed by President Barack Obama, particularly constituencies such as blacks, Latinos and self-described liberals. Those groups mobilized in 2008 to help elect Mr. Obama, but are far less enthusiastic than core Republicans about voting in this year's midterm elections.

The survey found a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats.

March 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Eric Holder: Osama bin Laden won't be brought in alive (JOSH GERSTEIN, 3/16/10, Politico)

Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional panel Tuesday that the question of reading Osama bin Laden his Miranda rights is absurd – because he won’t be brought in alive.

“Let’s deal with reality,” Holder said. “You’re talking about a hypothetical that will never occur. We will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Obama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom. That’s the reality….He will be killed by us or he will be killed by his own people, so he’s not captured by us. We know that.”

Granted that the poor fool has painted himself into a corner on national security, but that's an inartful way to try and escape.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


ACLU sues gov't over drones (JEN DIMASCIO, 3/16/10, Politico)

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government Tuesday to learn the use of unmanned drones for targeted killings by the military and CIA.

“In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings,” the ACLU said in a statement, announcing its action.

Have they really gotten themselves so confused over the supposed "rights" of our enemies that they think the US Constitution protects them on foreign soil?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


'Nobody Wants to Vote for the Senate bill': Democrats are ignoring their own polls. (John Fund, 3/17/10, WSJ)

Ms. Pelosi actually told reporters: "Nobody wants to vote for the Senate bill." Her scheme to allow House members to escape political responsibility even drew the ire of the Washington Post editorial page, which has strongly backed health care reform: "What is intended as a final sprint threatens to turn into something unseemly and, more important, contrary to Democrats' promises of transparency and time for deliberation."

In ramming through an unpopular 2,700-page health care bill using brute force tactics, Democrats are in danger of passing what amounts to the longest suicide note in history. Their own pollsters are telling them the public has rebelled against their tactics. So their response is to press their foot down even harder on the gas pedal. We'll see how that works out for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


The Politician of the Future Will Resemble ... Ross Perot? (William Galston, March 15, 2010, New Republic)

For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that concern over public-sector budget deficits and debt was confined to a handful of elected officials and policy wonks. Although Ross Perot challenged that belief in the early 1990s, the consequences of his insurgency soon faded. But now, the massive spending and debt accumulation the government has used to save the financial system and stabilize the economy are in the process of effecting a sea-change in public attitudes. While President Obama’s fiscal commission may well deadlock, the problem that called it into being isn’t going away, and neither are the public’s concerns. The party that masters the emerging new politics of deficits and debt will seize the mantle of national leadership.

The fact that an issue is bogus as to economics has never meant it's not a winner in politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 AM


Island Tango: With their afternoon tea, brogue accents, and fields of diddle-dee, just who do the Falklands Islanders think they are? (STEPHANIE PEARSON | MARCH 5, 2010, Foreign Policy)

The fact that Argentina is still contesting the sovereignty of the islands, especially after one extremely unsuccessful invasion, doesn't sit very well with most Falkland Islanders. Their general aversion to Argentina's claim may be due to the fact that only a handful of Argentines actually live in the Falklands. Most of the islands' 2,478 residents are an amalgam of "sheepocracies" -- i.e., distinguished families who have owned large farms here for decades -- mixed with more recent immigrants from the U.K., the Philippines, South Africa, Chile, Australia, and other British Overseas Territories, like St. Helena ("Twenty-three nationalities are represented in the phone book," one proud resident told me when I visited in January 2009 on assignment for Outside magazine). The islanders' accents vary widely, but many speak with variations on a thick brogue or with a tinge of formal, cheerful "British colonial."

In most regards, the Falkland Islanders have life pretty good. Aside from the 1982 war, there's been only one civilian murder here since the 1970s. If residents can tolerate the occasional 60-knot wind, most come to love these treeless, undulating islands and the pure and pragmatic way of life it offers. Falklanders choose to live here because they want to, not because they've been relegated to the outermost ends of the earth by a force outside themselves.

Take Alan Henry, a British customs agent and avid birder who took me hiking across a boggy track to find the elusive Hudsonian Godwit. "I absolutely fell in love with the Falkland Islands from the minute I came," he told me. "There's no crime, no vandalism, no litter, and no graffiti. We're healthy, we've got no money worries, and have great family. Do we miss Chinese restaurants? The answer is no. Plus, the art of conversation is not dead."

Indeed, the Falklands feels like a throwback to a pre-modern Britain, a place where Milton or Keats might feel more at home than in fast-paced 21st century London. Today in the Falklands, the ritual of tea accompanied by fresh-out-of-the-oven shortbread is still very much alive, and kids can kick a soccer ball through downtown Stanley until midnight without their parents worrying about crime or kidnapping.

Yet that doesn't mean the Falklanders consider themselves to be fully British. For all their flapping Union Jacks, red phone booths, and birthday celebrations for the Queen, Falkland Islanders view themselves as distinct. "That's like saying Texans are Mexicans," one local farmer told me. "We're Commonwealth citizens, but we're not British."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


London firms say immigration good for economy (London Chamber of Commerce)

A report published today by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) shows a significant majority of businesses (70 per cent) think that the capital would not be as competitive without the contribution of migrants. The survey of 182 London firms in partnership with polling firm ComRes quizzed companies on a wide range of immigration issues, two years on from the introduction of the UK's points-based system.

Migrants are viewed in a positive light by London employers across a number of indicators with 68 per cent saying they often work harder than their UK counterparts. Similarly, 72 per cent of companies say that migrants are prepared to do the jobs that British citizens won't. Employers not only view migrants positively in a general sense, but value their contribution to their own firms as well, with 57 per cent of companies saying that immigrants are important to their own company. However, most businesses (56 per cent) think that migrant workers are not as well qualified as UK employees.

On the controversial subject of the pressure migrants place on public services, the majority of London businesses (56 per cent) think the economic benefits they bring to the capital outweigh the potential cost of providing such services.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Ehrlich teases Mikulski challenge (JESSICA TAYLOR | 3/16/10, Politico)

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich hinted Tuesday morning that he may be considering a campaign this year against Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

The Baltimore Business Journal reports that in a speech to the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, Ehrlich said that a possible Senate bid was "in the mix" of options he's mulling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Catholic bishops oppose health care plan (Steven Thomma, 3/16/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Monday it opposes the Democratic health care plan heading for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives because of its language on abortion.

The group noted that it liked the House health care bill because it would continue the strict ban on federal financing of abortion. But it said the Senate version would open the door to federal financing, and it is the Senate version heading to the House for a vote. [...]

"The Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed," said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the president of the conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Friends in Deed: Evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s staunchest allies—even as some American Jews are made uneasy by the show of support (Lee Smith, Mar 16, 2010, The Tablet)

“My time with evangelical Christians has made me a better Jew,” says David Brog, the executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI). “It made me take my faith more seriously.” Evangelicals also take Judaism seriously, a conviction that over the last 20 years has variously surprised, pleased, and frightened Jews across the American political spectrum, even as the country’s massive evangelical movement has proven to be Israel’s unshakable ally. While the current occupant of the White House and his Jewish advisors appear eager for any excuse to keep Jerusalem at arm’s distance, evangelicals continue to love the Jewish state. [...]

The Biblical verse that inspires American evangelicals’ love for the Jews, the nation that gave them their savior, is Genesis 12:3: “I will bless them that bless thee,” God told Abraham, “and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Their philo-Semitism is a reversal of the millennia-old Christian tradition of replacement theology, or the belief that God’s covenant with the Jews was superseded by his covenant with the church through Jesus Christ. Central to this understanding is the interpretation of the word “Israel.” “Evangelicals read the Bible literally,” says Brog. “If you take Israel to mean Christ’s church, then this can be used as an example of God rejecting the Jews. But if you believe Israel means the Jews, then the Bible becomes a Zionist book.”

The fact that sacred history is alive to evangelicals can make them powerful advocates for the modern state of Israel. Their witness extends beyond the congregations, small churches, and mega-cathedrals spread throughout the country and now reaches all the way to Washington, D.C., where Brog shows them how to put their philo-Semitism to practical use. “When they come up to meet with their congressmen or senators,” says Brog, “we share with them the details of timely legislation like the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.” That is to say, they show them how to support it.

And it is because evangelicals read the Bible literally that their political language describing Israel’s trials is of a different weight and timbre. For the U.S. policy establishment, the question is whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against the Jewish state may be a rhetorical ploy or a boastful appraisal of Iranian military capability. For evangelicals, there is no question that Ahmadinejad has identified himself as the latest in the long line of the hunters—murderers of Jews—and that he must be stopped by any means necessary.

So, why are American Jews suspicious of Israel’s new best friends? It is both because of and despite the fact that, as Brog says, “for most of our history, Jews have had a very lonely walk.”

“Two thousand years of history suggests that Christian religious fervor is not necessarily a good thing for Jews,” says Walter Russell Mead, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations who is working on a book about American support for Israel. “If the public culture of the U.S. is more ostentatiously and visibly Christian, I am not surprised that Jews get a little nervous.”

And yet as Mead has explained in a recent series of posts on his blog on the American Interest website, it is hardly news that most Americans stand strongly with Israel—regardless of the feelings of the elites. “Public opinion is moving even more in a pro-Israel direction,” Mead told me over the phone. “While the American elites drift the other way.” This increased polarization between the American public and the elites on the question of Israel, Mead believes, is what’s behind the Israel Lobby phenomenon, or the notion that powerful forces behind the scenes are driving U.S. policy in a direction contrary to the interests and wishes of American taxpayers.

“If you’re a university professor at an average east coast college, most of your gentile colleagues are not very sympathetic to Israel. Support for Israel is fading away with everyone you know, except for Jews,” Mead explains. Since we all tend to universalize from our own experience, he suggests, “it seems that ‘everybody’ changed their minds on Israel”—making it hard for university professors to understand why Israel continues to attract support in Congress. What they miss is the fact that the professoriate’s stance on Israel is highly atypical of the way that the rest of the country feels. “Occam’s razor says you don’t need to posit an occult force to explain why Americans support Israel,” Mead says.

In fact, American support for Zionism predates not only the current-day state of Israel, but also the founding of the United States. The early settlers of this country gave their children Hebrew names and imagined they were founding a city on a hill, the New Jerusalem. Still, as Peter Grose explained in his 1984 book Israel in the Mind of America, “It was the idealized Jew of scripture, rather than contemporary reality, that inspired early America.” England was the actual engine of Christian Zionism where, as Barbara Tuchman documents in her Bible and Sword, major figures across the centuries including David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill argued for a restoration of the Jews to their biblical homeland. It wasn’t until after World War II that Americans took over the leadership of the Christian Zionist movement.

Obama has crossed the line (ISI LEIBLER, 16/03/2010, Jerusalem Post)

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama’s determination to rehabilitate Islam’s global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

The Arab League refuses to modify its hard-line against Israel. It insists that Israel unconditionally accept the Saudi peace plan, a full retreat to the ‘67 borders and the implementation of the Arab right of return which would signal an end to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

THERE ARE now ominous signals that to obviate their failures, White House strategists are cynically distancing themselves from us in order to curry popularity by capitalizing on the anti-Israeli hatred which has engulfed the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


US Envoy Cancels Mideast Trip Amid US-Israel Feud (AP, 16/03/2010)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio that demands to halt Israeli construction there "are unreasonable as far as we are concerned." And he predicted that the diplomatic row with the U.S. would blow over, saying neither side had an interest in escalation.

But Washington notified Israel early Tuesday that envoy George Mitchell had put off his trip. The visit will be rescheduled at an undetermined time, officials on both sides said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the project's approval, but he has not said it would be canceled. On Monday, backed by his hawkish coalition, he defended four decades of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and said it "in no way" hurts Palestinians.

The feud is feeding already high tensions in east Jerusalem, where Jews and Palestinians live together uneasily. Some 3,000 Israeli police officers were deployed in the east Jerusalem area on Tuesday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Early Tuesday, masked Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli police and burned tires in multiple areas. Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police fired stun grenades to disperse dozens of protesters at one site, and that village elders helped to end protests at another. No injuries were reported in those disturbances.

At another site, rioters on a road strewn with rocks, tires and a charred garbage bin were dismantling a public bus stop. Police said 15 Palestinians have been arrested so far.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


About 1 in 4 in California lack health insurance, a UCLA study finds (Duke Helfand, March 16, 2010, LA Times)

Nearly 1 in 4 Californians under age 65 had no health insurance last year, according to a new report, as soaring unemployment propelled vast numbers of once-covered workers into the ranks of the uninsured.

The question is why 75% of the able-bodied are insured.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Up, Up And Away: What economic indicators are saying (Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, 03.16.10, Forbes)

Late last year, when the consensus expected an anemic recovery of 2.8% real GDP growth in the second half of 2009, we laid out a case for a growth rate of 4.7%. In the end, real GDP grew at a 4.1% rate in the second half of 2009 (5.9% in the fourth quarter) vindicating our optimism vs. the consensus.

Now the consensus is forecasting a growth rate of 2.7% for the first half of 2010. In contrast, we are predicting 4.5%, with faster growth in the second quarter than the first. The tilt toward Q2 is due to unusually harsh winter weather across much of the country.

The consensus is still underestimating the resilience and robustness of the U.S. economy and remains stuck on expectations of a "new normal." But productivity is strong, monetary policy is (and will continue to be) easy, inventories are razor-thin and corporate profits are growing rapidly.

And that's assuming the UR does nothing on free trade and immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Months after last health vote, many Dems in tougher reelection races: Thirty-two House Democrats are in tougher reelection races than they were when the lower chamber passed healthcare reform last fall. (Bob Cusack, 03/15/10, The Hill)

Seventeen Democrats who were not on the radar screen of campaign handicappers in November are now in competitive races, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Meanwhile, the races of 15 Democrats have become tighter, increasing the chances the GOP could win them.

Of the 32 Democrats, 25 voted in favor of the House healthcare bill on Nov. 7.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


PROMISES, PROMISES: Is gov’t more open with Obama? (SHARON THEIMER 03/16/10, AP)

Federal agencies haven’t lived up to President Barack Obama’s promise of a more open government, increasing their use of legal exemptions to keep records secret during his first year in office.

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that the use of nearly every one of the law’s nine exemptions to withhold information from the public rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.

...he's changed nothing. No information should be withheld from the public that pays to acquire it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’: Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd. (Jay Richards, March 16, 2010, The American)

Even without the scandal, the very idea of scientific consensus should give us pause. “Consensus,” according to Merriam-Webster, means both “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” That pretty much sums up the dilemma. We want to know whether a scientific consensus is based on solid evidence and sound reasoning, or social pressure and groupthink.

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd. Many false ideas enjoyed consensus opinion at one time. Indeed, the “power of the paradigm” often shapes the thinking of scientists so strongly that they become unable to accurately summarize, let alone evaluate, radical alternatives. Question the paradigm, and some respond with dogmatic fanaticism.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget the other side of the coin. There are always cranks and conspiracy theorists. No matter how well founded a scientific consensus, there’s someone somewhere—easily accessible online—that thinks it’s all hokum. Sometimes these folks turn out to be right. But often, they’re just cranks whose counsel is best disregarded.

So what’s a non-scientist citizen, without the time to study the scientific details, to do? How is the ordinary citizen to distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? Conversely, how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Are we obligated to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, maintains, and communicates the ostensible consensus. I don’t know of any exhaustive list of signs of suspicion, but, using climate change as a test study, I propose this checklist as a rough-and-ready list of signs for when to consider doubting a scientific “consensus,” whatever the subject. One of these signs may be enough to give pause. If they start to pile up, then it’s wise to be suspicious.

Predictably, Darwinism matches at least 11 of the 12 criteria for doubt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story (Mark Perry, March 13, 2010, Foreign Policy)

On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow ... and too late."

The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding." But Petraeus wasn't finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command -- or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus's reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region's most troublesome conflict.

[UPDATE: A senior military officer denied Sunday that Petraeus sent a paper to the White House.

"CENTCOM did have a team brief the CJCS on concerns revolving around the Palestinian issue, and CENTCOM did propose a UCP change, but to CJCS, not to the WH," the officer said via email. "GEN Petraeus was not certain what might have been conveyed to the WH (if anything) from that brief to CJCS."

(UCP means "unified combatant command," like CENTCOM; CJCS refers to Mullen; and WH is the White House.)]

The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus's request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied ("it was dead on arrival," a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts -- pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" -- as having a direct impact on America's status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.

Israel didn't.

The generals have consiodered Israel a nuisance since George Marshall opposed its recognition.

March 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Tide Turns for GOP Candidate in Hawaii: Bickering Between Democrats in a Special Congressional Race Might Give First Republican in Decades a Chance at Victory (STU WOO, 3/16/10, WSJ)

The Aloha State has an unusual special-election structure in which the candidate with the most votes wins without a primary or runoff. The two bickering Democrats in the race—former Congressman Ed Case and Hawaii state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa—might split the vote and give a Republican a rare shot at victory in this state. If GOP candidate Charles Djou should win, the little-known councilman would become the first Republican to represent Hawaii in Washington in two decades. [...]

For the national Republican Party, a victory in Hawaii would nudge the GOP toward its goal of winning the dozens of seats it needs this year to regain control of Congress. It would also mark a symbolic victory in the home state of President Barack Obama. "It would be as significant as Scott Brown winning Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts," Mr. Djou said, referring to the January special election for the U.S. Senate. [...]

Mr. Case's philosophy is reflected on his position on the national health-care overhaul in Congress. While Ms. Hanabusa promised a yes vote and Mr. Djou a no vote, Mr. Case said he would have to look at the final details of the health-care bill before taking a position.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Wrong Bill At The Wrong Time (Shikha Dalmia, 03.10.10, Forbes)

Even if Democrats extract the votes to put ObamaCare over the top, it will at best be a Pyrrhic victory for them. Regardless of the outcome, this monstrosity might cost the Democrats the Congress this November, ruin the party for a long time and prematurely render Barack Obama a lame duck president for the rest of his term.

So why didn't the Democrats pull back when they still had the chance? The reason is that both the Democratic Party and President Obama have mutually reinforcing blind spots that have rendered them incapable of seeing what's crystal clear to every other sentient being in the country: This was the wrong bill at the wrong time.

The only comic relief in the otherwise grim, yearlong ObamaCare saga has been the spectacle of progressive pundits scratching their heads to explain the bill's nose-diving popularity: Betsy McCaughey is a lying bitch whose chatter about death panels has spooked Americans; the bill is too tame for Americans who really want a public option; Democrats are just too damn nice to engage in the gutter partisan politics necessary to push their agenda through; Republicans are nay-saying obstructionists; and, my personal favorite, President Obama, arguably the most gifted orator alive, does not have the communication skills necessary to sell this bill (of goods).

In fact, the real reason why ObamaCare is so unpopular is that it is proposing a giant expansion of the entitlement state precisely when this state everywhere is coming apart: here and abroad; at the federal level and the state; in the public sector and the private. Suggesting a giant government takeover of a sixth of the economy can't be a popular selling point in a country whose DNA has a programmed hostility to Big Government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


The Politics of National Security: A Wake-up Call: The First Democracy Corps-Third Way National Security Survey Shows Erosion in Public’s Trust of Democrats on National Security – and Shows How to Reverse the Trend (Democracy Corps, 3/15/10)

Although the public continues to give the president strong ratings on a range of national security issues – indeed, above his overall approval rating – there is evidence of rising public concern about the president’s handing of these issues. Historical doubts about the Democratic Party on national security show signs of reviving and many voters worry the president and his administration are not dealing forcefully enough with terrorist suspects. Additionally, the troubled economy is driving down public perceptions of America’s strength and standing in the world. [...]

The decline in both the presidential and Democratic approval ratings on security issues has been driven, at least in part, by strong Republican attacks on some specific policies and actions:

The Christmas Bomber: The administration’s response to the Christmas Day terrorist attempt has contributed to the erosion. While public polling showed that initial approval of Obama’s response above 50 percent,[3] two months of Republican criticism have taken a toll – now, a narrow 46 to 42 percent plurality of likely voters say they feel less confident about the administration’s handling of national security because of how it responded to the incident, with views splitting largely along partisan lines. And when phrased as a partisan attack, a 60 percent majority of likely voters feels more confident about the Republicans on national security in response to this message:

Republicans say: “Democrats are insisting that terrorists be treated like American citizens, with full legal protections, like Miranda rights. But we should put the safety of Americans before the rights of terrorists, and we should be using all our toughest interrogation techniques to fight back against these terrorists who are trying to kill us.”

Detention/Prosecution of Terrorists: Whereas a majority of the public approves of the job President Obama is doing in most aspects of national security, a 51 to 44 percent majority of likely voters disapproves of his efforts on the “prosecution and interrogation of terrorism suspects.”

Iran: There is also public concern about developments in Iran. In the wake of continued intransigence by Tehran about its nuclear program, as well as protests by the Iranian opposition, a 49 to 42 percent plurality of America’s likely voters express disapproval of the way the president is handling security issues related to Iran.

While ratings for the president may be softening, his party is facing an even more troubling trend. When the questions move beyond the president to Democrats generally, we see that the public once again has real and rising doubts about the Democrats’ handling of national security issues, as compared to their faith in Republicans. This security gap, which has roots stretching back to Vietnam, was as wide as 29 points earlier in the decade. The deficit began to close in 2006, with the Bush administration’s catastrophic mismanagement of Iraq and other national security challenges. As public hopes about the Obama presidency rose and peaked, the gap all but vanished. Last May, Democracy Corps found Democrats essentially tied with Republicans (41 to 43 percent) on the question of which party would do a better job on national security.

But now the gap shows signs of re-opening, with Democrats trailing by 17 points, 33 to 50 percent on which party likely voters think would do the better job on national security. The erosion since May is especially strong among women, and among independents, who now favor Republicans on this question by a 56 to 20 percent margin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


Poll: Democrats Losing Support of Blue-Collar Voters: There is also rising concern over Obama’s handling of national security (Kenneth T. Walsh, March 15, 2010, US News)

Nearly 50 percent of likely voters may be ready to cast a protest vote against the Democrats on the economy, and that number could exceed 70 percent among white blue-collar men, according to a new survey by Democracy Corps, a Democratic-oriented opinion research group affiliated with prominent party strategists including pollster Stan Greenberg, who advised President Bill Clinton. The survey also finds that progressives are losing the support of many blue-collar and noncollege voters as national Democrats appear to be more interested in the economic success of "elites" rather than everyday people. The analysis, based on polling and focus groups conducted in January and late February, finds a widening gap "between the hopes of the new progressive base voters who created a progressive majority in the country in the last four years—African-Americans and Latinos, young voters and unmarried women—and their own experiences in this economic crisis—loss of employment, wages, and healthcare, and cutbacks in state services." The danger for the Democrats in this fall's elections is that these people will become "drop-off voters" who cast ballots in 2008 but don't vote in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


All the King's Men: As the first female ruler of Otuam, Ghana, Peggielene Bartels has had to deal with a legacy of corruption -- and no shortage of sexism (Eleanor Herman, March 14, 2010, Washington Post Magazine)

Last fall, Peggielene Bartels was on the way to Agona Swedru, a market town about 1 hours from the fishing village of Otuam, in Ghana. Bartels, who is a secretary and lives in Silver Spring, wanted to buy new beads and sandals for the "gazetting" ceremony that would enhance her status as king. After the proceedings, and with the news published in the local gazette, she would be backed by other gazetted kings, adding huge heft to her power. Although it is possible for a woman to be a Ghanaian king, as the title refers to the person who wields executive power over a tribe or community regardless of gender, it is unusual.

As a historian, I had come to Ghana with Bartels to follow her story. Gazing out the window as our taxi careened over potholes, I saw such enterprises as the By the Grace of God Brake and Clutch Center, the Jesus is our Savior Beer and Wine Pub, the Forget Your Wife Chop House and the Thanks Be to God Toilet Facilities.

Up ahead, there was a police checkpoint. The taxi rolled to a halt, and the officer asked the driver to show his license. In the front passenger seat, Bartels's cousin leaned toward the officer, smiling. "This is the king of Otuam," he said, gesturing to the back seat, where Bartels was wearing the robe of a king. In Ghana, the police routinely wave dignitaries through roadblocks.

The officer glanced at the driver's license. "This has expired!" he said, waving it. "This is a very serious infraction."

"But it isn't -- " the driver said.

"Stop being rude! You should not contradict me," the officer interrupted.

Sighing, the driver opened his wallet and pulled out several colorful bills.

Bartels leaned forward and snatched the driver's license from the policeman's hand. "Expiration date 2013!" she said. "What is this nonsense? His license is not expired. You are trying to extort a bribe from him. I am the lady king of Otuam, and I will not put up with this. I am going to tell the president of Ghana about you. What is your name? Show me your ID!"

The officer stuttered an apology. He had misread the expiration date on the driver's license, he said. He saluted Bartels respectfully and waved her on, hoping she would go.

"These ridiculous men really have no idea who they're dealing with," Bartels said. [...]

Bartels's organizational skills and decades of administrative experience are greatly admired in Otuam. For one thing, she is literate, which many of the elders are not. She knows computers, having received a diploma from Strayer University in computer information systems. She has lived in the United States since 1979, when she was offered an embassy job during a visit, and has faced daily challenges they can't even imagine.

Armed with such an impressive résumé, Bartels is a symbol of hope to younger residents. Twenty-five-year-old Kweku Acheampong, a student, asked for a private audience with her, with no elders at the table. Acheampong was tall and muscular with golden brown skin, alert eyes and a trim moustache. He came with nine friends in tow.

Acheampong stood respectfully and cleared his throat. "We have been waiting for you," he said. "We have been waiting for years. Why do you think this town has no water? Why is there no library? No Internet? Why does the elementary school have no toilet, and 250 kids use the bushes? Why are our roads so bad? Why does our clinic have only nurses and not a single doctor? Why can we not move forward? It is because the elders have been stealing the town's funds, so there is no money for development. That's why! This must change."

Acheampong continued: "We, the youth of Otuam, want to make sure it will change! We stand behind you as our king. You are young, you are American, and you are a woman. The ancestors sent you here to change things. We want to join your council of elders to make sure no more money is stolen." His companions grunted in approval.

"You are right," Bartels replied. "I will get to the bottom of the corruption and appoint some of you to the council to collect the fishing and farming fees. Now that I have been gazetted, it is time to get serious about this."

Bartels summoned the elders to attend a meeting with the heads of Otuam's four main fishing enterprises. The subject: whether any fishing fees had been paid, and if so, to whom. As I sat again in the corner with my interpreter, Bartels's chief priest, Kwesi Amissah, known by his title of tsiami, showed up. The 77-year-old pineapple farmer was short and wiry, his skin tightly drawn over angular bones.

The other 14 elders were missing.

The female fishmonger, 47-year-old Dzadi Yatu, gave her report first. She was plump and pretty in an ankle-length, pale green linen dress with puffed sleeves. "Your elder Uncle Moses has gone through the fishing village collecting fees with Tsiami at his side," she said. "After the old king's death last year, I paid Uncle Moses and Tsiami 3.5 million cedis." That's about $250.

Uncle Moses Acquah was one of the no-shows, but Bartels launched into Tsiami, who was slumped miserably in his chair. "Did you take those fishing fees?" she asked angrily.

Tsiami shrugged his skinny shoulders and looked straight ahead. "You know," he said, "I'm so old, I actually can't remember."

"You know I paid you that money!" Yatu cried. "You are a liar!"

"Stop insulting me!" Tsiami replied, his dander up now. "It is disrespectful of the ancestors to insult a tsiami."

"Disrespectful of the ancestors?" Bartels asked. "My chief priest, who holds the ancestral libations in one hand and steals money from the town with the other! You have shown disrespect to the ancestors! I wouldn't be surprised if they killed you. You may drop dead very soon!"

Tsiami shrank back into his chair. "It's not just me," he said. "Why blame me? Almost all of the council is involved. Why do you think they're not here? Investigate the others."

"Tsiami," Bartels asked, "do you people think you can cheat me because I am a woman? Like you cheated the dead king in the fridge because he was old?"

Tsiami was wounded. "Why are you doing this?" he said petulantly. "You are trying to scrutinize our asses."

Bartels turned on him with fire in her eyes and said, "That's right! Big, small, medium-sized, short and tall asses, I will scrutinize them all! I will stick my head up there with a flashlight! Be prepared!"

Tsiami slapped his baseball cap on his head and departed for his pineapple fields. After hearing additional reports from the fishing bosses, Bartels dismissed them and summoned Uncle Moses. At 73, he wore glasses, and had a wide nose and a straggly gray moustache.

"The fishermen say they have paid you large sums of money since the death of the late king who is in the fridge," she told him.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied. "Which fishermen?"

"You know very well which fishermen. And I have news for you. This corrupt system is going to change!" she cried, banging her fist on the table and sloshing their beers. "Change has come to America, and I have come from America to bring change to Otuam! I am the Obama of this place!"

"You have lived in the U.S. so long that you have become a white woman," Uncle Moses scoffed.

"Uncle Moses, I am a white woman," she said crisply, "and I am also a man and a king. Never forget that. Now, did you receive fees from fishermen?"

Uncle Moses shifted uncomfortably. He seemed about to speak and then closed his mouth. Finally, he said: "All right. I will go outside to pee, and when I return we can discuss it."

Bartels nodded. "Go ahead," she said. "I'll be waiting."

Uncle Moses ambled out the door and into the bushes. We waited. It took a long time to realize that Uncle Moses wasn't coming back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The press finally falls out of love with Obama. (Howard Fineman, Mar 12, 2010, NEWSWEEK)

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, was 50 minutes late for his briefing, apparently a record for tardiness, but few reporters in the White House press room bothered to feign outrage; they didn't seem all that eager to ask him questions anyway. When his boss flew to Missouri to give another of his "high octane" (The New York Times), "impassioned" (The Washington Post) health-care speeches, no cable channel covered the event. If you are president, the only thing worse than criticism is not being covered. And the truth is, we in the press are bored with Barack.

The "mainstream media" are losing patience with, and even interest in, their erstwhile hero.

There's too little depth to the man to keep anyone's interest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Justices Will Prevail (JEFF SHESOL, 3/15/10, NY Times)

In his 1937 State of the Union address, Roosevelt warned the court to toe the line, bringing Democrats to their feet in wild applause. (To his disappointment, all nine justices, in a break from precedent, boycotted the speech.) One month later, the president made his audacious proposal to increase the number of justices from 9 to 15, and to fill the new seats with liberals.

Roosevelt was not the first president to spar with the Supreme Court. A number of reform-minded presidents — Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt among them — had complained that the court was wrongheaded or reactionary. But none carried the fight as far as Franklin Roosevelt did, or paid as dearly for it. Congress defeated his proposal to expand the court. And though the court did reverse itself in 1937 — in the middle of the Senate debate on the president’s plan — Roosevelt had split the Democratic Party, reawakened the opposition and undermined his second-term agenda.

The Obama administration should keep this in mind as it escalates its war of words with the court. Even though most Americans agree with the president’s position on campaign spending by corporations, the political upside of attacking the court may be short-lived. It is one thing for a president to forcefully disagree with a decision. But to engage in a public back-and-forth with the chief justice is fraught with risk. Arguments with the Supreme Court are, as one magazine put it in 1936, “packed with the most deadly dynamite,” for at least three reasons. [...]

THE third danger for President Obama in picking a fight with the court is that it will allow his critics to portray him as unconcerned with the independence of the judiciary and eager to consolidate power in his own hands. The White House may be tempted to shrug off these concerns. But President Obama, like Roosevelt before him, is finding out just how real such fears are for some Americans — and how easily his opponents can exploit them. What Roosevelt really wanted, according to a leading Republican at the time, was a court that listened to its “master’s voice.” Many progressives and moderates, despite their allegiance to Roosevelt, came to share that suspicion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


The Decision That Changed the Dems (Peter Beinart, 3/15/10, Daily Beast)

This week’s last-ditch health care push may or may not prove the defining battle of Barack Obama’s presidency. It may or may not prove a defining moment in the history of the American welfare state. But here’s a good bet: The Democratic Party will never be the same.

For close to a decade now, Democrats have been arguing with each other about what kind of country this is, and what kind of party they should be. On one side stands a group of politicians, consultants and wonks who believe that America is, at its core, a pretty conservative place. These Democrats form something of a political generation. In their youth, they saw their party move left during Vietnam and get booted from power in 1968. Then they saw George McGovern, the most left-wing major party presidential candidate of the twentieth century, lose 49 states. Then they saw Jimmy Carter’s presidency destroyed in part because he looked weak during the Iran hostage crisis. Then they saw Ronald Reagan, once considered as an unelectable right-wing nut, become the most popular president of their adult lives. [...]

But in the Bush years, a new faction began to emerge. These Democrats were mostly newer to politics. They had never seen a McGovern or Mondale mauled for being too far to the left. What they had seen was the post-1994 Bill Clinton, who shied away from ambitious liberal reform. And they had seen the Iraq War, which DLC types largely supported, partly out of fear that opposing it would allow Republicans to paint Democrats as soft on defense.

By 2003, this new group of Democrats was angry as hell. The Iraq War, which party elders had mostly backed, was proving a disaster, and to make matters worse, Republicans were clobbering Democrats as weak anyway. So these Democrats began fashioning a different theory: Perhaps the problem wasn’t that Democrats looked weak because they were too liberal, perhaps the problem was that Democrats looked weak because they didn’t stand up for what they really believed.

It would be a very good thing for the country if Democrats were to--even though only temporarily--stand up loud and proud for the Second Way. It would afford us all the opportunity to move past it, most importantly those Republicans who are still terrified of being branded the party of Hoover.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Obama's happiness deficit (Fred Hiatt, March 15, 2010, Washington Post)

Here's a theory about why President Obama is having a tough political time right now: He doesn't seem all that happy being president. [...]

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when Obama confidant David Axelrod, noting that the president always makes time for his daughters' recitals and soccer games, told the New York Times, "I think that's part of how he sustains himself through all this."

Really? Is the presidency something to sustain yourself through?

He did ask for this job; we didn't make him take it. And so it seems fair to ask: What part of it does he enjoy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Obama's illusions of cost-control (Robert J. Samuelson, March 15, 2010, Washington Post)

You probably think that insuring the uninsured will dramatically improve the nation's health. The uninsured don't get care or don't get it soon enough. With insurance, they won't be shortchanged; they'll be healthier. Simple.

Think again. I've written before that expanding health insurance would result, at best, in modest health gains. Studies of insurance's effects on health are hard to perform. Some find benefits; others don't. Medicare's introduction in 1966 produced no reduction in mortality; some studies of extensions of Medicaid for children didn't find gains. In the Atlantic recently, economics writer Megan McArdle examined the literature and emerged skeptical. Claims that the uninsured suffer tens of thousands of premature deaths are "open to question." Conceivably, the "lack of health insurance has no more impact on your health than lack of flood insurance," she writes.

How could this be? No one knows, but possible explanations include: (a) many uninsured are fairly healthy -- about two-fifths are age 18 to 34; (b) some are too sick to be helped or have problems rooted in personal behaviors -- smoking, diet, drinking or drug abuse; and (c) the uninsured already receive 50 to 70 percent of the care of the insured from hospitals, clinics and doctors, estimates the Congressional Budget Office.

Though it seems compelling, covering the uninsured is not the health-care system's major problem. The big problem is uncontrolled spending, which prices people out of the market and burdens government budgets. Obama claims his proposal checks spending. Just the opposite. When people get insurance, they use more health services. Spending rises. By the government's latest forecast, health spending goes from 17 percent of the economy in 2009 to 19 percent in 2019. Health "reform" would probably increase that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


Analysis: Settlements or us (DAVID HOROVITZ, 15/03/2010 , Jerusalem Post)

Speaking to Reuters on his plane on Friday, Biden even went so far as to vouch for Netanyahu’s peacemaking intentions. Asked whether he thought the prime minister was sincere about negotiating peace with the Palestinians, he replied, “Yes, I do.”

And there the matter might have rested. There, Jerusalem believed, the matter would rest.

But then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Netanyahu. She called, for three-quarters of an hour on Friday, to “berate,” “rebuke,” “warn” and “condemn” Israel – depending on your newspaper of choice – for the “insult to the United States,” and for sending, in the words of her spokesman, “a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship.”

If Washington’s decision to escalate the dispute was shocking to the prime minister, then the bitter thrust of the secretary’s language was even more so. She was choosing to blame Israel not merely for words and deeds that the US deems counterproductive to Israel’s interests, but for conduct unbecoming of an ally, for harming the relationship with America and, by extension, harming America and its interests as well.

Even with the fullest cognizance of the Obama administration’s strategic effort to remake its relations with the Arab world, and its frustrations with Netanyahu for failing to fully share its optimism about the “willing partners” Biden referenced on the Palestinian side, this is strikingly harsh and heavy stuff.

The Clinton's have never forgiven Bibi for Arafat's refusal to abide by the Wye River Memorandum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


Gitmo's Indefensible Lawyers: Legal counsel to some of the detainees went far beyond vigorous representation of their clients. Doesn't the public have a right to know? (Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn, 3/15/10, WSJ)

On the evening of Jan. 26, 2006, military guards at Guantanamo Bay made an alarming discovery during a routine cell check. Lying on the bed of a Saudi detainee was an 18-page color brochure. The cover consisted of the now famous photograph of newly-arrived detainees dressed in orange jumpsuits—masked, bound and kneeling on the ground at Camp X-Ray—just four months after 9/11. Written entirely in Arabic, it also included pictures of what appeared to be detainee operations in Iraq. Major General Jay W. Hood, then the commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, concurred with the guards that this represented a serious breach of security.

Maj. Gen. Hood asked his Islamic cultural adviser to translate. The cover read: "Cruel. Inhuman. Degrades Us All: Stop Torture and Ill-Treatment in the 'War on Terror.'" It was published by Amnesty International in the United Kingdom and portrayed America and its allies as waging a campaign of torture against Muslims around the globe.

"One thread that runs through many of the testimonies from prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, and from Guantanamo," the brochure read, "is that of anti-Arab, anti-Islamic, and other racist abuse."

How did the detainee get it? More importantly, who gave it to him?

View Full Image
David Klein

Majeed Abdullah Al Joudi, the detainee in whose cell the brochure was first found, told guards he received the brochure from his lawyer. An investigation by JTF-GTMO personnel revealed that Julia Tarver Mason, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, had sent it to Al Joudi and eight of the firm's other detainee clients through "legal mail"—a designation for privileged lawyer-client communications that are exempt from screening by security personnel. Worse, the investigation showed that Ms. Mason's clients passed it to other detainees not represented by Paul, Weiss lawyers. In all, more than a dozen detainees received a copy. [...]

Paul, Weiss attorneys were apparently so confident that the DOJ could be cowed into submission that they provided the court with exhibits—letters, emails and court filings—documenting gross violations of the protective order by other habeas attorneys whose access was not cut off, ostensibly to show that Paul, Weiss was being treated unfairly.

We obtained Justice Department accounts of some of those incidents under a Freedom of Information Act request. Examples included an incident in which a lawyer sent his detainee client the transcript of a virulently anti-American speech that compared military physicians to Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor of Auschwitz, called DOJ lawyers "desk torturers" and suggested that the "abuses carried out by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib . . . could involve the President in the commission of war crimes."

Other incidents listed in the FOIA material included: a lawyer who was caught in the act of making a hand-drawn map of a detention camp's layout, including guard towers; a lawyer who sent a letter to his detainee client telling him that "we cannot depend on the military to do the right thing" and conveying his message of support to other detainees who were not his clients; lawyers who posted photos of Guantanamo security badges on the Internet; lawyers who provided news outlets with "interviews" of their clients using questions provided in advance by the news organization; and a lawyer who gave his client a list of all the detainees.

If the stated intent was to show that the government had singled out Paul, Weiss attorneys, the unstated purpose was to demonstrate something even more significant to the government's lawyers. They were outnumbered and outgunned. The Gitmo bar had grown to include some 400 lawyers from as many as 50 law firms that were subsidized by the millions of dollars earned from their paying corporate clients. They had the legal talent, the support of the international press and the judicial wind at their backs. They could bury the DOJ in paper. If one lawyer was taken out, she could be replaced by another.

...and say that these folks were mainly driven by the reactionary nature of modern liberalism and their hatred of George W. Bush, but at some point their behavior becomes objectively pro-terrorist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


What American Demographics Will Look Like in 2050 (Joel Kotkin 03/15/2010, New Geography)

Of course the percentage of childless women is rising here as elsewhere, but compared to other advanced countries, America still boasts the highest fertility rate: 50 percent higher than Russia, Germany or Japan, and well above that of China, Italy, Singapore, Korea and virtually all of eastern Europe.

As a result, while the U.S. population is growing, Europe and Japan are seeing their populations stagnate -- and are seemingly destined to eventually decline. Russia's population could be less than a third of the U.S. by 2050, driven down by low birth and high mortality rates. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of "the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

In East Asia, fertility is particularly low in highly crowded cities such as Tokyo, Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing and Seoul. And China's one-child policy -- and a growing surplus of males over females -- has set the stage for a rapidly aging population by mid-century. South Korea, meanwhile, has experienced arguably the fastest drop in fertility in world history, which perhaps explains its extraordinary, if scandal-plagued, interest in human cloning.

Even more remarkably, America will expand its population in the midst of a global demographic slowdown. Global population growth rates of 2 percent in the 1960s have dropped to less than half that rate today, and this downward trend is likely to continue -- falling to less than 0.8 percent by 2025 -- largely due to an unanticipated drop in birthrates in developing countries such as Mexico and Iran. These declines are in part the result of increased urbanization, the education of women and higher property prices. The world's population, according to some estimates, could peak as early as 2050 and begin to fall by the end of the century.

Population growth has very different effects on wealthy and poor nations. In the developing world, a slowdown of population growth can offer at least short-term economic and environmental benefits. But in advanced countries, a rapidly aging or decreasing population does not bode well for societal or economic health, whereas a growing one offers the hope of expanding markets, new workers and entrepreneurial innovation.

In fact, throughout history, low fertility and socioeconomic decline have been inextricably linked, creating a vicious cycle that affected such once-vibrant civilizations as ancient Rome and 17th-century Venice and that now affects contemporary Europe , Russia and Japan.

Within the next four decades, most of the developed countries in both Europe and East Asia will become veritable old-age homes: a third or more of their populations will be older than 65, compared with only a fifth in the U.S. By 2050, roughly 30 percent of China's population will be older than 60, according to the United Nations. The U.S. will have to cope with an aging population and lower population growth, in relative terms, but it will maintain a youthful, dynamic demographic.

As a certain fellow was wont to say: You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Chile's Solid Ground: The South American nation's recipe for withstanding natural disaster (Silvia Santacruz, 03.15.10, , Forbes)

[T]he devastating earthquake may strengthen Chile rather than demoralize it. "Tragedy and adversity, instead of getting us down, will fortify us," Piñera recently said. That attitude is echoed among Chileans, who in general reject pity and demand results. "The public does not ask for charity or gifts from the state, but expects the government to fulfill its fundamental roles: to ensure public order, provide connectivity in the country and make public institutions work," wrote Chilean economist Luis Larrain. The columnist criticized the government of outgoing president Michelle Bachelet as too slow in declaring a state of emergency in the nation's tsunami-hit cities.

Piñera, however, is poised for action. "Let's dry the tears and put hands to work," he pronounced, and his cabinet has already come up with some solutions. The new housing minister, for example, has vowed to build 300,000 pre-fabricated homes using developed world technology in the tsunami-hit coastal city of Concepción before the rainy season arrives. Concepción suffered 300 out of the 700 confirmed deaths, mostly because of botched tsunami-alert communication.

The earthquake and tsunami only modestly affected Chile's main industries. Fishing fleets, timber facilities and wineries' irrigation saw damage, but copper mines and ports were unaffected. Chile, the world's primary copper producer with 35% of global output, experienced no major damage to its open-pit mines or its two main ports of Antofagasta and Mejillones. A smaller-scale port, San Antonio, closed only temporarily. This explains why the mining minister is advocating a dependable strategy of relying on mining riches, boosting exploration investment using tax incentives and echoing Piñera's call to privatize a 20% stake in CODELCO, the state-owned copper company. Indeed, Chile was the only country in the region ranked in the top 10 of the Canada-based Fraser Institute's Policy Potential Index, a composite that measures the regulatory framework for mining exploration among 71 countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


Israeli envoy sees "historic crisis" with U.S.: report (Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, 3/15/10)

The comments attributed to envoy Michael Oren clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempts to play down tensions with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration over a West Bank settlement project threatening to derail the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975 ... a crisis of historic proportions," the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted Oren as telling other Israeli diplomats in a telephone briefing over the weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


Kirk ad spotlights 'Republican' (JONATHAN MARTIN, 3/15/10, Politico)

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is introducing himself to Illinois voters with a commercial for his Senate campaign that highlights his fiscal conservatism and naval service.

No surprise there.

But what is striking about Kirk's first spot in the Land of Lincoln's Senate contest is that he also uses another label for himself at the outset of the ad — "Republican."

To be exact, it's "independent-minded Republican," but that Kirk would openly tout his party label, even with a modifier, says much about what sort of election cycle the GOP believes 2010 is shaping up to be. There is no party registration in Illinois, but Republicans haven't won a federal race there since 1998 and they've suffered a string of double-digit losses in presidential contests.

...because even Scott Brown used Republican in his ads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


C-Span Puts Full Archives on the Web (BRIAN STELTER, 3/16/10, NY Times)

Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet.

The archives, at, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

If there's a better public institution I can't think of it off-hand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Iraq War Triumphalism Ignores a Key Matter: Dead Civilians (David Corn, 3/15/10, Politics Daily)

In the United States, debates about the war often cover the obvious costs: U.S. military casualties (4380), taxpayer money ($711 billion), and opportunities missed (Afghanistan). What often goes unmentioned is the high cost that was imposed upon the Iraqi people. Have you seen George W. Bush or Dick Cheney ever directly talk about the thousands who died and the millions who had to flee?

There's no precise number of the Iraqi civilians who lost their lives due to the war. In August 2008, a Congressional Research Service report surveyed the various estimates. It noted that a World Health Organization study covering the first three years of the war had placed the civilian death toll at 151,999. A Brookings Institution study put the number at 113,616 for the first five years. Whatever the figure, it's a lot...

Suppose that Mr. Coirn and his ilk had succeeeded in preserving the Saddam Hussein regime and kept sanctions in place instead: their own estimates of deaths from the santions prior to the war include:
* "probably ... 170,000 children", Project on Defense Alternatives, "The Wages of War", 20. October 2003[35]
* 350,000 excess deaths among children "even using conservative estimates", Slate Explainer, "Are 1 Million Children Dying in Iraq?", 9. October 2001.[36]
* "Richard Garfield, a Columbia University nursing professor ... cited the figures 345,000-530,000 for the entire 1990-2002 period"[37] from multiple causes including sanctions.[38]
* Iraqi Baathist government: 1.5 million.[21]
* Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark: 1.5 million (includes sanctions, bombs and other weapons, depleted uranium poisoning).[39]
* Iraqi Cultural Minister Hammadi: 1.7 million (includes sanctions, bombs and other weapons, depleted uranium poisoning) [40]
* Unicef: 500,000 children (including sanctions, collateral effects of war). "[As of 1999] [c]hildren under 5 years of age are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago."[16][41]
* Editor (then "associate editor and media columnist") Matt Welch,[42] Reason Magazine, 2002: "It seems awfully hard not to conclude that the embargo on Iraq has ... contributed to more than 100,000 deaths since 1990."[21][38]
* British Member of Parliament George Galloway: "a million Iraqis, most of them children."[43]

Add in the deaths from an additional 7 years of sanctions, not to mention the numbers Saddam himself would have killed, and we have numbers that dwarf the ones he frets above were caused by the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The medicalization of life: At both birth and death, the phrase "Do everything possible" is increasingly incompatible with a good life. (H. Gilbert Welch, March 15, 2010, LA Times)

Consider this. Two of the most common tests preformed on pregnant American women are obstetrical ultrasound and electronic fetal monitoring. After reviewing experimental studies involving more than 27,000 women, the Cochrane Review -- an independent, international collaboration that summarizes evidence for medical procedures -- found that routine late-pregnancy ultrasound "does not confer benefit on mother or baby."

But it does do a good job of scaring expectant parents. Among other things, it finds minor anatomical abnormalities (like "bright spots" in the heart or intestine) that have been associated with feared genetic disorders such as Down syndrome. Less than half of maternal-fetal medicine specialists reported using the test to screen for these disorders in 2001; now almost all do. The problem is that the minor anatomical abnormalities are about 30 times more common than the genetic disorders they have been associated with.

That means most parents who are told after an ultrasound that their child might have serious problems are told so needlessly. Not surprisingly, this leads to a lot of unnecessary heartache and extra testing. This has led one of the founders of the technology to write that its routine use has crossed the line and now causes "more harm than good." [...]

There is even more medical care at the end of life. Although most Americans say they would like to die at home, the most common place of death is still the hospital.

A hospital is not a peaceful place. The prevailing paradigm is intervention, not comfort. Nowhere is this more true than in intensive care units. They tend to be busy, noisy, frenetic and frightening places. There are lots of monitoring devices, which lead to lots of uncomfortable procedures. The ICU is not a good place to die.

Yet they are being used more and more for this purpose. Between 1995 and 2005, Dartmouth Atlas data show a 25% increase in the proportion of Medicare patients spending time in the ICU during their last six months of life. The average number of days spent in the ICU went up even more -- by 43%.

Furthermore, a startling number of doctors can be involved with care at the end of life. A third of Medicare patients cared for by "America's Best Hospitals" (as designated by U.S. News & World Report) were seen by 10 or more physicians during their last six months of life. That's right, 10 or more. It's hard to imagine how that can ever be good. These may be our best hospitals, but they are certainly not our best deaths.'s just another consumer good, but one where we aren't forced to shop, like consumers should.

March 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM

MATTHEW 10:36:

Harry 'Breaker' Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton's pardon petition to be examined in Parliament committee (AAP, March 15, 2010)

A PARLIAMENTARY committee will today consider a petition calling for a crown pardon for Breaker Morant and two other Australian soldiers court-martialled during the Boer War more than 100 years ago.

The vexed question is to be considered at a public hearing of the House of Representatives petitions committee later today.

The film is great.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Technicians can't replicate runaway Prius (Elliot Spagat and Ken Thomas, 3/14/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Investigators with Toyota Motor Corp. and the federal government could not replicate the runaway speeding reported by a Prius owner who said his car's accelerator stuck as he drove on a California freeway, according to a memo drafted for a congressional panel.

The memo, obtained Saturday by the Associated Press, said the experts who examined and test-drove the car could not replicate the sudden, unintended acceleration James Sikes said he encountered. A backup mechanism that shuts off the engine when the brake and gas pedals are floored also worked properly during tests.

Toyota needs to at least sue him, if not push for criminal charges to be brought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Ohio job climate even worse than we thought (MATT A. MAYER, 3/14/10, Toledo Blade)

One reason for Ohio's weak job market is its pro-union policies. The 28 states that force workers to join a union had average increases in jobs from 1990 until now of 16 percent, or less than 1 percent per year. The 22 states that protect a worker's economic freedom had average increases in jobs of 36 percent, more than twice the rate of pro-union states.

The 15 states with the worst job growth over the past two decades are pro-union states, including Ohio. By contrast, 10 of the 15 states with the strongest and most sustainable job growth are right-to-work states. Since 1999, 20 companies have moved from Ohio to Georgia - three in the past eight months. Ohio just can't compete.

As the private sector has shrunk since 1990, government employment in Ohio has grown by 9.4 percent, to 789,100 workers. Government budgets also accelerated at a pace far in excess of inflation, driven in part by gold-plated compensation packages for government employees.

In 2008, federal workers made significantly more than their private-sector counterparts in all but one of Ohio's 88 counties. State workers made much more than their private-sector neighbors in 85 counties.

Local government workers made more than their private-sector neighbors in 57 counties. Those government workers also have better and cheaper health care, enjoy job security, and can retire early on pensions that are disconnected from economic reality.

As a stunning point of reference: In 2003, 288 state workers made more than $100,000. They grossed $36.2 million and would require an aggregate pension payout of more than $430 million. Just five years later, the number of state workers making more than $100,000 increased by 514 percent, to 1,767. Their aggregate gross pay skyrocketed to more than $205 million. And the pension pay for just these workers would explode to $2.4 billion.

Such government costs make Ohio's overall tax burden among the most oppressive in America. Ohio's state and local tax burden is seventh highest in the United States - a significant jump from its No. 29 ranking in 1990. Our business-tax climate is the 47th worst. Our economic outlook is ranked 45th.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Dem House vote-counter lacks health care votes now (Libby Quaid, 3/14/10, AP)

The House's chief Democratic headcounter said Sunday he hadn't rounded up enough votes to pass President Barack Obama's health care overhaul heading into a make-or-break week, even as the White House's top political adviser said he was "absolutely confident" in its prospects.

The administration gave signs of retreating on its demands that senators jettison special home-state deals sought by individual lawmakers that have angered the public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


After the Earthquake, a Military Chile Can Love Again (LARRY ROHTER, 3/12/10, NY Times)

In January, Chile became the first South American country to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, also known as “the rich countries club.” But that opportunity to project an image of modernity and prosperity was undermined last week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting Santiago, handed out 25 satellite phones, including one to Ms. Bachelet.

“Chile wanted to be compared to Japan, not Haiti,” Mr. Navia said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


UN climate change claims on rainforests were wrong, study suggests (Richard Gray, 3/13/10, Daily Telegraph)

A new study, funded by Nasa, has found that the most serious drought in the Amazon for more than a century had little impact on the rainforest's vegetation.

The findings appear to disprove claims by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could react drastically to even a small reduction in rainfall and could see the trees replaced by tropical grassland.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


In Israel, business takes the lead: Market reforms and a high-tech push have boosted business in Israel, reducing the role of government. (Stefan Karlsson, 3/14/10, CS Monitor)

[I]srael's economy has boomed since 2003. Between 2003 and 2009, GDP growth averaged 4% per year, far more than in just about all other Western economies. Even if you adjust for Israel's high population growth, per capita GDP growth was a impressive (Since it includes the crisis years of 2008 and 2009) 2.2%.

Because of the boom, the reduced need for military spending and a deliberate policy of reducing the role of government, government spending has dropped significantly as relative to the size of the economy. Between 2003 and 2009, government consumption fell from 27.8% of GDP to 24.2%. Military spending in particular fell, from 8.6% of GDP in 2003 to 6.5% in 2009, but non-military government consumption also fell, from 19.2% to 17.7%.

Government spending and tax rates are now lower than in most Western European countries, even including military spending, and even more so excluding it. And after the Bush tax cuts expire next year, the top income tax rate (at 45%, scheduled to be reduced to 44% in 2012 and 39% in 2016) will be lower than in many American states, including California and New York. And the corporate income tax rate will be lower than in all American states.

The benefits of Bibi having been in DC during the Reagan era.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Does Barack Obama give a damn about us? (Christina Lamb, 3/14/10, Times of London)

The British feel particularly miffed. Within days of becoming president, Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. This, followed by Obama’s odd choice of gift to Brown — a box of DVDs including Psycho and Toy Story — prompted speculation of something deeper. In his memoir, Obama writes of how his grandfather was beaten by British troops in colonial Kenya.

A senior official from No 10, who was in Washington in December for Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan, was horrified that the president did not once mention Britain in the 45-minute address despite the presence there of 10,000 British troops.

British diplomats recently complained to the State Department over the handling of the Falklands dispute with Argentina. Although the US position of neutrality has not changed, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, endorsed the Argentine president’s call for talks on sovereignty while visiting Buenos Aires. A State Department spokesman responded to a question about the Falklands by saying: “Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it.”

“President Obama seems hugely indifferent to America’s closest ally,” said Nile Gardiner, who runs the Washington-based Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom and recently compiled a list of Obama’s top 10 insults against Britain. “I think the special relationship is at its lowest point since Suez in 1956.”

London is not alone in feeling snubbed. In July last year Obama received an open letter from 22 prominent central and eastern Europeans, including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, expressing their concern over his policy of wooing Russia.

He managed to offend Poland and the Czech Republic with his clumsy handling of the scrapping of missile defence agreements last September. The announcement, partly to appease Russia, came on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

At the Copenhagen summit on climate change, European leaders expected to have a big say, having led the way on environmental legislation. Instead they were left out of the room while Obama cut a deal with China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

The most recent recipients of the Obama brush-off were the Spanish, who were curtly informed that Obama would not be attending the annual European Union-US summit in Madrid in May, something Bush did. When Jose Luis Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, came to Washington after the cancellation, he was not even granted a private meeting with the president or vice-president. His only encounter with Obama was at the national prayer breakfast, an event attended by thousands.

What is unclear is whether these issues were mishandled or whether Obama really does not care about Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Man Versus Afghanistan: Divided by geography, cursed by corruption, stunted by poverty, staggered by a growing insurgency—Afghanistan seems beyond salvation. Is it? From Somalia and the Balkans to Iraq, the U.S. military has been embroiled in conflicts that reflect an age-old debate: Can individual agency triumph over deep-seated historical, cultural, ethnic, and economic forces? Drawing on his experiences in Iraq, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has his own answer to that question. (Robert D. Kaplan, April 2010, The Atlantic)

“Look, this isn’t easy,” he sighed. “Afghanistan for years got worse and worse, and the coalition sometimes lagged behind the reality of the situation.” Because the country is so decentralized, he explained, it is extraordinarily complex, with a different tribal and sectarian reality in each district. But then he ticked off ways the war could be won. “The insurgency is only fundamentally effective in the Pashtun belt. The critical part of the population is where the water and the roads are. People near water are more important economically: along the Helmand and Kabul rivers. You secure these areas, and you take the oxygen out of the insurgency.” [...]

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has repeatedly employed its military, wisely and unwisely, as a weapon against fate and inevitability. In that capacity, the military has become the principal protagonist in an intellectual debate, raging since antiquity, that pits individual moral responsibility against determinism—the belief that historical, cultural, ethnic, economic, and other antecedent forces determine the future of men and nations. McChrystal, the commander of American and NATO troops in an Afghanistan that is tottering on the edge of chaos, is both the supreme and most recent symbol of that struggle.

The ur-text for a philosophical discussion of the role of the U.S. military in the post–Cold War era is Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 Oxford lecture, “Historical Inevitability,” in which he condemns as immoral and cowardly the belief that vast impersonal forces such as geography, environment, and ethnic characteristics determine the direction of world politics. Berlin reproaches Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon for seeing “nations” and “civilizations” as “more concrete” than the individuals who embody them, and for seeing abstractions like “tradition” and “history” as “wiser than we.”

In the 1990s, the Balkans were a classic case of setting determinists and realists, who were dissuaded from military intervention because of Yugoslavia’s often bloody history and its questionable strategic importance, against liberal internationalists and neoconservatives, who favored intervention because they opposed giving Yugoslavia up to fate, especially in light of the Holocaust. My own book, Balkan Ghosts, was attacked as deterministic, and was misused as an argument against intervention in 1993, when it first appeared, even as I supported intervention in print and on television. The fact that I wrote a book about a bloody ethnic history and favored intervention was no contradiction: only the most difficult human landscapes require intervention in the first place, and when one does intervene militarily, one should always do so without illusions. Winston Churchill’s geographical and cultural portrait of Sudan in The River War (1899), which was next on McChrystal’s reading list when I saw him, is full of determinism, yet Churchill nevertheless favored intervention there.

The Balkan interventions, however belated, stopped the ethnic cleansing, did not lead to military quagmires, paid strategic dividends, and in so doing appeared to justify the idealistic approach to foreign policy. Indeed, the 1995 humanitarian intervention in Bosnia changed the debate from “Should NATO exist?” to “Should NATO expand?” Our 1999 war in Kosovo, as much as the attacks of September 11, 2001, allowed for the expansion of NATO to the Black Sea. It also led to the toppling of the Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milošević. In the aftermath, realists and determinists seemed vanquished; to be called either one back then was practically an insult.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, to which I subscribed, had Balkan antecedents. In fact, some intellectuals agitating for intervention in the Balkans had earlier railed against President George H. W. Bush for not sending U.S. troops the extra few hundred kilometers to Baghdad in 1991 to depose Saddam Hussein. For those Gulf War idealists, finishing the job in Iraq against a regime that had killed, directly and indirectly, several times more people than would Milošević’s, was in keeping with the Balkan passions of the era. In 2003, the idea of regime change in Iraq appealed to those willing to do anything to defeat the deterministic forces of geography and ethnic and sectarian differences, and to those who thought that the American military power evident in the Balkans, particularly air power, had rendered such forces moot, paving the way for universalist ideas to triumph over terrain and history.

So what began in the mid-1990s with a limited, American-dominated air-and-land campaign in the western, most-developed part of the former Ottoman Empire led less than a decade later to a mass infantry invasion in its eastern, least-developed part. In March 2004, I found myself in Camp Udairi, in the midst of the Kuwaiti desert. I had embedded with a Marine battalion that, along with the rest of the First Marine Division, was about to begin the overland journey to Baghdad and western Iraq, replacing the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division there. Lines of seven-ton trucks and Humvees stretched across the horizon, all headed north. A sandstorm had erupted. An icy wind was blowing. Rain threatened. Vehicles broke down. And we hadn’t even begun the several-hundred-kilometer journey to Baghdad that, a few short years earlier, had been dismissed as easy to accomplish by those who thought of toppling Saddam Hussein as merely an extension of toppling Slobodan Milošević. In that environment, only a fool would suggest that deterministic elements like geography no longer mattered.

And on February 22, 2006, when Sunni alQaeda extremists blew up the Shiite alAskari Mosque at Samarra and unleashed a fury of intercommunal atrocities, American troops seemed powerless before primordial hatreds. The myth of an omnipotent U.S. military—born in the Gulf War, battered in Somalia, then repaired and burnished in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo—was for the moment undone, along with the idealism that went with it. Ethnic and sectarian differences in far-off corners of the world, seen in the 1990s as obstacles that good men should strive to overcome, now loomed as factors that should have warned us away from military action.

The debate does not end there. In late 2006 and early 2007, as Iraq was crumbling and ethnic atrocities reached Balkan dimensions and threatened to rise to those of Rwanda, much of the Washington establishment, especially the realists, called for scaling back or withdrawing our military mission. President George W. Bush did the opposite. He did not succumb to fate.

The fundamental question in Iraq immediately after the war was whether the Sunni could accept their minority status in a new regime. When they balked it was necessary for first the Shi'a--of Moqtada al-Sadr and others--to demonstrate their willingness to settle the issue violently and then for us to work with tribal leaders as they bowed to the new reality. The fundamental question in Afghanistan/Pakistan is somewhat different, because a separate Pashtun state could be coherent--geographically, politically, etc. Where the Sunni of Iraq had to be forced to submit to the fact of an independent Kurdistan and an Iraq dominated by the Shi'a, there's no reason the reality of Afpak ought not be devolution into a series of smaller ethnically-organized states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Manny Pacquiao: The Fight of His Life: Boxer goes for his greatest win yet — congressman (Gendy Alimurung, Mar 11 2010, LA Weekly)

He was dirt. The floor of his house was made of dirt. The walls were thatched. His entire family of seven squatted in the house, small as a prison cell, sleeping on cardboard boxes. There is no deprivation like Third World deprivation. "They were invisible," says Winchell Campos, who is writing the boxer's biography. "They would die and nobody would care."

Pacquiao dropped out of elementary school to sell doughnuts, ice water and fish he caught from the sea. One day in 1990, watching television, he saw the invincible Mike Tyson fall to James "Buster" Douglas, and fell in love with boxing. The underdog can win, he learned. He punched a rubber flip-flop tied around the trunk of a palm tree. He imagined himself a champion. He was 11 years old.

At 14, he ran away from home, from sleepy General Santos City in the lawless southern tip of the Philippines, a rusty, run-down town lost in time. He stowed away on a ship bound for the megacity Manila. Before boxing training in the afternoon, he welded steel at a factory, then used his weekly pay to buy flowers, which he would sell on the streets for twice the price. At 16, he turned pro, a gangly 106 pounds. He fought like a mad dog, wild and out of control.

How does it start, this decade's most captivating sports winning streak? When the student is ready, they say, the master will appear. It is 2001. Pacquiao is 22 years old, on his first trip to America, working his way West from the East Coast, going from gym to gym in search of a trainer. Everyone turns him down. He is too small, they say. There is no money in the lower weight divisions. Boxing is obsessed with giants, with Tyson and Evander Holyfield, heavyweights who lumber around the ring like ogres. Pacquiao climbs the stairs to the scruffy Wild Card, his second-to-last stop before heading home in defeat.

He works one round of mitts with coach Freddie Roach, who has always believed the little guys make better fighters. Roach once fought as a little guy, too, long before the Parkinson's set in, before the Botox injections to the neck, before the daily pills and discussions of brain surgery. "Usually it takes time to get to know somebody because timing is a little bit different, a little awkward," the coach recalls. "But me and him, it was like we'd been doing it our whole lives." In that instant, Roach found his ideal student. Pacquiao, his "master of boxing." [...]

In some ways, the only way to understand 31-year-old Pacquiao is by the numbers.

The number of crunches he does in one day: 1,400.

The number of calories he eats in one day: 7,000.

The number of calories he burns: upward of 5,000.

The number of hours he sleeps at night: He tries to hit eight (with a midday nap) but sometimes misses. "Sometimes he can't sleep. He's got a lot on his mind," says conditioning coach Alex Ariza.

The number of days he gets off a week: one.

Sunday, the Lord's day, is the only day Pacquiao rests.

Even as he has gone up in weight to his current 147 pounds, the PacMan has lost none of his speed. "Manny is high-intensity," says Ariza. "We have to slow him down as it is."

Pacquiao wakes up at the crack of dawn, then runs four miles in Griffith Park, all of them uphill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The Ron Paul Delusion: Why the Texas congressman does not represent the future of conservatism (David Harsanyi | February 24, 2010, reason)

Let's, for a moment, forget Paul (and how I wish this could be a permanent condition, considering the congressman is neither a serious politician nor—and I can't stress this enough—a serious thinker).

Libertarianism offers conservatives—many of them new to political activism—an earnest ideological alternative to the process-heavy politics that dominate Washington.

It allows Republicans to cleanse themselves of the GOP's failure to deliver on promises of smaller government and fiscal restraint.

None of which is new. The 1964 Barry Goldwater would be considered a libertarian today by many measures. The National Review constructed a "fusionist" effort to bring the parties together. Ronald Reagan explained to Reason magazine back in 1975 that "the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."

Two sticking points preventing this fling from turning into something more serious have been social issues and war. Has anything changed to alter the dynamics of the relationship? Probably not.

March 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


White House Weighs Talks With Taliban After Afghan Successes (HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, March 12, 2010, NY Times)

“It is now more a question of ‘when’ than a question of ‘if,’ ” the administration official said, when asked about the idea of reconciliation talks with senior Taliban officials.

Another official, who like the senior administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because internal administration discussions were still at an early stage, said, “There’s been a lot of energy applied to the reconciliation issue in the last few weeks.”

But both officials added that, for now, there are no plans for reaching out soon to high-ranking Taliban leaders. That effort, they said, is likely to wait until after the United States takes on Taliban insurgents in Kandahar in what is expected to be the next major military offensive in Afghanistan.

The operation in Kandahar, the spiritual heart of the Taliban, is expected to be far more difficult than the recent offensive in Marja.

“Urban warfare is a lot more complicated than when you’re going into a hamlet like Marja,” said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress. “The real test is Kandahar.”

Or not, How to Take Baghdad (DARYL G. PRESS, 3/26/03, NY Times)
Urban assaults are hardest in cities with many tall buildings — the taller the structures, the more places for snipers to hide. Tanks, which provide essential fire-support in urban areas, cannot shoot high targets because their main gun barrels do not elevate enough. However, Baghdad has few buildings that rise above three stories.

Narrow streets make some cities more difficult to assault. Simply disabling the lead and rear vehicles of a convoy can trap the entire column, setting it up for an ambush. When a Russian armored column got caught in the narrow streets of Grozny in 1994, 122 of 146 armored vehicles were destroyed. The Americans had similar problems in Mogadishu; roadblocks in the tight streets hampered the movement of American convoys, delaying the rescue of United States forces. The old city in Baghdad does have narrow roads, but most of the city, especially the parts around many of Mr. Hussein's compounds, is crisscrossed with wide boulevards that would be harder to block.

In addition, coalition ground forces will benefit from superior equipment. It is true that urban terrain erases some of the coalition's technological advantages — for example, because buildings interrupt lines of sight, there aren't many long-range shots for United States forces to take using highly accurate sensors and weapons. But the technological playing field will be anything but level. Night vision goggles and night scopes are widely distributed among American and British infantry; some Iraqi troops have night vision equipment, but most will be blind in the dark.

Coalition forces have other material advantages: American and British infantry will use sophisticated wall-breaching explosives to enter some buildings without using doors and windows. By breaking through walls from one building to the next, they'll be able to surprise the enemy and stay out of the street. Finally, attack planes, helicopters and tanks will be used in close coordination with coalition infantry to destroy difficult defensive positions.

There are other ways in which an urban assault against Baghdad would play to Iraqi military weaknesses and coalition strengths. In urban fighting, small combat units are often isolated; for example, infantry squads fighting within a building often cannot communicate well with other friendly forces. Urban combat therefore requires junior officers to take initiative and to solve tactical problems on their own.

While the United States and Britain encourage junior officers to think on their feet, the Iraqi military trains its officers simply to execute orders. Independent problem-solving is not encouraged. The result is that Iraq's army is better suited for well-scripted maneuvers (like the invasion of Kuwait) than for the chaos and confusion of city fighting. This helps to explain Iraq's poor performance defending Basra in the Iran-Iraq war.

Recent history suggests that well-equipped armies, especially if their soldiers are taught to exercise initiative, can seize urban areas at surprisingly low cost. In 1967, Israeli soldiers defeated the approximately 6,000 Jordanian troops who held East Jerusalem; 200 Israelis were killed. The following year, American marines fought roughly 4,000 North Vietnamese soldiers south of the Perfume River as part of the battle to retake the city of Hue; 38 marines died in the fighting. And in 1989 the United States Army fought against approximately 5,000 Panamanian Defense Forces for control of Panama City; 23 Americans were killed in action.

The fatality ratios are especially revealing. In Jerusalem the Israelis lost three men for every 100 Jordanians deployed to defend the city; in Hue the ratio was one marine for every 100 enemy soldiers killed, wounded, captured or driven away. In Panama the fatality ratio was half that suffered by the marines at Hue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Tea Party Avoids Divisive Social Issues (KATE ZERNIKE, March 12, 2010, NY Times)

The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, a large coalition of groups, is “fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The Independence Caucus questionnaire, which many Tea Party groups use to evaluate candidates, poses 80 questions, most on the proper role of government, tax policy and the federal budgeting process, and virtually none on social issues.

The Contract From America, which is being created Wiki-style by Internet contributors as a manifesto of what “the people” want government to do, also mentions little in the way of social issues, beyond a declaration that parents should be given choice in how to educate their children. By contrast, the document it aims to improve upon — the Contract With America, which Republicans used to market their successful campaign to win a majority in Congress in 1994 — was prefaced with the promise that the party would lead a Congress that “respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”

Tea Party leaders argue that the country can ill afford the discussion about social issues when it is passing on enormous debts to future generations.

Elevating the national ledger above the country's soul is why it's so hard to tell our materialists from theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


Findings on Lehman Take Even Experts by Surprise (MICHAEL J. de la MERCED, March 12, 2010, NY Times)

Whether the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission will actually pursue their own legal actions is unclear. But legal experts said on Friday that the examiner, Anton R. Valukas, had provided plenty of material for civil regulatory action at the least with his findings of “materially misleading” accounting and “actionable balance sheet manipulation.”

“It’s certainly not helpful to any of them,” Michael J. Missal, a partner at the law firm K&L Gates and the examiner in the bankruptcy case of New Century Financial, said of some individuals accused of impropriety in the report. “It certainly assists private litigants and probably increases the pressure on the government to take some kind of action here.”

Representatives for the S.E.C. and the United States attorneys offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn declined to comment.

While Mr. Fuld and other former top Lehman officials are already defendants in a number of civil lawsuits, the new discoveries by Mr. Valukas have taken even veteran observers by surprise. Chief among these was the revelation of a particularly aggressive accounting practice, known internally as Repo 105, that Mr. Valukas said helped the investment bank mask the true depths of its financial woes. [...]

Mr. Valukas’s findings have stirred loud discussion among legal and accounting experts over the ways Lehman sought to improve its quarterly results months before it collapsed.

Over hundreds of pages, Mr. Valukas details the genesis of and the process behind Repo 105. Based on standard repurchase agreements — short-term loans commonly used by many firms for daily financing needs, in which borrowers temporarily exchange assets in return for cash up front — Lehman took a particularly aggressive accounting approach to these transactions.

Here, the investment bank used repos to temporarily park assets off its books to make its end-of-quarter debt levels look better than they did — while calling them sales instead of loans.

The accounting tactic, first used by Lehman in 2001, had one catch, according to Mr. Valukas: no American law firm would sign off on its use.

Enter Linklaters, a highly respected British law firm that gave Lehman the answer it wanted.

...doesn't Mr. Valukas realize it was all the fault of the "undeserving" poor and their Democrat enablers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Patchwork Pension Plan Adds to Greek Debt Woes (Landon Thomas Jr., 3/12/10, The New York Times)

Vasia Veremi may be only 28, but as a hairdresser in Athens, she is keenly aware that, under a current law that treats her job as hazardous to her health, she has the right to retire with a full pension at age 50.

“I use a hundred different chemicals every day — dyes, ammonia, you name it,” she said. “You think there’s no risk in that?”

“People should be able to retire at a decent age,” Ms. Veremi added. “We are not made to live 150 years.”

Perhaps not, but it is still difficult to explain to outsiders why the Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men.

Greece’s patchwork system of early retirement has contributed to the out-of-control state spending that has led to Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Detroit wants to save itself by shrinking (The Associated Press, 09 Mar 2010)

Now, a city of nearly 2 million in the 1950s has declined to less than half that number. On some blocks, only one or two occupied houses remain, surrounded by trash-strewn lots and vacant, burned-out homes. Scavengers have stripped anything of value from empty buildings. According to one recent estimate, Detroit has 33,500 empty houses and 91,000 vacant residential lots.

Several other declining industrial cities, such as Youngstown, Ohio, have also accepted downsizing. Since 2005, Youngstown has been tearing down a few hundred houses a year. But Detroit's plans dwarf that effort. The approximately 40 square miles (103 sq. kilometers) of vacant property in Detroit is larger than the entire city of Youngstown.

Faced with a $300 million budget deficit and a dwindling tax base, Bing argues that the city can't continue to pay for police patrols, fire protection and other services for all areas.

The current plan would demolish about 10,000 houses and empty buildings in three years and pump new investment into stronger neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods that would be cleared, the city would offer to relocate residents or buy them out. The city could use tax foreclosure to claim abandoned property and invoke eminent domain for those who refuse to leave, much as cities now do for highway projects.

The mayor has begun lobbying Washington for support, and in January Detroit was awarded $40.8 million for renewal work. The federally funded Detroit Housing Commission supports Bing's plan.

"It takes a true partnership, because we don't want to invest in a neighborhood that the city is not going to invest in," said Eugene E. Jones, executive director of the commission.

It is not known who might get the cleared land, but with prospects for recruiting industry slim, planners are considering agricultural uses. The city might offer larger tracts for sale or lease, or turn over smaller pieces to community organizations to use.

Maggie DeSantis, a board member of Community Development Advocates of Detroit, said she worries that shutting down neighborhoods without having new uses ready is a "recipe for disaster" that will invite crime and illegal dumping. The group recently proposed such things as the creation of suburban-style neighborhoods and nature parks.

Friend Kurt Brouwer has some thoughts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Climategate Was an Academic Disaster Waiting to Happen (Peter Berkowitz, 3/13/10, WSJ)

The real reasons for releasing students from rigorous departmental requirements and fixed core courses are quite different. One is that professors prefer to teach boutique classes focusing on their narrow areas of specialization. In addition, they believe that dropping requirements will lure more students to their departments, which translates into more faculty slots for like-minded colleagues. By far, though, the most important reason is that faculty generally reject the common sense idea that there is a basic body of knowledge that all students should learn. This is consistent with the popular campus dogma that all morals and cultures are relative and that objective knowledge is impossible.

The deplorable but predictable result is that professors constantly call upon students to engage in discussions and write papers in the absence of fundamental background knowledge. Good students quickly absorb the curriculum's unwritten lesson—cutting corners and vigorously pressing strong but unsubstantiated opinions is the path to intellectual achievement.

The production of scholarship also fosters intellectual vice. Take the peer review process, which because of its supposed impartiality and objectivity is intended to distinguish the work of scholars from that of journalists and commercial authors.

Academic journals typically adopt a double blind system, concealing the names of both authors and reviewers. But any competent scholar can determine an article's approach or analytical framework within the first few paragraphs. Scholars are likely to have colleagues and graduate students they support and whose careers they wish to advance. A few may even have colleagues whose careers, along with those of their graduate students, they would like to tarnish or destroy. There is no check to prevent them from benefiting their friends by providing preferential treatment for their orientation and similarly punishing their enemies.

That's because the peer review process violates a fundamental principle of fairness. We don't allow judges to be parties to a controversy they are adjudicating, and don't permit athletes to umpire games in which they are playing. In both cases the concern is that their interest in the outcome will bias their judgment and corrupt their integrity. So why should we expect scholars, especially operating under the cloak of anonymity, to fairly and honorably evaluate the work of allies and rivals?

Even if objective knowledge were possible, it could not be derived from such subjective sources.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


From Death Valley to Kandahar: Canadian soldiers train in California desert to gear up for summer offensive in Afghanistan (Teri Pecoskie, 3/13/10, Toronto Star)

FORT IRWIN, Calif.–Cpl. Robin Golby squats in the desert behind an armoured vehicle and takes a deep drag on a Marlboro.

The 1 Royal Canadian Regiment soldier is surrounded by a barren landscape dotted with rocks, cactus and Joshua trees. Balls of tumbleweed roll by.

Squinting through waves of 30-degree heat, he can barely make out a cluster of buildings in the distance, framed by the mountains of the Mojave Desert, just south of Death Valley.

Though he can't see them, Golby knows people dressed in bright Afghan costumes are in the makeshift village, chatting in Pashtu and Dari.

"I could be there," Golby says, taking in his surroundings and recalling his tour in Kandahar last year. "It looks just like it."

The Other Brother was stationed there, though we're old enough that he was imitating the USSR for training exercises.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Obama's Trade Trouble: The only way to make America competitive is to adopt policies that are anathema to congressional Democrats. (Irwin M. Stelzer, March 13, 2010, Weekly Standard)

If the president is serious about using exports to spur growth he will have to do a lot more than set up inter-agency task forces and advisory committees. First, he will have to get Congress to approve several trade deals that are before it, and which promise new jobs, although not necessarily for trade union members. So the unions are saying “no,” and Democratic congressmen, with an election now only eight months away, need the unions to provide campaign funds and doorstep campaigners. Obama won’t find many free-trade advocates among his congressional allies.

Second, he will have to settle several trade disputes, especially one with Mexico, a market that absorbed $129 billion in U.S. exports last year. In response to trade union pressure, Congress cancelled a pilot program, developed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that allowed Mexican trucks to travel more freely into the U.S. In retaliation, Mexico imposed $2.4 billion in tariffs on a variety of U.S. goods, resulting in the loss of $2.6 billion in exports and 25,000 jobs, according to business groups that are urging the president to pressure congress to ignore the Teamsters’ union and again allow Mexican trucks freer cross-border access.

Then there is Brazil, which last year persuaded the World Trade Organization that U.S. government subsidies and loan guarantees to cotton growers violated WTO rules, a ruling that allows Brazil to impose $560 million in retaliatory tariffs on cotton goods, beauty products, appliances and autos. More important, Brazil is free to impose other penalties, most notably breaking patents in the media, pharmaceutical and other technology industries. Unless American negotiators can get this issue resolved, continued subsidies to a few inefficient American agribusinesses will in effect throw thousands of American workers into the ranks of the unemployed. Negotiations are ongoing, but the Brazilian authorities are in no mood to bow to U.S. wishes. Witness their recent refusal to accede to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s plea to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions on Iran. It is one thing to be unable to persuade China to go along with us on an important foreign policy issue, quite another to be turned down by a middling power such as Brazil. [...]

Several countries note that Congress refuses to ratify trade agreements that have been sitting in its in-box for over a year, and that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk doubts that progress will be made on the Doha trade-opening round anytime soon, given congressional fears of unleashing a flood of job-destroying imports. Not exactly harbingers of a new era of free trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Odds are, it's wrong: Science fails to face the shortcomings of statistics (Tom Siegfried, March 27th, 2010, Science News)

For better or for worse, science has long been married to mathematics. Generally it has been for the better. Especially since the days of Galileo and Newton, math has nurtured science. Rigorous mathematical methods have secured science’s fidelity to fact and conferred a timeless reliability to its findings.

During the past century, though, a mutant form of math has deflected science’s heart from the modes of calculation that had long served so faithfully. Science was seduced by statistics, the math rooted in the same principles that guarantee profits for Las Vegas casinos. Supposedly, the proper use of statistics makes relying on scientific results a safe bet. But in practice, widespread misuse of statistical methods makes science more like a crapshoot.

It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The “scientific method” of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Giannoulias family bank linked to fraud suspects (Charles Thomas, March 12, 2010, WLS)

Broadway Bank, owned by U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias' family, was defrauded in an alleged check-kiting scheme by the owners of a popular Chicago restaurant, Boston Blackies.

Nick Giannis and his son, Chris, are charged with stealing nearly $2 million. [...]

Thirty-eight year-old suspects Chris Giannis and Andy Bakopoulos were picked up in Chicago while Blackies founder 62-year-old Nick Giannis was detained in Detroit allegedly trying to leave the country.

Giannoulias reportedly has known the elder Giannis and son for decades. Not only has Nick Giannis donated $119,000 to Giannoulias' campaigns for treasurer and the U.S. Senate, the Giannoulias family's troubled Broadway Bank has made business loans to the Boston Blackies chain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Consumer Spending Perks Up Economy (CONOR DOUGHERTY And ELIZABETH HOLMES, 3/12/10, WSJ)

A string of surprisingly strong corporate earnings reports and economic data show that U.S. consumers have emerged from a long hibernation to start spending again on everything from new TVs and restaurant meals to spring outfits.

The Commerce Department on Friday reported that retail sales increased a seasonally-adjusted 0.3% in February from a month earlier, despite winter storms across a large swath of the country that analysts thought would keep shoppers home bound. Retail sales excluding the volatile auto sales increased 0.8%. Compared with a year ago, sales rose about 4%.

March 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax (Michael Fumento, 3/12/10, Forbes Online)

Where to begin?

Well, the patrol car didn’t slow down the Prius; the bumpers never touched. The officers used a loudspeaker to tell Sikes to use the brakes and emergency brake together. He did; the car slowed to about 55 mph. Sikes turned off the engine and coasted to a halt. He stopped the car on his own.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the transmission or the Prius engine button either.

Over a 23-minute period the 911 dispatcher repeatedly pleaded with Sikes to shift into neutral. He simply refused and then essentially stopped talking to her except to say that he thought he could smell his brakes burning.

The 2008 Prius has its gear box mounted expressly to allow the shift to be flicked while keeping both hands on the wheel. There’s not an easier shifter made.

"I thought about" shifting into neutral, Sikes said at a televised press conference the day after the incident. But "I had never played with this kind of a transmission, especially when you’re driving and I was actually afraid to do that." Sikes, who has driven the car for two years, also said "I figured if I knocked it over [the gear knob] the car might flip."

He told CNN, "I was afraid to try to [reach] over there and put it in neutral. I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands—94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast." Yet for much of the ride he had a phone in one hand. And this is especially interesting: Most gear shifts are on the console, requiring the hand to drop to shift. But, as this image shows, in the 2008 Prius it’s located on the dash within inches of the steering wheel precisely to allow shifting without the hand leaving the wheel. I sat in one and did it easily. Another unique feature of the shift is that it’s amazingly simple, with only forward, reverse, neutral and "B." The express purpose of "B" is to slow the car while preserving the brakes, as in a steep descent. Sikes actually could have shifted into two different gears.

Moreover, why would Sikes describe shifting gears as somehow "playing with the transmission." And apparently he’s never shifted while the vehicle was moving and thought somehow a gear shift could flip his car.

The dispatcher also pleaded with him repeatedly to hit the ignition button. Again, he says he was simply afraid to. [...]

Now here’s the potential smoking gun: Sikes told the reporters that "I was reaching down and trying to pull up on the gas pedal. It didn’t move at all; it was stationary." That’s awfully daring for somebody who insisted he didn’t even want to take a hand off his steering wheel, notwithstanding that he did so to hold his phone.

I tried to imitate Sikes’ alleged effort in a 2008 Prius. From the front bottom of the steering wheel to the front bottom of the accelerator in up position it’s 28.5 inches; while fully deployed it’s 2.5 inches farther away. I have average-length arms (33-inch shirt sleeve) and no gut. But even though the steering wheel was as flush to the dashboard as it goes, it prevented me from all but touching the accelerator in the up position.

To reach behind a deployed accelerator and get any kind of a grip you’d have to add at least three more inches. In my case, it required squashing my face against the radio and completely removing my eyes from the road. Only the tallest men could physically do what Sikes claimed he did and no press accounts refer his being exceptionally tall. But to settle this issue (albeit not the others), Sikes would simply have to sit in his Prius and show he could reach behind the pedal while it was fully depressed. Why has nobody asked him to do so? Moreover, even for an orangutan it would be an incredibly awkward move for somebody afraid to pop a car into neutral or hit the ignition button.

So why did he do it? Sleuth work at the Web sites and reveals that Sikes and his wife Patty in 2008 filed for bankruptcy and are over $700,000 in debt. Among their creditors is Toyota Financial Services for a lease on a 2008 Toyota Prius, with value at time of bankruptcy of $20,494. The Jalopnik Web site shows a copy of Toyota’s secured claims form, though when Jalopnik questioned Sikes by e-mail he denied being behind on his Prius payments.

Sikes also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items that are slowly coming to light. In 2001 he filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a prosumer mini-DV camera and gear, and $24,000 in cash, according to Fox40 in Sacramento. His bankruptcy documents show a 2008 payment of $7,400 for an allegedly stolen saxophone and clothes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


More Holder briefs acknowledged (KASIE HUNT, 3/12/10, Politico)

Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about seven Supreme Court amicus briefs he prepared or supported, his office acknowledged in a letter Friday, including two urging the court to reject the Bush administration’s attempt to try Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant.

“It has come to our attention that some but not all briefs submitted to the Supreme Court by or on behalf of Attorney General Holder as counselor amicus were supplied to the Committee in the course of his confirmation process last year. We regret the omission,” Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.

...but whether the American people are entitled to take the fact that they do so into consideration when deciding whether to entrust them with law enforcement duties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


Audi Case Set Template for Toyota's Troubles (JOSEPH B. WHITE and DIONNE SEARCEY, 3/12/10, WSJ)

Auto makers deal with many problems, but "sudden acceleration" is one that causes a special fear. The reason is what happened to Audi AG.

During the months of controversy over reports of sudden acceleration involving Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles, the Audi sudden-acceleration scare of the 1980s has been raised by industry executives, members of Congress, lawyers and safety advocates.

The Audi case helped set the template for the high-stakes auto-safety scandal Toyota faces today. Audi, a unit of Volkswagen AG, was ultimately exonerated of building defective cars, but not before its sales and reputation took a pounding at a strategically critical moment.

Now, as Toyota faces a raft of lawsuits over unwanted acceleration, and ongoing government investigations into the issue, it must simultaneously work to win back customer confidence. [...]

Earlier this week, Toyota struck back at ABC for a segment in which correspondent Brian Ross drove a Toyota that had been altered to produce an acceleration surge. The report was intended to show that such surges could occur due to electronic faults and that these faults wouldn't be recorded by the car's computer.

Toyota said video in the report indicated the car was parked, not driving, during a shot that showed the car's tachometer surging.

ABC later admitted it had substituted a poor-quality shot of the tachometer with a steadier image taken while the car was parked, but that its point about sudden acceleration remained valid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Experts say US doctors overtesting, overtreating (LINDSEY TANNER, 3/12/10, AP)

The colon exam exposed him to radiation "while likely providing no benefit to his care," Dr. Rita Redberg, editor of Archives of Internal Medicine, wrote in an online editorial. Obama's experience "is multiplied many times over" at a huge financial cost to society, and to patients exposed to potential harms but no benefits.

She also took issue with another test Obama had which uses radiation — a heart scan to look for calcium deposits in his arteries. She said the test isn't recommended for low-risk men like Obama.

"People have come to equate tests with good care and prevention," Redberg, a cardiologist with the University of California at San Francisco, said in an interview Thursday. "Prevention is all the things your mother told you — eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, don't smoke — and we've made it into getting a new test." [...]

Doctors also often order tests or procedures to protect themselves against lawsuits — so-called defensive medicine — and also because the fee-for-service system compensates them for it, said Dr. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth University internist and health outcomes researcher.

Some doctors think "it's always a good thing to look for things to be wrong," Welch said. It also has become much easier to order tests — with the click of a mouse instead of filling out forms, and both can lead to overuse, he said.

While many patients also demand routine tests, they're often bolstered by advertisements, medical information online — and by doctors, too, Welch said.

"To some extent we've taught them to demand these things," he said. "We've systematically exaggerated the benefits of early diagnosis," which doesn't always improve survival. "We don't always tell people there might actually be downsides" to testing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Texas Approves Curriculum Revised by Conservatives (JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., 3/12/10, NY Times)

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday voted to approve a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Father’s commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. [...]

The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schalfly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

“Republicans need a little credit for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

Mr. Bradley won approval for an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.

Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Ouch! Woman arrested for shaving 'bikini area' while driving (Kathrine Nero, WCPO)

Florida Highway Patrol officers say Megan Barnes crashed into the back of a pickup truck because she was distracted while driving, but not because of talking or texting or changing the radio channel.

She was distracted, according to officers, because she was driving while shaving her "bikini area."

But wait, there's more.

Barnes was in the driver's seat, quite literally on the razor's edge, while her ex-husband steered from the passenger seat. She was driving in Cudjoe Key, Fla. to meet her current boyfriend, presumably the reason for the 65 mph "landscaping," as officers called it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


The Swine Flu Panic of 2009: Swine flu kept the world in suspense for almost a year. A massive vaccination campaign was mounted to put a stop to the anticipated pandemic. But, as it turned out, it was a relatively harmless strain of the flu virus. How, and why, did the world overreact? A reconstruction. (Der SPIEGEL, 3/12/10)

The Mexican boy's infection was mild, like an overwhelming majority of the millions of cases that would occur worldwide in the coming months. The new virus would probably have attracted far less attention if it hadn't been for modern molecular medicine, with its genetic analyses, antibody tests and reference laboratories. The swine flu would have conquered the world, and no doctor would have noticed.

But the world did notice, largely because of high-tech medicine and the vaccine industry. From Ebola to SARS to the avian flu, epidemiologists, the media, doctors and the pharmaceutical lobby have systematically attuned the world to grim catastrophic scenarios and the dangers of new, menacing infectious diseases.

None of these diseases receives more attention than influenza. Researchers in more than 130 laboratories in 102 countries are constantly on the lookout for new flu pathogens. Entire careers and institutions, and a lot of money, depend on the outcomes of their work. "Sometimes you get the feeling that there is a whole industry almost waiting for a pandemic to occur," says flu expert Tom Jefferson, from an international health nonprofit called the Cochrane Collaboration. "And all it took was one of these influenza viruses to mutate to start the machine grinding."

Now turned up, the machinery was set into motion. Researchers got to work examining the molecular structure of the virus. The pharmaceutical industry started to develop vaccines. Government agencies laid out disaster plans. There was only one thing that everyone was ignoring: The new pathogen was, in fact, relatively harmless.

How did all this happen?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Tea parties stir evangelicals' fears (BEN SMITH, 3/12/10, Politico)

“There’s a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative,” said Bryan Fischer, director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at the American Family Association. “The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.”

“As far as I can tell [the tea party movement] has a politics that’s irreligious. I can’t see how some of my fellow conservatives identify with it,” said Richard Cizik, who broke with a major evangelical group over his support for government action on climate change, but who remains largely in line with the Christian right on social issues. “The younger Evangelicals who I interact with are largely turned off by the tea party movement — by the incivility, the name-calling, the pathos of politics.”

Use them then lose them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


How al-Qaida & Co. Are Responding to Drone Warfare: Militant jihadists in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are becoming increasingly afraid of US drones. Despites their boasts of having shot down dozens of aircraft, they have yet to come up with effective countermeasures. (Yassin Musharbash, 3/12/10, Der Spiegel)

Their paranoia has been compounded by the fact that there is at least one informant behind every successful drone attack -- someone who identifies the target or marks it in some way. As a way of discouraging people from informing on them, the terror groups have decapitated suspected traitors on several occasions and circulated videos of their deaths.

Observers have also noticed that the militants have adapted their tactics to meet the new threat. They only cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in small groups. In addition, military and training sites are being disguised more carefully and decentralized so that they are less conspicuous to the analysts who evaluate images captured from the drones.

But they still haven't found an effective way to counter the drones' electronic eyes and ears -- or their deadly payloads. "Jihadists have talked extensively about the drones," says terrorism expert Jarret Brachman, who closely monitors discussions that terrorists and their sympathizers hold online. "There has been little sophisticated discussion, at least openly, about real countermeasures that jihadists can take in order to avoid being targeted by drones."

Effective countermeasures? It's surprising they don't worship the angry gods of the sky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Johnny Weir too gay for figure skating? (The Daily Caller, 03/12/10)

The Stars on Ice Tour has decided to ban Johnny Weir from performing, an odd decision given his standing in the sport of figure skating. Weir had garnered attention during the Olympics for the use of fur in his costumes, but now it seems his sexual orientation is the motivation not to include him on the tour.

If you only allow masculine skaters isn't it pretty much a Katarine Witt solo show?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


It's Payback Time (Daniel Gross, March 12, 2010, Slate)

When you look at the financial markets as a whole, the post-crisis bailout efforts have worked out better than expected. Many of the financial market guarantees were lifted without having been used, and the Treasury is turning a profit on the central component of the TARP. But AIG has so far loomed as a gigantic rebuttal to the optimists, a symbol of everything that went wrong.

But it turns out that the efforts to prop up AIG are also working out much better than expected. AIG still owes the Fed and the Treasury a combined $127 billion. But—surprise!—AIG is paying a lot of its debts back. And there's a not too far-fetched scenario in which we come close to breaking on our reluctant investment in the company.

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Court bars far-right party from taking new members (AP, 3/12/10)

A British court has barred a far right, anti-immigrant political party from accepting new members until it stops discriminating against nonwhite people.

The British National Party was ordered last year to scrap its whites-only membership rules to comply with race relations laws. [...]

The BNP opposes immigration and claims to fight for “indigenous” Britons. Leader Nick Griffin is notorious in Britain for denying the Holocaust in the past.

...claim that the BNP is just being demonized for defending British borders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Obama Plans for Open Fed Seats Become Clearer (Damian Paletta, Sudeep Reddy and Jon Hilsenrath, 3/12/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama plans to nominate Janet Yellen as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, a person familiar with the matter said. The White House is also looking at Maryland's Commissioner of Financial Regulation Sarah Bloom Raskin and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Peter Diamond for two other open seats. [...]

In addition to her experience in the government and with the Fed, Ms. Yellen could mark a reasonably safe pick for the White House, as 94 Senators voted to approve her during her first stint at the Fed. [...]

Obama administration officials have sought to fill the seats with a mix of skill sets for the three postings. They want a skilled economist—a role Ms. Yellen fills—but they also want a market specialist and governors with a hands-on view of regulation, particularly when it comes to consumer finance matters. One model is the late Fed governor Edward Gramlich, who expressed concerns early last decade about abuses in the subprime mortgage market. But finding a skilled economist with that mix of skills has been a challenge.

The Fed's vice chairman often plays a critical role in making sure the Fed runs smoothly. Mr. Kohn has been the point person on many of Mr. Bernanke's major initiatives, such as finding ways to make the Fed more transparent and drawing up lessons learned from the crisis. He also was the Federal Reserve Board's Washington ambassador with presidents of regional Fed banks, an important part of building consensus at Fed meetings.

Mr. Bernanke likely will want the new vice chairman to continue to play a key role in making sure the institution runs smoothly. Ms. Yellen ought to be adept at this—though she has differed with hawks at the Fed who worry about inflation, she's widely respected and has built relationships with other bank presidents having served at the San Francisco Fed for the past six years.

That Barack Obama is the dangdest sort of radical socialist we ever have seen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Don’t be so sure invading Iraq was immoral (Nigel Biggar, March 10 2010, Financial Times)

[M]ost just wars are flawed. Take the war against Nazi Germany. The RAF’s indiscriminate bombing of German cities was largely driven by “Bomber” Harris’s vengeful hatred. While the destruction of Hitler’s hegemony was very good, the entrenchment of Stalin’s was very bad. Any complex human enterprise will involve moral flaws. What needs determining is whether and how these undermine its justice as a whole.

As proof of the Iraq invasion’s wickedness, critics invoke the civilian death toll, soberly reckoned at 100,000-150,000. But Europe’s liberation from Nazi domination cost the lives of 70,000 French civilians and 500,000 German ones through bombing; and, whereas this was the direct responsibility of the British and Americans, most Iraqi civilians were killed by foreign or native insurgents. Yes, the occupying powers were obliged to maintain law and order, and failed initially. But the insurgents were obliged not to send suicide bombers into crowded market places, and they have failed persistently.

Arguments about a war’s disproportion are often intractable. If one assumes the Iraq war was unjust, then no civilian deaths were worth it. Yet in affirming the justice of the war against Hitler we imply it was worth the deaths of 30m civilians. The loss of 150,000 civilians therefore does not, of itself, make the Iraq war unjust. The invasion would be harder to defend were the country’s new regime to fail. But that has not happened yet, and those critics who care more for Iraqis than they hate the former US and UK leaders George W. Bush and Mr Blair will hope it never does. is dispositive that those who opposed the war favored sanctions that they claimed were responsible for the deaths of half a million and maintained Saddam in power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Iraqis Embrace Democracy. Do We? (Bret Stephens, 3/09/10, WSJ)

In 2002, a presidential election was held in Iraq. Saddam Hussein won it by a margin of 11,445,638 to zero. "Whether that's because they love their leader—as many people said they do—or for other reasons, was hard to tell," reported CBS News's Tom Fenton from Baghdad.

You can't say they aren't fair and balanced over at CBS.

Another election has now been held in Iraq, this time involving 19 million voters, 50,000 polling stations, 6,200 candidates, 325 parliamentary seats and 86 parties. In the run-up to the vote, the general view among Iraqis and foreign observers alike was that the outcome was "too close to call." Linger over the words: "Too close to call" has never before been part of the Arab political lexicon.

But democracy has finally arrived, first by force of American arms, next by dint of Iraqi will. It's a remarkable thing, not just in the context of the past seven years of U.S. involvement, or the eight decades of Iraq's sovereign existence, but in the much longer sweep of Arab civilization. Paleontologists have described similar moments in evolution, when some natural cataclysm permits a nimbler class of animals to take the place of the planet's former masters.

Just so in Iraq: the Cretaceous period of the T Rex and the pterosaur is at last drawing to a close. George W. Bush, in all his subtlety, was their mass-extinction event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Obama to Delay Pacific Trip by Three Days (JEFF ZELENY, 3/12/10, NY Times)

President Obama is delaying his trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia next week, an administration official said Friday, so the White House can focus on passing health care legislation in the House.

The president’s international trip had grown into a source of frustration among many House Democrats, who complained privately to the White House that they were being forced to take a quick vote on health care so Mr. Obama and his family could leave on the overseas trip next week.

In fact, the president is no longer taking the first lady, Michelle Obama, and their two daughters on the trip, an administration official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


OK Go Fights For Its Viral Video (NPR: All Things Considered, March 10, 2010)

After the overwhelming success of the video for its 2006 song "Here It Goes Again," in which its four band members execute a tightly choreographed dance routine built around a handful of treadmills, OK Go has lofty standards to live up to. With roughly 50 million views on YouTube, "Here It Goes Again" stands as one of the most popular music videos of the Internet era.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, the band set about constructing a painstakingly executed two-story Rube Goldberg machine, set to trigger in time to the music for its latest video, "This Too Shall Pass." Although it starts out small, with a toy truck knocking over some dominoes, the contraptions that make up the machine rapidly get larger and much more complex — pianos are dropped, shopping carts come crashing down ramps, and one band member is launched headlong through a wall of boxes. After assembling a team of dozens of engineers to construct the set, more than 60 takes were needed to get everything working just right during filming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Why Obama Needs a Republican Congress: It would let him be moderate without looking weak (Rich Lowry, 3/12/10, National Review)

A Republican Congress would give him a handy foil and force him, right in time for his reelection campaign, into strategic bipartisanship. The Republican takeover in 1994 seemed the end for Bill Clinton. Long after Tom Foley had been forgotten, though, Clinton signed major bipartisan welfare-reform and deficit-reduction bills, while making incremental steps on health care that were popular and sustainable.

Obama probably doesn’t consider a Republican Congress in his interest. But with all he’s done to bring one about, who knows?

Party like it's 1995.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


U.S. dollar is still the world's most trusted currency (John Waggoner, 3/12/10, USA TODAY)

To get some idea of the demand for Treasuries, just look at the most recent auction. On March 8, the government sold $136 billion in Treasury bills — short-term, government-backed IOUs. Of that, about $29 billion was new debt. The rest was rolled over from maturing debt.

You'd think that a borrower that added billions more to its debt each week would be getting the stink eye from lenders. But not when the borrower is the U.S. government. Monday's Treasury auction was an astonishing success: Investors bid $4.27 for every $1 of debt the government had to sell. The yield: a rock-bottom 0.15%. That same day, the dollar was in the middle of a two-month rally. A stronger dollar means a buck buys more of a given currency. A euro cost $1.37 on March 8, down from $1.51 on Dec. 3.

And the dollar remains the premier currency of world trade. Oil is bought and sold in dollars, for example, and more than a dozen countries, including China, peg their currencies to the greenback. About 61% of bank foreign reserves are denominated in dollars, according to the International Monetary Fund.

So far, there's no other currency that has the liquidity and acceptance of the U.S. dollar.

"From the market's standpoint, other currencies and other economies have more serious and immediate fiscal concerns than we have here," says Brad Tank, chief investment officer for asset management firm Neuberger Berman.

Even though China may grouse about U.S. deficits, it doesn't have many other places to put its reserve currencies. And if China suddenly sold its $1 trillion in dollar holdings, its currency would soar, making its goods too expensive for the U.S., its largest trading partner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


CIA drone attacks produce America's own unlawful combatants (Gary Solis, March 12, 2010, Washington Post)

In our current armed conflicts, there are two U.S. drone offensives. One is conducted by our armed forces, the other by the CIA. Every day, CIA agents and CIA contractors arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Pakistani tribal areas, to search out and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.

The law of war is whatever America says it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Getting Obama Right (DAVID BROOKS, 3/11/10, NY Times)

Who is Barack Obama?

If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.

If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.

You’ll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You’ll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you’ll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.

The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book “The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market. too does the moderate Mr. Brooks believe his view of Mr. Obama is the only one that doesn't reflect the eye of the beholder. We, on the other hand, believe that conservatives, liberals, and moderates are all right. Mr. Obama can be whatever they want him to be, because he isn't actually anything. The clothes have no emperor. He's just a Rorschach blot upon which you get to project your own feelings while he does nothing to confirm or deny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Timing of Obama Indonesia Trip Questioned (SHERYL STOLBERG, 3/12/10, NY Times)

With President Obama’s health care bill hanging in the balance, the White House is facing intensifying questions about whether Mr. Obama should take his planned trip to Indonesia and Australia next week.

The visit, which has been timed to coincide with spring break for the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha, is something of a homecoming for Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. The trip is unusual, experts say, in that there is no economic summit or other multinational gathering for the president to attend.

Instead, Mr. Obama plans to meet with the leaders of the two countries, and also intends to show his family a bit of his past.

Typically, the Beltway thinks the story is that he's leaving town before the bill passes, when what will bother America is the trip itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Marco Rubio hardens his stances as he raises his profile (DAVID CATANESE, 3/12/10, Politico)

Marco Rubio’s meteoric rise from long-shot Republican Senate candidate to national conservative celebrity has left some in Florida’s political establishment scratching their heads.

The glittery national image he’s cultivated as an ideological purebred is a striking departure from the more nuanced and pragmatic record he built in the state House over eight years, according to interviews with Florida lobbyists, lawmakers and longtime party hands.

How can anyone not enjoy politics when the legacy of a rightwing movement is turning out to be the election of guys they call RiNO's?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Medical testing: more doesn’t always mean better (LINDSEY TANNER, 03/12/10, AP)

A spate of recent reports suggest that when it comes to health care, too many Americans are being over-treated.

Experts say there are many reasons, including doctors practicing defensive medicine, and patients used to medical technology who demand extensive tests and treatments. [...]
A medical journal editorial this week cited President Barack Obama’s recent checkup as an example of more care not necessarily being better care. The president had a prostate cancer test that many groups don’t recommend routinely, and colon cancer screening that some doctors think isn’t the best method.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama now hamstrung on Israeli settlements (Steven R. Hurst, 3/12/10, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A year ago, President Obama boldly, unequivocally demanded that Israel stop building settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today he's left with little choice but to swallow a stinging and public rebuke from America's closest Middle East ally.


Too much is at stake. The administration has invested too much time, credibility....

The UR's "credibility"? Comic gold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Rove 'proud' of US waterboarding terror suspects (BBC, 3/11/10)

A senior adviser to former US President George W Bush has defended tough interrogation techniques, saying their use helped prevent terrorist attacks.

In a BBC interview, Karl Rove, who was known as "Bush's brain", said he "was proud we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists".

March 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Teachers union tops list of state political spenders (Patrick McGreevy, March 10, 2010, LA Times)

Fifteen special interest groups including casino operators, drug firms and unions for teachers and public employees spent more than $1 billion during the last decade trying to influence California public officials and voters, the state’s watchdog agency reported today. [...]

Five special interests were responsible for more than half of the billion dollars spent since 2000, including:

--The California Teachers Assoc., which spent $211.8 million.
--The California State Council of Service Employees, $107.4 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Obama’s lack of Mideast muscle (Financial Times, March 11 2010)

Mr Obama has himself to blame. He staked his foreign policy on improving relations in the Middle East. Early in his presidency, Israeli leaders worried that US policy towards them may turn less forgiving. But when Mr Netanyahu flouted US demands on settlements last year, secretary of state Hillary Clinton blinked. Whereas Mr Biden says there is “no space” between the two countries on security, the rather wider space between the White House and Congress weakens both Mr Mitchell’s and Mrs Clinton’s hands.

Mr Netanyahu, counting on support on Capitol Hill, reckons he can win any game of chicken with the White House. He may be right that Congress will not stop aid; but Mr Obama has other levers. If he took a leaf out of the Bush-Baker book in 1991 and signalled that Israel could no longer take unconditional US support for granted, Mr Netanyahu’s domestic support would quickly evaporate.

How'd Bush/Baker do in '92?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Americans Pare Debt (JEFF BATER And MARK WHITEHOUSE, 3/11/10, WSJ)

Americans got richer for a third straight quarter at the end of 2009, a favorable trend for an economic recovery that could use some more fuel.

A quarterly Federal Reserve report Thursday said U.S. households' total net worth climbed 1.3% in the fourth quarter, to $54.18 trillion from the third quarter's $53.49 trillion. For 2009 as a whole, net worth rose 5.4%. Household net worth is assets, such as home equity, minus liabilities, such as mortgage debt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


In Defense of Deficits (James K. Galbraith, March 22, 2010, The Nation)

For ordinary people, public budget deficits, despite their bad reputation, are much better than private loans. Deficits put money in private pockets. Private households get more cash. They own that cash free and clear, and they can spend it as they like. If they wish, they can also convert it into interest-earning government bonds or they can repay their debts. This is called an increase in "net financial wealth." Ordinary people benefit, but there is nothing in it for banks.

And this, in the simplest terms, explains the deficit phobia of Wall Street, the corporate media and the right-wing economists. Bankers don't like budget deficits because they compete with bank loans as a source of growth. When a bank makes a loan, cash balances in private hands also go up. But now the cash is not owned free and clear. There is a contractual obligation to pay interest and to repay principal. If the enterprise defaults, there may be an asset left over--a house or factory or company--that will then become the property of the bank. It's easy to see why bankers love private credit but hate public deficits. [...]

We also hear, from the same people, about the impending "bankruptcy" of Social Security, Medicare--even the United States itself. Or of the burden that public debts will "impose on our grandchildren." Or about "unfunded liabilities" supposedly facing us all. All of this forms part of one of the great misinformation campaigns of all time.

The misinformation is rooted in what many consider to be plain common sense. It may seem like homely wisdom, especially, to say that "just like the family, the government can't live beyond its means." But it's not. In these matters the public and private sectors differ on a very basic point. Your family needs income in order to pay its debts. Your government does not.

Private borrowers can and do default. They go bankrupt (a protection civilized societies afford them instead of debtors' prisons). Or if they have a mortgage, in most states they can simply walk away from their house if they can no longer continue to make payments on it.

With government, the risk of nonpayment does not exist. Government spends money (and pays interest) simply by typing numbers into a computer. Unlike private debtors, government does not need to have cash on hand. As the inspired amateur economist Warren Mosler likes to say, the person who writes Social Security checks at the Treasury does not have the phone number of the tax collector at the IRS. If you choose to pay taxes in cash, the government will give you a receipt--and shred the bills. Since it is the source of money, government can't run out.

It's true that government can spend imprudently. Too much spending, net of taxes, may lead to inflation, often via currency depreciation--though with the world in recession, that's not an immediate risk. Wasteful spending--on unnecessary military adventures, say--burns real resources. But no government can ever be forced to default on debts in a currency it controls. Public defaults happen only when governments don't control the currency in which they owe debts--as Argentina owed dollars or as Greece now (it hasn't defaulted yet) owes euros. But for true sovereigns, bankruptcy is an irrelevant concept. When Obama says, even offhand, that the United States is "out of money," he's talking nonsense--dangerous nonsense. One wonders if he believes it.

The History of England from the Accession of James II, Vol. 4 (Thomas Babington Macaulay)
Such was the origin of that debt which has since become the
greatest prodigy that ever perplexed the sagacity and confounded
the pride of statesmen and philosophers. At every stage in the
growth of that debt the nation has set up the same cry of anguish
and despair. At every stage in the growth of that debt it has
been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were
at hand. Yet still the debt went on growing; and still bankruptcy
and ruin were as remote as ever. When the great contest with
Lewis the Fourteenth was finally terminated by the Peace of
Utrecht, the nation owed about fifty millions; and that debt was
considered, not merely by the rude multitude, not merely by
foxhunting squires and coffeehouse orators, but by acute and
profound thinkers, as an incumbrance which would permanently
cripple the body politic; Nevertheless trade flourished; wealth
increased; the nation became richer and richer. Then came the war
of the Austrian Succession; and the debt rose to eighty millions.
Pamphleteers, historians and orators pronounced that now, at all
events, our case was desperate. Yet the signs of increasing
prosperity, signs which could neither be counterfeited nor
concealed, ought to have satisfied observant and reflecting men
that a debt of eighty millions was less to the England which was
governed by Pelham than a debt of fifty millions had been to the
England which was governed by Oxford. Soon war again broke forth;
and, under the energetic and prodigal administration of the first
William Pitt, the debt rapidly swelled to a hundred and forty
millions. As soon as the first intoxication of victory was over,
men of theory and men of business almost unanimously pronounced
that the fatal day had now really arrived. The only statesman,
indeed, active or speculative, who did not share in the general
delusion was Edmund Burke. David Hume, undoubtedly one of the
most profound political economists of his time, declared that our
madness had exceeded the madness of the Crusaders. Richard Coeur
de Lion and Saint Lewis had not gone in the face of arithmetical
demonstration. It was impossible to prove by figures that the
road to Paradise did not lie through the Holy Land; but it was
possible to prove by figures that the road to national ruin was
through the national debt. It was idle, however, now to talk
about the road; we had done with the road; we had reached the
goal; all was over; all the revenues of the island north of Trent
and west of Reading were mortgaged. Better for us to have been
conquered by Prussia or Austria than to be saddled with the
interest of a hundred and forty millions.370 And yet this great
philosopher--for such he was--had only to open his eyes, and to
see improvement all around him, cities increasing, cultivation
extending, marts too small for the crowd of buyers and sellers,
harbours insufficient to contain the shipping, artificial rivers
joining the chief inland seats of industry to the chief seaports,
streets better lighted, houses better furnished, richer wares
exposed to sale in statelier shops, swifter carriages rolling
along smoother roads. He had, indeed, only to compare the
Edinburgh of his boyhood with the Edinburgh of his old age. His
prediction remains to posterity, a memorable instance of the
weakness from which the strongest minds are not exempt. Adam
Smith saw a little and but a little further. He admitted that,
immense as the burden was, the nation did actually sustain it and
thrive under it in a way which nobody could have foreseen. But he
warned his countrymen not to repeat so hazardous an experiment.
The limit had been reached. Even a small increase might be
fatal.371 Not less gloomy was the view which George Grenville, a
minister eminently diligent and practical, took of our financial
situation. The nation must, he conceived, sink under a debt of a
hundred and forty millions, unless a portion of the load were
borne by the American colonies. The attempt to lay a portion of
the load on the American colonies produced another war. That war
left us with an additional hundred millions of debt, and without
the colonies whose help had been represented as indispensable.
Again England was given over; and again the strange patient
persisted in becoming stronger and more blooming in spite of all
the diagnostics and prognostics of State physicians. As she had
been visibly more prosperous with a debt of a hundred and forty
millions than with a debt of fifty millions, so she, as visibly
more prosperous with a debt of two hundred and forty millions
than with a debt of a hundred and forty millions. Soon however
the wars which sprang from the French Revolution, and which far
exceeded in cost any that the world had ever seen, tasked the
powers of public credit to the utmost. When the world was again
at rest the funded debt of England amounted to eight hundred
millions. If the most enlightened man had been told, in 1792,
that, in 1815, the interest on eight hundred millions would be
duly paid to the day at the Bank, he would have been as hard of
belief as if he had been told that the government would be in
possession of the lamp of Aladdin or of the purse of Fortunatus.
It was in truth a gigantic, a fabulous debt; and we can hardly
wonder that the cry of despair should have been louder than ever.
But again that cry was found to have been as unreasonable as
ever. After a few years of exhaustion, England recovered herself.
Yet, like Addison's valetudinarian, who continued to whimper that
he was dying of consumption till he became so fat that he was
shamed into silence, she went on complaining that she was sunk in
poverty till her wealth showed itself by tokens which made her
complaints ridiculous. The beggared, the bankrupt society not
only proved able to meet all its obligations, but, while meeting
those obligations, grew richer and richer so fast that the growth
could almost be discerned by the eye.
In every county, we saw
wastes recently turned into gardens; in every city, we saw new
streets, and squares, and markets, more brilliant lamps, more
abundant supplies of water; in the suburbs of every great seat of
industry, we saw villas multiplying fast, each embosomed in its
gay little paradise of lilacs and roses. While shallow
politicians were repeating that the energies of the people were
borne down by the weight of the public burdens, the first journey
was performed by steam on a railway. Soon the island was
intersected by railways. A sum exceeding the whole amount of the
national debt at the end of the American war was, in a few years,
voluntarily expended by this ruined people in viaducts, tunnels,
embankments, bridges, stations, engines. Meanwhile taxation was
almost constantly becoming lighter and lighter; yet still the
Exchequer was full. It may be now affirmed without fear of
contradiction that we find it as easy to pay the interest of
eight hundred millions as our ancestors found it, a century ago,
to pay the interest of eighty millions.

"No Man whatever having lent his Money to the Government on the Credit of a Parliamentary Fund has been Defrauded of his Property . . . The Goodness of the Publick Credit in England, is the reason why we shall never be out of Debt. . . . Let us be, say I, a free Nation deep in Debt, rather than a Nation of Slaves owing Nothing."
-Anonymous English pamphleteer (1719)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Rove: We mishandled Katrina recovery (Joseph Weber, 3/11/10, Washington Times)

Mr. Rove, 59, said the administration should have used a 1807 law that gives the federal government authority to take control of an insurgent U.S. state.

"It was a mistake," Mr. Rove said Thursday in discussing his recent memoir on The Washington Times' "America's Morning News" radio show. "We should have used the legal authority to declare the state an insurgent, taken the political heat of pushing out the state's governor and overruling the African-American mayor of New Orleans."

Even if that hadn't made any difference on the ground it would have been hilarious on the airwaves and op-ed pages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


Court upholds 'under God' in Pledge of Allegiance (TERENCE CHEA, 3/11/10, Associated Press)

A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency, rejecting arguments on Thursday that the phrases violate the separation of church and state.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected two legal challenges by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who claimed the references to God disrespect his religious beliefs.

"The Pledge is constitutional," Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the majority in the 2-1 ruling. "The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded."

...when even the 9th acts sensible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


The Massa Circus Takes the Air out of Glenn Beck (Michael Scherer, Mar. 10, 2010, TIME)

Massa had come on Fox to out-Beck Glenn Beck. Armed with the very same weapons — a deep sense of victimhood, outrage at the powers that be and remarkable personal candor — the Representative delivered a dizzying confessional. He admitted to sexless groping and tickling of his staff, sending inappropriate text messages and otherwise failing to behave like a Congressman should, all as he made his case that his fellow Democrats had really gone after him because of his previous no vote on health care reform. "I can't fight this. I can't fight cancer," Massa announced, in a classic stream-of-consciousness ramble. "I can't fight the White House. I can't fight the Democratic Party."

Beck, who is used to controlling the gravitational force of victimhood around him, kept interrupting to point out that he was a bigger target of even greater forces than Massa. "I have two unauthorized biographies coming out against me in the spring," Beck said at one point. Minutes later, Beck went even further. "Do you realize my family is at stake?" he said. "You've got a little scandal with your children in college. I've got one for all time now, because I am not going to resign. I'm not going to back down. I have come to a place where I believe at some point the system will destroy me."

But Beck could not compete with the oddity of the sympathy card Massa kept pulling. He appeared frustrated that Massa wasn't revealing any more sinister plots afoot in the nation's capital, and he got visibly annoyed when Massa tried to take some measure of responsibility for his actions and attempted to walk back some of his more heated rhetoric against White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

And to make things worse, when Massa turned from discussing his own woes to the machinations of Washington, he offered ideas that have no place in Fox News's tightly regulated framework. Massa suggested that Beck and other Americans demand "campaign finance reform" to curb the corruption on Capitol Hill. Beck, who has called such proposals a "huge mistake," put his hand over his mouth, as if he were holding back an upset stomach. Massa, who has opposed Obama's health reform because it is not liberal enough, told Beck that he should stop calling people names like "socialist" and "communist." "You can be a progressive and be a fiscal conservative," Massa then explained, as Beck lost control of his own program.

They deserve each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Liz Cheney accused of McCarthyism over campaign against lawyers (Chris McGreal, 3/11/11,

Liz Cheney and her organisation, Keep America Safe, have dubbed lawyers who acted on behalf of accused terrorists, and who now work for the department of justice, the "al-Qaida seven". The group has rebranded the justice department the "department of jihad".

Liz Cheney, who trained as a lawyer and served as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the same administration as her father, is backed by some Republican members of congress, relatives of 9/11 victims and parts of the conservative press who have accused the lawyers, some of whom worked pro bono, of "coddling" and "abetting" terrorists.

Keep America Safe – whose mission statement says the current administration is "unwilling to stand up for America" – has recently launched a television attack advert questioning the loyalty of the targeted lawyers and sinisterly asking: Whose values do they share?

But the assault has prompted an unexpected backlash from some former Bush administration lawyers and officials who have joined liberal critics in denouncing the campaign as unAmerican and violating the principle that even the most unpopular defendant is entitled to a lawyer. [...]

The targets of Keep America Safe's campaign include the deputy solicitor general, Neal Katyal, who represented Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, in a case that led the supreme court to declare the Bush administration's original plan for military tribunals to be unconstitutional.

Even by the normal standards of competing BDS and Conservative Derangement syndromes this topic is generating an usual number of dubious arguments by both sides. Ultimately the big problem is not with the ethics of lawyers choosing to represent despicable clients but with the Justice Department choosing to put them in positions where they may then have influence over the prosecutions of like defendants and attempting, to some degree or another, to obscure the fact that it did so. In other words, it's a huge political problem, regardless of where you come down on the legalisms and professional standards.

Here's the great thing though, this is a president and a party that has argued that serving as a lobbyist leaves one so tainted by association that one is rendered unfit to serve in government in any capacity, whether related to the lobbying activity or not. But, on the other hand, they now insist that having defended terrorists ought to have no influence on whether one is suited to a government position directly related to prosecution of terrorists.

That's just funny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Ruling Kills an Option for Moving Health Bill (David M. Drucker, 3/11/10, Roll Call)

The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that President Barack Obama must sign Congress’ original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package, senior GOP sources said Thursday.

The Senate Parliamentarian’s Office was responding to questions posed by the Republican leadership. The answers were provided verbally, sources said.

House Democratic leaders have been searching for a way to ensure that any move they make to approve the Senate-passed $871 billion health care reform bill is followed by Senate action on a reconciliation package of adjustments to the original bill. One idea is to have the House and Senate act on reconciliation prior to House action on the Senate’s original health care bill.

Information Republicans say they have received from the Senate Parliamentarian’s Office eliminates that option

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:48 PM

HIS APPEAL IS MORE SELECTIVE... (via Bryan Francoeur):

Obama hits all-time low in Gallup (Eric Zimmermann, 03/11/10, The Hill)

President Obama reached a new low of 46% approval in today's Gallup poll.

Statistically, the result isn't dramatically different from Obama's rating over the last several months. But it nevertheless demonstrates that the healthcare debate has taken a toll on Obama's approval numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Obama's plans for NASA changes met with harsh criticism (Joel Achenbach, 3/10/10, Washington Post)

Harrison Schmitt's credentials as a space policy analyst include several days of walking on the moon. The Apollo 17 astronaut, who is also a former U.S. senator, is aghast at what President Obama is doing to the space program.

"It's bad for the country," Schmitt said. "This administration really does not believe in American exceptionalism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Biden's Disastrous Israel Trip: Israel apologized for embarrassing Vice President Joe Biden by announcing it had approved 1,600 new homes in disputed east Jerusalem while the vice president was engaged in talks with Palestinian leaders—but now Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pulled out of peace talks. Reihan Salam on America's waning influence abroad. (Reihan Salam, 3/11/10, Daily Beast)

Rather than focus primarily on kickstarting a peace process Israelis consider badly broken, the vice president's visit was intended to reassure the Israeli public that the Obama administration takes the threat posed by Iran seriously, and emphasizing that the U.S. is absolutely committed to Israeli security.

The problems of an Administration that first has to reassure our allies that we're on their side and not the enemy's is obvious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


The Israel Lobby and Gentile Power (Walter Russell Mead, 3/11/10, American Interest)

From where I sit, AIPAC isn’t powerful because of the Jewish votes it can sway. Most Jews have views on Israel that are closer to the J-Street lobby vision than to the AIPAC line, and if a vote among America’s Jews decided our Israel policy the policy would be significantly to the left of where it is now. It’s not even because of the money; ‘pro-Israel’ PAC money is a drop in the vast and ever-expanding river of American campaign.

A group like AIPAC enjoys power and recognition not because it controls or even represents the votes of Jews. AIPAC’s power rests on gentile ideas and support; if a politician gets loudly and publicly labeled anti-Israel by AIPAC and its allies that politician will get hammered in the next election because so many American gentiles want their politicians to support the Jewish state. AIPAC works like the NRA; it is the publicly accepted voice on an issue about which the public has strong views.

Politicians don’t fear the loss of National Rifle Association PAC money nearly as much as they fear the loss of millions of pro-gun votes at the next election. This, I think is why AIPAC is so powerful. To be convincingly labeled an anti-Israel politician is the kiss of death almost everywhere in the United States — just as to be anti-gun is the kiss of death. American gentiles consider AIPAC and those affiliated with and endorsed by it to be reliable guardians of pro-Israel policy; politicians don’t want to cross a force with this kind of hold on the public.

AIPAC has the power that it does because it has been in effect deputized by American pro-Israel gentiles to guard the frontiers of our Israel policy. Like the NRA and like the fabled Tobacco lobby of old, it is strong because the public accepts it as the watchdog on an issue it cares about. Lose that bond with the public, as the Tobacco lobby finally did, and the clout bleeds away — even if the lobby has all the money, all the organizers and all the connections that it previously had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Braking Bad (RICHARD A. SCHMIDT, 3/11/10, NY Times)

ased on my experience in the 1980s helping investigate unintended acceleration in the Audi 5000, I suspect that smart pedals cannot solve the problem. The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake.

From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.

I looked into more than 150 cases of unintended acceleration in the 1980s, many of which became the subject of lawsuits against automakers. In those days, Audi, like Toyota today, received by far the most complaints. (I testified in court for Audi on many occasions. I have not worked for Toyota on unintended acceleration, though I did consult for the company seven years ago on another matter.)

In these cases, the problem typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it. After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward). Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed. Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.

But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported. The trouble occurred in cars small and large, cheap and expensive, with and without cruise control or electronic engine controls, and with carburetors, fuel injection and even diesel engines. The only thing they had in common was an automatic transmission. An investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found no electro-mechanical defects to explain the problem. Nor did similar government studies in Canada and Japan or any number of private studies. that the car can be removed from the control of the driver altogether.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


N.J. bill mandates public employees live in state (Adrienne Lu, 3/10/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The bill would affect teachers, firefighters, police officers, and all other employees of state, county, and local governments, as well as public authorities, boards, agencies, commissions, and state colleges and universities. Both full-time and part-time employees would be affected.

New employees would have four months from the start of employment to move into New Jersey, while anyone living out of state would have 21/2 years after the law takes effect to comply.

"It is very simple," Norcross said. "If you want a paycheck from New Jersey taxpayers, you should have to live here, pay your taxes here, and be part of your community."

It should be a broader requirement that public employees live within the borders of the

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Immigration provision has Hispanic Caucus threatening ‘no’ health vote (Jared Allen, 03/10/10, The Hill)

A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill’s immigration provisions. [...]

The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants’ buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn’t as restrictive, but it does — like the Senate bill — bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Hispanic Democrats say they haven’t moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate’s prohibitions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Obama's liberal base 'disengaged' (Mimi Hall, 3/10/10, USA TODAY)

Is President Obama losing his base?

Liberal and progressive organizations that helped propel him to the White House are turning on him now, little more than a year after he took office. Their collective discontent, on issues from health care to nuclear energy to the handling of terrorism suspects, could mean bad news for Democrats during this fall's congressional elections.

Polls show that liberals and blacks still approve of the job Obama's doing. That approval, however, doesn't necessarily mean they will make the effort to vote, and many of the activists and groups that worked to get people to the polls in 2008 say they're not inclined right now to help Democrats in the fall.

"The energized base which transformed the nation and elected our first black president (is) now disengaged," Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile says. "If this was September, I would hit the panic button."

Wherever there's a mirror, there's his base.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Some Democrats shun Obama event in St. Louis (AP, 3/10/10)

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, was "already locked in" to meetings in Washington, D.C., on Wall Street financial reforms, said her spokesman, Linden Zakula, who downplayed her absence for Mr. Obama's visit to St. Charles, just outside St. Louis.

Rep. Ike Skelton, one of 39 House Democrats who voted against the party's health care overhaul bill in December, also skipped the presidential stop in his home state. Mr. Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was taking part in a House floor debate on the future of the war in Afghanistan.

In addition, Rep. Russ Carnahan, a Democrat from St. Louis and Mrs. Carnahan's brother, skipped the event, even though it was in his home district. [...]

The Missouri Republican Party mocked Mrs. Carnahan's absence, saying she certainly should have taken the opportunity to bask in the high-profile visit just eight months before the vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


US anti-WMD troops join military drills in SKorea (KWANG-TAE KIM, 03/11/10, AP)

U.S. troops who would be tasked with eliminating North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction in the event of armed conflict are participating in military drills with South Korea, the top U.S. commander in the country said Thursday.

“They are here for this exercise and if we ever went to war, they would naturally come also,” Army Gen. Walter Sharp told reporters at Yongsan Garrison, the main U.S. military headquarters in central Seoul.

March 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


Environmental Hypocrisy: A new study shows that people are more likely to cheat and steal after buying green products. (Sharon Begley, 3/09/10, Newsweek)

"Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors," writes Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto in a paper scheduled for publication in the coming months in Psychological Science.

Two new experiments suggest there is something to this. Mazar and Zhong had 156 volunteers (University of Toronto students) visit online stores that carried mostly green products, or only a few. [...]

Volunteers who bought up to $25 worth of ecofriendly stuff from the green store shared less money ($1.76) than those who purchased from the conventional store ($2.18). (Just to be clear, the volunteers were not given a choice about which online store to patronize.) For the green buyers, altruism in the dictator game decreased. More alarming, when the green buyers were then given a chance to cheat on a computer game, and lie about it to the scientists in order to win more money—basically, to steal—they did. Buyers of conventional products did not. And in an honor system in which they took money from an envelope to pay themselves their winnings, the green buyers stole six times more than the conventional buyers did.

"In line with the halo associated with green consumerism…people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green products," Mazar and Zhong write in their upcoming paper. But they "act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products." Or, as Mazar put it to me, "we are more likely to transgress morally after we have bought ourselves some moral offsets" (analogous to carbon offsets: buy enough so you can drive that Hummer). It was especially striking that the moral balancing occurred in an area of life—being generous with money, cheating on a computer game—that has nothing to do with green behavior. "This suggests that if we want to change people's behavior for the better, we have to be sure it doesn't backfire," says Mazar—starting, perhaps, by eliminating the halo of self-congratulatory, smug virtuousness that surrounds green behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


What Happened to Obama's Middle Path on Health Reform? (Michael Gerson, 3/10/10, Real Clear Politics)

Whatever the legislative fate of health reform -- now in the hands of a few besieged House Democrats -- the health reformers have failed in their argument. Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president's public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, re-engaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president's ambitions.

It is quite an accomplishment. [...]

The final reason for Obama's failed argument on health reform is neither structural nor strategic. It is psychological. As the evidence mounted that the body politic was rejecting Obama's health system transplant, Obama faced a choice about the nature of his presidency. He could retreat toward incrementalism or insist on transformation. Obama had previewed his impatience with incrementalism during the campaign. Similar to his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama turned hard against the Clinton model. "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America," he said, "in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it."

Just as Nixon was a liberal in the FDR tradition and Bill Clinton a conservative in the Reagan tradition, the UR needs to go with the flow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at