April 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’ by Philip Pullman: The savior of man, and his ‘evil twin.’ (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)

"The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ" was commissioned by its publisher, Canongate, as part of a series in which the world's great myths "are retold in a contemporary and memorable way." This one comes up decidedly short of the mark. In part, that's because of Pullman's wholly unexpected ambivalence toward his subject. He's apparently fond — even admiring — of Jesus the defender of the poor and scourge of hypocrites. On the other hand, he loathes what Jesus' followers and the generations that came after them made of his teachings in the form of an institutional church.

Fair enough, but you'd expect a writer of Pullman's abilities to make something fruitful of the tension between his affection and his revulsion; instead, he falls back on the hoariest of conceits: the evil twin. In this version Mary bears twin sons. One is a healthy, rather impish boy who grows up to be a man's man and a fearless teacher, Jesus. The other, Mary's favorite, is sickish, bookish, reclusive and inclined to suck up to authority. She calls him Christ.

There's a sadly missed opportunity here, for one of the questions that has preoccupied Christian theologians has been how Jesus understood himself and his place in his community. It would have been interesting to watch an author of Pullman's talent engage that question from his outsider's perspective. Instead, readers are stuck with the "evil twin" shtick. Worse, Pullman sadly misuses the character he calls Christ, abusing him for didactic and polemical purposes. Thus, when Jesus goes into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and nights, he is tempted not by Satan, as he is in the synoptic Gospels, but by his twin brother, Christ. The nature of that temptation is Christ's belief that Jesus' teachings must be housebroken so as to form the basis of a church that will last.

In other words, Pullman consigns the impulse toward institutionalization to the evil twin, thus missing another opportunity, for we live in a kind of golden age of scholarship concerning the origins of the great monotheistic creeds. One thing we know for certain, for example, is that Jesus and his followers understood themselves as acting entirely within the Jewish tradition. The parting between the two faiths would be long and, tragically, bitter. Hundreds of years after the crucifixion, Origen was admonishing Jesus' followers in 3rd century Alexandria against spending too much time in synagogues. Similarly, the evolution of what we would recognize as the institutional church — with its bishops and canon and edifices — was extremely gradual and very much a contingent product of the Roman world through which the movement inspired by Jesus' teachings first spread.

It's disappointing to have a committed secularist like Pullman, someone who, therefore, must be committed to historicism and factuality, ignore all this in favor of a melodramatic trick.

...that use of "must be."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Ayotte leads Hodes in NH Senate poll (Associated Press, April 30, 2010)

A new poll shows Democrat Paul Hodes falling further behind Republican Kelly Ayotte in the race for U.S. Senate and about even with other Republicans seeking the seat.

The WMUR Granite State poll shows Ayotte, a former state attorney general, leading Hodes 47-32 percent. Hodes is giving up his House seat to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Judd Gregg.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Arizona law on immigration puts police in tight spot (Peter Slevin, 4/30/10, Washington Post)

Every day, as Sgt. Russ Charlton patrols the south side of Tucson, he encounters a wide range of this city's residents -- legal, illegal, native-born, naturalized, just passing through. To him, their immigration status is largely irrelevant. "People are just people," Charlton said.

But in a city less than an hour's drive from the Mexican border, Charlton and his fellow officers suddenly are at the center of a roiling immigration debate, and Arizona's new and controversial immigration law is almost certain to transform how they do their job.

"We're way too busy," Charlton said of the law's requirement that police officers question anyone they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. "We don't have enough officers on the street to look for other stuff like that. If they're not doing anything, they're just being normal people. Why would I do that?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Kos poll: Burns by six (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 4/30/10, Politico)

[P]ennsylvania Democrat Mark Critz now trails by 6 percentage points in next month's special election for the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha, according to a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll released Friday. [...]

The poll shows President Barack Obama's favorability number in Pennsylvania's 12h Congressional District at a dismal 38 percent, with 55 percent of voters viewing the president unfavorably. The White House-backed health care reform law fares even worse: just 34 percent of voters say they would prefer to back a candidate who supports and wants to improve the law, compared with 48 percent who say they'd favor one who supports repeal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Players' Union to Arizona: modify or repeal your immigration law (Craig Calcaterra, 4/30/10, Hardball Talk)

MLBPA head Michael Weiner has issued a statement opposing Arizona's recently-passed SB 1070 immigration law: [...]

[T]he player's union taking a clear stand on this means that, unless baseball takes the same stand, controversy is inevitable. The sort that comes from players threatening to boycott the All-Star Game, for example, which would be a totally different deal than random people protesting or boycotting a Cubs game. Different in terms of the media coverage, and certainly different in terms of the effect (i.e. 20 players agreeing to not participate in the All-Star Game means a lot more than 20, 200 or even 20,000 people agreeing not to buy Dbacks merchandise.

In other words, this changes everything, at least from baseball's perspective. And it certainly puts the ball in Bud Selig's court.

...the Diamondbacks have a distinct paucity of significant Latino players--a set-up guy, a 4th outfielder, a utility infielder, and a 4th ot 5th starter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


The hub nation: Immigration places America at the centre of a web of global networks. So why not make it easier? (Lexington, Apr 22nd 2010, The Economist)

In Silicon Valley more than half of Chinese and Indian immigrant scientists and engineers report sharing information about technology or business opportunities with people in their home countries, according to AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California, Berkeley. Some Americans fret that China and India are using American know-how to out-compete America. But knowledge flows both ways. As people in emerging markets innovate—which they are already doing at a prodigious clip—America will find it ever more useful to have so many citizens who can tap into the latest brainwaves from Mumbai and Shanghai. Immigrants can also help their American employers do business in their homelands. Firms that employ many ethnic Chinese scientists, for example, are more likely to invest in China and more likely to do so through a wholly owned subsidiary, rather than seeking the crutch of a joint venture, finds Mr Kerr. In other words, local knowledge reduces the cost of doing business.

Immigration provides America with legions of unofficial ambassadors, deal-brokers, recruiters and boosters. Immigrants not only bring the best ideas from around the world to American shores; they are also a conduit for spreading American ideas and ideals back to their homelands, thus increasing their adoptive country’s soft power.

All of which makes the task of fixing America’s cumbersome immigration rules rather urgent. Alas, Barack Obama has done little to fulfil his campaign pledge to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Walter Jones retires from Seahawks after 13 seasons (Aaron Fentress, 4/30/10, The Oregonian)

Offensive tackle Walter Jones has retired after 13 seasons, the Seattle Seahawks announced moments ago in a press release. [...]

According to the Seahawks, in 13 season Jones was called for nine holding penalties while pass blocking on 5,703 pass plays and allowed just 23 sacks.

That can't even be right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


As Oil Hits Gulf Shore, White House Moves to Dampen Political Danger (David A. Graham, 4/30/10, Newsweek)

As the spill emerges as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent decades—and the feared words "Exxon Valdez" are bandied about—the Obama administration is on the defensive. The White House announced earlier this month that it would open up coastal waters for oil drilling, a decision that won plaudits from energy hawks but annoyed environmental advocates. The White House has already announced that all offshore drilling projects will be frozen until the government has had a chance to investigate the Gulf spill. It has also released a fact sheet detailing its efforts to respond to the spill and protect the gulf environment since a fire broke out on the rig eight days ago. Officials are eager to prove that the government has been engaged and avoid the criticism levied against the Bush administration after Hurricane Katrina.

Poor guy even panders poorly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Tom Seaver, Armed To Climb (DAVID HOGBERG, 4/30/10, INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY)

Solly Hemus, the manager of Seaver's minor league team, said: "Seaver has a 35-year-old head on top of a 21-year-old body."

That mind-body combination resulted in a Hall of Fame career with 311 wins, a 2.86 earned run average, 3,640 strikeouts — sixth all time — and three Cy Young Awards.

Even more amazing was Seaver's sparking of the 1969 Miracle Mets, who gave New York a championship to cap one of the greatest turnarounds in sports history.

Seaver, 65, brings that same orderly, logical approach to his current endeavor, running GTS Vineyards in California's Napa Valley.

"It's very analogous to pitching," he said. "Get your people, get them organized, these are your jobs." [...]

Seaver's brainy path stemmed from his not having much of a fastball while in high school in Fresno, Calif. He describes himself as a "teenaged junk-ball pitcher."

"Physically, I matured very late," he said. "By developing late, I wasn't one of those phenoms who comes out of high school and overpowers everybody. I had to learn how to pitch. When I couldn't overpower people, I had to learn how to move and locate the ball."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


Crush Democracy but Save the Kittens: Justice Alito's double standard for the First Amendment. (Richard L. Hasen, April 30, 2010, Slate)

Since joining the Supreme Court in 2006, Justice Samuel Alito has been the main judicial roadblock to sensible campaign-finance laws. By equating money spent on elections with free speech and expression, in the name of the First Amendment, Justice Alito cast the deciding vote in a series of cases culminating with the Citizens United case opening the spigot for corporate money in elections. He authored a 5-4 decision emphatically rejecting the idea that campaign-finance limits could be justified as a means of preventing the wealthy from using their great resources to skew election outcomes and legislation. Indeed, he's twice gone out of his way to write separate opinions inviting future litigants to bring challenges to key Supreme Court precedents upholding campaign finance laws. At Wednesday's oral argument in Doe v. Reed, he alone sounded strident in opposing the disclosure of the names of people signing ballot measure petitions, on grounds that anonymity is part of the right of political expression. He sure sounds like a free-speech zealot.

Except when it comes to the kittens.

In last week's decision in United States v. Stevens, Justice Alito was alone in arguing for the constitutionality of a federal law barring the commercial creation, sale, or possession of certain depictions of animal cruelty. Congress apparently enacted the law to stop the distribution of "crush videos," in which a woman slowly crushes a small animal to death with her feet; these videos apparently appeal to a small group of people with a bizarre sexual fetish.

While one can't help but sound silly when pretending that a corporation is a person, one has the First right when noting that it does not apply to non-political speech.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Dems spark alarm with call for national ID card (Alexander Bolton, 04/30/10, The Hill)

A plan by Senate Democratic leaders to reform the nation’s immigration laws ran into strong opposition from civil liberties defenders before lawmakers even unveiled it Thursday.

Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft of the measure.

A UPC barcode tatoo would seem more sensible. Once the bank associated your account with the code you wouldn't even need a wallet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


More on the Arizona Law: Checking the Text (Linda Chavez, 4/30/10, NRO: The Corner)

My friend Andy McCarthy suggests that those of us raising concerns about the “papers please” section of the Arizona law are either demagogues or haven’t read the law. What he doesn’t do is actually quote the section in question. I think there’s good reason why he and others who defend this law don’t want to draw attention to its actual wording. The grammar and syntax of the section are so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to discern its clear meaning, but it’s worth trying to parse. One of the bedrock principles of conservative jurisprudence is that the words of a statute actually matter, not simply the drafters’ intentions:

For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person. Any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to 8 united states code section 1373(c). A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona constitution. A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:

1. A valid Arizona driver license.
2. A valid Arizona nonoperating identification license.
3. A tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification.
4. A valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.

“Lawful contact” does not apply solely to law enforcement but to any “agency” of “the state, or a county, city, town or other political subdivision,” as enumerated in the law. If the drafters had wanted the law to apply only when a police officer had already come into contact with an individual because of a separate and distinct civil or criminal violation, they could have said so. If that had been their intent, they would have had no reason to include a provision for lawful contact by officials of all agencies of the state, county, local, and other political subdivisions. The list is all-inclusive because the law envisions officials from all public agencies — schools, hospitals, social services, etc. — having the right to demand proof of legal residence any time the official has “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant.

But even in the law enforcement context, “lawful contact” gives wide berth to police officers to approach individuals on the street, the so-called Terry standard. And in this instance, the law specifically permits that contact to occur solely on the basis of “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant. The drafters could have insisted on a higher standard, such as “probable cause,” but chose the lower threshold to cast a wider net.

In response to critics, Arizona tweaks new immigration law (Byron York, 04/30/10, Washington Examiner)
So now, in response to those critics, lawmakers have removed “lawful contact” from the bill and replaced it with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.” In an explanatory note, lawmakers added that the change “stipulates that a lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”

“It was the intent of the legislature for ‘lawful contact’ to mean arrests and stops, but people on the left mischaracterized it,” says Kris Kobach, the law professor and former Bush Justice Department official who helped draft the law. “So that term is now defined.”

The second change concerns the word “solely.” In a safeguard against racial profiling, the law contained the phrase, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.” Critics objected to that, too, arguing again that it would not prevent but instead lead to racial profiling. So lawmakers have taken out the word “solely.”

“There were misstatements by the opponents of the law that this was written to permit some consideration of race in the enforcement of this law,” says Kobach, “and that’s not the case at all.”

There is another part of the law which uses the word “solely,” and that is the section which says, “A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.” Given the clear limitation of actions to those allowed by the Constitution, there was no need to change that phrase.

...the only reason to keep it is the symbolism. Of course, it is what it symbolizes that is the problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Two-stage reform answer to immigration (Stewart Lawrence, 04/30/10, Daily Caller)

There is a way for the two parties to avoid his cynical and destructive impasse. And that’s to do what Obama could and should have done with health care—abandon the pretense of “comprehensive” reform, and focus on a more modest package. As was the case with health care reform, there are smaller and more “digestible” pieces of immigration reform legislation that might serve as the basis for bipartisan agreement now, before the mid-term elections. Time is short, but if the two parties can reach a first-stage agreement on these less contentious items, it might make partisan gridlock a bit less likely when they resume their debate after November.

The logic of a stripped down immigration agreement is similar to what’s been debated in comprehensive reform—only the scale is much smaller. The basic trade-off is still the same: a legalization of the undocumented in exchange for improvements in enforcement. Except that we are no longer talking about a massive and largely unconditional legalization program affecting as many as 15 million people. Or an equally contentious effort to introduce a controversial guest worker program or to impose a national ID card as the “final solution” to enforcement.

Conservatives, for example, could easily agree to some of the narrow legalization schemes that Democrats have proposed in the past, such as the DREAM Act that legalizes the children of illegal aliens who migrated with their parents, and really, through no fault of their own, are now living here illegally. The bill only affects about 1.5 million people, and to qualify for a green card, it insists that applicants either go to college or join the recruit-starved US military. It makes no sense to try to send these kids back to their countries of origin that they do not know, and to lose the value of the accrued investment in their education acquired here. Skillfully presented, DREAM might do for immigration what the CHIP program has done for child welfare—build a badly needed bridge on a hotly-contested issue

Another likely candidate for GOP support is Ag Jobs, which combines a special guest-worker program for agriculture with provisions to allow these workers to transition to legal residency. It’s not really an amnesty because many of the workers “imported” under the program aren’t yet living here. And the numbers involved, as with DREAM, are relatively small—perhaps 2 million workers. Furthermore, agribusiness desperately wants and needs the program, simply to survive. Finally, in contrast to other sectors of the unskilled labor market, there is little evidence that the foreign-born workers involved are competing with native-born Americans for the same jobs. (Wages are low, and the work is simply too demanding, and dirty, except for those long accustomed to it).

What would the GOP get “in return,” for these concessions? A dramatic expansion of the “E-Verify” workplace enforcement system that currently only applies to companies that are federal contractors—a tiny proportion of the firms operating in our economy.

The vast majority of Americans don't object to the immigrants, just their illegality, so any steps that legalize them help drain the poison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


American Power Act (DAVID BROOKS, 4/30/10, NY Times)

In 1860, Samuel Curtis, a Republican congressman of Iowa, sponsored a bill to create a transcontinental railroad. The debate over that public-private partnership was long and messy. Democrats said the proposal was unconstitutional. Others rightly argued that it meant huge giveaways to the rich.

But the railroad effort, backed by Abraham Lincoln, swept forward. “Nations are never stationary,” Representative James Campbell told the House. “They advance or recede. We cannot remain inactive ... without the loss of trade, of commerce, and power.”

After the legislation was approved in 1862, there were continual setbacks. The Union Pacific Railroad languished. Scandals mounted. Yet despite it all, the final spike was hammered into place at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, linking the nation and heralding a new burst of prosperity.

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things.

Energy innovation is the railroad legislation of today.

Developing the railway system was obviously an area where competition didn't make sense--after all, multiple companies laying parallel lines would have been a fiasco. But as regards alternative energy sources government can foster innovation and competition simply by making the energy cources we want to leave behind more expensive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Tea Party's Immigration Hypocrisy: The right frets that Obama is turning America into a police state. So why are grass-roots conservatives silent when Arizona is doing just that? (Peter Beinart, 4/30/10, Daily Beast)

Where are the tea partiers when we need them? For a year now, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and their minions have been warning that America is morphing into a police state. If government more heavily regulates insurance companies, they insist, or if it puts a price on carbon, personal freedom will soon be a distant memory. America will become Amerika, a totalitarian dystopia where citizens can’t even walk the streets without their government-issued identity papers, a place where police can detain people who have committed no crime just because they left their wallets at home. America will become, in other words, Arizona.

So where are Palin and Beck, those latter-day Paul Reveres, now that Governor Jan Brewer is doing to the southwest what President Barack Obama supposedly hopes to do to the nation? They’re blissfully unconcerned; they don’t see any threat to liberty at all. After all, it’s not as if Brewer is regulating the derivatives market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


470 public service jobs expected to go (NZ Herald, Apr 30, 2010)

The Government expects 470 public service positions will go by the end of next year, State Services Minister Tony Ryall's office has confirmed.

The Labour Party blew the whistle on the cuts today, saying it had Cabinet papers which showed health, education and Inland Revenue would bear the brunt of what it called "indiscriminate cuts to public services".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Tories unveil voters 'contract': The Tories have unveiled a "contract" being sent to millions of households in target seats in a bid to capitalise on the "momentum" generated by David Cameron's performance in the final TV debate. (Evening Standard, 4/30/10)

Titled "A contract between the Conservative Party and you" and adorned with a picture of the would-be prime minister apparently signing it, the document has been mailed to two million homes.

Party sources said they included households in Labour-held seats the party had added to its target list in the wake of a surge of Liberal Democrat support on the back of the opening two debates.

In a personal message Mr Cameron calls for everyone in the country to "get involved, take responsibility and work together" to foster economic recovery, mend the "broken society" and clean up politics. "So this is our contract with you. I want you to read it and - if we win the election - use it to hold us to account," he writes.

Among the pledges included are a right to "sack" misbehaving MPs, halt Labour's planned National Insurance rise, increase health spending "every year" and re-link state pensions to earnings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Hillary Clinton's abortion grenade (Michael Gerson, April 30, 2010, Washington Post)

Last month, during a political controversy in Canada on the issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a news conference in Quebec. "I've worked in this area for many years," she said. "And if we're talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion."

The Toronto Star described this as a "grenade in the lap of her shell-shocked Canadian hosts."

Clinton's search for a fight on this issue is not the recent norm. Increased development assistance to improve global health has been one of the bipartisan achievements of the past decade -- an exception to Washington's general bitterness. Millions are taking AIDS drugs, sleeping under anti-malarial bed nets and getting treatment for tropical diseases because ideology has not been allowed to sabotage goodwill.

But the political alliance on this issue has always been fragile. Traditionally, liberal advocates of global health spending have worked in uneasy alliance with conservatives -- mainly non-libertarian social conservatives -- who hold a moral view of America's role in the world. This is the Bono-Bush coalition that passed and then reauthorized the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) -- an initiative that intentionally avoided the issue of abortion to prevent infighting among its wildly diverse supporters.

Clinton's grenade did damage beyond Canada. Liberals need to understand -- however strong their pro-choice convictions -- how offensive many conservatives find the global health argument for abortion. It seems like addressing poverty by doing away with the poor; like fighting disease by getting rid of those with diseases.

Death is Health, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Leaving the euro behind? (Sebastian Mallaby, April 30, 2010, Washington Post)

The euro project can work only if its members are improbably virtuous. This is often thought to mean simply that governments must avoid borrowing too much: Countries that use the euro are supposed to keep budget deficits below 3 percent of gross domestic product -- not that they have done that. But the crisis has spotlighted a second temptation: Countries in the eurozone must prevent private companies from raising workers' pay too fast. Otherwise they can't compete against the cost-containing Germans.

Of these two temptations -- too much borrowing and too much pay -- the first is getting all the attention, but the second is most threatening to the euro. After all, a government that borrows too much can simply default. It can do that whether it is inside a currency union or outside it.

But a eurozone member that allows wages to rise unsustainably has no such easy exit. It cannot regain its competitiveness by the usual trick of devaluing its currency because it no longer has its own currency. It therefore must compete by pushing wages down, an extraordinarily unpopular recourse that is unlikely to succeed in a democracy. Offered a choice between this root-canal austerity and quitting the euro, there is little doubt about which option most voters would go for.

Moreover, even if workers could be persuaded to accept wage cuts, the medicine could well fail anyway. Uncompetitive countries run trade deficits: They buy more from other nations than they sell and pay for the difference by borrowing from foreigners. Now, what happens when an indebted country tries to become competitive by forcing wages down? Falling wages means deflation, and deflation increases the burden of those debts -- if you owe a bundle on your credit card and your wages take a sudden hit, you will struggle to make your next payment. Because of this debt-deflation pincer, uncompetitive and indebted countries must choose between default and leaving the euro.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


The Immigration Impasse: The GOP is being tugged toward nativism as its coalition grows more monochromatic. (Ronald Brownstein, 5/01/10, National Journal)

As another political firefight erupts over illegal immigration, it's easy to forget how recently a bipartisan solution to the incendiary dilemma appeared within reach.

Just four years ago, 62 U.S. senators, including 23 Republicans, voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. That bill was co-authored by Arizona Republican John McCain and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy. President Bush strongly supported it. The Republican supporters also included such conservative senators as Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The 39 Democratic supporters included a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

Reform advocates suspect that Graham is withdrawing from the immigration effort partly to avoid embarrassing his close ally McCain.

That bill offered a three-step approach to reform that remains the most plausible template for consensus. It would have toughened enforcement of immigration laws, devoting additional resources to guarding the border and policing employers who hire undocumented workers. It established a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of immigrant labor. (Under an Obama amendment, that guest-worker program would be suspended whenever unemployment reached 9 percent.) And it provided a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pass a background check, pay a fine, and learn English.

The bill attracted substantial support from business, religious, and civil-rights groups. The measure almost certainly could have attracted the necessary 218 votes to pass the House. But it died when House GOP leaders refused to bring it to a vote because they concluded that it lacked majority support among House Republicans.

Since 2006, Republican support for comprehensive action has unraveled.

It requires presidential action.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Obama Says Liberal Courts May Have Overreached (CHARLIE SAVAGE and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 4/30/10, NY Times)

In a seeming rejection of liberal orthodoxy, President Obama has spoken disparagingly about liberal victories before the Supreme Court in the 1960s and 1970s — suggesting that justices made the “error” of overstepping their bounds and trampling on the role of elected officials.

Mr. Obama made his remarks Wednesday night against a backdrop of recent Supreme Court rulings in which conservative justices have struck down laws favored by liberals, most notably a January ruling that nullified restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections.

“It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically,” Mr. Obama said.

“And in the ’60s and ’70s, the feeling was — is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach. What you’re now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error.”

He added, “The concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways.”

...repeal of Marbury would be appropriate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Obama’s Rebounding Economy Revealed in Junk-Bond Dividend Deals (Caroline Salas and John Detrixhe, 4/30/10, Bloomberg)

Investors have gobbled up $99.6 billion of junk-bond sales in 2010, a record for the first four months of the year, including the most bonds to fund dividends for private-equity firms since before the credit crisis began in August 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Standard & Poor’s LCD. Prices for the average speculative-grade security climbed to 99.7 cents on the dollar this week, the highest since June 2007, up from 54.8 cents in December 2008, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Index.

The return of an appetite for risk shows growing confidence that the U.S. will avoid a double-dip recession, said John Lonski, chief economist at Moody’s Capital Markets Group.

April 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Immigration overhaul is a job for the U.S. Congress (Gideon Aronoff, April 29, 2010, JTA)

For Jews especially, the question “Where are your papers” raises the dual scepters of Nazi Europe and the Soviet Union. Within living memory, some of us were forced to identify ourselves by yellow stars and many of us by having “Yevrey” ("Jew" in Russian) stamped on our identification papers.

The situation in Arizona, though very different from these tragic memories, nevertheless resonates strongly.

Once it takes effect later this year, the Immigration; Law Enforcement; Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) will require everyone in the state of Arizona to carry government-issued identification at all times or risk arrest. Despite the police training programs Governor Brewer mandated after the law was signed to prevent racial profiling, discrimination seems unavoidable.

For legal residents who will be pulled over based solely on the color of their skin or questioned due to their accents, the reaction no doubt will alternate between shame and rage. This legislation will pit segments of society against each other, resulting in increased hate rhetoric and racial tension.

In Deuteronomy 16:12, we are commanded to establish a fair justice system: “and they shall judge the people with righteous justice.” In Leviticus 24:22, we are further instructed: “You shall have one law for the stranger and the citizens alike.”

We believe these passages have great relevance today and that advocating for the rights of immigrants reflects the Jewish mandate to uphold a fair justice system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Leaders' debate: barring an earthquake, David Cameron is on his way to No 10 (Jonathan Freedland, 4/20/10, The Guardian)

Brown was solid, of course, ramming home his core point that the recovery was too fragile to risk a premature withdrawal of state spending. He was full of detail, rattling off aspects of his rivals' manifestos that suggested he had read those documents closer than they had. Several times he confronted Cameron with a policy dredged from the small print – on, for example, a cut in corporation tax for banks, offset by a withdrawal in support for manufacturing industry – that seemed to come as news to the Tory leader.

Yet only rarely did any of this cut through, as the political professionals put it. Brown was at his best recalling the anger he felt on the eve of the banks' collapse, the decision he had had to take lest the entire financial system crumble, reminding viewers why he was surely the most qualified of the three men on stage to steer the country towards a stable recovery.

Most of the time, though, he spoke a technocratic language that most Britons simply don't speak, rattling off plans and schemes that few people can digest. The cruel reality of the debate format is that it never awards victory according to which candidate lays out the most coherent case on policy. It operates on a different, less logical level; it sells not the message but the messenger. And so, by this test, the battered, exhausted-looking Brown, never able to fix the camera with his gaze, lost once again. Most of the instant polls gave him third place for the third time.

That made Cameron the winner. Every answer was translated into folksy idiom. He wanted school funds "to follow the child across the playground and into the classroom". After Brown had answered a question on immigration with detail on points systems and skill quotas, Cameron cut through with a simple declaration that "immigration has been too high for too long". All evening the Conservative leader spoke in a language people can understand.

On the other trivial measures that settle these things, he scored well too. His posture was right: used now to the format, he no longer looked struck by stagefright as he had in the previous two encounters. On Twitter he won praise for his suit and tie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Group: Army symbol is religious, should be changed (AP, 4/29/10)

The emblem says "Pro deo et humanitate" or "For God and humanity."

Fort Carson commanders will review the complaint, Lt. Col. Steve Wollman said.

He said the emblem had been approved by the Army Institute of Heraldry and has been in use since 1969.

Wollman said references to doctors serving God and humanity date to the time of Hippocrates, a pre-Christianity Greek physician.

Wollman said the cross, which has a pointed base, is both an emblem of mercy and a symbol dating to the Middle Ages, when pilgrims carried a cross with a spiked base to mark the site of a camp.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said that's a reference to the Crusades and could embolden U.S. enemies who want to portray the war on terror as a Christian war on Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


A 51st state? Congress takes up Puerto Rico statehood: A bill in the House of Representatives would give Puerto Rico's 4 million residents a vote on whether they want to transition to statehood or independence. (Jim Abrams, 4/29/10, Associated Press)

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote and people would choose among three options: statehood, independence and sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state. [...]

"The American way is to allow people to vote, to express themselves and to tell their elected officials how they feel about their political arrangements," said Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno at a news conference with Pierluisi. "For 112 years, we haven't had the chance ... to fully participate in one way or another in the decisions that affect our daily lives."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Settlement day: After drubbing, Goldman mulling deal with SEC (MARK DeCAMBRE, April 29, 2010, NY Post)

After 11 hours of accusations by members of the Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations, people close to the bank said Goldman is mulling closing the SEC fraud-case chapter on the belief the firm's reputation, already damaged, might not endure a street fight with the Wall Street watchdog.

"It's almost a certainty that there will be a settlement," said a source.

As another person put it, the SEC has an "unlimited supply of ammunition" in the form of e-mails and records that it could release, and Goldman officials would like to avoid having those documents fired back at them the way they were on Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


Japan’s Geriatric Future: How will a shrinking economic power handle a rapidly aging population? (Duncan Currie, 4/29/10, National Review)

Which brings us to Japan’s calamitous demographics. According to one set of projections from the country’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), the Japanese population will shrink by roughly 25 percent between 2010 and 2050, plummeting from 127 million down to 95 million. In 1970, people over the age of 64 made up only 7.1 percent of the Japanese population; today, they represent t23.1 percent; by 2050, they will account for 39.6 percent. Meanwhile, the population share of those aged 15 to 64 will drop from 63.9 percent in 2010 to 51.8 percent in 2050. Over that same period, the population share of those under age 15 will fall from 13 percent to 8.6 percent.

The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) notes that Japan has the world’s longest life expectancy at birth — which is a good thing, except that the country is relying on an ever-shrinking supply of workers to support an ever-growing number of retirees. Using medium-variant estimates of birth levels, the NIPSSR reckons that Japan’s old-age dependency ratio — that is, the number of elderly divided by the number of working-age Japanese — will increase from 36.2 percent in 2010 to 79.4 percent in 2055. By then, the NIPSSR calculates, female life expectancy at birth in Japan will be 90.34 years.

Japan already has the oldest population on the planet — it has the highest median age, followed by Germany and Italy — and the UNPD projects that it will still be the grayest in 2050 (apart from the Chinese territory of Macau). At the midpoint of the 20th century, Japan was the world’s fifth-most-populous country, behind only China, India, the U.S., and Russia. Now it is the tenth-most-populous; by 2050, according to UNPD calculations, it will be the 17th-most-populous, with fewer people than the Philippines and Vietnam. Only a handful of countries — all of them in Eastern Europe — are expected to experience a steeper population decline over the next four decades. Even Russia, with its myriad demographic woes, inferior health care, and lower life expectancy, will lose a smaller share of its population than Japan will.

The nature of Japan’s demographic challenge is hardly unique among advanced industrial democracies, all of which must address societal aging and strained welfare systems, and some of which (such as Germany and Italy) are entering a period of major population contraction. In certain ways, however, Japan is sui generis: It must deal with the triple whammy of exceptionally low birthrates, relatively low levels of female labor participation, and minuscule amounts of immigration.

Japan’s total fertility rate has been below replacement level (2.1) since the mid-1970s, and it hit an all-time low of 1.26 in 2005. This can be explained partly by marriage trends. Only a tiny fraction of Japanese births are non-marital, and Japan’s marriage rate peaked in 1971 (prior to the first global oil shock, which triggered a vicious recession), before declining steadily through the late 1980s. The Japanese are also delaying marriage longer than ever before. In 1970, just 7.2 percent of Japanese women aged 30 to 34 had never been married; by 2005, that figure had climbed to 32 percent. Among Japanese men aged 30 to 34, the never-married segment grew from 11.6 percent in 1970 to 47.1 percent in 2005. By that point, 30 percent of Japanese men in the next age cohort, 35 to 39, had never been married, compared with only 4.7 percent in 1970.

Thanks to these factors and others, Japan’s population has been shrinking for several years now. In May 2008, the Washington Post reported that “Japan now has fewer children who are 14 or younger than at any time since 1908.” Hatoyama has advocated pro-natalist measures, such as offering cash payments to families with kids. But Overholt expects such initiatives to be “ineffectual, because the system makes it so impossibly difficult for women to have children and a job.” A 2005 Goldman Sachs study found that if Japanese women participated in the workforce at the same rate as American women, Japan’s GDP would begin to grow much faster.

Higher levels of immigration would also have an impact. Today, foreign-born residents make up less than 2 percent of the Japanese population. (By comparison, they accounted for 12.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2008, according to the Census Bureau.) The country “doesn’t have a future without workers from overseas,” Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the independent Japan Immigration Policy Institute, told the New York Times last year.

Solving its demographic problem may require Japan to embrace a fundamentally new set of economic and social policies — policies that are less protectionist, less hostile to foreign investment, more growth-oriented, more supportive of female employment, and more welcoming to immigrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


What united city? (ABRAHAM RABINOVICH, 29/04/2010, Jerusalem Post)

So-called east Jerusalem has no more sanctity or connection to ‘eternal Jerusalem’ than any village in the West Bank.

Despite four decades of intensive construction of Jewish housing in east Jerusalem, the Jewish majority in the city has fallen from 74 percent in 1967 to 65% today.

The Israelis have built fast, but the Palestinians have bred faster.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s response has been to ignore the obvious solution to the demographic problem and instead proclaim Jerusalem a “united city, the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” a slogan masquerading as a policy.

The borders of today’s Jerusalem were not fixed by the Bible but by a handful of civil servants and a general, Rehavam Ze’evi, who comprised the government committee which drew up the annexation map in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War. In taking 70 square kilometers of former Jordanian territory, only six of which had been part of Jordanian Jerusalem, they were guided primarily by security considerations – inclusion of maximum high ground and minimum Arab population – not by historical memory. The territory taken, which tripled the size of Jerusalem, was almost entirely rural and included land from 28 outlying Arab villages. Also included was the Old City, site of the Israelite capital for a millennium and the focus of Jewish prayer ever since, but measuring less than one square kilometer.

The unfortunate thing is that the Jews of East Jerusalem are just chips to be traded in the eventual peace deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Mack (R) compares Ariz. law to Nazi Germany (Eric Zimmermann - 04/29/10, The Hill)

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) ripped into the new Arizona immigration law today, comparing it to Nazy Germany.

"This law of 'frontier justice' – where law enforcement officials are required to stop anyone based on 'reasonable suspicion' that they may be in the country illegally – is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause," Mack said in a statement.

"This is not the America I grew up in and believe in, and it’s not the America I want my children to grow up in," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Rangers rage as Boston paper blames fans for Ibrox Disaster (Daily Mail, 29th April 2010)

Rangers will make a formal complaint to the Boston Globe newspaper over an article which suggested supporters were to blame for the 1971 Ibrox Disaster.

The paper has run a piece in which fears were expressed over the proposed staging of an Old Firm derby in the US city this summer.

The article was critical of the behaviour of Rangers fans during a number of European away matches, including the 2008 UEFA Cup final in Manchester.

But it was the claim supporter behaviour played a part in the tragic deaths of 66 people after a derby match 39 years ago that has angered the Govan club.

The article read: 'Most notably, disaster struck at Rangers' Ibrox Stadium in 1971 following a crush-barrier failure.

'It is widely accepted that the tensions between Celtic and Rangers fans played a major part in the 66 deaths.'

It actually wasn't a matter of fan behavior that time, but this was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Communism is on the wane in India: Communism and its unruly offshoots Naxalism and Maoism will continue to lose public support in India but a solution to the Naxal problem is still a few years away (Pramod Kumar Buravalli, 4/29/10, rediff)

Today, the worldwide Communist movement is confused and is either getting localised depending on the reality of the country of operations or is totally being decimated in electoral politics.

Though anti-democratic in doctrine, Communist parties around the world are adopting and practicing centrist and democratic ways of politics in order to compete and survive in the interconnected market driven world of today. The last bastion of Communism, China started taking the Deng Xiaoping route of market economy way back in the late 1970's forming large international corporations that today compete with the best of the best multinational corporations of the world. Do you call that Communism or controlled capitalism?

Coming back to India, over the past decade Communism and Naxalbari inspired far left revolutionary movements have been on the decline in semi-urban and urban areas. It is only in under developed and heavily forested tribal corridors of India that the far left movement has gained substantial stranglehold. Aided and financed by dimwitted intellectuals and outside powers, this movement has spread to over 200 districts of India.

The recent Dantewada massacre where 76 jawans of the central paramilitary were surrounded and butchered in cold blood by well armed Naxalites is a reminder of the challenges the Indian government faces in eliminating these terrorists.

With every such violent incident, Communism and its offshoots Naxalism and Maoism are beginning to lose the support of many Indian intellectuals who earlier used to romanticise the Lal Salaam (red salute). The Communists lost heavily across the board in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and are most likely to lose their bastions in Kerala and West Bengal in the next few years.


India is the largest spiritual nation on this planet and any ideology that does not believe in a higher authority will never win the hearts and minds of large swathes of the population.

It is very unfortunate that most of the Naxalite stories which originally began as mass movements against oppressive land owners and industrialists have now become organised mafias of land grabbers, kidnappers, smugglers and terrorists.

Concerted action by the central paramilitary troops, intelligence agencies and state police departments have already begun to turn up the heat against these gun-totting hordes of extremists. But, it is understandable that a final or comprehensive solution is still years away.

Development and infrastructure overhaul in Naxalite-affected areas have to be a simultaneous part of the long-term solution. Most importantly, weaning away the local support base, stopping funding from outside countries and pulling up the pro-left liberals must also be part of the Track II initiatives that need to be taken by the government of India.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Muqtada unleashes new, improved army (Sami Moubayed, 4/30/10, Asia Times)

Muqtada al-Sadr has been on everybody's radar for six years, especially after emerging victorious in the March elections in Baghdad, winning 40 of the 70 seats taken by the Iraqi National Alliance. His victory was testimony that those who preach political Islam are not yet completely defeated in Iraq, although politicians with similar programs, like the Iran-backed Ammar al-Hakim of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) have suffered a severe reversal of fortunes, loosing approximately 70 seats in parliament, and eight out of 11 provinces.

Muqtada's approval will now ultimately make or break any incoming prime minister, just as it did with Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nuri al-Maliki in 2005-2006. Coinciding with his recent political victories, Muqtada last week announced that his Mahdi Army, which has been frozen for nearly two years, is back in full operation.

His words sent shivers down the spine of seculars and Sunni radicals, vibrating throughout Washington, which was never too fond of the Sadrists, whom it never could fully grasp or control. [...]

Muqtada has been working hard for two years to transform the Mahdi Army into another Hezbollah, personally inspired by Hassan Nasrallah. That is why he froze all activities of the Mahdi Army, so he can take a long hard look at membership and filter out the undisciplined, the reckless and the corrupt (of which there were plenty in 2003-2007).

That is why he went back to the seminary, so he could elevate his academic credentials and rise from the rank of sayyed to that of an ayatollah (which enables him to issue fatwas) and grants him greater authority within the Shi'ite community at large. And that explains why, against all odds, he has insisted on refraining from any sectarian rhetoric, copying the Nasrallah model in Lebanon, who always speaks of Lebanon, not of Shi'ites.

Muqtada also copied Hezbollah's massive charity network, monopolizing education, hospitals and fund-raising within the Shi'ite districts of Iraq to make sure that no family goes to bed hungry and all receive a monthly stipend from the Mahdi Army. Much like a modern Robin Hood, Muqtada is suiting himself to become spokesmen, defender and leader for the poor of Iraq.

Now is the time to unveil the new Mahdi Army. It will look, sound and act like Hezbollah. No more street violence or sectarian tension triggered by the Sadrists. On the contrary, the Mahdi Army - this time with strong Iranian support - will replace the failed state of Maliki. It will extend an arm to the Sunnis and Kurds willing to work with it, making sure that no prime minister is brought to power, without full consent of Muqtada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Obama Trade Goals Face Doubts (SUDEEP REDDY, 4/28/10, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years will be difficult to meet, business leaders and economists say, because of the lack of momentum on demolishing trade barriers and the shift by more American companies toward producing overseas. [...]

Matthew Slaughter, an economist at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, says the majority of U.S. exports come from multinational firms and U.S. affiliates of foreign firms that tend to produce capital-intensive, high-value products. That could limit the employment gains from an export boom. "I could imagine that the employment increase coming from those firms, because they're so productive, would be smaller for a given dollar value of exports" than employment gains from smaller firms, said Mr. Slaughter, who served in the administration of President George W. Bush and is now on a State Department economic advisory panel.

American businesses say they must contend with a long list of disadvantages, from higher tax rates than in many countries to rising costs for benefits such as health care. U.S. producers also say an artificially low Chinese currency makes Chinese goods especially cheap in foreign markets and therefore tougher competitors for American goods.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Poll: Black teens more optimistic than peers (MARTHA IRVINE, 04/29/10, AP)

A new survey finds that black high school students are more optimistic about the future than their peers.

A poll released Thursday by Hamilton College shows that 70 percent of black students ages 15 to 18 believe that their standard of living will be better than their parents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


What's Your Sign?: A Supreme Court case that puts Scalia and gay rights advocates on the same side. (Dahlia Lithwick, April 28, 2010, Slate)

Today's oral argument confirms that in 2010, your constitutional worldview has less to do with the color of your skin than the thickness of it. In a case about whether one's signature on a ballot petition can be kept secret, the Supreme Court splits quickly and sharply into the justices who recognize that politics is a contact sport and those who wish it could be more like an aromatherapy massage. Justice Antonin Scalia, whose hide is tougher than a rhino's, speaks for the blood-sport faction when he says that "running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage."

Perhaps the most profound confusion about any civil right is the modern notion that speech ought not to have any consequences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


Bush Was Right: Obama’s predecessor would have passed immigration reform if not for 9/11. He was correct to shift focus then—and Obama shouldn’t let the Arizona debacle force him to push for a new law during an election year. (Mark McKinnon, 4/28/10, Daily Beast)

About a decade ago, discussion about immigration reform was focused on making U.S law friendlier, or at the very least, reasonable for Mexican immigrants. And the message was carried by unlikely champions such as George W. Bush, who as governor of Texas saw up close the strong work ethic, deep patriotism, strong faith, and enormous contribution Mexican immigrants make to our country. It was that kind of compassionate conservatism that drew independents and Democrats like me to support Gov. Bush.

I remember during the 2000 presidential campaign when some in the GOP counseled President Bush to stay away from immigration reform, worried that he would be viewed as too soft and immigrant-friendly on the subject, creating a political liability. Bush ignored the advice. And not long after he was elected, he pushed the issue to the front burner of his agenda.

If not for the attacks of 9/11, immigration reform would very likely have passed in late 2001 or 2002. President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico were working very closely on the issue until that horrible event reshaped American policy on so many fronts, including immigration.

Between the partisan animus whipped up by Gore v. Bush and the Iraq War it's remarkable that he was effective for as long as he was. But then the Right turned on him--Dubai ports, immigration, Harriet Miers, Iraq--and like most two term presidents he stalled out. That is why, of course, the great successes of his second term were on matters where a president doesn't much need Congress or his party, foreign policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


Rubio's Path Easiest, Crist's Challenging, in Potential Three-Way Race (Nate Silver, 4/22/10, FiveThiryEight)

I think that Crist is going to have a great deal of trouble holding onto his remaining Republican support. Right now, Crist is preferred to Rubio by about one-third of Republian registered voters, according to Quinnipiac. But, even though there are some moderate Republicans in Florida (38 percent of the Republican presidential primary electorate in 2008 described themselves as moderate or liberal), it's asking a lot of a Republican identifier to continue to support a candidate who has just ditched the party -- particularly when it seems to be motivated by expediency rather than ideological resolve (Crist's lack of grivatas, even when compared with someone like Arlen Specter or Joe Lieberman, will hurt him here). Plus, Rubio, already very well liked by conservatives, will get to do a bit of a victory lap as the sole viable candidate on the primary ballot, and can immediately turn his attention to broadening his appeal among party moderates. This might not even require all that much effort; Rubio's favorability rating among Republicans is 67-7 (!) according to Quinnipiac, and while quite conservative, he seems from a distance to avoid coming across as any kind of dangerous extremist.

If you play around with the "what-if calculator" that Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal created, and give Rubio, say, 75-80 percent of the Republican vote along with a bare minimum of 25 percent of the independent vote and a few percentage points of Democratic support, he seems to have a floor of about 36 percent of the vote overall, whatever reasonable assumptions you might make about turnout. Indeed, given the mood of the electorate, I would be very surprised if Rubio wound up with less than 36 or 37 percent of the vote, unless there were some major scandal (always possible) or he ran a terrible campaign (also possible).

In a three-way race, what this means is that Rubio is guaranteed at least second place. He could still lose if the race were Crist 37, Rubio 36, Meek 27, or Meek 37, Rubio 36, Crist 27, but you can't get more than one-third of the vote in a three-way race and do worse than second.

This is advantageous, since it means that nobody much will defect from you for strategic reasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


Cape Wind OK’d in a first for the nation (Beth Daley, April 29, 2010, Boston Globe)

US Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar yesterday approved the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the controversial Cape Wind project first proposed nine years ago in the beloved waters of Nantucket Sound, and proclaimed the dawn of a new era of clean energy in the United States.

First a Republican health care bill, now the wind project he'd always opposed, the tributes to Senator Kennedy are coming fast and furious.

April 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Another poll puts McCain over Hayworth by 26 points (Dan Nowicki, 4/27/10, AZ Central)

[T]he statewide survey of 666 Arizona voters conducted between April 12 and April 25 includes Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who indicated they intend to participate in the Aug. 24 Republican primary.

Of those primary voters, McCain leads Hayworth 54 percent to 28 percent with another 18 percent undecided.

In a potential general election battle against former Tucson Vice Mayor Rodney Glassman, the leading Democratic Senate candidate, McCain is ahead 46 percent to 24 percent with a significant 30 percent "uncommitted," the poll says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


The hidden damage of psychiatric drugs: An award-winning science reporter looks at the history of mental illness in America -- with disturbing results (Jed Lipinski, 4/27/10, Salon)

The timing of Robert Whitaker’s "Anatomy of an Epidemic," a comprehensive and highly readable history of psychiatry in the United States, couldn’t be better. An acclaimed mental health journalist and winner of a George Polk Award for his reporting on the psychiatric field, Whitaker draws on 50 years of literature and in-person interviews with patients to answer a simple question: If "wonder drugs" like Prozac are really helping people, why has the number of Americans on government disability due to mental illness skyrocketed from 1.25 million in 1987 to over 4 million today?

"Anatomy of an Epidemic" is the first book to investigate the long-term outcomes of patients treated with psychiatric drugs, and Whitaker finds that, overall, the drugs may be doing more harm than good. Adhering to studies published in prominent medical journals, he argues that, over time, patients with schizophrenia do better off medication than on it. Children who take stimulants for ADHD, he writes, are more likely to suffer from mania and bipolar disorder than those who go unmedicated. Intended to challenge the conventional wisdom about psychiatric drugs, "Anatomy" is sure to provoke a hot-tempered response, especially from those inside the psychiatric community.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Believe It or Not (David B. Hart, May 2010, First Things)

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys. [...]

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds
of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

Well, we can hardly expect them to measure up to David Hume, but it would be nice if they were at least a tiny bit skeptical about their own personal faiths.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Bing Crosby, Beyond His Greatest Hits (WILL FRIEDWALD, 4/28/10, WSJ)

Bing Crosby wasn't the single most important figure in 20th century popular music—and, in particular, the most influential singer of the great American songbook—it's difficult to know who would be. He cast a giant shadow over the entire landscape of American music, touching upon the pop icons who followed him (Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles all paid their respects) and into the worlds of jazz, rhythm and blues, and country music. There's even a famous calypso record dedicated in his honor.

The impact of Crosby (1903-1977) upon American culture was enormous—a sea change that was both musical and technological. He was the first major pop vocalist to incorporate the swinging rhythms and improvisatory essence of the new American music called jazz into his singing, which, in turn, allowed him to bring a hitherto unheard casualness and intimacy to American pop. He also was the first vocalist to fully fathom the equation of the new electronic media: electrical recording, radio and sound film. His mastery of these forms empowered him to become the biggest musical star of the Depression and World War II eras—and an inspiration for generations of performers and singers, including Sinatra.

Heard today, Crosby's warm, mellifluous baritone is still as engaging and moving as ever. If Crosby is less a part of the discussion than he should be, it's partly the fault of the organizations that control the rights to his performances. While the estates of Sinatra and Presley have taken steps to make sure the catalogs of these iconic artists remain accessible, the only Crosby music that has been readily available in the three decades since the singer's death were Christmas albums and basic greatest-hits collections.

That situation, at last, is starting to change.

...and the local radio station played "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." His voice is so smooth and rich it was like being dunked in warm caramel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Antitax hysteria is hastening America's decline: A gas tax would be a smart and fair way to plug Pennsylvania’s fiscal hole. But raising taxes appears to be outside the realm of rational discussion. (Dennis Jett, April 28, 2010, CS Monitor)

In order to maintain [I-80] and generate funds for other projects in the state, Pennsylvania’s legislature had approved a plan to place tolls on the road. The $472 million that would have been collected was supposed to cover about half what the state intended to spend on highways and public transportation. [...]

While there are several different options, the most obvious one probably won’t get the serious discussion it deserves. Increasing the state fuel tax – which now stands at 32.3 cents per gallon – by about seven cents a gallon could fill the gap. The people using Pennsylvania’s roads would pay the tax and it would cost nothing more to collect. Gasoline prices have risen 80 cents a gallon since a year ago, and yet the republic still stands, so the burden is bearable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


The Bomb Squad: The only thing worse than a U.S. attack on Iran would be an Israeli one. (Michael Crowley, April 21, 2010, New Republic)

Obviously, a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear march would be vastly preferable to a military one. And even if, as seems likely, tough international sanctions are either unattainable or fail to change Iran’s course, it may well be that air strikes aren’t worth the potentially terrible consequences. Yet if someone is going to bomb Iran, it shouldn’t be Israel. It should be America.

The main reason is simple: America is in a far better position to cripple Iran’s nuclear program. Consider the analysis of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities published last year by Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The authors imagined a scenario where Israeli jets flew through southern Turkish airspace and then cut across Iraq’s northern tip to strike several facilities within Iran. Toukan and Cordesman were not optimistic about the results. “[I]t would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate,” they concluded. Israel would face an array of problems, they argue, from the limited range of its aircraft—requiring multiple refuelings—to the limited ability of its warheads to penetrate Iran’s deeply buried nuclear facilities.

By contrast, last month Toukan and Cordesman released a similar report, this one examining a possible American attack on Iran. Their assessment was far more bullish. Such an attack would involve U.S. B-2 stealth bombers based in Diego Garcia. The B-2 has exponentially longer range than Israel’s F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers. Conveniently, last summer the B-2 completed an upgrade allowing it to carry the GPS-guided 5,300-pound Massive Ordinance Penetrator bomb. And the bomber’s stealth nature will make it far less vulnerable to Iran’s air-defense system than the Israeli Air Force’s traditional jets. As Cordesman and Toukan conclude, the U.S. is “the only country that can launch a successful Military Solution."

Chuck Wald, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force General who worked on a Bipartisan Policy Center task force on Iran, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last summer that the U.S. military option is “a technically feasible and credible option.” Perhaps most significantly, even Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, who has often warned of the possible grave consequences of hitting Iran, conceded last weekend that a U.S. attack would “go a long way” toward setting back (though not eliminating) Iran’s nuclear program.

Just because you say "a diplomatic solution is preferable" over and over again doesn't make it true. Who benefited more, the North Koreans from the negotiated end to that war or the Japanese from our nuking them to end WWII?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Deep Thoughts Before Armageddon (Robert Wright, 4/28/10, NY Times)

Beginning any moment now, you’ll see a month-long trickle of news articles, op-eds and blog posts about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, which gets underway in New York City this Monday and lasts through May 28. Since the fate of the world could hinge on stemming the spread of nuclear weapons, and this goal could in turn hinge on strengthening the treaty at these every-five-years review conferences, you may feel you should read much of this coverage. And your likely failure to do so may cause guilt feelings.

I’m here to help. This column may not give you everything you need to know about what’s likely to happen at the conference, but I’ll do my best to make you feel you’ve paid your dues without a huge sacrifice of time.

And for those who are especially pressed for time, I’ll even preface my timesaving preview with a timesaving preview of my preview:

1) Though there will be a valuable airing of some urgently needed treaty reforms at this conference, none will get passed.

...it's not much of a problem and such as it is would be easily solved if we actually cared about it.

You'd think that after 70 years of whipping themselves into a hysterical frenzy with that "fate of the world" nonsense, people would be tired of the nuclear boogeyman, but the emotional wallow prevents coherent thought. But if you're not subject to their paranoid delusion, John Mueller's Atomic Obsession offers a dispositive dismantling of the idea that nukes are, or ever have been, an existential threat.

Of course, just because we need not be overconcerned about nukes does not mean that we should permit France, Pakistan and China to have them. We ought to require all three to surrender their weapons and make no more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


... And Sewage, Too (ROSE GEORGE, 4/28/10, NY Times)

When it comes to harnessing energy from wastewater treatment, it sounds as if we are spoiled for choice. Then you look at the numbers. Of the 16,000 wastewater treatment plants in the United States, about 1,000 process enough gallons (five million daily) to be able to generate cost-effective energy using anaerobic digestion. Yet only 544 use anaerobic digestion, and only 106 of those do anything more with the gas produced than to flare it.

If those 544 treatment plants generated energy from their sewage, the E.P.A. concluded in a 2007 report, they could provide 340 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 340,000 homes), and offset 2.3 million tons of carbon dioxide that would be produced through traditional electricity generation. In the effort to reduce greenhouse gases, the E.P.A. said, this would be equivalent to planting 640,000 acres of forest or taking some 430,000 cars off the road.

Gasification, like anaerobic digestion, is an age-old process. It used to supply gas lamps in some American towns, too, before piped gas became the norm. The process — a thermal conversion at high temperatures — could probably be done in a garbage can. But the utilities haven’t been eager to push the technology. The sewage treatment process — essentially, filter, settle, digest — hasn’t changed much since the early 1900s, because it works. And drying out sludge enough to make it burnable takes money and energy. Pilot projects may take several years to pay for themselves, which can clash with short-term budget cycles.

Other factors may force the industry’s hand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Science Warriors' Ego Trips (Carlin Romano, 4/25/10, The Chronicle Review)

Standing up for science excites some intellectuals the way beautiful actresses arouse Warren Beatty, or career liberals boil the blood of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. It's visceral. The thinker of this ilk looks in the mirror and sees Galileo bravely muttering "Eppure si muove!" ("And yet, it moves!") while Vatican guards drag him away. Sometimes the hero in the reflection is Voltaire sticking it to the clerics, or Darwin triumphing against both Church and Church-going wife. A brave champion of beleaguered science in the modern age of pseudoscience, this Ayn Rand protagonist sarcastically derides the benighted irrationalists and glows with a self-anointed superiority. Who wouldn't want to feel that sense of power and rightness? [...]

The problem with polemicists like Pigliucci is that a chasm has opened up between two groups that might loosely be distinguished as "philosophers of science" and "science warriors." Philosophers of science, often operating under the aegis of Thomas Kuhn, recognize that science is a diverse, social enterprise that has changed over time, developed different methodologies in different subsciences, and often advanced by taking putative pseudoscience seriously, as in debunking cold fusion. The science warriors, by contrast, often write as if our science of the moment is isomorphic with knowledge of an objective world-in-itself—Kant be damned!—and any form of inquiry that doesn't fit the writer's criteria of proper science must be banished as "bunk."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Why reporters are down on Obama (Josh Gerstein and Patrick Gavin, April 28, 2010, Politico)

Obama and the media actually have a surprisingly hostile relationship — as contentious on a day-to-day basis as any between press and president in the past decade, reporters who cover the White House say.

Reporters say the White House is thin-skinned, controlling, eager to go over their heads and stingy with even basic information. All White Houses try to control the message. But this White House has pledged to be more open than its predecessors, and reporters feel it doesn’t live up to that pledge in several key areas... [...]

“These are people who came in with every reporter giving them the benefit of the doubt,” said another reporter who regularly covers the White House. “They’ve lost all that goodwill.”

And this attitude, many believe, starts with the man at the top. Obama rarely lets a chance go by to make a critical or sarcastic comment about the press, its superficiality or its short-term mentality. He also hasn’t done a full-blown news conference for 10 months. [...]

The correspondents association recently met with Gibbs to discuss, in the words of Bloomberg's Ed Chen, "a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.”

A few days later, Gibbs said at one of his briefings, “This is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.”

Peals of laughter broke out in the briefing room.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


How Fans Can Do the Wave on the Way to the Ballgame (KEN BELSON, 4/28/10, NY Times)

In recent years, the Mets have urged fans to take the train to games to avoid the traffic jams and parking bottlenecks. Now, fans can avoid both and take a boat instead.

On game days, Delta Air Lines, a sponsor of the Mets and the Yankees, is giving away ferry rides from Wall Street to the World’s Fair Marina in Queens and the Harlem River in the Bronx. Fans going to either stadium can ride free of charge on New York Water Taxi boats that leave from Pier 11 at 5:40 p.m. for most night games.

Spots on the boats, which fit 147 passengers, are first come first served, although some tickets will be available on New York Water Taxi’s Web site. Beer, snacks and “Fly Ball” cocktails are available on board, and passengers can watch pregame coverage on large-screen televisions.

If only George Plimpton were still around, More Than Just A Token Effort: The author goes underground to see how a Subway Series would be (George Plimpton, 89/23/85, Sports Illustrated)
Last Thursday I checked out the New York subway system just in case the Mets and the Yankees meet in the World Series, and we wind up having the first Subway Series since the Dodgers played the Yankees in 1956 back when it cost only 15 cents to go to either ball park. I went to both games. I have never spent so many hours with baseball—from around noon on Thursday into early Friday, and much of that time was spent in subways.

I should start by saying I'm a bicycle man. I move nervously around New York City on a dingy three-speeder which has a wicker basket in front that contains a large U-shaped locking device to clamp the bicycle to a lamppost.

I take the subway rarely...for jury duty downtown, and to the Department of Motor Vehicles on occasion. I live so far over on the east side of Manhattan that it is a considerable walk to the nearest subway station on Lexington Avenue.

To prepare myself for this subway excursion, I telephoned Donna Evans of the Transit Authority, a very obliging source who started off by saying I was going to have a "good experience." First of all, the equipment to both stadiums was the best the Transit Authority could offer. The newly overhauled cars on the Flushing No. 7 line to Shea Stadium in Queens were built by the now-defunct St. Louis Car Company in 1963 for the World's Fair, but are considered the pride of the fleet.

"We call them the Silver Foxes," she said.

"They're silver-colored?"

"No, actually they're red," she said. "All overhauled cars in the system are painted a deep red. The tops of the roofs are silver."

"I see."

Ms. Evans went on to explain that the cars to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx were no less desirable, brand-new equipment purchased from Kawasaki—"the Japanese motorcycle people"—in 1982. "We have 32 full trains on the No. 4 line, which runs up to the Stadium. Graffiti-free. Air-conditioned. Stainless steel. Each car costs a million dollars."

I told Ms. Evans that I didn't mind what I was riding in as long as I wasn't being borne off unwittingly in the wrong direction to the outer reaches of the system. "I don't want to get off and look up and see the parachute jump at Coney Island."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Democrats’ Augustinian Impulses on Climate: President Obama’s election raised unprecedented expectations among climate advocates—and yet their unconditional devotion allows him to get away with giving little more than lip service to the issue. (Samuel Thernstrom, April 28, 2010, The American)

Why doesn’t Klein want to pass a bill he claims to support?

Because the public has had quite enough, thank you, of government activism this year ... and, after Wall Street reform is passed, any further attempts to pass major legislation will add to legitimate conservative arguments that the federal government is attempting to do [too] much to do any of it well. Healthcare and Wall Street reform were certainly worth doing—but only if caarefully [sic] managed and it remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration, which has succeeded in legislating, will have equal or better luck when it comes to actually governing. In any case, public skepticism about the Democratic Party is bound to increase if another humongous piece of legislation, which effectively guarantees higher energy prices, is passed this year.

According to the Rasmussen poll released this week, 58 percent of likely voters favor repealing the healthcare bill, with just 38 percent opposed. I wonder, though: If the 38 percent understood that a cost of the healthcare bill was the loss of the last, best chance for bipartisan climate legislation in this term, would that number be smaller? I suspect it would.

For those who voted for Obama inspired by his promise of swift action on climate, it must be particularly galling to see him let Reid kill the bill for such nakedly political reasons. Congress isn’t expected to actually pass immigration reform this year—no bill has even been drafted, and Senator Graham is (was?) a key Republican vote in that coalition as well—but fighting the battle will earn Obama and Reid one thing they do need: support from Hispanic voters who might otherwise stay home in November. On Monday, Obama launched his 2010 congressional campaign, seeking to reconnect with “young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women” who voted for him in 2008. No mention of environmentalists.

Wasn't just electing him supposed to make the waters recede?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Jeb Bush carries the Bush political torch (JONATHAN MARTIN, 4/28/10, Politico)

While he hasn’t shown any inclination to run in 2012, Bush is showing every sign he very much wants to remain in the political fray.

With little fanfare, the former governor is keeping up an aggressive campaign travel schedule and even wading into party primaries. Since the start of the year, he has stumped for gubernatorial candidates in Ohio, Alabama, Wisconsin, Nevada and California. Next month, he’s slated to raise money and talk policy with state House Republicans in Pennsylvania.

For some candidates, including Alabama GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bradley Byrne, not only is Bush responding to requests; he’s actually the one offering to help.

Bush met Byrne, a former Alabama education official, at a Republican Governors Association event last year and directed his staff to work with the candidate’s staff on education issues.

Bush then came to Birmingham last month to talk education policy with Byrne and raise money for him.

Back home in Florida, meanwhile, Bush looms as large as ever. Reporters and columnists have taken to the state’s newspapers in recent weeks to chew over just how much influence he still retains over state politics. One prominent Democratic state legislator even joked that 2010 represented Bush’s best legislative session.

He'd win IA and SC easily, but have to withstand the likely loss of NH. The biggest thing he'd have going for him against the UR is the ability to bring religious Latinos home to their natural party and a ready governing agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Immigration advocates rising up in anger across the nation over new Arizona law (Juan Gonzalez, 4/28/10, NY Daily News)

Public furor is mounting across the nation over Arizona's new "show me your papers or go to jail" immigration law.

One Hispanic congressman, Raul Grijalva (D-Tucson) is urging tourists and national conventions to boycott his state.

Another, our own Jose Serrano (D-Bronx), wants baseball owners to yank the All-Star Game from Phoenix next year.

"Major League Baseball needs to revisit the issue of whether the All-Star Game, one of America's greatest televised exports to Latin America, should be played in a state that doesn't show any respect to Latinos," Serrano said.

We often wonder how our ancestors could have tolerated things like Dred Scott and Jim Crow. Here's our chance not to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Iron clad: What's best pan for browning? It's made of cast iron (JeanMarie Brownson, April 28, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

Some children express their desire to inherit family heirlooms such as fine antiques and special jewelry. Not so much with our offspring. They've put "dibs" on the collection of battered, but beloved, cast-iron pans.

In an era of fast meals whipped up in nonstick skillets, the cast-iron pan is our go-to choice for old-fashioned browning. That means foods packed with flavor — often achieved in less time than cooking on the grill or in the nonstick skillet. With cast iron, the heat can be set higher and the food comes in direct contact with an evenly heated surface.

Many chefs will tell you that the only pan they need is a large cast-iron skillet — we agree. When we read chef Francis Mallman's cookbook, "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way" (Artisan, $35), we got excited. He spoke to our kitchen souls when describing cooking on his chapa in Patagonia — a flat piece of cast iron typically set over glowing embers. Mallman wrote that he loves the cast iron for producing "a crust without drying out the ingredients, so that they stay moist and flavorful."

One of the best buys at K-Mart is their cast iron skillets, which are much cheaper than you'll find somewhere like Amazon. But if you can find an old one at the thrift store, even better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


GOP eyes comeback for New England House seats (ANDREW MIGA, 04/28/10, AP)

Tapping a deep vein of voter discontent over the economy, jobs and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, the GOP has a reasonable shot at capturing a handful of House races in the six-state region. [...]

—New Hampshire, where polling shows the GOP favored to win back the two House seats the party lost in the 2006 Democratic tide. Two-term Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter appears vulnerable, and a second seat is open because Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes is running for the Senate. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg decided not to seek re-election. Former Rep. Charlie Bass, a centrist ousted four years ago, is embracing the agenda of conservatives and tea party activists who played a key role in Brown’s victory. GOP candidates are pushing strong anti-government themes in crowded primaries in both districts. “Republicans will do well,” said former Sen. John E. Sununu, who was toppled by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen two years ago.

—Rhode Island, where there are echoes of Brown’s insurgency in Republican John Loughlin’s bid for retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s seat. Members of Brown’s political team are working for Loughlin. Like Brown, Loughlin is a state legislator who has served in the National Guard and opposed the new health care law. Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are backing Loughlin. Loughlin needs to score big in Providence and Woonsocket, Democratic strongholds.

—Massachusetts, where a hard-fought race is on tap for retiring Democratic Rep. William Delahunt’s seat, which stretches from Boston’s South Shore to Cape Cod and includes the Kennedy family’s Hyannis Port home. Brown won 60 percent of the vote in the district against Democrat Martha Coakley in the special Senate election, a surprising sign of GOP strength. The top Republicans are former state treasurer Joe Malone and Jeffrey Perry, a conservative state representative who has won Brown’s endorsement and is aggressively courting tea party activists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Annabella’s adds in-house bakery (Henry J. Evans Jr., 4/27/10, Cape Gazette)

To serve spaghetti and meatballs without slices of fresh Italian bread just wouldn’t be right.

That’s why the owners of Annabella’s Italian Restaurant on Savannah Road in Lewes have ensured that it never happens. [...]

The bakery and restaurant feature breads produced by Steve Kogler’s Old World Bread, handcrafted and baked by Kogler, owner of Teller Wines, which offers a selection of fine wines only a few feet away from the restaurant.

Kogler’s artisan breads are baked in Ellendale and include French, Italian, country white and San Francisco sourdough varieties. Starting with the finest ingredients – King Arthur flour, filtered water, yeast and salt – the breads are formed to create the delicate textures, flavors and golden crusts of Old World European breads.

April 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Preface – The Line Through the Heart: The suicidal proclivity of our time, writes J. Budziszewski, is to deny the obvious. Our hearts are riddled with desires that oppose their deepest longings, because we demand to have happiness on terms that make happiness impossible. Why? And what can we do about it? Budziszewski addresses these vital questions in his persuasive new book, The Line Through the Heart. [J. Budziszewski. "Preface." from The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction (Downer's Grove, IL: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009)]

Perhaps the most interesting reason for considering it untimely to discuss natural law goes back to a terse, fascinating, and widely misunderstood article written a half-century ago by the philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe.

In brief, Anscombe argued that modern moral philosophers had backed themselves into a corner. On the one hand, they thought of morality as law. On the other hand, few of them believed in all the other things one must believe in order to speak of law coherently. It makes no sense to propose a moral law unless there is a moral lawgiver, and not many philosophers of that time believed in God. Anscombe thought that such incoherencies were at the root of the various other difficulties that plagued the theories then current, such as utilitarianism and Kantianism. It was as though people were trying to theorize about sums without believing in addition, or about ribs without believing in bones.

What she proposed to these skeptics was not that they abandon moral philosophy, but that they carry on the enterprise in a different way. Henceforth they would admit that they had no business talking about morality as law; instead they would content themselves with describing the psychology of the moral virtues. They would allow themselves to say "This is what it means to have honesty" or "This is the sort of person we admire as being courageous," but they would not indulge in the conceits that "Be honest" and "Be courageous" are moral laws. This suggestion prompted a great revival of philosophical reflection about virtue.

I am all for thinking about virtue. But there are several difficulties with the philosophical agenda "all virtue, all the time." First, it isn't what Anscombe meant. She didn't oppose talking about moral law; she believed in it herself, and for her this was perfectly reasonable, because she believed in all the presuppositions of law, such as the lawgiver. Her suggestion to stop talking about moral law was only for those who didn't.

Second, there are two different ways for a thinker who believes in law without a lawgiver to escape incoherency. Anscombe mentions one: Abandon belief in the law. But as her own case shows, there is another: Believe in the lawgiver. In fact, the natural law tradition is not the only thing enjoying a renaissance. Since Anscombe's time, so is theism. To be sure, a certain kind of atheism is still the unofficially established religion of the opinion-forming strata of our society – the courts, the universities, the news media, the great advertising agencies, the whole pandering sector of the economy. The kind of atheism that these boosters favor is practical atheism. They don't really care whether people believe in a God; what disturbs them is belief in a God the existence of whom makes a difference to anything else. Theoretical atheism, by contrast, ran out of ideas quite a while ago. Notwithstanding certain recent highly promoted pop culture books peddling atheism of the crudest and most ill-considered sort,7 all of the new and interesting arguments are being made by theists8 – and the sort of God whose existence they defend makes a difference to everything there is.

Third, talking about law and talking about virtues aren't mutually exclusive. Every complete theory of moral law requires a theory of virtue. In fact, I suspect that every complete theory of virtue requires a theory of moral law. Even Aristotle, who is supposed to be the paradigm case of a moral philosopher who talked only about virtue and not about law, talked about law. He holds that the man of practical wisdom acts according to a rational principle; this principle functions as law. He holds that virtue lies in a mean, but that there is no mean of things like adultery; this implies that there are exceptionless precepts, which also function as law. He holds that besides the enactments of governments and the customs of peoples there is an unwritten norm to which governments and peoples defer; this norm too is a law. Consciousness of law creeps in through the back door even when it is pushed out the front, and Aristotle wasn't even pushing.

But another objection can be offered to this book. Granted that one must drag ethics into politics, granted that one must drag natural law into ethics, granted even that one must drag God into the discussion of natural law – still, why it is necessary to drag in theology concerning God? Why not just nice, clean philosophy? In the most ancient meaning of the term, theology was a branch of philosophy, "first philosophy," systematic reasoning about God, the supreme cause and principle of all things. And it is quite true that a certain thin sort of natural law theory can get by with first philosophy alone. Today, though, the term "theology" is used for systematic reasoning about revelation concerning God. Must the cat be allowed to drag that old thing through the door?

We may as well admit that the cat has already had his way. Philosophy is full of questions and notions that it borrowed from theology and then forgot that it had borrowed. Consider but a single example, the concept of "personhood," on which I have touched already. It turns out that the very idea of a "person" – of a rational who with moral attributes, the ultimate possessor of his acts and even his nature – originates in Christian theology. If we purged philosophy of its theological acquisitions, it would look as though moths had eaten it. Is that what we really want?

Ultimately, a discussion among Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and atheists, each of whom is invited to discuss his theological premises, will be more rich and interesting than a conversation among Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims, each of whom is expected to impersonate an atheist. Such a conversation may even be more courteous – just because, for a change, no one is insisting that the others shut their mouths.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Housing shortfall locking out thousands (George Megalogenis, 4/28/10, The Australian)

AUSTRALIA has 178,000 more potential home buyers than available properties, with Queensland and Western Australia accounting for almost half the total shortfall over the past decade, a government advisory body confirmed yesterday.

But NSW is the state having most trouble keeping up with demand, The Australian reports.

Slow planning processes and a sick building sector delivered barely one new house for every two new households that were prepared to buy last financial year.

The benchmark report by the National Housing Supply Council warns that the national housing supply gap will increase by 50,000 by June 30 next year, and the final figure may be much worse if one or more states fail to deliver on their modest targets.

On present trends, the total gap will reach 640,000 by 2029.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


A Case for Kagan (Lawrence Lessig, April 26, 2010, Huffington Post)

The Kagan I know is a progressive. But we should be careful about precisely what that term means today. Constitutional law has been affected fundamentally by the work of scholars and judges such as my former boss, Justice Scalia. Their influence has plainly reoriented constitutional law to ask not, "What would be the best answer?" to any particular question, but instead, "What is the answer of fidelity?" Or again, what is the answer that most faithfully applies the law of the different generations of our Framers -- the Founders, the Civil War Republicans, and the Progressives at the beginning of the last century. I'm not sure that "liberals" on the Court have always accepted this framing. Certainly Douglas and Holmes didn't feel themselves so constrained. And I can see how many wonder whether some of the more prominent liberals since the Warren Court have accepted this framing either. But among those who do accept that the charge of a judge is interpretive fidelity, there are progressives and conservatives. Diane Wood's opinions plainly mark her as a progressive. Justice Thomas is plainly among the conservatives. The Kagan I know is with Wood in her views about what the constitution means. She is with both Wood and Thomas in believing that it is the Framers (and again, every generation of them) whose views, as expressed in the text of the Constitution, a judge should apply.

There are questions about whether Kagan is really the progressive I describe. I will address those questions below. But if you'll assume with me for the moment that she is, then I believe there's an aspect to Kagan's experience that sets her apart from others on the short list. Kagan has had practical strategic experience. Her most important work over the past two decades has been in contexts where she has had to move people to see things as she did. And through that experience, she has developed a sixth sense for the strategy of an argument. She matches that insight with a toughness that can get what she wants done. That doesn't mean triangulating. It doesn't mean "compromise." It means finding a way to move others to the answer you believe is right.

This is the single feature the liberal side of this conservative court lacks most. Even Justice Stevens was too quick to run off to a corner to write his universally brilliant dissents from insane majorities. Breyer too too often seems content in his law professor way to write an opinion that sounds good when read aloud to himself, but in light of the evolving jurisprudence of the Court, is tone deaf to the view of others. Too many of our progressive colleagues swing for the bleachers of history, rather than victories now. Too many are content with simply knowing that their liberal law professor friends are busy praising their opinions in constitutional law classes rather than fighting to find a way to split the ideologues on the right with their own principles and rhetoric.

Again, I'm not talking about triangulating. The point is not that we need someone who knows how best to compromise. The point instead is that we need a justice with the energy and strength to use the legal materials provided by the other side to advance the right answer.

I felt this point most acutely in a case I argued and lost in the Supreme Court, Eldred v. Ashcroft. The issue in that case was Congress' power to extend the term of existing copyrights. We argued (and historians in the case confirmed) that these repeated extensions (11 times in the prior 40 years) were inconsistent with the Framers' understanding of a clause that gave Congress the power to grant copyrights "for limited times." Nonetheless, seven justices upheld the extension, with the five conservatives sitting silent in the face of an originalist argument about how Congress was exceeding its enumerated powers -- just the sort of argument that seemed to excite those 5 conservatives, at least when the underlying issue was, well, conservative.

Stevens and Breyer dissented. But neither even tried to engage the conservatives on the other side. Stevens can be forgiven for that; after thirty years, a justice has the right to simply state his or her beliefs. But Breyer had no such excuse. His opinion read more like an article in an economics journal: brilliant, and right, but adopting a method of reasoning that literally no one else on that Court was going to follow. No doubt, if you think you're writing for history, that's fine. But if you're trying to leverage argument to get 5 votes for the right answer, this sort of opinion is simply self-indulgence.

Breyer's weakness points to a general weakness in appointing law professors to high courts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


April 27: No-hit history repeated today? (MLB.com, 4/27/10)

For April 27 is a day like no-no other.

No other date on the 181-day baseball calendar has witnessed more no-hitters, although this date's six have been matched by May 15 and Sept. 20.

But the day's prophecy runs much deeper than just that historical fact.

No fewer than 11 pitchers due to take turns on tonight's schedule have personal histories with no-hitters. So, are the pitching stars aligned in this baseball galaxy, or what?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


Bin Laden had 'no clue' about Sept. 11 retaliation (J.J. Green, 4/27/10, wtop.com)

Osama bin Laden had no idea the U.S. would hit al-Qaida as hard as it has since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a former bin Laden associate tells WTOP in an exclusive interview.

"I'm 100 percent sure they had no clue about what was going to happen," says Noman Benotman, who was head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the summer of 2000.

"What happened after the 11th of September was beyond their imagination, " says Benotman, who adds that al-Qaida thought the U.S. was a "paper tiger."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Band Of Brothers author accused of fabrication for Eisenhower biography: US academic world shocked as respected historian is said to have 'made up' meetings with 34th US president (Paul Harris, 4/25/10, The Observer)

[I]t appears that Ambrose indulged in some sort of fantasy about the extent of his relationship with Eisenhower. In TV interviews, he claimed to have spent "hundreds and hundreds of hours" with the former president. He even once said he would spend two days a week working with Eisenhower in his office.

However, recently studied records of Eisenhower's meetings contradict the notion that the pair had any lengthy face-to-face contact. "I think five hours [in total] is a generous estimation of the actual time they spent together. I personally would push it back to less than two or three," said Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

The discovery came to light almost by accident. The museum had been planning an exhibition exploring the relationship between Ambrose and Eisenhower. Rives found that the records showed that Ambrose and Eisenhower had met only three times, and never alone. He found that on seven occasions when Ambrose had claimed in the footnotes to his book Supreme Commander to have met Eisenhower, his subject was either elsewhere in the country or holding meetings with other people at the time. In one example, Ambrose claimed to have had an interview with Eisenhower in Pennsylvania, when Eisenhower was in Kansas. "The whole story kind of unravelled from there. It was quite a surprise. We were not looking for it, so it sort of happened almost by accident," Rives said.

Given that the lives of former presidents are meticulously detailed by their staff, there is almost no chance Ambrose could have held interviews with Eisenhower that went unrecorded.

Later claims by Ambrose in other books to have interviewed Eisenhower lack specific dates or places, but were just footnoted as "Interview with DDE". However, the range of subjects Ambrose claimed to have discussed with Eisenhower increased to take in topics such as giving up smoking or the Vietnam war.

...if Ike really did vote for McGovern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 PM


Blue Plate Special: Air Video free for iPhone (Gear Diary)

Last week I was syncing my wife’s iPhone and she told me she wished a couple of movies would fit on her phone. I could fit a movie on the phone, but would have to delete some of her music which she did not want me to do. When our boys go to bed, she sits in their room while they doze off and plays on her phone so that is a perfect opportunity to watch some video. I immediately went to the app store and began to search for a solution and found Air Video Free.

Air Video Free allows users to watch videos without syncing their device. There is no need to format movies on the hard drive for iPhone video or use iTunes. The application simply points to a folder on your desktop and plays the videos over a wifi connection. Videos may also be available over 3G if the router supports UPnP or NAT-PMP protocols. Now my wife can sit on the boys’ bed at night and watch a movie without adding to her iPhone hard drive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Obama seeks to 'reconnect...young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women' for 2010 (Ben Smith, 4/27/10, Politico)

The Democratic National Committee this morning released this clip of the president rallying the troops, if rather coolly, for 2010. Obama's express goal: "reconnecting" with the voters who voted for the first time in 2008, but who may not plan to vote in the lower-profile Congressional elections this year.

Obama speaks with unusual demographic frankness about his coalition in his appeal to "young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again."

At the far end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge we arrive at the moment when a black president asks people to vote for him because of the color of their skin, not the content of his political character. Only Progressives can think that progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


‘Chuck' has an Awesome sidekick (Maureen Ryan, 4/26/10, Chicago Tribune)

The character played by McPartlin, a Glen Ellyn native, was born Devon Woodcomb, but few call him that. He is a doctor with perfect hair and teeth who is in perfect shape, and he's also a terrific husband to Chuck's sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster). Hence his nickname, Captain Awesome.

But as the show enters the home stretch of its third season, Awesome is often called on to be more than simply awesome. He is among the few who have learned Chuck's secret — that the former slacker is actually a spy — and Awesome has helped out on a few missions.

As the doctor has gotten more involved in Chuck's world, the show has drawn on McPartlin's talent for both comedy and drama. Awesome has been nervous that the espionage could put him and his wife in danger, so they head to Africa to work for Doctors Without Borders in Monday's episode. But as is so often the case on this show, things don't go as planned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Showdown looms in North Waziristan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/27/10, Asia Times)

[A]l-Qaeda linked militants have informed Asia Times Online that a battle in North Waziristan is inevitable to avenge atrocities that the militants claim the military has inflicted on children in the tribal area. The incident took place last week in a brief clash between the army and militants.

The al-Qaeda linked militants are spoiling for a fight even though the chief of the Taliban in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, has said that last week's contact would not affect the ceasefire.

The militants also want to head off any attempt by the government to create a split in their ranks. In one effort, Islamabad has put in motion an operation that includes a former Iraqi intelligence official who now works for the Saudis, former officials of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and a former Taliban commander who was once a member of parliament.

"It is not an issue of whether the Pakistan army wants a military operation or not. The issue is related to their capacity," Muhammad Umar, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan, told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview. Muhammad Umar is an alias for a non-Pashtun from Punjab province.

"They [the army] are already under siege in North Waziristan. Troops are sitting at checkpoints and cannot even fetch water for themselves from a nearby stream if the militants, positioned all around the mountains, open fire on them."

The situation in North Waziristan is clearly highly volatile as the militants are not united. Many, especially those allied with the predominately Pashtun Haqqani network, want to concentrate all of their efforts on Afghanistan, hence the peace accord with the army. Al-Qaeda-linked militants, including Punjabis, see the state as their enemy, in addition to the foreign forces across the border.

The recent abduction of influential powerbrokers highlights the problem.

...and attack the last man standing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Elena Kagan acquits herself in any court (Charles Fried, April 26, 2010, Boston Herald)

In February 2005 the student branch of the Federalist Society (a group founded in the early ’80s to explore and promote conservative and libertarian perspectives) held its national jamboree at Harvard Law School. At the banquet, Kagan was greeted by a long and raucous ovation. With a broad grin and her unmistakable Upper West Side twang, the former Clinton White House official responded: “You are not my people.” This brought the dark-suited crowd of federalist students to their feet in a roar of affectionate approval.

(It is worth a footnote that the next day the same group also cheered Larry Summers - God bless the federalists.)

Another episode: When my colleague Mary Ann Glendon - a favorite of the last pope and President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the Vatican - was awarded the inaugural Bradley Prize, a kind of MacArthur prize on the right, Kagan organized a celebratory dinner for her and invited not only her faculty friends, but the officers of the various student groups, including the Mormon group, she advises.

Finally, when our alumnus Antonin Scalia, reached his 20th anniversary on the Supreme Court, she arranged a gala celebratory dinner.

Now I know she has done just the same sort of thing (I just wasn’t invited) for the law school’s chapter of the American Constitution Society - a kind of latter-day lefty knockoff of the federalists - understandably enjoying something of a vogue these days. And she has devised events celebrating the publication of books by liberal professors Cass Sunstein and Mark Tushnet. She has managed to get the once notoriously faction-ridden faculty to embrace the appointment not only of former Scalia and Kennedy clerks, but also of several hard lefties, both categories of persons who previously could not have made it to the floor of the faculty.

And when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Solomon Amendment could not constitutionally be applied to cut off funds to Harvard because our placement office’s anti-discrimination policy requires it to bar military recruiters, it was she who put that policy back in force.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


A Little Too Ready for Her Close-Up? (LAURA M. HOLSON, 4/25/10, NY Times)

In small but significant numbers, filmmakers and casting executives are beginning to re-examine Hollywood’s attitude toward breast implants, Botox, collagen-injected lips and all manner of plastic surgery.

Television executives at Fox Broadcasting, for example, say they have begun recruiting more natural looking actors from Australia and Britain because the amply endowed, freakishly young-looking crowd that shows up for auditions in Los Angeles suffers from too much sameness.

“I think everyone either looks like a drag queen or a stripper,” said Marcia Shulman, who oversees casting for Fox’s scripted shows.

Independent casting directors like Mindy Marin, who worked on the Jason Reitman film “Up in the Air,” are urging talent agents to discourage clients from having surgery, particularly older celebrities who, she contends, are losing jobs because their skin is either too taut or swollen with filler. Said Ms. Marin: “What I want to see is real.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Israel’s fear and loathing of Obama (Gideon Rachman, April 26 2010, Financial Times)

The Israelis’ furious reaction to the pressure they are under from the Obama administration is reminiscent of the British rage early in the Northern Irish peace process, when it became clear that our American allies were intent on “talking to the terrorists” of the Irish Republican Army. But, as it turned out, the Americans were right to insist that there was a peace deal to be made with the IRA. They are right again on the Middle East peace process. There is still a deal to be had – and if Israel does not take it soon, the long-term survival of the Jewish state will be imperilled.

In their more reflective moments, some senior Israeli politicians will acknowledge that a two-state solution is as vital for Israel as it is for the Palestinians. Dividing the land is the only way of ensuring that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic. The continued occupation of the West Bank, by contrast, always carries with it the risk of another Palestinian intifada, and is the major cause of Israel’s dreadful global image. Israeli politicians worry that the “delegitimisation” of their state has spread from the Muslim world to Europe. Tzipi Livni, leader of the Israeli opposition, recently had to cancel a trip to Britain for fear that she would be arrested on war-crimes charges.

Yet for all their long-term concerns, the Israelis have failed to make vital concessions, because the status quo still feels more comfortable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


The Deflation Club (Vincent R. Reinhart, April 27, 2010, The American)

At about every opportunity, Federal Reserve officials remind the world that they have a plan to exit from their policy of unusual monetary accommodation. Those statements might merely be reassurances directed toward those worried that inflation will ignite, given the fodder provided by $1 trillion of reserves in the banking system. But if the Fed is planning to tighten policy sometime soon, it would be well served to study the latest forecast of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even a quick scan shows that declining inflation, veering into outright price declines (or deflation) in some countries, continues to be a major risk to the global economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Labour is learning that it has no right to exist: Gordon Brown could lead his party to its worst result since 1918. Will anyone be able to pick up the pieces? (Rachel Sylvester, 4/27/10, Times of London)

Is this the end for Labour? The party is trailing third in the opinion polls behind the Liberal Democrats. When Michael Foot secured 28 per cent of the vote in 1983, it was seen as catastrophic. But now Gordon Brown is regularly polling that or less. Some commentators claim that Labour could be heading for its worst result since 1918.

No wonder the Prime Minister looks exhausted. “Gordon is cyanide on the doorstep,” says one candidate from the front line of the campaign in what was once — but is no longer — a rock-solid Labour seat. But parties get the leaders they deserve and Labour too is behaving as if it has run out of steam and ideas. Cabinet ministers now openly describe a hung Parliament as a success. On Sunday the party wrote to the BBC to complain about its coverage of the election campaign, a sign of desperation rather than of determination to win. Seventy-five years after George Dangerfield published his book The Strange Death of Liberal England could we be witnessing the strange death of Labour Britain?

With ten days to go, the election is still extraordinarily open. It is too soon to write off the party that has been in power for the past 13 years. Potentially, however, the situation is even worse for Labour than it was for the Conservatives in 1997 — because there is an increasingly viable alternative to it on the centre Left. Even if Mr Brown secures more seats on polling day than Nick Clegg, as a result of the electoral system, everybody will be watching the share of the vote. It’s not impossible that the Lib Dems could leapfrog Labour as the party of choice for left-of-centre “progressives”. A hundred years ago the Liberals were the main Opposition to the Tories and there is no iron rule of politics that says their successor party could not be so again.

When a Third Way leader like Tony Blair was leading Labout it seemed like the Liberal Democrats would fold, but as his party has reacted against him it has made itself the superfluous entity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Treasury has profited from big bank bailouts (Patrice Hill, 4/27/10, Washington Times)

All but one of the megabanks that have raised populist ire — including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America — repaid the government bailout funds long ago, along with interest and dividends that made the deals profitable for the Treasury. Citigroup is the only major bank that has not repaid in full, though it has announced plans to do so.

While many smaller banks still have not repaid their government assistance, industry lobbyists say the much-maligned Troubled Asset Relief Program has proved to be mostly a big win for taxpayers and the economy.

"Two-thirds of the TARP investment from banks has already been repaid with a large profit to the taxpayer," said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable. "TARP was a positive boost to the economy and the government, and taxpayers are seeing a positive return on their investment."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


A new style of politics in the West Bank (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 27/04/2010)

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is quietly changing the rules of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a simple credo: Palestinians have to build their state now and cannot wait for an elusive peace deal with Israel.

He is moving ahead with an ambitious plan to get the Palestinians ready for statehood by August 2011 by trying to build it from the ground up: paving roads, reforming the judiciary, planning new cities.

Even if it it is what everyone wants them to do, the illusion of seizing statehood themselves rather than having it handed to them is excellent for their national psyche.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The Baloch people have a right to self-determination (Peter Tatchell, 27 April 2010, OpenDemocracy)

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is urging the complete demilitarisation of the rebel province of Balochistan, as a precondition for a negotiated political settlement to end six decades of economic neglect, ethnic persecution and military repression by successive governments in Islamabad.

The region has been under military occupation ever since 1948, after the Khan of Kalat state (which made up part of what is now Balochistan) acceded to Pakistan under pressure from the Muslim League and threats from the government in Islamabad, just nine months after the long-autonomous principality secured its independence from Britain. The Kalat state's parliament voted against incorporation into Pakistan. The people never agreed to give up their independence. They were not allowed a referendum. Sixty-plus years of rebellion have followed. [....]

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission’s 2009 report:

“88% of the population of Balochistan is under the poverty line. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate, and the lowest school enrolment ratio, educational attainment index and health index compared to the other provinces. 78% of the population has no access to electricity and 79% has no access to natural gas.”

Pakistan has blanketed the country with military garrisons to suppress the people. In recent years, there has been a 62% increase in police stations and a 100% increase in paramilitary checkpoints.

If the Baloch people are happy and free, as Islamabad claims, why is there a need for this pervasive, suffocating military presence? And why has Pakistan always refused Balochistan a referendum on independence?

Ever since the annexations of 1947-1948, Balochistan has been subjected to a quadruple whammy of military occupation, political domination, economic exploitation and cultural hegemony.

Pakistan is an oppressed nation turned oppressor nation. It now adopts the imperialist tactics of its former colonial overlords to subjugate and exploit the Baloch – and the people of other victim provinces such as Sindh and North West Frontier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Women strut their stuff for Boobquake (Debra Black, Apr 26 2010, Toronto Star)

Is the Iranian cleric right? On April 16th senior Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi suggested women who wear revealing clothing are to blame for earthquakes. “Women who do not dress modestly…lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases (consequently) earthquakes,” he was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

Boobwash! say tens of thousands of women who refuse to believe flaunting their breasts is triggering a world-wide Boobageddon. Led by Purdue University student Jen McCreight they staged a 24-hour protest Monday.

Dubbed Boobquake, McCreight encouraged women around the world to flaunt their breasts and their cleavage to prove the Iranian clerics wrong. She even came up with some cleavage-flaunting T-shirts that she was selling for charity with messages that read: “Boobquake 2010: Who says science has to be boring?” and “Boobquake 2010: Did the Earth move for you?”

Ms McCreight just taught the CIA how to do its job.

April 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Leinenkugel launches GOP run against Sen. Feingold (AP, 4/26/10)

Wisconsin’s former state Commerce Secretary and beer mogul Dick Leinenkugel says he’s running for U.S. Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


From the Mall to the Docks, Signs of Economic Turn (PETER S. GOODMAN, 4/26/10, NY Times)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The docks are humming again at this sprawling Pacific port, with clouds of golden dust billowing off the piles of grain spilling into the bellies of giant tankers.

“Things are looking up,” said Dan Broadie, a longshoreman. No longer killing time at the union hall while waiting for work, instead he is guiding a mechanized spout pouring 44,000 tons of wheat into the Arion SB, bound for the Philippines.

At malls from New Jersey to California, shoppers are snapping up electronics and furniture, as fears of joblessness yield to exuberance over rising stock prices. Tractor trailers and railroad cars haul swelling quantities of goods through transportation corridors, generating paychecks for truckers and repair crews.

On the factory floor, production is expanding, a point underscored by government data released Friday showing a hefty increase in March for orders of long-lasting manufactured items. In apartment towers and on cul-de-sacs, sales of new homes surged in March, climbing by 27 percent, amplifying hopes that a wrenching real estate disaster may finally be releasing its grip on the national economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM

Cheap Pasta with Roasted Broccoli, Walnuts and Parmesan (CheapFoodHere)


12 oz Small Shell Pasta
1 Bunch of Fresh Broccoli, cut into florets
1/2 C. Walnuts coarsely chopped
1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic, pan seared and smashed
2 Tbl Unsalted Butter
1/4 C. Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Pepper


1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Cook pasta according to package and reserve 1/2 C. of water when draining.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, toss broccoli, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until coated.
4. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, turning once.
5. Toss broccoli mixture with pasta, butter and reserved pasta water until well-coated and add the Parmesan cheese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Corn smut? Tastes great and good for you, too! (MARTHA MENDOZA, 04/26/10, AP)

For years, scientists have assumed that huitlacoche (WEET-LA-KO-CHEE) — a gnarly, gray-black corn fungus long-savored in Mexico — had nutritional values similar to those of the corn on which it grew. But test results just published in the journal Food Chemistry reveal that an infection that U.S. farmers and crop scientists have spent millions trying to eradicate, is packed with unique proteins, minerals and other nutritional goodies.

And here’s a bonus: agro-economists have found it can sell for more than the corn it ruins.

“We had no idea huitlacoche could actually synthesize significant nutrients that don’t even exist in corn,” says Octavio Paredes-Lopez, one of Mexico’s leading food scientists.

“Who cares about the nutritional value? The flavors are amazing!” said Steve Sando, a grinning Napa Valley epicurean whose booming Rancho Gordo speciality food company grows and sells heirloom beans, corn and other indigenous “New World” ingredients.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Democrats' Murray Posts Weak Numbers in Washington Senate Race (Bruce Drake, 4/25/10, Politics Daily)

Three-term Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is looking vulnerable in her bid for re-election, with former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi leading her by 10 points and three lesser-known candidates all within margin-of-error range of her, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted April 19-22.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Yes, It's a Bailout Bill: Markets participants will understand that the Senate financial regulation bill allows for bailouts, and this will give rise to riskier behavior that in turn makes future bailouts more likely. ( Phillip Swagel, April 24, 2010, The American)

The debate over financial regulation is now focused squarely on the ability of the government to take over a failing financial institution such as a bank holding company or hedge fund—so-called non-bank resolution authority. This is the linchpin of reform because allowing the government to intervene in a crisis will affect investors’ risk-taking behavior from the start—for better or worse. A resolution regime that provides certainty against bailouts will reduce the riskiness of markets and thus help avoid a future crisis, while a reform that enshrines the possibility of bailouts will foster risky behavior and unwittingly make future bailouts more likely. The key choice is thus whether financial regulatory reform gives the government discretion to bail out creditors or instead ensures that these counterparties take losses.

President Obama’s approach, as embodied in Democratic Senator Chris Dodd’s bill, is for discretion and thus for bailouts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


In Court Nominees, Is Obama Looking for Empathy by Another Name? (PETER BAKER, 4/26/10, NY Times)

Empathy is out. Understanding ordinary lives is in. Is there a difference? President Obama is about to find out.

A year after Mr. Obama made “empathy” one of his main criteria in picking his first Supreme Court justice, he is avoiding the word, which became radioactive, as he picks his second nominee. Instead, he says he wants someone with “a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.” [...]

Ed Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush who shepherded Mr. Roberts’s nomination through the Senate, said: “It’s not surprising Obama’s backed away from citing empathy as a quality as a justice. Empathy’s a great trait in a drinking buddy, but not so much a Supreme Court justice.”

“The most empathetic party in a case,” Mr. Gillespie added, “may not be the one with the law on its side, in which case a justice should actually set aside his or her empathy. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful President Obama’s backed away from empathy as a qualification as much as he’s backed away from using the word itself.”

...he'd make a choice from outside the legal profession generally and legal academia in particular. The Court would indeed benefit greatly from having fewer Ivy lawyers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Leon Panetta gets the CIA back on its feet (David Ignatius, April 25, 2010, Washington Post)

CIA Director Leon Panetta has a new trophy in his seventh-floor office at Langley: It's the fuse from a Chinese-made rocket that he helped disable (with a CIA technician hovering close by) during a visit to an agency paramilitary training base.

That's a good metaphor for Panetta himself as he completes 14 months as CIA director. He has defused a number of bombs that threatened to blow up what was left of the agency's credibility, and in the process he has focused the CIA on getting the job done.

Panetta was a controversial choice because his experience was in politics, rather than espionage. But that Washington savvy was just what the beleaguered agency needed most.

...it was in government. It's no surprise that one of the few members of the Administration with executive experience--Chief of Staff--is also its most effective. He's been the best his party has to offer for a long time now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


General Election 2010: Only two can play – which leaves no room in the game for Labour: Peter Mandelson's leg-up to Nick Clegg may prove costly in what is essentially a two-party system (Boris Johnson, 4/26/10, Daily Telegraph)

All of a sudden an enthralling possibility is opening before our eyes: that the cunning Labour plot to boost Nick Clegg has been the most hideous miscalculation since their 1983 manifesto. I have it on good authority, you see, that the puffing of Clegg – all that ostentatious "I agree with Nick" stuff from Gordon Brown in the first debate – was entirely deliberate. In agreeing to the debates, Labour thought it had spotted what the Tory high command had missed: that if you put Clegg and Cameron simultaneously before the nation, and the electorate saw two vaguely similar products – telegenic 43-year-old public schoolboys with an air of deep reasonableness – then all at once the Tories would lose their Unique Selling Point.

They would stop being the sole proprietors of the message emblazoned on every Conservative poster in Britain. They would cease to be the party of "change" – or at least they would cease to be the only possible party of change, because at every turn they would have to contest that title with the newly prominent Lib Dems.

The plan was to boost Clegg, take the gilt off the Cameron gingerbread, and wreck Tory hopes of achieving a majority government. With the Lib Dems surging, the Tories would be forced to rethink their plans of taking all those West Country seats. The mountain would become too high to climb, at which point Bob's your uncle and Gordon's still your Prime Minister.

That was the plan, and very devilish it has seemed to be – at least to many of my gloomy Tory friends, who rue the day we agreed to the debates. But as the first burst of Cleggmania starts to subside, and as the first postal vote exit polls give a sign of what may actually happen in 10 days' time, it looks as though Labour – not the Tories – may be the big losers from the frenzy they helped to create. Because the Tories are still up on 35 or 36 per cent in the polls – roughly where they were before Cleggmania began; the Lib Dems are on 31 or 32 per cent; and Labour is right down on 26 per cent, or as little as 24 per cent.

When the volcanic clouds have dispersed, in other words, and the new tectonic plates are revealed, we can see that the stunning event of the past fortnight is that Labour and Lib Dems seem to be in the process of switching round.

...but positioning yourselves as the Second Way party is Anglospheric suicide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Why scepticism is still ‘the highest of duties’: Scepticism is widely denounced as a poison and a disease today, just as it was in the Dark Ages. We urgently need to rescue its reputation. (Frank Furedi, 4/26/10, spiked)

Over Easter, the official Greenpeace website carried a blog written by Gene Hashmi, communications director of its affiliate in India. Hashmi launched an attack on sceptics, whom he accused of fuelling ‘spurious debates around false solutions’, and concluded with the not too subtle threat: ‘We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many but you be few.’

Welcome to a world where the term ‘sceptic’ has acquired the kind of meaning usually associated with a Dark Age heresy.

Fearing a backlash against a statement which most normal readers would interpret as an incitement to violence, Greenpeace pulled the blog from its site. It defensively justified its act of self-censorship on the grounds that it was ‘easy to misconstrue’ Hashmi’s statement.

However, the use of highly charged, intemperate rhetoric has become the hallmark of the present-day crusade against scepticism. Some contend that the arguments of climate-change sceptics bear an uncanny resemblance to the statements made by pro-slavery reactionaries in the nineteenth century and by Holocaust deniers. More imaginative environmental activists have proposed establishing Nuremberg-style trials for climate-change sceptics.

It is truly astonishing that in an era that claims to uphold the pursuit of knowledge, freedom of speech and scientific inquiry, the term ‘sceptic’ is frequently used to denote immoral and corrupt behaviour. Moreover, today the practice of stigmatising scepticism is not confined to a small minority of dogmatic true believers. It is quite common for scientists, policymakers and campaigners to denounce those who do not share their beliefs as vile and contemptible sceptics. [...]

Although there are numerous variants of scepticism, as a philosophical orientation it represents a challenge to the all-too human proclivity for embracing dogma. For the Ancient Greeks, scepticism was not about not believing or denying a particular proposition. The genuine sceptic rarely claims to know that a particular proposition is wrong and therefore could not counsel disbelief. No, to the Ancient Greeks, scepticism meant inquiry. Scepticism is motivated by a complex range of motives, but it is underpinned by a belief that the truth is difficult to discover.

When Socrates explained that he was the wisest man in Athens because he knew he was ignorant, he pointed to the need to understand that one’s ignorance is the point of departure for a rigorous search for the truth. The defining attitude of the sceptic is the suspension of judgment. A sceptic is someone who has not decided or is not in a position to decide.

The act of suspending judgment need not mean a commitment not to judge. It can mean the postponement of judgment while the sceptic continues to inquire into the problem. Unlike doubt, which involves a negative judgment, scepticism represents a form of prejudgment. It is opposed to dogma and the attitude of unquestioned certainty.

In some cases, of course, the suspension of judgment can be an act of evasion. But the suspension of judgment also can be a prelude to a commitment to explore further in pursuit of clarity and truth. This is important for the development of science – and it is essential for the flourishing of a democratic public life. There can be no freedom of thought without the right to be sceptical. Which is why the demonisation of the sceptic today does not simply reflect a tendency towards polemical excess – it is also an attack on human inquiry itself.

Which is insufficiently skeptical. As Hume and others demonstrated--separating the British philosophical tradition from Europe's Cartesianism--the truth is not merely difficult to ascertain via Reason but impossible. We ultimately have to put our trust in faith. The manner in which science has later tended to confirm that faith is revealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Deal May Force Trading-Desk Spinoff (GREG HITT And DAMIAN PALETTA, 4/26/10, WSJ)

The tentative agreement reached by two key Democrats Sunday on a plan to crack down on trading in derivatives would potentially force banks to spin off their operations that trade the exotic financial instruments.

The plan, worked out by Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) closely follows legislation—originally written by Ms. Lincoln—designed to boost federal oversight and transparency of the derivatives market. [...]

Supporters say Ms. Lincoln's proposal is the best way to prevent Wall Street banks from leveraging deposit insurance and other government support to fuel risky speculation, which played a part in the market collapse in 2008.

Under the deal, the derivatives portion of the bill would include a provision that would force banks to spin off their derivatives trading desks to be eligible for federal financial assistance from the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. That would ensnare most big Wall Street players.

The Senate proposal is more aggressive than the regulatory overhaul approved by the House last year, which did not encourage banks to spin off trading operations. The issue is likely to be fought again on the Senate floor, where some Republicans and perhaps some Democrats including Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York are expected to attempt to kill the provision, once debate opens on the broader legislation.

That's a reform the GOP should support, even if other parts of the bill are problematic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Pressure mounting to legalize immigrants (Stephen Dinan, 4/25/10, Washington Times)

They've pushed and pulled, marched on the national Mall and issued demands — including some to the president, which the White House hustled to meet — and now, immigrant rights groups find they've forced immigration and legalization to the top of the crowded congressional agenda.

The next test of their power will come Saturday, when the groups hope to turn out hundreds of thousands of supporters in rallies across the country, all demanding that Congress and Mr. Obama slow interior enforcement and move to legalize illegal immigrants.

"For us, what we're clear at is that our elected officials don't move out of courage," said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). "They move when there's pressure from our community, and we actually demonstrate to them there's impact on people's lives."

...is to issue a blanket amnesty and nullify it, which would be especially delicious since prompted by the nativists themselves.

April 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Obama’s triumph leaves voters cold (Clive Crook, April 25 2010, Financial Times)

Many Democrats hoped that healthcare reform would gain support once the proposal was law and tempers had cooled. There is no sign of it so far. Support improved briefly when the measure was signed, then dropped again. Recent polls suggest a hardening of opposition. Most voters once backed comprehensive reform; almost 60 per cent now favour outright repeal.

The impression lingers that the new law will make insurance more expensive, push up taxes and make government too big – and that its passage was achieved by underhand means. Also, implementing the reform will be anything but easy. Its complexities are staggering. It places heavy fiscal and administrative burdens on states in no position to bear them. Democrats are deluding themselves if they think the hard part is over.

More important, opposition to the healthcare law is bound up with scepticism over Mr Obama’s wider approach. Voters are worried about public borrowing and the prospect of higher taxes. They are right to be. They have noticed that Mr Obama is modifying his election pledge that taxes on the middle class would rise by “not one cent”. He has started to confine this statement to income taxes, which leaves plenty of room for other kinds. In an interview last week, he left the door open to a value-added tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Afghan schoolgirls poisoned by Taliban?: 'A smell like a flower reached my nose,' says hospitalized girl (MSNBC, 4/25/10)

More than 80 schoolgirls have fallen ill in three cases of mass sickness over the past week in northern Afghanistan, raising fears that militants who oppose education for girls are using poison to scare them away from school.

The latest case occurred Sunday when 13 girls became sick at school, Kunduz provincial spokesman Mahbobullah Sayedi said. Another 47 complained of dizziness and nausea on Saturday, and 23 got sick last Wednesday. All complained of a strange smell in class before they fell ill.

None of the illnesses have been serious, and medical officials were still investigating the exact cause. The Health Ministry in Kunduz said blood samples were inconclusive and were being sent to Kabul for further testing. [...]

Last year, dozens of schoolgirls were hospitalized in Kapisa province, just northeast of Kabul, after collapsing with headaches and nausea. An unusual smell filled the schoolyard before the students fell ill. The Taliban was blamed, but research into similar mass sickenings elsewhere has suggested that some might be the result of group hysteria.

Nicaragua’s Crazy Sickness: An indigenous community grapples with a mysterious ailment (Nicola Ross, June 2006, The Walrus)
The Miskitus, a group indigenous to the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, don’t have a word for mental illness. Instead, ailing people are thought to be out of balance with the spirits. Grisi siknis, the Miskitus’ best attempt at a phonetic spelling of “crazy sickness,” causes those afflicted—mostly young Miskitu women—to alternate between a trancelike state of semi-consciousness and periods of frenzied behaviour. During the latter, victims often rip off their clothes, flee into the forest or the murky, fast-flowing river, and appear to develop superhuman strength. In such a crazed state, these women are difficult to stop. With their eyes closed, and armed with machetes or sticks, they think nothing of attacking whoever or whatever stands between them and the mysterious force that beckons.

In this region, there are accounts of entire villages being ransacked during a grisi siknis outbreak, when as many as a quarter of a town’s inhabitants, including women of all ages and a few men, become afflicted and may remain so for months. Patients are tied up with ropes to prevent them from running amok. [...]

Many psychiatrists believe that grisi siknis belongs to a class of disorders commonly known as “culture-bound syndromes.” In the November 2001 issue of Psychiatric Times, Dr. Ronald C. Simons, professor emeritus of psychiatry and anthropology at Michigan State University, wrote, “In theory, culture-bound syndromes are those folk illnesses in which alterations of behaviour and experience figure prominently. In actuality, however, many are not syndromes at all. Instead, they are local ways of explaining any of a wide assortment of misfortunes.” Later he adds, “However, some culture-bound syndromes are indeed syndromes.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV of the American Psychiatric Association contains a glossary of twenty-five culture-bound syndromes. There’s pibloktoq, a disorder similar to grisi siknis unique to the Inuit, and the suitably named amok, which is particular to Malaysians and involves periods of brooding followed by outbursts of violent, aggressive, or homicidal behaviour. There’s dhat in India, characterized by large losses of semen in men, who feel weak as a result. In Japan, taijin kyofusho causes people to have an intense fear of their own bodies, and in Southeast Asia men and women suffer from koro, which is the fear that one’s sexual appendages are being withdrawn into the body and will be lost. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa are our very own Western culture-bound syndromes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Camelot and Its Discontents: Mad Man’s Third Season Comes to DVD ( Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., 4/25/10, PJM)

Watching the third season of AMC’s Mad Men series, recently released onto DVD, makes for the same push-pull love/hate response that the TV series itself has with the era it portrays. Say what you will about its first three seasons, at the very least, the show is a reminder that the early 1960s, now frequently known as “Camelot” thanks to a powerful assist from a then-recently widowed Jackie Kennedy, was nowhere near as tranquil and idyllic as that word suggests.

What we look back at mistily as “Camelot” was actually one of the most tumultuous stretches of American history since the end of World War II. It began in November of 1960 with a close election in which Richard Nixon (in contrast with Al Gore in 2000) conceded rather than having a protracted fight against John F. Kennedy. This would leave some thinking that Kennedy stole the election, “selected, not elected,” to coin a phrase. October 1962 saw the Cuban Missile Crisis, with wide swatches of America wondering if they’d wake up to see the next day. (Shades of 9/11.) And it ended on November 22, 1963, with President Kennedy the most important, least understood victim of the Cold War.

Along the way, the American business community hummed along, with the first waves of mergers and conglomerations, the rise of the slide-rule technocrats, and the transatlantic men — British businessmen more comfortable in the States, away from the ridged class structure of their homeland.

That last item informs much of the subtext of the third season of Mad Men. (WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD!)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Democrats’ Long-Held Seats Face G.O.P. Threat (JEFF ZELENY and ADAM NAGOURNEY, 4/25/109, NY Times)

Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon’s to Obama’s. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress.

Mr. Obey is one of nearly a dozen well-established House Democrats who are bracing for something they rarely face: serious competition. Their predicament is the latest sign of distress for their party and underlines why Republicans are confident of making big gains in November and perhaps even winning back the House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Obama and evangelist Billy Graham share a prayer (Philip Elliott And Mike Baker, 4/25/10, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama made a pilgrimage Sunday to Billy Graham's mountainside home, concluding his North Carolina vacation with his first meeting with the ailing evangelist who has counseled commanders in chief since Dwight Eisenhower. [...]

Graham said his father prayed for the nation and that God would give Obama wisdom in his decisions. The president prayed to thank God for Billy Graham's life, Franklin Graham said.

Obama confided, like other presidents before him, how lonely, demanding and humbling the presidency can be, Ross said.

"That is a discussion that Mr. Graham has had with previous presidents who realize not only the demands but the loneliness of the job. And they're humbled by that," Ross said. "The only way one can do (the job) properly is to draw on spiritual resources."

Billy Graham has been ailing for years, yet his son said the frail evangelist appeared as strong as ever during the conversation with Obama.

"It's like my father rises to the occasion," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


The President and the Persuader: Obama doesn’t need a progressive on the court; he needs someone who can move it to the left. (John Heilemann, Apr 23, 2010, New York)

Of the top three candidates, Solicitor General Elena Kagan has attracted at once the most attention and criticism, mainly from the left, which worries that she could turn out to be a mirror-image David Souter—a supposed liberal who winds up pushing the high court to the right. Much discussion, too, has attended the trio’s other female: federal appellate judge Diane Wood, who is seen as the most progressive of the three but also the most likely to prove contentious, owing partly to her strong advocacy of abortion rights.

Concerning the third front-runner, however, there has been precious little hubbub. The candidate in question is Merrick Garland, a Bill Clinton appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Garland is well known, well respected, and tremendously well liked in Washington legal circles; even Republicans have nice things to say about him (which has both advantages and disadvantages, about which more shortly). Yet Garland also happens to possess certain qualities that are, shall we say, politically suboptimal. He is white. He is male. And he’s 57 years old—compared with, say, Kagan, who at 49 offers Obama a chance to leave his mark on the court for perhaps an additional decade.

Three strikes and Garland’s out, you say? Well, you may be right. But that would be a real shame—because the case for making him one of The Supremes is, in fact, compelling. For Obama, who is said by some of his advisers to be more keen on finding a liberalish version of John Roberts than a hard-left incarnation of Antonin Scalia, Garland’s juridical rigor, even temperament, and intellectual firepower should be attractive. And although he is more centrist than many of the other short-listers, his consensus-building skills might make him, paradoxically, the best progressive hope for staving off the court’s ever more conservative tilt.

Left and Right value fierce dissenting opinions more thann narrow majority ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


A Lib-Con deal is a real possibility: David Cameron and Nick Clegg could sink their differences more easily than you might think ( Matthew d'Ancona, 4/24/10, Daily Telegraph)

It seems to me that, distilled to their essentials, the polls in aggregate reveal four basic truths about the mood of the British public in late April 2010. First, disgusted by the expenses scandal and the financial crisis, the voters are hungry for change. Second, as a consequence, they no longer want Gordon Brown to be Prime Minister. Third, they lean towards David Cameron PM but have reservations about him, and the prospect of an undilutedly Tory government. Fourth, they have found in Nick Clegg a telegenic tribune, who articulates the nation's grievances better than anyone else and incarnates the dynamism and freshness they yearn for.

From all this, one can pluck a fairly obvious conclusion: that the electorate would be broadly content with a Cameron-Clegg government, but would take to the streets in protest if the outcome of a hung parliament was Gordon Brown's continued occupancy of Number 10 with the terrible connivance of Clegg, the supposed "change-maker". It follows no less logically that all who want to see Gordon removed from Downing Street, and the Tory party in power rather than tearing itself to pieces in opposition, should be thinking constructively about whether and how a Lib-Con pact could work. [...]

It was Clegg who called for "savage" spending cuts in September – a word Messrs Cameron and Osborne would never dare deploy. Long before he was Lib Dem leader, Clegg was advancing plans to break up the NHS far more radical than anything Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, has ever proposed. The Lib Dems have picked up and run with Lord Saatchi's wise plan to remove the poorest from taxation altogether.

Moreover, Clegg and several of his fellow contributors to the 2004 Orange Book have much more in common with the Cameroons than they do with the Brownites: an interest in decentralisation, the strengthening of community and serious public service reform. Broadly speaking, they are part of the same political cohort.

...its rivals moved further Third.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


That memo against the Pope is no joke (James Macintyre, 25 April 2010, New Statesman)

There is a widespread misunderstanding taking place over the extraordinary Foreign Office "brainstorming" memo, entitled "The ideal visit would see...", that has caused such diplomatic tensions between the UK and the Holy See which until nowhas enjoyed such unprecedentedly strong relations in recent years.

People think it is a joke. That is to say, it was written as a joke. This is unsurprising, i the range of suggestions, which include a form of contraception named after the Pope, the Pope opening an abortion clinic, and the Pope overseeing a homosexual wedding, and so on.

But in fact, I am reliably told by a senior Whitehall source, that "this was not written as a joke". In which case, the memo says more about the mind-set of what one official calls an "aggressive secular fundamentalism" that is entrenched in the Foreign Office, than it does about the Papal visit which, for all the Vatican's faults, remains a good thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Five myths about green energy (Robert Bryce, April 25, 2010, Washington Post)

5. The United States lags behind other rich countries in going green.

Over the past three decades, the United States has improved its energy efficiency as much as or more than other developed countries. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, average per capita energy consumption in the United States fell by 2.5 percent from 1980 through 2006. That reduction was greater than in any other developed country except Switzerland and Denmark, and the United States achieved it without participating in the Kyoto Protocol or creating an emissions trading system like the one employed in Europe. EIA data also show that the United States has been among the best at reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per $1 of GDP and the amount of energy consumed per $1 of GDP.

America's move toward a more service-based economy that is less dependent on heavy industry and manufacturing is driving this improvement. In addition, the proliferation of computer chips in everything from automobiles to programmable thermostats is wringing more useful work out of each unit of energy consumed. The United States will continue going green by simply allowing engineers and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: make products that are faster, cheaper and more efficient than the ones they made the year before.

And then manufacturing them in the Third World.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


For Greece’s Economy, Geography Was Destiny (ROBERT D. KAPLAN, 4/24/10, NY Times)

THE debt crisis that caused Greece to ask for an international bailout on Friday has been attributed to many things, all economic: Greece’s budget deficits, its lack of transparency and its over-the-top corruption, symbolized by the words “fakelaki,” for envelopes containing bribes, and “rousfeti,” political favors. But there is a deeper cause for the Greek crisis that no one dares mention because it implies an acceptance of fate: geography.

Greece is where the historically underdeveloped worlds of the Mediterranean and the Balkans overlap, and this has huge implications for its politics and economy. For northern Europe to include a country like Greece in its currency union is a demonstration of how truly ambitious the European project has been all along. Too ambitious, perhaps, many Germans and other Northern Europeans are now thinking.

That Europe’s problem economies — Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal — are all in the south is no accident. Mediterranean societies, despite their innovations in politics (Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic) were, in the words of the 20th-century French historian Fernand Braudel, defined by “traditionalism and rigidity.”

Which is why England belongs in the Anglosphere, not Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Novelist Alan Sillitoe dies: Alan Sillitoe, the novelist, has died at the age of 82, his family said. (Daily Telegraph, 4/25/10)

He left school at 14 and worked in a bicycle factory in his native Nottingham before serving in the RAF.

His breakthrough came with the publication of the novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning in 1958.

It was made into a film, starring Albert Finney, as was his next novel The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner which featured Tom Courtenay in the lead role.

Both are regarded as classic examples of kitchen sink dramas reflecting the reality of life in Britain at the mid-point of the 20th century.

British author Alan Sillitoe dies aged 82 (AP, 4/25/10)
Sillitoe, a leading member of the 1950s group of so-called angry young men of British fiction, was acclaimed for his uncompromising social criticism and depiction of domestic tensions — often dubbed kitchen sink dramas.

The writer’s son David said his father had died at London’s Charing Cross hospital, but gave no other details.

Sillitoe is best known for his 1958 book “Saturday Night And Sunday Morning,” and 1959 short story “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.” Both works were later made into films.

Albert Finney starred in the adaptation of the former, as a disillusioned young factory worker. In the latter, Tom Courtenay portrayed a young delinquent whose prowess at long distance running is seized upon by authorities as proof of their ability to rehabilitate troubled youths.

Recalling his own modest upbringing in Nottingham, central England, Sillitoe once recalled the smells of “leaking gas, stale fat, and layers of moldering wallpaper.”

Anger is a thin gruel.

REVIEW: of Saturday Night & Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (Caroline Miller, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (John Crace, The Guardian)
ESSAY: In praise of ... Alan Sillitoe (The Guardian, 8 November 2008 )

"Whom do I hate?" wrote Alan Sillitoe in his notebook in 1957. A promising sentence, duly topped by what followed. "At a rough guess I would say everyone, hoping to qualify that statement to my satisfaction later." This is the Sillitoe everyone loves: the awkward sod who writes about other awkward sods.

-REVIEW: of # The Life of a Long-Distance Writer: A Biography of Alan Sillitoe by Richard Bradford: A few blemishes wouldn't have gone amiss: The enigmatic Alan Sillitoe remains just that in a life that has been carefully airbrushed, says James Purdon (James Purdon, 1/11/09, The Observer)
Labels don't stick to Alan Sillitoe. He shrugs them off. They wear out. The "Angry Young Man" who shocked Chatterley-ban Britain with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning turned 80 last year, but the "young" was superfluous from the beginning. As he reminds us, there are always good reasons to be angry. As a "socialist author" who sold well in the USSR, he was occasionally invited behind the iron curtain, only to goad his hosts by speaking publicly against the regime's suppression of writers.

FILM REVIEW: Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (Phelim O'Neill, The Guardian)
FILM REVIEW: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning/The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Philip French, The Observer)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


REVIEW: of The Shock of the Global: the 1970s in Perspective By Niall Ferguson, Charles S Maier, Erez Manela and Daniel J Sargent (John Gray, 25 April 2010, New Statesman)

Crisis, what crisis?

At a time when many fear a return to the political deadlock and industrial conflict of Britain a generation ago, Niall Ferguson offers a comforting reassessment. "In terms of political violence and economic instability, the 1970s were an unexceptional decade." According to the Harvard-based historian, the chaos of the 1970s was largely imaginary, a delusion produced by an outbreak of moral panic in universities.

“The period's dire reputation may owe more to the bad experiences of Anglo-American academics, caught between inflation and student radicalism," he writes, "than to any measurable increases in global disorder." What academics were worried about when they chronicled the conflicts of the 1970s was their own falling income and status. "The combination of double-digit inflation and public-sector pay freezes seemed to threaten a generation of dons with proletarianisation . . . Professors could not even rely on their investments to compensate them for sharp declines in their real pay." Among these panic-stricken professors, Ferguson singles out A J P Taylor, whose opinions and finances he examines at some length. "For someone of Taylor's age, the trauma of financial crisis was in some measure compounded by the strained relations with students (not to mention teenage sons) that characterised the period after 1968." Taylor believed British capitalism had hit the buffers, but in Ferguson's view this perception was highly subjective. "Taylor was much too gloomy about the west's prospects: it was Deng [Xiaoping] who got it right." Aside from the Anglo-American academy, there was no crisis in the 1970s.

It is a strikingly reductionist interpretation, and quite entertaining as long as it's not taken too seriously. There is a certain drollery in the thought that the status anxieties of academics were more symptomatic of the 1970s than the oil shocks of the mid-1970s and the Iranian Revolution at the end of the decade. For Ferguson, these events had little significance. It was the new technologies that came onstream in the 1970s - microprocessors and catalytic converters, for example - that were important; hence Ferguson's view that Deng got it right.

My freshman year in college, when he was on his book tour for Will, G. Gordon Liddy came to Colgate for a lecture. He was arrogant, bombastic, unapologetic and very, very funny. He took obvious pleasure in goading liberal listeners and they reacted exactly as he hoped, making for an entertaining spectacle. At one point, two co-eds stood up and complained that he kept referring to them as ladies rather than as women. His response: "I assume that you are ladies until your behavior demonstrates otherwise."

He said one thing though that always struck me as somewhat poignant and, while not a justification for the vile Richard Nixon, at least an insight into how the Administration got itself into such a mess. He said that he did what he did because he genuinely felt like the institutions of the country he loved were under assault and that he needed to be as extreme in their defense as his opponents were in their attacks.

In retrospect, we have a fair bit of trouble taking the radicals of the 60's and 70's seriously. After all, it took just a whiff of grapeshot at Kent State--and the middle classes applause for that action, for the hard hats who beat up protestors and for the final scene of Easy Rider--for the student movement to collapse. Likewise, when even LBJ showed himself willing to militarize the ghettoes it quieted the cities in a hurry. And where the shooting of JFK, RFK and MLK were genuine tragedies, the assassination attempts on Gerald Ford smacked of comedy. By the end of the decade the bland caretaker government of a Southern white evangelical was yielding to the reformist government of a white Western evangelical and, despite the economic disruption required to wring the legacy of inflation out of the system, by 1984 the whole era had taken on the quality of a bad dream and was a butt of relentless joking.

Indeed, Frances Wheen's recent book, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia, plays the decade for laughs and finds many. The radicals and the supposed threat they posed are so comical that the reaction of folks like Liddy can't help but seem lunatic. In essence, his account boils down to a war of the fringes with the vast majority uninvolved.

Oil shortages were unquestionably inconvenient and inflation is a terrible social solvent, but these were both discrete crises that were dealt with quickly. They had no lasting social effect, except to turn parties of the Left in the West just as hawkish on inflation as Wall Street bankers had always been. Significantly, whereas countries outside the Anglosphere often saw former radicals come to power, in the U.S. the only two presidents whose formative years came in the '70s were both establishment creatures and, llike their precedecessors, conservative white Southwesterners. And Barack Obama, the first to be formed by the 1980s, is an archetypal organization man who had to pretend to follow the Reverend Wright just to gain some street credibility. He represents the ultimate fruition of the civil rights revolution not because he is black but because is so "white" and because his race was a help rather than a hindrance at every step of his career.

Whether the chaotic events of the '70s were unusual or not, the fact is that order was restored so quickly and thoroughly that it is entirely fair to say that they were nothing more than chaos, devoid of any larger meaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


PMA students learn how to make bread to donate to the needy (MICHAEL BRINDLEY, 4/25/10, Nashua Telegraph)

It seemed fitting that it was Holy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper, when students at Presentation of Mary Academy were getting a lesson in how to make their own bread.

The purpose of the lesson was for the students to make their own bread at home and for the loaves to be donated to local charities. But given the school’s Catholic background, there seemed to be a deeper religious message for students, as well.

“I wanted to incorporate it into Holy Week. It’s just a beautiful time to be giving,” said Lucy Eppolito, a parent at the school who organized bringing the program to the school.

The King Arthur Flour Co.’s life skills bread baking program not only teaches students how to make their own bread, but also gives them the tools to do it at home after school with their families. The ingredients are donated by King Arthur Flour, which is in Norwich, Vt.

-INTERVIEW: VT Edition Interview: Paula Gray on the Life Skills Bread Baking program (Jane Lindholm - Norwich, VT, , 12/09/08, VPR)

The Basic Bread Recipe

Makes 2 loaves (Alert!!! This recipe takes about 3 1/2 hours to make.)

2 cups warm water (or 1 cup warm water + 1 cup warm milk)

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) sugar

1 packet Red Star Active Dry Yeast

2 cups King Arthur 100% Organic White Whole Wheat Flour

1 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons vegetable oil (or ½ stick soft butter)

4 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, plus extra for kneading

In a large bowl, combine warm water, sugar, yeast, and 2 cups King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour. Cover mixture with a clean towel and let stand 10 minutes until bubbly.

Stir in salt and vegetable oil (or butter, if using).

Stir in King Arthur All-purpose Flour, 1 cup at a time. When the dough holds together and all flour is mixed in, plop dough out onto a clean, floured surface.

With a little flour on your hands, knead the dough. As you knead, sprinkle your hands or the work surface with just enough flour to prevent sticking. After 5 minutes, take a break and let the dough rest.

Scrape out the mixing bowl, and grease the bottom and sides.

Knead the dough for a few more minutes. It should feel springy and smooth. (When you lightly press into it with your fingertips, it will bounce right back.) Put dough into the bowl and turn the dough over once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1½ hours.

Gently deflate the dough, and turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 loaves.

Grease a baking sheet; put your loaves on it. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a clean towel and let the dough rise again for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Carefully remove plastic wrap and slash the tops of the loaves with a sharp knife. Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool the bread on a rack. Enjoy!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Financial recovery hinges on trust (Mark Zandi, 4/25/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Odd as it may sound, the U.S. financial system is also one of our biggest global advantages. The Italians make great sunglasses, the Russians make excellent vodka, but Americans make the best financial products. Not always, as the financial meltdown has made clear, but in most times our financial system has done an admirable job of taking what little saving we do and using it to finance the investment needed to power the most productive economy on the planet.

To revive our financial system, however, trust needs to be restored. Unless those who lend money as well as those who borrow it believe they are getting a fair shake, credit won't flow, at least not at reasonable cost. Trust is particularly important to attract global investors to buy U.S. bonds, stocks, and other financial products. With so many Treasury bonds to sell to fill our gaping budget deficit, we need global investors to have full faith in our system.

Financial reform can start to accomplish this, for example, by taming the wild and woolly derivatives market, putting trading on exchanges where transactions can be monitored and regulated. Private or over-the-counter derivatives trading is where much of the current smoke is coming from, including the Goldman Sachs suit. Regulation is also necessary to ensure that investors have the financial wherewithal to meet the obligations they make in these deals.

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the credit crisis came when the Administration followed rational free market theory and allowed Lehman Brothers to fail, not appreciating that it would undermine faith in the financial system itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Fair overachievers, here's your competition (Kyle Munson, April 25, 2010, Des Moines Register)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens.

But then, some of you already have.

Closing in on 100 days until the Iowa State Fair officially opens its gates, veteran fair competitor Andrea Spencer is busy perfecting her recipe for dinner rolls to enter in one of the fair's 869 classes of food contests. [...]

The kitchen is the focal point of Spencer's ranch home north of Gilbert, its soundtrack provided by clucking chickens (laying farm-fresh eggs for her recipes), ducks and the lone pet goose, Honkers, from the barnyard out back.

Her son Clark, who turns 3 next month, begged for another of his mother's dinner rolls on the cooling racks. His younger brother, Grant, nearly 1, tried struggling to his feet in the living room.

"Usually the years they're born, I've gone down in entries," said Spencer, a stay-at-home mom.

Spencer was raised in Algona and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agronomy, entomology and integrated pest management. She added a master's in agricultural education in 2005. Husband Alan works as executive secretary and treasurer for FFA in Iowa - so he gets to spend three weeks on the fairgrounds each August chaperoning FFA students.

Both Spencer's mother, Nancy Clark, and her late grandmother, Elfrieda Clark (who was 92 when she passed away two years ago during the fair), received home economics degrees from ISU and handed down their recipes to her.

She's an admitted "ingredient snob" who has 10 pounds of King Arthur flour delivered to her door each month via UPS.

She keeps 25 pounds of flour on hand in her freezer - regular, wheat, rye and whole-grain varieties.

With her experience and arsenal of ingredients, Spencer aims to improve not just her project quantity but also her ribbon ratio this year.

"Last year I think I was the queen of honorable mentions," she laughed.

Tarbell-Thomas' late grandmother, Mildred Phillips, amassed no fewer than 5,000 ribbons at the State Fair and county fairs during her 40-year run that began in the 1930s. (Tarbell-Thomas stopped counting her own State Fair ribbons more than a decade ago when the tally was around 3,000.)

Spencer's golden-brown rolls this year will have to vie with those of Indianola's Ross, who won the top two overall prizes in last year's King Arthur Yeast Rolls competition.

"I think it's fair to say I'm a 365-day State Fair competitor," Ross said. gauntlet for the 2012 State Fair. The rest of you fair contest overachievers have been warned.

April 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Back to Basics on Financial Reform: The case for limiting leverage and regulating derivatives is overwhelming, but that doesn't require a new 1,300-page law. (NIALL FERGUSON AND TED FORSTMANN, 4/23/10, WSJ)

For most of the past 20 years the explosive growth of the derivatives market—the total notional amount of derivatives outstanding in June last year was $604.6 trillion—was immensely lucrative for bankers and those who invest in bank stocks. But it increased the instability of the global financial system. And taxpayers have paid a heavy price since the system all but collapsed in late 2008.

The case for some kind of regulation of the derivatives market is overwhelming. There was never a good reason for treating credit default swaps and their ilk differently from commodity futures, which are standardized and traded on exchanges. The lack of market transparency and efficient competition in these instruments indicates that much of the profit made in the current, "over-the-counter" market is simply vigorish extracted by the financial bookies. History shows that competitive markets where standardized products are traded for low commissions do not spontaneously arise. They have to be created.

The problem is that Congress is not content to address this problem alone. On the contrary, the common characteristic of the two bills currently under discussion is their staggering length (both exceed 1,300 pages) and complexity. The nightmare possibility arises: Could the proposed cure turn out to be just another symptom of the same disease? As the rules become ever more convoluted, so the opportunities for the unscrupulous increase—and the efficiency of the financial system as a whole decreases.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


The New Fat Cats: The indefensible pensions of public-sector employees. (Fred Barnes, May 3, 2010, Weekly Standard)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, state and local government salaries are 34 percent higher than those for private sector jobs. Okay, that’s partly because government workers tend to have white-collar jobs. Benefits, 70 percent higher for these workers, are the real rub. And benefits for government retirees are the most flagrant. They’ve become a national scandal, a fiscal nightmare for states, cities, and towns, and an example of unfairness of the sort liberals routinely complain about but are mostly silent about just now. [...]

The lofty pay scales and benefits for government workers—as compared with those in the private sector—suggest the idea of “public service” isn’t what it used to be. Once, taking a government job meant a sacrifice in pay and benefits. No more. Most bureaucrats have secure, recession-proof jobs with automatic salary increases, paid leave, and lavish benefits, notably in retirement. And they get to retire earlier than private sector workers.

Christie has asked, Is this fair? The answer is no. But if you happen to think it is fair, I’d advise you to click on the website pensiontsunami.com. It’s operated by one person in California who daily posts fresh examples of pension abuse across the country.

But lack of fairness isn’t the biggest problem with exorbitant pensions. The pension explosion has created a fiscal crisis in many states, cities, and towns across the country, California being the worst off. Not only are pensions for government workers a perilously unfunded liability for many states, their soaring cost is causing sharp cuts in other programs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Supreme Court Short List Shows Ties to Obama: Personal Connections Have Played a Role in Past Nominations (JOAN BISKUPIC, April 24, 2010, ABC)

Among the ways potential candidates' lives have intersected with the orbit of Obama:

" Harvard Law School, where Obama was in the class of 1991: U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan was in the class of 1986; U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, 1977; Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, 1987.

" University of Chicago Law School, where Obama taught from 1992 to 2004: Kagan was a law professor 1995-97; U.S. Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood taught and held various positions from associate dean to part-time senior lecturer since 1981.

" Current administration: After Obama took office in January 2009, he chose Kagan to be U.S. solicitor general and Janet Napolitano to be Homeland Security secretary.

" Acquaintances and other associations: Obama has ties to Wood from more than a decade in Chicago legal circles. Granholm, who campaigned for Obama in the 2008 presidential race, played Sarah Palin as Joe Biden rehearsed for the vice presidential debate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Dexter Gordon Enters The Library of Congress (Felix Contreras, NPR: A Blog Supreme)

"Jazz, to me, is a living music. It's a music that since its beginning has expressed the feelings, the dreams, hopes of the people."

Dexter Gordon once said that.

We heard it when we attended a ceremony marking the acquisition of over 1,000 items from the saxophonist's career at the Library of Congress made available by his widow, Maxine Gordon.

The collection includes items from throughout a career that spanned five decades. From his earliest days in Los Angeles until his death in 1990 -- including memorabilia from his turn as a Oscar-nominated actor in Bertrand Tavernier's 1987 film Round Midnight -- it's all there.

Maxine Gordon's presentation about the making of Round Midnight revealed more quotables from Dexter. Seems the film's success made him a big deal in Europe, and for the first time he had to travel with bodyguards. As he was being escorted in Italy, he turned to his wife and said, "This is the first time the police have been in front of me with their lights on!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Down and Out in Boston: You must read (and watch) Eddie Coyle. (Troy Patterson, April 22, 2010, Slate)

This is the stuff of a great genre novel, though it's not exactly clear what that genre is. Eddie Coyle fluidly combines elements of a procedural and a thriller, of suspense and social realism. What it isn't is a Chandler-type mystery novel about a sleuth battling his own cynicism. Here, the sleuthing remains in the background, like a surveillance van, and the cynicism is a precondition of existence. Further, most hard-boiled classics allow their villains only so much time to talk, while this one gets its ripe flavor from their dialogue—tough talk, dumb bluffs, weaseling hedges, empty promises, pungent shoptalk, and by-the-by marital complaints.

To hear that dialogue crash and flow, check out director Peter Yates' 1973 film adaptation of the book. Recently available from the Criterion Collection, it stars Robert Mitchum in the title role, meaning that he's not a hero, not even an anti-hero, just a victim of circumstance. As A.O. Scott said last month in a Critics' Pick Video at nytimes.com, Coyle is "almost like a secondary character in his own movie."

That movie is an exemplar of the art of adaptation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Iran’s Ahmadinejad: proposed sanctions not legal (AP, 4/24/10)

Iran’s president says proposed U.N. sanctions against the country’s nuclear program “lack legal validity.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Uganda on Saturday that he will not accept sanctions. He says sanctions will hurt the reputation of the U.S. and President Barack Obama.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


A Plague of ‘A’ Students: Why it’s so irksome being governed by the Obami. (P. J. O'Rourke, May 3, 2010, Weekly Standard)

America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We’re still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: “A students work for B students.” Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, “B students work for C students—A students teach.”

It was a bunch of A students at the Defense Department who planned the syllabus for the Iraq war, and to hell with what happened to the Iraqi Class of ’03 after they’d graduated from Shock and Awe.

The U.S. tax code was written by A students. Every April 15 we have to pay somebody who got an A in accounting to keep ourselves from being sent to jail.

Now there’s health care reform—just the kind of thing that would earn an A on a term paper from that twerp of a grad student who teaches Econ 101.

Why are A students so hateful? I’m sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they’re smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? They are. You can look it up (if you have a fancy education the way our betters do and know what the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is). “Smart” has its root in the Old English word for being a pain. The adjective has eight other principal definitions ranging from “brisk” to “fashionable” to “neat.” Only two definitions indicate cleverness—smart as in “clever in talk” and smart as in “clever in looking after one’s own interests.” Don’t get smart with me.

The other objection to A students is what it takes to become one—toad-eating. A students must do what teachers and textbooks want and do it the way teachers and texts want it done. Neatness counts! A students are very busy.

Such brisk apple-polishing happens to be an all-too-good preparation for politics. This is because a student’s success at education and a politician’s success at politics are measured mostly by input rather than outcome.

...and America's healthy contempt for intellectuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Radical Center: The History of an Idea (SAM TANENHAUS, 4/25/10, NY Times Book Review)

[H]alstead and Lind drew explicitly on “The Radical Center: Middle Americans and the Politics of Alienation,” a sociological study published in 1976. Its author, Donald I. Warren, had supervised nearly 2,000 interviews with a cross-section of citizens, almost all of them white, in an effort to isolate the attitudes of “middle American radicals,” whose anger at political and social institutions had erupted in the early and mid-1970s. Some of their protests were culturally driven: uprisings against court-ordered busing in Boston and the “maggots of the media” who supported it, and against the school board in Charleston, W.Va., that had added left-wing authors to grade-school curriculums. Others were reactions to the decade’s raging inflation: a truckers’ protest against rising diesel prices, a consumers’ meat boycott.

Opposing these radicals, Warren reported, was another group, “average middles,” who had more faith in established institutions and the stability they offered. Middle America was thus split into two competing sectors. As many as 43 percent of the “radicals” — but only 26 percent of the “other whites” in the survey — agreed, for instance, that “the true American way of life is disappearing so fast that we need to use force to save it”; and 41 percent of the “radicals” approved of activists who “go to the state capitol and stop legislative sessions,” while only 22 percent of “average middles” favored such actions.

These conflicting outlooks often reflected differences in education, ethnicity and religion. Put roughly, “radicals” were blue-collar Catholics, and “average middles” were white-collar Protestants.

The novelty of Halstead and Lind’s book lay in its suggestion that subsequent changes in demographics and party affiliation had collapsed the two warring factions into one. Between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of college graduates in the population at large had more than doubled, from one in 10 to one in four. Evangelicals had joined Catholics among the ranks of social conservatives. The working-class “flight” from the Democratic Party was all but completed in the 1980s and ’90s even as moderate Republicans began to vote for Democrats.

The question Halstead and Lind tried to answer, whether this fusion of the two “middles” might form a new consensus, is again the most pressing issue of the day, with conflicting answers supplied by left and right, and with the outcome fluctuating from moment to moment, possibly confirming the authors’ guess that “the future of American politics may well belong to the major party that is first to renounce its more extreme positions.” This is why “The Radical Center” remains valuable even as the political realities that seemed to discredit its argument a decade ago have themselves proved fleeting.

The cyclical nature of these spasms of rage and the way they evaporate once the economy kicks into gear suggests their mindlessness. But the fusion point has been made apparent in politics across the Anglosphere, not least in W's winning two elections on personal accounts for SS, which Mr. Tanenhaus mistakenly says were unpopular with the public, when, in fact, they were unpopular with Congress. Even the UR's much reviled health care reform is premised on the private provider/government mandate that's been at the core of Republican thought for thirty years. Just add an HSA default for the insurance--with tax payers footing the bill only for HSAs for the poor--and you've got the sort of Third Way reform that, along with personal SS, represents the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Mind Over Meds (DANIEL CARLAT, 4/19/10, NY Times Magazine)

The newer generation of psychiatrists, who graduated in the 1980s and afterward, trained in programs that were increasingly skeptical of therapy and that emphasized a focus on medications. M.G.H. was by far the most influential of these modern programs. Graduates of the M.G.H. program and its sister program at nearby McLean Hospital have fanned out throughout the country, becoming chairmen of departments and leaders of the National Institute of Mental Health.

A result is that psychiatry has been transformed from a profession in which we talk to people and help them understand their problems into one in which we diagnose disorders and medicate them. This trend was most recently documented by Ramin Mojtabai and Mark Olfson, two psychiatric epidemiologists who found that the percentage of visits to psychiatrists that included psychotherapy dropped to 29 percent in 2004-5 from 44 percent in 1996-97. And the percentage of psychiatrists who provided psychotherapy at every patient visit decreased to 11 percent from 19 percent.

While it is tempting to blame only the biologically oriented psychiatrists for this shift, that would be simplistic. Other forces are at work as well. Insurance companies typically encourage short medication visits by paying nearly as much for a 20-minute medication visit as for 50 minutes of therapy. And patients themselves vote with their feet by frequently choosing to see psychopharmacologists rather than therapists. Weekly therapy takes time and is arduous work. If a daily pill can cure depression and anxiety just as reliably, why not choose this option?

In fact, during my 15-to-20-minute medication visits with patients, I was often gratified by the effectiveness of the medications I prescribed. For perhaps a quarter of them, medications worked so well as to be nearly miraculous. But over time I realized that the majority of patients need more. One young woman I saw was referred to me by a nurse practitioner for treatment of depression that had not responded to several past antidepressants. She was struggling to raise two young children and was worried that she was doing a poor job of it. Her husband worked full time and was rarely available to help. She cried throughout our initial interview. I started her on Effexor and referred her to a social-worker colleague. She improved initially, but over the years since, her symptoms have waxed and waned. When she reports a worsening of her anxiety or depression, my first instinct is to do one of three things — switch medications, increase her dosage or add another.

April 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


Bank With Ties to Illinois Democratic Senate Candidate Fails (VICTORIA MCGRANE And DOUGLAS BELKIN, 4/23/10, WSJ)

Illinois regulators Friday shuttered a Chicago bank closely tied to the Democratic candidate running for President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

Broadway Bank is owned by the family of Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is locked in a competitive race in this year's eections. His role at the institution has become a central issue in the race. [...]

Mr. Giannoulias couldn't be reached to a comment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Loose Tea (Richard Kim, April 21, 2010, The Nation)

But beyond the rhetoric and amid the crowd of a few thousand, the concerns were on a smaller scale--like about incandescent light bulbs.

That's what inspired one woman, Dot, to drive down from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Dot is concerned about the deficit and the healthcare bill that "nobody read," but most of all she is panicked about light bulbs. "The government is already starting to fine people if you have the incandescent kind," she said, "but if cap and trade passes, then you're going to have each home audited, and that information is going to be listed to real estate agents, and you won't be able to sell your house."

Dozens of tea partyers I spoke with repeated some version of Dot's tale of government intrusion, little lies laced with tiny truths. "With this consumer protection agency," one man told me, "the government is going to make it illegal for you to have more than two credit cards." A woman in a red-white-and-blue pantsuit said, "There's a charter school in New York City teaching children how to be political activists--Muslim activists." Each of these stories lurks in the substrata of tea party blogs, and many are simply warmed-over right-wing myths that predate the tea party itself. What impresses is the fine-grained obsessiveness with which these ideas are pursued; I came to Washington looking for Ahabs, but the tea partyers I met are preoccupied with chasing minnows of their own imagining, not hunting the great white whale of government.

What does this kaleidoscope of kookiness add up to? According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, tea partyers are richer, whiter, better educated, older, more male and more likely to be employed than the rest of America. In other words, they largely come from society's "haves," who now worry, as Thomas Edsall argues in The Atlantic Monthly, that "the competition for resources cannot be resolved by...economic growth," and so are rallying to hold on to their wealth, status, authority and autonomy. Or as one tea party sign put it, Your Fair Share Is Not in My Pocket.

Can't you just see them trying to tell The Gipper, Jack Kemp, or W that we're in decline and economic growth is a thing of the past?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Party Affiliation Gap in U.S. Narrowest Since 2005: Democratic advantage shrinks as more independents lean to the Republican Party (Jeffrey M. Jones, 4/23/10, Gallup)

The advantage in public support the Democratic Party built up during the latter part of the Bush administration and the early part of the Obama administration has all but disappeared. During the first quarter of 2010, 46% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 45% identified as or leaned Republican.

The latest results, based on aggregated data from Gallup polls conducted from January to March of this year, show the closest party division since the first quarter of 2005, when the parties were tied at 46%. Democrats enjoyed double-digit advantages in party support in 11 of 12 quarters from the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Administration trims bailout cost estimate to $87B (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, 4/23/10, AP)

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is telling Congress that the administration believes the final cost of the government’s heavily criticized financial bailout effort could be as low as $87 billion.

Geithner made the new estimate in a letter Friday to congressional leaders that was obtained by The Associated Press.

A year ago, officials were estimating the bailout could cost as much as $500 billion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Potential Supreme Court pick Garland could find foes on left (Carol D. Leonnig, 4/23/10, Washington Post)

Unlike several other possible candidates to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick B. Garland probably won't face conservative opposition. Instead, it could be liberals lining up against him.

A small but vocal group of activists is privately saying that Garland is not liberal enough to replace the legendary Stevens, whose opinions defended gay rights and abortion rights and opposed the death penalty. They say Garland is a centrist who won't champion liberal concerns, too often finds middle ground with his conservative colleagues on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and showed great deference to President George W. Bush's indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [...]

Even his naysayers acknowledge that he is well liked by progressives and conservatives as a consensus-building judge and for his work as a top prosecutor on the Oklahoma City bombing. Many agree that he might provide the White House with the smoothest political sailing in confirmation hearings.

Among his friends are some of the capital's most powerful Democratic operatives, as well as conservatives such as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and D.C. Circuit colleagues Laurence H. Silberman and David Sentelle. Some of the conservative judges, Republican sources say, have quietly sent their GOP friends a message: Don't attack Garland.

If conservatives were choosing a nominee, Garland "would be nowhere on the list," said Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, but Garland compares favorably with other candidates President Obama might consider.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


The National Agenda (NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF, 4/23/10, NY Times Magazine)

It was supposed to be the National’s moment. After years of mostly anonymous struggle, the National’s two previous albums, “Alligator” (2005) and “Boxer” (2007), were so full of strangely isolated songs about friendship, romance and work that they had created for this new release the sort of expectant critical murmur that has been rare to hear since the end of the age of record shops. “Alligator” and “Boxer” did what excellent rock ’n’ roll albums did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s: transcended the sum of their singles to offer something larger. In the National’s case, it was a powerful, probing feeling for the inner lives of average people out in the American heartland. So good was the music that with it came the promise of what might follow, the heady potential that the National would soon take things one step further, go ahead and make the great Middle American novel as music, an album for our time. But now, they seemed intent on holding all that off as long as possible.

The track currently under consideration was called “Wrath,” although they were renaming it “Lemonworld” — unless they decided to go with “You and Your Sister.” “We just redid the drums; now we’re redoing the guitars,” Aaron said, as his brother, Bryce, began fingering a new riff to accompany a chorus that began: “You and your sister live in a Lemonworld/I want to sit in and die.” They were all long past finding any irony in that.

“You like it?” Matt, the singer, asked Aaron when Bryce was done.

“No,” Aaron said. “It’s too shimmery U2. He should keep trying.” Then to his twin he instructed, “Try something else” and suggested “a more interesting rhythm that circulates around the chords.” At the word “interesting” Matt winced. Bryce’s orientation is classical — he studied guitar at the Yale School of Music and collaborates with the likes of Steve Reich and Philip Glass — but Matt can neither read notation nor play an instrument. His musical predilections generally run more along the lines of “a heavy metal thing,” which he would later, in a band debate regarding the song “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” also shorthand as “some hot Jimmy Page scuzz,” and the twins would dismiss as “Berninger black-fantasy guitar.”

Over the years, Matt has accumulated a flock of snide nicknames from his band mates, including the Dark Lord, the Naysayer, Mumbleberry Pie, Mr. Knee Jerk, Mr. Sony Headphones and the Echo Chamber — the last for the coterie of musically astute persons whom Matt frequently invokes supporting his opinion of whatever song they are arguing about. Since the only one of these gifted listeners Matt has ever introduced to the others is his wife, Carin Besser, who until recently edited short stories at The New Yorker, it is Aaron and Bryce’s belief that Matt is not the only fiction expert in the marriage. Matt’s assessment of the situation is: “Everybody thinks everybody else has secret ulterior motives because we all do. We purposefully set up decoys and red herrings to attack a song. That we’re all playing mind games is sort of funny, but it’s also frustrating.”

With the National, it’s never only rock ’n’ roll. Watching them record a song is like looking on as a group of skilled chefs make a sandwich together; even in a B.L.T., they can foresee endless possibilities. They are now five men in their mid- to late 30s, with mortgages, children, wives or serious girlfriends and musical tastes that have likewise settled into convictions. Each National song is a microbatch creation integrating their obsessive, often-diverging feelings about rock ’n’ roll.

...this sort of pretentious nonsense is why punk rock was so welcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


MSNBC Cancels Guest Anchor’s Show After a Controversial Segment (BRIAN STELTER, 4/22/10, NY Times

A television segment about angry media commentators created a furor inside MSNBC this week, one that extended outside the cable news channel after the segment’s host, Donny Deutsch, found himself dismissed as a guest anchor Wednesday.

Four people briefed on the matter said the cancellation of Mr. Deutsch’s weeklong show, called “America the Angry,” was the result of an unflattering mention of MSNBC’s No. 1 anchor, Keith Olbermann, on Tuesday.

Which proves Mr. Deutsch's point, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Tonight New England sports fans will need multiple clickers and screens to follow Sox Baseball, Celtic and Bruin playoff games and the Pats draft. Heck, for all anyone knows the Revolution might even be playing (Rangers v. Celtic at Fenway isn't until the Summer).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Former pro wrestler from York “Gorgeous George” Grant dies at 85 (Andrew Dys, 4/22/10, heradonline.com )

The year was 1952, in a smoky hot arena in Marietta, Ga. The event was 'rasslin'. The crowd, beehive hairdos, overalls, chewing tobacco and Lucky Strikes, screamed for blood.

Professional wrestling in the South was huge in those days, and wrestlers rode a circuit and played before barbarous sell-out crowds of red-clay farmers, textile mill workers and their women. All wanted carnage.

George Grant had just taken a thrashing from the masked "Green Hornet." The defeat meant Grant's beard would be shaved right there in the ring. Grant, a big burly guy, well over 6 feet and 200 pounds, was left with a face as soft as a baby's bottom.

"Sissy!" the crowd screamed.

"You sweet thing!" came more catcalls -- this time from other wrestlers in the dressing room.

But Grant was on to something. A promoter gave him a woman's robe, size XXL, and his long hair at a time when no man wore long hair without a look of arched eyebrows from others -- unless he was in show business.

At the next match, the crowd howled "like a pack of wild dogs," recalled Grant in a 1989 interview. George Grant, a wrestler who got his start in his hometown of Honey Grove, Texas, in 1939, was destroyed by a traveling wrestler for the princely sum of $1.25 for losing all three falls. Grant played second-fiddle to Daniel Boone Savage and other wrestling stars right after World War II. The U.S. Navy veteran of World War II was alive but hidden. "Gorgeous George" Grant, a star at age 27, was born.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Purdue senior organizes 'Boobquake' demonstration to refute imam's claims (DAVID K. L I, April 23, 2010, NY Post)

Who knew a little jiggle could cause the earth to quake?

An Indiana college student is shaking her fist at an Islamic cleric's kooky claims that scantily clad gals are responsible for temblors -- and is recruiting tens of thousands of women to don "immodest" clothes next week, even at the risk of a rumble.

Purdue University senior Jennifer McCreight is staging "Boobquake" on Monday, asking women of the world to give an eyeful to Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


William Ayers Stirs up Controversy in Fresno (Gene Haagenson , April 22, 2010, ABC 30)

About 50 members of the Tea Party Movement came to protest Bill Ayers appearance in Fresno.

Mark Ratchford said, "I don't like what's going on. This man and Obama are friends and I don't like what they stand for. It's not American."

John Smedley said, "I'm fed up with all of this government takeover. And Bill Ayers is one of Obama's buddies, and I don't like it and he doesn't belong here and he can go home."

Inside, before members of Peace Fresno, Ayers got a warm welcome and said he didn't quite know why the Tea Party folks are mad at him. He said he shares their distrust of government.

William Ayers said, "I actually think there are many things we would agree on, including a skepticism of the government. Which I'm very skeptical of. I think I'm more skeptical of corporate America than they are, but nevertheless I think we probably share more than they imagine."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Redactions Revealed: The Six Secrets You Need to Know From the Obama Subpoena Request (NBC Chicago Ward Room, 4/23/10)

Former governor Rod Blagojevich's defense team asked Thursday to issue a trial subpoena to the President of the United States of America.

The motion, intended to be heavily redacted, was improperly edited -- the full document was easily viewable if the text is copied and pasted to another document (an error first revealed on Capitol Fax).

Below, the six revelations the redacted portions were meant to conceal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Alliance Marches On (Walter Russel Mead, 4/23/10, American Interest)

Documents captured from radicals and terrorists in Pakistan warn darkly about a new axis of evil in the world: a ‘Zionist Hindu Crusader‘ alliance bringing Israel, India, and the United States together in a war on Islam. They are wrong about the last part; all three countries want peaceful relations with Islamic countries based on mutual recognition and respect. The alliance isn’t a closed club, and Islamic countries are welcome to join. Otherwise, however, the radicals have a point. The deepening relations between the United States, India, and Israel are changing the geopolitical geometry of the modern world in ways that will make the lives of fanatical terrorists even more dismal and depressing (not to mention shorter) than they already are. Israel and the United States are both in a better long term position than many Americans sometimes think; one of the main reasons is an Indian-Israeli connection that most Americans know nothing about. [...]

Currently, Israel isn’t just popular in India. It is India’s largest supplier of high-tech weapons and the growing cooperation between the two countries is spreading into both economic and political fields. There is a strategic compatibility in their interests. Economically, the marriage of Indian and Israeli high-tech know how with India’s enormous force of educated, English-speaking labor, its vast internal market, and Israel’s marketing experience and connections with the advanced industrial economies make for a natural complementarity. Israel welcomes the rise of Indian economic and political influence in the Middle East and East Africa. Both countries view the activities of radicals in Pakistan and their use of Pakistan and Afghanistan for wider regional ambitions with deep concern.

There’s another connection. The United States increasingly favors the emergence of India as a world and regional power. In the context of the Middle East and Africa, Americans see India as a stabilizing, anti-extremist force. More broadly, while the United States isn’t (and shouldn’t be) operating a policy of containment against China, the growing prosperity and power of India in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East is an important positive factor in maintaining the kind of international order the United States wants to see. That means, among other things, that the United States is likely to look with more favor on transfers of technological know how and the sales of advanced weapons systems from Israel to India than from Israel to China. This preference reinforces the ties between the two most successful democracies to emerge from British colonialism in modern Asia.

The growing Israel-India connection is only beginning to make itself felt. Long term, the relationship provides Israel with another great power ally to supplement its relationship with the United States. From both a geopolitical and an economic point of view, the relationship with India helps assure Israel of a long-term future in the region. As India develops and its power grows, the Gulf Arabs, Iran (a natural long-term ally for both India and Israel once it moves beyond the delusional and dead-end geopolitical agenda of its current government), and countries like Sudan and Somalia will increasingly feel its influence. India and Israel, with the quiet blessing of the United States, can also do more to promote economic development and democracy in East Africa — a region that has historically had close links to India and which is of great strategic importance to Israel.

This “Zionist Hindu Crusader” alliance is a nightmare scenario for radicals and terrorists in the Islamic world.

These facts elude only President Obama, the State Department, the poli sci faculty at most universities...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Nudges Gone Wrong: A program designed to reduce energy consumption persuaded some Republicans to consume more. (Ray Fisman, April 23, 2010, Slate)

In early 2008, Opower collaborated with a California utility to send a Home Energy Report to 35,000 randomly selected customers. (It came bundled with the household's regular energy bill.) Each report contained a bar depicting the household's energy use alongside bars showing consumption for average neighbors and also "efficient" ones. The principle behind highlighting the household's own use relative to its neighbors is the same as in Cialdini's towel study—no one wants to be worse than average. In addition, Opower reinforced the household's performance by awarding one or two smiley faces for good households and adding the words "YOU NEED TO IMPROVE" to the charts of energy gluttons. (The reports also included a few energy-saving tips and suggested what customers might save if they followed them.)

In a study evaluating the program's effectiveness, Opower researchers compared power use before and after the HER reports began arriving, and further compared this change with a group of control households that never received the reports. On average, the HER households reduced their consumption in the months that followed by a little less than 2 percent. Not bad, but probably not enough to save the planet.

Working with the same utility as Opower, Costa and Kahn matched up information on the households in the pilot study to data on political affiliations and a database of past charitable giving to environmental organizations. The economists found that the 2 percent average decline in energy use obscured significant differences in the responsiveness of different types of households to the conservation message. Registered Democrats who give to environmental organizations and live near other liberals reduced their consumption by 3 percent. For liberals who started out as heavier-than-average consumers, the reduction was almost 6 percent. Republicans who live in conservative neighborhoods (and hence had no neighborly pressure to conserve) and had no record of giving to environmental organizations actually increased their consumption by 1 percent.

Why would some energy-conscious Republicans all of a sudden become power hogs? One explanation is that many conservatives don't believe that burning energy harms the planet, so when they learn that they're better than average, they become less vigilant about turning the lights off. That is, they're simply moving closer to what they now know is the norm (what psychologists call the boomerang effect). Costa and Kahn also look for guidance from the patron saint of right-wing fundamentalists, Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to turn on all their lights during Earth Hour. Costa and Kahn suggest that ardently right-wing electricity customers might respond to paternalistic nudges by burning more energy, just to thumb their noses at Big Brother.

That some groups respond in unexpected ways to well-meaning nudges is a lesson that the architects of "behaviorally informed" policy and regulation should keep in mind in drafting their messages. Costa and Kahn's findings suggest that you shouldn't try to prod Republicans into conserving energy through this type of social pressure.

Tell them that every kilowatt hour extra adds $10 to Saudi Arabia's GDP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Environmentalism is now a religion, and being overtaken by extremism Robert H. Nelson, 4/22/10, Detroit News)

America's leading environmental historian, William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin, calls environmentalism a new religion because it offers "a complex series of moral imperatives for ethical action, and judges human conduct accordingly."

In other words, issues such as climate change are now much more than about "science." And this places a greater burden on environmental theology than it is often able to handle. Success in stirring powerful religious feelings about the environment does not automatically lead to wise and effective policies.

Environmentalists see humans engaged in acts of vast hubris, remaking the future ecosystems of the Earth. By playing "God" with the Earth, humans seek to become as God themselves.

The Bible's book of Deuteronomy reveals dire consequences for those who try to "play God." We learn that those who "worship other gods," can suffer "infections, plague and war. He will blight your crops, covering them with mildew. All these devastations shall pursue you until you perish."

It is no mere coincidence that contemporary environmentalism prophesies virtually the same set of calamities resulting from the warming of the earth -- rising seas, famine, drought, pestilence, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Environmentalism is recasting ancient biblical messages to a new secular vocabulary. One environmental organization even declared that the most important commandment for human beings was to put "Earth First!" -- renouncing the modern worship of science and economics that once provided a secular substitute for God.

Thus the Endangered Species Act is the new Noah's Ark; genuinely wild places are the new cathedrals to find spiritual inspiration; Earth Day is the new Easter.

Much of the attraction of environmental religion is the disguised form in which it is presented. By appearing distinct from formal theologies and official churches of institutional Christianity, it can attract people who would normally not be involved, including residents of many nominally Christian nations and those who think of themselves as "spiritual," while vigorously rejecting any suggestion that they should ever belong to "a religion."

...in insisting that Man radically reshapes Creation it makes one a kind of god.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


The great American melting pot: Americans are panicking again about immigration and the size of their population. But they shouldn’t, says Patrick Allitt. The US remains the greatest assimilator of new peoples (Patrick Allitt, 21 April 2010, The Spectator)

America has often been the odd man out among the wealthy nations. Its people are more religious than those of all the others, it trumpets its faith in equality more than the others yet exhibits massive inequalities of wealth, it plays a different set of sports, and it still measures itself in pounds, inches and degrees Fahrenheit. Its population trends are eccentric too. Large families are much more common in the US than in Europe, and have been growing larger in recent years. Millions of people, usually the most religious, have a principled objection to abortion. New mothers in many states speak not of ‘unwanted’ babies but of ‘unexpected’ ones.

Quite apart from internal trends, America has always had a talent for attracting people from all over the world, and by comparison with most nations its immigration policy has been generous. In the 19th century, migrants poured in from Europe and Asia, sometimes at a rate approaching a million per year. In the 20th century, especially since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the diversity of its immigrants has increased even further, bringing folks from every part of the world. [...]

There’s never been a country to rival the United States when it comes to dissolving old particularisms. The indoctrination technique called ‘Americanisation’, once practised openly and heavy-handedly, is very much out of favour now, but the transformation it aimed at happens just the same. Newcomers start to learn English, learn how to vote, adopt the work ethic, serve in the military, and become passionately patriotic. Their children go to American schools, learn to speak unaccented English, adapt to American popular culture, and upset their grandparents by marrying children from other immigrant groups.

The process is far from instantaneous or friction-free. Before the Civil War, old-stock Americans feared that the roughly one million Catholic immigrants who had recently arrived from the Irish famine were brutal barbarians who could never be assimilated. During the first world war, several million German immigrants still couldn’t speak English; their neighbours feared that they were enemy sympathisers. During the second world war, the western states’ Japanese immigrants, and even their American-born children, were thrown into internment camps under suspicion of treason. Today, however, the children, grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren of those once-despised minorities run banks, get appointed as federal judges, win elections to Congress, and work as teachers, journalists, professors and corporate presidents.

The lessons of history often have to be learned over and over again. Much of today’s American middle class fears that this time it is looking at a group — the Hispanics — who will never assimilate. It’s true that Miami, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have very large Hispanic populations, many of whose members are illegal immigrants. Some of the first generation among these immigrants never have and never will learn English. But with minuscule exceptions, their children will learn English and will join the American mainstream. The combination of schools, sports, popular culture, and the lure of well-paid work all point in the same direction. Young Latinos know, just like their predecessors from other ethnic groups, that not to learn English would deprive of them of overwhelming advantages.

The United States is such an effective machine for acculturating new populations that it’s easy to take for granted. You’ve only got to cross the Canadian border to see that it didn’t have to work out that way. Canada’s population is roughly one tenth that of the USA and it’s far less ethnically diverse, but it’s also stubbornly bilingual. The French Canadians became subjects of Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, but it turns out that 247 years have not been sufficient to reconcile them to the new reality. Canada is a mild and amiable place, to be sure, untroubled by the spectre of ethnic cleansing, but it stands as a reminder that acculturation doesn’t happen automatically. Most Americans are grateful that they somehow stumbled on such an effective system. While it continues to work, the ups and downs in sheer population numbers will take care of themselves.

...but one of the funniest things about our nativists today is that they're just the latest iteration of the same hysteria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Living Without Stevens: How will the Supreme Court behave when he’s gone? (Tom Goldstein, April 21, 2010, New Republic)

There nonetheless are a couple of issues on which the Court’s majority followed that just-cited line-up—the left plus Justice Kennedy—but for which a new appointment could realistically change the result because the issues do not necessarily track the traditional liberal-versus- conservative breakdown: executive power and preemption.

Thus, the Court has been narrowly divided, with the left prevailing, in cases relating to the rights of military detainees to have access to the federal courts, including particularly on federal habeas corpus. A nominee who had a substantially more robust view of presidential powers, or even greater confidence in this Administration’s approach to detainee questions, could shift the course of those rulings. In addition, other important presidential-power questions are headed towards the Supreme Court, including with respect to the NSA wiretapping program.

On preemption, Justice Stevens recently had significant success in securing a majority for two important opinions limiting the extent to which federal law trumps state law. His successor could take a broader view of the extent to which federal law controls, which would allow fewer state-law tort suits to proceed.

The next body of cases involves less traditional alignments among the Justices—generally, the Court’s left (Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter) and right (Scalia and Thomas) wings joining together to form a five-Justice majority. This grouping has produced dramatic shifts in the Court’s Sixth Amendment jurisprudence relating to the jury trial right (which has significant effects on how prison sentences are determined) and a defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. The recent departures of two members of that majority—first Souter and now Stevens—create a significant prospect that the tide of those cases will now be slowed and perhaps reversed.

It is also possible to identify areas of the law in which Justice Stevens’ departure may have an effect, even though he was not traditionally a part of a majority on the merits of a particular legal issue. Most prominent among these is campaign finance. Justices Stevens and Souter were the two strongest voices on the left resisting the trend towards the more aggressive application of the First Amendment to invalidate campaign finance laws, and the combined absence of their voices may speed the trend towards more decisions like Citizens United. Another example is the death penalty, where Justice Stevens (who late in his tenure concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional) was relatively willing to provide a vote in favor of stays of execution. His replacement might be less willing to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Judicial Bouts Reveal Power of Persuasion (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 4/22/10, NY Times)

With conservatives attacking her as too liberal, her long relationship with Judges Posner and Easterbrook — sometimes yielding surprising consensus, at other times spirited dissent — offers hints into just what kind of justice she might be.

“Essentially, she’s a controlled fighter who likes to counterpunch,” said Richard A. Epstein, a Chicago professor and prominent libertarian thinker who knows all three.

Those counterpunches are often in evidence on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. Off the bench, the three judges maintain friendly relations. Judge Posner officiated at Judge Wood’s third wedding, and Judge Easterbrook and Judge Wood run into each other regularly at the symphony. On the bench, they conduct a regular three-way legal boxing match.

In a 2009 case that drew wide publicity, they parried over whether a condominium association could strip a mezuzah from the door of a Jewish family on the grounds that no hallway decorations were allowed. A three-judge panel, led by Judge Easterbrook, had ruled in favor of the association, with Judge Wood dissenting.

When the full court heard the case last May, those two judges, along with Judge Posner, fired questions at the family’s lawyer, cutting him off repeatedly. Passions ran high when Judge Easterbrook suggested the no-mezuzah rule was not discriminatory, but perhaps put forth “with a completely empty head by people who didn’t have a clue about the religious significance of the mezuzah.”

Judge Wood disagreed. In the end, Judge Easterbrook reversed himself to join a unanimous opinion that reflected her stance — an outcome that has drawn attention from longtime court watchers like Thomas C. Goldstein, the editor of scotusblog.com, which tracks the Supreme Court.

“It’s hard to find more confident and strong-willed judges than Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner — they’re brilliant and they know it,” Mr. Goldstein said. “If she can have a decades-long relationship with these judges and maintain their respect, and do things like have Easterbrook come around in the mezuzah case, it really shows that she’s not tilting at windmills. She is very invested in persuading.”

That is precisely why President Obama is interested in her. On Wednesday, the president began consulting with senators for advice on a successor for Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring. Mr. Obama is seeking someone who can serve as an intellectual counterweight to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., but who possesses the same consensus-building skills as Justice Stevens — skills that might tip a 5-4 court toward more liberal outcomes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


The Empirical Economist (Robert Langreth, 05.10.10, Forbes)

If you carry balances on several credit cards with varying interest rates, you should pay back the one with the highest interest rate first. But that is not what happens in real life, if the results of a new loan game devised by behavioral economist and bestselling author Dan Ariely are to be believed.

In the online experiment volunteers pay off loans of various sizes and interest rates. In each of 25 rounds they receive income and decide how to allocate the money to pay off the loans. The goal is to maximize how much money is left at the end.

So far nearly 1,000 volunteers (mostly students) have tried the game, and almost no one has managed to stick to the optimal strategy. People are constantly tempted to pay back the small loans first. Closing loans makes people feel good, even when the right thing to do is to keep all the loans open. The researchers add to this temptation by occasionally giving people a "bonus" just big enough to pay off a couple of the low interest rate loans. "We have this incredible desire to feel we are making progress," says Ariely. "The satisfaction we get from fewer loans opened overwhelms our decision of what is the right thing to do."

Ariely, 43, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics, is among the most creative of a new breed of social scientists charting the numerous ways our psychological quirks cause us to deviate from rational behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


A Kinder, Gentler Gitmo: Obama hasn't departed from the Bush administration tactics on national security, he's just changed tone. (Adam Serwer, April 22, 2010, New Republic)

None of this is supposed to be happening. Barack Obama was elected having rejected the national-security policies of the Bush administration as a "false choice between security and liberty." Just days after his inauguration, Obama signed an executive order mandating that the prison at Guantánamo Bay be closed within a year. Mohammed's is the first of the new military-commission hearings to occur since that promise was broken. With the administration waffling on its original decision to try the 9-11 defendants in civilian court, the high-security courtroom where Mohammed's hearing took place may yet serve its original purpose.

In the meantime, the ongoing existence of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay stands as a poignant symbol of the Obama administration's failure to reverse the trajectory of U.S. national-security policy and of its ultimate decision to embrace the core framework of the Bush administration's "war on terror."

"I can't be just like W, I'm a black Democrat!"

April 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


NCAA to expand March Madness from 65 to 68 teams (MICHAEL MAROT, 4/22/10, AP)

The NCAA has decided not to mess around too much with March Madness.

College sports' largest governing body announced a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting on Thursday that will begin with an expanded men's basketball tournament next March. But instead of jumping to a 96-team field, a possibility that drew criticism from bracket-obsessed fans to coaches, the NCAA plans to expand by only three teams, from 65 to 68.

Cut the season to twenty-five games, get rid of conference tournaments, and everyone makes the NCAA. The first weekend of the tourney is the only entertaining part of the sport anymore. Give us two weekends of Cinderella.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


On Take Your Child to Work Day 2010, Some Schools Say Don't (Lina Skorbach, Apr 22, 2010, Epoch Times)

Thursday is 2010's Take Your Child to Work Day, but not all schools are excited about their students skipping class to join their parents in the workplace, even for a day.

Schools like the Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) in Arizona say that missing school can disrupt other student’s learning, impact academic achievement and interrupt the school’s schedule, according to a DVUSD newsletter. The district encouraged parents to take their children to work in June instead of April in order to not disturb the child’s academic year.

...but kids will obviously learn more by just going through a work day routine with a parent than they'll learn in school. Indeed, the chief danger is that they'll be exposed to how useless school lessons are for adult life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Kownacki leaps over the catcher @ Yahoo! Video

I wonder if anyone in the majors has ever been HBP twice in an inning?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Christie's fight to end union privilege (George F. Will, April 22, 2010, NY Post)

[NJ Governor Chris Christie] closed the $2.2 billion gap by accepting 375 of 378 suggested spending freezes and cuts. In two weeks. By executive actions. In eight weeks he cut $13 billion: $232 million a day, $9 million an hour. Now comes the hard part.

Government employees' health benefits are, he says, "41 percent more expensive" than those of the average Fortune 500 company. Without changes in current law, "spending will have increased 322 percent in 20 years -- over 16 percent a year."

Partly to pay for teachers' benefits (most contribute nothing to their health insurance) property taxes have risen 70 percent in 10 years, to an average annual cost to homeowners of $7,281. Christie proposes a 2.5 percent cap on annual hikes.

Challenging teachers unions to live up to their cloying "it's really about the kids" rhetoric, he has told them to choose between a pay freeze and job cuts. Validating his criticism by their response to it, some Bergen County teachers encouraged students to cut classes to protest his policies, and a Bridgewater high-school teacher showed students a union-made video critical of him.

Christie notes that the $550,000 salary of the teachers union executive director is larger than the total cuts proposed for 190 of the state's 605 school districts.

...to use the inchoate anti-government feeling in the country as the lever with which to break public sector unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


Democrats at the Edge of the Cliff: Democrats are spending trillions at the worst possible moment, with a new poll showing public trust in government at a historic low of 22%. (Daniel Henninger, 4/22/10, WSJ)

There was always something eerie about the way the Democrats said their health-care legislation was what the American people had waited "70 years" for. Invoking the ghosts of 1939 was kind of creepy. Then when the moment in history finally arrived, history got no votes from the other party. Whatever the politics, there was something ominous about all this. One felt something else was going on. [...]

Something unique happened in the first Obama year, about the last thing the Democratic Party needed: The veil was ripped from the true cost of government. This is the ghastly nightmare Democrats have always needed to keep locked in a crypt.

Before the Internet, that was easy. Washington, California, New York, New Jersey—who knew what the pols were spending? The Democrats (and their Republican pilot fish) could get away with this. Not now. Email lists, 24/7 newspapers, blogs, TV and talk radio—the spending beast is running naked.

When the financial crisis piled in atop a recession, the Democrats' academic/pundit economists blandly convinced the party to wave a $787 billion stimulus at the problem in early 2009. Then, on April 30, the Democrats passed an FY 2010 budget of $3.5 trillion. This year the FY 2011 budget hit $3.8 trillion, reaching a post-World War II high of 25% of GDP. In March, they passed the trillion-dollar health-care bill. Total headline spending commitments in one year: about $9 trillion. That's a lot of "trust" to ask for during a recession with 9% unemployment. And now a sense is building of some broad middle-class tax grab. After soaking the rich, comes the deluge.

Demonization? No need. They did it to themselves.

...so they needed another to try and save it. But the Left, like the Right, understimated the American economy. All it took was W's guarantee of the banking system and disaster was averted. But the GOP got stuck in 2008 opposing it and the Democrats are stuck in 2010 having spent trillions because they didn't believe in it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Remember Roe!: How can the next generation defend abortion rights when they don't think abortion rights need defending? (Sarah Kliff, 4/16/10, NEWSWEEK)

So if Democrats won't stand strong for abortion rights, who will? The predicament weighed particularly heavily on NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's oldest abortion-rights group. Founded in 1969 as the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws, NARAL has helped protect Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, against countless legislative challenges. NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the "postmenopausal militia," a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn't see a passion among the post-Roe generation—at least, not among those on her side. This past January, when Keenan's train pulled into Washington's Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol, she was greeted by a swarm of anti-abortion-rights activists. It was the 37th annual March for Life, organized every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe. "I just thought, my gosh, they are so young," Keenan recalled. "There are so many of them, and they are so young."

All abortion was ever about was women feeling themselves to be empowered. Younger generations don't have to exercise the ultimate power in order to feel that they are equal to men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


The Suburbs Could Produce a Republican Majority in Congress: Rumble in the cul-de-sacs (Gary Andres, 4/22/10, Weekly Standard)

The American suburbs fueled the emergence of the Democratic congressional majority in 2006 and then helped expand it 2008. During those two election cycles, Republicans lost 24 incumbent or open seat races in these cul-de-sac filled districts.

But now suburbanites are shifting again. As a result, many of these districts could swing back to the GOP, providing more than half of the forty seats Republicans need to capture the majority in the House. [...]

During most presidential elections for the past fifty years, the suburbs offered Republicans fertile political soil. According to American National Election Study (ANES) data, the GOP consistently won about 55 percent or more of the vote in these areas, except for the 1964 Democratic blowout and in 1976, when Jimmy Carter fought Gerald Ford to a draw in the suburbs.

Every Democratic presidency since FDR has pancaked in its first two years because they fail to recognize their election was a fluke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Gov. Chris Christie says N.J. school budget defeats should serve as 'wake up call' (Star-Ledger, April 22, 2010)

Gov. Chris Christie called the defeat of 58 percent of school budgets proof voters support his agenda. The state’s largest teacher’s union called it a "wake-up call" to the governor and a demand for new solutions.

The finger-pointing continued Wednesday, one day after 316 of 541 of the state’s school budgets were defeated. The 58.4 percent total was the highest failure rate since the New Jersey School Boards Association began keeping track in 1976.

The noisy campaign that preceded Tuesday’s voting also helped drive up voter turnout; 27 percent of people voted in elections that normally draw about 15 percent. [...]

Christie slashed aid to school districts by $820 million and urged districts not to raise property taxes to make up the difference. He also advised voters to reject budgets if local teachers unions did not accept a one-year wage freeze and contribute at least 1.5 percent of their salary to health benefits.

He called the results "a seismic change."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Spouting off for the Tea Party: Williams draws fans, critics with fiery rhetoric (Peter Schworm, April 22, 2010, Boston Globe)

As chairman of the Tea Party Express, the traveling voice of the insurgent political group, Mark Williams has thrust himself onto the national stage with fiery, polarizing rhetoric that has won him both adoration and scorn, even in his own party.

The 54-year-old Massachusetts native regularly lambastes President Obama as a communist bent on undermining the Constitution, and last week likened him to such dictators as Stalin and Pol Pot. On his blog and elsewhere, he rails against Obama as an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug’’... [...]

At rallies and on his blog, Williams has consistently raised doubts about Obama’s citizenship, once telling a rally it was “even money’’ Obama was born in somewhere other than America.

When asked why he invokes the long-debunked smear, Williams said he sometimes exaggerates for effect to spur on the audience, and conceded that Obama was “probably’’ a natural-born citizen. But in the next breath, he claims public documents raise the possibility that Obama is both foreign-born and Muslim.

Admirable as it has been for W to leave the national stage to his successor, he's going to need to comne forward at some point and save the Party from such nutbaggery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Zambian ambassador speaks at West Orange High School after calling student by accident (Halley Bondy, 4/22/10 The Star-Ledger)

WEST ORANGE -- Logan Svitzer was sitting in his U.S. history class here when his cell phone rang. He answered, but didn’t understand the person on the other end and hung up. He subsequently received a text message, which he ignored. Then the phone rang two more times.

Annoyed by the disruption, Svitzer’s teacher, Robbin Sweeney, grabbed the cell and called back the number. On the other end was a man saying he was Lazarous Kapambwe, the Zambian ambassador to the United Nations. Sweeney was certain it was a prank or a con.

But after 10 minutes on the phone, Sweeney became convinced Kapambwe was telling the truth. Kapambwe was urgently trying to get a hold of a fellow diplomat from Sierra Leone to discuss a proposed reform of the UN Security Council. But the phone number he had stored in his phone was one digit off.

"He was eloquent and apologetic, and he had a vast knowledge of Zambia," Sweeney said. "I made a deal with him. I said, ‘Since you’ve taken up so much of my class time, why don’t you come speak to my school?’"

That was in the fall. Today, Kapambwe went to the school to make amends. He spoke to about 300 students, encouraging them to consider careers in diplomacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


First-round mock draft (Albert R. Breer, April 22, 2010, Boston Globe)

1. St. Louis

Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma

Ndamukong Suh will be awfully tempting for Steve Spagnuolo, but in the end, the Rams need to take this step to move forward as a franchise. St. Louis took defensive linemen in the top half of the first round in 2007 and ’08. The selection of left tackle Jason Smith last year and presence of workhorse Steven Jackson readies the team to take pressure off a rookie quarterback.

2. Detroit

Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska

Jim Schwartz’s defenses in Tennessee were built front to back, and the acquisitions of tackle Corey Williams and end Kyle Vanden Bosch this offseason show the Lions are working to lay a similar foundation. Though Gerald McCoy may fit the coach’s “stop the run on the way to the quarterback’’ style better, this Cornhusker is too good to pass up.

...from this being universally considered the worst choice made in a draft since the Blazers passed up Michael.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


How to make the perfect scone: It's a quintessential part of the British way of life, and it's under threat. Felicity Cloake sets out in search of the perfect scone recipe. Join the cause, for if it vanishes, it's scone forever ... (Felicity Cloake, 4/22/10, The Guardian)

Ah, the great British scone. Such an innocuous looking little thing – plain really, in comparison with the overblown cupcake, or the gaudy macaron – yet how much more precious than these more fashionable baked goods? The honest scone has no sugary icing or exotically-perfumed ganache to hide behind – it stands or falls on its absolute freshness, which is why it's impossible (and please correct me if I'm wrong) to purchase a good example on the high street.

Twee tearooms are similarly unreliable, because scones should be enjoyed straight from the oven, with only the briefest of pauses for the requisite toppings (at the risk of losing a few of you right here, I'll admit now that I'm a clotted cream denier) – making them ideal fodder for home bakers. The problem is that sub-standard scones can be disappointing indeed – dense little curling stones barely worth the effort of buttering – yet without our support, the brave wee thing is in danger of extinction. The following findings are my own humble contribution to the cause of their conservation.

Every scone maker aspires to the towering triumphs of the soufflé – the miraculous transformation of lumpen flour and fat into a billowing cloud of fluffy dough – but all too often ends up with stubbornly flat biscuits instead. The raising agent is clearly all-important, yet cookbook writers are divided over which gives the best results. I've always used baking soda, but I find recipes calling for baking powder, self-raising flour, cream of tartar – and a combination of all of the above.

...but you're not going to beat these.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Obama's 7 Broken Promises: As criticism mounts against Obama for failing to keep his pledge to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ The Daily Beast looks to see what other promises Obama hasn’t fulfilled. (Daily Beast, 4/22/10)

It would have saved time and ink if they'd listed those kept. Which is pretty much just buying the girls a dog.

Here's what has to be the most spectacular duplicity on the UR's part:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


In Pa. House race, identity politics with a twist (Thomas Fitzgerald, 4/22/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Veteran Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) last Thursday accused her primary opponent, Gregg Kravitz, of pretending to be bisexual in order to pander to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters, a powerful bloc in the district.

"I outed him as a straight person," Josephs said during a fund-raiser at the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, as some in the audience gasped or laughed, "and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."

Kravitz, 29, said that he is sexually attracted to both men and women and called Josephs' comments offensive.

"That kind of taunting is going to make it more difficult for closeted members of the LGBT community to be comfortable with themselves," Kravitz said. "It's damaging."

And you thought it was only in Hollywood that folks pretended ambisexuality to get attention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Obama Backs Down on Sudan (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 4/22/10, NY Times)

[M]r. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. Western monitors, Sudanese journalists and local civil society groups have all found this month’s Sudanese elections to be deeply flawed — yet Mr. Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, pre-emptively defended the elections, saying they would be “as free and as fair as possible.” The White House showed only a hint more backbone with a hurried reference this week to “an essential step” with “serious irregularities.”

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan — the man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur — has been celebrating. His regime calls itself the National Congress Party, or N.C.P., and he was quoted in Sudan as telling a rally in the Blue Nile region: “Even America is becoming an N.C.P. member. No one is against our will.”

Memo to Mr. Obama: When a man who has been charged with crimes against humanity tells the world that America is in his pocket, it’s time to review your policy.

All these poor liberals prayed that a Realist would deliver them from the human rights crusading of George W. Bush and now they find their beau ideal shameful in reality.

April 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


US and Europe rethink role of Cold War alliance (ROBERT BURNS, 04/21/10, AP)

NATO was founded to blunt the long-extinct threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Now it finds itself divided on many fronts: doubts among some members about its combat mission in Afghanistan, unease with the continuing presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, prickly relations with Moscow and concerns about the wisdom of expanding NATO deeper into Russia’s backyard.

Clinton and 27 of her NATO counterparts will gather Thursday in Tallinn, capital of the former Soviet state of Estonia, where they’re expected to take stock of the alliance and the challenges it faces.

In the event of a genuine threat to Europe, it's not as if we'd wait around for them to get their act together. We'd just defend them ourselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Heaven: A fool's paradise: Why do the majority of Britons still believe in life after death? Heaven isn't a wonderful place filled with light – it is a pernicious construct with a short and bloody history (Johann Hari, 21 April 2010, Independent)

Today, according to a new book by Lisa Miller, Newsweek's religion correspondent, 81 per cent of Americans and 51 per cent of Brits say they believe in heaven – an increase of 10 per cent since a decade ago. Of those, 71 per cent say it is "an actual place". Indeed, 43 per cent believe their pets – cats, rats, and snakes – are headed into the hereafter with them to be stroked for eternity. [...]

Even some atheists regard heaven as one of the least-harmful religious ideas: a soothing blanket to press onto the brow of the bereaved. But its primary function for centuries was as a tool of control and intimidation. The Vatican, for example, declared it had a monopoly on St Peter's VIP list – and only those who obeyed their every command and paid them vast sums for Get-Out-of-Hell-Free cards would get them and their children onto it. The afterlife was a means of tyrannising people in this life. This use of heaven as a bludgeon long outlasted the Protestant Reformation. Miller points out that in Puritan New England, heaven was not primarily a comfort but rather "a way to impose discipline in this life."

It continues. Look at Margaret Toscano, a sixth-generation Mormon who was a fanatical follower of Joseph Smith in her youth. Then she studied feminism at university. She came back to her community and argued that women ought to be allowed to become priests. The Mormon authorities – the people who denied black people had souls until 1976 – ordered her to recant, and said if she didn't, she wouldn't go to heaven with the rest of her family. She refused. Now her devastated sisters believe they won't see her in the afterlife.

Worse still, the promise of heaven is used as an incentive for people to commit atrocities. I have seen this in practice: I've interviewed wannabe suicide bombers from London to Gaza to Syria, and they all launched into reveries about the orgy they will embark on in the clouds. Similarly, I was once sent – as my own personal purgatory – undercover on the Christian Coalition Solidarity tour of Israel. As we stood at Megido, the site described in the Book of Revelation as the launchpad for the apocalypse, they bragged that hundreds of thousands of Arabs
would soon be slaughtered there while George Bush and his friends are raptured to heaven as a reward for leading the Arabs to their deaths. Heaven can be an inducement to horror.

Yet there is an unthinking "respect" automatically accorded to religious ideas that throttles our ability to think clearly about these questions. Miller's book – after being a useful exposition of these ideas – swiftly turns itself into a depressing illustration of this. She describes herself as a "professional sceptic", but she is, in fact, professionally credulous. Instead of trying to tease out what these fantasies of an afterlife reveal about her interviewees, she quizzes everyone about their heaven as if she is planning to write a Lonely Planet guide to the area, demanding more and more intricate details. She only just stops short of demanding to know what the carpeting will be like. But she never asks the most basic questions: where's your evidence? Where are you getting these ideas from? These questions are considered obvious when we are asking about any set of ideas, except when it comes to religion, when they are considered to be a slap in the face.

Of course there's plenty of proof that the idea of heaven can be comforting, or beautiful – but that doesn't make it true. The difference between wishful thinking and fact-seeking is something most six-year-olds can grasp, yet Miller – and, it seems, the heaven-believing majority – refuse it here. Yes, I would like to see my dead friends and relatives again. I also would like there to be world peace, a million dollars in my current account, and for Matt Damon to ask me to marry him. If I took my longing as proof they were going to happen, you'd think I was deranged.

"Rationalist questions are not helpful," announces one of her interviewees – a professor at Harvard, no less. This seems to be Miller's view too. She stresses that to believe in heaven you have to make "a leap of faith" – but in what other field in life do we abandon all need for evidence?

Um...all of them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


A trauma in Britain's placid meadow of political concord: Nothing in the manifestos would turn a hair in a US election. But Americans are enjoying the sight of a presidential race, UK-style (Simon Jenkins, 4/21/10, guardian.co.uk)

A friend watching Britain's debate was astonished at how little of substance seemed to separate the three men. Did they all really want to bail out the banks? Did they all agree, at least initially, on the Afghan war? Does no one question the national health service? Is everyone content under the security blanket of Britain's surveillance state?

Seen from America, Britain is a placid meadow of political concord, a lawn mowed flat by consensus. Hardly a breeze of dissent disturbed last week's debate. Where was the beef in "I agree with Nick"? Even the Liberal Democrats' past flirtation with radicalism – on war, drugs and local income tax – seemed forgotten. It was as if they all had something murky to hide.

Nothing in the manifestos would turn a hair in an American election. There were the usual bromides about cutting red tape and decentralisation. Everyone always says that. There was the obeisance to localism, but nothing to compare with the red-blooded fiscal localism practised in America or on the continent. No British locality would be allowed to vote to license and tax marijuana retail outlets, as California appears about to do. Suggest a fraction of the neighbourhood autonomy that Americans take with their morning coffee and British politicians will howl "postcode lottery". British politics still huddles beneath a stifling cloud of consent to centralised power.

At the End of History, just what are they supposed to disagree about?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Israel Weighs Merits of Solo Attack on Iran: Officials, Seeing Impending Policy Split With U.S., Debate Prospect of a Military Strike Without Washington's Consent (CHARLES LEVINSON, 4/20/10, WSJ)

Israel says it supports the U.S.-led push for new economic sanctions against Iran. But Israeli officials have increasingly voiced frustration over the slow pace of diplomatic efforts to get sanctions in place.

Relations between the two allies have soured in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government pushing back against Obama administration pressure to freeze building in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, which Washington says is counterproductive to its Mideast peace efforts.

In another sign of a split, Israeli officials say they believe Iran—whose president has called for the destruction of Israel—could develop a warhead to strike the country within a year if it decides to, though outside experts say such capability is years away. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful uses.

Such divisions have played into fears in Israel that if Washington's sanctions effort fails, the Israeli and American positions on Iran could rapidly diverge—and Israel, if it chooses to attack Iran, would have no choice but to do so on its own.

...with the support of two-thirds of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


GM Pays Back U.S., Canadaian Gov't Loans (TOM KRISHER, Apr. 21, 2010, AP)

General Motors Co. has repaid the $8.1 billion in loans it got from the U.S. and Canadian governments, a move its CEO says is a sign automaker is on the road to recovery. [...]

GM got a total of $52 billion from the U.S. government and $9.5 billion from the Canadian and Ontario governments as it went through bankruptcy protection last year. The U.S. considered as a loan $6.7 billion of the aid, while the Canadian governments held $1.4 billion in loans.

The U.S. government payments, made Tuesday, came five years ahead of schedule, and Whitacre said they are a sign that the automaker is on its way toward reducing government ownership of the company. The payments on the Canadian loans were also made Tuesday.

GM still owes $45.3 billion to the U.S. and $8.1 billion to Canada, money it received in exchange for large stakes in the company. The U.S. government now owns 61 percent of the company and Canada owns roughly 12 percent. GM plans to repay both with a public stock offering, perhaps later this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


How an Icelandic volcano helped spark the French Revolution: Profound effects of eight-month eruption in 1783 caused chaos from US to Egypt, say experts (Greg Neale, 4/20/10, guardian.co.uk)

Just over 200 years ago an Icelandic volcano erupted with catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere – and helped trigger the French revolution.

The Laki volcanic fissure in southern Iceland erupted over an eight-month period from 8 June 1783 to February 1784, spewing lava and poisonous gases that devastated the island's agriculture, killing much of the livestock. It is estimated that perhaps a quarter of Iceland's population died through the ensuing famine.

Then, as now, there were more wide-ranging impacts. In Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, in North America and even Egypt, the Laki eruption had its consequences, as the haze of dust and sulphur particles thrown up by the volcano was carried over much of the northern hemisphere. [...]

The disruption to weather patterns meant the ensuing winter was unusually harsh, with consequent spring flooding claiming more lives. In America the Mississippi reportedly froze at New Orleans.

...is: how did man cause the eruption?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Linking Voting Rights With Taxes Paid (WALTER WILLIAMS, 4/20/10, IBD)

Here's my perhaps politically incorrect question: If one has no financial stake in our country, how much of a say-so should he have in its management? Let's put it another way: I do not own stock, and hence have no financial stake, in Ford Motor Co. Do you think I should have voting rights or any say-so in the management of the company? I'm guessing that the average sane person's answer is no.

You say, "Williams, just where are you heading with this?" I'm not proposing that we take voting rights away from those who do not pay taxes. What I'm suggesting is that every American gets one vote in every federal election, plus another vote for each $20,000 he pays in federal taxes.

With such a system, there'd be a modicum of linkage between one's financial stake in our country and his decision-making right. Of course, unequal voting power could be reduced by legislating lower taxes.

One's franchise should instead just be predicated on paying more in taxes than one receives. But there are a few other worthwhile reforms

April 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


How Ed Rendell Wrecked Pennsylvania: The governor's dangerous fiscal legacy (Chris Freind, 4/20/2010, Philly Post)

At a time when Pennsylvania families are doing the responsible thing — tightening the belt and exercising fiscal restraint — the Governor does the polar opposite. Rendell has proposed a budget increase of 4 percent, in large part to pay for his pet projects, while incomprehensibly ignoring the fact that revenues are declining.

But given the fact that Rendell hasn’t signed an on-time budget since taking office, why not go eight for eight?

He pays no attention to the coming pension bomb, in which obligations to state pensions will increase eightfold over the next three years, from $550 million to over $4 billion.

The Governor has apparently ignored the recent court ruling that the $800 million raided from the MCARE fund — money specifically allocated to alleviating high medical malpractice premiums — must now be paid back.

And he conveniently forgets that there won’t be the $2.7 billion in federal stimulus money that we had last year, and that accounting gimmicks won’t work anymore — such as counting the anticipated tolling of Interstate 80 as “revenue.”

(Despite Ed’s vehement objections, the federal government shot down the I-80 tolling plan, so it’s back to the drawing board).

All of which means higher taxes and an expansion of gambling — government at its finest!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


U.S. officials slam pro-Israeli ads in American media (Barak Ravid, 4/21/10, Ha'aretz)

United States administration officials have voiced harsh criticism over advertisements in favor of Israel's position on Jerusalem that appeared in the U.S. press with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's encouragement. The authors of the most recent such advertisements were president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. "All these advertisements are not a wise move," one senior American official told Haaretz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


What the New Atheists Don’t See: To regret religion is to regret Western civilization. (Theodore Dalrymple, Autumn 2007, City Journal)

I first doubted God’s existence at about the age of nine. It was at the school assembly that I lost my faith. We had been given to understand that if we opened our eyes during prayers God would depart the assembly hall. I wanted to test this hypothesis. Surely, if I opened my eyes suddenly, I would glimpse the fleeing God? What I saw instead, it turned out, was the headmaster, Mr. Clinton, intoning the prayer with one eye closed and the other open, with which he beadily surveyed the children below for transgressions. I quickly concluded that Mr. Clinton did not believe what he said about the need to keep our eyes shut. And if he did not believe that, why should I believe in his God? In such illogical leaps do our beliefs often originate, to be disciplined later in life (if we receive enough education) by elaborate rationalization.

Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is the least bad-tempered of the new atheist books, but it is deeply condescending to all religious people. Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.

One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence: the coyote’s “methods of locomotion have been ruthlessly optimized for efficiency.” Or: “The stinginess of Nature can be seen everywhere we look.” Or again: “This is a good example of Mother Nature’s stinginess in the final accounting combined with absurd profligacy in the methods.” I could go on, but I hope the point is clear. (And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to “reality in all its naked cruelty.” But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?)

No doubt Dennett would reply that he is writing in metaphors for the layman and that he could translate all his statements into a language without either moral evaluation or purpose included in it. Perhaps he would argue that his language is evidence that the spell still has a hold over even him, the breaker of the spell for the rest of humanity. But I am not sure that this response would be psychologically accurate. I think Dennett’s use of the language of evaluation and purpose is evidence of a deep-seated metaphysical belief (however caused) that Providence exists in the universe, a belief that few people, confronted by the mystery of beauty and of existence itself, escape entirely. At any rate, it ill behooves Dennett to condescend to those poor primitives who still have a religious or providential view of the world: a view that, at base, is no more refutable than Dennett’s metaphysical faith in evolution.

Dennett is not the only new atheist to employ religious language. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?

Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.

This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate.

Harris tells us, for example, that “we must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it. Given the present state of the world, there appears to be no other future worth wanting.” I am glad that I am old enough that I shall not see the future of reason as laid down by Harris; but I am puzzled by the status of the compulsion in the first sentence that I have quoted. Is Harris writing of a historical inevitability? Of a categorical imperative? Or is he merely making a legislative proposal? This is who-will-rid-me-of-this-troublesome-priest language, ambiguous no doubt, but not open to a generous interpretation.

It becomes even more sinister when considered in conjunction with the following sentences, quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

Let us leave aside the metaphysical problems that these three sentences raise. For Harris, the most important question about genocide would seem to be: “Who is genociding whom?” To adapt Dostoyevsky slightly, starting from universal reason, I arrive at universal madness.

Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: “Religion spoils everything.”

What? The Saint Matthew Passion? The Cathedral of Chartres? The emblematic religious person in these books seems to be a Glasgow Airport bomber—a type unrepresentative of Muslims, let alone communicants of the poor old Church of England. It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

The obligation of gratitude is sufficient to drive the self-obsessed mad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The Last Full Measure of Devotion (Allan Greenberg, Winter 2009, Claremont Review of Books)

Corporal James Henry Gooding of the 54th described Shaw's death for the New Bedford Mercury: "We were exposed to a murderous fire.... Col. Shaw seized the staff when the standard bearer fell, and in less than a minute after, the Colonel fell himself.... He was [stripped of his clothes and] buried in a trench with 45 of his men! Not even the commonest respect paid to his rank." The Shaw family, however, considered this intended ignominy an honor, and spurned all efforts to recover their son's body. Knowing that no other officer in the Civil War had been treated in this manner, Shaw's father, Francis George Shaw, wrote, "Since learning of the place of our dear dead son's burial, we would not remove his body if we could. We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company." Col. Shaw had left instructions that he was to be buried with his men, forgoing the officer's privilege of having his body shipped home.

Soon after the subsequent fall of Fort Wagner, on September 6, 1863, the men of the 54th Regiment raised funds toward a modest stone memorial to Shaw to be built nearby. Due to local hostility, the memorial was blocked and the money went instead to found the first free school for black children in Charleston. In 1865, Joshua Smith, a fugitive slave who had become a businessman in Boston, proposed a memorial to "commemorate the great event, wherein [Shaw] was a leader, by which the title of colored men as citizen-soldiers was fixed beyond recall." A committee was formed under Governor John Albion Andrew to commission an equestrian statue of Shaw.

The matter lapsed until 1882, when the architect H. H. Richardson, a friend of the Shaw family, presented sketches for a memorial to the Andrews committee and recommended that Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a young sculptor who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States as an infant, be awarded the commission. At the time, he was acclaimed for his remarkable statue in New York City of Admiral David Farragut.

Saint-Gaudens's first sketch simply showed Shaw astride a horse, but Shaw's family rejected it as inappropriate because their son had been an officer of the infantry who died leading a charge on foot. Heeding their criticism, the young sculptor decided to start over. Through discussions with Shaw's father, he attained a deeper understanding of the young colonel and the legacy of the 54th in legitimating the role of black soldiers in the military. Their conversations helped Saint-Gaudens identify the memorial's proper subject: Shaw on horseback riding next to his soldiers as they marched together to war. That was the basis of the sculptor's new maquette in April 1883, which was immediately accepted by the family.

Saint-Gaudens struggled for the next 13 years to give life to this vision. On the monument, Shaw is modeled in unusually high relief and rides alongside a group of 23 soldiers marching in ranks four deep. Every soldier's face is a distinct portrait; each figure is unique, with his own gait and posture, reinforced by variations in the position of legs, arms, packs, and rifles. Saint-Gaudens sculpted 40 portraits, from which he selected 16 for the memorial. Some of these soldiers had been slaves, men with no rights, classified as chattel. Shaw's father taught Saint-Gaudens that the recognition of each soldier's identity was central to understanding the reason his son rode to war. Saint-Gaudens's modeling was so successful that William James, who spoke at the monument's unveiling, felt he could hear the bronze figures breathe.

The St. Gaudens Historical Site opens on Memorial Day and is well worth the visit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Iraq deals al-Qaeda a heavy blow (Asia Times, 4/20/10)

Iraqi and United States forces have killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and a second senior member of the terrorist network in a joint operation US officials are praising as a blow to the country's insurgency and a sign of strengthening Iraqi security forces.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was killed on April 18 when Iraqi and US troops raided an al-Qaeda safe house near the city of Tikrit. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group, Islamic State of Iraq, was also killed during the early morning assault. [...]

Iraqi and US forces surrounded the al-Qaeda safe house, which was destroyed in the operation, Maliki said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Bill Gates: Vaccines Can Help Decrease Surplus Population (Robin Phillips, April 19, 2010, Signs of the Times)

Echoing Thomas Malthus and the social Darwinism of the last century, Gates reduced human survival to a matter of algebra. In remarks made to the Technology, Entertainment and Design 2010 Conference in Long Beach, California, his assessment of the planet’s problem was remarkably simple: CO2 (total population emitted CO2 per year) = P (people) x S (services per person) x E (average energy per service) x C (average CO2 emitted per unit of energy)

After presenting this equation, Gates explained that the goal was to “look at each one of these and see how we can get this down to zero." While discussing ‘P’, he said, “Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, healthcare, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent."

That's right. Rather than leading to more life, which was the original purpose of both vaccines and healthcare, they will lead to less. (If it seems unusual that “healthcare” would be cited as a way of limiting the human population, one needs only consider the 1990 Tetanus scandal, when the WHO secretly sterilized three million woman who thought they were merely being vaccinated against Tetanus.)

MicroSoft was a criminal enterprise, but at least it wasn't an exterminationist one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Obama’s “Remainees” (Karen Greenberg, 4/19/10, Mother Jones)

On his first day in office, President Barack Obama promised that he would close the Bush-era prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "as soon as practicable" and "no later than one year from the date of this order." The announcement was met with relief, even joy, by those, like me, who had opposed the very existence of Guantanamo on the grounds that it represented a legal black hole where the distinction between guilt and innocence had been obliterated, respect for the rule of law was mocked, and the rights of prisoners were dismissed out of hand. We should have known better.

By now, it's painfully obvious that the rejoicing, like the president's can-do optimism, was wildly premature. To the dismay of many, that year milestone passed, barely noticed, months ago. As yet there is no sign that the notorious eight-year-old detention facility is close to a shut down. Worse yet, there is evidence that, when it finally is closed, it will be replaced by two Guantanamos—one in Illinois and the other in Afghanistan. With that, this president will have committed himself in a new way to the previous president's "long war" and the illegal principles on which it floundered, especially the idea of "preventive detention."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


How Clinton exploited Oklahoma City for political gain (Byron York, April 18, 2010, Washington Examiner)

Clinton was in deep political trouble in April 1995. Six months earlier, voters had resoundingly rejected Democrats in the 1994 mid-term elections, giving the GOP control of both House and Senate. Polls showed the public viewed Clinton as weak, incompetent and ineffective. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his GOP forces seized the initiative on virtually every significant issue, while Clinton appeared to be politically dead. The worst moment may have come on April 18, the day before the bombing, when Clinton plaintively told reporters, "The president is still relevant here."

And then came the explosion at the Murrah Federal Building. In addition to seeing a criminal act and human loss, Clinton and Morris saw opportunity. If the White House could tie Gingrich, congressional Republicans and conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh to the attack, then Clinton might gain the edge in the fight against the GOP.

Morris began polling about Oklahoma City almost immediately after the bombing. On April 23, four days after the attack, Clinton appeared to point the finger straight at his political opponents during a speech in Minneapolis. "We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other," he said. "They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable."

At a White House meeting four days later, on April 27, Morris presented Clinton with a comeback strategy based on his polling. Morris prepared an extensive agenda for the session, a copy of which he would include in the paperback version of his 1999 memoir, Behind the Oval Office. This is how the April 27 agenda began:


A. Temporary gain: boost in ratings -- here today, gone tomorrow

B. More permanent gain: Improvements in character/personality attributes -- remedies weakness, incompetence, ineffectiveness found in recent poll

C. Permanent possible gain: sets up Extremist Issue vs. Republicans

Later, under the heading "How to use extremism as issue against Republicans," Morris told Clinton that "direct accusations" of extremism wouldn't work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the "ricochet theory." Clinton would "stimulate national concern over extremism and terror," and then, "when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans." As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose "intrusive" measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, "provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen." Then, if members of Congress complained, that would "link right-wing of the party to extremist groups." The net effect, Morris concluded, would be "self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists."

It was a particularly brilliant bit of framing, one that the legitimate Right's participation in the demonizing of government generally will always leave the GOP susceptible to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM

THE DIFFERENCE FROM 1980 & 1994....:

Sensing GOP tide, has-beens look to be comebacks (PHILIP ELLIOTT, 04/20/10, AP)

Republicans once saddled with the burden of President George W. Bush’s unpopularity are now experiencing a boon from another struggling president: Barack Obama.

The GOP senses rising fortunes from coast to coast, as one-time lawmakers such as Richard Pombo in California and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire look to capitalize on voter frustration that booted some of them from office in 2006. Others, long retired, see the Democrats’ luster fading and with it a chance for them to return to Washington.

The time seems ripe for Republicans, who largely remain unified against Obama’s domestic agenda, including health care overhaul. Both the president and his signature legislative achievement remain unpopular at this point in a midterm election year, according to a recent AP-GfK poll. Voters’ opinions also have turned against Democrats and their stewardship of the economy; Obama’s approval rating is at a new low.

...will be that this class is actually re-electable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


The Enterprise of Nations: Critics have tried to explain away the West’s centuries- long economic domination of the globe; they would do better to study its lessons. (David S. Landes, Spring 2010, Wilson Quarterly)

Western entrepreneurship and technological progress go back centuries and have changed the world for the better. That, at least, is one assessment of the historical record— one with which not everyone would agree. There are some scholars who, disapproving of Western triumphalism or solicitous of Asian (mostly Chi nese) pride and prowess, would date the Industrial Revolution as a late phenomenon in the history of entrepreneurship and treat it as lucky accident (or unlucky, depend ing on one’s sense of values). It could have happened anywhere, they say; it just fell to Europe or Britain, in large part owing to political fortune, reinforced by overseas dominion. And globalization, in the sense of worldwide diffusion of trade, industry, and technology, came even later, after World War II.

Yet newer research and reflection on comparative world history make it clear that global trade goes back more than a millennium, back to Asian and then Euro pean economic development in the later Middle Ages, back to the opening of the world with the turning of Africa, and the penetration of European vessels into Asian wa ters and the contemporaneous European invasion of the Americas. The centuries that followed saw the West grow richer than other regions of the world, pull away from the onetime leaders, establish empire in distant lands— all on the basis of superior scientific knowledge, industrial technique, and business enterprise. Much of subsequent history has been profoundly influenced by this gap and the reaction to it of lagging areas— these last resentful of patronizing, condescending, charitable and uncharitable, advantageous, and predatory Western dominion.

Poorer areas see the gap between rich and poor as the fault of the rich; they see their own weaknesses and shortcomings as someone else’s doing. In particular, they feel that advanced industrial nations have used their power not to help, but to exploit and plunder the weak. In this scenario, success and empire are forces for evil.

Nonetheless, the gains made by the more precocious industrializing countries incited other, slower nations to imitate and emulate. There was money to be made by these new ways. But wanting was not necessarily doing. Emulation required knowledge, the ability to organize and rationalize production, intelligent and active entrepreneur ship, and laws protective of property and change. The countries best equipped to under take the task were to be found in parts of the West, such as Ireland, Scandinavia, pieces of central and eastern Europe, Canada, and some bits of Latin America— places that had earlier been barred from the pursuit of new ways by political misfortune and cultural impediments.

In general, the countries and regions that have done best are precisely those that have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by active trade and entrepreneur ial freedom, often in the face of official constraints. These are the countries that have most attracted foreign advances and investment. But they have not done so by fol lowing the formulas proffered or imposed by experts from richer lands. The essence of successful enterprise lies in creative imagination and initiative. [...]

Many if not most Third World countries see globalization as a device or pretext for imposing post- imperialist domination and ex ploitation by the West of the Rest. This must be true, for the gap is apparently grow ing, and who else could be responsible? Even more vexing is the cultural conquest and destruction that accompany material triumphs: the cinema, the music, the art and architecture, the heroes and heroines, the styles, furnishings, fast- food cuisine, and manners. As the Lebanese journalist Abbas Beydoun has put it, globalization swallows all, leaving no place for those outside it.

These reactions are reinforced by the sense that history has done the losers wrong; that where once they were leaders and standard- bearers, they have now been pushed aside, reduced, humiliated. The West, say the self- proclaimed victims, rules the world, does as it pleases, and commits crimes at will. Formal empires may have dissolved, but the school of imperialism has continued to breed war criminals. Witness, they say, the bullying and oppression of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria. Hence an abiding, festering hatred of Americans and Jews (or Israelis, seen as agents of the United States).

What is to be done?

Keep swallowing. Almost done.

April 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Rubio: Obamacare different than Romneycare (Peter Hamby, 4/19/10, CNN)

With Mitt Romney in Florida Monday to endorse his Senate bid, Marco Rubio spoke charitably about the health care plan that Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts – a plan many conservatives have called a blueprint for the health care bill recently signed into law by President Obama. [...]

The libertarian Cato Institute last week described the Obama and Romney plans as "identical." Both plans, for instance, mandate that individuals purchase health insurance.

Conservatives? The President himself said Romneycare was the model.

Of course, Obamacare tracks pretty closely what the movement has been recommending for forty years, Author, Author: A conservative think tank indignantly denies influencing Obamacare. (Timothy Noah, April 19, 2010, Slate)

"Obama's Health Reform Isn't Modeled After Heritage Foundation Ideas" reads the headline of an April 19 op-ed in the Washington Post. The author, Robert Moffit, is director of Heritage's Center for Health Policy Studies. Moffit's piece is an exercise in damage control, responding to President Obama's comment, in a March 30 an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today, that the idea for health-insurance exchanges "originated from the Heritage Foundation." Actually, Heritage didn't invent the exchanges idea, but it certainly helped develop it. In his new book No Apology, Romney writes:

[T]o make it easier for insurers to service individual customers, the state would create a "connector" or "exchange" that would collect premiums and pass them on to the insurers. The Heritage Foundation helped us construct an exchange that would make individual premium payments tax-advantaged, lowering costs even further.

Until recently, Heritage was quite willing to associate itself with Romneycare, but that appears to have changed. The words Romney and Massachusetts appear nowhere in Moffit's op-ed, probably because the Conintern has lately concluded that Obamacare renders Romney damaged goods. (See this withering Fox News interview with Chris Wallace, this dismissal from the libertarian Club For Growth, this video from David Boaz and Michael F. Cannon of Cato, and this editorial from the Wall Street Journal, which called Obamacare and Romneycare "fraternal policy twins." Ouch!)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Gaming The Health Insurance Mandate (MERRILL MATTHEWS, 4/19/10, IBD)

hat if millions of Americans decide it's a better deal to pay the fine and remain uninsured until they need coverage?

It appears that's exactly what's happening in Massachusetts, which passed its own ObamaCare-like reform with an individual mandate in 2006.

Last year, Charles Baker, former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, one of Massachusetts's largest health plans, noticed some health insurance brokers posting comments on his widely read blog. They were suspicious that people were applying for health coverage after a medical condition developed, got the care they needed, and then dropped the coverage.

Coverage for an individual, noted Mr. Baker, now a Republican candidate for governor, might be $2,000 to $3,000 a year, while the penalty was only about $900. So he asked his finance people to see if they noticed any discernible patterns. Boy, did they.

From April 2008 to March 2009, 40% of the individuals who applied to Harvard Pilgrim stayed covered for less than five months. Yet claims were averaging about $2,400 a month, about six times what one would expect.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts has now confirmed it is experiencing similar problems.

...how does it make any sense to get "insurance" until you have a condition?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Obama skips Polish funeral, heads to golf course (Joseph Curl, 4/19/10, Washington Times)

On a cool but sun-drenched Sunday, the president and three golfing companions went to Andrews Air Force Base to play 18 holes. It is the 32nd time Mr. Obama has played golf since taking office Jan. 20, 2009, according to CBS Radio's Mark Knoller.

After canceling the Poland trip on Saturday, the White House announced that Mr. Obama had no public schedule for Sunday. He was to have arrived in Krakow in the morning, attend the 2 p.m. funeral and leave for home by 5 p.m., arriving back at the White House after midnight.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, along with dozens of top Polish government officials were killed April 10 when their airplane went down in heavy fog after clipping a tree on approach to Smolensk, Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


Will Rossi run against Murray? Other Senate hopefuls want to know: With the Aug. 17 primary looming closer, perhaps no one is more eager for Dino Rossi to decide whether he'll run for U.S. Senate than the 11 Republicans vying to oust Sen. Patty Murray. (Kyung M. Song, 4/19/10, Seattle Times)

Chris Widener, a Preston motivational speaker and author, said he would drop his bid for the Senate if Rossi were to run.

Rossi "would be our best chance at defeating Patty Murray," Widener said. "And I'm not running against him. I'm running against Patty Murray."

Widener and his wife, Lisa, have been friends with Rossi since they joined the same baby-sitting co-op as new parents in 1992. The two men have remained close, and Widener said he speaks to Rossi regularly.

Yet, Widener said, he's just as much in suspense as anyone about Rossi's intentions.

"I think he really, truly is undecided," Widener said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Leading Economic Indicators Index rises 1.4% in March (Bloomberg News, 4/19/10)

The index of U.S. leading indicators rose in March by the most in 10 months, a sign the economy will keep growing into the second half of the year.

The 1.4 percent increase in the New York-based Conference Board's measure of the outlook for three to six months was more than anticipated and followed a revised 0.4 percent gain in February.

Manufacturers are ratcheting up production and factory workers are putting in longer hours as companies rebuild inventories and ship more goods overseas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Lone Star: Why Texas is doing so much better economically than the rest of the nation. (Daniel Gross, April 19, 2010, Slate)

The state has its own electricity grid, which is not connected to neighboring states. That has allowed it to move swiftly and decisively in deregulating power markets, building new transmission lines, and pursuing alternative sources. "We can build transmission lines without federal jurisdiction and without consulting other states," said Paul Sadler, executive director of the Austin-based Wind Coalition. Ramping up wind power nationally would require connecting energy fields—the windswept, sparsely populated plains—to population centers on the coasts and in the Midwest. Texas' grid already connects the plains of West Texas with consumers in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Texas recently surpassed 10,000 megawatts of capacity, the most by far of any state and enough to power 3 million homes, Sadler says. Wind energy is also powering employment—creating more than 10,000 jobs so far. And it and has attracted foreign companies, including Danish turbine maker Vestas, Spanish renewable-energy giant Iberdrola, and Shell.

Texas today is more suburban engineer than urban cowboy, more Michael Dell than J.R. Ewing. Austin, home to the University of Texas, the state government, and Dell Computer, has a 7 percent unemployment rate. Yes, ExxonMobil and Chevron are based in Houston. But the state's energy complex is increasingly focused more on services and technology than on intuition and wildcatting. And it is selling those services into the global oil patch. Russian, Persian Gulf, and African oil developers now come to Houston for equipment, engineering, and software.

While its political leaders may occasionally flirt with secession, Texas thrives on connection. It surpassed California several years ago as the nation's largest exporting state. Manufactured goods like electronics, chemicals, and machinery account for a bigger chunk of Texas' exports than petroleum does. In the first two months of 2010, exports of stuff made in Texas rose 24.3 percent, to $29 billion, from 2009. That's about 10 percent of the nation's total exports. There are more than 700,000 Texan jobs geared to manufacturing goods for export, according to Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. "A lot of it is capital goods that the Asian, Latin American, and African [countries] are using to build their economies."

Thanks to that embrace of globalization, the Texas turnaround may help lead the nation in its economic turnaround. Texans have always had the ability to think big. Now that their state has become a player in the global economy, we can expect a new kind of swagger.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


Hegemoron: Sarah Palin's ignorant imperialism. (William Saletan, April 19, 2010, Slate)

Sarah Palin thinks Barack Obama is a wimp. She's been going around to Tea Party rallies, invoking the spirit of revolutionary Boston and castigating Obama for failing to exalt American power and punish our adversaries. She seems blissfully unaware that the imperial arrogance she's preaching isn't how the American founders behaved. It's how the British behaved, and why they lost. Palin represents everything the original Tea Party was against.

Mr. Saletan isn't normally this obtuse, but you really ought not call someone else a moron if you think the British mishandled their foreign policy with an adversary in the Revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 AM


Crist pulls ads; LeMieux dismisses indy talk (Adam Smith, 4/19/10, TampaBay.com)

The Marco Rubio campaign says Charlie Crist has halted all its TV advertising in the Orlando and Tampa Bay markets where the anti-Rubio spots were airing. That's presumably a sign that Crist has decided to marshal his resources for later or perhaps drop out altogether.

Withdrawing, rather than running as an Independent, would make him the favorite for the other FL senate seat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Immigration needs a New York state of mind: Bureaucratic controls will only deny Britain the benefits it has reaped from foreign workers over the years (Bill Emmott, 4/19/10, The Times of London)

Being stuck in New York, waiting for the Icelandic ashes to stop scattering themselves in Europe’s airspace, does at least provide a bit of perspective on Britain’s election campaign. Watching from the Big Apple has told me three things. [...]

The third point, though, is the main one, and it is a deeper, longer-term reflection of New York life. It is that immigration, the issue raised in the first question of Thursday’s leaders’ debate, has been an absolutely central element of the economic, social and political success both of this city and of America itself. Immigration can be a toxic issue in US politics, too, especially outside the metropolitan North East. But there is much less need in America to make the case for liberal policies than in Britain. Immigration is an issue on which all three main British parties are on the defensive and hence illiberal.

This is an emerging tragedy for a country whose strength over the centuries has been so clearly based on trade, global business and openness to the free movement of people. Like New York, London has been culturally and economically enriched by migration, which has made it Europe’s only truly international city. Now that London has as its Mayor a man who, on his own account, is a “one-man melting pot”, with genes from Russia and Turkey, you might have thought that Boris Johnson’s party would take a positive approach to this issue. But the Conservatives do not, and nor do the other main parties.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Supreme Court Needs Politicians, Not Ideologues (Albert R. Hunt, April 19, 2010, Bloomberg)

President Barack Obama’s apparent short list of prospective Supreme Court nominees includes distinguished jurists and respected legal minds. With few possible exceptions, they have never faced a voter for elective office.

This is a huge void on the current Supreme Court, apparent in its decisions and deliberations. Since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, there hasn’t been a justice who has ever run for political office.

Obama, according to reports, has weighed considerably the ideology, experience and temperament of prospective appointees. He seems to have spent less time thinking about their political acumen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Elena Kagan's Achilles Heel (Peter Beinart, 4/20/10, Daily Beast)

If Solicitor General Elana Kagan gets the nod, conservatives will beat the hell out of her for opposing military recruitment on campus when she was dean of Harvard Law School. And liberals should concede the point; the conservatives will be right.

Barring the military from campus is a bit like barring the president or even the flag. It’s more than a statement of criticism; it’s a statement of national estrangement.

“I abhor the military’s discriminatory recruitment policy,” wrote Kagan in 2003. It is “a profound wrong -- a moral injustice of the first order.” So far, so good. Not allowing openly gay and lesbian Americans into the military is a grave moral injustice and it is a disgrace that so many Republicans defend the policy to this day. But the response that Kagan favored—banning military recruiters from campus—was stupid and counterproductive. I think it showed bad judgment.

The United States military is not Proctor and Gamble. It is not just another employer. It is the institution whose members risk their lives to protect the country. You can disagree with the policies of the American military; you can even hate them, but you can’t alienate yourself from the institution without in a certain sense alienating yourself from the country. Barring the military from campus is a bit like barring the president or even the flag. It’s more than a statement of criticism; it’s a statement of national estrangement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The Tory Challenge (ROSS DOUTHAT, 4/19/10, NY Times)

[T]he American right — and Americans in general — should be paying close attention to how Cameron’s Tories fare in Britain’s election on May 6, and how well they govern if they win. That’s because for all his leftward feints and politically correct gestures, Cameron is campaigning on a vision of government that owes a great deal to the American conservative tradition.

The Tories’ election manifesto, released early last week, promises “a sweeping redistribution of power” — from London to local institutions, and “from the state to citizens.” In one of the most centralized countries in the Western world, Cameron is championing a dramatic transfer of responsibility — for schools, hospitals, police forces — to local governments and communities. In a nation with a vast and creaking welfare state, he’s urging people to put more faith in voluntarism, charity and the beleaguered two-parent family. (This last plank has attracted the ire of none other than J. K. Rowling, who recently attacked the Tories for stigmatizing single motherhood.) His emphasis, again and again, has been on a smaller, leaner, less intrusive government — and in its place, a “big society” that can bear the burden currently shouldered by social workers and bureaucracies.

Nobody would mistake the Cameron Tories for Tea Partiers. By the statist standards of British politics, though, their manifesto’s emphasis on localism and limited government is quite daring. The Tories may sit to the left of American conservatives on a host of issues, but Cameron is offering a more detailed and specific vision of what conservative reform might mean than almost any English-speaking politician since the Reagan-Thatcher era.

Essentially, the Tories are gambling that the fiscal crisis facing every Western government will create an opportunity for decentralization on an unprecedented scale. If that gamble succeeds, Cameron’s government will offer an example to right-of-center parties everywhere — and Britain will offer a model, in an era of tight budgets and diminished expectations, for how nations can succeed (to borrow a Cameron catchphrase) at “doing more with less.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Carl Williams dies in prison (JOHN SILVESTER, 19 Apr, 2010, Canberra Times)

Homicide squad detectives have driven to Barwon Prison to take control of the investigation into the death of notorious underworld identity Carl Williams.

Williams died after he was attacked by fellow inmates in the prison early this afternoon.

He'll probably only be familiar to viewers of Underbelly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Harry Potter railway named best in the world: A Scottish railway has been ranked alongside the Trans-Siberian Express and Silk Road as one of the world's most awe-inspiring journeys. (Daily Telegraph, 19 Apr 2010)

A panel of travel experts recognised the West Highland Line for the beautiful and varied scenery that can be enjoyed by passengers on the route. The line skirts Loch Long, Loch Lomond and Loch Eil and crosses the 21-arch Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Potter films. The Jacobite steam train, which operates between Fort William and Mallaig in the summer months doubled as the Hogwarts Express.

The route also takes in Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, Loch Morar, which featured in the film Local Hero and Rannoch Moor, which is home to roe and red deer.

It includes Corrour, Britain's second-highest railway station, which was shown in a memorable scene in Trainspotting, the 1995 big-screen adaptation of Irvine Welsh's cult novel.

The building of the line, between 1889 and 1901, was regarded as one of the greatest Victorian feats of engineering.

If you missed Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys, it's must see tv.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Who’s next for the Court of Obama? (Andrew Stephen 19 April 2010, New Statesman)

By present-day US standards, in fact, Stevens is downright left-wing. He became firmly opposed to the death penalty, pushed for the constitutional rights of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and was even a supporter of gay causes. He led the dissenters in the 5-4 vote that put George W Bush rather than Al Gore into the White House after the disputed 2000 presidential election. [...]

The current front-runner is 49-year-old Elena Kagan, currently solicitor general - a proven Obama loyalist who has no paper trail of controversial writings and was once dean of Harvard Law School (which Obama also attended). Her relative youth is another plus. Next in the running is Diane Wood, 59, a federal judge in Chicago (in effect, Obama's home town) whose qualifications are equally strong - except that she is a staunch supporter of abortion rights. She, too, may prove too partisan.

My own hunch is that Obama's preference could well end up being 54-year-old Leah Ward Sears, a former chief justice of Georgia's Supreme Court. She is black and has impeccable credentials. She would contrast well with Sonia Sotomayor, the former federal court appeals judge of Puerto Rican descent whom Obama chose last year, but who has had a disappointingly lacklustre eight months on the benches so far.
Bitter days

The third alternative - gasp, gasp - is a man, Merrick B Garland (who incidentally was born in Chicago). A 57-year-old federal court judge in Washington, DC, he would perhaps command the most bipartisan support, but is unlikely to become the Stevens-type judicial activist that Obama would prefer.

The irony is that, whoever is chosen, the Supreme Court of the Obama era will end up being more right-wing than the current one - or even that of the best-forgotten days of George W Bush. Justice Stevens said that no Supreme Court judge should be afraid of "learning on the job", which, in his case, meant moving steadily to the left while America itself drifted steadily to the right. In 2010, no Obama nominee with a record of judicial decisions like that of Stevens could count on being confirmed by the Senate in these bitterly partisan days.

This, alas, is the reality of the new America. We'll miss you, judge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


A tale of two tea parties (JAMES HOHMANN, 4/19/10, Politico)

The survey, an exit poll conducted Thursday by Edison Research at the massive Tax Day protest on the National Mall, found that the attendees were largely hostile to President Barack Obama and the national Democratic Party — three-quarters believe the president “is pursuing a socialist agenda.”

Yet they aren’t enamored of the Republican Party as an alternative. Overall, three out of four tea party attendees said they were “scared about the direction” of the country and “want to send a message to both political parties.”

The results, however, suggest a distinct fault line that runs through the tea party activist base, characterized by two wings led by the politicians who ranked highest when respondents were asked who “best exemplifies the goals of the tea party movement” — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former GOP presidential candidate.

Palin, who topped the list with 15 percent, speaks for the 43 percent of those polled expressing the distinctly conservative view that government does too much, while also saying that it needs to promote traditional values.

Paul’s thinking is reflected by an almost identical 42 percent who said government does too much but should not try to promote any particular set of values — the hallmarks of libertarians. He came in second to Palin with 12 percent. [...]

In general, those who turned out for the April 15 event tended to be less culturally conservative than national Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


True Green?: Determining what's really green is tricky. Marketing it is even trickier (Robert Klara, 4/18/10, Brandweek

Is it realistic to expect consumers to go online -- or depend on related outreach via social-media channels -- so they can have a ball with an environmental-impact white paper? "No, it's not," says Keirstin De West, principal of Vancouver-based brand consultancy Conscientious Innovation. By sending shoppers to the Web, she says, "you're asking them for more time, and you're not making it easy for them to become more conscientious consumers." De West's firm recently conducted a survey in which it asked shoppers where they go to learn about a brand's sustainability practices. Only 30 percent responded that they visit a company's Web site, and when it came to relying on social networking channels, that number dropped to 15 percent.

Discouraging figures like that may be part of why a growing number of brands are looking toward third-party certification to explain green credentials too drawn out for packaging or for, say, a TV ad. The idea's appeal is obvious. Since true green is often a lot more complex than most consumers have the time or inclination to deal with, one solution is to let an independent certification outfit crunch all the data and then give the brand a stamp of approval -- think of a UL seal or a kosher designation, but for green.

Jay Coen Gilbert is the co-founder of one outfit that furnishes such a seal. His not-for-profit firm -- called B Corporation -- evaluates a brand on 200 green criteria, ranging from environmental conservation matters on up to progressive human resources practices. "Consumers have a mind-numbing series of rabbit holes they're forced to go down to make sense of the ever-increasing complexity of environmental claims," Gilbert says, explaining that there's a need for "a credible third party to say how these claims stack up against one another."

Currently, some 300 corporations sport the "B" seal (they include Method household products and King Arthur Flour), which Gilbert says can go a long way toward saving the marketing department the headache of explaining complex conservation practices to consumers.

April 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


Muslim radical lives in the Poconos -- but it's not what you think
(Dan Berrett, April 18, 2010, Pocono Record)

For more than a decade, one of the world's most influential and controversial Muslim leaders has been convalescing on 26 acres in the Pocono Mountains.

In Ross Township — not far from the Blue Ridge flea market, a giant corn maze dubbed Mazezilla and a go-kart speedway — you will find a small metal sign bearing the name of the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center.

It is here that Fethullah Gülen, 68, lives.

Gülen is an ailing Turkish cleric whose vision of an Islam that embraces science, education and interfaith dialogue has earned him millions of followers — and the suspicion of many in Turkey's secular establishment. [...]

None of the neighbors with whom the Pocono Record spoke said they had ever heard or seen what Williams described.

Instead, they said they'd shared picnics with the center's residents, and had received visits from them after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Gülenists had knocked on their doors to apologize for what had been inflicted on innocents in the name of Islam.

"You couldn't meet a nicer bunch of people," said Howard Beers Jr., a Ross Township supervisor who lives next door and enters the property six or seven days a week, often unannounced and not through the front gate, to do construction work.

"If anyone would walk in on something, it would be me," Beers said. "As long as I have ever been there, I have never, ever, seen a gun or heard a shot. All this stuff is totally, totally unfounded." [...]

A recent visit to Golden Generation revealed tranquil surroundings — a retreat, not a compound — landscaped with old-growth trees, a pond, basketball court, soccer field and several residences under construction.

Middle-aged, mild-mannered, mustached men in modern dress strolled on the grounds, apart from groups of children and hijab-wearing women.

They bore no weapons — just ornately designed plates and boxes of Turkish desserts, which they offered to American visitors.

"We are the very opposite of what that man says," said Bekir Aksoy, president of the center.

And yet, Gülen is still seen by some as a threat to the established order of the Muslim world. But it is not quite for the reasons Williams described.

To understand why, the reclusive cleric must be placed in the context of the world's 1 billion Muslims.

A threat to orthodoxy

"The West looks at Islam and says it's a monolith," said Akbar Ahmed, a professor at American University's School of International Service and author of the book, "Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam," who is supportive of Gülenism.

But like all large groups of people, Muslims can hold disparate beliefs, observe their faith to different degrees, and embody varying cross-currents and complexities.

In broad terms, a large number of Muslims belong to the literalist camp. It is typified by the Wahhabi sect of the religion and hard-core Islamic governments like Saudi Arabia's, which recoil from the influence of the West and see the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as the literal truth.

At the other end of the spectrum are secular Muslims, such as the Turkish government, who are suspicious of Islam, and see it as a force to be subordinated to the state or kept to the confines of one's home.

Between these two poles are other groups, including a small cluster called Sufis, out of whose mystical tradition Gülen arises.

The Gülenist interpretation of Islam publicly preaches the virtues of being outward looking, peaceful and respectful of religious diversity. If Gülenists are known for anything, it is for their abiding faith in inter-religious dialogue.

"The Gülen Institute rigorously and, I think very rightly, advocates prayer and interfaith dialogue and the role that they can play in helping ease tensions between peoples in our very complicated world," James Baker, the former secretary of state, said to a Houston gathering of the institute in 2008.

They also promote engagement in science and education. While their work has a political aspect — in the sense that many Gülenists are concerned with social justice and communal responsibility — they profess to remain divorced from the hurly-burly of partisan politics.

"Power's dominance is transitory; while the dominance of truth and justice is eternal," Gülen wrote. "Sincere politicians should align themselves and their policies with truth and justice."

Gülenism disturbs both poles of the Islamic spectrum — the secular and the fundamentalist.

"Modern Turkey is self-consciously secular," said Ahmed. "To them, anyone talking about religion, like Gülen, and appearing to be an attractive and alternative paradigm would be a threat. He would seem to undermine secularism."

Ahmed put this threat in starker terms when describing Gülen's effect on the literalist wing of Islam.

"If the Taliban had Gülen and George W. Bush in the same room, they'd go for Gülen first," said Ahmed. "He'd change their society."

David Cuthell, executive director of the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University, went further, saying Gülen was trying to reconcile both poles of thought.

"If there's going to be a Reformation in Islam," Cuthell said, "this is where it's going to be coming from."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Misreading the tea leaves: Media can't figure out the tea party (Paul Mulshine, 4/18/10, The Star Ledger)

[Ron] Paul, who first employed the tea party theme in his 2008 campaign, and the Birchers agree on most of the issues that matter these days. So who’s on the other side?

Most of those self-proclaimed “right-wing” radio talk show hosts, that’s who. I found that out when I got to chatting with the guy behind the table, 56-year-old Kip Webster of Ringwood.

The subject of our conversation was radio talker Mark Levin, who recently decided to turn down an invitation to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington because the Birchers were a co-sponsor.

“He’s at best a useful idiot,” said Webster of Levin. I hadn’t heard that term since the Cold War. Webster went into a long dissertation on how the adherents of so-called “neo” conservatism — a group that includes just about all the radio talkers — are the ideological inheritors of the Trotskyite tradition. [...]

ALSO: Read Justin Raimondo's piece on the Ron Paul phenomenon and the roots of the tea parties

:The Paul movement was really the GOP’s lifeline to the emerging "tea party" movement, of which it was always an essential – and certainly a founding – element.

You almost have to assume that Mr. Mulshine is joshing here, because linking the Tea Partiers to all that Anti-War nonsense can't seriously be meant as a defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


US aid cuts hit Egypt’s democracy groups (HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, 04/18/10, AP)

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. “And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Obama v. Roberts: The Struggle to Come (PETER BAKER, 4/18/10, NY Times)

Much more so than last year, when he made his first nomination to the court, Mr. Obama has Chief Justice Roberts on his mind as he mulls his second, according to Democrats close to the White House. For an activist president, the chief justice has emerged clearly in recent months as a potentially formidable obstacle, and Mr. Obama has signaled that he plans to use the political arena and his appointment power to counter the direction of the Roberts court.

“He’s very concerned about the activism of the court in recent terms,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, ticking off a series of cases that angered liberals, most notably allowing corporations to spend freely in election campaigns. “He wants to make sure he puts somebody on there who is not going to take radical steps like that.”

It warms the cockles of a cynic's heart to watch the Right push asctivism on the Court and the Left support conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


If VAT, Ditch the Income Tax (George Will, 4/18/10, Real Clear Politics)

Although the nation's welfare often varies inversely with that of the political class, a VAT would ameliorate a real problem: Americans consume too much and save too little. Furthermore, today's baroque tax code drives economic distortions and enables corruptions.

Corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them, passing the burden to consumers as a cost of production. And corporate taxation is a feast of rent-seeking -- a cornucopia of credits, exemptions and other subsidies conferred by the political class on favored, and grateful, corporations. Because the income tax is not broadly based, it radiates moral hazard: Its incentives are for perverse behavior. The top 1 percent of earners provide 40 percent of that tax's receipts; the top 5 percent provide 61 percent; the bottom 50 percent provide 3 percent. So the tax makes a substantial majority complacent about government's growth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


A little radical thought to get to the root of the issue (Frank Wilson, 4/18/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Albert Jay Nock, a canny and droll observer of American folkways, points out in one of his essays that the antithesis of the word radical is not conservative, but superficial. Radical derives from the Latin radix, meaning "root." To think radically means to get at the root of the thing you are thinking about.

A good example of discourse confining itself to the topsoil of mentation would be the recent national gossip regarding health care. I call it gossip because it is hard to call something a debate when the subject of the debate - the proposed legislation - is unavailable for examination. As for superficiality, it would be hard to think of anything more superficial than legislators' voting to enact a law without actually knowing exactly what that law stipulates. Why, soon we may be able to vote for candidates whose identity will be revealed only after the election.

The funny thing about thinking radically is that it can be done without having to use big words or complicated reasoning. Those of us who were taught how to diagram sentences were introduced to it immediately: "What or whom am I talking about?" There's a perfectly radical inquiry. It gets right down to the root of the matter.

Ask it of what is being called "heath care" and you may find yourself quickly realizing that there must be some mistake. Health is a state of being in corpore sano, "sound in body," not sick. Those aren't healthy people you see lying in hospital beds.

So what we are really talking about is care of the sick or injured - medical care. Once this initial confusion is cleared up, another fundamental question immediately presents itself: Why would the state be the first place to turn to in order to deal with this problem?

The state was, of course, the last place we turned to, but the question of its proper role in making sure that the sick are cared for is the key one. And the example of other Western societies, which gave it a central role, is instructive. It seems fair to say, regardless of your politics, that the actual quality of care provided is superior in the private sector as opposed to that provided directly by government institutions (national health services). However, it is also fair to say that in societies that do not have national health there are many who do not and/or can not make provisions so that they will be able to claim that care when they require it. An "ideal" system then would maintain the private provision of care while ensuring that everyone has access to same.

Now it would be a wondrous thing is all men were ants, but instead we are mostly grasshoppers. Were it possible to fundamentally alter human nature one could live in a society where every man were industrious and parsimonious and the healthy young stockpiled cash for the eventuality of ill health. It isn't. We won't. And by the time we face our inevitable physical decline, we've reached a point where responsible private insurers ought not provide us with coverage. Insurers, after all, make money because of healthy people, not sick ones.

The proper role of government then is to require us to pay for medical care at precisely the time when we don't need it, in order that we have built up sufficient funds to access it when we do. Such is the genius of a system of universal HSA's.

This is a radical revolt against the statist approach of Big Government: In this thought-provoking essay, David Cameron elaborates on his vision for the Big Society, where Britons are freed from the 'stifling clutch of state control' and are enabled to shape their own destiny (David Cameron, 4/18/10, The Observer)

We have reached a point where the size, scope and inflexibility of our government is inhibiting, not advancing, the march of progress. Indeed, I would go further. By undermining social and personal responsibility – the building blocks of any contented community – it is making things worse. The net result is a failure to tackle entrenched social problems and the consequent diversion of funds away from other services.

This is why the Conservative programme for government is founded on such a radical revolt against the statist approach of the Big Government that always knows best. It is the culmination of years of detailed policy work by hundreds of people inside and outside my party. It is based on the best practices seen in Britain and around the world, with the potential and power to transform the lives of the least fortunate in our society. And it is in keeping with an age in which power is being diffused, the public mistrusts politicians and the internet is shattering traditional models of delivery. It is the Big Society – and it will change our nation by bringing people together to improve life for themselves, their families and their communities. The stifling clutch of state control will be replaced by the transformative power of social responsibility. We will do this by making government more transparent and accountable and by breaking open public services to new providers, unleashing the forces of innovation.

So if parents want to set up a special school to fill the void in their locality, why should we not help them? If nurses believe they can deliver a better service, why should we not encourage them to form a co-operative and do it themselves? If a pioneering social enterprise can help people escape the spiral of drug addiction and crime, why should we not let them? If a private company can get people off benefits and into jobs, why should we not allow them?

After all, the more we can solve our ingrained problems, the more harmonious our society. We are all better off if schools are improved, fewer people take drugs and there is less incivility. And the more money the state saves by cutting welfare bills and slicing out waste, the more money for frontline services in schools and hospitals.

The state, of course, will still have a pivotal role, ensuring public services are properly funded to maintain universal cover and guaranteeing standards of provision. But it will have to resist its natural instinct to command and control, loosening its grip to hand over the reins to those who might run services better or deserve a bigger say in the outcomes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


What a weird, wacky, wild game (Ken Rosenthal, 4/18/10, Fox Sports)

Hitters pitched. Pitchers hit. And served as pinch-runners. And, in the case of Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse, played a mean left field.

Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey said he had a bat in his hand from the ninth inning on. He never got a chance to hit, which he said “kind of crushed my ego.”

But hey, Pelfrey earned the Mets’ first save of the season by working a scoreless 20th — after the Mets’ actual closer, Francisco Rodriguez, had blown a save in the 19th.

I’ll say this as gently as possible: If the Mets had lost — lost after two Cardinals position players, Felipe Lopez and Mather, pitched the final three innings — manager Jerry Manuel might have been fired on the spot.

Actually, Manuel might be dangling from the top of the Empire State Building this morning if he had made the move that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did in the 11th, removing left fielder Matt Holliday in a double-switch that left the pitcher’s spot behind Albert Pujols.

Mr. Manuel had Francisco Rodriguez warm up in every inning after the 8th. It is a managerial crime nearly on par with Dusty Baker's decision a couple years ago to let Aaron Harang throw four innings of relief on two days rest, an appearance from which the Reds' former ace has never recovered.

That said, the game was impossible to stop watching, in that car wreck kind of way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Gates Says U.S. Lacks Policy to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Drive (DAVID E. SANGER and THOM SHANKER, 4/18/10, NY Times)

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document. [...]

[I]n his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Can’t Cut Spending? Look Around the Globe (TYLER COWEN, 4/16/10, NY Times)

The macroeconomic evidence also suggests the wisdom of emphasizing spending cuts. In a recent paper, Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna, economics professors at Harvard, found that in developed countries, spending cuts were the key to successful fiscal adjustments — and were generally better for the economy than tax increases. Their conclusion was based on data since 1970 from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The received wisdom in the United States is that deep spending cuts are politically impossible. But a number of economically advanced countries, including Sweden, Finland, Canada and, most recently, Ireland, have cut their government budgets when needed.

Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997. The Liberal Party, headed by Jean Chrétien as prime minister and Paul Martin as finance minister, led most of this shift. Prompted by the financial debacle in Mexico, Canadian leaders had the courage and the foresight to make those spending cuts before a fiscal crisis was upon them. In his book “In the Long Run We’re All Dead: The Canadian Turn to Fiscal Restraint,” Timothy Lewis describes Canada’s move from fiscal irresponsibility to a balanced budget — a history that helps explain why the country has managed the current global recession relatively well.

To be sure, the spending cuts meant fewer government services, most of all for health care, and big cuts in agricultural subsidies. But Canada remained a highly humane society, and American liberals continue to cite it as a beacon of progressive values.

Counterintuitively, the relatively strong Canadian trust in government may have paved the way for government spending cuts, a pattern that also appears in Scandinavia. Citizens were told by their government leadership that such cuts were necessary and, to some extent, they trusted the messenger.

IT’S less obvious that the United States can head down the same path, partly because many Americans are so cynical about policy makers. In many ways, this cynicism may be justified, but it is not always helpful, as it lowers trust and impedes useful social bargains.

In fact, other work by Mr. Alesina demonstrates why, regardless of what would be useful social policy, it is the Tea Party types who prevent it. Their perception that government spending inordinately benefits minorities making them loath to give up any of their own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Panel OKs market for movie bets; studios want ban (Ryan Nakashima, 4/16/10, AP)

U.S. regulators on Friday approved the creation of a futures market for trading in forecast box-office receipts, but major Hollywood studios immediately trumpeted a bill that would ban it.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved the creation of the Trend Exchange, a forum that would allow movie industry participants and speculators to trade on predicted movie revenues. [...]

Backers of the box-office exchanges say those markets would help Hollywood manage risk in a notoriously hit-or-miss business.

Investors would be able to hedge against potential flops by preselling a share of future box office receipts. The exchanges could even guard against likely hits, such as the upcoming "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" sequels, falling short of projections. If a movie doesn't do as well as expected, investors would at least be guaranteed revenue from those presales, known as futures contracts.

Preventing the sort of information flow you get in markets will help studios hide the fact they have a flop on their hands, just as preventing Admiral Poindexter from creating such a market for the intelligence community helps bureaucrats hide the inadequacy of their work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


How To Make Bacon Fat Popcorn (Sarah Rae Trover, April 15, 2010, The Kitchn)

Baked Bacon (My Cooking Quest, 6/18/08)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet (must be rimmed to hold bacon fat) with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the sheet. Bake until desired doneness from 15 to 20 minutes. Before pulling out take a quick peak to make sure the bottom is as brown as the top, if not leave for a few more minutes.

April 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


White supremacists, demonstrators square off in LA (JACOB ADELMAN, 4/17/10, Associated Press)

A white supremacist group rallied against illegal immigration in downtown Los Angeles Saturday as hundreds of counter-protesters gathered to shout them down in a tense standoff that included several arrests, thrown rocks and police in riot gear. [...]

Members of the Detroit-based group said they picked the location for their rally because of Los Angeles' large immigrant population. They accused some of the immigrants of stealing jobs and committing crimes.

Group members also said they were reacting to the recent number of street marches across the country encouraging legislators to enact reform that includes amnesty for some illegal immigrants.

National Socialist Movement regional director Jeffrey Russell Hall announced that the group would begin backing political candidates who agreed with their anti-immigrant message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


‘Change in Vatican Culture’: A Sex Abuse Expert Sees Hope in Pope Benedict Share (TIM DRAKE, 04/15/2010, National Catholic Register)

Monica Applewhite is one of the foremost experts on screening, monitoring and policy development for the prevention of sexual abuse and risk management for those with histories of sexual offending.

Applewhite has spent the past 16 years conducting research and root-cause analysis in the area of sexual abuse in organizations in order to assist organizations in developing best practice standards. [...]

The sexual abuse of minors is not particular to the Catholic Church alone, is it?

Unfortunately, sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults happens in all organizations that serve these populations. What is distinctive for the Catholic Church is the saliency of the issue. [...]

Much criticism has been leveled at Pope Benedict XVI. Do you view that criticism as valid?

From my perspective, deep change in the culture of the Vatican began with Cardinal Ratzinger and has been solidified since he became Pope Benedict XVI.

When I began working with priests who had sexually offended, they would sometimes try to intimidate me with threats that if they “sent their case to Rome” to appeal how they were treated, that they would “win.” This was in response to my developing systems to hold them accountable for how they spent their time, who they visited and whether the people in their lives were aware of the sexual abuse they had committed.

Many times I heard, “You are in violation of my rights!” They clearly felt they had the upper hand.

Since that time, and particularly since 2000, the balance of power has shifted. I have since worked with many priests and religious who have sexually offended against minors, and if you ask them today, they would be very unlikely to assume that “Rome” is on their side.

Today, clerical and religious sexual offenders recognize they can be laicized for their crimes or for a failure to adhere to obedience. This gives us much more leverage in terms of ensuring adherence to safety provisions.

Several men I know have “tested” the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and found no tolerance for sexual abuse in the priesthood and no sympathy for the cleric who disagrees with programs of prayer and penance.
Evidence of where Pope Benedict XVI stands can be found in the following examples:

1. He was the one who declared the use of Internet and other forms of child pornography to be a delictum gravius (a “grave delict”) — the same as a contact offense with a minor. He came to this conclusion at a time when many criminal jurisdictions were still debating the criminality of Internet pornography.

2. When he [became Pope], he appointed Cardinal [William] Levada from the U.S., clearly the country most likely to produce a stringent successor. As the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Levada has continued the legacy of increasingly strong response to sexual offenses by priests and religious.

3. The victims of sexual abuse who met with the Holy Father here in the U.S. were deeply touched by their meeting. They said they felt like he knew their cases personally. It is possible he did or that he has just known so many that are similar. I give great credibility to those victims who met with him personally. If they say he “gets it,” I am inclined to believe them.

It is also important to know that in Pope Benedict XVI we have the individual who has seen more cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church than perhaps anyone else in the world. I believe he knows how serious the problem is, and that he understands the sacrifices that have to be made to fix it. [...]

Do you think this is going to end up defining Benedict’s papacy?

Perhaps, but not in a negative way. Now that so much information is coming forward I believe two things will happen. First, we will all be privy to the information we need in order to understand how much Pope Benedict’s resolve and commitment have already changed the system within our Church. We needed a pope that did not mind being considered “tough” and that is what we have. Instead of change happening “behind the scenes,” we will know about it. Second, all of the media attention and worldwide interest will give Pope Benedict just the political opportunity and leverage he needs to change the Church culture of silence and protection throughout the world much faster. He won’t have to “sell” change in the way he would have if this had not happened. Many of the barriers he has encountered for more than a decade will be broken down. I believe this will solidify his legacy as the agent of change and restoration of the Church for which he would want to be remembered.

If he can break the Lavender Mafia in addition to everything else he's doing, he'll be a historic pope on par with JPII.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Kagan Gets Fire From Left: White House Responds (Michael Kranish, 16 April, 2010, Countercurrents.org)

Kagan enjoys broad support from a range of scholars
and legal specialists. But some academics and activists are raising
concerns that, if confirmed to replace Associate Justice John Paul
Stevens, she would be inclined to compromise with conservatives and pull the Supreme Court further to the right. [...]

A chief complaint from liberals stems from her statement during her 2009 confirmation hearing to be solicitor general, during which she agreed with a Republican senator, Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, who said the government could hold suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial.

Fighting such detentions has been a major cause of many legal scholars, rights groups, and Democrats. She also is paying the price for positions taken by the Obama Justice Department, which has continued to defend Bush administration legal positions on warrantless wiretapping,
detainees, and government secrecy.

"They're upholding all these reprehensible Bush antiterrorism policies
that have been condemned by every human rights and civil liberties
organization in the country,'' said Francis Boyle, a professor of
international law at the University of Illinois. "There has been no
retreat by Kagan. She could have backed off on all these Bush positions and she refused.''

Kagan's 2009 confirmation, however, mostly illustrated how she is
difficult to pigeonhole ideologically.

A Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, marveled during
hearings that Kagan had "managed to get a standing ovation from the
Federalist Society at Harvard,'' referring to a conservative group that
believes in strict interpretation of the Constitution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Who is Benefiting from Barghouti's Imprisonment? (Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, 4/17/10, Asharq Alawasat)

Rumour has it that some leading figures in the Palestinian Authority are not too keen on the release of Marwan Barghouti, who has spent the past eight years in an Israeli jail without a glimmer of hope of this release actually happening. There is a similar belief that Hamas also fears his release due to his popularity that might overshadow the popularity of Hamas. Barghouti’s political program resembles Hamas’ and so does his language. Above all, he is a serious contender for the leadership position on the other side.

It does not matter what the Palestinians think of him or whether or not they are conspiring against him because the key to his prison cell is in the hands of the Israelis who will not set him free without intense international pressure. Israel is fully aware that there are two very dangerous factors regarding Barghouti: he is a popular leader within Fatah, which no other Fatah member enjoys, and he is accepted internationally, and the same cannot be said about anybody in Hamas.

The ultimate compliment paid to Mr. Barghouti is the belief that Israel jailed him just to increase his street credibility in Palestine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 PM


The successful failure (Joanna Weiss, April 17, 2010, Boston Globe)

Speaking of wealthy folk heroes, does anyone think Sarah Palin regrets for a moment that she isn’t vice president? She could be standing silently behind John McCain at bill signings, or she could be hosting TV shows, buying Valentino suits for real, and headlining rallies — in blue states, no less.

So what if it was nearly impossible to hear her 20-minute speech on the Boston Common on Wednesday? (Thirty feet back from the stage, all you could make out was a high-pitched voice that occasionally shouted, “Freedom!’’) If there’s one thing we learned during the 2008 campaign, it’s that the substance of Palin’s statements isn’t her strong suit.

Rumors of 2012 notwithstanding, no one’s going to succeed in presidential politics without kowtowing to the political establishment. The punditocracy and the Republican Party will conspire to make sure Palin doesn’t get within hockey-stick distance of a national ticket. But why would she want to bother herself again with the dry, exhausting task of actually governing? She has proved that she was never meant to be a politician. She’s a consummate and natural entertainer.

These days, Palin is lucky the lines are blurred; the rally-folks-against-the-government schtick is one of the most lucrative acts in show business. And the best practitioners know precisely what they’re doing. In Forbes Magazine, Glenn Beck describes his $32 million empire as “an entertainment company,’’ and the people who consider him a teacher and a sage should really take note of that.

But that doesn’t mean Palin’s newfound niche is bad for democracy. Sometimes, it takes real entertainment value to generate real engagement. It’s doubtful that any mere, earnest politician would have inspired the spontaneous theater that erupted on the Common when Palin’s Tea Party Express blew into town. But her star wattage drew a crowd that was genuinely mixed: true believers, curiosity seekers, and plenty of counter-protesters — from health-reform supporters with earnest signs to “Real Tea Party’’ mockers in Gatsby suits, sipping actual tea from china cups.

The presidential campaign trail is too big a step down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Drug smuggler arrested in bestiality case in Wash. (Associated Press, 4/16/10)

A convicted cocaine smuggler has been arrested for running what authorities say appears to be a bestiality farm in Washington state in which visitors could engage in all sorts of twisted sex acts with animals.

Douglas Spink was arrested at his ramshackle, heavily wooded compound near the Canadian border in Whatcom County along with a 51-year-old tourist from Great Britain who is accused of having sex with three dogs.

Dozens of dogs, horses and pet mice were seized, along with what investigators described as thousands of images of bestiality and apparent child pornography. The mice were euthanized, said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, whose office assisted federal agents in the case.

Why is it always Washington?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Crashing the 'tea party': A New York Times/CBS poll reveals much about the movement. (Tim Rutten, April 17, 2010, LA Times)

As it turns out, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans "supports" the tea party movement in any respect, and just 4% of all adult Americans have contributed to it or attended one of its events or both. (On any given day, you probably could drum up twice as many people who think the Pentagon is hiding dead aliens in Area 51.)

Of the 18% of all adults who expressed support for the tea party, the overwhelming majority were white (89%), male (59%) Republicans over age 45 (75%) and significantly more affluent and better educated than the majority of Americans. One in five has an annual income greater than $100,000, and 37% have advanced degrees. More than 9 out of 10 think President Obama is pushing the country into "socialism."

The survey also found that more than half of the tea party supporters say "the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25% think that the administration favors blacks over whites -- compared with 11% of the general public."

If all this is beginning to have a familiar ring, it's because you've met these guys before: They're the "angry white males" we've been reading about since political strategist-turned-analyst Kevin Phillips first identified them as an electoral presence during Richard Nixon's successful presidential campaign in 1968.

They share many qualities with other Americans. For example, while 96% of tea party supporters say they disapprove of the current Congress, 40% think their own representative does a good job, a sentiment shared by 46% of all adults, 73% of whom disapprove of the performance of Congress as a whole.

They aren't, however, implacable foes of "big government" or even of taxes. More than half (52%) told the pollsters they think their own "income taxes this year are fair," just 10% less than all American adults. Moreover, a majority told follow-up interviewers that, though they wanted "smaller government," they didn't want cuts in our largest social programs, Social Security and Medicare.

So much for the surge of a new anti-government populism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Fight Al-Qaeda with satire, ridicule: researchers (Michel Moutot, 4/17/10, AFP)

Beating the Islamist movement is as much about winning the battle of ideas and undermining Al-Qaeda's counter-culture cachet as it is about conventional anti-terrorism operations, said the report.

"Terrorism must be defeated through the deliberate 'toxification' of the al-Qaeda brand; not by making it seem dangerous, but by exposing it as dumb," Jamie Bartlett, one of the report's authors, told AFP.

"Al-Qaeda has to be ridiculed as the equivalent of a middle-aged dad at a school disco: enthusiastic, incompetent and excruciatingly uncool."

As angry as some got when President Bushg taunted al Qaeda, he should have been far more dismissive. The difficulty is that it would have made it harder for him to get the gears of government moving and to take the steps he felt necessary to protect the country from subsequent attacks. Cutting al Qaeda down to size rhetorically would have had consequences domestically that he was unwilling to accept. But as the WOT winds down it would be helpful to have a leader who could carve them up. Their dubious sexual orientation affords an especially target rich environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


American psychos: A healthy bipartisan tradition (Rich Lowry, April 17, 2010, NY Post)

Only an overcaffeinated tea-partier would believe that America is on the path from "an open society into dictatorship," right? Who could think that there are 10 simple steps to establishing a police state and "that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States"?

As you might have gathered, these aren't the words of an unhinged right-winger, but an unhinged left-winger: Naomi Wolf, author of the perfervid 2007 book "The End of America."

Wolf detected a "fascist shift" in the country, and got some respectful notices (Library Journal: "compellingly and cogently argued"). While a New York Times review of a documentary based on the book didn't buy it all, it concluded "there is still enough here to make you shiver." [...]

The baton of paranoia about executive power passes back and forth from one party to the other depending on who's in opposition. The reaction tends to be the same because it's written in our political DNA, inherited from the most glorious paranoiacs the world has ever known -- our Founding Fathers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


A Type of Learning That Pays Dividends: Making financial literacy a new civil right will give millions of Americans a shot at prosperity and do the U.S. economy a world of good (John Hope Bryant, 4/15/10, Business Week)

If you're reading this, you're probably fluent in the language of money. But as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation announced late last year, more than 25% of U.S. households are unbanked (with no accounts at all) or underbanked (making use of alternative financial services such as check-cashing services and payday lenders). Even before the crisis hit, 70% of Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck. Those among us who were never taught the fundamentals of money are living at a huge disadvantage in this increasingly complex age. But there's a way to change that: Make financial literacy the next civil right. If this handicap were to fade, a very real drag on the entire economy would be lifted. As a side benefit, predatory lenders would have to find a new line of work.

In order to fix this problem, we need to quantify and track it, which is why Operation HOPE, the financial literacy nonprofit I founded, teamed with Gallup to begin to meet this need. The Gallup-HOPE Financial Literacy Index, first announced on Apr. 7, will build on the Gallup Student Poll of over 70,000 participants in grades 5 through 12 in 18 different states to yield hard data on how many American youths have held a job or a savings account. It will tell us how many have a general understanding of what it takes to run a business and how many hold a positive view of free enterprise and envision themselves taking part in it.

A comprehensive plan to raise financial IQs began taking shape in early 2008 under President George W. Bush, prior to the financial crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


The Anatomy of Desire (DANIEL BERGNER, 4/12/10, NY Times Magazine)

The two mannequins stood side by side in the back of the white van. Johan Karremans, a psychologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, along with his student and collaborator, Sander Arons, clothed the plastic women identically in tight black tops and dark skirts. Arons then drove the van around the country to the homes of blind men.

The cargo van is one of two mobile labs belonging to the university’s psychology department. Sometimes, outside an elementary school, children climb into the back of a van to have their brain waves tested on a encephalogram machine. But this experiment, the results of which will soon be published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, dealt with desire — in this case the desire of heterosexual men — and was an attempt to gauge the force of culture, to weigh the learned and the innate, in determining sexual attraction.

The headless mannequins, which Karremans bought, he told me recently, “on the Dutch version of Craigslist,” have adjustable waists and hips, and the researchers set each body differently, so that one had a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 and the other of 0.84. Based on a range of studies of male preferences done by other scientists, Karremans chose the lower ratio as an ideal, a slim yet curvy paragon, at least among Western populations. The higher ratio, by contrast, doesn’t represent obesity, just a fullness that falls close to the average woman’s shape.

The study involved men who had been sightless from birth. The idea was that the bombardment of visual media — of models on billboards and actresses on television and porn stars online — which may be so powerful and even dominant in molding desire, couldn’t have had any direct effect on these men, who emerged from the womb into a congenital dark. Would their tastes in women’s bodies match those of men who could see? [...]

Amid all the conflicting evidence, Karremans sent his mannequins around the Netherlands. The blind stood before them; they were told to touch the women, to focus their hands on the waists and hips. The breasts on both figures were the same, in case the men reached too high. The men extended their arms; they ran their hands over the region. Then they scored the attractiveness of the bodies. Karremans had a hunch, he told me, that their ratings wouldn’t match those of the sighted men he used as controls, half of them blindfolded so that they, too, would be judging by feel. It seemed likely, he said, that visual culture would play an overwhelming part in creating the outlines of lust. And though the blind had almost surely grown up hearing attractiveness described, perhaps even in terms of hourglass shapes, it was improbable, he writes in his forthcoming journal paper, that they had heard descriptions amounting to, “The more hourglass shaped, the more attractive,” which would be necessary to favor the curvier mannequin over the figure that was only somewhat less so.

But, with some statistically insignificant variation, the scores of the blind matched those of the sighted. Both groups preferred the more pronounced sweep from waist to hip.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Weighing the Evidence on Exercise (GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, 4/12/10, NY Times Magazine)

[A]s many people have found after starting a new exercise regimen, working out can have a significant effect on appetite. The mechanisms that control appetite and energy balance in the human body are elegantly calibrated. “The body aims for homeostasis,” Braun says. It likes to remain at whatever weight it’s used to. So even small changes in energy balance can produce rapid changes in certain hormones associated with appetite, particularly acylated ghrelin, which is known to increase the desire for food, as well as insulin and leptin, hormones that affect how the body burns fuel.[...]

Thankfully there has lately been some more encouraging news about exercise and weight loss, including for women. In a study published late last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Harvard University looked at the weight-change histories of more than 34,000 participants in a women’s health study. The women began the study middle-aged (at an average of about 54 years) and were followed for 13 years. During that time, the women gained, on average, six pounds. Some packed on considerably more. But a small subset gained far less, coming close to maintaining the body size with which they started the study. Those were the women who reported exercising almost every day for an hour or so. The exercise involved was not strenuous. “It was the equivalent of brisk walking,” says I-Min Lee, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the lead author of the study. But it was consistently engaged in over the years. “It wasn’t something the women started and stopped,” Lee says. “It was something they’d been doing for years.” The women who exercised also tended to have lower body weights to start with. All began the study with a body-mass index below 25, the high end of normal weight. “We didn’t look at this, but it’s probably safe to speculate that it’s easier and more pleasant to exercise if you’re not already heavy,” Lee says.

On the other hand, if you can somehow pry off the pounds, exercise may be the most important element in keeping the weight off. “When you look at the results in the National Weight Control Registry,” Braun says, “you see over and over that exercise is one constant among people who’ve maintained their weight loss.” About 90 percent of the people in the registry who have shed pounds and kept them at bay worked out, a result also seen in recent studies. In one representative experiment from last year, 97 healthy, slightly overweight women were put on an 800-calorie diet until they lost an average of about 27 pounds each. Some of the women were then assigned to a walking program, some were put on a weight-training regimen and others were assigned no exercise; all returned to their old eating habits. Those who stuck with either of the exercise programs regained less weight than those who didn’t exercise and, even more striking, did not regain weight around their middles. The women who didn’t exercise regained their weight and preferentially packed on these new pounds around their abdomens. It’s well known that abdominal fat is particularly unhealthful, contributing significantly to metabolic disruptions and heart disease.

Scientists are “not really sure yet” just how and why exercise is so important in maintaining weight loss in people, Braun says. But in animal experiments, exercise seems to remodel the metabolic pathways that determine how the body stores and utilizes food.

April 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Tea Party Crash fizzles out (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 4/16/10, Politico)

After several days of hype and hand-wringing about liberal plans to infiltrate Thursday’s tea party rallies, the great 2010 Tax Day Tea Party Crash did not produce much of a bang in Washington.

To be sure, a handful of obvious crashers engaged in some mostly non-confrontational back-and-forth with tea party activists at a Thursday evening rally that drew thousands to Washington’s National Mall near the Washington Monument. And some less overt crashers subtly mocked activists from amidst their ranks at both the evening rally on the Mall and an earlier event at Freedom Plaza near the White House. And there could have been other infiltrators who evaded immediate detection.

But activists and organizers interviewed by POLITICO said the mischief was nowhere near as widespread or disruptive as they feared earlier in the week, when a wave of attention focused on a website called CrashtheTeaParty.org that encouraged liberals to pretend to be tea partiers, attend rallies and voice fringe sentiments to marginalize the movement (the website appears to have been stripped of most of its content Thursday).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


Crist Mentor Resigns as Campaign Chair After Guv Vetoes Merit Pay (Teddy Davis, April 16, 2010, ABC News)

According to the Associated Press, Mack wrote a two-paragraph letter Thursday evening to his one-time protege, saying Crist was wrong to veto a bill (SB 6) that would have made it easier to fire teachers and tie their pay to student test scores.

The veto puts Crist, a moderate Republican, at odds with his fellow Republicans in the GOP-controlled State Legislature.

The veto has also renewed speculation that Crist might abandon a Republican Senate primary in which he is trailing Marco Rubio and instead run for the Senate as an independent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


A tale of two Obamas: Up in D.C., down in U.S. (MIKE ALLEN & JAMES HOHMANN, 4/16/10, Politico)

While Washington talks about Obama’s new mojo, polls show voters outside the Beltway are sulking — soured on the president, his party and his program. The Gallup Poll has Obama’s approval rating at an ominous 49 percent, after hitting a record low of 47 percent last weekend. A new poll in Pennsylvania, a bellwether industrial state, shows his numbers sinking, as did recent polls in Ohio and Florida.

So there are two Obamas: Rising in D.C., struggling in the U.S.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell admits that Republicans won the health-care messaging war and says he has been traveling to dinners and fundraisers across the country to implore Democrats to fight back.

“The spin took hold,” Rendell said. “I expected more of a bounce than he got, but again it all goes to 16 months in which the Republicans have dominated the spin on stimulus and health care. ... It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and say, ‘Game on.’ And the more we do that, the better it will be.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


How Barack Obama invented himself: David Remnick’s new biography of Barack Obama shines a light on a man who only saw his father for 10 days, and whose dazzling success may have hinged on his wife’s willingness to take risks. (Daily Telegraph, 16 Apr 2010)

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, spoke with Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly and the son of an ex-Black Panther, as part of the LIVE from the NYPL series of conversations at The New York Public Library. This is an edited transcript of their discussion.

Ta-Nehisi Coates I wanted to start with a particular question for you in terms of identity. The book is obviously very much about Barack Obama’s identity. I wonder how much your own identity influenced how you approached the story, if at all.

David Remnick I got mine at the kitchen table. I got mine in the community that I grew up in. It came easy to me, to some degree. Look at how much Barack Obama had to figure out. I mean, he’s born who he is, he can look in the mirror; but it must have been extraordinarily confusing to have this father who was a ghost, a myth, a collection of stories that he barely knew, and by the way, were highly unreliable.

The deeper you look the less there is to find.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Dispatches From the Tea Party Express (Benjamin Sarlin, 4/15/10, Daily Beast)

The number one source of both youth and color at the rally were young entrepreneurs selling bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me Flags” to protesters for a commission. I approached several of them, each of whom was careful to disassociate himself or herself from the rally—or at least appear diplomatic.

“No way,” Mark, a 25-year old African American flag salesman, responded when asked if he agreed with the protesters. As for his own views: “I plea the Fifth.”

“I find them interesting,” Gules, a French immigrant who looked to be in his early 20s, said of the Tea Partiers as he waved a handful of the flags. “There are two sides to every issue.”

The merchants were greeted with skepticism at times, however. “Are you with ACORN?” Jack Staver, a 56-year-old attendee from Woodstock, Georgia, said to a young dark-skinned flag salesman.

“I am very suspicious,” Staver, who works as an instructor on compliance with OSHA standards, told me afterward. His chief concern was that the merchants might be anti-Tea Party infiltrators, sent in to sell flags with pointed edges on the hopes that police would then declare them as weapons and use it as pretext to arrest protesters. “This is what they do, they take a good thing and flip it,” he said.

Indeed, the infiltration concept was a frequent topic of discussion among the crowd. Reports this week that a group of pranksters were planning to crash Tea Parties with crazy signs and slogans had attendees on high alert.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Obama's nuclear strutting and fretting (Charles Krauthammer, April 16, 2010, Washington Post)

What was this great convocation about? To prevent the spread of nuclear material into the hands of terrorists. A worthy goal, no doubt. Unfortunately, the two greatest such threats were not even on the agenda.

The first is Iran, which is frantically enriching uranium to make a bomb, and which our own State Department identifies as the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world.

Nor on the agenda was Pakistan's plutonium production, which is adding to the world's stockpile of fissile material every day.

Pakistan is a relatively friendly power, but it is the most unstable of all the nuclear states. It is fighting a Taliban insurgency and is home to al-Qaeda. Suicide bombs go off regularly in its major cities. Moreover, its own secret service, the ISI, is of dubious loyalty, some of its elements being sympathetic to the Taliban and thus, by extension, to al-Qaeda.

So what was the major breakthrough announced by Obama at the end of the two-day conference? That Ukraine, Chile, Mexico and Canada will be getting rid of various amounts of enriched uranium.

What a relief. I don't know about you, but I lie awake nights worrying about Canadian uranium.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Bush the 'Chosen One' Deserves 'Statue of Gold' (Jabir Al Jaburi, Translated By Nicolas Dagher, April 9, 2010, Sotal Iraq)

For many decades, between 1921 until the fall of the lowly cowards, we were ruled by people without a grain of morality, pride or honor. They sold out Iraq to the lowest bidder, squandered its great wealth and killed its most noble sons. They set Kurdistan and its villages alight, killed its leaders and courageous men and struck that region, which has been fertilized with the blood of martyrs, with chemical weapons. They transformed the land of the two rivers [the Tigris and Euphrates] into a desert by draining the marshes [of al-Ahwar] and cut off the south and center of the country with dams. They destroyed national unity between the unified sons of our people, and it is no exaggeration to say that Iraq's Sunnis contributed greatly to the continuous plotting against Iraq.

How are we to interpret their support for the socially and ethically perverse Baathist villains on the voting lists? As I said before, they only want a bastard to rule over Iraq, and history is the greatest proof of this, since like people attract. What hurts us most is the bravado of the Sunni Baathists who tout their patriotism while they collaborate to undermine the country. What hurts is the way they speak about honor and pride after bringing to Iraq so many Arab pretenders, allowed them to live in their homes and sleep with their women, daughters and sisters.

President George W. Bush gets all of the credit for bringing down the losers and exposing their shortcomings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


You want tax reform, America? Try the VAT.: Americans might be persuaded to accept a VAT, or value added tax, if tax reform meant they could eliminate corporate and estate taxes. (Tim Kane, April 15, 2010, CS Monitor)

The fact is the U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn't have a VAT. Americans have no appetite for adding another tax. But they might just be willing to trade for one. So which tax would the pro-VAT crowd be willing to give up? Corporate is probably the leading candidate, because it raises far less revenue than other major taxes, it is sensitive to recessions (generating half as much during busts as booms), and because it is really bad for growth.

CBO lists these major revenue sources for the federal government in FY 2009:

* $915 billion ... Individual Income Taxes
* $891 billion ... Social Insurance Taxes
* $138 billion ... Corporate Income Taxes
* $62 billion ... Excise
* $23 billion ... Estate and Gift

Based on this paper (HT Marginalrevolution.com), a VAT raises revenue at under half its rate in GDP terms, meaning that a 10 percent VAT historically brings in around 4 percent of GDP in revenue. Since corporate income taxes raise 1-2 percent of GDP in the U.S., then a revenue neutral VAT replacement would, I think, be roughly a 4 percent tax on consumption.

But why stop there?

...except "insurance" taxes and redirect those to personal accounts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


The State Scores Again (Anthony Esolen, 4/12/10, InsideCatholic)

The Thomistic view of the polis underlies the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, which asserts that communities closest to the issue at hand should be allowed the freedom to tackle it. That is not simply because they do a better job of it, as some conservatives insist. It is because the fullness of community life is essential to our being human. It is doubtful that the state, much less the federal government, is better at educating children than were the fully engaged American townsmen of old, who hired and fired their own teachers at will, and had a fairly clear idea of what their children ought to learn. But even if it could do the job well, its assumption of that role would take from the community one of the most important responsibilities it possesses. It would overstep its own zone of authority to usurp another. Supposing some state agency could, with wonderful efficiency, feed children and make them do their homework and put them to bed; still, its exercise of this role would rob from the people one of the great challenges and joys of life, the raising of children according to one's own best lights.

When Alexis de Tocqueville observed America, he saw a democracy, for the time being, both bolstered and buffered by free associations of people -- by families, community schools, churches, fraternities and sororities, beneficent organizations, and so forth. These made for a vital public life -- and were correctives against both the ambitions of the state and the radical individualism that democracy can encourage. There was still the strong sense that government at all levels was but the creation of free citizens, who possessed, in their families and in other associations, their own duties and even their own rightful giving of laws. [...]

The question, then, is not simply, "What system will most efficiently deliver health care to the most people?" I do not believe that it will help to nationalize medicine; but that is another issue. The real question is, "What traditions and laws best preserve the liberty of a people, not to do as they please, but to take responsibility for themselves and their communities, so that they will enjoy as fully as possible the human flourishing of the polis?" If we become beholden to the national government for our very health -- let alone for the education of our children -- what will be left for us to do but follow that government along tamely, conceding all matters to its purview?

The distinctive genius of the Third Way is that it uses universal government programs to make citizens dependent on themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Obamas Earn $5.5 Million Last Year, Pay $1.8 Million in Taxes (Sunlen Miller, 4/15/10, ABC News)

The president and the first lady earned an income of $5,505,409 in 2009 and paid $1,792,414 in federal income tax last year, according to the Obamas' tax returns released today by the White House.

The Obamas joint tax filing shows that the majority of the family’s income was from proceeds from the same of the President’s books “The Audacity of Hope,” and “Dreams from My Father.”

...he's rich enough to be honest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


All change in Pakistan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/15/10, Asia Times)

The move to change the name of restive North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa - meaning "Khyber side of the land of the Pakhtuns" - to reflect the majority ethnic Pashtun population of the province has stirred a violent backlash that adds another layer to the myriad problems Pakistan faces. [...]

The sub-nationalist Pashtun Awami National Party (ANP), which leads the coalition government in NWFP, in return for its support of the presidential changes insisted that NWFP's name be changed at the same time.

This has been a long-standing demand of the party as well as its predecessor, the banned National Awami Party, which was the initial flagbearer of a greater Pakhtoonistan - the name given to the region inhabited by Pashtuns since ancient time that straddles modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The area was designated as a future sovereign state by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known as Frontier Gandhi and the grandfather of Asfandyar Wali Khan, the current leader of the ANP) in the late 1940s when British India was in the process of being partitioned. Instead, much of it was incorporated into Pakistan when the new country was established in 1947.

Pashtun nationalists say the historic homeland was first divided in 1893 by the Durand Line, a disputed and what they call an imaginary border between British India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan. The line still serves as the de facto border.

Sub-nationalism? Priceless.

April 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Excessive cleanliness may boost allergies (Jennifer Harper, 4/15/10, Washington Times)

"Allergies have become widespread in developed countries: hay fever, eczema, hives and asthma are all increasingly prevalent. The reason? Excessive cleanliness is to blame," said Dr. Guy Delespesse, an immunologist and director of the Allergy Research Laboratory at the University of Montreal.

The school released new findings on the topic Wednesday.

While family history, air pollution, processed foods, stress and other factors can trigger allergic reactions, Dr. Delespesse is concerned by "our limited exposure to bacteria" — even cautioning parents to lighten up when their children drop toys on the floor.

"There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases," he said. "The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


An Augustinian Wasteland: A Canticle for Leibowitz Fifty Years Later (Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, April 15, 2010, Ignatius Insight)

Walter Miller served as a tail gunner on a bomber during the Italian campaign in World War II. His bombing group, in part, aided in the destruction of Monte Cassino, the oldest monastery in the Western world. The destruction of this Benedictine institution haunted Miller, and after the war he found himself drawn not only to the study of Western Civilization and its preservation, but, more importantly, to the endurance and significance of the Roman Catholic Church as a protective institution. Probably to the chagrin of many of those around him, Miller converted in 1947, shortly after his marriage. He explored many of the ideas of Roman Catholic theology in his many short stories written during the 1950s. As it turned out, this decade proved to be Miller's Golden Age, an age that he spent much of his remaining adult life trying to recapture but unsuccessfully so. In the mid-to-late 1990s, frustrated with God knows what and taunted by who knows what, Miller took his own life. Another author completed Miller's unfinished sequel, St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman. This second book takes place during the second of the three eras featured in Canticle, roughly 1,200 years after the atomic war of 1960.

Numerous readings of Canticle for Leibowitz have left me with this: it is a complicated, nuanced, and perplexing novel, a mystery to be enjoyed, time and again, never to be solved. Set in the Intermountain Desert West in the futureless United States of America, A Canticle for Leibowitz offers a vibrant image of a desiccated human culture and a desiccated human politics, an irradiated landscape, and an inevitably dark and shameful future. As with some of its contemporaneous fiction—such as Ayn Rand's much less earnest Atlas Shrugged—Canticle for Leibowitz offers great insight into the nature and power of ideas, set in a dystopian world. While Rand, by far better known in popular culture and in book sales, possesses a stunning power to plot an intricate plot, she cannot match Miller in character development or writing style. As an example of one beautiful sentence: "The water was clouded and live with creeping uncertainties as was the Old Jew's stream of memory" (p. 167). [...]

In the beginning of Canticle, set roughly five-and-a-half centuries from now, a wandering Jew throws pebbles at a confused and seemingly not-so-bright monk, Brother Francis. When the confused Catholic, led by the hand of the perturbed Jew, discovers an underground tavern, office, and bunker, he finds what he considers holy relics: a shopping list, some blueprints, and the body of a dead woman. This encounter, shaped from its beginning by the will and observation of the Jew, starts the cycle of civilization, corruption, decay, and death all over again.

Throughout the novel, the cycles of civilization revolve around two points: 1) the wandering Jew; and 2) the monastery.

The question Miller asks the reader and himself: can man escape Original Sin? Or, will man, doomed, carry it wherever he goes, whether it be into the American West or into the new frontier of space? And, if so, can man do anything by his own will to attenuate the great evils of which he is not only so capable, but seemingly so desirous?

Throughout the novel, Miller asks us and himself some of the most important questions to be asked by any person at any time. What is the human person? How does one man recognize the dignity of another man?

Few theologians whose belief in Hell had never failed them would deprive their God of recourse to any form of temporal punishment, but for men to take it upon themselves to judge any creature born of woman to be lacking in the divine image was to usurp the privilege of Heaven. Even the idiot which seems less gifted than a dog, or a pig, or a goat, shall, if born of woman, be called an immortal soul, thundered the magisterium, and thundered it again and again. (p. 98)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The suicide mission that went all wrong (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/15/10, Asia Times)

The attack on the United States consulate in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), on April 5 was a combined operation of several militant groups with support from renegade elements of the lower cadre of the security apparatus, Asia Times Online's investigations reveal.

The attack, in which five people were killed, as well as the six attackers, could have been a bigger blow to the US Central Intelligence Agency than the operation in Khost in Afghanistan in December 2009 had it not been for two unforeseen incidents [...]

The suicide attack had destroyed the APC as planned, but a big chunk of the engine had been sent flying all the way to Delta Barrier, where it lodged in the security barrier. The suicide bomb also instantly killed two people on a passing motorcycle, which careened into the militants' vehicle. This caused them to lose valuable minutes before they set off for Delta Barrier.

Once they reached this second security check point and had cleared the guards with their assorted weapons fire, they were further delayed as they struggled to clear the heavy and hot engine chunk from their path.

By this time the internal security of the consulate was rushing to the scene. The militants began to confront them, but in the heat of the moment one of them detonated his suicide vest, killing all of the militants.

The goal of penetrating one of the most important CIA bases in the region was dramatically and abruptly brought to a bloody end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


'The Two Escobars': a crime of soccer passion (Carolina Gonzalez, April 14th 2010, NY Daily News)

In Colombia's cocaine cartel era, it seems narcos and fútbol were made for each other.

That is the premise of "The Two Escobars," a documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, which starts April 21, that pairs the soccer mania of the notorious Medellín crime lord Pablo Escobar and the fate of Andrés Escobar, one of the players for the national Colombian soccer team.

Andrés Escobar was gunned down for accidentally scoring a goal against his own team at the 1994 World Cup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Sun blamed for Europe’s colder winters (Edwin Cartlidge, Apr 14, 2010, PhysicsWorld)

When the Sun’s magnetic output is low, winters in Europe tend to be cooler than average – whereas higher output corresponds to warmer winters. That is the conclusion of a new study by physicists in the UK and Germany that looked at the relationship between winter temperatures in England and the strength of the Sun's magnetic emissions over the last 350 years. The group predicts that, global warming notwithstanding, Europe is likely to continue to experience cold winters for many years to come.

April 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


U.S. willing to consider weaker Iran sanctions: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates says adoption of a new U.N. sanctions resolution is more vital than the actual measures taken. It could serve as a launching pad for stricter sanctions. (Paul Richter, April 15, 2010, LA Times)

Gates' comments were the clearest sign yet that the administration, facing continuing resistance from other countries to the harshest of the proposed measures, is lowering its sights.

U.S. and allied officials have given up on prospects for a ban on petroleum shipments to or from Iran, and some allies have questioned other potential measures.

Some foreign diplomats close to the talks have been predicting for weeks that the Obama administration and its allies would take what they could get, then look ahead to sanctions from individual countries or groups of nations. [...]

The Security Council vote, even if weak, "gives you an international blessing that is worth a lot," said one diplomat representing a government that supports sanctions, speaking on condition of anonymity.

George W. Bush went to the UN and challenged the body to live up to its own founding ideals or we'd do it for them. By contrast, the UR has lowered himself to their level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated (KATE ZERNIKE and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN, 4/14/10, NY Times)

The overwhelming majority of supporters say Mr. Obama does not share the values most Americans live by and that he does not understand the problems of people like themselves. More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public.

They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

Asked what they are angry about, Tea Party supporters offered three main concerns: the recent health care overhaul, government spending and a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.

“The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands,” Elwin Thrasher, a 66-year-old semiretired lawyer in Florida, said in an interview after the poll. “I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.”

They are far more pessimistic than Americans in general about the economy. More than 90 percent of Tea Party supporters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with about 60 percent of the general public. About 6 in 10 say “America’s best years are behind us” when it comes to the availability of good jobs for American workers.

Nearly 9 in 10 disapprove of the job Mr. Obama is doing over all, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues: health care, the economy and the federal budget deficit. Ninety-two percent believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.

“I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. [...]

[I]n follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Comic gold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


Tax Day rhetoric aside, Americans’ bills are lower (STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, 04/14/10, AP)

You wouldn’t know it by the Tax Day rhetoric, but Americans are paying lower taxes this year, even with increases passed by many states to balance their budgets. Don’t expect it to last.

Congress cut individuals’ federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion shortly after President Barack Obama took office, dwarfing the $28.6 billion in increases by states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


At nuclear summit, Obama snubs an ally (Jackson Diehl, 4/14/10, Washington Post)

Forty-seven world leaders are Barack Obama’s guests in Washington Tuesday at the nuclear security summit. Obama is holding bilateral meetings with just 12 of them. That’s led to some awkward exclusions -- and some unfortunate appearances, as well.

One of those left out was Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, who got a phone call from Obama last week instead of a meeting in Washington. His exclusion must have prompted broad smiles in Moscow, where Saakashvili is considered public enemy no. 1 -- a leader whom Russia tried to topple by force in the summer of 2008. After all, Obama met with Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine and a friend of the Kremlin. And he is also meeting with the leaders of two of Georgia’s neighbors -- Armenia and Turkey, both of which enjoy excellent relations with Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Nuclear Fallout: Behold, the Obama doctrine (and its limits). (Michael Crowley, April 13, 2010, New Republic)

Call it the Obama doctrine. The central theme of Barack Obama’s foreign policy to date has been simple: He wants to lower the risk that a nuclear weapon will be exploded inside the United States.

Interestingly, it's an obsession he shares with Ronald Reagan, but
there's even less threat now and there was rather little then.

Think Again: Nuclear Weapons: President Obama’s pledge to rid the world of atomic bombs is a waste of breath. But not for the reasons you might imagine. (JOHN MUELLER, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010, Foreign Policy)

In his first address to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. President Barack Obama warned apocalyptically, "Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city -- be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life." Obama has put nuclear disarmament back on the table in a way it hasn't been for decades by vowing to pursue a nuclear-free world, and, with a handful of big treaty negotiations in the works, he seems to think 2010 has become a critical year

But the conversation is based on false assumptions. Nuclear weapons certainly are the most destructive devices ever made, as Obama often reminds us, and everyone from peaceniks to neocons seems to agree. But for more than 60 years now all they've done is gather dust while propagandists and alarmists exaggerate their likelihood of exploding -- it was a certainty one would go off in 10 years, C.P. Snow authoritatively proclaimed in 1960 -- and nuclear metaphysicians spin fancy theories about how they might be deployed and targeted.

Nuclear weapons have had a tremendous influence on the world's agonies and obsessions, inspiring desperate rhetoric, extravagant theorizing, and frenetic diplomatic posturing. However, they have had very limited actual impact, at least since World War II. Even the most ingenious military thinkers have had difficulty coming up with realistic ways nukes could conceivably be applied on the battlefield; moral considerations aside, it is rare to find a target that can't be struck just as well by conventional weapons. Indeed, their chief "use" was to deter the Soviet Union from instituting Hitler-style military aggression, a chimera considering that historical evidence shows the Soviets never had genuine interest in doing anything of the sort. In other words, there was nothing to deter.

Instead, nukes have done nothing in particular, and have done that very well. They have, however, succeeded in being a colossal waste of money -- an authoritative 1998 Brookings Institution study showed the United States had spent $5.5 trillion on nukes since 1940, more than on any program other than Social Security. The expense was even more ludicrous in the cash-starved Soviet Union.

And that does not include the substantial loss entailed in requiring legions of talented nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians to devote their careers to developing and servicing weapons that have proved to have been significantly unnecessary and essentially irrelevant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


AP-GfK Poll: Obama slips, other Dems slide, too (LIZ SIDOTI, 04/14/10, AP)

Just 49 percent of people now approve of the job Obama’s doing overall, and less than that — 44 percent — like the way he’s handled health care and the economy. Last September, Obama hit a low of 50 percent in job approval before ticking a bit higher. His high-water mark as president was 67 percent in February of last year, just after he took office.

The news is worse for other Democrats. For the first time this year, about as many Americans approve of congressional Republicans as Democrats — 38 percent to 41 percent — and neither has an edge when it comes to the party voters want controlling Congress. Democrats also have lost their advantage on the economy; people now trust both parties equally on that, another first in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


GOP operatives crash the tea party (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 4/14/10, Politico)

Aided by campaign-style advance work and event planning, slick ads cut by Russo Marsh, impressive crowds and a savvy media operation, the political action committee run by Wierzbicki, Russo Marsh founder Sal Russo and a handful of other Republican operatives has also emerged as among the prolific fundraising vehicles under the tea party banner. Known as Our Country Deserves Better when it was founded during the 2008 election as a vehicle to oppose Barack Obama’s campaign for president, the PAC saw its fundraising more than quadruple after it took the Tea Party Express public in July, raising nearly $2.7 million in roughly the following six months, compared with less than $600,000 in the preceding six months, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Its fundraising success has made the PAC — which formally filed with the FEC in October to change its name to “Our Country Deserves Better PAC–TeaPartyExpress.org” — a power player in the tea party and beyond, airing hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads supporting Republican campaigns such as Scott Brown’s successful special election for Senate in Massachusetts and blasting Democratic ones, such as Senate Majority Leader Reid’s reelection bid in Nevada.

And that fundraising success has also meant a brisk business for Russo March, which essentially runs the PAC. In that capacity, Russo Marsh and a sister firm called King Media Group have received $1.9 million of the $4.1 million in payments made by the committee — a financial relationship that is not uncommon between political action committees run by consultants and their consulting firms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


Vatican tries to quell uproar over gay comment (AP, 4/13/10)

The Vatican on Wednesday tried to defuse growing anger over remarks by the pope's top aide that the problem behind the pedophile priest scandals is homosexuality and not the church's celibacy requirement.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state, outraged gay advocacy groups, politicians and even the French government with his remarks Monday in Chile.

"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia," the Italian cardinal said. "But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."

The Church's problem with the nexus of homosexuality and pedophilia is old hat. It's a simple supply/demand formula that sees pedophiles seek employment as teachers, clergy, coaches, Scout leaders, etc.. Likewise, the celibacy requirement has left the Church groping to fill its rolls, all too often with gay men. It's long past time for a priesthood of men who are fully human, in other words, married.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


China Will Get Democracy: Expect it by 2030, says Chatham House senior fellow Kerry Brown. But in the short-term, things might get a little rough. (The Diplomat, 4/08/10)

China’s next generation of leaders are to take power in 2012. Are there any indications yet of what we might be able to expect from this next generation given some of the names that have been floated for key positions, especially in terms of political reform?

Basically, whether they like it or not, they have to make some big decisions about the governance of China. They just want to continue making China a strong, rich country, where the Communist Party has a monopoly on power. But I think they’re going to have to quickly decide, for, example, about what to do about an independent judiciary. The influence of politics on the courts is still very great in China—there are anything from 3,000 to 300,000 civil society groups in China. Civil society is flourishing, and yet they have no legal basis and they aren’t properly protected by law.

China also has to decide what to do about political opposition. At the moment, it can repress or co-opt. Eighty percent of the million people who have succeeded in village elections over the last 20 years who were not Party members have then become Party members. So the Party has been fairly good at co-opting people and people that are not co-optable, it then represses. But, I don’t think that’s sustainable and I don’t see why China is any different to any other transitional economy.

By 2020, it will be a middle-income country with a per capita GDP of probably around $11,000. At that time things usually start happening—society becomes much more contentious; you have to deal with greater inequalities, which are already very large in China; there are issues with a fragmented economy and fragmented social development across the country; issues of unity and social cohesiveness; issues of allowing information flows for proper economic development. If it can’t have a structure to do this with some sort of stability and sustainability, then it’s going to be a problem, not just for China, but the world.

I think this is going to happen more quickly because I think even at the moment there are signs of rising social tensions within China. There were 12 million petitions to the central government in 2008 because people were dissatisfied with the decisions of local courts; problems of labour unrest. And then there the problems of ‘mass incidents’—there were maybe 90,000 of these in 2009. This is a lot of social discontent and I think the Communist Party has two options. One is to tough it out and continue to repress and hope eventually things will work out. The other is to reform and deal with the courts, civil society and political opposition in a more sustainable way.

The drawback for the Party is that any of this will mean the monopoly of power it has will go and it will just have to deal with that. I don’t think it can tough it out. If tries, it may well end in terrible bloodshed, which has been the historical template for dynastic change in China.

The only thing novel about China as an ostensible world power is that no other has begun its decline from such a low level of advancement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


Arizona goes it alone with tough immigration laws (Ewen MacAskill, 4/14/10, guardian.co.uk)

The new bill, passed by the Arizona house of representatives last night, greatly expands the powers of the police in dealing with illegal immigration, including for the first time giving them the right to stop anyone on "reasonable suspicion" they may be an illegal immigrant and arrest them if they are not carrying identity papers.

All 35 Republicans in the Arizona house voted for the bill, while 21 Democrats voted against.

Pro-immigration groups said the laws are unconstitutional and promised to challenge them in court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Obama's disregard for media reaches new heights at nuclear summit (Dana Milbank, April 14, 2010, Washington Post)

World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow.

They entered a capital that had become a military encampment, with camo-wearing military police in Humvees and enough Army vehicles to make it look like a May Day parade on New York Avenue, where a bicyclist was killed Monday by a National Guard truck.

In the middle of it all was Obama -- occupant of an office once informally known as "leader of the free world" -- putting on a clinic for some of the world's greatest dictators in how to circumvent a free press.

If you were as bad at your job as he is at his would you want people watching?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


The Price of Assassination (ROBERT WRIGHT, 4/13/10, NY Times)

President Obama, who during his first year in office oversaw more drone strikes in Pakistan than occurred during the entire Bush presidency, last week surpassed his predecessor in a second respect: he authorized the assassination of an American — Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Imam who after 9/11 moved from Virginia to Yemen, a base from which he inspires such people as the Fort Hood shooter and the would-be underwear bomber.

Students of the law might raise a couple of questions: 1) Doesn’t it violate international law to fire missiles into Pakistan (especially on a roughly weekly basis) when the Pakistani government has given no formal authorization? 2) Wouldn’t firing a missile at al-Awlaki in Yemen compound the international-law question with a constitutional question — namely whether giving the death penalty to an American without judicially establishing his guilt deprives him of due process?

I’m not qualified to answer these questions, and, besides, it doesn’t really matter what the correct answers are. The Obama administration has its lawyers scurrying to convince us that the answers are no and no, somewhat as the Bush administration dispatched John Yoo to justify its torture policy. And these answers, regardless of their legal merit, will be accepted so long as Americans are convinced that being safe in the post-9/11 world requires accepting them.

As a purely legal matter, there is no sovereign -- and, thus, no law -- where non-state actors function with impunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


The British National Party and the Holocaust (Daniel Trilling, 14 April 2010, New Statesman)

The British National Party, whose leader, Nick Griffin, is standing for parliament in Barking, has made great efforts to present itself as a legitimate political organisation. But what other party would give media training to its election candidates on how to avoid questions about the Holocaust?

Alby Walker, a former BNP councillor in Stoke-on-Trent who is now sitting as an independent, has told the New Statesman that he received the training before last year's elections for the European Parliament. "We were given advice on answers and the kind of questions you'd be asked. BNP candidates had previously been tripped up by questions about the Holocaust."

By a man's obsessions shall you know him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


Retail sales up in March; consumer prices tame (Bloomberg News, April 14, 2010)

The 0.1 percent gain in the consumer price index was in line with expectations and followed no change in February, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. Excluding food and fuel, the so-called core rate held steady after rising 0.1 percent in February, reflecting cheaper rents and clothing.

Retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. are offering discounts to attract consumers coping with a 9.7 percent rate of unemployment and rising foreclosures. An absence of price pressures is one reason why Federal Reserve policy makers last month pledged to keep the benchmark interest rate near zero in coming months to fuel the economy.

"Inflation as a concern is relegated to the distant future," said Guy Lebas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


Sarah Palin contract demands 'Lear 60 jet' and 'bendable straws': Sarah Palin's contract discovered by two students to speak at Stanislaus college includes private jet and expensive hotels (Ed Pilkington, 4/14/10, guardian.co.uk)

[D]etails include demands that she have two bottles of still water and bendable straws placed near the lectern from which she delivers her speeches; that she be flown from her home in Alaska to wherever the event takes place on first-class commercial tickets or in a private jet of at least the size of a Lear 60; and that she be driven from the airport to the venue in professionally licensed SUVs or, failing that, in black town cars.

Her hotel room must be booked under an alias, for security reasons, and must include a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms. There must be a laptop computer and printer fully charged with paper in the room. And the hotel must be rated as deluxe.

We now know such arcane details of the life of Sarah Palin in her new incarnation as megastar courtesy of two intrepid college students at Stanislaus, a branch of California State University in Turlock, California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Obama Puts His Own Mark on Foreign Policy Issues (PETER BAKER, 4/13/10, NY Times)

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. [...]

Stephen G. Rademaker, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, said: “For a president coming out of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, it’s remarkable how much he has pursued a great power strategy. It’s almost Kissingerian. It’s not very sentimental. Issues of human rights do not loom large in his foreign policy, and issues of democracy promotion, he’s been almost dismissive of.”

Indeed, on the sidelines of the meeting, Mr. Obama met with leaders with poor human rights records, like President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a former Communist boss who has kept a firm grip on his former Soviet republic for two decades.

...the UR represents the worst--a transnational club that does nothing instead of the forceful advance of liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Food Stuff: Other than Detroit Restaurant Week, what's up in food right now (Metro Times, 4/13/10)


Any chef worth his salt will tell you not to overbeat batter because it will toughen it. But how do you keep a light touch when your flour is always clumping and sticking on the mixing tool? The folks at King Arthur Flour, established in 1790, sell a flour dough whisk for $14.95 that eliminates the problems by cutting through cookie dough and sliding off bread dough. This is not a stand mixer or a food processor, but it's inexpensive and easy to clean and store.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Inviting War Against America (Peter Ferrara, 4.14.10, American Spectator)

To get the money to win World War II, America ran unprecedented deficits and drove up the national debt to unprecedented levels. In 1943 alone, the federal government borrowed $54.5 billion, which was more than it had borrowed in all of its previous history before the war, combined. By 1946, Gross Federal Debt peaked at 122% of GDP, and net national debt held by the public peaked at 109% of GDP.

But according to the CBO, under President Obama's budget, Gross Federal Debt will already be at 122% of GDP by 2020, without any world war.

...we're attacking Mr. Obama for not taking the Global War on Terror seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


BaconFest!: Chefs and fans gather to celebrate the porky classic (Rick Asa and Lisa Futterman, April 14, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

BaconFest Chicago! — a thoughtful celebration of all things bacon held April 10 — featured many of Chicago's finest chefs making bacon dishes of their choice, a multitude of sponsors that included The Onion, vendors such as Vosges Haut Chocolat and Nueske's, an amateur bacon recipe cook-off between five finalists and a Bacon Bar and Lounge. It sold 600 tickets in 15 minutes at $45 for one of two sessions, each featuring 12 chefs.

"Bacon is truly the Helen of Troy of meats," said Andre Pluess, one of three co-organizers who hatched the idea last year, at first as a joke. "We almost instantly found ourselves in meetings with some of the best chefs in Chicago eager to participate and help us realize the dream. In the words of Chef Paul Kahan, ‘Bacon is the ingredient that instantly ignites all cylinders of the human palate.'"


April 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Republicans Lead by 48% to 44% on Congressional Ballot (Lydia Saad, 4/13/10. Gallup)

Gallup's measure of voter support for the two parties' congressional candidates asks respondents whether they would back the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate in their own district if the election were held today. The results -- when based on likely voters shortly before Election Day -- have proved, historically, to be a highly accurate predictor of the national two-party vote. This, in turn, bears a close relationship to the post-election party division of House seats.

The trend based on registered voters shows how rare it is for the Republicans to lead on this "generic ballot" measure among all registered voters, as they do today. Other recent exceptions were recorded in 1994 -- when Republicans wrested majority control from the Democrats for the first time in 40 years -- and 2002, when the GOP achieved seat gains, a rarity for the president's party in midterm elections. In midterm years when Democrats prevailed at the polls (such as 2006, 1990, and 1986), their net support among registered voters typically extended into double digits at several points during the year -- something that has yet to happen in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Professor Antony Flew (Daily Telegraph, 4/13/10)

Flew always described himself as a "negative atheist", asserting that "theological propositions can neither be verified nor falsified by experience", a position he expounded in his classic paper Theology and Falsification (1950), reputedly the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century.

He argued that any philosophical debate about the Almighty must begin by presuming atheism, placing the burden of proof on those who believe that God exists. "We reject all transcendent supernatural systems, not because we've examined or could have examined each in turn, but because it does not seem to us that there is any good evidence in reason to postulate anything behind or beyond this natural universe," he proclaimed. A key principle of his philosophy was the Socratean concept of "follow the evidence, wherever it leads".

When Flew revealed that he had come to the conclusion that there might be a God after all, it came as a shock to his fellow atheists, who had long regarded him as one of their foremost champions. Worse, he seemed to have deserted Plato for Aristotle, since it was two of Aquinas's famous five proofs for the existence of God – the arguments from design and for a prime mover – that had apparently clinched the matter.

After months of soul-searching, Flew concluded that research into DNA had "shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved". Moreover, though he accepted Darwinian evolution, he felt that it could not explain the beginnings of life. "I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature," he said. [...]

As an undergraduate, Flew had become an enthusiast for the new linguistic analysis approach to philosophy propounded by JL Austin and Gilbert Ryle and, as a lecturer, was considered one of its leading advocates. In 1955 he edited Logic and Language: First Series, an influential anthology that popularised the new approach.

He soon began applying the new technique to religious questions and, with Alasdair MacIntyre, edited New Essays in Philosophical Theology (1955). In his study of religion, Flew was greatly influenced by David Hume, on whom he became a leading authority. His Hume's Philosophy of Belief (1961) became the standard study of the philosopher's Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. [...]

In political philosophy, Flew defended classical liberalism against the fallacies of egalitarianism, arguing that socialism and social democracy are based on assumptions about the world that are demonstrably false.

He became a leading critic of the Harvard philosopher John Rawls, who had attempted to reconcile liberty and egalitarianism in his critically acclaimed Theory of Justice. In Politics of Procrustes: Contradictions of Enforced Equality (1981), Flew rejected Rawls's claim that, since people do not acquire their natural talents through moral merit, these talents stand at the disposition of "society". Moral qualities, Flew argued, are not needed to entitle us to profit from our abilities.

The problem with his former atheism is classic, and was explained by Hume, if we are to be rigorous in our rationalism then the philosophical conversation never gets to God, because we can not show rationally that we exist. Such atheism is a form of cowardice, too fearful of its own implications to wrestle with them.

-LETTER: Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology (Antony Flew, Philosophy Now)

Dear Editor,

The publication of ‘The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory’ by Massimo Pigliucci and others in Issue 46 of Philosophy Now provides a convenient occasion for pointing out the limits of the negative theological implications of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. In the fourteenth and final chapter of The Origin of Species Darwin himself – apart from noticing certain short (a mere handful of million years long) geological periods in which the fossil record reveals the occurrence of inexplicably rapid evolution – wrote:

“Analogy would lead me one step further, namely to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from one prototype.... Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings that have lived on the earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed.”

Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin’s friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


What Obama’s Nuclear-Weapons Conference Misses (William Pfaff, 4/13/10, TruthDig)

The specific inspiration for weapons proliferation (or for countries to achieve “last-stage” status, which is to say a complete technological capacity to produce nuclear weapons, able to be activated if needed) is deterrence.

Japan is thought to possess last-stage status, and many think that this is the status Iran seeks. Israel is an (undeclared) major nuclear power and is determined to remain one. North Korea presents itself as a nuclear-weapons power, and may be one.

The most important force at work among vulnerable third-world states is the desire to have a nuclear deterrent against invasion or attack by the United States (or in the Iran case, Israel), or by some other nation in the future. Iran seeks to protect itself while re-establishing its regional influence.

As Mr. Pfaff accidentally points out, the great failure of deterrence came when the US failed to nuke states that developed nuclear weapons, which would have demonstrated that they have no deterrent effect on us. There's still time to teach the lesson though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Does Reason Know What It Is Missing? (STANLEY FISH, 4/13/10, NY Times)

The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has long been recognized as the most persistent and influential defender of an Enlightenment rationality that has been attacked both by postmodernism, which derides formal reason’s claims of internal coherence and neutrality, and by various fundamentalisms, which subordinate reason to religious imperatives that sweep everything before them, often not stopping at violence.

In his earlier work, Habermas believed, as many did, that the ambition of religion to provide a foundation of social cohesion and normative guidance could now, in the Modern Age, be fulfilled by the full development of human rational capacities harnessed to a “discourse ethics” that admitted into the conversation only propositions vying for the status of “better reasons,” with “better” being determined by a free and open process rather than by presupposed ideological or religious commitments: “…the authority of the holy,” he once declared, “is gradually replaced by the authority of an achieved consensus.”

In recent years, however, Habermas’s stance toward religion has changed. First, he now believes that religion is not going away and that it will continue to play a large and indispensable part in many societies and social movements. And second, he believes that in a post-secular age — an age that recognizes the inability of the secular to go it alone — some form of interaction with religion is necessary: “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.” [...]

The liberal citizen is taught that he is the possessor of rights and that the state exists to protect those rights, chief among which is his right to choose. The content of what he chooses — the direction in which he points his life — is a matter of indifference to the state which guarantees his right to go there just as it guarantees the corresponding rights of his neighbors (“different strokes for different folks”). Enlightenment rational morality, Habermas concludes, “is aimed at the insight of individuals, and does not foster any impulse toward solidarity, that is, toward morally guided collective action.”

The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another. In the face of these injustices, a reason “decoupled from worldviews” does not, Habermas laments, have “sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.”

So what will supply the strength that is missing? The answer is more than implied by the reference to heaven. Religion will supply it. But Habermas does not want to embrace religion wholesale for he does not want to give up the “cognitive achievements of modernity” — which include tolerance, equality, individual freedom, freedom of thought, cosmopolitanism and scientific advancement — and risk surrendering to the fundamentalisms that, he says, willfully “cut themselves off” from everything that is good about the Enlightenment project.

The entire philosophical project consists of nothing but trying to replicate Judeo-Christian morality without grounding it on God. Once you've failed at that you're really just a comedy act.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Layoffs spreading among N.J. public-sector workers (Maya Rao, 4/12/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

They had it all planned out.

Jennifer Beese would give up her $65,000-a-year job as a sales rep and borrow money to go to graduate school. Her dream: to become a teacher.

Her fiance, John Cidoni, would support them on his income as a Lumberton police officer and save money by moving into Beese's home in Bordentown City.

The couple would marry in June and have their first child next year.

Now New Jersey's fiscal crisis has thrown their plan off course, as it has for thousands of public and private workers across the region.

Cidoni, 32, was laid off from his police job of seven years at the beginning of the month, along with five other employees, when Lumberton faced a budget deficit. [...]

Consider the picture in Lumberton, a Burlington County community of 12,000.

Officials there stirred outrage when they laid off several police officers in 2008 to help balance the budget. Hundreds of residents and police officers packed the township hall in protest.

This year police supporters also turned out in force, but Township Committeeman Pat Delany said he's heard a different story from residents, who are taxed out.

"I can tell you the public mind-set between now and then is a world of difference. People were mad at us for raising taxes 6 percent, not for reducing the size of the police force," Delany said.

Health-care costs are up 18 percent this year, revenues are declining, and homes in Lumberton are in foreclosure, he said. Delany said officials had to look at police officers because they were the highest-paid municipal employees, and their salaries made up a quarter of the budget. Meanwhile, the township has not filled the positions of administrator, registrar of vital statistics, and recycling coordinator.

Lumberton sought concessions from Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 201, of which Cidoni is president. Cidoni said the officers were reluctant to offer givebacks when the township could not guarantee they would not be laid off after 2010. [...]

As an undergraduate student at La Salle University, Beese thought she wanted to be a teacher but worried she wouldn't make enough money. So she graduated in 2001 with a degree in finance.

Eventually she landed a sales job at a trucking company - a post that came with a company car and an expense account.

She wasn't happy.

"Am I going to be a trucking saleswoman for the rest of my life, or am I going to make a difference with a child?" Beese began asking herself.

She and Cidoni started planning after their engagement last April.

Still in debt $10,000 for her education at La Salle, Beese decided to take out an additional $30,000 in student loans to get her master's degree in education, all while bartending three nights a week in Marlton. Cidoni moved into Beese's two-bedroom home in Bordentown City, turned in his leased Cadillac, and began supporting both of them on his $80,000 police salary.

Cidoni also initially started in business, working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, before he realized his heart was in police work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Putting Theory to the Test: a review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor (Edward J. Larson, Wilson Quarterly)

First, the authors set up a straw man. In this case, they do that by saying at the outset that the Darwinian theory of evolution involves two distinct parts: the concept of common descent, which holds that all plants and animals evolved from a common ancestor, and the theory of natural selection, which posits that random, inborn mutations in individuals selected by a survival-of-the-fittest process drive evolution forward. The authors stress that they reject only the latter theory, while erroneously contending that, historically, religious opponents have attacked only common descent.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's central thesis is that random, inborn mutations chosen by a survival-of-the-fittest mechanism cannot generate the observed diversity of species in the time that has elapsed since life began on Earth. They point to the many non-random influences on variation (such as gene regulatory networks, which control cellular processes, and horizontal gene transfer, in which an organism incorporates genetic material from another organism without being a descendant of that organism) debated among biologists today, and, somewhat separately, assert that natural selection logically cannot work. Their philosophical assault on natural selection has two parts. They argue that biologists simply err in speaking about selection without providing for a human, divine, or natural-law selector. Further, they throw in their version of the shopworn philosophical argument that natural selection is a meaningless tautology: Of course, if fitness is equated with survival, only the fittest will survive. (In this sense, the Newtonian equation F = ma is a tautology too, yet physicists still find it useful.) Though the authors present their critique as new, it is similar to countless assaults on the theory of natural selection over the past century and a half. What this book adds is a useful survey of newer examples of non-randomness in evolution.

Contrary to their claim that common descent is the bugbear of those who dispute evolution, the historical controversy, especially in religion, focused on the idea of natural selection, which undermined natural theology by depicting the origination of species as a ruthless, random process, apparently inconsistent with the character of a loving Creator, rather than on the concept of common descent, which can posit God as the designer of benign evolutionary law. After all, as the illustrious late-19th-century American cleric Henry Ward Beecher said, "Design by wholesale is grander than design by retail." It is the theory of natural selection that still riles the intelligent design movement, many of whose leaders (such as Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe) accept common descent.

Even more bewildering is the authors' contention that Charles Darwin conflated common descent and natural selection into a single idea. Darwin clearly differentiated between the two parts of his theory, and recognized that the concept of common descent stood on a much firmer foundation. In 1863, he wrote to Harvard botanist Asa Gray, "I care much about Natural Selection; but that seems to me utterly unimportant compared to the question of CREATION or MODIFICATION." Eleven years later, when the conservative Princeton theologian Charles Hodge launched the American culture wars over evolution with his book What Is Darwinism? it was natural selection—not common descent—that led him to equate Darwinism with atheism. Analogous reasoning drove William Jennings Bryan to ignite the populist crusade against teaching evolution that culminated in the 1925 Scopes trial. Bryan had made his peace with common descent, at least for everything except humans; it was the use of a survival-of-the-fittest mechanism to explain human nature that enraged him.

You probably ought not argue that the bifurcation is a straw man if you're going to then cite Darwin himself as thinking one half of his theory more important to him than the other. But, as Mr. Larson showed in his own book, Evolution, it is absurd to even call the idea of common descent Darwinism since it was a truism. Natural Selection is all that he added to the discussion. And, as the review concedes, Natural Selection is wrong and accepted to be so by even "Darwinists." All that remains is common descent, which no one ever disputed, least of all Creationists, since it is what Genesis describes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Baffled by Health Plan? So Are Some Lawmakers (ROBERT PEAR, 4/13/10, NY Times)

It is often said that the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves.

In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.

For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.

The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

...did your editors understand the bill any better when they called for its passage?

April 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Candidate woos blacks to tea party (MARIN COGAN, 4/13/10, Politico)

[Charles] Lollar, a Marine Corps Reserve major running in the 5th District’s Republican primary, is a mix of conservative candidate (“Everybody can’t go to college. If all of us go to college, who is paying the tuition? If all of us work for government, who is paying the paychecks?”) and motivational speaker (“The only difference between someone very successful and someone not successful is that that person who is successful got up one more time.”).

But Lollar has one more unique attribute: He’s an African-American tea partier.

Lollar regales the college kids with the travails of his youth, nuggets of inspiration about America’s Jeffersonian democracy and a line about voter frustration that sounds oddly reminiscent of Barack Obama.

“Our country is greater than race relations that aren’t going the way they should be. They’re greater than partisan politics that are used to bicker and separate. They’re greater than this tea party versus Republican Party versus Democrat Party — that’s not our nation. Our nation is one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Putting ethics back together:To understand why moral arguments disintegrate into shouting matches, we need to know our Christian heritage. To see where we go from here, we need philosophy, says one of Britain's leading philosophers. (John Haldane, 29 March 2010, MercatorNet)

The fact that we describe ethical challenges in certain ways using the concepts of human welfare, of equality of respect, of demands of justice and charity and so on, is not a creation of recent times but has a particular cultural and intellectual history. Central to this history is Christian moral theology, in which were fashioned the ideas of human dignity, of the inviolability of the innocent, and of the duty of concern for those in material and spiritual need. Certainly in the last two centuries there have been important developments in moral philosophy that were not avowedly religious, and indeed often came from the pens of agnostics, but of itself this does not challenge the claim that the core ideas originated in a Judaeo-Christian understanding of human nature.

Let me offer two examples: the impartial promotion of happiness, and the respecting of rights. These are particularly relevant, both because of their rhetorical power in contemporary discussions and because they are often thought to originate in secular rather than religious thought. Indeed, they are often paraded as achievements of secular philosophy working in opposition to religious morality, as represented by the Ten Commandments and other systems of ‘divine law.’

Many today associate the principle of acting so as to promote the happiness of all, treating each as equal, with the liberal utilitarians of the nineteenth century, who avowed it without reference to Christian doctrine. Yet if one asks why this should be done, and in particular why each should count equally in one’s regard, it is hard to find a coherent secular answer. For the Christian, by contrast, the principle of equality of consideration is rooted in the idea that each human being, whatever their condition or talents, is equal insofar as they are adopted children of God whose existence was divinely chosen and sustained. Likewise, in asking the question “who are we to care for,” the answer, “whoever one encounters who is in need,” has its origins in the parable of the Good Samaritan offered by Jesus in answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”

Similarly, the idea of human rights has its origins not in the secular enlightenment but in the world of the scholastic theology. In the middle ages there was a debate over holy poverty, which turned in part on the question of whether Christ and his Apostles owned anything individually or held everything in common. The conclusion was that everyone has inalienable rights of ownership and control over their own bodies, from which was developed, by extension, the idea that people have rights over what they create through their labor. These various ideas of equality of regard, of duties of beneficence and charity, of the universality of rights of bodily integrity, and of ownership of one’s body and of the products of one’s labor, are fruits of a particular religious understanding of human nature. Detached from that understanding it will only be a matter of time before they dry and wither. Of course, one might seek to develop equivalent fruits from a different source, but the question is whether that can be done.


We continue to use concepts and language that have their origins in a religious outlook, but we now lack the single coherent source for that use. We speak of “universal rights” and of the “equality of all people” but by any natural measure human beings are evidently unequal, so whence comes this elevated status and inviolability? We speak of the obligation to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry but whence comes that duty, if not from some broad notion of common membership in an all-inclusive moral community? And what can be a natural basis for this that can substitute for the religious idea of brotherhood?

Not only has the original foundation been lost sight of without an evidently adequate alternative being provided, but in losing touch with the source of moral meaning, our moral thinking has become confused. On the one hand we invoke the principle of the inviolability of innocent life in condemnation of the bombing of civilians, but on the other we set it aside when it comes to the matter of abortion. We assert the principle of non-exploitation in opposition to slavery yet countenance the creation of “sibling saviors” for the purpose of harvesting tissue from them. We deploy the language of innocence in relation to underage sex, yet switch instantly to talk of a right to gratification with the passing of a birthday. We assert the importance of community and of autonomy, yet legislate to restrict the latter in ways that will forseeably destroy the former. We oscillate between understandings of doctors, nurses, teachers and judges as motivated by vocations to serve the common good, and as salaried service-providers in a consumer economy. Little surprise, then, that we face confusing and apparently irresolvable conflicts.

How then to procede? It will not be surprising if a professional philosopher suggests that philosophy is the place to start, and perhaps even the place to end. Nor will this seem a novel suggestion to those familiar with the burgeoning fields of “applied” and “professional” ethics, which often presents themselves as providing guidance to those in moral need. But these are not what I have in mind, since applied ethics generally takes for granted the ethical position it applies, and professional ethics tends to restrict itself to fashioning codes of conduct for practitioners in specific fields. Our need, by contrast, is for an enquiry into ethical foundations sufficient to provide a guide to life more generally, which is something far broader and deeper.

One thing that philosophy, even of a preliminary sort, does well is to improve one’s grasp of an issue by clarifying it. Philosophy involves the analysis of ideas, assumptions, and arguments—and that brings with it the resolution of ambiguities and confusions. For example, it is increasingly common in talking of “rights” to conflate liberties and entitlements. A clear instance of this is the argument that people have a claim to reproductive services based on article 16 of the Declaration of Human Rights which specifies “the right to marry and to found a family.” On analysis, however, it is clear that this refers to a right of non-interference from the state (a liberty) not a right to the provision by it of the means necessary to conceive and bear children (an entitlement). Again, in speaking of “acceptance” there is a tendency to confuse toleration with approbation. So, while it may be reasonable on grounds of liberal toleration to require secular humanists to tolerate public displays of religious devotion, or to require traditional Christians to tolerate public recognition of gay partnerships, it does not follow that it is reasonable to require either party to approve or support these. Acceptance-as-toleration, and acceptance-as-approval are distinct, and it is both a confusion and an imposition to require the latter on the basis that a liberal society should be a tolerant one. [...]

If ethics is ever again to make the kind of sense it did to generations past, it will have to be set within a broader philosophy of life. That is a challenge to secularists who have yet to provide a non-religious alternative, and to Christians who wield biblical passages as if they were swords provided for the striking down of unbelievers. For they too need to seek out the larger narrative. Supposing then that both step up and meet the challenge, how might we tell which is true? The only possible answer, I think, is that we should favour that philosophy which best makes sense of human life including both its intimations of human transcendence and its demonstrations of human depravity. It is hard to see how such an account could be other than a religious one, at least to the extent of identifying something in humanity that transcends its material foundations and orients it towards some kind of spiritual fulfillment. Certainly there are intellectual challenges in recovering such an account, but there are also moral dangers in trying to live without one.

On the necessity of Christianity to rights, we'd recommend Robert Kraynak, on toleration, A.J. Conyers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


Will Bush Be the Next Truman?: This week marks the 65th anniversary of Harry Truman’s inauguration, ex-Bush aide Mark McKinnon sees parallels to another wartime leader deeply unpopular in his day—and wonders how history will treat his boss. (Mark McKinnon & Myra Adams, 4/12/10, Daily Beast)

They both gave hell and got hell.

As presidents, George W. Bush and Harry S. Truman had a lot in common.

Both were skeptical of elites and the media, driven by their faith, had troubled presidencies, made momentous and difficult decisions, took the nation into war, were unpopular in their time and weren’t concerned about it. They deeply believed if they did the right thing, history would sort things out in the end.

This week marks the 65th anniversary of Truman’s inaugural, it’s an appropriate time to remark on his historical evolution and reflect on the similarities between the two presidencies.

There have been only two significant tasks facing presidents for the past seven decades: winding down the Second Way in domestic affairs and hastening the End of History in still benighted foreign lands. Truman failed at both, as did most of his successors. At best, until W, they might have gotten one right--Reagan the latter (ending the Soviet Union), Clinton the former (Welfare Reform). Only W got both right. He will be rehabilitated mostly by the triumph of his ideas, which is in no small part the rejection of Truman's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


The Descent of Liberalism (Michael Knox Beran, 4/12/10, National Review)

The two philosophies that animated liberalism in its prime were widely different in both origin and aspiration. Classical liberty is founded on the belief that all men are created equal; that they should be treated equally under the law; and that they should be permitted the widest liberty of action consistent with public tranquility and the safety of the state. The classical vision traces its pedigree to Protestant dissenters who in the 17th century struggled to obtain freedom of conscience. Their critique of religious favoritism was later expanded into a critique of state-sponsored privilege in general.

The American patriots who took up arms against George III thought it wrong that some Englishmen were represented in Parliament while others were not. This sort of privilege, in the Old Whig language of liberty from which classical liberalism descends, was known as “corruption.” The revolutionary patriots, it is true, countenanced their own forms of corruption; when they came to write a Constitution for their new republic, the charter tacitly recognized slavery and other forms of discrimination. The country, in Lincoln’s words, was “conceived in liberty,” but not until it experienced various “new” births of freedom was the promise of its founding ideal extended to all of its citizens.

Unlike classical liberty, social liberty is formed on the conviction that if a truly equitable society is to emerge, the state must treat certain groups of people differently from other groups. Only through a more or less comprehensive adjustment of the interests of various classes will a really democratic polity emerge. The social vision traces its origins to thinkers who in the 19th century argued that the close study of social facts would reveal the laws that govern human behavior, much as physics and biology reveal the laws that govern nature. Auguste Comte, for example, believed it possible to elaborate a “social physics” (physique sociale); Karl Marx purported to discover the dialectical laws of human history.

Rulers skilled in the social sciences would translate the new knowledge into codes of behavior that would organize man’s activities in a more efficient and coordinated way than had hitherto been possible. (The classical liberal believes that however much the lawgiver knows of the innumerable factors that create desirable patterns of social order, he never knows enough to undertake an extensive renovation of society with any hope of success.) The new social technic, it was thought, would produce more equitable forms of social order than those created by the “invisible hand” of voluntary, spontaneous cooperation. A new communal life would overcome what Comte called the “perennial Western malady, the revolt of the individual against the species.” Man would be liberated from the biological or class-inspired rapacity that too often made him an “asocial” being. Yet although they dreamt of a more perfect human union, the social reformers made a fetish of the very distinctions they sought to overcome. [...]

Kennedy was the last liberal president to make classical liberalism an important part of both his policy and his rhetoric. In the half-century since he entered the White House, the social imagination has become, if not the sole element in liberalism, certainly the dominant one. Lincoln argued that the state should eschew the group politics of “classification” and “caste,” yet liberalism’s signature initiatives over the last 40 years require us constantly to classify people according to the particular social and even racial and sexual groups to which they belong: Both affirmative action and hate-crime legislation grow out of a faith in the discriminating power of classification.

“Today it is the Right that speaks a language of commonalities,” the sociologist Todd Gitlin has written. “To be on the Left, meanwhile, is to doubt that one can speak of humanity at all.”

...then there is no humanity to speak of.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Please do not change your password: You were right: It’s a waste of your time. A study says much computer security advice is not worth following. (Mark Pothier, April 11, 2010, Boston Globe)

Now, a study has concluded what lots of us have long suspected: Many of these irritating security measures are a waste of time. The study, by a top researcher at Microsoft, found that instructions intended to spare us from costly computer attacks often exact a much steeper price in the form of user effort and time expended.

“Most security advice simply offers a poor cost-benefit trade-off to users,” wrote its author, Cormac Herley, a principal researcher for Microsoft Research.

Particularly dubious are the standard rules for creating and protecting website passwords, Herley found. For example, users are admonished to change passwords regularly, but redoing them is not an effective preventive step against online infiltration unless the cyber attacker (or evil colleague) who steals your sign-in sequence waits to employ it until after you’ve switched to a new one, Herley wrote. That’s about as likely as a crook lifting a house key and then waiting until the lock is changed before sticking it in the door.

Herley also looked at the validity of other advice for blocking security threats, including ways to recognize phishing e-mails (phony messages aimed at getting recipients to give up personal information such as credit card numbers) and how to deal with certificate errors, those impossible-to-fathom warning messages. As with passwords, the benefits of these procedures are usually outweighed by what users must do to carry them out, he said.

It’s not that Herley believes we should give up on protecting our computers from being hijacked or corrupted simply because safety measures consume time. The problem, he said, is that users are being asked to take too many steps, and more are constantly being added as new threats emerge or evolve. Security professionals have generally assumed that users can’t have too much knowledge in the battle against cyber crime. But that fails to take into account a crucial part of the equation, according to Herley: the worth of users’ time.

“A lot of advice makes sense only if we think user time has no value,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Can Obama erase ‘Bush nostalgia’ in the Middle East?: Obama has reverted to Clinton-era policies in the Middle East. But Arab reformers are nostalgic for something more like Bush’s “freedom agenda,” which helped usher in a promising moment for Arab reform. (Shadi Hamid, April 12, 2010 , CS Monitor)

Outside the US, there is a sense of “Bush nostalgia,” including in a rather unlikely place – the Middle East.

This is particularly the case for Arab reformers who, while disliking the Bush administration in almost every way, were fully aware that Bush’s “freedom agenda” helped usher in a promising moment for Arab reform.

On the Obama administration’s relative lack of pressure, Esam al-Erian, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, sounded almost wistful of political openings that came about under Bush: “[Now President Mubarak] can do whatever he wants internally…. It feels like we’ve gone backward a little bit,” he said.

Why wouldn't it be people whose freedom W made our cause who miss him most?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


Okla. tea parties and lawmakers envision militia (SEAN MURPHY and TIM TALLEY, Associated Press)

Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Thank goodness Bill Clinton isn't heading the other party this time around, he'd necklace the GOP with these kooks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 PM


Thank you, Mr. President: Dan Calic says Obama doing great job convincing liberal Jews he's bad for Israel (Dan Calic, 04.11.10, YNet)

In the short time Obama has been in office he has firmly established himself as the most anti-Israel president in history. So why do I want to thank him?

His agenda is so extreme it’s taken relations with Israel to levels no one could have imagined. Thus by his own actions untold numbers of Jews are not only re-examining their previous support for him, a growing number are actively working against him.

Next to blacks (93%) and Muslims (89%), roughly 75% of American Jews voted for him in ’08. If elections were held today he’d be lucky to get half that. So I no longer have to speak out attempting to convince my Jewish brethren of why Obama is bad for Israel; he is doing a much better job than I ever could.

...he'll get over 80%. They don't care about Israel and the GOP nominee will be more like W than Maverick religiously

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Israel addresses 'demographic' issue (The Daily Star, April 12, 2010)

[A]n announcement made Friday by the Israeli military, which puts tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank at risk of deportation, should make even the most vociferous defenders of Israeli actions reconsider their parlance.

The new measures – which put anyone living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit at risk of deportation – not only throw into stark light the overwhelming and far-reaching nature of the occupation, but also threaten to begin a process of ethnic cleansing.

It has long been a seemingly irreconcilable concern of Israeli leaders that Palestinians would one day outnumber Israelis in Israel and the occupied territories. Failure to find a solution to the conflict would eventually lead to a situation where Israel would either agree to a two-state solution, or continue in its quest to control all territory west of the Jordan River and remain a Jewish wtate only by denying voting rights to the Palestinian majority. Even Ehud Barak went so far as to describe the potential set-up as an “apartheid state” during an address to the Washington Institute for Near Eastern affairs earlier this year.

Enacting these measures appears to be an attempt to bypass this obstacle by transferring masses of Palestinians out of the occupied territory, thus making the demographics less of an issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


China's Reign Ends Tomorrow: As Chinese President Hu Jintao travels to Washington for Obama's Nuclear Security Summit, Gordon G. Chang on why the visit proves the superpower is more bluster than bite. (Gordon G. Chang, 4/12/10, Daily Beast)

Why did he finally decide to come? The most likely explanation is that he saw pressure building in Washington to cite China as a currency manipulator in the Treasury Department’s report due April 15. Beijing’s renminbi is deliberately undervalued to make China’ exports competitive, and this has cost American jobs. Hu knew the Obama administration would not name China if he accepted the invitation to the nuclear summit, scheduled to conclude just two days before Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was to issue his list of currency bandits.

At about the same time Hu announced he would show up, Beijing reversed another long-held position and said China would participate in American-led discussions to sanction Iran. China watchers rejoice that Beijing and Washington have patched up relations this month, but the big story is that the Chinese acceded to American pressure.

Although most Americans believe China is the world’s new superpower, the Chinese leadership realizes that’s not the case. Beijing’s top officials also understand that, despite what most people think, China remains especially dependent on the United States.

Last year, for instance, every analyst had predicted that Chinese exporters, concerned about the ailing U.S. economy, would diversify away from the American market. They were dead wrong. In 2009, when China’s total exports fell an astounding 16 percent, exports to our shores dropped just 12.5 percent. Moreover, China’s trade surplus against the U.S.—$226.8 billion—was 115.7 percent of its overall trade surplus. That’s up from an already stunning 90 percent in 2008. In short, the Chinese ran a trade deficit with the rest of the world to build up a surplus against us.

China’s increasing reliance on the American market means that Beijing will not stop buying Washington’s debt anytime soon.

...we need to slay it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Gasoline prices rise even as oil futures fall (Ronald D. White, April 13, 2010, LA Times)

Retail gasoline prices rose nationally in the last week, the Energy Department said Monday, but analysts said there was strong reason to believe that pump prices should be falling soon. [...]

Gasoline supplies are near a 17-year high and well above the five-year average, said Phil Flynn, an analyst for PFGBest Research in Chicago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


Right candidate can chuck Schumer from office (Charles Hurt, April 9, 2010, NY Post)

First, Schumer is the single-most influential architect of the current Democratic Congress, having personally recruited candidates and snatched 14 seats from Republicans since 2004.

If you are weary of Democratic excesses in Congress, blame Schumer.

Second, few in Washington have as much influence over economic policy as Schumer.

He is the only person to sit on the Banking Committee, the Finance Committee and the Joint Economic Committee, of which he is vice chair.

If you are unhappy with the federal government's economic policies, blame Schumer.

A smart Republican could go nationwide offering donors everywhere an opportunity to send Democrats generally -- and Schumer personally -- a very painful message.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Prices Are Right (Barbara Kiviat, 4/19/10, TIME)

There are many reasons health care costs are spiraling out of control, but the simplest one to understand is this: nobody knows what anything costs. Providers get paid through a tangle of insurance-company agreements and billing schedules that change from patient to patient. No wonder a hospital can sneak a $100 box of Kleenex onto your bill and the price of an MRI can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you don't know what something costs, you can't know if it costs too much.

There is a bill in Congress that would attempt to fill in the blanks. The Transparency in All Health Care Pricing Act of 2010 would require health care providers--including hospitals, physicians, nurses, pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, dentists and insurers--to post prices, including on the Internet. Discounts and subsidies would be listed too. "The public will discover what people in health care already understand, that the price of any health care service is whatever they can get," says Representative Steve Kagen, a doctor who ran a practice for 25 years before being elected to Congress.

High-deductible health insurance, which shifts greater costs to individuals, already works on the premise that enlisting the price-sensitive American consumer will lead to a more efficient marketplace. When people have skin in the game, they should use health care more prudently. But so far, such efforts have reached only a small portion of the population and have had little measurable impact on health care costs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Putting Obamacare on Trial: Health reform will be at the center of the upcoming Supreme Court hearings. (Michael Barone, 4/12/10, National Review)

Some 14 state attorneys general are trying to raise the issue in court, and pending state laws outlawing mandates could raise the question, as well. Those state laws are obviously invalid under the supremacy clause unless the federal law is unconstitutional. Is it?

I would expect an Obama nominee to decline to answer. But Republicans may not take such a response as meekly as they did when Ginsberg declined to answer dozens of questions back in 1993. They might press harder, as they did in 2009 when they prompted Sotomayor to declare, to the dismay of some liberal law professors, that she would only interpret the Constitution and the law, not make new law. Just raising the health-care-mandate issue helps Republicans given the great and apparently growing unpopularity of the Democrats’ legislation.

Another set of questions could prove embarrassing for Democrats who have lauded Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade for creating a right to privacy that includes contraception and abortion. “How can the freedom to make such choices with your doctor be protected and not freedom to choose a hip replacement or a Caesarean section?” asks former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey in the Wall Street Journal. “Either your body is protected from government interference or it’s not.”

McCaughey also notes that in 2006, the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon ruled that the federal government couldn’t set standards for doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s death-with-dignity act. So does the Constitution empower the feds to regulate non-lethal drugs in contravention of other state laws?

Such questions may not persuade an Obama nominee to rule that Obamacare is unconstitutional. But they can raise politically damaging issues in a high-visibility forum at a time when Democrats would like to move beyond health care and talk about jobs and financial regulation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:36 PM


Virginia, N.J. Turnout Could Be a Big Problem for Democrats (Stuart Rothenberg, 4/12/10, Roll Call)

Democratic problems in both Virginia and New Jersey, where Republicans won governorships in November, could well be repeated in congressional contests this year, in part because neither state has a statewide race on the ballot in November.

Republican strategists are bubbling with optimism about their chances of knocking off freshman Rep. John Adler (D) in New Jersey’s 3rd district, a south-central district that stretches from just north of Camden east to the Atlantic Ocean. [...]

The district is fundamentally competitive. George W. Bush carried it 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004, while Barack Obama carried it 52 percent to 47 percent in 2008. In last year’s gubernatorial race, Republican sources say, Chris Christie beat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine by 17 points, 56 percent to 39 percent).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Boxer’s Fight in California (Emily Cadei, 4/12/10, CQ-Roll Call)

To reflect polling showing a tightening general election race and California voters’ particularly sour mood about the direction of their state and the country, CQ Politics is changing its race rating from Likely Democratic to the increasingly competitive Leans Democratic.

Two polls conducted in March showed Boxer’s lead over two potential Republican challengers narrowing to a virtual tie. One of those two surveys, the Field Poll, had Boxer leading by double digits as recently as January.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Get Ready for a More Conservative Supreme Court (Ruth Marcus, 4/11/10, TruthDig)

[I]t’s entirely possible that a more conservative court could be Obama’s paradoxical legacy—particularly if he serves only a single term. The likelihood of the court shifting to the right is greater than that of its moving leftward.

In part, this could have been predicted even before Obama took office. It reflects less about him than it does the identity of the departing justices, one liberal followed by another. The next oldest justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 77. Conservatives are reaping the benefits of Bush father and son having selected justices who were relatively young. Justice Clarence Thomas was 43 when tapped, Chief Justice John Roberts was 50, and Justice Samuel Alito was 55.

It would likely only be in the case of a departure by 74-year-old Justice Antonin Scalia—not likely to occur voluntarily during Obama’s presidency—or Justice Anthony Kennedy, 73, that the president would have an opportunity to dramatically alter the court’s ideological makeup.

But there’s little in Obama’s record as president to suggest that he would expend enormous capital to secure the most liberal possible justice. From the point of view of liberal groups, Obama’s nominees to the lower federal courts have been, overall, disappointingly moderate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? by Paul Davies: review: Will aliens ever get in touch? Sameer Rahim weighs up the case in The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies (Sameer Rahim, 12 Apr 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The Italian physicist and ET-sceptic, Enrico Fermi, spoke for many scientists: “If life is widespread and Earth is typical,” he said, “there should have been many planets with advanced, space-faring civilisations long, long ago. So why haven’t aliens come here already?” Davies admits that the chances of intelligent life developing on Earth were minuscule; and an enormous number of factors had to line up to produce our space-exploring society. “It’s entirely possible that life’s origin is so freakish it has happened only once, and we are it.”

Most of the book takes apart the arguments for the existence of extraterrestrial life; but because he was once a boy staring in awe at the stars, and because a negative story is not likely to encourage funding for SETI (governments stopped supporting the project in 1993), in the book’s final chapters Davies sets his speculative side free. And this is where things get very interesting.

Davies imagines what humans might evolve into to get a better picture of what aliens might be like. There will be a “utopia in which computer-designed beings enjoy the best of biological qualities without illness or early death, flawed memory and poor reasoning”. No “moodiness or impatience or jealousy” will be present in these “self-created, godlike mega-brains”, floating in space and amusing themselves with mathematical theories (this is very much a physicist’s fantasy). In one extraordinary passage, he writes that if aliens did drop by Earth, “they would presumably be aware of the danger posed when a technologically advanced culture comes into contact with a less advanced one, and manage the interchange with sensitivity”. Has he not seen what happens in Mars Attacks!?

Davies employs a striking amount of religious language here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


More treatment doesn't always mean better health (Steve Sternberg, 4/11/10, USA TODAY)

Doctors have long been rewarded for providing more care, though more isn't always better. Three recent studies show that a doctor's instincts are no match for hard science:

• ASTRAL, a study of about 800 patients with high blood pressure from clogged kidney arteries, found that propping arteries open with stents didn't lower blood pressure and raised patients' risk of side effects, including deaths.

• ACCORD, a $300 million study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, found that patients with type 2 diabetes who take the billion-dollar Abbott drug called Tricor don't live any longer than patients who don't. Doctors have been prescribing Tricor since the mid-'70s; Abbott is now advertising a newer, more expensive, patent-protected version called Trilipix. A second arm of the study showed that pushing blood pressure below the usual floor in diabetic patients not only failed to help them but also raised their risk of premature death.

• NAVIGATOR, a 9,000-patient study sponsored by Novartis, found that the drug valsartan, sold as Diovan, kept 14% of diabetes-prone people who were given the drug from developing diabetes. But neither valsartan nor nateglinide, sold as Starlix, prevented the heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular events that make diabetes so devastating.

"The good news for patients is that you don't have to take a bunch of medications to try to improve your outcome," says Robert Califf, chancellor for clinical research at Duke University.

Doctors and patients often groan when a study yields negative results rather than new hope in an easy-to-swallow pill. Negative results often contradict conventional wisdom, the pet theories of academics and costly ad campaigns for billion-dollar drugs, argues Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz. But they reinforce a humbler message, he says, by showing that doctors can sometimes achieve more by doing less — and spending less — and by convincing patients that prevention always trumps medication.

Starting today, Redberg plans to make the case in her journal. Under a new heading, "Less is More," she'll feature studies showing widely used tests, drugs and procedures that don't pass muster.

What does modern health care have to do with health?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Scott Brown snubs Sarah Palin, bags Tea Party rally (Edward Mason, April 12, 2010, Boston Herald)

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, whose stunning victory in January was fueled in part by Tea Party anger, has snubbed the fiery grassroots group and declined its invitation to join Sarah Palin Wednesday at a massive rally on Boston Common, the Herald has learned.

Brown’s decision to skip the first big rally in Boston by the group whose members are credited with helping him win election has some experts saying he’s tossed the Tea Party overboard, as he prepares for re-election in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Political pendulum in Michigan swings away from the Democrats (Chris Cillizza, 4/12/10, Washington Post)

What's the matter with Michigan?

The Wolverine State shifted heavily toward Democrats over the past decade -- Sen. Debbie Stabenow unseated a Republican incumbent in 2000, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm was elected two years later, a victory that turned her into something of a national celebrity. Sen. John F. Kerry carried Michigan by three percentage points in 2004 in his unsuccessful presidential bid, and four years later Sen. Barack Obama won it by 16 points on the way to the White House.

Of late, however, the pendulum appears to be swinging back quickly to Republicans -- the latest example being Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak's retirement last week from a district covering the state's north that Obama barely won two years ago and will be at the top of GOP wish lists this fall. (In the wake of Stupak's announcement, political handicapper Charlie Cook moved the race from "solid Democrat" to "tossup.") [...]

While the political shift in Michigan is particularly striking, the struggling economies of other Midwestern states, including Ohio and Illinois, where unemployment rates are around 11 percent, are also jeopardizing Democratic officeholders in areas where the party has made significant gains in recent years.

Those electoral difficulties heading into the midterm elections have some Democratic operatives fretting about what it will all mean for Obama when he stands for reelection in 2012. "I look at all these states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania through the prism of the 2012 Obama reelection," said one senior Democratic strategist who has done work in the Wolverine State. "These are run-ups for that race."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


1994 Republican Rout Is Casting Shadow in 2010 (ADAM NAGOURNEY and MARJORIE CONNELLY, 4/12/10, NY Times)

For Democrats, the biggest obstacle appears to be that they are once again working in the kind of environment that has historically proved toxic to the party in power. Mr. Obama’s favorability ratings, like Mr. Clinton’s in 1994, have slipped below 50 percent, almost invariably a bad harbinger for the party in power in midterm elections. Congress and the Democratic Party are today extremely unpopular, as they were in 1994.

“Obama has done the same kind of overreach that Clinton did back then with the tax increases and the crime bill,” said Joe Gaylord, the Gingrich adviser who directed the 1994 takeover strategy, and who is now advising Mr. Gingrich on a potential presidential run.

“I was just looking at some survey data this morning, and in every area now — from health care to education to balancing the budget to foreign policy — the Republicans have a lead over Democrats, policywise,” Mr. Gaylord said. “That makes it very much like 1994.”

And in some ways, Republicans seem even better positioned than they were in 1994. Republican voters appear highly energized by the health care bill, and that kind of voter interest typically results in significant turnout in a midterm election.

Conflicting Signs for Midterm Elections (JOHN HARWOOD, 4/11/10, NY Times)
As if Republicans did not have enough cause for optimism this year, the pollster Neil Newhouse offers this lesson from history: Since John F. Kennedy occupied the White House, presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent have seen their parties lose an average of 41 House seats in midterm elections.

This year, a gain that large would return the House to Republican control. President Obama’s most recent Gallup Poll rating: 45 percent.

There’s more. Of Mr. Obama’s last nine elected predecessors, none saw his approval ratings rise between January and October of his first midterm election year.

...is that these have been a relatively eventless 16 months and they still screwed everything up. Sure, they might rise to a challenge, but there's no evidence this Administration is capable of doing so, being run by legislators not leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Confidential document reveals Obama's hardline US climate talk strategy: Document outlines key messages the Obama administration wants to convey in the run-up to UN climate talks in Mexico in November ( John Vidal, 4/12/10, guardian.co.uk)

[T]he key phrase is in paragraph three where the author writes: "Create a clear understanding of the CA's [Copenhagen accord's] standing and the importance of operationalising ALL elements."

This is the clearest signal that the US will refuse to negotiate on separate elements of the controversial accord, but intends to push it through the UN process as a single "take it or leave it" text. The accord is the last-minute agreement reached at the chaotic Copenhagen summit in December. Over 110 countries are now "associated" with the accord but it has not been adopted by the 192-nation UN climate convention. The US has denied aid to some countries that do not support the accord.

The "take it or leave it" approach divided countries in Bonn this weekend and alienated most developing countries including China, India and Brazil who want to take parts of the accord to include in the formal UN negotiations. They say the accord has no legal standing and should not be used as the basis of the final legally binding agreement because it is not ambitious enough. It lacks any specific cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and sets a temperature rise limit of 2C, which critics say is too high to prevent serious harm to Africa and other parts of the world.

Why bother? He has even less chance of getting a climate treaty through Congress than SALT III.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


A Difficult Friendship with Obama: A Wall Separates Merkel and the Land of Her Dreams (Dirk Kurbjuweit, 4/12/10, Der Spiegel)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is traveling around the United States this week. She loves the country, but she has a few problems with its president, Barack Obama. Her political style is vastly different from that of the US president, but she also has something else to contend with: Washington's disregard for and attempts to dominate Europeans.

When Merkel is no longer Germany's chancellor, she will fly to America. She will land in California, rent a car, drive to the beach and gaze out at the Pacific Ocean. That, at least, was her plan in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and she still clings to that vision: America, the Pacific and a long road trip across the entire country.

Merkel is in the United States this week, as chancellor, and she will hardly be in a position to satisfy her wanderlust. But at least she'll see the Pacific, when she visits Los Angeles and San Francisco after spending time in Washington.

She is traveling to a country whose stunningly beautiful aspects hold an almost childlike fascination for Merkel, but whose political realities represent a cause for concern. During her visit, she will encounter representatives of opposing camps in the country's deeply divided political landscape. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Merkel will meet with protagonists of the American dream, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, filmmakers at Warner Brothers and some of the Silicon Valley's best and brightest.

But first she'll be in Washington, where Obama runs the show. She will see him at a nuclear summit attended by 40 other heads of state. The two years in which Merkel has interacted with Obama have been filled with tension, even if there has never been an open quarrel between the two leaders. He is precisely the president she didn't want to see in office, because he is the antithesis of her. This sentiment has been palpable from the very beginning, and it hasn't gone away.

There's no one there for her to be friends with, just a suit in front of a teleprompter.

April 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Did FDR End the Depression?: The economy took off after the postwar Congress cut taxes (BURTON FOLSOM JR. AND ANITA FOLSOM, 4/12/10, WSJ)

His key advisers were frantic at the possibility of the Great Depression's return when the war ended and the soldiers came home. The president believed a New Deal revival was the answer—and on Oct. 28, 1944, about six months before his death, he spelled out his vision for a postwar America. It included government-subsidized housing, federal involvement in health care, more TVA projects, and the "right to a useful and remunerative job" provided by the federal government if necessary.

Roosevelt died before the war ended and before he could implement his New Deal revival. His successor, Harry Truman, in a 16,000 word message on Sept. 6, 1945, urged Congress to enact FDR's ideas as the best way to achieve full employment after the war.

Congress—both chambers with Democratic majorities—responded by just saying "no." No to the whole New Deal revival: no federal program for health care, no full-employment act, only limited federal housing, and no increase in minimum wage or Social Security benefits.

Instead, Congress reduced taxes. Income tax rates were cut across the board. FDR's top marginal rate, 94% on all income over $200,000, was cut to 86.45%. The lowest rate was cut to 19% from 23%, and with a change in the amount of income exempt from taxation an estimated 12 million Americans were eliminated from the tax rolls entirely.

Corporate tax rates were trimmed and FDR's "excess profits" tax was repealed, which meant that top marginal corporate tax rates effectively went to 38% from 90% after 1945.

Georgia Sen. Walter George, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, defended the Revenue Act of 1945 with arguments that today we would call "supply-side economics." If the tax bill "has the effect which it is hoped it will have," George said, "it will so stimulate the expansion of business as to bring in a greater total revenue."

He was prophetic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


Light At the End of the Bailout Tunnel (DEBORAH SOLOMON, 4/11/10, WSJ)

The U.S. government's rescue of wobbly companies and financial markets is starting to look far less expensive or long-lasting than once feared.

As momentum grows at companies that looked like zombies just a few months ago to repay taxpayers for lifelines they got during the financial crisis, the projected cost of the bailout is shrinking to just a fraction of previous estimates. Treasury Department officials say the tab is likely to reach $89 billion, which includes the Troubled Asset Relief Program, capital injections into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, loan guarantees by the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Reserve moves such as buying mortgage-backed securities and propping up the commercial-paper market.

Treasury officials are increasingly optimistic that even American International Group Inc. could be on its own within a year, with officials discussing ways to extricate the government from its 80% stake in the insurer, according to people familiar with the situation. AIG is on track to repay its loan to the Fed through asset sales that will raise $51 billion.

If only W had been elected in 1932.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Foyle's War, ITV1, review (James Walton, Apr 2010, Daily Telegraph)

ITV famously intended the 2008 series of Foyle’s War to be the last — which is why it ended on VE Day. But that was before a viewers’ revolution as quietly effective as the show itself forced the channel’s senior management to cancel the cancellation.

In which circumstances, it was hard not to detect something gleefully symbolic about an early scene in last night’s comeback episode. Foyle (Michael Kitchen), erstwhile Hasting’s Detective Chief Superintendent, was supposed to have retired from the police, but now the force’s senior management begged him not to leave after all. “You’re a hard act to follow,” they pleaded. “You were very successful.” Eventually, having let them explain just how irreplaceable he’d turned out to be, Foyle agreed to stay on.

And in another piece of good news for fans, Foyle’s War has clearly been allowed to return on its own terms – because, apart from the absence of a war, the programme is defiantly unchanged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink: Behavioral economics—the governing theory of Obama’s nanny state. (Andrew Ferguson, April 19, 2010, Weekly Standard)

During his campaign, the candidate Obama was often portrayed as an intellectual acolyte of “behavioral economics,” a très chic social science that culls up-to-the-minute laboratory research about why human beings behave the way they do and applies it to the world of buying, selling, borrowing, and investing. At the candidate’s elbow, said Time magazine, was a “behavioral dream team”: economists and psychologists steeped in the latest behavioral literature. And once in office the president surrounded himself with many dream-team veterans: Lawrence Summers, Austan Goolsbee, Peter Orszag—behavioralists all.

He also appointed Cass Sunstein, a former colleague from the University of Chicago Law School, to be his “regulation czar” (journalese for the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget). Being DOIRA of OMB may not sound glamorous—it sounds more like a sinister potentate in Lord of the Rings—but it is easily the most powerful regulatory position in the executive branch, after the president’s. Every significant rule proposed by every federal agency must win the approval of Sunstein’s office, which is now staffed with still more behavioral economists recruited from Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and the Brookings Institution. It’s like behavioral summer camp over there.

“Relying on behavioral science,” Time announced, Obama and “his administration [are] using it to try to transform the country.”

It’s harder than it looks.

Behavioral economics—the idea of it, anyway—is a great help to President Obama in his efforts to define himself as a man too complicated and thoughtful to fit the categories of conventional politics. As a candidate he identified himself as an admiring reader of Nudge, a bestseller written by Sunstein and Richard Thaler, another Chicago economist who is often considered the founder of behavioral economics. Nudge was behavioral economics’ popular manifesto, a guide, for policymaker and citizen alike, to “improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness.” Nudge became a big bestseller, predictably enough, for it was another in a long train of books—the Wisdom of Crowds, Freakonomics, Sway, Wiki-nomics, The Black Swan, the entire oeuvre of New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell—that claim to scour the arcane literature of social science and then cleverly apply its findings to everyday life, in ways that the wealthy white people who buy books find flattering, reassuring, amusing, and provocative. But not too provocative.

In Nudge, Thaler says, he and Sunstein drew on behavioral economics to create a “philosophy that was beyond left and right.” They call it “libertarian paternalism,” also “soft paternalism.” It’s libertarian (and soft) because it forswears government mandates wherever possible. It’s paternalistic because it wants government to “nudge” citizens into behaving in ways that policymakers prefer. Thaler and Sunstein know that libertarians find their philosophy too paternalistic and paternalists find it too libertarian, and that’s just fine with them. They cast libertarian paternalism as the via media, the third way, moderate and reasonable, avoiding political extremes and the snares of ideology. It’s Gergenism for the thinking man. The oxymoron, joining two incompatibles, perfectly encapsulates the promise of Obama himself: something fresh, exciting, and highly improbable.

Obama’s courtiers in the press, hungry for hints of their man’s moderation, have been happy to oblige the oxymoron. When Sunstein announced that Obama wasn’t “an old style Democrat who’s excited about regulations for their own sake,” the New Republic pointed out, Pavlov-style, that Obama was a New Kind of Democrat—newer than the last New Kind of Democrat, Bill Clinton, and newer certainly than Michael Dukakis, an older New Kind of Democrat who inherited the title from an even earlier New Kind of Democrat, Gary Hart. (You have to go all the way back to poor Walter Mondale to find an Old Kind of Democrat, and even he was preceded by Jimmy Carter, himself a very old New Kind of Democrat circa 1976.)

“Obama has no intention of changing the nature of American capitalism,” the New Republic reporters insisted. He didn’t have to, with behavioral economics at hand. “His program doesn’t set out to reinvent whole sectors of the economy. .  .  . Unlike postwar liberals, he has no zeal for ramping up the regulatory state.” Instead, they said, he was a “nudge-ocrat,” who would preside over a “nudge-ocracy.” The Wall Street Journal proclaimed the onset of the “nudge state,” and Thaler declared that Sunstein, as DOIRA of OMB, would be “nudger-in-chief.” The word play went on and on.

Just as Obama is a liberal Democrat who, his admirers insist, isn’t really a liberal Democrat, behavioral economics proposes government regulation that, behavioral economists insist, isn’t really regulation. Under the influence of libertarian paternalism, regulators abandon their old roles as mini-commissars and become “choice architects,” arranging the everyday choices that members of the public face in such a way that they’ll naturally do the right thing—eat well, conserve energy, save more, drive safely, floss. In the literature the unavoidable example of this involves cafeteria food. Customers in line are more likely to choose food displayed at eye level; this concept, called “salience,” comes to us from behavioral science lab work. A wised-up cafeteria operator who wants his customers to eat healthier foods—at a high school, for example—will give prominent place to fresh fruits in the dessert line and push the Boston Cream Pie to the back. The kids won’t be forced to choose the fruit; the pie will still be there, if their pudgy little arms can reach it.

Look what happens next. Behavioral economics tells us that fruit consumption will surge, because the choice architect has nudged the customers—not forced them!—into making the healthy choice.

A more substantial instance of behavioral economics in action has to do with 401(k) savings plans. If an employer simply offers employees the plan, allowing them to choose to opt in or opt out, most of them, under the power of inertia, won’t bother to enroll, even though the 401(k) clearly works to their advantage. Yet all they need is a good nudge to save them from their bovine lassitude. Employers can reverse the default choice and automatically enroll them in the plan. Now lazy people who do nothing find themselves with a 401(k); those alert employees who don’t want to participate can actively choose to opt out, though behavioral economics says that few will do so. Thus the savings pile up and futures brighten, and none of these indolent but suddenly happy people will even know they’ve been nudged.

The premise of behavioral economics is “predictable irrationality.” (Another catchphrase—you have to get used to them.) We all know we do dumb things. But the behavioralists say they’ve discovered that we do dumb things systematically; we act against our own best interest (eating pie, failing to save for the future) with a consistency that smart people can observe, catalogue, anticipate, and exploit. If you as choice architect, for example, know about the “status quo bias”—people are disinclined to alter their immediate circumstances even in the face of a clear long-term benefit—you’ll switch the default option on the 401(k). A list of the irrational quirks, or cognitive biases, that behavioral science claims to have uncovered would be endless. In addition to status quo bias, there’s delusional optimism, loss aversion, the representativeness heuristic, the law of small numbers, disaster myopia, the availability heuristic, the planning fallacy, the mere-measurement effect, the mere-exposure effect, even the “yeah, whatever heuristic,” so named by Sunstein and Thaler, who have a bias for whimsy, often fatal.

This grounding in the real world, confirmed by social science, is supposed to make behavioral economics superior to traditional economics as a guide to regulating human activity. Traditional economics—rational choice economics, or neoclassical economics—gets a rough going over from behavioral economists. By their reading, its gravest error is to accept homo economicus, the notion that man is a rational economic actor who is acting always and everywhere in his own best interest, however conceived. Traditional economists don’t really believe this, at least not with the dogmatic insistence they’re accused of, but pretending that they do allows behavioral economists to position themselves as hard-headed realists trying to correct the airy abstractions of out-of-touch dreamers—a clever reversal of the cliché that usually makes liberals out to be the softies and right-wingers the no-nonsense types. Behavioral economics, wrote a smitten correspondent for the New York Times, “is the study of everyday life as it actually happens, not as some textbook says it should.”

It’s been 15 months now since behavioral economics was enthroned as the administration’s reigning regulatory philosophy. If it does indeed break with a century of conventional wisdom in economics, as its partisans claim, then we should be seeing its effects already.

The UR is entirely too conservative to achieve anything via nudging. Had he been visionary as regards health care reform he'd have not just required everyone to purchase health care but had HSA's be the default option. 401k's are used as the example in nearly all these discussions because they are a good social policy to get folks saving for retirement. Universalizing them and HSA's would be an excellent idea, but an idea to big for him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Republicans Fear Undercounting in Census (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 4/06/10, WSJ)

Some Republicans are worried that an anti-government surge among conservatives will lead to lower participation in the U.S. census, which they fear could reduce the number of Republican seats in Congress and state legislatures. [...]

Conservative activists this year have argued it is unconstitutional for the census to ask anything beyond the number of people in a household. This year's census form also seeks information on race, gender and age, among other things, and filling it out is required by law. The census has asked similar questions for decades.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), who is admired by many tea-party activists and ultra-conservatives, has said she will refuse to provide information about anything except the number of people in her household.

Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), a former presidential candidate with a small but ardent following, was the only lawmaker to vote against a recent congressional resolution urging participation in the census.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Lieberman: Not enough votes in Senate to ratify new START treaty (Bridget Johnson - 04/11/10, The Hill)

Lieberman said he'd arrived at his belief on the vote tally falling short after conversations with colleagues over the congressional recess.

"I don't believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things," Liberman said on "Fox News Sunday." "First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they're capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty -- they're just unacceptable to us. "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


The return of Foyle's War: Anthony Horowitz, writer of Foyle’s War, explains how its fans helped bring the crime drama back from the dead. (Anthony Horowitz, 09 Apr 2010, Daily Telegraph)

So why should anyone care about a single death in an English seaside town?

The series has always had a devoted following – it’s actually sold in about 30 countries around the world. ITV had seen no slip in the ratings (the ‘final’ episode, in 2008, was watched by 7.3?million people), which made their decision all the more strange.

Part of the reason was financial. Foyle’s War is undoubtedly an expensive series to make. But senior executives also had their eye on their favourite chimera – the ‘yoof audience’. This was certainly a mistake. As far as I can tell, our viewers are not exclusively old.

And then came the audience feedback, the letters to the press. I wouldn’t say it was a storm of protest but it was certainly a squall and enough to get ITV to change its mind.

The only problem? For that ‘final’ episode, I’d fast-forwarded to VE Day, missing out 1944 in its entirety: no Sevastapol, no Monte Cassino, no Warsaw uprising. February 1944 saw a renewal of the Blitz on London. In June, the first flying bomb arrived. [...]

When we were ‘invited’ back, I had lengthy conversations with the producer, Jill Green, and of course with Michael Kitchen. None of us wanted to proceed just for the hell of it. But we all agreed that there were still stories to tell.

The betrayal of the Russians was one of them. There were 1,200 Russian prisoners in Britain when the fighting ended; they had taken the side of the Germans against Stalin. Exactly what to do with them became one of the great issues of 1945 and their eventual betrayal – they were sent back to certain death – remains one of the war’s darkest secrets.

...great detectives ought never be taken off the air.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Support for Israel runs on party lines (Jeff Jacoby, April 11, 2010 , Boston Globe)

Take that Gallup survey, which found that 67 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Israel. The same survey also found that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 63 percent of the public stands with Israel — more than quadruple the 15 percent that support the Palestinians. There’s not much doubt that the American mainstream is pro-Israel.

But look at the disparity that emerges when those results are sorted by party affiliation. While support for Israel vs. the Palestinians has climbed to a stratospheric 85 percent among Republicans, the comparable figure for Democrats is an anemic 48 percent. (It was 60 percent for independents.) And behind Israel’s “Top 5’’ favorability rating lies a gaping partisan rift: 80 percent of Republicans — but just 53 percent of Democrats — have positive feelings about the world’s only Jewish country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


A census sign that the Tea Party is less than it seems (Dana Milbank, April 11, 2010, Washington Post)

There's evidence that this Tea Party rebellion is a bust.

That's how it looks based on a Washington Post analysis of census data. I asked The Post's database guru, Dan Keating, to break down the census response rates so far this year and to determine whether Republican counties were lagging in their census returns.

He found that, as of Thursday, counties that went for John McCain in 2008 were returning census forms at a slightly higher rate than counties that went for Barack Obama: 62.4 percent to 62.0 percent. Heavily Republican counties were responding at a higher rate than heavily Democratic counties (61.0 to 58.0 percent), and moderately Republican counties were complying a bit more than moderately Democratic counties (64.7 percent to 64.4 percent).

The proportions are roughly the same as they were in the 2000 census; if anything, Republican response rates are better than last time. The Post analysis isn't the last word -- there's plenty of counting to go, and other cultural and socioeconomic factors are at play -- but there's no sign of a mass conservative boycott.

There are other indications, too, that the conservative Tea Party movement is louder than it is big. Remember the Tea Party rally on the Capitol grounds the day of the House health-care vote? There was a pro-immigration rally on the Mall that day that attracted far more people. But the Tea Party got much greater attention, in part because Republican lawmakers joined the protest from the House balcony. In addition, most Tea Party-backed candidates have had little electoral success. As the Wall Street Journal reported, 18 Republican House members faced primary challenges last month in Texas, but all incumbents won easily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Setbacks lead China to tone down anti-US rhetoric (CHARLES HUTZLER, Associated Press)

[T]he tenor was a far cry from last year's Boao meeting, held at the depths of the economic crisis. Then, Liu and others directed barbs at the U.S., calling for a new financial world order and indirectly threatening that China might stop buying U.S. Treasury notes that help finance Washington's growing deficit. The elbowing continued for much of the year as Beijing resisted U.S. and European calls to halt North Korea's and Iran's nuclear programs and take bolder steps to curb the threat of climate change.

While the turnaround in Beijing's attitude may be temporary, the change points to indecision among the leadership about China's role in the world, especially its crucial but fraught ties with the U.S., and about keeping the Chinese economy humming amid a still anemic global recovery.

"We are in a time of reassessment by Beijing about China's foreign policy," said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst. "There is no overarching slogan or concept guiding the decision-making process in foreign affairs these days here."

The UR should ditch the trade war and simply require that the PRC yield to democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


NY senator fights airline carry-on bag fee (MICHAEL GORMLEY, 04/11/10, AP)

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday he’s trying to get the federal government to prohibit airlines from charging a fee for carry-on baggage, calling it a “slap in the face to travelers.”

The New York Democrat is making a personal plea to the Treasury Department to rule that carry-on bags are a necessity for travel, which would make them exempt from a separate fee outside the ticket price.

“Airline passengers have always had the right to bring a carry-on bag without having to worry about getting nickeled and dimed by an airline company,” Schumer said. “This latest fee is a slap in the face to travelers.”

They also used to have some regard for the fellow passengers and not try to bring all their luggage on board with them. One small backpack or notebook bag is ample for your flight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Obama’s Global Failure (Daniel Greenfield, April 11, 2010, Canadian Free Press)

Our allies hate him. Our enemies are laughing at him. Nearly two years after Obama’s World Tour in which he did his best to convince voters that he understood global challenges with a high profile tour of a lot of foreign countries (a approach that if it worked should convincingly make every internationally famous rock star a foreign policy expert), his biggest global accomplishment is still his ability to travel around the world to high profile destinations on the taxpayer’s shrinking dime.

His attempts at diplomacy consisted of delivering vicious slaps across the faces of longtime allies, from England to Israel, and pathetic love notes to tyrants in Iran, Russia and Venezuela, who responded by openly mocking him.

Of course, it didn't work. The world tour was the first indicator the allies got that the clothes had no emperor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Obama leaves WH without press, breaking protocol (AP, 4/10/10)

President Barack Obama quietly breached years of protocol on Saturday morning by leaving the White House without the press with him.

About two hours before reporters were supposed to be in position to leave with the president, Obama left the grounds of the White House. Members of the press were told he was attending one of his daughter's soccer games in northwest Washington, D.C. [...]

Although nobody outside the White House or the press may have noticed, Obama broke years of tradition.

The small press "pool" that accompanies the president had been told to gather at the White House at 11:30 a.m. He left about 9:20 a.m.

Asked what happened, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "The president decided this morning to attend his daughter's soccer game. The pool was assembled as soon as possible to be there as well."

Obama eventually left the White House again on Saturday for a round of golf. This time, the press was with him.

The security/staff/press bubble in which the modern presidency functions is ridiculous and we ought to de-fund our share of it and presidents ought to rebel against the rest of it. But they ought to do so honestly, not deceitfully.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Selfish state of the unions (Michael Goodwin, 4/11/10, NY Post)

New York state and city are drowning in red ink, but don't waste your breath telling it to government unions. They got theirs, and they'll do anything and everything to keep it.

Gov. Paterson's plan to delay 4 percent raises so the state doesn't run out of cash is met with threats of lawsuits.

Mayor Bloomberg's call for relatively modest spending cuts provokes warnings that the city will sink into the Hudson if a penny is subtracted from bloated budgets.

The way organized labor sees it, sacrifice is for suckers. Let somebody else pay.

The judges are our employees too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Birth pangs of democracy (Harold Jackson, 4/11/10, Inquirer)

Ethiopia is more than 2,000 years old. It is referenced in the Bible, including an account of what many consider the first Christian baptism of a non-Jew, an Ethiopian eunuch, by St. Peter. Today, 60 percent of Ethiopians are Christian.

But the country's significance to America has more to do with its geography. Its neighbors include Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Yemen - countries that would pop up on any quiz about the cultivation of terrorists.

That Ethiopia is not a member of that club is significant. Ethiopia's government, more quickly than Pakistan's, recognized the potential danger to it from jihadists and has fought to keep them at bay.

That has tightened Ethiopia's bond with the United States, which provides it military aid. But to remain Ethiopia's friend, the United States has tolerated its government's inclination to swat political opposition.

Knowing Ethiopia's modern history may make acceptance of its current repression more palatable. "Less than 20 years ago, Ethiopia was ruled by a brutal communist regime," a senior U.S. Embassy official explained to me.

He was referring to the Derg, a military junta also known as the Red Terror. Think of it as Ethiopia's version of the Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot, infamous as lords of Cambodia's "Killing Fields" in the late 1970s.

It was the Derg that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, ending a monarchy that except for a brief Italian occupation from 1936 to '41 had ruled Ethiopia for centuries. Subsequent uprisings, drought, and refugee problems led to a 1991 revolution that toppled the Derg government.

It was replaced by a coalition of rebel groups, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which remains in control today. A constitution was adopted in 1994, and the country's first multiparty elections were held in 1995.

Ten years later, there was a strong political challenge to the EPRDF, with opposition parties greatly increasing their parliamentary representation. But that election ended with violent antigovernment protests, which led to a government crackdown resulting in massive arrests.

There was no violence in 2008's local elections, and none is predicted for parliamentary elections scheduled for May 23. The EPRDF is again expected to win a controlling number of seats, with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi retaining the post he has held since 1995. [...]

Ethiopia's democracy is less than 20 years old; perhaps it will become more tolerant of dissent with age. Some of its pressures now are related to a federal system in which the country is politically subdivided into states according to its 80 ethnic groups.

People hold more allegiance to their ethnic group than to Ethiopia as a nation. It is a reminder of a time in America when people considered themselves Virginians or Pennsylvanians first. In fact, state vs. federal rights remains a divisive issue in this country.

Ethiopians are trying to figure out how to preserve the distinct culture and language of their particular ethnic groups while remaining loyal to a federal government that is dominated by a different ethnic group. Some believe that is impossible and are talking about secession, which their federal constitution actually allows.

We did neither them nor us a favor by greenlighting their invasion of Somalia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


You're Awesome, America!: Why the U.S. recovery will be bigger, faster, and stronger than economists and politicians expect. (Daniel Gross, April 11, 2010, Slate)

[T]he long-term decline of the U.S. economy has been greatly exaggerated. America is coming back stronger, better, and faster than nearly anyone expected—and faster than most of its international rivals. The Dow Jones industrial average, hovering near 11,000, is up 70 percent in the past year, and auto sales in the first quarter were up 16 percent from 2009. The economy added 162,000 jobs in March, including 17,000 in manufacturing. The dollar has gained strength, and the United States is back to its familiar position of lapping Europe and Japan in growth. Among large economies, only China, India, and Brazil are growing more rapidly than the United States—and they're doing so off a much smaller base. If the U.S. economy grows at a 3.6 percent rate this year, as Macroeconomic Advisers projects, it'll create $513 billion in new economic activity—equal to the GDP of Indonesia.

So what accounts for the pervasive gloom? Housing and large deficits remain serious problems. But most experts are overlooking America's true competitive advantages. The tale of the economy's remarkable turnaround is largely the story of swift reaction, a willingness to write off bad debts and restructure, and an embrace of efficiency—disciplines largely invented in the United States and at which it still excels. America still leads the world at processing failure, at latching on to new innovations and building them to scale quickly and profitably. "We are the most adaptive, inventive nation, and have proven quite resilient," says Richard Florida, sociologist and author of The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. If these impulses are embraced more systematically and wholeheartedly, the United States can remain an economic superpower well into the current century.

So what will our new economy look like once the smoke finally clears? There will likely be fewer McMansions with four-car garages and more well-insulated homes, fewer Hummers and more Chevy Volts, less proprietary trading and more productivity-enhancing software, less debt and more capital, more exported goods and less imported energy. Most significantly, there will be new commercial infrastructures and industrial ecosystems that incubate and propel growth—much as the Internet did in the 1990s.

The current pessimism is part of a historical economic-inferiority complex. To hear some critics tell it, things have been going south in this country since the cruel winter in Jamestown, Va., in 1609, when most of the settlers died.

...when the wogs started coming to America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Obama – the idealist turns assassin: The US president has approved the targeted killing of a fellow American. So what has changed the principled politician? (Joan Smith, 11 April 2010, Independent)

Back in the old days, when Barack Obama was one of the hopefuls trying to get his party's presidential nomination, he was asked a specific question: does the American constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charge as unlawful enemy combatants? The would-be candidate's response was unequivocal, rejecting the idea that there was any such power. No wonder, then, that so many people were startled when it emerged last week that the Obama administration has authorised not only the detention but the "targeted killing" of an American citizen, the extremist Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

For decades, the CIA was suspected of covertly plotting political assassinations, but the practice was believed to have been banned by President Gerald Ford. Under the Bush administration, such an admission would have caused more outrage than astonishment, but isn't Obama supposed to be more principled than his predecessor?

April 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


'Great Locomotive Chase' Anniversary Noted: Disney Movie Dramatized Real Event (Calvin E. Johnson Jr., 4/10/10, Huntingtonnews.net)

During the spring of 1862, the peaceful town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) was paid not so peaceful a visit by Union spies led by James Andrews, who brought with him plans to disrupt Confederate supply lines. Andrews and his men boarded the train at Marietta, Georgia. They had spent the previous night at the Fletcher House now (Kennesaw House). Twenty boarded the train while two were left behind.

The next stop was the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty for a twenty minute breakfast break. That's where The General was stolen in full view of "Camp McDonald" a drill camp and home to many Confederate officers and enlisted men. There was no telegraph there, which was one reason Andrews chose the site.

Andrews, A Kentuckian, had made a name for himself by smuggling much needed quinine through Union lines for the benefit of Confederate soldiers and civilians. There were with him three experienced engineers, William Knight, Wilson Brown and John Wilson. When asked where they were from, they replied by saying, "I am from Fleming County, Kentucky." They also said that they were on their way to join the Confederate Army.

The official plan to steal The General was approved by Union General Ormsby Michael. The plan was to take the locomotive north on the Western and Atlantic Railroad and destroy tracks, bridges and tunnels along the way. General Michael agreed that he would take Huntsville on April 11, 1862, and then would wait on Andrews before moving into Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"Someone.....has stolen my train,” William Fuller, conductor on the General said in amazement as the train was pulling away from the Big Shanty train depot. Men of the Western and Atlantic railroad almost immediately began the chase with engineer Jefferson Cain, William Fuller, and machine foreman Anthony Murphy close behind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Why So Glum? Numbers Point to a Recovery (FLOYD NORRIS, 4/09/10, NY Times)

Usually you can depend on the White House to view the economy with the most rose-tinted glasses available. But it was not until last week, after a strong employment report, that President Obama started to sound a little optimistic.

“The tough measures that we took — measures that were necessary even though sometimes they were unpopular — have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession,” he said in a speech at a factory making battery components in North Carolina.

Note, however, that he seemed to believe the country remained in recession. It is virtually certain that is not accurate, as least as will be determined by the arbiters of recession at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “The recession is over,” one of those arbiters, Jeffrey Frankel of Harvard, wrote this week. [...]

[I]t is normal for recessions to make people pessimistic. “Go back and read what people were saying in 1982 or 1975,” said Robert Barbera, the chief economist of ITG. “Nobody was saying, ‘Deep recession, big recovery.’ It is quite normal to expect an abnormally weak recovery. It is also normal for that expectation to be wrong.”

...the slowdown, though deeper than the past couple, will just barely qualify as a technical recession, the first since the early '80s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


U.S. Now Trying Softer Approach Toward Karzai (HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, 4/09/10, NY Times)

After more than a year of watching America’s ability to influence President Hamid Karzai ebb, Obama administration officials now admit privately that the tough-love approach Mr. Obama adopted when he came to power may have been a big mistake.

...he might have known how disastrously it generally works out when you treat friends with contempt and enemies with kid gloves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Hero who helped subdue shoe bomber becomes citizen
(KATE BRUMBACK, 4/10/10, Associated Press)

Kwame James waited nearly 10 years to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, a long time compared with the time he spent helping subdue would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid on a trans-Atlantic flight. [...]

The 6-foot-8 basketball player was napping when a flight attendant roused him. Ten rows back, Reid was scuffling with passengers and the crew after he tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes. James helped tie up Reid with belts and headset wires, and took turns holding Reid by his ponytail with another passenger until the plane could land in Boston. [...]

"I became a citizen of one of the best countries in the world and I am very happy," he said Friday, a day after he was sworn in as a citizen in Atlanta. "All the things that people come here for, that's what I'm here for, the opportunity. You can come from nothing and become something here, just through hard work."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Polish President, Others Killed in Plane Crash (GREGORY L. WHITE and MARCIN SOBCZYK, 4/10/10, WSJ)

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of others in a high-level delegation were killed Saturday when their plane crashed on landing outside the western Russian city of Smolensk, officials said.

Russian state television reported that the Tu-154 jet crashed about a kilometer short of the runway on its fourth attempt to land in heavy fog at the Smolensk-Severnyi military airport, shortly before 11 a.m. Moscow time.

What was he doing on a Third World flight?

'This Is a Wound Which Will Be Very Difficult to Heal': Polish President, Senior Politicians Killed in Plane Crash (Der Spiegel, 4/10/10)

According to the Associated Press, the Aviation Safety Network has reported that there have been 66 crashes involving Tu-154 jets, including six in the past five years. Russian flag carrier airline Aeroflot recently withdrew the aircraft from its fleet.

After surviving a helicopter crash in 2003, former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said he predicted a disaster like this, according to the New York Times. "I once said that we will one day meet in a funeral procession, and that is when we will take the decision to replace the aircraft fleet."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Tax Season: For an increasing number of Americans, tax season is like baseball season: It’s a spectator sport. (Mark Steyn, 4/10/10, National Review)

[F]or an increasing number of Americans, tax season is like baseball season: It’s a spectator sport. According to the Tax Policy Center, for the year 2009, 47 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax. Obviously, many of them pay other kinds of taxes — state tax, property tax, cigarette tax. But at a time of massive increases in federal spending, half the country is effectively making no contribution to it, whether it’s national defense or vital stimulus funding to pump monkeys in North Carolina full of cocaine (true, seriously, but don’t ask me why). Half a decade back, it was just under 40 percent who paid no federal income tax; now it’s just under 50 percent. By 2012, America could be holding the first federal election in which a majority of the population will be able to vote themselves more government lollipops paid for by the ever shrinking minority of the population still dumb enough to be net contributors to the federal treasury. In less than a quarter-millennium, the American Revolution will have evolved from “No taxation without representation” to representation without taxation. We have bigger government, bigger bureaucracy, bigger spending, bigger deficits, and bigger debt, and yet an ever smaller proportion of citizens paying for it.

The top 5 percent of taxpayers contribute 60 percent of revenue. The top 10 percent provide 75 percent. Another 40-odd percent make up the rest. And half are exempt. This isn’t redistribution — a “leveling” to address the “maldistribution” of income, as Sen. Max Baucus (D., Kleptocristan) put it the other day. It isn’t even “spreading the wealth around,” as then-senator Obama put it in an unfortunate off-the-prompter moment during the 2008 campaign. Rather, it’s an assault on the moral legitimacy of the system. If you accept the principle of a tax on income, it might seem reasonable to exclude the very poor from having to contribute to it. But in no meaningful sense of the term can half the country be considered “poor.”

Don't accept the principle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Coma man wakes after mother's 'last goodbye' (Daily Telegraph, 4/10/10)

A coma victim shocked his family and doctors when he woke up after his life support machine was switched off.

Nick Verron started breathing independently after his mother Sue said a final goodbye to him. She also gave permission for the drugs keeping him alive to be stopped.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Navy Officially Bans Smoking on Submarines (SARAH NETTER, April 8, 2010, ABC News)

The Navy announced today a ban on smoking aboard submarines while they are deployed below the surface after medical testing showed non-smokers suffered effects of second-hand smoke. It will take effect by Dec. 31, 2010.

...seeing the guys in their wheelchairs smoking through their tracheotomy tubes in front of the VA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Why the Unemployed Are Becoming Slackers (Reihan Salam, 4/09/10, Daily Beast)

For most of us, particularly those of us who've either endured or seen a loved one endure a spell of unemployment, the idea that joblessness is some kind of walk in the park seems faintly perverse if not completely infuriating. But without trivializing the psychic trauma involved, there's no getting around the fact that it is in many respects much easier to be unemployed now than it was in the Reagan-Volcker era. And if that's true, "blaming" President Obama for a high unemployment rate seems faintly absurd. Is it the president's fault that Americans are better off than they were 30 years ago, and are thus not desperate to take whatever job that comes along?

In 2010, there are far more two-earner households than there were in 1981, which means that many households now have an added economic cushion to help withstand the impact of a job loss. As labor economist Stephen Rose has noted, a husband-and-wife couple between the age of 25 and 62 has a median income of $70,000. If both spouses work at least part of the time, the median income goes to $81,000, an amount that allows for a comfortable standard of living in most U.S. metropolitan areas. An income shock that cuts that number in half or two-thirds would represent a significant blow to a family's economic prospects. But it's a far less serious blow than an income shock that cut the number down to zero.

Moreover, the welfare state is far more generous. Between 1981 and 2007, per capita spending on the federal welfare state increased by 77 percent, adjusted for inflation. Unemployment insurance has grown more generous. Over the last five years, the Pew study notes that unemployment insurance spending has gone from $33 billion to $168 billion. Half of that $168 billion in FY 2010 has gone to the long-term unemployed. This further helps cushion the blow, and it can allow an unemployed person to be somewhat choosier about her next job. While it's certainly true that many workers have taken jobs that involve huge salary cuts, many others are holding out hope for a job that matches expectations in a sunnier labor market. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for society. One can imagine workers using an extended spell of unemployment as an opportunity to gain new skills and to spend time with loved ones.

Especially now that feminism is past the stage where employment was seen as empowerment, why should both spouses in a couple with kids work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Raabe, 'Wizard of Oz' Munchkin actor, dies at 94 (Polly Anderson, 4/10/10, Associated Press)

Meinhardt Raabe, who played the Munchkin coroner in "The Wizard of Oz" and proclaimed in the movie that the Wicked Witch of the East was "really most sincerely dead," has died. He was 94.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Extreme bacon: The rebel food appears in some unlikely, but ever more common, places (Richard Asa, 4/09/10, Chicago Tribune )

You think Lady Gaga is extreme? Bacon has been spotted in gourmet chocolate bars, heaped atop cupcakes, blended into mayonnaise and salt, suspended in lollipops, infused into vodka (which in turn is used for bacon bloody Marys and martinis) and wrapped around hot dogs to make a heart bomb that is pure indulgence. There's chicken-fried bacon served with gravy that can hold up a spoon, and French toast topped with bacon ice cream. And, of course, there's bacon jam.

If one includes bacon-flavored products, the list extends to dental floss, lip balm, jelly beans, gumballs and candy of various shapes and origins. The real fun starts with bacon as pop art; apparel of all sorts (hats, dresses, belts, entire suits), the bacon gun and an attractive lampshade that starts out raw and presumably ends up cooked.

Many of the more rib-tickling bacon products, edible and not, are found at Archie McPhee, a mail order house in Seattle that for years has catered to the weirdness in all of us by jumping on trends and taking them to obvious extremes, just for the fun of it.

David Wahl, the company's marketing chief, says simply "bacon is the most delicious food that has ever existed. It isn't very surprising that people want to celebrate its extreme deliciousness with products and festivals. It has more recently become a rebel food, the kind that is obviously bad for you, but one you're going to keep eating."

In his "bacon eater's manifesto," which conjures the fictional 1950s Society for Culinary Acceptance of Bacon, Wahl zeros in on the phenomenon that has inspired many, disgusted some and launched more blogs than can be counted. Bacon, Wahl notes, is universal, "enjoyed by everyone from the lowliest hobo to the wealthiest Wall Street tycoon."

The Bacon Eater’s Manifesto (David Wahl, Monkey Goggles)
1. There is nothing that cannot be improved by the addition of bacon.

Some might hold out sweets as being spoiled by adding bacon or a gourmet chef might say that the balance of a dish will be upset by the addition of bacon, but we state here and now that they are wrong. There is no food, or indeed no event, that cannot be improved with the addition of bacon. A single slice of bacon can act as a magnifying glass on the smallest amount of goodness or happiness in something, and magnify it to skyscraper size.

2. Bacon may shorten your life, but what is life without bacon?

Doctors, health nuts and vegetarians are constantly whispering in our ears that bacon poses some kind of health risk. That your life would be longer without it. But, we ask, what is your life without it? It’s a cupcake without frosting. A marriage without love. A summer without a sunny day. Quality of life must be taken into consideration when choosing your food. Do not waste time with green beans and squash; fill all the empty moments with the king of meat.

3. Bacon is the best thing at a breakfast buffet.

Loading up on toast or eggs is a tragedy. For they are simply buffer foods to distract you from bacon.

4. Bacon is so delicious, some people claim it wrote the works of Shakespeare.

We have our doubts that it did. For if bacon could write, why would it write something so boring and inscrutable to the common man?

5. The greatest odor in the world is the smell of cooking bacon.

If one were to truly and dutifully bottle its essence, even a woman plain as tap water could attract a square-jawed, Hollywood dreamboat. If it were promised that heaven smelled like bacon, surely men would do no evil from that moment forward.

Can a hearty breakfast help you lose weight? UAB researchers think it may (Jeff Hansen, 3/31/10, The Birmingham News)
Two UAB researchers have found that mice that eat a high-fat breakfast and a low-fat dinner gain less weight and are healthier than those that do the opposite.

Feeding the mice a low-fat meal at the beginning of the waking period and a high-fat meal at the end leads to cardiometabolic syndrome -- a hallmark of obesity and a risk for diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

If the same is true in humans, eating higher-fat breakfasts and lower-fat dinners may help control weight and prevent onset of metabolic disease.

"We would like to show in humans that you can reduce weight without reducing calories," said Molly Bray, a professor of epidemiology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. "It would mean there's not bad food -- that it's not a quantity of food issue, it's a timing issue. "

Bray's husband and fellow researcher, Martin Young, associate professor of medicine in UAB's Division of Cardiovascular Disease, found that the first meal the mice ate seemed to program their metabolism for the rest of the day.

A carbohydrate-rich breakfast promoted utilization of carbohydrates throughout the rest of the day without the ability to switch to fat metabolism. A fat-rich breakfast left the mice with the flexibility to change their utilization of fats or carbs throughout the rest of the day.

"The data were so convincing," Bray said, "that everybody in the lab started eating chicken biscuits and sausage biscuits in the morning."

April 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


A V-Shaped Boom Is Coming: Conservatives shouldn’t fight the tale of the tape. (Larry Kudlow, 4/09/10, National Review)

Sometimes you have to take out your political lenses and look at the actual statistics to get a true picture of the health of the American economy. Right now, those statistics are saying a modest cyclical rebound following a very deep downturn could actually be turning into a full-fledged, V-shaped, recovery boom between now and year-end.

I’m aiming this thought especially at many of my conservative friends who seem to be trashing the improving economic outlook — largely, it would appear, to discredit the Obama administration.

Don’t do it folks. It’s a mistake. The numbers are the numbers. And prosperity is a welcome development for a nation that has suffered mightily.

Credibility is at issue here. Conservative credibility. Capitalist credibility. [...]

Rather than blow their credibility over a cyclical rebound that is backed by the statistics, free-market conservatives should tell it like it is.

...by the boom that followed the Clinton budget in '93-'94.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


The xx perform live in The Current studios (Mary Lucia, Minnesota Public Radio)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Obama Nominee for Justice Post Withdraws (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4/09/10)

Dawn Johnsen's withdrawal -- a setback for the Obama administration -- was announced late Friday by the White House on a day the capital's legal and political elites were absorbed in the news that Justice John Paul Stevens would retire from the Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended Johnsen's confirmation on party-line votes. But several Republicans objected to her sharp criticisms of terrorist interrogation policies under President George W. Bush, and the full Senate never voted on her nomination.

The decision about who should lead the little-known office became a political flashpoint because of the controversies surrounding Bush-era interrogations of terror suspects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Obama pushes back on Palin criticism (AP, 4/09/10)

President Barack Obama snapped back at Sarah Palin and her criticisms about his nuclear defense policy, calling the former Alaska governor "not much of an expert on nuclear issues."

Obama's comments came when asked for a response about a Palin critique that he was like a kid poised for a playground fight who said 'Go ahead, punch me in the face and I'm not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me."

...but they were professionals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


The horrible prospect of Supreme Court Justice Cass Sunstein (Glenn Greenwald, 3/26/10, Salon)

In 2002, at the height of controversy over Bush's creation of military commissions without Congressional approval, Sunstein stepped forward to insist that "[u]nder existing law, President George W. Bush has the legal authority to use military commissions" and that "President Bush's choice stands on firm legal ground." Sunstein scorned as "ludicrous" the argument from Law Professor George Fletcher that the Supreme Court would find Bush's military commissions without any legal basis. Four years later -- in its Hamdan ruling -- the Supreme Court, with Justice Stevens in the majority, held that Bush lacked the legal authority to create military commissions without approval from Congress, i.e., the Court (and Stevens) found Bush lacked exactly the "legal authority" which Sunstein vehemently insisted he possessed. Had Sunstein been on the Court then instead of Stevens, that decision presumably would have come out the opposite way: in favor of Bush's sweeping claims of executive authority.

Worse still, in 2005, Sunstein became the hero of the Bush-following Right when, in the wake of revelations that the Bush administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans, he quickly proclaimed that Bush was within his legal rights to spy without warrants in violation of FISA. Sunstein defended Bush's NSA program by embracing the two extremist arguments at the core of Bush/Cheney lawlessness: that (1) the AUMF silently authorized warrantless eavesdropping in violation of FISA and, worse, (2) the President may have a plausible claim that Article II "inherently" authorizes warrantless eavesdropping regardless of what a statute says.

In a March, 2006 Washington Post article, Sunstein solidified his credential as Leading Democratic-Law-Professor/Bush-Defender by mocking the notion that Bush had committed crimes while in office:

[Harvard Law Professor Laurence] Tribe wrote [Rep. John] Conyers, dismissing Bush's defense of warrantless surveillance as "poppycock." It constituted, Tribe concluded, "as grave an abuse of executive authority as I can recall ever having studied."

But posed against this bill of aggrievement are legal and practical realities. Not all scholars, even of a liberal bent, agree that Bush has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors." Bush's legal advice may be wrong, they say, but still reside within the bounds of reason.

"The Clinton impeachment was plainly unconstitutional, and a Bush impeachment would be nearly as bad," said Cass R. Sunstein, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. "There is a very good argument that the president had it wrong on WMD in Iraq but that he was acting in complete good faith."

Sunstein argues that Bush's decision to conduct surveillance of Americans without court approval flowed from Congress's vote to allow an armed struggle against al-Qaeda. "If you can kill them, why can't you spy on them?" Sunstein said, adding that this is a minority view.

In 2008, Sunstein became the leading proponent of the Bush/Cheney-sponsored bill to legalize Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program and to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, a bill which Obama -- advised by Sunstein -- ended up voting for in violation of his pledge to filibuster. The same year, Sunstein provoked widespread anger among progressives by insisting (again) that investigations and prosecutions of Bush officials would be inappropriate and harmful. As summarized by Talk Left's Armando, a long-time lawyer: "Cass Sunstein has been defending the Bush Administration's illegal actions and the Bush Administration's preposterous claims for many many years now. This is who he is." Hey, Left: doesn't the thought of Supreme Court Justice Cass Sunstein make you tingle with "excitement," just as Peter Baker said?

Evaluating Obama Advisor Cass Sunstein, and His New Book Nudge (Matt Stoller, Jul 25, 2008 , OpenLeft)
Sunstein is a prodigious legal scholar, putting out books at a stunning clip. Usually what he does is package a set of ideas from another sector into a marketable and media digestable recipe, and Nudge is no different. The authors go through the standard litany of important concepts; anchoring, herding, biases, imperfect information, defaults, incentives, and feedback. Anchoring, for instance, is the concept that the first price you hear for an item is forever the price associated with that item. If someone tells you a diamond is worth $5000, it is a luxury item and getting one for $4000 is a deal. If someone tells you a piece of artificial condensed carbon is worth $50 for industrial uses, you'll feel ripped off if someone puts a price tag of $60 on the same stone that was a steal at $4000. The Tipping Point basically told this story, but better.

Still, these are important ideas, because they undermine the notion that free markets exist as neutral arbiters, showing markets as artificial constructs with important regulatory choices built into them. This is a newly emergent set of ideas, and who controls their interpretation will control the public policy choices they imply. As we move into an era where free market fundamentalism dies, it's important to keep our eyes on the framers of the new intellectual moment. Ideas can be used to prop up the corrupt system we have now, or to renew it. Sustein and Thaler are firmly on the side of propping it up. In chapter 6, for instance, Sunstein and Thaler go into a long discussion of savings rates and the importance of opt-in versus opt-out strategies for getting people to save more for their retirement. This, though, is how it's framed, on page 103.

As all politicians know but few are willing to admit, we will eventually have to bite the bullet in order to make Social Security solvent, through some combination of tax increases or benefit cuts.

That is exactly 100% out of the conventional wisdom from the 1960s conservative movement, which treats Social Security as a ponzi scheme. It is unsupported by evidence, as the 'insolvency' date for Social Security keeps being moved up every few years, but it is the way that Sunstein supports his theory of 'libertarian paternalism', which is an updated version of the DLC mantra that we must find a solution between a socialist regulatory state and a free market. Here's how Nudge explains this philosophy and its political viability.

Libertarian paternalism, we think, is a promising foundation for bipartisanship. In many domains, including environmental protection, family law, and school choice, we will be arguing that better government requires less in the way of government coercion and constraint, and more in the way of freedom to choose. If incentives and nudges replace requirements and bans, government will be both smaller and more modest. So, to be clear, we are not for bigger government, just for better governance

The notion of 'nudges', or various things government and business can do to control human behavior without Stalinist regulation, is not new or particularly interesting. For instance, labor unions and business are locked in a multi-million death struggle about card check, which is simply a way of voting for or against labor representation. Labor wants to be able to use petitions or voting, business wants just voting. More examples include voter ID laws that help suppress the vote, ballot designs that privilege one candidate over another, and urban design and sidewalks that encourage or discourage driving. Yet more examples include economic assistance to low income women to reduce abortions, or the fight over abstinence-only education to lower the rates of STDs.

Thaler and Sunstein create new language to describe people who design the defaults in various systems, such as 'choice architect', but once again, this is not even close to a new idea. Bookshops have been charging money for retail placement for years; want your book at eye level, that'll be extra. No, the real point of this book is not to teach anyone about behavioral economics, but to enforce a Beltway orthodoxy that is anti-government to the core.

Here's how Thaler and Sunstein describe how appealing this idea is to politicians.

Libertarian paternalism with respect to savings, discussed in chapter 6, has received enthusiastic and widespread bipartisan support in Congress, including from current and former conservative Republican Senators such as Robert Bennett (Utah) and Rick Santorum (Pa.) and liberal Democrats such as Rahm Emanuel.

Rahm Emanuel a liberal? On what planet? He's a war supporter, a supporter of retroactive immunity for telecom companies, and wants to maintain the hedge fund loophole allowing hedge fund managers to retain more of their earnings than ordinary citizens. For Sustein and Thaler, Emanuel is a liberal because it's useful for Emanuel to be a liberal in the kabuki world that is the Beltway, where government is just too darn big.

At least with Ms Sotomayor the UR nominated someone the Left was constrained from criticizing for PC reasons, but this pick is likely to provoke their fury.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Memo hints at Christie's death (Angela Delli Santi and Geoff Mulvihill, 4/09/10, The Associated Press)

The enmity, which goes back to last year's gubernatorial campaign, intensified with a memo from the Bergen County Education Association to local union leaders that hints about the governor's death.

The memo, first reported by The Record of Bergen County, reads, in part: "Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."

Association president Joe Coppola said the "prayer" was a joke and was never meant to be made public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


...from the dispositive response to Declinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Democratic Party Image Drops to Record Low: Favorable images of Democratic, Republican Parties now tied (Frank Newport, 4/09/10, Gallup)

Americans' favorable rating of the Democratic Party dropped to 41% in a late March USA Today/Gallup poll, the lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure. Favorable impressions of the Republican Party are now at 42%, thus closing the gap between the two parties' images that has prevailed for the past four years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens retiring (MARK SHERMAN, 4/09/10, Associated Press)

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, he is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill. [...]

The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59.

Stevens' departure will not change the court's conservative-liberal split because Obama is certain to name a liberal-leaning replacement. But the new justice is not likely to be able to match Stevens' ability to marshal narrow majorities in big cases.

Thankfully, there is zero chance that his replacement will be as liberal as Nixon/Ford picks were.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Has America Really Become Economically Unfree? (Bruce Bartlett, 04.09.10, Forbes)

Another thing we tend to forget is the great benefit of the wealth that almost all Americans have today. Not that many years ago, people had to spend an enormous percentage of their waking hours simply acquiring and preparing food. Now, even among poor households, obtaining adequate food is a minor concern. Indeed, obesity is a far bigger problem among the poor than malnutrition. The freedom to do things other than grow crops, raise livestock and cook on a wood stove is not one to be underestimated.

Because of the declining cost of things essential to life, burdens that might have been unbearable in the past can be borne with relative ease today. Consider taxation. If much of society is barely able to produce enough to live on then even the smallest tax can be extremely burdensome. That's the main reason why tax burdens before the 20th century were minuscule by today's standards: There was simply nothing to tax. Wealth, incomes, output and productivity were too low for there to be much for government to take.

Now that the cost (both absolutely and relative to income) of basics--food, water, clothing--have fallen dramatically from just a few generations ago, people can afford to pay more taxes without suffering the deprivation that similar burdens would have imposed in the past. And we get more back for our tax dollars. In the past most government spending went for wars. Today, at the federal level, the vast majority of people will get back every dollar they pay in Social Security taxes plus a lot more, and Medicare provides a valuable service that will eventually benefit almost everyone. At the state and local level, spending mostly goes for things that people want, like police and fire protection, schools, parks and roads.

This brings me to an unappreciated point about how Social Security and Medicare add to freedom. Conservatives and libertarians tend to look at these programs solely in terms of the way they diminish it. But before these programs came along, care for the aged imposed an enormous burden on families that decreased their freedom.

Only the wealthy think freedom is worth poverty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


U.S. shoppers open wallets (ANN ZIMMERMAN, 4/09/10, WSJ)

Shoppers opened their wallets even wider than expected in March, snapping up spring fashions and home furnishings and paying full price for much of what they bought, retailers reported Thursday.

Analysts had expected that warm weather and an early Easter would boost results compared with last year, when recession-scarred consumers were willing to buy only basics, and only on sale.

But the results were even better than they had forecast, and hit double-digits at some chains, including midlevel department store Kohl's Corp., where sales at stores open more than a year jumped 22.5%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Florida’s Ratings Realign (John McArdel, 4/09/10, CQ-Roll Call)

An increasingly favorable environment for Republicans and strong GOP fundraising has prompted CQ Politics to revise several race ratings, moving two Florida House districts — the 2nd and 22nd — out of the Safe Democratic category and into the more competitive Likely Democratic position.

Meanwhile, Democrats’ unsuccessful effort to get long-term Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young to retire in Florida’s 10th district has prompted a change in that race from Likely Republican into the less competitive Safe Republican category.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Obama’s Nuclear Modesty (PETER D. FEAVER, 4/09/10, NY Times)

[T]the most controversial part of the new policy boils down to this: we will not threaten to use nuclear weapons against a state that launches a non-nuclear attack against us unless we deem it to be in violation of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.

And the Obama administration even gave itself an escape clause from that limited rule. “Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development,” the new policy reads, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat.”

It’s a rather dense clause, but in explaining it, White House officials drew a distinction between non-nuclear threats that they view as only “crippling” and potential threats that might be “devastating.” They made clear that the administration reserves the right to determine which sorts of attacks might cross that line into “devastating,” and thus warrant a nuclear response.

So, is the entire declaratory doctrine a meaningless exercise in rhetoric? Not entirely. For one, it does weaken our deterrence ability slightly. Deterrence depends on an adversary fearing that we will respond in a devastating way to an attack. Policy makers like to think of our nuclear deterrence strategy as an “umbrella,” one that includes scenarios that the adversary is certain will engender our nuclear response, and others in which it believes that the chances of retaliation are too high to risk.

If adversaries believe what is stated in the new Obama doctrine, the umbrella is a bit smaller, with fewer scenarios in both the “certain" and the “likely enough” categories.

There's no one left on the unicorn ride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Labour are now the reactionaries, we the radicals (David Cameron, 4/09/10, guardian.co.uk)

There has been a strange reversal in British politics. Labour have become a reactionary force while the Conservatives are today the radicals. Gordon Brown heaps taxes on the poor, blocks plans to improve gender equality, allows rape crisis centres and special schools to shut. He echoes the far right in demanding "British jobs for British workers", then plays to the far left in reigniting class warfare. His reflex is to seek dividing lines instead of ways to unite.

He is most reactionary, most illiberal, in his obsession with the state. Detention without trial; ID cards; new powers for the state to enter your home … the list goes on. And this antiquated belief in state control underscores Labour's approach to public services. In education they want to derail the academy programme by handing power back to local education authorities. In health, they refuse to dismantle the bureaucracy that drives nurses and doctors mad. And they refuse to release data on government contracts or the details of senior government salaries.

Labour are wedded to the idea that politicians know best, with their targets and quangos and diktats. But you cannot fight poverty or improve hospitals from office blocks in Westminster; you need pluralism, you need to release the energy and ambition on the ground in local communities. We live in an age where power is being diffused: in every industry, consumers are gaining control; in every debate, more voices are being heard. In politics, Gordon Brown is an anachronism. His government is past its sell-by date.

Now consider our party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Five Big Banks Control Risky Trades at Center of 2008 Financial Crisis (Tom Diemer, 4/08/10, Politics Daily)

A financial reform package, nearing a vote in the Senate, may not go far enough in reining in credit default swaps -- the risky deals that were part of the 2008 financial crisis. The trading is an ongoing practice, now controlled by five large banks, according to a report published by the Brookings Institution.

The banks, Citicorp, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, will be able to get around looming financial reform legislation unless the government deals with antitrust problems to assure more transparency in the transactions, National Journal Online reported Thursday in a story on the new study.

April 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Let’s not make a deal: a review of On Compromise and Rotten Compromises
by Avishai Margalit
(David Runciman, April 08. 2010, The National)

The idea that the Second World War was the definitive “good” war, in which radical evil was confronted and vanquished, has always run up against the problem of what happened on the Eastern Front. As the British historian Max Hastings has put it, the story of how Stalin’s Red Army defeated Hitler’s Third Reich is “not for anyone with a weak stomach”. Stalin was utterly ruthless in his disregard for the lives of his own subjects, which he tossed away by the million. The only people who fared worse were his enemies (which included many of his own subjects) against whom he unleashed campaigns of unimaginable vindictiveness. His was a truly horrible regime. So what does it say about the moral integrity of the western democracies that they were only able to defeat someone as unspeakable as Hitler by throwing in their lot with someone as vile as Stalin?

This is the question that underpins Avishai Margalit’s important and troubling new book about the nature of political compromise. Margalit keeps coming back to the great laboratory of wickedness that was the Second World War, which he describes as being to morality “what the supercollider is to physics: extreme moral experiences and observations emerged out of the high energy clashes”. He thinks we need to have an answer to the question of why it is acceptable to choose Stalin over Hitler – or, as he puts it, why Munich was a “rotten” compromise, but siding with Stalin was a necessary one. The answer he provides is unashamedly grounded in morality. He believes that it is a mistake to try to distinguish between these two regimes in terms of how evil they were in degree (this invariably leads to the futile and miserable business of counting up their dead). Instead, he argues that Stalin’s evil was of a different kind from Hitler’s. The reason it is never acceptable to compromise with someone like Hitler is because Nazism negated the very idea of morality, by repudiating the notion of a shared humanity. The Nazis wanted to dismiss great swathes of the human race from moral consideration altogether. Stalin, by contrast, believed in a shared human future, even if his route for getting there was monstrously callous. So any compromise with Hitler is a rotten compromise, because it contaminates everything it touches. Getting into bed with Stalin, for all the squeamishness it provokes, belongs to a world in which morality at least remains a possibility.

Except that communism is just another atheism, making morality impossible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM

Gluten-free and easy (Four Girl, 4/07/10)

King Arthur has taken its time developing a new line of GF baking mixes, to good effect. I don't need to bake GF, so I compared the quality with that of regular boxed mixes I use from time to time.

Of the seven mixes -- Bread, Pizza Crust, Cookie, Brownie, Chocolate Cake, Muffin and Pancake -- I tried two. My favorite was the brownie. (No surprise there.) The mix makes some of the best brownies I've had from a box, GF or otherwise. They were chewy and deeply chocolaty. I'm not usually an edge-girl, preferring the tenderness of center-cut brownies. Yet I found that with this mix, the edge pieces were equally enticing. [...]

Another advantage to the King Arthur line is customization. These mixes are not just a multi-purpose GF flour (which is a separate King Arthur product). Pizza, pancakes and bread mixes contain xantham gum for stability and structure. Cookies and brownies don't need it, so those mixes don't have it.

The line is certified kosher and produced in an allergen-free facility; available at supermarkets ($5.95 to $6.95) and through www.kingarthurflour.com.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Peanut Butter Sandwich for Breakfast
(High Satisfaction, 1/18/09)

Pour Cheerios in a bowl. Spoon a couple gobs of peanut butter on them. Throw it in the microwave for about a minute and a half. Mix. Consume.

I've been eating peanut butter and frosted Cheerio sandwiches for breakfast, but this is an option if you're out of bread. Chocolate Cheerios give a Reese's effect. Gotta find the BanaNut Cheerios to see if it's Elvis worthy. Here's a coupon to get you going.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


The key to our civilisation: The Chinese have recognised Christianity’s importance in Western culture, says Cardinal George Pell, so why don’t we? (Cardinal George Pell, 31st March 2010, Spectator)

Paradoxically, modern China can help us understand Western life today. Not because China must achieve economic supremacy (20 years ago we were ascribing that honour to Japan), but because this radically different culture is now searching for the secrets of Western vitality to provide a code for decency and social cohesion compatible with sustainable economic development.

In 2002 a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences described their attempts to account for the pre-eminence of the West. Originally they thought the main reason was more powerful guns. Then it was Western political systems, followed by the Western economy. Their final conclusion, however, was this: ‘In the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity… The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.’

Zhao Xiao, an official economist in China, also published an article in 2002 titled ‘Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches’. It made the obvious points that market economies promote efficiency, discourage laziness, force competition. They work and produce wealth. But, he pointed out, a market cannot discourage people from lying or causing harm and indeed may encourage people to harm others and pursue wealth by any means.

Zhao is critical of the corruption and exploitation in Chinese economic life. His diagnosis of China provides a fascinating comparison with the selfism of Western radical secularism: ‘These days Chinese people do not believe in anything. They don’t believe in God, they don’t believe in the devil, they don’t believe in providence, they don’t believe in the Last Judgement, to say nothing about heaven. A person who believes in nothing can only believe in himself. And self-belief implies that anything is possible — what do lies, cheating, harm and swindling matter?’ [...]

Western civilisation derives from Athens, Rome and Jerusalem, a wonderful mixture of reason, law and Judaeo-Christian monotheism, and the interplay between the party of nature and the party of grace. The dark side of the Western tradition has to be acknowledged, ranging as it does from the violence of the French Revolution through to the tyrannies of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism. Pol Pot was trained by Parisian Stalinists, and even Mao owed more to Stalin than to the example of any Oriental despot.

But neither Nazism nor Communism should be listed as belonging to Western civilisation, because they both hated the Judaeo-Christian God and substituted the law of the jungle for natural law. George Steiner has even claimed that the insane Nazi hatred of the Jews derived from the unique Jewish role of introducing monotheism into world history; or, in secularist terms, from their invention of God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Earthbound Quidditch in Texas: Harry Potter fans form teams to play the sport of wizards. (Shirley Jinkins, 4/07/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

It was a windy morning, so it was indeed fortunate that the Quidditch teams were playing by Muggle (nonmagical) rules.

That meant the broomstick-riding players had their feet on the ground, instead of flying madly around in the sky chasing a winged ball.

Over a recent weekend, dozens of teenage Harry Potter devotees gathered on a middle-school practice field to play a real-life version of Quidditch, the fictional sport of played by teams of student wizards at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The Grapevine High School Quidditch Team is a recent project of sophomores AJ Jordan and Scott Holt, described as a pair of "charismatic and enthusiastic guys" by their teacher, Stephanie Bakintas.

"We got the idea just talking in class one day about a month ago," said Jordan, Quidditch team captain. "Due to the fact that Harry Potter played a big part throughout our generation's childhood, it seemed obvious to form a Quidditch team."

...that we decided we could play Rollerball in our inner-city neighborhood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Unexplained sheep attacks 'caused by aliens in UFOs', farmers claim (Daily Telegraph, 4/05/10)

A series of bizarre incidents involving sheep in Shropshire have led to farmers’ claims that aliens are attacking their livestock.

Farmers near Shrewsbury claim to have witnessed sheep being “lasered” by unidentified light from UFOs.

They have linked the unexplained incidents, where sheep’s brains and eyes were removed, to the mysterious orange lights in the sky.

They have found sheep with “neat holes” while their brains and other internal organs were removed. Other animals have lost eyes or had their flesh “carefully stripped away”, usually on the left side.

April 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM

Salt-kissed potatoes, the Canary Islands way: Cooking in heavily salted water wrinkles the skins and leaves them with a light crusting of salt. (Janet Mendel, 4/07/10,Los Angeles Times)

Use small (1 1/2 to 2 inch), waxy potatoes. Wash the potatoes but do not peel them.

1 1/2 pounds small potatoes

1 tablespoon coarse salt

2 cups water

1. Place the potatoes in a wide pan with the salt and water. Bring to a boil and cook on a high heat until all the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes. The potatoes should be tender, coated with white salt and their skins slightly wrinkled. They can be reheated by adding a small quantity of water and allowing it to boil off.

2. If using very small new potatoes, cook them in the water just until tender when probed with a skewer. Drain off the excess water and return the potatoes to the heat to dry them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


General Motors moves closer to recovery with 'chance' at profits (Mark Trumbull, 4/07/10, CS Monitor)

Next steps include repaying Treasury loans by June, earning actual profits, and returning to shareholder ownership with a public offering of stock. For now, the company is owned mostly by its rescuers, the US and Canadian governments.

“We are building the foundation that will allow us to return to public ownership,” said Chris Liddell, GM's chief financial officer, in a statement Wednesday. "There is still significant work to be done," he added. "However, I continue to believe we have a chance of achieving profitability in 2010."

GM is making faster progress than was expected when the government rescue was put in place, Obama administration officials have said.

The strides come as many other bailed-out firms – from some banks to insurer AIG – also appear to be recovering faster than expected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Poll Shows Brady Leading Quinn In Race For Gov. ((CBS Chicago, 4/07/10)

Gov. Pat Quinn has a lot of work to do to get voters in his corner by November if he is going to beat Republican State Sen. Bill Brady in the general election. A new poll has Brady leading Quinn 43 percent to 33 percent. Even worse for Quinn, his approval rating is a dismal 25 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


In Eastern Europe, Pact With Russians Raises Old Specters (DAN BILEFSKY, 4/07/10, NY Times)

As President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia and President Barack Obama prepare to arrive in Prague on Thursday to sign a landmark arms control treaty, Marcela Balounova, like many Czechs, remains haunted by her memories of 1968, when nearly one million Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia, ushering in a period of political repression.

“The Russians invaded us before and they are invading us again,” Ms. Balounova, 50, said from her art gallery in this picturesque spa town, where Peter the Great first came for a treatment in 1711 and which has since become so popular with Russians that most signs offering luxury products and services — from million-euro villas to colonic irrigation — are in Russian. “I still remember crying when the Russians came here. And now here we are more than 40 years later and this place has become a Little Moscow.” [...]

[A]larm has been all the more pronounced in the Czech Republic, where many saw a capitulation to Moscow in Mr. Obama’s decision last year to abandon the antimissile system proposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, which would have been partly deployed in the Czech Republic. While Mr. Bush said the system’s purpose was to shield Europe from Iranian missiles, many here saw it as a bulwark against a newly assertive Kremlin. [...]

For many Czechs of the Cold War generation, who still recall with visceral contempt the sight of Russian tanks on the streets of Prague, the Obama administration’s attempts to reach out to Russia is both naïve and fraught with danger. Hospodarske Noviny, a leading Czech newspaper, said dryly Tuesday that Prague’s role for the Obama administration was that of “butler” and “panoramic backdrop.”

Lubos Dobrovsky, 78, a former dissident who worked as a window cleaner during the communist era before going on to become defense minister and presiding over the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, dismissed the new arms reduction treaty as “a cheap marketing trick by Washington and Moscow.”

Mr. Dobrovsky joined former President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, former President Lech Walesa of Poland and other Central and East European leaders last July in signing an open letter pleading with the Obama administration to retain a “full engagement” in the region and to be wary of resurgent Russian imperialism.

...it should send a delegation to our Eastern European friends to reassure them of America's commitment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Stupak's Office Doesn't Rule Out Retirement (Emily Cadei, April 7, 2010, Congressional Quarterly)

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) has continued to take a hammering over the recess for his controversial role at the heart of the health care bill's abortion debate, prompting speculation that he is considering retirement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Obama swings and misses at Sox lore: Blame Rahm Emanuel for team’s No. 1 fan dropping the ball during interview (John Kass, April 7, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

Obama's troubles started Monday after he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener.

He threw lefty and missed the plate, which wasn't surprising. What was surprising is what happened after he joined announcer Rob Dibble in the booth for some happy talk.

Dibble commented on Obama's hat — a nicely faded black Sox cap — which the president proudly wore on the mound reminding all of us once again of the heroic team from Chicago that has actually won a World Series in the past 100 years.

Dibble asked the fateful question, one so easy that Hawk Harrelson would have called it a "can of corn."

Dibble: "Who was one of your favorite White Sox players growing up?"

Obama: "You know … uh … I thought that … you know … the truth is, that a lot of the Cubs I liked too."

Ouch. The silence between the stammers was excruciating. America's No. 1 Sox fan couldn't name one Sox player.

Not former players like Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk or future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas or manager Ozzie Guillen. The least he could have done was mention a current player, say grizzled veteran Paul Konerko or our spunky new leadoff man, the fleet-footed Slappy McPopup.

Slappy McPopup's real name is Juan Pierre, an ex-Cub. Slappy earned his nickname with a signature swing so weak that it regularly results in harmless pop flies, negating Slappy's one asset, his speed.

You wouldn't expect Obama to name Slappy. But you would expect a Sox fan to know the name of the ballpark.

"When I moved to Chicago," Obama babbled to Dibble, "I was living close to what was then Cominskey Park and went to a couple of games and just fell in love with it."

What's that? Come-in-ski? Is that how Obama invites the Russian foreign minister into the Oval Office during a diplomatic crisis?

Clearly, there was no teleprompter upon which White House media wizard David Axelrod could type the words "Pudge = Carlton Fisk" or "Big Hurt = Frank Thomas."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


U.S., Brazil to sign defense cooperation accord (Phil Stewart and Raymond Colitt, Apr 7, 2010, Reuters)

The United States and Brazil are preparing to sign a new agreement to bolster defense cooperation, the first accord of its kind between the hemisphere's two top economies in more than 30 years, officials said on Wednesday.

The agreement, which could be signed as early as on Monday, is meant to demonstrate strengthening ties between the two militaries, despite diplomatic tensions over Brazil's refusal to back new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Palin Breaks Out the Palm at Bachmann Rally: 'Kicking it Old-School' (Rick Klein, 4/07/10, ABC News)

Those notes on Sarah Palin's palm have become a political punch line -- including, now, for Palin herself.

Campaigning today for Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minneapolis, Palin marveled at the fact that Bachmann, R-Minn., has fostered 23 children. She said she Googled that fact and thought so much of it that she inked it on her left palm.

“That was palm-worthy -- I had to write that one on my hand,” the former Alaska governor said.

Then, she offered a gibe at President Obama as she showed off the notes: “This is the poor man’s version of a teleprompter -- we’re still kicking it old-school.”

The Boy would call that pwnage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


Upbeat Signs Revive Consumers’ Mood for Spending (STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM, 4/06/10, NY Times)

After months of penny-pinching amid the recession, new figures — showing an improving job market, rising factory output and increased retail sales — suggest that consumers are no longer restricting their budgets to necessities like food and medicine. They are starting to buy clothes, jewelry and even cars again.

The mood has gone from panicked to cautious, and now, as Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com put it, some consumers are “almost a bit giddy.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


Sadr followers snub Allawi and Maliki. Who will lead Iraq? (Scott Peterson and Alice Fordham, April 7, 2010, CS Monitor)

Among possible coalition partners for Maliki and Allawi are the followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Though Sadrists – who will control more than half of the 70 seats won by their Shiite alliance – share Maliki's Shiite religion, they remain bitter over Maliki-ordered assaults on their militia in 2008.

But today, following a two-day referendum among al-Sadr's supporters held Friday and Saturday, Sadrist officials said they had chosen former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari as their nominee to lead Iraq. Jaafar Mohammed al-Sadr, a relative of the cleric whose name was on the ballot, finished second. Maliki finished fourth and Allawi finished fourth among the 1.43 million votes cast. It is not legally binding.

Kurdish parties, which won more than 50 seats, likewise have issues with Maliki's forays against Kurdish peshmerga, or militia, and are worried about both men's strong Iraqi nationalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Obama's Half-Hearted Nuclear Turnaround: With his new nuclear doctrine, Barack Obama wants to pave the way to a nuclear weapons-free world. For the first time, the US is abandoning its past threat of responding to conventional threats with nuclear weapons. But when it comes to the dangers posed by Iran, North Korea and terrorists, the president hasn't offered any new solutions. (Marc Pitzke, 4/07/10, Der Spiegel)

The new stance represents a renunciation of the view that the deterring power of nuclear weapons also keeps conventional opponents in their place. "Our nuclear arsenal also helps deter enemies from using chemical and biological weapons," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as recently as October 2008, in a speech given at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. At the time, he was still serving under Obama's predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush. Now, however, the terms are to be stricter: Conventional weapons must be deployed against conventional threats, and the specter of nuclear weapons can only be raised against a nuclear threat.

The enemy must be so relieved that a campaign promise from the UR protects them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Vermont awards $150,000 for critter crossing (Valerie Richardson, 4/06/10, AP)

Why did the salamander cross the road? Because he wanted to check out the $150,000 tunnel built just for him.

State officials in Vermont awarded a six-figure grant last week to the Monkton Conservation Commission to build a tunnel under a busy street for salamanders and reptiles. The tunnel, or culvert, is expected to be completed in the city of Monkton by 2011.

...they were a terrific band

Name Your Link

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


What's driving up oil prices again? Wall Street, of course (Kevin G. Hall, 4/01/10, McClatchy Newspapers)

Oil consumption has fallen, demand from U.S. motorists for gasoline is flat at best and refiners that turn crude into fuel are operating well below capacity. Yet oil prices keep marching toward $90 a barrel, pushing gasoline toward $3 a gallon in many markets, and prompting American drivers to ask, "What gives?"

Blame it on the same folks who brought you $140 oil and $4 gasoline in 2008: Wall Street speculators.

Experts attribute much of the recent rise in prices to flows of speculative money into oil markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


The BPA Myth: Environmentalists are unbendable on plastics. (Iain Murray , 4/07/10, National Review)

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report published in the scholarly journal Toxicological Sciences in October 2009 also showed no harm to humans from BPA.

The state — which is mired in budget crisis — is wasting public funds to indulge the whims of a single special-interest group. Yet it is not just taxpayer money that is at stake. NRDC is sending a message to businesses nationwide: If you use BPA — whether to make toys, eyeglasses, or medical equipment — don’t invest here. For no company will invest in a state — and thus create jobs and expand facilities in that state — if the state is threatening to stop manufacturing in the near future. NRDC’s whim is helping to prolong California’s recession.

Ironically, the same EPA study that found no effect from BPA found significant effects from the oral contraceptive Ethinyl Estradiol. Yet when environmental groups are asked whether they should campaign against contraceptive use, they prevaricate. Curt Cunningham, water-quality-issues chairman for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sierra Club International, dismissed such demands in 2007, saying, “I suspect people would not take kindly to that. . . . For many people, it’s an economic necessity.” Only ideology can explain such a double standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Shall the religious inherit the earth?: Quite likely, on current demographic trends, argues a British political scientist in a book just published in Britain. (Eric P Kaufmann, 6 April 2010, MercatorNet)

A new book may explain why leading secularists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are so strident in their campaign against religion: it is not a question of driving the last nails into the coffin of religion but of desperately trying to ward off the inevitable resurgence of religious faith as a factor in political life. In, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, political sociologist Eric Kaufmann predicts the reversal of secularism around mid-century and asks what this will mean for societies. Here he responds to MercatorNet’s questions about his book. [...]

MercatorNet: Your book is based on the fact that religious people have a demographic advantage over seculars. Can you give us some examples of this? What about nominal adherents to a faith -- do they make any difference demographically?

Eric Kaufmann: The paradigm cases are closed sects like the Amish and Hutterites, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have 3 to 4 times the birthrates of their co-religionists. Conservative evangelicals and Mormons have 50 per cent more children than liberal/moderate Protestants. However, even practicing Catholics have an advantage: in France, white Catholic women who practice average a half child more than secular white women (a 25 % advantage) and that advantage has grown or been steady for decades.

MercatorNet: Several writers have predicted that Europe is on course to become Eurabia this century -- are they right?

Eric Kaufmann: I address this in some detail in the book, as well is in a recent article in the April issue of Prospect magazine here in Britain. The short answer is that I don’t foresee a Muslim-majority Europe in this century or in the next. Why? Mainly because Muslim birthrates are plunging both in Europe and the Muslim world. Already, Iran, Tunisia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and several other Muslim countries have replacement-level fertility or below. In the UK, Bangladeshi and Pakistani fertility has halved in a generation and is now under 3 children per woman. This means their long-term growth will begin to tail off. The other part of the equation is the rise of non-Muslim immigrant groups (African and West Indian Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and other Eastern faiths) who are also increasing and therefore making Europe more plural and, in the process, rendering it harder for Muslims to increase their share of the population.

That said, Muslim membership retention and in-group marriage is exceptionally high (over 90 per cent) and they are a much younger population than the host society. So they are on course for steady growth. My colleagues and I expect their fertility to fall to host levels by 2030, but they will still make up 5-15 per cent of most West European countries by 2050 and 10-25 per cent by 2100. This is a major change from the 2-6 per cent levels of today. [...]

MercatorNet: What trends do you see in the Christian population of Europe and the West generally? Is it still succumbing to secularism?

Eric Kaufmann: This is a complex picture. We see strong secularism among the mass of the population in most Catholic countries, such as Spain or Ireland; we find some of this among state Protestant churches like the Lutherans in Germany and Anglicans in England. On the other hand, the rate of secularisation has flattened to zero in most of Protestant Europe and France – the places where secularism began early and religious observance is low. By 2050 we should expect to see the end of secularisation in northwestern Europe and a slow, gradual rebound of Christianity (and other faiths). Finally, Christian immigration and fertility has arrested secularism in major cities like London, where Christian attendance is almost the same today as in 1989. This is an illustration of how demography affects secularism, but part of what we are seeing is an exhaustion effect whereby secularism has creamed off those most partial to leaving while the remnant remains increasingly resistant to its charms. Immigration then helps shift the wind in a religious direction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Gomez holds both conservative and progressive views: The archbishop is a champion of immigrants yet embraces strict orthodoxy on such matters as abortion and gay marriage. (Scott Gold and, Jessica Garrison and Louis Sahagun, April 7, 2010, LA Times)

When Archbishop Jose Gomez introduced himself to the faithful Tuesday morning, he described Los Angeles as "the global face of the Catholic Church." He might as well have been talking about himself.

Gomez, 58, who will succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony, is a reflection of the future of American Catholicism. Born in northern Mexico, now an American citizen, he is one of the millions of Latinos who will make up the majority of Catholics in the United States within the next 10 years.

And like many of those Latinos, he is at once a conservative and a progressive: unyielding in his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, passionate in his advocacy for immigrants and the poor, confounding to those who try to wedge him into the traditional right-left political paradigm.

During his six-year tenure atop the San Antonio archdiocese, Gomez emerged as a leading advocate for doctrinal conformity, determined to stave off what he saw as creeping secularism in the church.

He denounced one Catholic university when it invited then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to campus, because she favored abortion rights, and another when it invited a Benedictine nun, because she had advocated the ordination of women. Under his reign, a local Catholic high school ended its relationship with an organization that raised money to fight breast cancer, because the same organization gave grants to Planned Parenthood. After a 17-year-old lay advisory commission created by his predecessor suggested that gay marriage might be a human rights issue under one reading of the church's teachings, Gomez disbanded the commission.

Sounds simply conservative to us.

April 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


78% Think Jesus Christ Rose from the Dead (Rasmussen Reports, April 04, 2010)

Today's the day Christians believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, and 78% of Americans share that belief.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 10% don't believe Christ rose from the dead, and another 11% are not sure.

Eighty-five percent (85%) also think that the person known to history as Jesus Christ actually walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Six percent (6%) disagree. Eight percent (8%) aren't sure.

Nearly as many adults (81%) believe that Jesus was the son of God who came to Earth and died for our sins. Ten percent (10%) don't think that's true, and nine percent (9%) are not sure.

Which just goes to show how inflated that 13% number is as a measure of Darwinists in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


The onliest Sonny: Rollins looks at 80 (JON GARELICK, April 6, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

It’s Rollins’s thirst for that magic of pure invention that still drives him. When I get him on the phone at his home in New Paltz, New York, he laughs heartily at my awkward attempt to complement him on his longevity as a performer. “I’m still looking for that lost chord,” he says. “Something in my dreams. Or at least get closer to it. That’s why I’m still out here, really.”

In a now-famous 1959 article in the Jazz Review, Gunther Schuller analyzed the thematic and structural unity of the solo improvisation on Rollins’s recording of “Blue 7.” The article was said to have depressed Rollins, what with his unconscious, extemporaneous outpouring being treated like exacting compositional deliberation. In fact, like fellow saxophonist Lee Konitz, he’s looking to begin an improvisation with a blank mind. “The ideas, that part of it, is all done in the preparation. Learning the song, the harmonic changes, words, if you want to do that. Then when you get into the performance, you don’t have to think about that.”

At times in concert, Rollins will pound at the melody of a tune, repeating it over and over, until it reveals its secrets and his imagination runs loose. At such moments, he might cut the band for a lengthy cadenza, in which his playing becomes a kind of speaking in tongues — fragments of melodies and quoted phrases from other tunes, burly atonal clusters of notes, all tumbling out in a torrent. Lightning has struck. Rollins has said that an especially long improvisation can sometimes indicate frustration: that lost chord is eluding him. In the past, he’s been notoriously self-critical, and he still doesn’t like to listen to his own playing unless a recording project requires it. How does he assess his own playing these days?

“Over the many years I’ve been performing, it’s been such a big issue with me: ‘Gee, did I play good? Did I sound good?’ ” Now, he says, he’s satisfied to reach a standard that he feels is worthy of his audience, even if he’d like to go beyond that. “At one time in my career, I didn’t have a gauge of what that standard was, and if I felt blue, I was really blue after a show. That was a big thing for me for a while. Now I’ve sort of evened that out to where I can give a standard performance and not be ready to kill myself when I get off the stage.” [...]

His material these days tends to funk and calypsos and old songs that you wouldn’t necessarily call standards because not many people play them — like Frank Loesser & Alfred Newman’s “The Moon of Manakoora,” from This Is What I Do (2000), which he remembered Dorothy Lamour singing in The Hurricane, a 1937 John Ford movie that his mother took him to when he was about nine. A song appeals to Rollins because “it strikes some kind of a familiar chord someplace in my psyche.” Jazz musicians generally are attracted to songs with chords that offer good opportunities for improvisation, but Rollins says, “Usually, if I like a song, the first thing that is going to attract me is the melody. Which means the harmonic underpinnings, also — it means the whole song. So if I like the song, that automatically means it’s something I can improvise on.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


King of flour launches gluten-free line (Ingrid Lysgaard, 4/07/10, Boston Globe)

When America’s oldest flour company ventures into a whole new arena, bakers take notice.

Last month, King Arthur Flour Co., based in Norwich, Vt., entered the gluten-free market. “We did it almost reluctantly,’’ says Sue Gray, product development manager and test kitchen director.

The project has been in the works for a couple of years. “We started getting a lot of calls on our baker’s hot line for help with gluten-free baking,’’ says Gray, “and customers kept asking for flours and mixes. Two years ago I started working on the project with our team in the test kitchen by reading everything we could find about gluten-free flours.’’[...]

The hard work in King Arthur’s test kitchens shows in the gluten-free bread mix ($6.95). The box makes a single loaf that can be sliced for sandwiches. The bread rises high in the pan. The taste and texture are exceptional; the most impressive part is the thin, crisp crust. As the bread cools, it crackles like a French baguette. It’s difficult to wait until the loaf cools completely before cutting off an end piece and slathering it with unsalted butter. Two days later, the loaf makes beautiful toast. Ready for more butter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Dems Ask: Who is Crazier -- Palin or Bachmann? ( Teddy Davis, 4/06/10, ABC News)

With Sarah Palin slated to stump for fellow Tea Party icon, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in Minneapolis at 3:00 pm ET on Wednesday, the campaign arm of House Democrats is planning to put its supporters to the test.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Strolling back to the Senate? No opposition for Thune ( Kevin Woster, 4/02/10, Rapid City Journal)

An independent candidate has until early June to file nominating petitions with sufficient signatures to make the ballot. If Thune is not challenged by an independent, it would be the first time a South Dakota candidate for U.S. Senate as run unopposed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


For some, a low profile on health vote (JAMES HOHMANN, 4/5/10, Politico)

After announcing his intention to vote for the bill in a news conference televised live on CNN two days before the vote, Obama lauded [Rep. John Boccieri's] political courage. The president noted that the freshman Democrat sat “in as tough a district as there is,” a shout-out that prompted a standing ovation from the House Democratic Caucus.

For the past week, however, Boccieri has gone dark, surfacing only last Wednesday night — in New York City — at a cocktail party fundraiser to benefit his reelection campaign. Otherwise, the congressman had no public schedule. A spokeswoman said he was focused on “constituent services.”

Boccieri is not alone. He’s one of a number of House Democrats who’ve kept a low profile over the recess, a group largely defined by the level of political jeopardy they face this fall.

The least you should expect of your representative is that he never cast a vote he's ashamed of.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Dems' special-election scramble (Alex Isenstadt and Josh Kraushaar, April 6, 2010, Politico)

The prospect of losing two House seats in back-to-back special elections next month has sparked a vigorous, behind-the-scenes Democratic effort, designed to avoid an outcome that could lead to panic among the rank and file and stall the momentum generated by the recent passage of landmark health care legislation.

The trajectories of the two elections, which will take place in Pennsylvania and Hawaii over a span of four days next month, have raised alarm bells among top party officials who fear that a pair of defeats in the Democratic-held seats could amount to a Massachusetts Senate sequel, overshadowing President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan and reinforcing a narrative that the Democratic Party is on track for severe losses in November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Dutch sidestep EU red tape to rescue German ship (MIKE CORDER, 4/06/10, AP)

Gaining fast on the pirates who had seized a German freighter, Dutch naval captain Col. Hans Lodder had no time to waste on bureaucracy.

Sidestepping the command of the European Union's anti-piracy task force, he went instead to his own government for authorization to recapture the ship by force. [...]

Lodder said he decided to seek permission from his own command for an "opposed boarding" — one where pirates may resist — rather than act under procedures laid down by Brussels.

"We just told my force commander we would operate under national command until after the boarding," Lodder told The Associated Press. "We kept everyone in the EU informed of everything we did."

A spokesman for the EU mission acknowledged the Dutch action avoided a delay and was legitimate.

"For speed of reaction, if you're on the spot ... (and) dispatched at haste to react to something immediately, the best thing to do is to go under national command," said Cmdr. John Harbour, U.K.-based spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Somalia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Russia reserves opt-out of arms treaty with US (VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press)

The new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty is a much better deal for Russia than its predecessor, but Moscow reserves the right to withdraw from it if a planned U.S. missile defense system grows into a threat, Russia's foreign minister said Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


US Treasury profits more than $10bn from bailout repayments (Meenal Vamburkar, 06 April 2010, New Statesman)

Forty-nine companies have paid $10.5bn work of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) debts.

The funds were not seen as a profitable investment, so the profits are unexpectedly large, according to report by SNL Financial.

Unexpectedly? It's worked exactly as W envisioned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Liberal Internationalism: The Twilight of a Dream (Walter Russell Mead, 4/05/10, American Interest)

As I wrote in Special Providence, Wilsonians are the Trotskyites of the American revolutionary tradition. Just as the Trotskyites thought the Bolshevik revolution wasn’t safe unless communism conquered the whole world, American Wilsonians believe that the success and the security of the democratic American revolution at home depends on the triumph of democracy worldwide.

Wilsonians come in more than one flavor. Liberal internationalists (like Woodrow Wilson himself) believe simultaneously in the spread of democracy and the establishment of a world order that looks a lot like world government. (Sometimes they go all the way and think that the establishment of a single world government is the key to humanity’s future.) They believe, passionately, that only international law can save us from chaos, violence and, hopefully, war. A strong body of international law, enforced by international courts and obeyed by national governments is the way to make war less likely and less dreadful when it occurs; it can also deter torture, human rights violations and a whole host of other bad things.

Liberal internationalists want the world to become a more orderly and law abiding place. Ideally many would like the United Nations or some other international organization to evolve into something a little bit like a world government: the European Union on a global scale. But failing that, liberal internationalists would like to see better enforcement mechanisms for documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They would like the ‘laws of war’ to become ever more clearly codified and ever more effectively enforced. They look to the day when power shifts from national governments to international bureaucracies and institutions.

Neoconservatives, on the other hand, are Wilsonians who think, among other things, that the twin goals of democracy promotion and the development of global institutions can’t always be pursued simultaneously. With for example, two non-democratic powers on the Security Council, the goal of democracy promotion might sometimes come into conflict with the goal of making the UN the supreme arbiter of world politics. Otherwise you are saying that China and Russia can veto your efforts to promote freedom worldwide: you are giving the keys of the prison to the bad guys.

The Bush administration wrestled with the consequences of neoconservative ideas; in the Obama administration it is liberal internationalists who are trying to steer history their way.

During the neoconservative years of the Bush administration, liberal internationalists were developing a new variation on their point of view. In the past, Wilsonian visions have been linked to the idea that the United States was a rising power. As America’s power and influence grew in the international system we had more ability to shape the flow of history; liberal internationalists wanted us to use this rising power to build a steadily more democratic and law-bound world. But what if America is in decline? What becomes of the Wilsonian project then?

Some liberal internationalists have come to see a more institutionalized and organized global polity as a strategy for dealing with what they see as America’s relative decline in the twenty first century. While the United States is still strong, they argue, we should use our power and influence to promote global institutions and governance with agreed rules and procedures. That way the transition from an American world order to the coming post-American system can be made smoother, less dangerous and, from an American point of view, much more pleasant. Entranced by the aura of legitimacy surrounding these august institutions (and, to be fair, appreciative of the benefits provided by orderly methods for settling trade and other disputes), the rising new powers will continue to lead the world down the path the Americans laid down. Wilsonian, once an ideology of rising American power, becomes a strategy for smoothing America’s decline.

This idea is, I think, pretty influential among some of the people in the Obama administration. It may even have a place in the President’s thinking.

It could not be more wrong. The world is inexorably developing in directions that undermine the authority and efficacy of big international institutions, and American power (not, I think, doomed to decline) will increasingly have to operate outside of institutional frameworks, like it or not.

There are three big factors in world affairs that make the liberal internationalist path increasingly problematic going forward.

The tragic fact that Wilson himself was more than happy to kick democracy in the colonies to the curb in favor of his own transnationalist project suggests just how inappropriate it is to think of "liberal internationalists" as what we tend to think of as Wilsonian. Indeed, the only two truly Wilsonian presidents we've had--at least since the 19th century--were Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And the most obvious idea that they shared was their Christian faith-- upon which their vision of universal liberal democratic protestant capitalism was based. Neoconservatives lack any basis for their ideas, so have to attach themselves to such leaders. But they are pilot fish, not pilots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Relax, We’ll Be Fine (DAVID BROOKS, 4/06/10, NY Times)

The demographic growth is driven partly by fertility. The American fertility rate is 50 percent higher than Russia, Germany or Japan, and much higher than China. Americans born between 1968 and 1979 are more family-oriented than the boomers before them, and are having larger families.

In addition, the U.S. remains a magnet for immigrants. Global attitudes about immigration are diverging, and the U.S. is among the best at assimilating them (while China is exceptionally poor). As a result, half the world’s skilled immigrants come to the U.S. As Kotkin notes, between 1990 and 2005, immigrants started a quarter of the new venture-backed public companies.

The United States already measures at the top or close to the top of nearly every global measure of economic competitiveness. A comprehensive 2008 Rand Corporation study found that the U.S. leads the world in scientific and technological development. The U.S. now accounts for a third of the world’s research-and-development spending. Partly as a result, the average American worker is nearly 10 times more productive than the average Chinese worker, a gap that will close but not go away in our lifetimes.

This produces a lot of dynamism. As Stephen J. Rose points out in his book “Rebound: Why America Will Emerge Stronger From the Financial Crisis,” the number of Americans earning between $35,000 and $70,000 declined by 12 percent between 1980 and 2008. But that’s largely because the number earning over $105,000 increased by 14 percent. Over the past 10 years, 60 percent of American adults made more than $100,000 in at least one or two of those years, and 40 percent had incomes that high for at least three.

As the world gets richer, demand will rise for the sorts of products Americans are great at providing — emotional experiences. Educated Americans grow up in a culture of moral materialism; they have their sensibilities honed by complicated shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Mad Men,” and they go on to create companies like Apple, with identities coated in moral and psychological meaning, which affluent consumers crave.

As the rising generation leads an economic revival, it will also participate in a communal one. We are living in a global age of social entrepreneurship.

...that as other developed nations pancake that we won't see a sizable new wave of European immigration, especially of the remaining religious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Obama Constantly Puts Mideast Blame On Israel, Not Arabs (Morton M. Kondracke, 4/05/10, Roll Call)

On all fronts, President Barack Obama ’s policies in the Middle East are failing. So what is the president doing? Taking it out on America’s closest ally, Israel. [...]

Obama gives every indication of believing the “Arab narrative” of what blocks Middle East peace — namely, Israeli (not Palestinian) intransigence.

His animus isn’t into Jimmy Carter territory yet — Carter likens Israel to apartheid South Africa — but Obama is given to outbursts of rage at Israeli “provocations,” but none to those committed on the Palestinian side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Ottawa's stimulus package simply did not work: The $47-billion action plan had little impact on turning around economy (CHARLES LAMMAM and NIELS VELDHUIS, April 6, 2010, Montreal Gazette)

A Fraser Institute study published last week found the federal government's deficit-financed $47.2-billion Economic Action Plan had virtually no impact on last year's economic turnaround. [...]

A vast body of academic research casts serious doubt on the ability of government stimulus spending to boost economic activity. Worse still, the government's estimates of the impact of the Economic Action Plan on employment and economic growth are based on discredited assumptions that have no empirical basis.

An important recent analysis by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna of stimulus initiatives in Canada and 20 other industrialized countries from 1970 to 2007 found that failed stimulus initiatives almost exclusively relied on government spending.

Another study by Stanford University Professor John Taylor reviewed the evidence over the past decade and concluded "there is little reliable empirical evidence that government spending is a way to end a recession or accelerate a recovery."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


Barack Obama and Baseball: The President's (Other) Game
(Carl M. Cannon, 4/05/10, Politics Daily)

So it's not their own playing ability that is of most interest; the most skilled baseball players were not necessarily the most successful presidents. True, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the best baseball player to hold the job, and he left the White House in 1961 with high approval ratings after two terms in office. But the second-best ballplayer ever to work out of the Oval Office may have been Gerald Ford, who couldn't hold his job in the starting rotation, so to speak, for even one season: Jerry Ford lost his election bid to a slow-pitch softball player from Plains, Ga., whose dealings with organized baseball foreshadowed (and even helped explain) his aloof and ineffectual dealings with Congress.

As president, Jimmy Carter couldn't be bothered to even attend a major league game for his first three years in office -- and he was the only president in the past century not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

The best baseball player of all time--period--begs to differ:

April 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


New poll shows 'sea change' in Californians' attitudes toward illegal immigration (Ken McLaughlin, 4/05/10, mercurynews.com)

In a dramatic turnaround from 16 years ago, Californians now overwhelmingly favor giving illegal immigrants a "path to legalization'' rather than punishing them by denying them a public education and social services, according to a poll unveiled Monday.

The survey of 1,515 registered voters showed that 67 percent of Californians support a two-pronged approach to solving the illegal immigration problem: implementing stronger enforcement at the border while setting up a legalization path for undocumented immigrants who admit they broke the law, perform community service, learn English and pay fines and back taxes. [...]

Dan Schnur, a political science professor at the University of Southern California, said the poll — sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and USC's College of Letters, Arts and Sciences — showed there was a "sea change'' in Californians' attitudes toward illegal immigration since 1994. That's when 59 percent of the state's voters cast a ballot in favor of Proposition 187, the white-hot measure aimed at denying services to illegal immigrants. The proposition was later ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

And it's been all downhill since.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Barack Obama: The opacity of hope: In "The Bridge," a biracial dreamer in post-Reagan America becomes the first black president. Then things get tough (Joan Walsh, 4/05/10, Salon)

Reading David Remnick's "The Bridge," it's astonishing all over again that we elected as president not just an African-American by the name of Barack Hussein Obama Jr., but a relative political newcomer we knew comparatively little about.

Throughout the book I found myself marveling at the blanks and partial stories about the president that Remnick fills in: about his parents, and whether "Kenya and Kansas" factored into the person he became. How was he shaped by Indonesia and Hawaii, Occidental College and Harvard Law School, idealism, left-wing theory and it-ain't-beanbag Chicago politics? When did Barry become Barack? Maybe most compelling: When did he become the Barack Obama, charismatic, charming, über-calm and confident; first among men; an inevitable future president?

Remnick ably answers all of those questions, though he qualifies the scope of his work by calling it "biographical journalism." (He also chases away all the insane conspiracy theories, not by confronting them directly, but with facts.) If you care about American politics, you have to read "The Bridge." One of its contributions is defining Obama as part of a demographic I hadn't thought much about: the post-civil rights movement do-gooder, leaving college and entering the workforce in the 1980s, under a depressing cloud of Reaganism (it happens to be my demographic as well). Watching the future president move through the dusty halls of well-intended but often ineffectual nonprofits, before (and even after) he finds his way to Harvard Law School, I had a new understanding of the way coming of political age in the '80s, caring about social justice but struggling to find a way to make change, shaped this particular historic change agent. Almost as much as being biracial, the pragmatic, incremental approach of post-movement left-liberal politics helps explain the cautious, conciliating president he's become.

"The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama" leaves some of his mysteries unsolved: a privacy and aloofness that also seem like loneliness (his mentor Jerry Kellman from his early Chicago days tells Remnick, "It was clear to me that he was never very long anywhere and he was different wherever he goes"); physical and emotional asceticism; an intellectual and political flexibility that makes it hard to pin him down (which some might call having it both ways); an idealistic belief in the power of listening, synthesis, compromise, that sometimes seems like an arrogant confidence in his own power to reconcile the irreconcilable.

One thing is clear: It's no accident that Obama beguiled the electorate (and maybe himself) by over-promising his ability to change Washington, end partisan gridlock and "part the waters," so to speak. He'd been practicing similar social jujitsu most of his life.

Even setting aside his tobacco addiction, ascetics aren't devoted exclusively to themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


White House Focuses on Three High Court Candidates (Greg Stohr, 4/05/10, Bloomberg)

The Obama administration, likely to learn in the next several weeks whether Justice John Paul Stevens will retire, is focusing on three candidates to succeed him, a White House official familiar with the deliberations said.

The group includes U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appellate judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Nevada Senate: Reid Still Struggling (Rasmussen Reports, April 05, 2010)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attracts just 39% to 42% of the Nevada vote when matched against three Republican opponents. Two of his potential opponents now top the 50% level of support.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey in the state also shows that 62% of Nevada’s voters support repealing the recently passed health care law. That’s a bit higher than support for repeal nationally.

Fifty-seven percent (57%) in Nevada say the new law will be bad for the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


The ability to throw overhand ought to be added to the Constitutional requirements for the presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Up in the Air (Elizabeth Kolbert April 12, 2010, The New Yorker)

Joe Bastardi, who goes by the title “expert senior forecaster” at AccuWeather, has a modest proposal. Virtually every major scientific body in the world has concluded that the planet is warming, and that greenhouse-gas emissions are the main cause. Bastardi, who holds a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, disagrees. His theory, which mixes volcanism, sunspots, and a sea-temperature trend known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, is that the earth is actually cooling. Why don’t we just wait twenty or thirty years, he proposes, and see who’s right? This is “the greatest lab experiment ever,” he said recently on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show.

Bastardi’s position is ridiculous (which is no doubt why he’s often asked to air it on Fox News). Yet there it was on the front page of the Times last week. Among weathermen, it turns out, views like Bastardi’s are typical. A survey released by researchers at George Mason University found that more than a quarter of television weathercasters agree with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” and nearly two-thirds believe that, if warming is occurring, it is caused “mostly by natural changes.” (The survey also found that more than eighty per cent of weathercasters don’t trust “mainstream news media sources,” though they are presumably included in this category.)

Why, with global warming, is it always one step forward, two, maybe three steps back?

...it's a hoax?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Drones Batter Qaeda and Allies Within Pakistan (JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH, 4/05/10, NY Times)

By all reports, the bombardment of North Waziristan, and to a lesser extent South Waziristan, has become fast and furious since a combined Taliban and Qaeda suicide attack on a C.I.A. base in Khost, in southern Afghanistan, in late December.

In the first six weeks of this year, more than a dozen strikes killed up to 90 people suspected of being militants, according to Pakistani and American accounts. There are now multiple strikes on some days, and in some weeks the strikes occur every other day, the people from North Waziristan said.

The strikes have become so ferocious, “It seems they really want to kill everyone, not just the leaders,” said the militant, who is a mid-ranking fighter associated with the insurgent network headed by Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. By “everyone” he meant rank-and-file fighters, though civilians are being killed, too.

Tactics used just a year ago to avoid the drones could not be relied on, he said. It is, for instance, no longer feasible to sleep under the trees as a way of avoiding the drones. “We can’t lead a jungle existence for 24 hours every day,” he said.

Militants now sneak into villages two at a time to sleep, he said. Some homeowners were refusing to rent space to Arabs, who are associated with Al Qaeda, for fear of their families’ being killed by the drones, he said.

The militants have abandoned all-terrain vehicles in favor of humdrum public transportation, one of the government supporters said.

The Arabs, who have always preferred to keep at a distance from the locals, have now gone further underground, resorting to hide-outs in tunnels dug into the mountainside in the Datta Khel area adjacent to Miram Shah, he said.

“Definitely Haqqani is under a lot of pressure,” the militant said. “He has lost commanders, a brother and other family members.”

All that the bombers ever "accomplish"--outside Spain--is to make folks who were content to leave them to themselves take up arms against them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The Poisonous Politics of Self-Esteem (Robert Samuelson, 4/05/10, Real Clear Politics)

In fiscal 2010, the federal government will distribute about $2.4 trillion in benefits to individuals. Taxes and regulations discriminate for and against various groups. Politics shapes this process. But in truth, differences between parties are often small. Democrats want to spend more and don't want to raise taxes, except on higher earners. Republicans want to reduce taxes but don't want to spend less. Vast budget deficits reflect both parties' unwillingness to make unpopular choices of whose benefits to cut or whose taxes to boost.

Given this evasion, the public agenda gravitates toward issues framed as moral matters. Global warming is about "saving the planet." Abortion and gay marriage evoke deep values, each side believing it commands the high ground. Certainly, President Obama pitched his health care plan as a moral issue. It embodies "the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care," as he said when signing the legislation. Health care is a "right"; opponents are, by extension, less moral.

Obama's approach was politically necessary. On a simple calculus of benefits, his proposal would have failed. Perhaps 32 million Americans will receive insurance coverage -- about 10 percent of the population. Other provisions add somewhat to total beneficiaries. Still, for most Americans, the bill won't do much. It may impose costs: higher taxes, longer waits for appointments.

People backed it because they thought it "the right thing"; it made them feel good about themselves. What they got from the political process are what I call "psychic benefits." Economic benefits aim to make people richer. Psychic benefits strive to make them feel morally upright and superior. But this emphasis often obscures practical realities and qualifications.

...not many folks -- outside the circles of Democratic pols -- think it was even "the right thing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Moktada al-Sadr, future Iraqi Prime Minister? (Scott Sadler, 04/05/10, Daily Caller)

Over the last few weeks, he has been called “kingmaker” in Iraqi politics. Now, the real question looms. Could Moktada al-Sadr be positioning himself for a future run as the Iraqi Prime Minister? As noted in a previous column, let there be no doubt that he remains one of the most influential religious and political figures in Iraq today. “Sadr is emerging as a dominant player in deciding how Iraq’s next government will be formed,” says The Washington Post.

On Friday and Saturday, Mr. al-Sadr instructed his group of supporters and, anyone else in the country for that matter, to select their candidate for the next prime minister. The Los Angeles Times had their own take on this latest bend from the March 7th elections: “The unofficial balloting held across the country Friday was less about who will rule the country than a demonstration of the staying power of Sadr’s populist movement.”

For his part, Mr. al-Sadr, who is living and studying in Iran, said in a statement read to his followers before Friday prayers that “according to political developments, a mistake might occur in choosing the next prime minister, and for that I think it is in the (national) interest to assign it directly to the people.”

This referendum has no legal authority and officials said the outcome would be made known a couple of days after voting ended on Saturday. Supporters “stood in long lines on Friday,” according to Reuters news agency and “whoever comes out on top is the person the group will back for prime minister,” according to the Associated Press.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Study: Breast-feeding would save lives, money (Lindsey Tanner, 4/05/10, AP)

The lives of nearly 900 babies would be saved each year, along with billions of dollars, if 90 percent of U.S. women breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life, a cost analysis says. [...]

The magnitude of health benefits linked to breast-feeding is vastly underappreciated, said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. Breast-feeding is sometimes considered a lifestyle choice, but Bartick calls it a public health issue.

Among the benefits: Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infections; it also can affect insulin levels in the blood, which may make breast-fed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity.

The analysis studied the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses, costs of treating those diseases, including hospitalization, and the level of disease protection other studies have linked with breast-feeding.

The $13 billion in estimated losses due to the low breast-feeding rate includes an economists' calculation partly based on lost potential lifetime wages — $10.56 million per death.

Heck, they even treat the kids themselves like accoutrements.

April 4, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM


We'll be giving away books again in our annual Brothers Judd NCAA Tournament Pool:


Group's password: ericjulia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Inflation Fears Cut Two Ways At the Fed (JON HILSENRATH, 4/04/10, WSJ)

In 2008, overall consumer prices actually fell for the first time in half a century, but then rebounded as energy prices stabilized. Over the past 12 months, the consumer-price index has risen 2.1%. But measures of inflation that strip out volatile energy and food prices are decelerating. Excluding food and energy, consumer prices in February were 1.3% higher than a year earlier. That was the smallest 12-month increase in six years, and well below year-over-year increases of above 2% before the recession.

"When unemployment is so high, wages and incomes tend to rise slowly, and producers and retailers have a hard time raising prices," Ms. Yellen, who is expected to be President Barack Obama's nominee to become the Fed's vice chairman, said in a speech last week. "That's the situation we're in today, and, as a result, underlying inflation pressures are already very low and trending downward."

Mr. Dudley made similar comments in comments in Lexington, Va., last week. "The substantial amount of slack in productive capacity that exists today will likely only be absorbed gradually. Consequently, trend inflation, at least over the near term, should remain very low."

In this camp, one worry is that inflation-adjusted interest rates—also known as real interest rates—could rise even if the Fed sits on its hands. Such a rise would be a disincentive for businesses to invest in new projects and for consumers to spend.

This unintended increase in rates could put a brake on the economic recovery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


America’s Wounded Ally: India is annoyed by Obama (Sumit Ganguly, 4/02/10, NEWSWEEK)

Despite his reputation for uniquely pushy diplomacy, it was George W. Bush who concluded the landmark deal that recognized India as a legitimate nuclear power and opened the door to the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India. No single American move has done more to demonstrate Washington's respect for New Delhi as a rising and equal power. Now Obama, who came to office promising to respect U.S. allies, is backpedaling on that deal, to the growing chagrin of the Indians.

Obama appears largely oblivious to India's concerns. When the U.S. gathered its allies in the Afghan war at a London summit in January, Indian officials felt they were marginalized because their views were not sought or paid heed to in any fashion. They were even more annoyed by U.S. declarations of a "new dawn" in relations with India's old adversary, Pakistan, and the apparent trust American officials now place in Pakistan's willingness to fight the Taliban, both at home and in Afghanistan. Their feeling is that top Obama advisers, like national-security adviser James Jones and the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, have little experience in South Asia and have displayed remarkable naiveté in public statements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Modern Quixote on a mission from God (Lucy Bannerman, 4/05/10, The Times)

FOR the first 40 years no one seemed to notice the man collecting bricks.

Almost invisibly, the scrap material mounted on a patch of land outside Madrid -- a pile of crooked bricks, a tangle of steel wire -- until, eventually, something remarkable began to take form.

Justo Gallego Martinez was building a cathedral. And he was building it by himself.

Don Justo, as he is referred to, has no architecture training and, now aged 85, little time left to complete his surreal and spiralling magnum opus. What he does have is blind faith, a self-sacrificing desire to honour the Virgin Mary, and a staggering disregard for health and safety regulations.

As his Cathedral for Our Lady of the Pillar nears completion, its bold, blue cupola dominating the skyline of the surrounding suburbs, the man known as El Loco is finally being taken seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


The Stone is Rolled Away! (Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA)

Around the year 1930, a Communist leader named Nikolai Bukharin journeyed from Moscow to Kiev, Ukraine. His mission was to address a huge assembly with the aim of advancing communism. His subject for the evening was atheism. For a solid hour he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity, hurling arguments and ridiculing the Christian faith. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist leader. The audience was breathlessly silent as the man surveyed them first to the right, then to the left. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Democrats stand by candidate seeking Obama seat (MIKE ROBINSON, 04/03/10, AP)

Democrats are quietly worrying about whether Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias can win President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. His family’s bank is believed to be on the verge of collapse and reportedly made $20 million in loans to two convicted felons.

Republican Rep. Mark Kirk is already accusing Giannoulias of lying to the voters about the loans, and his campaign is guaranteed to be pounding away at the bank’s problems in millions of dollars worth of television ads. [...]

Giannoulias was not granting interviews Friday as the Chicago Tribune ran a front page story with the headline: “$20 MILLION IN BANK LOANS TO FELONS.” The story detailed how Broadway Bank, a Giannoulias family-owned institution in Chicago, had lent large sums to convicted felons Michael “Jaws” Giorango and Demitri Stavropoulos.

The fact that Broadway had loaned the men millions — Stavropoulos was convicted of running a multistate bookmaking ring and Giorango of promoting a nationwide prostitution ring — was a campaign issue when Giannoulias ran for state treasurer in 2006. But the Tribune reported it reviewed court files and other documents that showed millions more — a total of more than $27 million worth of mortgages to Giorango, his land trusts and companies since 1999, $20 million of which was loaned when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Beane recognises a kindred business spirit at the Arsenal (Simon Kuper, April 2 2010, Financial Times)

“When I think of Arsène Wenger,” says Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, “I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.”

Beane may be the world’s most influential sports executive. Using previously ignored statistics, he found new ways of valuing baseball players. This data revolution – documented in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball – is now reaching other sports, even hidebound soccer. Brad Pitt is about to play Beane in Moneyball, the movie.

However, Billy Beane’s own Billy Beane works in another sport across the globe. Arsenal’s manager Wenger is “the sports executive I admire most”, he says. [...]

Beane tries to learn from Wenger. “When he does things, I understand them,” he says. “As much as anything I enjoy watching Wenger’s demeanour on the sidelines. He’s viewed by some as an ‘academic’, but what you see on TV is this incredible will to win combined with superior intellect ... a winning combination in any business.”

He considers Wenger a rare sports coach who husbands his club’s money for the long term. He says: “When you think of the structure of most sports teams, there is little benefit to the person running the team on the field to think years ahead. The person who has access to the greatest expenditure ... has no risk in the decision-making.” Beane means that a coach is typically judged on winning games now, not on keeping the club solvent over time, and spends accordingly.

Wenger, however, usually signs cheap youngsters. “Nothing strangulates a sports club more than having older players on long contracts,” explains Beane, “because once they stop performing, they become immoveable. And as they become older, the risk of injury becomes exponential. It’s less costly to bring [on] a young player. If it doesn’t work, you can go and find the next guy, and the next guy. The downside risk is lower, and the upside much higher. It’s almost like he is managing a mutual fund.”

Like Beane at Oakland, Wenger knows he must pursue a different strategy from richer rivals. Beane explains: “If Arsenal and Man U and Chelsea want a striker, well, Arsenal will get the third-best striker. So they will probably develop a striker.”

If Wenger really understood how to exploit undervalued players he'd have been able to replace Van Persie with Altidore, but he has no Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Will Christie begin to remake top court? (Adrienne Lu, 4/04/10, Inquirer)

[C]onservatives are calling for Gov. Christie, a Republican, to start overhauling the court by replacing Justice John E. Wallace Jr. instead of renominating him when his first term ends May 20.

By all accounts, Christie appears to be seriously considering the move, which would upend decades of tradition: Under the state constitution, which dates to 1947, no Supreme Court justice has ever failed to be reappointed for tenure.

Christie will have the opportunity to replace at least four of the seven justices in his first term. Those decisions could have more of an impact on the state than anything else he does as governor. [...]

Even if reappointed, Wallace will face mandatory retirement in two years when he turns 70, which means Christie will get to choose his replacement anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


David Cameron as Gene Hunt? Labour must be living life on Mars (Matthew d'Ancona, 03 Apr 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Alastair Campbell used to joke that when he left Tony Blair's employ he would set up a website called www.outoftouch.com. Now returned to New Labour's inner sanctum and a regular member of Peter Mandelson's election strategy gatherings, Mr Campbell should recall his own gag (originally made at a time when his party still looked more or less unbeatable) and ask himself if it is funny any more. [...]

There is so much wrong with this that one scarcely knows where to start. The principal point is that Gene Hunt, the politically incorrect, no-nonsense, get-the-job-done copper played by Philip Glenister, has become an unexpected national hero and sex symbol, inspiring T-shirts, collections of his best quotations, and other merchandise. Plenty of disagreeable things happened in the Eighties: the miners' strike wasn't much fun, nor the dole queues, nor the sporadic riots. I don't suppose it would have done Cameron and Osborne any favours to depict them as Brideshead's Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder from the great 1981 television adaptation, with William Hague as a bald Aloysius the teddy bear.

Instead, New Labour has decided to associate Cameron explicitly with a fictional character who personifies all that was best, most gleeful and is most fondly remembered about the Thatcher decade – when the nation began to feel proud of itself once more, when it sensed the possibility of greatness afresh, when it started to pump testosterone again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Did Jesus Get Lost in Translation? (Gary North, LewRockwell.com)

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is an Orthodox Jew, identified the issue.

Never has a film aroused such hostile passion so long prior to its release as has Mel Gibson's Passion. Many American Jews are alarmed by reports of what they view as potentially anti-Semitic content in this movie about the death of Jesus, which is due to be released during 2004. Clearly the crucifixion of Jesus is a sensitive topic, but prominent Christians who previewed it, including good friends like James Dobson and Michael Novak who have always demonstrated acute sensitivity to Jewish concerns, see it as a religiously inspiring movie, and refute charges that it is anti-Semitic. While most Jews are wisely waiting to see the film before responding, others are either prematurely condemning a movie they have yet to see or violating the confidentiality agreements they signed with Icon Productions.

Rabbi Lapin's most famous congregation member is Michael Medved, who has come to the movie's defense artistically.

Here is one of those strange aspects about modernity: besieged religious conservatives in their respective theological camps jointly support one another because they see that American society is under assault by liberals and moral libertines who are technically part of their respective theological traditions, but who are in fact allied in a full-scale frontal assault against traditional society and its culture. It is not that politics has made strange bedfellows. It is that the prevailing culture war has made strange bedfellows. Politics is secondary to the besieged, though not to the besiegers.

The irony of this is that Lapin, as an Orthodox Jew, is self-consciously an heir of the Pharisees, who took over the leadership of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Sadducees disappeared. The cultural and judicial conflict between Orthodox Jews and Christians lasted until the mid-nineteenth century. Then theological liberals in both camps adopted the same strategy of attack: a denial of the divine authority of the Bible. This academic procedure is called higher criticism. In their defense of the Hebrew text, the orthodox of both camps found that they could help each other and would have to rely on each other's academic efforts with respect to issues grammatical. The defense of the authority of the Hebrew text against its critics became more important to the defenders than their ancient rivalry regarding the interpretation of the text, i.e., the Talmud vs. the New Testament.

It is this odd dynamic--the accidental unity of believers of different faiths--that produces the even odder spectacle of folks who despise religious faith of every kind hiding behind charges that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite in order to criticize a movie that, in truth, they loathe simply because it presents any religious belief seriously.

[Originally posted: March 4, 2004]

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April 3, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Publicly criticizing the Afghan president hurts the U.S. (Michael O'Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan, April 3, 2010, Washington Post)

Just four days after President Obama's surprise visit to Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a major speech complaining that heavy-handed international actions tarnished last year's presidential election, diminished his legitimate status as clear winner and risked making the foreign military presence resemble the imperialist invaders of yesteryear.

Karzai went too far. His comments were unfair and risked encouraging critics of the Afghanistan mission who want to portray foreign forces as unwelcome. But his remarks were also a predictable result of American browbeating. Historically, negative treatment of the Afghan leader has produced these sorts of reactions. Kabul and Washington are partners in the effort to create a stable, democratic state; they should understand that public displays of rancor are best avoided.

He didn't go nearly far enough. The reality is that the UR is on such thin ice where national security is concerned that Mr. Karzai can make him jump through hoops.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Britain goes Isa crazy: In an ironic twist, the recession caused millions of families to reassess the need to put money aside in an Isa. (Harry Wallop, 03 Apr 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Equity Isas are a way of owning stocks and shares. And here the tax-free element can make a big difference. Take your £1,000 lottery windfall: invest in some shares and say you were lucky and they doubled during the year. In normal circumstances, you would pay capital gains tax when you came to sell the shares.

With Isas you don't. On top of this, you should enjoy some income in dividends (though these do pay some tax). This is why it has been such a frenetic few weeks for Mr Corke.

Rebecca O'Keeffe, the head of investment at the stock broker Interactive Investor, said equity Isa sales had more than doubled compared with last year. Half a billion pounds is expected to pour into these equity Isas this weekend.

"It's just been incredibly busy. I think a lot of it is to do with the tax environment. It is becoming so much more onerous. And savers are looking to find ways of beating the taxman. Pensions have got a bad rap recently and shares seem a better bet."

The stock market has always been a gamble. One that has, over time, beaten all other forms of investment, but a gamble nonetheless. For now, investors are betting on the continuing return to health of UK PLC. For a brief time in October 2008, when capitalism itself looked under threat, the stock market kept on falling. But since then, with bumps along the way, it has recovered.

Part of this has been down to the surprising resilience of many British companies, which have slashed costs and found ways of making money overseas –the weak pound has helped the likes of BP, Glaxo and Tesco, who now do much of their business outside the UK.

Profits have improved and, in turn, their share prices have increased. The FTSE 100 index of leading shares has jumped from its 3,512 low to 5,672 this week.

Unlike the old days, when people would own shares in redoubtable British firms (Pig Improvement Company was my favourite), an increasing number are buying funds that are, in essence, a basket of international shares.

You think the Chinese railway boom has a long way to run? You can find an investment trust without going to the Shanghai stock exchange.

Statistics from the trade body Investment Management Association, suggest that February was the busiest February since 1959, when records began, with £1.88 billion of new money pumped into unit trusts and investment companies, many of which are baskets of gold, oil, steel, or Indian pharmaceutical shares.

After Monday night, a new tax year starts again, and stock brokers expect a new wave of money will pour into shares. When Mr Corke goes home, a colleague will take his place to take money in the early hours of Tuesday morning. That's because the maximum amount investors can put in an Isa in a single year will increase from £7,200 to £10,200.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


General election 2010: David Cameron 'just like Ashes to Ashes' Gene Hunt' (Daily Telegraph, 4/03/10)

David Cameron is similar to Gene Hunt, the politically-incorrect TV detective, a Labour party poster claims, which reminds voters of the social unrest that plauged Britain during the 1980s.

A Tory source said: "It feels like an odd decision to depict David Cameron as a cool TV character.

"We wish we had thought of it."

The entire series revolves around the idea that the sort of Englishman represented by Gene Hunt is vastly preferable to the PC metrosexual of the aughts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


President Obama is making nobody happy (Ruth Marcus, April 3, 2010, Washington Post)

The perplexing irony of Barack Obama's presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president's accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises. [...]

The difference between the two sides is that the left's complaints are more, as they liked to say in the days of George W. Bush, reality-based. [...]

Given his supporters' "extravagant unrealism," says the Brookings Institution's William Galston, "there was no way he could fulfill all those promises -- not in his first year, not in his first term, not ever."

The Left didn't get the conservatism of the candidate and the Right doesn't get the conservatism of the president. Neither have much interest in realty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Parochially Post-American: It wasn’t the “reset” button President Obama hit; it was the ejector-seat button. (Mark Steyn, 4/03/10, National Review)

It’s not just the president. The entire administration suffers, to put it at its mildest, from systemic indifference to American allies. It wasn’t Obama but a mere aide who sneered to Fleet Street reporters that Britain was merely one of 200 countries in the world and shouldn’t expect any better treatment than any of the others. It wasn’t Obama but the State Department that leaked Hillary Clinton’s dressing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Ally-belittling comes so reflexively to this administration that it’s now doing drive-by bird-flipping. I doubt Secretary Clinton intended to change American policy when she was down in Argentina the other day and out of the blue demanded negotiations on the Falkland Islands. I would imagine she is entirely ignorant and indifferent on the subject, and calling for negotiations seemed the easy option — works for Iran and North Korea, right? [...]

One of the oddest features of the scene is attributed to the president’s “cool,” which seems to be the euphemism of choice for what, in less stellar executives, would be regarded as an unappealing combination of coldness and self-absorption. I forget which long-ago foreign minister responded to an invitation to lunch with an adversary by saying “I’m not hungry,” but Obama seems to reserve the line for his “friends.” Visiting France, he declined to dine with the Sarkozys. Visiting Norway, he declined to dine with the king at a banquet thrown explicitly in Obama’s honor. The other day, the president declined to dine with Netanyahu even though the Israeli prime minister was his guest in the White House at the time. The British prime minister, five times rebuffed in his attempt to book a date, had to make do with a perfunctory walk ’n’ talk through the kitchens of the U.N. Obama’s shtick as a candidate was that he was the guy who’d talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Instead, he recoils from all but the most minimal contact with the world.

John Bolton calls him “the first post-American president” and is punctilious enough to add that he doesn’t mean “un-American” or “anti-American.” In his Berlin speech, he presented himself as a “citizen of the world,” which, whatever else it means, suggests an indifference to America’s role as guarantor of the global order. The postponement of his Australian trip in order to ram health care down the throats of the American people was a neat distillation of the reality of his priorities: A transformative domestic agenda must necessarily come at the price of America’s global role. One-worldism is often a convenient cover for ignorance: You’d be hard pressed to find a self-proclaimed “multiculturalist” who can tell you the capital of Lesotho or the principal exports of Bhutan. And so it is with liberal internationalism: The citoyen du monde is the most parochial president of modern times.

April 2, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


The Best of All Games (John Rawls, March/April 2008, Boston Review)

In the letter that follows, written in 1981, Rawls puts philosophy to the service of baseball and gives an account of the sport and its special appeal to the American people. The letter recounts a breakfast conversation some twenty years earlier with Harry Kalven (1914 - 1974) who had been a friend and colleague of mine at the University of Chicago. Kalven was a legal scholar of great distinction who specialized in torts, the jury, and free speech.

On his death, Kalven left a manuscript, to which Rawls alludes and which was eventually published in 1988 as A Worthy Tradition, on freedom of speech. Like Rawls, Kalven loved baseball. He was proud that his torts casebook contained more baseball cases than any of its competitors, and each year made a point of taking students to a Cubs game.

First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher’s mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise. Whereas, basketball, e.g., is constantly (or was then) adjusting its rules to get them in balance.

Second: the game does not give unusual preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere, the tall and the short etc. can enjoy the game together in different positions.

Of course, his political philosophy required that when Josh Hamilton hits a homerun it be credited to Nick Punto....

Zemanta Pixie

[originally posted 7/17/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher with Ed Linn (University of Chicago Press)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


It Is Risen : At the end of Passover festival known as Mimouna, Moroccan Jews return to yeasty treats in grand style (Lara Rabinovitch, Apr 2, 2010, Tablet)

Many Jews will mark the end of Passover unceremoniously, with a slice or pizza or a piece of toast. Yet for Moroccan Jews, and increasingly for other Jews as well, the transition back to eating bread and other yeasty foods is celebrated in grand style with a feast known as Mimouna.

Traditionally, Mimouna is celebrated in Moroccan homes after sundown the last day of Passover with a sumptuous spread piled high with sweet delectables, including stuffed dates, candies, brightly colored jams made of carrots, beets, or citrus fruits (known as mazune), and zabane (almond nougat). Most importantly, mufleta, thin pancakes doused in honey, are eaten with abandon. Thus in a similar way to how Yom Kippur is ended with an elaborate breakfast, on Mimouna tearing into a plate of freshly baked food signals the end of matzo-filled days and the start of something new.

The Mimouna table is not set as usual but is covered with “an array of symbols that are basically variations on a theme,” explains the Israeli historian Yigal Bin-Nun. For example, some families display a whole fish on the Mimouna table—even alive, swimming in a bowl of water....

Do you toss in ping pong balls, like at Purim?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Robert Barro on The Lessons of the Great Depression: Robert Barro is a professor of economics at Harvard, and a commentator for The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. His critique of the Obama stimulus package provoked a sharp attack from Paul Krugman in The New York Times, which brought a spirited response from Barro. Basing his arguments on his empirical work, Barro takes issue with some common assumptions about the Great Depression, and how America got out of it. (5 Books)

So you’re not saying the New Deal was a mistake, you’re saying basically we don’t know.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do in my research is to calculate the effect, particularly on Gross Domestic Product, of government expenditure programs. And I’ve been focusing on the US experience, because that’s where I have the information, although it would be good to go beyond that. But the thing you can clearly isolate is the effect of wartime expenditure – particularly World War Two – it is so big that in a statistical sense it gives you a lot of power to figure out what is going on.

There’s both the build-up, starting in 1941, and then there’s expenditures coming down after the war, in 1945-6. There’s a lot of evidence there. Sometimes the spending in a year is 20 per cent of GDP, which is absolutely astounding. In comparison, the New Deal programs, particularly in 1934 and 1936, are only two to three per cent of GDP of extra spending.

In terms of the stuff that’s not wartime spending – which we’re probably most interested in in the current climate –it’s just hard to know from the history of the data and the time series. The New Deal is part of my research, and it’s bigger than the other non-defence expenditure in terms of stimulus, but it’s not enough to really sort it out.

So I don’t think you can reliably say what the effect is. But conceptually you’d expect the wartime spending to have a bigger effect for various reasons on the GDP than the equivalent amount of expenditure in a non-war situation. And the wartime effect you can estimate pretty precisely, and the multiplier is clearly less than one, even in World War Two – it’s in the order of 0.6, 0.7, something like that.

So your point is that even in the context of massive expenditures in a wartime situation, the multiplier effect of government spending on the economy is less than one – ie, it is not a multiplier at all. In other words, fiscal stimulus does not work. I read your WSJ editorial on this. Is that a good way for the layman to understand your arguments? Also this, on the “Voodoo Multipliers" and your September 2009 NBER working paper (most recent version available on the left)?

Yes, those articles refer to this kind of evidence, and I’ve been working more on it, trying to make it more precise. Some economists have argued that in a time of slack the multiple should be bigger, because there’s more capacity to respond to the extra demand. There’s a little bit of evidence that that’s right. A lot of that comes from the build-up in World War Two, because in 1941 the unemployment rate is still around nine per cent, so you can see what is the effect in that environment, in a high unemployment situation, of having a big expenditure increase. (Later in the war, the unemployment rate is close to nothing, so you don’t have that setting.) There’s a little bit of evidence from that that the multiplier is bigger when there’s more slack. But it doesn’t look like the multiplier gets up to one, even when the unemployment rate is nine per cent. It’s getting closer to that, but even then it is not one.

And yet neo-Keynesians – which include White House economics adviser Christina Romer – often cite the number as being 1.5, and you say in your article that the Obama administration is using 1.5 as a basis for its fiscal stimulus policies. How do they come up with that then?

Oh they pulled that out of the air. I have the advantage of having at least a little bit of empirical evidence....

Danged empiricism....

Government Spending Is No Free Lunch: Now the Democrats are peddling voodoo economics. (ROBERT J. BARRO, 1/22/09, WSJ)

If the multiplier is greater than 1.0, as is apparently assumed by Team Obama, the process is even more wonderful. In this case, real GDP rises by more than the increase in government purchases. Thus, in addition to the free airplane or bridge, we also have more goods and services left over to raise private consumption or investment. In this scenario, the added government spending is a good idea even if the bridge goes to nowhere, or if public employees are just filling useless holes. Of course, if this mechanism is genuine, one might ask why the government should stop with only $1 trillion of added purchases.

What's the flaw? The theory (a simple Keynesian macroeconomic model) implicitly assumes that the government is better than the private market at marshaling idle resources to produce useful stuff. Unemployed labor and capital can be utilized at essentially zero social cost, but the private market is somehow unable to figure any of this out. In other words, there is something wrong with the price system.

John Maynard Keynes thought that the problem lay with wages and prices that were stuck at excessive levels. But this problem could be readily fixed by expansionary monetary policy, enough of which will mean that wages and prices do not have to fall. So, something deeper must be involved -- but economists have not come up with explanations, such as incomplete information, for multipliers above one.

A much more plausible starting point is a multiplier of zero. In this case, the GDP is given, and a rise in government purchases requires an equal fall in the total of other parts of GDP -- consumption, investment and net exports. In other words, the social cost of one unit of additional government purchases is one.

This approach is the one usually applied to cost-benefit analyses of public projects. In particular, the value of the project (counting, say, the whole flow of future benefits from a bridge or a road) has to justify the social cost. I think this perspective, not the supposed macroeconomic benefits from fiscal stimulus, is the right one to apply to the many new and expanded government programs that we are likely to see this year and next.

What do the data show about multipliers? Because it is not easy to separate movements in government purchases from overall business fluctuations, the best evidence comes from large changes in military purchases that are driven by shifts in war and peace. A particularly good experiment is the massive expansion of U.S. defense expenditures during World War II. The usual Keynesian view is that the World War II fiscal expansion provided the stimulus that finally got us out of the Great Depression. Thus, I think that most macroeconomists would regard this case as a fair one for seeing whether a large multiplier ever exists.

I have estimated that World War II raised U.S. defense expenditures by $540 billion (1996 dollars) per year at the peak in 1943-44, amounting to 44% of real GDP. I also estimated that the war raised real GDP by $430 billion per year in 1943-44. Thus, the multiplier was 0.8 (430/540). The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports -- personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses -- there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Moqtada Sadr holds referendum on Iraq prime minister (BBC, 4/02/10)

"The political situation is complicated and [Moqtada Sadr] has always said that the best advisers are the Iraqi people," Hazem al-Araji, one of the movement's leaders, told the AFP newsagency.

The two biggest contenders, led by the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and the secular challenger Iyad Allawi, who came out narrowly ahead, are highly unlikely to work together.

That leaves the third-ranking bloc, the Iraqi National Coalition, which has 70 seats, as the king-makers. Moqtada Sadr's faction won 40 seats, the biggest share of that coalition's seats.

The referendum offers a choice of five candidates, all of them Shia Muslims - Mr Maliki, Mr Allawi, former PM Ibrahim Jaafari, Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Jaafar Sadr, the son of an assassinated ayatollah.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Let us keep the Ten New Commandments of Jesus: Paul Johnson offers a concise and memorable summary of Christ's message in time for Easter (Paul Johnson, 2 April 2010, Catholic Herald)

The Resurrection was the climax of Jesus's life on earth and Easter is the time when we should think deeply on what he sought to teach us during his earthly existence. I have recently written a short life of Jesus, particularly for the use of young people. In it I tried to summarise his message and listed what I call Jesus's New Ten Commandments.

The first is: each of us must develop a true personality. We may have all kinds of collective existence as members of a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, a religious group or profession. But our personality, as we shape it, stands absolutely alone in the face of God.

We are self-determined: we ourselves are responsible for our personality. And we will be held accountable for it at death. The Last Judgment and its implications for eternity is the price we pay for self-determination.

The Second Commandment is: accept and abide by universality. Each soul is unique but each is part of humanity. We are all neighbours in the eyes of God and each must become neighbour in our own eyes. Neighbourliness is a wonderful commandment for it embraces all the felicitous arrangements which mankind's ingenuity has contrived to bring people together in universal harmony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Obama's policy of slapping allies (Charles Krauthammer, April 2, 2010, Washington Post)

-- Obama visits China and soon Indonesia, skipping India, our natural and rising ally in the region -- common language, common democracy, common jihadist enemy. Indeed, in his enthusiasm for China, Obama suggests a Chinese interest in peace and stability in South Asia, a gratuitous denigration of Indian power and legitimacy in favor of a regional rival with hegemonic ambitions.

-- Poland and the Czech Republic have their legs cut out from under them when Obama unilaterally revokes a missile defense agreement, acquiescing to pressure from Russia with its dreams of regional hegemony over Eastern Europe.

-- The Hondurans still can't figure out why the United States supported a Hugo Chávez ally seeking illegal extension of his presidency against the pillars of civil society -- Honduras's Congress, Supreme Court, church and army -- that had deposed him consistent with Article 239 of their constitution.

But the Brits, our most venerable, most reliable ally, are the most disoriented. "We British not only speak the same language. We tend to think in the same way. We are more likely than anyone else to provide tea, sympathy and troops," writes Bruce Anderson in London's Independent, summarizing with admirable concision the fundamental basis of the U.S.-British special relationship.

Well, said David Manning, a former British ambassador to the United States, to a House of Commons committee reporting on that very relationship: "[Obama] is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia and who had a Kenyan father. The sentimental reflexes, if you like, are not there."

I'm not personally inclined to neuropsychiatric diagnoses, but Manning's guess is as good as anyone's. How can you explain a policy toward Britain that makes no strategic or moral sense? And even if you can, how do you explain the gratuitous slaps to the Czechs, Poles, Indians and others? Perhaps when an Obama Doctrine is finally worked out, we shall learn whether it was pique, principle or mere carelessness.

Looked at objectively, it's easy to see that most of Mr. Obama's many missteps are a function of ignorance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Breakfast Pizza (Toronto Star, 4/02/10)


3 cups + 2 tbsp [...] bread flour + more for dusting

1-1/2 tsp [...] active dry yeast

2 tsp [...] kosher salt

1 cup [...] lukewarm water (may need 1 to 2 tbsp [...] more)

2 tbsp [...] olive oil


6 strips bacon

1/2 cup [...] grated parmesan

2 cups [...] grated mozzarella

1 shallot, minced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

6 large eggs

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp [...] each: minced flat-leaf parsley, minced chives

For dough, in large bowl, stir together HOW MUCH flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 cup [...] water and oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. Add extra water if needed. Dump all clumps and floury bits onto lightly floured surface; knead into ball for 1 to 2 minutes.

Lightly oil bowl. Add dough, turning until all sides are coated. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours. (To make the night before, keep in fridge, removing 1 to 2 hours before making pizza.)

Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Preheat to 500F 30 minutes before baking. If using a pizza stone, place it on rack before preheating.

Gently press air from dough with palm of your hands. Fold piece into a ball; let stand in bowl, covered in plastic, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile for toppings, fry bacon in skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Cool on paper-towel-lined plate; chop.

Dip your hands and dough ball into HOW MUCH remaining flour. On lightly floured countertop, pat it into a disc with your fingertips. Drape dough over your fists; carefully stretch it from beneath to form 12-inch [...] circle.

Generously dust surface of a pizza peel/paddle or large baking sheet with flour. Place stretched dough on it. Sprinkle dough with half the parmesan, mozzarella, shallot, green onions and reserved bacon. Carefully crack 3 eggs over top, taking care not to break the yolks. Season with pepper.

Shake pizza peel slightly to make sure dough isn’t sticking. Carefully lift any sections that are sticking and sprinkle a bit more flour underneath, then slide pizza directly on to baking stone or baking sheet in one quick forward-and-back motion.

Bake 5 minutes. Rotate? Bake 4 to 7 minutes until crust is golden, cheese is melted and yolks are cooked. Transfer pizza to cutting board. Sprinkle with half parsley and half chives. Cool 2 minutes; slice.

Prepare second pizza the same way with remaining dough and toppings.

Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


U.S. to use profiling checks for incoming flights: The new system is a response to an attempt to blow up a plane last year by a Nigerian passenger (David S. Cloud, 4/02/10, LA Times)

The Obama administration will announce Friday a new screening system for flights to the United States under which passengers who fit an intelligence profile of potential terrorists will be searched before boarding their flight, a senior administration official said.

The procedures, which have been approved by President Obama, are aimed at preventing another terror attack like the one attempted by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspected of ties to al Qaeda who tried to blow up an airliner Christmas Day with a bomb hidden in his under wear, the official said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Young Doctors Walk out of Iceland Hospital (Iceland Review, 4/02/10)

A labor dispute now rocks Iceland’s biggest hospital, Landspítali. In an attempt to curb costs the management of Landspítali rearranged the work schedule of young doctors. This results in a pay cut that the young doctors do not accept.

So on April 1 the young doctors walked out and say that they believe the hospital has in effect terminated their agreement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 AM

April 1, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


The Professor of War: At 57, General David Petraeus has revolutionized the way America fights its wars, starting with the surge in Iraq and continuing into his current command, with responsibility for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen. Charting Petraeus’s relentless challenge to the institution he reveres—the U.S. Army—and to himself, the author hears about the unceasing drive, groundbreaking methods, and darkest moments of a four-star rebel. (Mark Bowden, May 2010, Vanity Fair)

Shutters clicked and cameras flashed. The general seemed perfectly calm but was, in fact, uncomfortable. The stakes were enormous, the emotion was palpable, the scrutiny was intense. The sheer length of the hearings would be physically painful. Fortified with Motrin, Petraeus sat erect at the edge of a hard chair that afforded no cushion for his pelvis, which he had broken seven years earlier in a parachute jump. He is a slight man, still boyish in his mid-50s, with blue eyes, limp brown hair combed flat to the right, and a concave face whose features slope away from a prominent nose. He looks more like a bookworm than a warrior. Cheerful by nature, he is eager to please and eager to explain. Petraeus is a world-class explainer. There is scarcely a soldier who has served with him who has not, in the general’s own words, “been PowerPointed to within an inch of his life.” His presentations are masterworks of explication that aspire to the level of art. They reflect his deep understanding of—indeed, his love for—the byzantine machinery of America’s military-industrial complex.

But no matter how well prepared he might be, there was little chance of dazzling this crowd. Before he had even opened his mouth he was under attack. Democrats had won a majority in Congress and were gearing up to ride anger and frustration over the Iraq war to the White House. The last thing they wanted to hear was that things were looking up—that President George W. Bush’s so-called surge was working. The advocacy group MoveOn.org, anticipating that Petraeus would fail to signal retreat, had attacked him with a full-page ad in that day’s New York Times, labeling him “General Betray Us.” Before the first word of his presentation, Armed Services chairman Ike Skelton described the general’s efforts in Iraq as a failure. Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Lantos, a pink-faced Democrat from California with a perfectly coiffed white halo, squinted down at the general—again before seeing or hearing a word from him—and pronounced, “With all due respect to you, I must say, I don’t buy it.”

That was just the start. Petraeus would sit through two long days of hearings, first in the House, and the next day before the Senate heavyweights, including three Democratic presidential hopefuls vying with one another to appear the most fervently anti-war. He had flown through eight time zones to answer questions, only to face interrogators more keen on listening to themselves. He was lectured by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joseph Biden, who questioned the validity of the general’s figures about the sharply reduced violence. (Biden was in fact wrong.) Senator Hillary Clinton, then the front-runner, in so many words called Petraeus a liar. To be fair, she put it politely, and might even have meant it as a compliment, one professional prevaricator to another, calling his testimony an “extraordinary effort” but one that requires a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

Senator Barack Obama was equally dismissive. He had staked his campaign in part on the purity of his opposition to the war. When his turn came, Obama lectured Petraeus on the futility of his mission, using up the full seven minutes allocated to him and giving the general no chance to respond. “We have now set the bar so low,” said Obama, “that modest improvement in what was a completely chaotic situation …is considered success. And it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign-policy mistake.”

Petraeus had known that his reception would be unfriendly. This was not the loyal soldier reporting back from the front to a grateful nation; this was an inquisition. Congress had commanded his presence. The general had prepared for it like a defense attorney facing a hostile jury. He understood the politics in play. He also knew what was going on in Iraq far better than anyone else in the room.

It had been a dark period. His strategy for turning things around wasn’t unpopular only with Congress. Most of his own superior officers at the time—people such as General George Casey, the previous commander in Iraq and now the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and General John Abizaid, who headed the U.S. Central Command (CentCom), the job Petraeus himself now holds—didn’t believe in it, either. A lifelong team player, Petraeus had been plucked out of the chain of command by President Bush. For the first time in his life, his immediate superiors were envious, suspicious, even actively hostile. In Iraq, American casualties had soared in the spring months, when he began implementing his new strategy, ordering soldiers out of their fortified enclaves and armored Humvees and into forward bases where they patrolled the dangerous streets on foot. The carnage was considerable, and took its toll. Petraeus made a point of visiting the wounded and attending the memorial services for as many of those killed as he could, placing his commander’s coin before each ceremonial display of boots, rifle, and helmet, and writing a letter to each fallen soldier’s next of kin. Two days before the hearings began, the general and his wife, Holly, had pinned her father’s jump wings on the uniform of their only son, an R.O.T.C. cadet, during a graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia. Petraeus had an understanding of the risks and costs that was personal and profound.

Facing Congress, he didn’t waver. It was the same now as on the day Bush had met with him privately in the Oval Office after the Senate confirmed his selection for what most felt was an impossible mission. The general had said, “Mr. President, this isn’t double-down.…This is all-in.” It was an expression that would be repeated often within his inner circle. They were staking everything on the outcome. There could be no second thoughts, no looking back.

The legislators who peered down skeptically at this unimposing officer in his resplendent uniform did not know their man. Here was someone who had forged an unparalleled record of success in perhaps the most competitive institution in America. In the words of one former aide, “Petraeus is the most competitive man on the planet.”

Biden pressed him hard, seeking to dismiss the general’s numbers and to wrest an admission that Iraq’s violence was beyond control. The senator had made frequent trips to the war zone. He saw himself not just as a critic but as a particularly well-informed and wily critic. He cast doubt on the general’s data, which showed a steep decline in violent incidents beginning in midsummer. The chairman contrasted that trend with contradictory findings in a recent Government Accountability Office report, which he referred to as “an independent study,” suggesting that it was more credible. He let the damning implication hang there for a moment, and then magnanimously waved it aside, saying, “But let me not get into that debate.” Generous Joe had decided not to embarrass the witness further.

But he did want one little thing. He wanted Petraeus to concede—two sensible men looking each other in the eye—that however you crunched the numbers Baghdad was bad news. “Let me ask you a question,” said the chairman, like a cat probing a mousehole with its paw. “Can a Sunni Arab travel safely to a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad today without fear of being kidnapped or killed?”

Petraeus would respond, but he wasn’t going to let the slap at his statistics go unanswered. “First of all, Mr. Chairman, if I could make just one comment about the G.A.O. report … ” He explained that, far from being “independent,” it had used exactly the same data he had, except that its numbers were out of date—they ended “at least five weeks prior to our cutoff date, which ran until this past Friday.” Petraeus added, “The final five weeks have been pretty important.”

“Again, I don’t want to get into an argument about that,” said Biden. It was increasingly evident why not. “Let me get directly to my question”—and he asked again, extending that paw deeper into the hole, if there was any part of Baghdad where a Sunni could travel safely into a Shia area.

Leaning forward in his chair, Petraeus said, “It depends on the neighborhood, frankly, sir.” He conceded that the city was still dangerous, but insisted that, yes, there were now areas safe enough for Sunnis and Shiites to travel.

Biden wouldn’t let go. He tried a different approach, one that showcased his boots-on-the-ground expertise. He recounted how, on a recent visit to Iraq, his helicopter had been grounded by a sandstorm outside Baghdad. He and the other dignitaries had waited three hours for the storm to subside. Biden asked, “If that sandstorm had kept up, would any of those guys have gotten in a vehicle and traveled back to Baghdad?” He smiled broadly for the cameras with a great show of sparkling white teeth. “Maybe I’m mistaken. Was there any possibility of that likely to happen?”

He was answered by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who had been working closely with Petraeus and was seated next to him at the witness table.

“Yes, sir,” said Crocker. “We tried to keep some of the commotion behind the scenes out of your view, but one of the alternatives we were actively working on was a road movement all the way back to Baghdad if we couldn’t get your helicopter out.”

“And that road movement would have been highly secured, would it not?” asked Biden.

“Well, for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yes, sir.”

You could almost hear the trap snap shut. Then came the laughter, which brought another smile to Biden’s face, this one sheepish. “Oh, I love you,” Biden said. “I love you.” Biden had drawn a different picture than he intended: the Washington Pooh-Bah visiting the combat zone for a photo op, no doubt creating a nuisance for the men working to secure his safety, impatiently waiting out a sandstorm, and now questioning the judgment of the general charged with protecting him. Who knew the situation better—the visiting pol or the general? And Petraeus hadn’t even spoken in his own defense.

Congress underestimated David Petraeus.

And America overestimated Obama/Biden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM

PUT DOWN THE HOPIUM PIPE (via Ed Driscoll & Buttercup):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


No one likes TARP, but it's working (Washington Post, April 1, 2010)

THE TROUBLED Assets Relief Program (TARP) goes out of business in October, and not many Americans will be sorry to see it fold. The $700 billion program, hastily improvised at the height of the global financial panic in September 2008, broke all the rules of free-market capitalism. It put taxpayer money at risk to bail out banks, auto industries and insurance companies, including one behemoth, American International Group, whose irresponsible gambling in the derivatives markets infuriated even the usually placid Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke. Small wonder that the original TARP legislation barely made it through Congress, amid rhetoric about Wall Street greed and creeping socialism.

Yet today it is clear that TARP not only has been successful but, in a real sense, also a great deal for taxpayers.

So if Hoover is to be eternally reviled for the Great Depression, ought not George W. Bush be celebrated to the opposite extreme for saving the economy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


Kerry says Syria is committed to Mideast peace (ALBERT AJI, 4/01/10, Associated Press)

U.S. Senator John Kerry said on Thursday during a visit to Damascus that Syria is committed to engaging in peace making and is essential to the Mideast process.

The Democratic senator, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after a three-hour meeting with President Bashar Assad that Washington is also concerned about the flow of weapons to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group through Syrian territories.

Do we suppose the Cabana Boy is even aware that Baby Assad doesn't represent Syria?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


Recently Analyzed Fossil Was Not Human Ancestor As Claimed, Anthropologists Say (UT Austin, March 2, 2010)

A fossil that was celebrated last year as a possible "missing link" between humans and early primates is actually a forebearer of modern-day lemurs and lorises, according to two papers by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, Duke University and the University of Chicago.

In an article now available online in the Journal of Human Evolution, four scientists present evidence that the 47-million-year-old Darwinius masillae is not a haplorhine primate like humans, apes and monkeys, as the 2009 research claimed.

They also note that the article on Darwinius published last year in the journal PLoS ONE ignores two decades of published research showing that similar fossils are actually strepsirrhines, the primate group that includes lemurs and lorises.

"Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution," says Chris Kirk, associate professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin.

...than that the species that bears his name have no relation to human evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


[N.B.: if you don't mind inappropriate lyics, aren't at work, and aren't drinking anything you don't want to spit onto your keyboard, their Realistic Love Song is extremely funny.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Celtics can’t silence Durant: The Oklahoma kid shoots them down (Julian Benbow, April 1, 2010, Boston Globe)

They put six players in double digits, got 36 points from their bench, and saw Rasheed Wallace (team-high 18 points) submit the type of scoring performance they hadn’t seen in months. But in the end, a defensive-minded team found itself playing a game of last shot wins against a team with arguably the best scorer in the league.

“It’s tough,’’ said Paul Pierce, who shook off the effects of two shoulder stingers in a three-day span to score 15 points. “You look at it, shooting so good and it not paying dividends in the win column. It’s tough to swallow.’’

Kevin Garnett put up 18 points and nine rebounds. Rajon Rondo posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double. Glen Davis added 10 points off the bench, and yet it wasn’t enough.

The Celtics hit 44 of 74 field goals, but they got into a shootout with a team that came in averaging 100 points. They “held’’ the young, explosive Thunder to 50.7 percent shooting. But the one factor they couldn’t control was Kevin Durant, who has made scoring binges look routine.

Last night’s 37-point outing — his 40th game this season with at least 30 points — was no different.

Durant quietly threw darts at the Celtics, going 10 of 20 from the floor. When Wallace knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 99-98 with 4:22 left, Durant answered with a 20-footer that put the Thunder back up by 1.

But Durant’s most damaging blows came from the free throw line, where he knocked down all of his game-high 15 attempts, including two after drawing a foul on Pierce that left the Celtics captain so mad that he stomped from the free throw line to the corner of the court. The free throws put the Thunder ahead, 102-101, and from that point they never trailed.

He's filthy. A 6' 10" guard who can catch-and-shoot as well as anyone in the NBA since Drazen Petrovic is not coverable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


President Obama opens offshore oil drilling and exploration - with Sarah Palin's approval (Michael Mcauliff and Kenneth R. Bazinet, 3/31/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

Even Sarah Palin, who has done little but criticize Obama since joining the GOP's 2008 presidential ticket, seemed pleased with the announcement.

"Drill, baby, drill," she tweeted.

The plan has already drawn criticism from environmental groups.

"Is this President Obama's clean energy plan or Palin's?" asked Greenpeace chief Phil Radford.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Obey Faces First Competitive Race in Years (Greg Giroux, 3/31/10, CQ-Roll Call)

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), the hard-driving chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has scarcely faced serious Republican opposition during a House career that has spanned more than 40 years.

But there is evidence that suggests Obey will get a credible GOP challenge this year in his northwestern 7th district — from Sean Duffy, a young county prosecutor whose candidacy has prompted CQ Politics to shift the rating of the Wisconsin 7 race from Safe Democratic to Likely Democratic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson worries loading too many people onto Guam could capsize the island (Andrew Malcolm, April 1, 2010, LA Times)

First, before you watch this short but remarkable video, a little background on Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson.

He's from Georgia's Fourth District. A Washington, D.C. native, he's the fellow who took office in 2007 after knocking off former five-term Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

Please, God, let this be an April Fool's joke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Book celebrates ham around the world (KATHY MARTIN, 4/01/10, MiamiHerald.com)

If pork is the meat of kings, as a catchy online ditty has it, ham is surely the king's feast food. And just in time for the king of king's feast that is Easter dinner comes Ham: An Obsession With the Hindquarter by Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $29.95).

The book celebrates a survival food -- a prerefrigeration method of preserving precious protein -- that's become a gourmet darling around the world. From Spanish oak forests to Kentucky smokehouses, artisan ham producers are riding high.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Newark records first homicide-free month in more than 40 years (James Queally, 4/01/10, The Star-Ledger

Police Director Garry McCarthy said he hopes to best a 43-day period from March to April of 2008, the longest span of time without a slaying in the city since 1961. Ten homicides have occurred in Newark since Jan. 1, and none have taken place in the South Ward, long believed to be Newark's most dangerous section.

The first-quarter homicide total is the same as last year's, and the second-lowest in Newark since 1941.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Election 2010: Eureka! At last, I can see what David Cameron is on about: We demand vision from our leaders - and the Tories' plan for society is truly radical (Benedict Brogan, 31 Mar 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The Big Society project must first be set alongside the supply-side reforms the Tories intend for the public services. If mobilising society's "little platoons" is the aim, then Michael Gove's scheme to encourage parents, volunteer groups and businesses to set up new schools is a crucial component, as is the innovative pledge to allow communities to take over and run local assets such as recreation centres or even shops.

For those looking to reduce the welfare bill, the plan to offer cash bounties to companies that find jobs for people on the dole is radical, as is the scheme for a voluntary form of national service for 16-year-olds. Philip Hammond, George Osborne's deputy, gave a lucid presentation on how reforming society is a vital part of returning us to fiscal stability: reduce the demand for welfare and you reduce – permanently – the deficit. Savings channelled back into projects that reduce dependency and increase freedom from the state in turn generate more savings. A virtuous circle is created.

Giving people both the tools and the powers they need to become active in their communities without waiting for the state to take the lead will be legislated for in the first term. A Freedom of Data Act will give us the right to access the information held by Government. Things like crime maps and public-sector job vacancies will not just be published online – alongside details of every item of public spending above £25,000 – but made available for re-use by others. Grant Shapps gave a useful analogy: when Apple introduced the iPhone, it had no idea that opening its system up to anyone who wanted to develop an application would result in a tool that allowed the public to take a snap of a pothole and report it straight to the council. A Tory government will set a similar framework of openness, then let us get on with it.

Then there is the Big Society package itself, which includes the creation of a "Big Society Bank", using unclaimed deposits to channel private money into grassroots projects; the training of 5,000 community organisers, who will fan out across the country to encourage local involvement; requiring civil servants to take on community service; and a Big Society Day to mark the resulting achievements.

You can find material here to criticise. Hearing Conservatives spouting the jargon of granularity, holistic multi-agency silos and burning platforms will set teeth on edge, though we might see it as a useful ruse: to win over that state-dependent volunteer sector, you must first speak its language. Then there is the American-ness of the thing: the idea of neighbourhoods is a transatlantic import, as is the faith in our ability to conjure up an army of community organisers like the young Barack Obama, embraced a bit too implausibly yesterday by Mr Cameron. Nor is it clear whether the necessary army of volunteers will materialise, given that no incentive is on offer beyond the warm glow of moral satisfaction.

So Mr Cameron is certainly right in one regard: his agenda is exceedingly ambitious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Quinoa: a welcome new guest at the Passover table these days (SUSAN SCHWARTZ, 3/24/10, The Montreal Gazette)

As food writer Adeena Sussman put it in 2008 in the now-shuttered Gourmet magazine: "Like the new kid in town rolling up in a shiny convertible, this grain-that's-not-a-grain is becoming the belle of the Passover ball."

During the past few years, quinoa has become increasingly popular; it has become so mainstream - as food scientist and kosher food specialist Arlene Mathes-Scharf observed recently on kashrut.com, an online information source about kosher food - that Susie Fishbein, author of the über-popular Kosher by Design series of books published by ArtScroll, included quinoa recipes in her bestselling 2008 cookbook, Passover by Design (see recipes above).

For the growing number of Jews eating quinoa at Passover meals, there is the benefit of a food that is incredibly healthy, loaded with fibre and essential amino acids and one of the best, most complete vegetarian sources of protein available.

It cooks quickly, and quinoa salads and pilafs are simple to prepare. Quinoa has a fluffy consistency and a mild, delicate, slightly nutty flavour. Dry-roasting it in a pan or in the oven before cooking imparts a subtle toasted flavour.

Quinoa is delicious all year round, but it has found its way into the Passover kitchens of many observant Jews since the Orthodox kosher-certifying agency Star-K published an article some years back explaining that quinoa, which until then had been an obscure food found mostly in health-food stores and presumed to be a grain, is in fact not a grain - and is not related to the five types of grain that can become hametz.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Toledo's Fiscal Reckoning: City Takes on Unions as it Manages to Patch a $48 Million Budget Gap (AMY MERRICK, 3/31/10, WSJ)

This former manufacturing hub of about 300,000 narrowly averted having the state take over its finances by filling a $48 million budget gap late Tuesday. To tackle that deficit, Mayor Michael Bell had to take on the city's police and firefighters' unions and propose other controversial measures. [...]

In addition to the concessions from the unions, Mr. Bell proposed reducing an income-tax credit for Toledo residents who work outside the city and imposing a $15 monthly trash-collection fee. The city council late Tuesday passed a balanced budget, adopting those plans.

Last week, members of the city's firefighters' union agreed to a package of concessions that will save the city $3.1 million. Those concessions, and other savings outlined by the mayor's office, are expected to cover $23 million of the total deficit.

Members of the police union voted down proposals to pay for a portion of their pensions and defer overtime, but the city council at its meeting Tuesday approved Mr. Bell's request to declare "exigent circumstances," under which Toledo could unilaterally force concessions on unions. The city expects unions to challenge the measure in court, a fight that could end up before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Obama’s drilling proposal sparks battle among Senate Dems (Alexander Bolton, 03/31/10, The Hill)

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” Lautenberg said in a statement.

“Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a Kill, Baby, Kill policy: it threatens to kill jobs, kill marine life and kill coastal economies that generate billions of dollars,” he added. “Offshore drilling isn’t the solution to our energy problems, and I will fight this policy and continue to push for 21st century clean energy solutions.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) also took a strong stance against Obama’s proposal Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 AM


Mitt Romney, Liberal Icon (GAIL COLLINS, 4/01/10, NY Times)

[I]t’s now becoming clear that he’s the man we have to thank for our new national health care law.

“I mean, a lot of commentators have said this is sort of similar to the bill that Mitt Romney, the Republican governor and now presidential candidate, passed in Massachusetts,” President Obama told Matt Lauer recently on the “Today” show.

Good work leading the way, Mitt!

We did not actually hear a whole lot about how Obama’s health care bill was similar to Romney’s during its long, torturous struggle through Congress. Particularly not during the parts that involved placating the Democratic left wing. Do you think Obama mentioned it during his Air Force One courtship of Dennis Kucinich? Possibly not.

But it really does seem as though the two plans are a whole lot alike, and Romney deserves credit for working with the Massachusetts Democrats to get such an ambitious, sweeping reform enacted.