July 31, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Self-braking car to save lives (RICHARD BLACKBURN, August 1, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald)

A CAR'S crash-avoidance technology will include radar and sonar sensors to detect people and objects behind the vehicle and automatically stop the car.

The system, developed by Nissan, will not arrive in Australia for at least a couple of years. It is the next step in rapidly developing technology to avoid accidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Agency weighs skirting Congress on immigration (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, 7/30/10, Associated Press)

The Obama administration, unable to push an immigration overhaul through Congress, is considering ways it could go around lawmakers to let undocumented immigrants stay in the United States, according to an agency memo.

The internal draft written by officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines ways the government could provide "relief" to illegal immigrants — including delaying deportation for some, perhaps indefinitely, or granting green cards to others — in the absence of legislation revamping the system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


An Agnostic Manifesto: At least we know what we don't know. (Ron Rosenbaum, June 28, 2010, Slate)

Let's get one thing straight: Agnosticism is not some kind of weak-tea atheism. Agnosticism is not atheism or theism. It is radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer. [...]

I would not go so far as to argue that there's a "new agnosticism" on the rise. But I think it's time for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as "a theism"—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety. [...]

Why has agnosticism fallen out of favor? New Atheism offers the glamour of fraudulent rebelliousness, while agnosticism has only the less eye-catching attractions of humility. The willingness to say "I don't know" is less attention-getting than "I know, I know. I know it all."

A man points a gun at your head and asks, "Would it be wrong for me to shoot you?"

The theist answers, "Yes."

The consistent atheist answers, "No."

The consistent agnostic answers, "I can't know."

It's perfectly healthy to doubt everything, but it ultimately just imposes the obligation to choose a side even in the absence of perfect knowledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


White House touts Detroit “success story” (CBS/AP, 07/30/2010)

President Barack Obama is going to the heart of the U.S. auto industry to push an important election-year claim: his administration’s unpopular auto industry bailout has turned into an economic good-news story.

Mr. Obama will visit three auto plants over the next several days to tout what White House press secretary Robert Gibbs calls “a success story.”

Barack Obama, he won't rest until all of America is just like Detroit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Why Keynes Was Wrong (Warren Meyer, 07.29.10, Forbes)

Rather than attempting to make investment easier, almost all government stimulus efforts to date have focused on trying to better optimize how and where investment capital is deployed. The core assumption behind all of these programs is that a few people in government can invest money more productively than the private entities from whom the government took the money.

This is frankly an absurd assumption, something I know from my own experience of trying to make just these sorts of capital allocation decisions, though on a much smaller scale. In various corporate strategic planning and marketing roles, I was in the position for years of helping to make investment decisions in some of America's largest and best-managed corporations.

These corporations were smart enough to know that a small corporate staff did not have the information to identify and rank investment choices in their myriad of different divisions. Instead, the corporate office acted as a sort of bank, where front-line managers who had detailed knowledge of individual markets came to the corporation via the planning process and proposed investments. Through my years in this process, I was always convinced we were sub-optimizing, that these divisions if spun off and in control of their own destiny likely would have made better decisions. If smart business people couldn't make confident capital-allocation decisions for a $20 billion business, how can a few career government staffers do better for a $16 trillion economy?

In their hubris, however, the Congress and this administration believe they can do what even the most successful corporations can't. They take money away from individuals and businesses, either in the form of taxes or borrowing that squeezes out private capital, and claim to invest that money better than would have those individuals, despite much worse information and inferior performance incentives. The stimulus bill is an obvious example, but we see this phenomenon all over the country. The bailout of GM effectively poured taxpayer money into an entity that private investors had determined was no longer worthy of investment. Here in the Phoenix area, taxpayers of various municipalities have been asked to subsidize a new shopping mall for $97.4 million, cover a years-worth of our pro hockey team's operating losses for up to $25 million, and throw money at absolutely anyone who whispers the word “solar.”

To every one of the supporters of these government projects who claim to have created some number of jobs, I encourage the reader to ask a simple question--who was using the money before the government diverted it, and how many jobs were they creating?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Why the Dems will lose Congress (MICHAEL BARONE, July 31, 2010, NY Post)

[T]ake a look at the generic ballot question: Which party's candidate will you vote for in elections to the House? The current realclearpolitics.com average shows Republicans ahead by 45 percent to 41 percent. Ten of this month's 15 opinion polls asking the question had Republicans ahead; Democrats led in four (twice by 1 percent), and one poll showed a tie.

Keep in mind that the generic ballot question historically has tended to under-predict Republican performance in off-year elections. Gallup has been asking the question since 1950 and has shown Republicans leading only in two cycles, 1994 and 2002, and then by less than the 7 and 5 points by which they won the popular vote for the House in those years.

So the Republicans' current lead in the generic ballot question suggests they may be on the brink of doing better than in any election since 1946, when they won a 245-188 margin in the House -- larger than any they've held ever since.

Another metric is daunting for Democrats. Polls in House races almost always show incumbents ahead of challengers, because incumbent members of Congress are usually much better known than their opponents. An incumbent running below 50 percent is considered potentially in trouble; an incumbent running behind a challenger is considered in deep doo-doo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Clive Thompson on the Death of the Phone Call (Clive Thompson, July 28, 2010, Wired)

My phone bills are shrinking. Not, unfortunately, in cost. I mean they’re getting shorter. I recently found an old bill from a decade ago; it was fully 15 pages long, because back then I was making a ton of calls—about 20 long-distance ones a day. Today my bills are a meager two or three pages, at most.

Odds are this has happened to you, too. According to Nielsen, the average number of mobile phone calls we make is dropping every year, after hitting a peak in 2007. And our calls are getting shorter: In 2005 they averaged three minutes in length; now they’re almost half that.

We’re moving, in other words, toward a fascinating cultural transition: the death of the telephone call. This shift is particularly stark among the young. Some college students I know go days without talking into their smartphones at all. I was recently hanging out with a twentysomething entrepreneur who fumbled around for 30 seconds trying to find the option that actually let him dial someone.

This generation doesn’t make phone calls, because everyone is in constant, lightweight contact in so many other ways: texting, chatting, and social-network messaging. And we don’t just have more options than we used to. We have better ones: These new forms of communication have exposed the fact that the voice call is badly designed. It deserves to die.

The Wife often tells the spawn that I her husband was the worst long-distance boyfriend ever. Now we have definitive proof that it was the phone's fault--a loathsome device.

July 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


Cameron's terror remark may stall Zardari,s UK visit (PTI, Jul 31, 2010)

British PM David Cameron’s warning to Pakistan to stop promoting the “export of terror” appears to have cast a shadow on bilateral ties, with the foreign office in Islamabad even debating the possibility of asking President Asif Ali Zardari to call off an upcoming visit to London.

Cameron said on Wednesday that Pakistan should not have ties with groups that promote the export of terror to Afghanistan or India.

Following an angry reaction from Islamabad, Cameron defended his remarks, saying that it was “important to speak frankly” and that while Pakistan had “made progress... we need them to do more” to tackle terrorism.

They won't deserve the credit, but the Anglosphere's war on Pakistan will be laid at Wikileak's door step.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM

Coca-Cola-Brined Fried Chicken: One Southern chef's sweet, fried homage to a New Orlean's culinary institution (Chef John Currence, 7/30/10, Esquire)


* 12 chicken thighs (skin on)
* Peanut oil and lard, for frying

Brining Mix:

* 1 qt Coca-Cola
* 1 tsp Liquid Smoke (optional)
* 2 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tbsp Tabasco
* 3 tbsp ground black pepper
* 3 tbsp coarse salt


* 1 egg
* 3/4 cup peanut oil

Dry Mix (well combined):

* 2 tsp baking powder
* 2 tbsp coarse salt
* 4 tsp ground black pepper
* 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
* 1 tbsp onion powder
* 1 tbsp garlic powder
* 2 1/2 cups flour


Rinse chicken, drain, and set aside. Blend together brining mix until salt dissolves. Place chicken in brine in a large covered bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.

Whisk egg well in a stainless-steel bowl and add peanut oil and 21/2 cups water. Add in dry mix, whisking slowly so batter doesn't clump.

To prepare chicken: Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring temperature to 375 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer.) While oil is heating, remove chicken from brine and place in a colander in sink. Once chicken has drained, pat dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper.

Dip chicken in batter and place (carefully) in hot oil. Adjust heat, as the chicken will bring the oil temperature down dramatically — you want it back up to just above 350 degrees. Turn chicken regularly using tongs to prevent burning. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it's done. Continue cooking if necessary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Minister encourages companies to pay skilled migrants a welcome bonus: As German companies face a shortage of skilled labor, Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle announced plans for a recruitment drive and suggested businesses start appealing to migrant workers' wallets. (Die Welte, 7/30/10)

German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle encouraged companies to offer skilled foreign workers a special check should they choose to relocate to Germany.

"The issue of how to finally make Germany attractive to skilled migrants is at the top of my agenda," he told the German business daily Handelsblatt on Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Iain Duncan Smith announces reforms to 'antiquated' benefits system: The biggest overhaul of the country's now-''antiquated'' benefits system in decades has been unveiled by the Government. (Daily Telegraph, 30 Jul 2010)

He set out a series of options aimed at ensuring that people would see the value of moving from benefit to work through simplifying the existing tax and benefits system.

Mr Duncan Smith said he wants to unify the disparate elements that form the benefits structure as well as rectifying the ''illogical'' position of benefits paying more than work.

Options included combining elements of the current income-related benefits and tax credit systems, bringing out-of-work and in-work support together in a single system, and supplementing monthly household earnings through credit payments reflecting circumstances such as children, housing and disability.

Mr Duncan Smith told a conference in east London that five million people are on out-of-work benefits, with a ''staggering'' 1.4 million on benefits for nine or more of the last 10 years, while the UK has one of the highest rates of workless households.

One in six children will grow up in a workless household, said the minister, adding that up to three generations of the same family are now growing up with no work in their lives.

''The benefits system has created pockets of worklessness, where idleness has become institutionalised. The welfare budget is spiralling out of control, up from £63 billion in 1996-97 to £87 billion in 2009-10, although the actual increase was £61 billion in the last 10 years.

''The key must be to break the cycle of dependency. We must make sure that work pays, even for the poorest.''

...they have to catch up on Clinton/Gingrich Welfare Reforms. And we're all just catching up to General Pinochet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Is al-Qaeda racist?: Barack Obama's race may have added significance in the terror group's warped worldview. (Michael Mumisa - 30 July 2010, New Statesman)

On 13 July 2010, Barack Obama gave an interview to the South African Broadcast in which he attacked al-Qaeda and its supporters' disregard for African life. The White House went on to describe al-Qaeda as 'racist' and for treating black Africans like 'cannon fodder' . Right-wing commentators have since been on a war path accusing Obama for getting angry only when the victims of terrorism are black . His supporters have been at pains to explain that his statement was part of a discussion on Islam in Africa and that his critics are mischievously interpreting it out of its original context.

Whatever Obama's original intention was, he touched on a sensitive topic within Muslim communities which Muslim scholars, particularly in Africa, have been expressing since the August 7, 1998 al-Qaeda bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaeda and its supporters have successfully been able to justify their violence not only by manipulating theology but also on the basis of what many in Africa believe are racist readings of certain narrations (known in Arabic as 'ahadith') attributed to the Prophet of Islam. Since Obama's election such 'Prophetic narrations' have been widely circulated, discussed, and commented upon on Arabic websites and forums supportive of al-Qaeda.

Such narrations have become part of al-Qaeda's eschatology, an end-times theology in which Obama's presidency is seen and presented as a fulfilment of a prophecy about the rise of 'an evil black African political power.' According to one of the narrations, a 'skinny legged', 'big eared', black African from Abyssinia leading a powerful army will destroy the Ka'bah (Muslim holy sanctuary at Mecca) while prospecting for Gold! In their original Arabic the narrations mention 'skinny legs' and 'big ears'.

It's one thing to be anti-Semitic, Christophobic, and anti-Shi'a, but racism? That's beyond the Pale (so to speak).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Slicing up the Red Sox's boring pie (Bill Simmons, 7/30/10, ESPN.com)


The biggie. The hammer. The killer.

There are two separate issues here. The first: Nobody wants to spend 3½ hours watching anything on television. Not even porn. The second: It's not that fun to spend 30-45 minutes driving to a game, paying for parking, parking, waiting in line to get in, finding your seat ... and then, spend the next three-plus hours watching people play baseball ... and then, leave, find your car and drive home. That's potentially a five-hour commitment. Ludicrous.

By the way, have you ever looked around during a baseball game these days? It's 35,000 people texting or writing/reading e-mails while they wait for something to happen. BlackBerrys and cell phones were either the best or the worst thing that ever happened to baseball. I can't decide. When an incoming text is more exciting than a baseball at-bat, something has gone horribly wrong.

Back in 2002, I wrote a column worrying about baseball and that games were too long. It's much worse now. I tried to tell my father this, and he didn't believe me. Fortunately, baseballreference.com has the times of every baseball game played. I went back and examined the times of games of my most memorable Red Sox seasons (1975, 1978, 1986, 1999, 2004, 2007) along with 2002 (when we first worried that games were becoming too slow) and 2010 (through 101 games). Check this out; it's incredible.

1975 Red Sox
2 hours or less -- 12 games
2:01-2:30 -- 62
2:31-3:00 -- 63
3:01-4:00 -- 18 (4 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extras)

(Note: Twelve games that ended in less than two hours!!!!!! Are you kidding me? And 137 of the 162 games ended in less than three hours.)

1978 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 57
2:31-3:00 -- 72
3:01-4:00 -- 27 (11 extras)
More than 4 -- 5 (all extras)

(Note: Still a steady concentration of games between two and three hours -- 129 of the 162. Totally acceptable.)

1986 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1 (6 IP)
2:01-2:30 -- 30
2:31-3:00 -- 71
3:01-4:00 -- 58 (9 extra innings)
More than 4 -- 2 (2 extras)

(Note: A subtle shift. Sixty games creeped over three hours, although it's possible Wade Boggs -- who took about 28 pitches every at-bat -- was singlehandedly responsible.)

1999 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 18
2:31-3:00 -- 92
3:01-4:00 -- 49 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 2 (both extra)

(Note: Not much different than 1986; 102 games ended in three hours or less. By the way, it's flawed to say these numbers reflect baseball as a whole. The DH slows things down in the American League, you might have more hitters who milk pitch counts in a specific year and some pitchers work faster or slower than others. The slowest Red Sox pitcher ever was Jeff Gray. He made Jonathan Papelbon look like a quicker draw than Rick Pitino. If you had an entire bullpen of Papelbons and Grays, that's skewing your number obviously.)

2002 Red Sox
2 or less -- 1
2:01-2:30 -- 29
2:31-3:00 -- 82
3:01-4:00 -- 45 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 5 (5 extra)

(Note: Our best pace since 1975 ... and this was the year we were complaining that games were too long! I'd like to thank Tim Wakefield, the fastest Red Sox pitcher of my lifetime other than Reggie Cleveland, for spiking the fast numbers. He always pitched like he had a 9:30 dinner reservation and didn't want to be late. God bless him.)

2004 Red Sox
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 14
2:31-3:00 -- 81
3:01-4:00 -- 61 (6 extra)
More than 4 -- 5 (5 extra)

(Note: Still cruising along. Nothing really changed from 1978 to 2004, in case you didn't notice.)

2007 Red Sox
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 11
2:31-3:00 -- 48
3:01-4:00 -- 97 (5 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (2 extra)

(Note: Uh-oh. One-hundred three of 162 games dragging past three hours??? Call it the Tipping Point ... as in, "I'm tipping over because I just fell asleep." I blame the recent frenzy of milking pitch counts, the constant preening between pitches and more frequent pitching changes. Yes, I look forward to those arguments being struck down by an angry blogger within the next 48 hours.)

2010 Red Sox (101 games)
2 or less -- 0
2:01-2:30 -- 1
2:31-3:00 -- 41
3:01-4:00 -- 53 (7 extra)
More than 4 -- 6 (4 extra)

(Shaking my head.)

What a nightmare. I'm the same guy who once created the 150-Minute Rule for all movies, sporting events, concerts, even sex -- if you edge past 150 minutes for anything, you better have a really good reason. The 2010 Boston Red Sox have played one game in four months that ended in less than 150 minutes.

I'll write that again: The 2010 Boston Red Sox have played one game in four months that ended in less than 150 minutes.

Nearly 60 percent of the Red Sox's games have dragged past three hours. Twenty-four of their games have gone 3:30 or longer (nearly 25 percent). And no, it's not just them: Fifty-eight percent of 2010 Yankees games have extended past three hours. When these two meandering monoliths collide, look out: This year's snoozefests clocked in at 3:46, 3:48, 3:21, 3:01, 3:56, 3:05, 3:47 and 4:09 (a nine-inning game!). Are those baseball games or Boston Marathon times?

Meanwhile, National League games move significantly faster: Every NL team has played at least 50 percent of its 2010 games in less than three hours, led by St. Louis, who cranked out 71 of its 102 games in less than three hours. That tells me the following things:

1. We need to dump the DH. Like, right now. It's stupid, anyway.

2. We're only a few other tweaks away from getting these games to a manageable time. What about giving managers six timeouts during a game in which they can cross the baseline, and that's it? What about a 15-second pitch-clock? What about giving hitters three seconds to leave the batter's box, or it's another strike? (Unless you've tipped a ball off your foot, caught something in your eye or desperately need to adjust your boys.) What about two minutes between half-innings for commercials, then the next hitter has to be standing in the batter's box at 2:01?

Look, we could throw out unrealistic suggestions like "no baserunner can take a lead past a defined line within 7 feet of the base" (to eliminate pickoff throws); "every batter needs to bring a second bat to the on-deck circle" (in case he breaks the first one); "relievers don't get to warm up;" "catchers can visit the mound only once per inning;" "we wire the area around the home plate and electrocute batters any time they step out to adjust their elbow pads or their crotch;" and even "let's eliminate the ninth inning all together and just play eight." But really, just the four tweaks from the previous paragraph would save 30-35 minutes per game. Easily.

The most damning fact about these interminably long games? They pushed some die-hard fans toward English Premier League and World Cup games mainly because we knew those games would end in less than two hours.

Ideally, baseball's popularity would completely collapse so that you could afford to go to a game with your kids again and there wouldn't be enough ad time to fill three hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Curbing Your Enthusiasm (PAUL KRUGMAN, 7/30/10, NY Times)

Mr. Obama rode into office on a vast wave of progressive enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was bound to be followed by disappointment, and not just because the president was always more centrist and conventional than his fervent supporters imagined. Given the facts of politics, and above all the difficulty of getting anything done in the face of lock step Republican opposition, he wasn’t going to be the transformational figure some envisioned. [...]

What explains Mr. Obama’s consistent snubbing of those who made him what he is? Does he fear that his enemies would use any support for progressive people or ideas as an excuse to denounce him as a left-wing extremist? Well, as you may have noticed, they don’t need such excuses: He’s been portrayed as a socialist because he enacted Mitt Romney’s health-care plan, as a virulent foe of business because he’s been known to mention that corporations sometimes behave badly. [...]

O.K., I don’t really know what’s going on. But I worry that Mr. Obama is still wrapped up in his dream of transcending partisanship, while his aides dislike the idea of having to deal with strong, independent voices. And the end result of this game-playing is an administration that seems determined to alienate its friends.

Is there any evidence anywhere for the notion that Mr. Obama has friends?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Sherlock: The Baker Street sleuth's latest incarnation impresses Sophie Elmhirst. (Sophie Elmhirst, 7/30/10, New Statesman)

In many ways the updating of his story to a modern setting worked well. That Holmes would be a serial texter makes total sense, as does Watson being a military doctor injured in Afghanistan who suffers from phantom limb syndrome and various psychosomatic disorders. It's as if they've gone through the manual for 21st-century signifiers: inappropriate war in the Middle East, check; ineffective psychotherapy, check; references to the destructive social conservatism of the Daily Mail, check.

The best bit of this "Look how modern we've made it!" stuff was the gay undertones. On Marr, Cumberbatch and Freeman talked about how there had always been theories about the precise nature of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and how they'd drawn on that in their portrayals. So there I was, eagerly awaiting a subtle, downplayed enactment of unspecified sexuality, but instead, about ten minutes in, got Watson insisting to a landlady that he and Holmes weren't going to share a room and then, about ten minutes after that, saying with a look of blind panic on his face, "I am not his date!" to a waiter who had implied otherwise. As if that wasn't enough, Watson then told Holmes that it was "all fine" whether he was gay or not. Oh, for ambiguity.

Aside from the in-your-face elements - yes, they live at 221b Baker Street - it was fine Sunday-night entertainment: a rollicking serial-killer plot plus laughs and excellent acting.

...was to use Sherlock's lack of empathy to give him a Larry Davidesque cutting edge in his interactions with other people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


McMahon Campaign Hits Grimm For Taking "Jewish Money" (David Freedlander, July 29, 2010, NY Observer)

Mike Grimm, a G.O.P challenger for Mike McMahon's Congressional seat, took in over $200,000 in his last filing.

But in an effort to show that Grimm lacks support among voters in the district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, the McMahon campaign compiled a list of Jewish donors to Grimm and provided it to The Politicker.

The file, labeled "Grimm Jewish Money Q2," for the second quarter fundraising period, shows a list of over 80 names, a half-dozen of which in fact do hail from Staten Island, and a handful of others that list Brooklyn as home.

"Where is Grimm's money coming from," said Jennifer Nelson, McMahon's campaign spokeman. "There is a lot of Jewish money, a lot of money from people in Florida and Manhattan, retirees."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Rubicon's Paranoia TV (Jace Lacob, 7/30/10, Daily Beast)

In the first episode, a four-leaf clover, acting as a symbol of a hidden fourth branch of the government, turns up as a clue in a series of crossword puzzles in major newspapers around the world. Its appearance causes a wealthy man to promptly kill himself in response, leaving behind a widow (Miranda Richardson) with too many questions.

“Everything is public property but there are still things which are incredibly hidden and incredibly private but then you find that maybe they’re not and they’ve been on show the whole time,” said Richardson regarding the situation in which her character, the appropriately named Katherine Rhumor, finds herself.

Just how Katherine’s story connects to Will’s investigation remains a tantalizing puzzle to be solved, much like the onslaught of information that has to be deciphered, analyzed, and assessed each day by the API staffers.

“Can you trust the immediacy of that information,” said Dale, speaking to The Daily Beast from the show’s New York set. “The idea that you can turn on cable news right now and get information right away should make you ask, who’s putting out the press releases, who’s giving you the real story? Someone orchestrates these things. There are men in rooms who sit down and decide what is our main story today and what is going to be our spin on it?”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Reporting From Pakistan (Walter Russell Mead, 7/30/10, American Interest)

The news broke in the US on Sunday; it only hit here on Tuesday, possibly because the issues are so sensitive that some media figures decided to wait to test official reaction before committing themselves. On Tuesday the story made all the front pages. The Nation, a feisty and often anti-American newspaper that sees spooks in every corner and seems to believe that much of the world has nothing better to do than endlessly plot against Pakistan, has already figured it out: the leaks were a clever ploy by the ruthlessly cunning Obama administration to discredit Pakistan. Commented The Nation:

“’Something is not right here,’” one expert said, adding that WikiLeaks could not have done it without a wink and a nod by some elements in the administration wanting to keep Pakistan under pressure.”

All the news outlets are giving plenty of space to indignant denials by Pakistani authorities that the leaks point to anything real. Denunciations of the leaks by American officials play especially well; in addition to covering the ISI’s indignant denial that there is any factual basis for the reports, The Dawn carries three separate stories about American officials denouncing, downplaying and vowing to hunt down the leakers.

One thing I’ve learned here that has been a surprise: virtually all Pakistanis are operating on the assumption that the United States plans to cut and run in Afghanistan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Islamists Gain Upper Hand in Russian Republic (Matthias Schepp , 7/30/10, Der Spiegel)

Close to 9 million people live in the autonomous republics of Russia's northern Caucasus. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, each of these republics, particularly Chechnya, has been plagued by terrorism and war. But nowhere is the situation today as explosive as it is in Dagestan. This desperately poor strip of land on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, which is smaller than the US state of West Virginia, is home to several dozen ethnic groups that are bitterly at odds over government posts and grazing land, while an Islamist insurgency wages a war against Moscow and Dagestan's Russian-controlled government.

The resistance against the military campaigns of Czarist troops began in Dagestan more than 150 years ago. Russia needed a force of more than 300,000 to finally subjugate the region after a war than raged for about 30 years. The spirit of resistance continues to shape the republic today. Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, chaos prevails in Dagestan, primarily because of the activities of radical Islamists. The Caucasus republic has become almost ungovernable.

July 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM

BUSHITLER STRIKES AGAIN... (via Bryan Francoeur):

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity (Ellen Nakashima, 7/29/10, Washington Post)

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation. [...]

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. "You're bringing a big category of data -- records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information -- outside of judicial review," said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Fed Member’s Deflation Warning Hints at Policy Shift (SEWELL CHAN, 7/29/10, NY Times)

On Thursday, James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, warned that the Fed’s current policies were putting the American economy at risk of becoming “enmeshed in a Japanese-style deflationary outcome within the next several years.”

The warning by Mr. Bullard, who is a voting member of the Fed committee that determines interest rates, comes days after Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman, said the central bank was prepared to do more to stimulate the economy if needed, though it had no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Bullard had been associated with the camp that sees inflation, the Fed’s traditional enemy, as a greater threat than deflation.

But with inflation now very low, about half of the Fed’s unofficial target of 2 percent, and with the European debt crisis having roiled the markets, even self-described inflation hawks like Mr. Bullard have gotten worried that growth has slowed so much that the economy is at risk of a dangerous cycle of falling prices and wages.

...they wouldn't have caused the credit crunch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated? (Michael Grunwald, 7/29/10, TIME)

The obnoxious anti-environmentalist Rush Limbaugh has been a rare voice arguing that the spill — he calls it "the leak" — is anything less than an ecological calamity, scoffing at the avalanche of end-is-nigh eco-hype.

Well, Limbaugh has a point. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it's no leak; it's the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It's also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it's important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. "The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared," says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Leaving Mets Put Herzog on a Path to the Hall (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 7/23/10, NY Times)

In a 1966 New York Times article about Herzog, accompanied by a photograph of him flat on the ground exhorting a player to slide, he explained his style. “A good third-base coach can win 16 or 17 games a season for his club,” he said. “When a base runner has a chance to score, you’ve got to remember that the percentage is with him. It’s like being a gambler — you’ll force the other side to make either a perfect play or a damaging mistake.”

He was using the lessons he learned as a minor leaguer in the Yankees’ farm system. “I’ll bet Casey Stengel walked me down the third-base line 75 times a day teaching me that good base running boils down to anticipation and knowledge of the defense,” he said. Those teachings added up to one thing, he said: “You can steal a lot of runs.”

Herzog’s subsequent six years in player development helped stock the Mets for their 1969 World Series run and a little bit beyond. Jon Springer, who runs the Mets by the Numbers blog, said that Herzog brought along Jon Matlack, Ken Singleton, Gary Gentry, Amos Otis, John Milner and Wayne Garrett, “about as strong a group of minor league talent the Mets would develop until the Strawberry-Gooden 1980s.”

Ed Kranepool, the Mets’ longtime first baseman, said, “He had a crystal ball; he could look at players to see how good they’d be later on, especially with 17- or 18-year-old kids.”

But Herzog disliked M. Donald Grant, the Mets’ imperious chairman, and was perturbed when Grant did not hire him as the manager after Gil Hodges died in 1972. Yogi Berra got the job instead.

“Whitey was a very logical choice to manage the Mets,” Kiner said. “He had earned the job.”

Peter Golenbock’s book “Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team” quotes Herzog as saying: “Grant’s people even ordered me to stay away from Gil’s funeral just so there wouldn’t be speculation that I’d be hired as the new manager. I’ve never forgiven them for that.”

Kranepool said: “He should have stayed in the organization. We would have been a lot better for it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Miss Iowa Katharine Connors to visit Washington Nationals after pitcher Miguel Batista's insult (Bobby Melok, 7/29/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

"Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having Miss Iowa," the 39-year-old hurler said, comparing Strasburg to himself.

Katherine Connors, the reigning Miss Iowa, took a little offense to Batista's comments, and playfully invited the pitcher to walk a mile in her high heels.

"I know I can throw a pitch or two," Connors said in a statement. "The question is, can Miguel Batista walk the runway in a swimsuit?"

Batista, after seeing a picture of Connnors, admitted to the Washington Post that Miss Iowa was "gorgeous," and said his comments were not meant to insult her. He also arranged for flowers to be sent to her home in Iowa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


SPIEGEL Interview with Craig Venter: 'We Have Learned Nothing from the Genome': In a SPIEGEL interview, genetic scientist Craig Venter discusses the 10 years he spent sequencing the human genome, why we have learned so little from it a decade on and the potential for mass production of artificial life forms that could be used to produce fuels and other resources. (Der Spiegel, 7/28/10)

SPIEGEL: The decoding of your personal genome has so far revealed little more than the fact that your ear wax tends to be moist.

Venter: That's what you say. And what else have I learned from my genome? Very little. We couldn't even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn't that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle 'yes/no' answers in the genome. "Yes, you'll have cancer." Or "No, you won't have cancer." But that's just not the way it is.

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely.

SPIEGEL: Did it at least provide us with some new knowledge?

Venter: It certainly has. Eleven years ago, we didn't even know how many genes humans have. Many estimated that number at 100,000, and some went as high as 300,000. We made a lot of enemies when we claimed that there appeared to be considerably fewer -- probably closer to the neighborhood of 40,000! And then we found out that there are only half as many. I was just in Stockholm for the 200th anniversary of the Karolinska Institute. The first presentation was about the many achievements the decoding of the genome has brought. Then I spoke and said that this century will be remembered for how little, and not how much, happened in this field.

SPIEGEL: Why is it taking so long for the results of genome research to be applied in medicine?

Venter: Because we have, in truth, learned nothing from the genome other than probabilities. How does a 1 or 3 percent increased risk for something translate into the clinic? It is useless information.

SPIEGEL: There are hundreds of hereditary diseases that can be traced to defects in individual genes. You can determine a lot more than just probabilities through them. But that still hasn't led to a flood of new treatments.

Venter: There were false expectations. Take Ataxia telangiectasia, for example, a horrible disease. The nervous system degenerates, and people who have it often die in their early teens. The cause is a defect in a single gene, but it is a developmental gene. If your body is built in the wrong way, then you can't just take a magic pill to rebuild it. If your brain is wired wrong, then it is wired wrong.

SPIEGEL: Who is to blame for those false expectations?

Venter: We were simply always looking at single genes because they were the only genes we had. When people lose their keys at night, they look under the lamp post. Why? Because that's where you can still see something.

SPIEGEL: But the keys are really located in the dark?

Venter: Exactly. Why did people think there were so many human genes? It's because they thought there was going to be one gene for each human trait. And if you want to cure greed, you change the greed gene, right? Or the envy gene, which is probably far more dangerous. But it turns out that we're pretty complex. If you want to find out why someone gets Alzheimer's or cancer, then it is not enough to look at one gene. To do so, we have to have the whole picture. It's like saying you want to explore Valencia and the only thing you can see is this table. You see a little rust, but that tells you nothing about Valencia other than that the air is maybe salty. That's where we are with the genome. We know nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


How Americans’ Shifting Political Ideologies Threaten the Democrats (William Galston, July 28, 2010, New Republic)

In May 2009, after Obama had taken office and the broad political debate had shifted away from social issues and national security toward the economy and federal regulation, Pew found that Independents had begun to move toward the Republican Party. This month’s survey suggests a continuation of this trend in Obama’s second year.

Three politically relevant conclusions follow from these data. First, Democrats’ greater diversity means that party leaders are bound to have more trouble managing their coalition than the Republicans will theirs. Second, the Independents who helped Democrats score a notable success in the 2006 midterm elections may well do the same for Republicans in 2010.

The third conclusion to be drawn from the poll is that, whether Democrats lose control of the Congress or remain in power with much narrower majorities, Obama’s challenge will resemble the one Bill Clinton faced after 1994—namely, reestablishing his standing among those voters outside of the Democratic base whose support spells the difference between retaining and losing a national majority. I’m not necessarily suggesting that Obama should do that the way Clinton did, by championing small-bore issues—such as school uniforms—designed to send reassuring messages to the electorate. But I am suggesting that he should bring comparable focus and clarity to the task of broadening his appeal beyond his core supporters… and organize his White House to maximize the chances that he can accomplish that task.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Our Divisive President: Barack Obama promised a new era of post-partisanship. In office, he's played racial politics and further split the country along class and party lines. (PATRICK H. CADDELL AND DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN, 7/28/10, WSJ)

Even the former head of the Civil Rights Commission, Mary Frances Berry, acknowledged that the Obama administration has taken to polarizing America around the issue of race as a means of diverting attention away from other issues, saying: "the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. . . . Having one's opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness."

The president had a unique opportunity to focus on overarching issues of importance to whites and blacks. He has failed to address the critical challenges. He has not used his bully pulpit to emphasize the importance of racial unity and the common interest of poor whites and blacks who need training, job opportunities, and the possibility of realizing the American Dream. He hasn't done enough to address youth unemployment—which in the white community is 23.2% and in the black community is 39.9%.

Mr. Obama has also cynically divided the country on class lines. He has taken to playing the populist card time and time again. He bashes Wall Street and insurance companies whenever convenient to advance his programs, yet he has been eager to accept campaign contributions and negotiate with these very same banks and corporations behind closed doors in order to advance his political agenda.

Finally, President Obama also exacerbated partisan division, and he has made it clear that he intends to demonize the Republicans and former President George W. Bush in the fall campaign. In April, the Democratic National Committee released a video in which the president directly addressed his divide-and-conquer campaign strategy, with an appeal to: "young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again."

President Obama's divisive approach to governance has weakened us as a people and paralyzed our political culture. Meanwhile, the Republican leadership has failed to put forth an agenda that is more positive, unifying or inclusive. We are stronger when we debate issues and purpose, and we are all weaker when we divide by race and class. We will pay a price for this type of politics.

You can understand why Democrats thought divisiveness would help them in December 2000--they'd just lost an election where their candidate got more votes and it was reasonable to see W as vulnerable in 2004. But it didn't work. He worked out bipartisan agreements on NCLB, prescription coverage and the like and carried the midterms and then was easily re-elected.

Why would they expect dividing the country to work any better now?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


The Rebirth of Prague's Vltava River: After decades of neglect and abuse, the picturesque river flowing through the Czech capital is being developed for residential and recreational use (Lucie Kavanova, 7/28/10, Business Week)

Jan Valek, laboratory director at the Prague office of Povodi Vltavy, a state river management company that has monitored the quality of the Vltava since the 1960s, said, "Under communism, the water was intensely polluted by heavy industry, which wasn't helped by the city's inefficient water treatment plants."

Meanwhile, the government was pouring money into tall, nondescript apartment complexes on the outskirts of the city and, along with subsequent governments, neglecting to invest in adequate flood protection. There was less and less reason to think of the Vltava as anything other than a channel for effluent or a barrier to be crossed on a bridge.

After 1989, that slowly began to change.

In the 1990s, the city made a major investment into a new water treatment system. That and the phase-out of heavy industry led to a dramatic improvement in water quality, although progress has slowed recently. "Lately, the improvement has not been that fast. I think we've hit our technological limit," Valek said. Still, he added, the Vltava is safe for swimming, and fishermen say new species are returning to the river.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Ayotte's Unfavorable Ratings Rising In UNH Poll (Steven Shepard, July 28, 2010, Hotline)

The Granite State Poll, conducted by the UNH Survey Center, shows Ayotte leading Hodes among likely voters, 45-37%. Binnie leads Hodes by a smaller margin, 41-38%.

While Hodes still finds himself behind the two leading GOP candidates, he has cut Ayotte's lead nearly in half over the past few months [...]

While opinions of Hodes are stagnant since April, Ayotte's unfavorable rating has doubled over that time period. The rise in her disapproval ratings coincide with Sarah Palin's endorsement of her candidacy, a move that boosted her stature in the primary but likely cost her support with non-conservative voters.

It's nice to be able to switch from the stuff you have to do for the base to the stuff with broad electoral appeal a bit earlier in the year.

July 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


CNN Poll: Should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay? (CNN, July 27th, 2010)

Eighty-one percent of people questioned in the poll say they support creating a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. for a number of years to stay here and apply to legally remain in this country permanently if they had a job and paid back taxes, with 19 percent opposed to such a plan.

According to the poll 94 percent of white respondents favor the program, 16 points higher than the 78 percent of Hispanics questioned who back a plan that would provide a pathway to legal status for some illegal immigrants.

Just pretend it isn't amnesty and the only holdouts are people who need to ask serious questions about themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:54 PM


Judge blocks parts of Arizona immigration law (JACQUES BILLEAUD and AMANDA LEE MYERS, 7/28/10, Associated Press)

[F]or now, opponents of the law have prevailed: The provisions that angered opponents will not take effect, including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The judge also delayed parts of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places — a move aimed at day laborers. In addition, the judge blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.

"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," Bolton, a Clinton appointee, said in her decision.

...a black woman brought in the 1815 internal passport that allowed her free ancestor to travel in the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Al Gore's Weak Defense (Lloyd Grove, 7/28/10, Daily Beast)

[F]our weeks into his multimedia ordeal, Gore hasn’t managed to formulate an effective PR strategy to counter the toxic fallout polluting his once-gleaming image. And crisis managers say his passive stance is only fueling the problem. What’s more, he has yet to personally confront the allegations in a public forum, and refuses to take questions from the howling media mob during increasingly furtive speaking appearances. Inevitably, the ugly charges and Gore’s apparent evasiveness are harming his reputation.

“’Crazed sex poodle’ has got to be one of the great coinages of our time,” says Los Angeles-based crisis communications expert Allan Mayer, who believes that Gore, if blameless, should fight the charges, possibly by going on a respected morning television show opposite a tough interviewer “like Matt Lauer.” Mayer also advises Gore to file a libel suit against the Enquirer and his accusers. “Whenever you’re accused of anything these days, and it’s not true, you have to fire back with both barrels—give an unequivocal denial and, if possible, an explanation,” Mayer says. “I find it hard to understand why he wouldn’t do that, except for the fact that it might be true. From the way he’s been behaving, the only logical inference is that there must be at least some truth to these allegations.”

Gore’s latest public crucible began June 1 with the surprising revelation—in the form of a joint email to friends from Al and Tipper—that they were separating after 40 years of marriage. A few weeks later The National Enquirer began publishing accusations that Gore made unwanted sexual advances toward first one, and then three, female massage therapists in farflung cities—Portland, Beverly Hills and Tokyo—during the past several years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM

...AND REDDER....:

The Democrats' Redistricting Nightmare (David N. Bass, 7.28.10, American Spectator)

With about a dozen of the nation's state legislatures closely split along partisan lines and 18 governor's races in the "toss up" category this year, big changes could be in store. Factoring in the tenuous political atmosphere adds even more spice to the mix. So far, the ground game is shaping up nicely for the GOP, but there are still fundraising and organizational storm clouds on the horizon.

The Cook Political Report lists five governorships now held by Democrats as either "leaning" Republican or "likely" Republican. Of those five states, four of the legislatures are Republican and one is split between the parties, giving the GOP a good chance to control the redistricting process. Conversely, Cook lists only one governor's race -- for Republican Linda Lingle's office in Hawaii -- as leaning in the Democrats' favor, and none in the "likely" or "solid" Democrat category. There are no redistricting implications, though, because the Aloha State redraws political lines by independent commission, not legislative edict.

In 17 state legislatures, meanwhile, Democrats maintain a slim advantage in at least one chamber. In a good Republican year, several of those could flip. Even if a Democrat occupies the governor's office or controls one legislative chamber, the GOP could significantly influence the process and curtail partisan gerrymandering by capturing at least part of the state government. Both national parties understand the implications, which is why they're pouring $20 million apiece into competitive legislative races, with an eye toward strengthening their hand in redistricting.

Aside from the favorable lineup of races, the political trend is also in Republicans' favor. Even in the strongly anti-GOP election year of 2008, Republicans managed to defend all of their governorships up for grabs except one in Missouri. Since then, Republicans have been victorious in special elections in Virginia and New Jersey, states where Democrats had a nearly decade-long winning streak in gubernatorial elections.

Reapportionment is another factor upping the stakes. That process moves congressional seats from states that lost population to states that gained. Here again, Republicans have reason to be optimistic. The Washington, D.C., based firm Polidata predicts that 10 states will gain at least one congressional seat and 10 lose at least one after the 2010 census. Of those, all of the losing states except one are in the predominantly Democratic northeast and upper Midwest. On the other hand, all but one of the states gaining seats is in the Republican-friendly Sunbelt, including a projected four-seat pickup for Texas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Dems Taking on the Tea Party, Again (Josh Kraushaar, 7/28/10, Hotline)

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine will be accusing GOP leaders of being beholden to the Tea Party's agenda at a press conference this morning, mocking Republican plans to offer voters a legislative commitment modeled after the Contract with America.

As part of its initiative, the DNC is launching a website accusing Republicans of supporting a legislative blueprint in line with the Tea Party movement that includes repeal of the health care law and Wall Street reform, extending tax breaks, privatization of Social Security and the elimination of the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.

...it wouldn't be so unpopular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


lmond gazpacho: Your kids will go nuts: It took a cruise ship and a fancy waiter to get my girls to enjoy cold soups. Now they can't stop eating them (Lucy Mercer, Salon)

Chilled almond soup


* ¾ cup almonds, blanched preferred, but whole with skins OK
* 1 shallot
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
* 2 cups cold vegetable broth
* Salt and pepper to taste
* 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
* Sliced almonds or green grapes for garnish


1. Toast the almonds in a skillet for a few minutes, remove from heat and let cool.

2. In a food processor, purée shallot, then add toasted almonds. Blitz until finely ground. Add olive oil and bread crumbs and process until combined. With the motor running, slowly pour in vegetable broth through the feed tube. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finish with sherry vinegar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Why the Left Hates Conservatives: Liberals don’t just hate conservatism as an ideology; they hate conservatives as individuals. (Dennis Prager, 7/27/10, National Review)

Here are three possible answers.

First, the Left thinks the Right is evil. Granting the exceptions that all generalizations allow for, conservatives believe that those on the left are wrong, while those on the left believe that those on the right are bad. Examples are innumerable. Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic party, said, “In contradistinction to the Republicans, Democrats don’t believe kids ought to go to bed hungry at night.” Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), among many similar comments, said, “I want to say a few words about what it means to be a Democrat. It’s very simple: We have a conscience.” [...]

Second, when you don’t confront real evil, you hate those who do. You can see this on almost any school playground. The kid who confronts the school bully is often resented more than the bully. Whether out of guilt over their own cowardice or out of fear that the one who confronted the bully will provoke the bully to lash out more, those who refuse to confront the bully often resent the one who does. During the 1980s, the Left expressed far more hatred for Ronald Reagan than for Soviet Communist dictator Leonid Brezhnev. When Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” the liberal world was enraged . . . at Reagan.

Those (usually on the left) who refused to confront Communism hated those (usually on the right) who did. [...]

Third, the Left’s utopian vision is prevented only by the Right.

From its inception, leftism has been a secular utopian religion. As Ted Kennedy, paraphrasing his brother Robert F. Kennedy, said, “Some men see things as they are and say, Why? I dream things that never were and say, Why not?” That exemplifies left-wing idealism — imagining a utopian future. There will be no poor, no war, no conflict, no inequality. That future is only a few more government programs away from reality. And who stands in the way of such perfection? Conservatives. How could a utopian not hate a conservative?

...and how guilty their divergence from the culture that conservatism defends makes them feel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Science Turns Authoritarian: Science is losing its credibility because it has adopted an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by politics. (Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian, July 27, 2010, The American)

While nobody would dispute the value of a good PR department, we doubted that bad or insufficient PR was the primary reason for the public’s declining trust in scientific pronouncements. Our theory is that science is not losing its credibility because people no longer like or believe in the idea of scientific discovery, but because science has taken on an authoritarian tone, and has let itself be co-opted by pressure groups who want the government to force people to change their behavior.

We decided to do a bit of informal research, checking Lexis Nexis for the growth in the use of what we characterize as ‘authoritarian’ phrasing when it comes to scientific findings.

In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims.

But along the way, an assortment of publicity-seeking, and often socially activist, scientists stopped saying, “Here are our findings. Read it and believe.” Instead, activist scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen, heads of quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editors of major scientific journals, and heads of the various national scientific academies are more inclined to say, “Here are our findings, and those findings say that you must change your life in this way, that way, or the other way.” [...]

If science wants to redeem itself and regain its place with the public’s affection, scientists need to come out every time some politician says, “The science says we must…” and reply, “Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.” If they say that often enough, and loudly enough, they might be able to reclaim the mantle of objectivity that they’ve given up over the last 40 years by letting themselves become the regulatory state’s ultimate appeal to authority. Hey, you know, perhaps Biba has something there—maybe science does need better PR!

The problem, of course, is that the "science" will always tell them what they want us to hear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


No news is still bad news in leaks of Afghan reports (Shaun Waterman, July 27, 2010, Washington Times)

One of the most shocking things about the publication of a huge database of secret field reports from the U.S. military in Afghanistan is how few surprises it contains. [...]

"There is, as far as I can tell, nothing of any real interest in there," said Peter Bergen, a fellow at the New America Foundation think tank and a leading U.S. scholar on the Afghan war.

Mr. Bergen attributed the furor about the publication to the fact that the documents were classified. "Everybody loves secrets. If this material was unclassified, no one would care," he told The Washington Times.

Mr. Bergen added that the lack of any new information in the database "says a lot about the quality of U.S. intelligence" in the conflict.

...is if the intelligence agencies had any secret that was useful rather than counterproductive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Endgame: It's an idea for solving the conflict that sounds like a vision of the end of days: Grant Israeli citizenship and equal rights to all the Palestinians in the West Bank. And who is proposing the one-state solution? Right-wingers and settlers (Noam Sheizaf, 7/15/10, Ha'aretz)

As Washington, Ramallah and Jerusalem slouch toward what seems like a well-known, self-evident solution - two states for two nations, on the basis of the 1967 borders and a small-scale territorial swap - a conceptual breakthrough is taking place in the right wing. Its ideologues are no longer content with rejecting withdrawal and evacuation of settlements, citing security arguments calculated to strike fear into the hearts of the Israeli mainstream. Their new idea addresses the shortcomings of the status quo, takes account of the isolation in which Israel finds itself and acknowledges the need to break the political deadlock.

Once the sole preserve of the political margins, the approach is now being advocated by leading figures in Likud and among the settlers - people who are not necessarily considered extremists or oddballs. About a month before Arens published his article, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud ) said, "It's preferable for the Palestinians to become citizens of the state than for us to divide the country." In an interview this week (see box ), Rivlin reiterates and elaborates this viewpoint. In May 2009, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference in the Knesset titled "Alternatives to Two States." Since then, on a couple of occasions, she has called publicly for citizenship to be granted to the Palestinians "in gradual fashion." Now she is planning to publish a position paper on the subject. Uri Elitzur, former chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements and Netanyahu's bureau chief in his first term as prime minister, last year published an article in the settlers' journal Nekuda calling for the onset of a process, at the conclusion of which the Palestinians will have "a blue ID card [like Israelis], yellow license plates [like Israelis], National Insurance and the right to vote for the Knesset." Emily Amrousi, a former spokesperson for the Yesha Council, takes part in meetings between settlers and Palestinians and speaks explicitly of "one land in which the children of settlers and the children of Palestinians will be bused to school together."

It's still not a full-fledged political camp and there are still holes in the theory. But although its advocates do not seem to be working together, the plans they put forward are remarkably similar. They all reject totally the various ideas of ethnic separation and recognize that political rights accrue to the Palestinians. They talk about a process that will take between a decade and a generation to complete, at the end of which the Palestinians will enjoy full personal rights, but in a country whose symbols and spirit will remain Jewish. It is at this point that the one-state right wing diverges from the binational left. The right is not talking about a neutral "state of all its citizens" with no identity, nor about "Israstine" with a flag showing a crescent and a Shield of David. As envisaged by the right wing, one state still means a sovereign Jewish state, but in a more complex reality, and inspired by the vision of a democratic Jewish state without an occupation and without apartheid, without fences and separations. In such a state, Jews will be able to live in Hebron and pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and a Palestinian from Ramallah will be able to serve as an ambassador and live in Tel Aviv or simply enjoy ice cream on the city's seashore. Sounds off the wall? "If every path seems to reach an impasse,' Elitzur wrote in Nekuda, "usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo."

...Palestinians ought to leap at the opportunity to win recognition of the right to return as regular Israeli citizens and to have land claims from the diaspora settled in court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


The salesman doesn't know the territory (Wes Pruden, 7/26/10, Washington Times)

The president's visits to the government's auto plants in Michigan, bought by Mr. Obama with the bailout money, preceded visits to New Jersey, where the celebration is supposed to be about the $787 billion dollar "stimulus." He's got a lot of 'splainin' to do: A new poll by Pew Research finds that only a third of Democratic voters think the stimulus kept unemployment numbers from getting worse, and only 45 percent of the Democrats think the grandly named American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, meant to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, has done much more than put up billboards proclaiming how great highways and bridges will be. Someday, not today.

Mr. Obama can't fix what's wrong with him with a recitation of what he's done for America — the health care reform, the stimulus, the Wall Street regulatory bill — because most Americans don't like what he's done to America and have taken his measure and decided that he just can't get it. Race has nothing to do with it. Americans, mostly white Americans, who have soured on the messiah of Hyde Park are nevertheless proud that the votes that elected a black man demonstrated that the nation has moved past bigotry in the ballot box. (If white folks were as evil as Mr. Obama's favorite Chicago preacher says they are, Jim Crow wouldn't be in the graveyard sleeping the sleep of the unjust.)

Mr. Obama has the intellectual's habit, formed by the intellectualoids at elite universities, of trying to parse sentiment by mathematic formula. Americans respond to love of country like they respond to love of home and hearth, with an instinct of heart and gut. Mr. Obama famously told a group of wealthy donors in San Francisco that when Americans "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion," and didn't understand why he enraged the masses. When he apologizes to the nation's enemies, he wins the applause of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, but jeers in Peoria. When he argues that "if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, [we] strengthen our hand," he wins applause in the faculty lounges of Harvard and Yale, but confirms the verdict of Middle America that "he's not one of us."

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, describes the president — emotionally distant, hostile to the cherished traditions of hard work and free enterprise, contemptuous of small-town America — as "reasoned, calm, looking like the adult in the room." We've come a long way to the time and place when we can elect a black president who, like the elites he represents, is indifferent to and contemptuous of the values Americans hold dearest. The president is an attractive, likable salesman, but he can tour from now until next Christmas and never move his merchandise. He never learned the drummer's first rule for success: "You gotta know the territory."

...is to vote the incompetent out of office despite his being black (in theory).

July 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


The End of Men: Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences (Hanna Rosin, July/August 2010, The Atlantic)

What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.

Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained—at least in part—by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. Guys, one senior remarked to me, “are the new ball and chain.” It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.

Over the last several decades men have managed to engineer a world where their diminishing supply pumps up demand and allows them to be choosy--and eventually, inevitably, polyamorous/polygamous--while the women who have to fight over them do all the work and the guys get to sit around watching SportsCenter? Who holds all the cards?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


On the Surface, Gulf of Mexico Oil Slick Is Vanishing Fast (JUSTIN GILLIS and CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, 7/27/10, NY Times)

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though there continue to be sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil here and there.

Heck, even stuff like Hiroshima and Chernobyl made no significant lasting impact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


...but does Chris Matthews not have a staff to explain who he's interviewing? He just gets pwned by Paul Ryan here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


Canadian actor Maury Chaykin dies at age 61 (The Associated Press, July 27, 2010)

Chaykin had roles in "Dances With Wolves," "The Postman," "Owning Mahoney," "Mystery," "Alaska," "A Life Less Ordinary," and "The Adjuster." He has also been in the TV shows "C.S.I.," "Boston Legal," the HBO series "Entourage," and the HBO Canada series "Less Than Kind." His acting career spans 35 years.

Chaykin was born in New York to an American father and a Canadian mother before moving to Toronto in 1974.

Nevermind that he was an American actor, how about the fact that he was and always will be Nero Wolfe?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Our view on gas tax: Price holds key to ending nation's addiction to oil (USA Today, 7/27/10)

Consider what happened when gasoline prices spiked in 2008. It was painful for just about everyone, and particularly hard on lower-income people and those who had to drive long distances. But it did more to change habits and reduce oil usage than anything Congress and a parade of presidents had done in decades.

In June 2008, Americans drove 12 billion fewer miles than in June 2007, part of the longest
sustained drop in driving since high prices discouraged driving in the 1970s. Car buyers suddenly wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and began to try to shed their SUVs. Sales of Toyota's 50-mpg Prius hybrid shot up by 69% in 2007, exceeding those of the popular Ford Explorer SUV. The Toyota Corolla was the No. 1 selling car in the country in June 2008, while the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado pickups — traditionally best-sellers but comparative gas guzzlers — had dropped to fifth and sixth place. But once prices fell, so did sales of the Prius and Corolla. The F-150 and Silverado again rose to the top of the heap.

Four decades of experience suggests the only way to wean the nation off its ruinous oil addiction is prices that go up and stay up. And, although it's a political non-starter for now, the simplest and best way to achieve that is to gradually raise the federal gasoline tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has been since 1993. [...]

Ultimately, higher taxes could help drive alternative technologies that would slow the flow of money to finance some of the world's worst regimes and multinational oil companies, such as BP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM

EVERYBODY HATES CARS (via Bryan Francoeur):

Trib-WGN Poll: Road funding should take back seat to transit
(Jon Hilkevitch, July 23, 2010, Chicago Breaking News)

Reflecting the increasing strain of gridlocked traffic, a majority of Chicago-area residents think improving bus and train service is so important to the region that repairing and expanding expressways and toll roads should take a back seat, a Tribune/WGN poll shows.

Most suburbanites support investing more in mass transit than roads, sharing the long-held stance of a large majority of city residents, the poll found. Suburban residents also said they are driving less and taking more advantage of expanded suburban train and bus service in communities where the automobile has been king.

Drivers who said they would back spending more on mass transit cited the growing stress associated with congestion; high gasoline prices; and, to a lesser degree, the environmental and financial benefits of riding transit instead of inhaling belching emissions from cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


NH looking more competitive (Public Policy Polling, 7/27/10)

Kelly Ayotte's seen her appeal to moderate voters crumble in the wake of her endorsement by Sarah Palin and her lead over Paul Hodes has shrunk to its lowest level of any public polling in 2010- she has a 45-42 advantage over him, down from 47-40 in an April PPP poll.

There's not much doubt that the shift in the race is all about Ayotte. Hodes' favorability numbers have seen little change over the last three months. Where 32% of voters saw him positively and 39% negatively in April, now 35% have a favorable opinion of him to 40% with an unfavorable one. But Ayotte's seen a dramatic decline. Her favorability spread of 34/24 in April was the best we've measured for any Republican Senate candidate so far this year but her negatives have risen 15 points since that time while her positives have increased only 2 and she now stands at 36/39.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Pakistan’s Double Game (NY Times, 7/27/10)

[T]he most alarming of the reports were the ones that described the cynical collusion between Pakistan’s military intelligence service and the Taliban. Despite the billions of dollars the United States has sent in aid to Pakistan since Sept. 11, they offer powerful new evidence that crucial elements of Islamabad’s power structure have been actively helping to direct and support the forces attacking the American-led military coalition. [...]

The Times’s report of the new documents suggests the collusion goes even deeper, that representatives of the ISI have worked with the Taliban to organize networks of militants to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan and hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

The article painted a chilling picture of the activities of Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul of Pakistan, who ran the ISI from 1987 to 1989, when the agency and the C.I.A. were together arming the Afghan militias fighting Soviet troops. General Gul kept working with those forces, which eventually formed the Taliban. [...]

Why would Pakistan play this dangerous game? The ISI has long seen the Afghan Taliban as a proxy force, a way to ensure its influence on the other side of the border and keep India’s influence at bay.

You can practically hear the high-fives ringing through the halls of power in India.

US paying Pakistan to kill American troops? (Chidanand Rajghatta, 7/27/10, TNN)

In effect, the chronicles suggested that Washington was blindly paying Pakistan massive amounts of money for access to Afghanistan even as Islamabad uses its spy agency, ISI, to plot the death of American and Nato troops, allied Indian personnel, and undermines US policy. The most devastating leaks showed that Pakistan allows representatives of its spy service, ISI, to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Handyman dies protecting Centreville family he worked for from armed home invaders (Tom Jackman, 5/19/10, Washington Post)

Jose Rosales was a devout Christian. He sent every spare penny he made as a landscaper and handyman back to his family in Guatemala, and he was so strong and industrious that he did the work of three men. He had the complete trust of the Brar family who hired him.

In turn, Rosales appreciated the steady work the Brars gave him in their construction and real estate businesses and around their 10-acre Centreville property and 9,000-square foot mansion, especially in tough economic times.

So on Monday morning, when two armed men broke into the family's four-car garage, Rosales stood between them and the Brars. "Get away from my brother and my mom," he said.

Then, the stocky Rosales decided to fight back. He jumped one of the invaders and wrested his gun away, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday. But the other man turned his gun on the family's mother. He threatened to kill the matriarch if Rosales didn't give the gun back. Rosales did, the sources said.

And then the gunmen shot and killed Rosales.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


WikiLeaks shocker? In Kabul, Pakistan support for Taliban is no surprise: WikiLeaks documents saying that the US military believes Pakistan's spy agency supports the Taliban jibes with what Afghanistan's leaders have complained about for a long time. (Dan Murphy, 7/26/10, CS Monitor)

[T]he major take-away from what some are calling the largest single leak in US government history is to simply confirm a mundane reality: The Taliban are stronger than ever and a crucial component of their success is the support they receive from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The military spy agency nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s and has maintained ties to the group ever since, notwithstanding billions of dollars in recent US aid to Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, this is not exactly news. It is a fact US diplomats are grappling with in Kabul, Afghan citizens are debating in the bazaars of Kandahar, and foreign troops are acutely aware of on NATO outposts in Helmand Province, where June marked the deadliest month for foreign troops.

National Security officials would understand their jobs better if they ignored all of the data generated by the intelligence community and just read the newspaper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


David Cameron to lead huge British mission to India (Jon Swaine, 26 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron will this week lead a British mission to India five times the size of last week’s delegation to America.

Mr Cameron will be joined by six government ministers, dozens of businessmen and a group of sports stars and other cultural figures for the trip to the East.

The Prime Minister is hoping to start building a diplomatic and business link with New Delhi to match Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Among House Democrats in Rust Belt, a sense of abandonment over energy bill (Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray, 7/27/10, Washington Post)

[Democratic Rep. John] Boccieri and dozens of other House Democrats along the Rust Belt are not at all happy with the way things have turned out. The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had assured reluctant members that the Senate would take up the measure. Although Senate passage wasn't a sure thing, House Democrats hoped to go back home to voters with a great story to tell -- about reducing dependence on foreign oil, slowing climate change and creating jobs.

That didn't happen. Senate leaders, sensing political danger, repeatedly put off energy legislation, and the White House didn't lean on them very hard to make it a priority. In the aftermath of the gulf oil spill, the Senate is set to take up a stripped-down bill next week, but the controversial carbon-emissions cap is conspicuously missing.

This has left some House Democrats feeling badly served by their leaders. Although lawmakers are reluctant to say so publicly, their aides and campaign advisers privately complain that the speaker and the president left Democrats exposed on an unpopular issue that has little hope of being signed into law.

Some Democrats liken the situation to that of the 1993 "Btu" tax. The House passed the tax, but the Senate never took it up. Many House Democrats felt hung out on a limb in the 1994 elections, when Republicans reclaimed control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

July 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Afghanistan war logs: tensions increase after revelation of more leaked files ( David Leigh and Matthew Taylor, 7/27/10, The Guardian)

Tensions between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan were further strained today after the leak of thousands of military documents about the Afghan war.

As members of the US Congress raised questions about Pakistan's alleged support for the Taliban, officials in Islamabad and Kabul also traded angry accusations on the same issue.

...by forcing the contradiction and getting even the Left talking about how it is elements of the Pakistani regime we need to attack, not their Taliban puppets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain: Tiny Desk Concert (Felix Contreras, 7/26/10, NPR)

"Beyond category." That's what Duke Ellington used to call musicians who were simply the best at what they do. And that's certainly the case for Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain. Individually, they're world-class masters of the banjo, the bass fiddle and the tabla, respectively. They conquered mere technical prowess long ago.

All three now are at a place where music truly becomes so intuitive that a simple rehearsal — as we got to see before this Tiny Desk Concert in the offices of NPR Music — is an exercise in wordless communication.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Quietly, another mosque operates in shadow of ground zero (Nicole Neroulias, 7/26/10, Religion News Service)

Barely visible among the high-rise apartment buildings and cocktail lounges, a battered steel door in Manhattan's trendy Tribeca neighborhood leads to a basement jammed with barefoot men praying on their lunch break.

The makeshift mosque is a far cry from the 13-story proposed Cordoba House, the so-called planned "Ground Zero mosque" that's two blocks closer to the busy construction site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

And the leaders of Masjid Manhattan want to keep it that way.

"We are not involved with that other group," said Imam Mustafa Elazabawy, raising his voice just loud enough to be heard above the din of an air conditioner unit, but not to disturb the Arabic recitations.

"We have been here for 30 years, in this neighborhood. Many Muslims also died over there, on 9/11."

...is whether it isn't insensitive to rebuild the Trade Center, so close to these communities who lost so much in the attack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Oliver Stone: Jewish control of the media is preventing free Holocaust debate: Outspoken Hollywood director says new film aims to put Adolf Hitler, who he has called an 'easy scapegoat' in the past, in his due historical context. (Haaretz Service, 7/26/10)

Jewish control of the media is preventing an open discussion of the Holocaust, prominent Hollywood director Oliver Stone told the Sunday Times, adding that the U.S. Jewish lobby was controlling Washington's foreign policy for years.

In the Sunday interview, Stone reportedly said U.S. public opinion was focused on the Holocaust as a result of the "Jewish domination of the media," adding that an upcoming film of him aims to put Adolf Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin "in context."

If Jews control the media then they must control Mr. Stone too, so his Nixon hatchet-job was just another case of the Jews being out to get Dick Nixon, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Darwinian Liberalism (Larry Arnhart, July 12th, 2010, Cato Unbound)

Libertarians need Charles Darwin. They need him because a Darwinian science of human evolution supports classical liberalism.

In his review of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1860, Thomas Huxley declared, “every philosophical thinker hails it as a veritable Whitworth gun in the armory of liberalism.” The Whitworth gun was a new kind of breech-loading cannon — a powerful weapon, then, for liberalism.

In 1860, liberalism meant classical liberalism — the moral and political tradition of individual liberty understood as the right of individuals to be free from coercion so long as they respected the equal liberty of others. [...]

I have argued that Darwinian science is compatible with a classical liberal understanding of how moral order in a free society arises from natural desires, cultural traditions, and individual judgments. But does Darwinism make any unique contribution to liberal thought — something that could not have been derived from the moral and political thought of liberalism without the help of Darwinian science?

Yes, I think it does. Evolution provides a purely naturalistic grounding for liberal thought, so that there is no necessity to appeal to the supernatural. That’s important, because if liberal thought required supernatural beliefs, this might seem to require a coercive enforcement of those supernatural beliefs, which would subvert the individual liberty of conscience.

From Locke’s Two Treatises of Government to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to Spencer’s Social Statics, liberal thought has justified equal liberty as an expression of the unique dignity that human beings have as created in God’s image. For Locke, our natural desires give rise to natural rights because they have been implanted in us by God, and we are all naturally equal in our rights to life, liberty, and property, because we are all “the Workmanship of one Omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker.” For Jefferson, looking to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” we can hold it to be self-evident “that all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” For Spencer, since God wills human happiness, He also wills that human beings should have equal liberty as the condition for satisfying their desires.

If liberalism requires such religious beliefs, then the liberal doctrine of religious toleration cannot include tolerating atheists. This was Locke’s conclusion, because he warned that denying the existence of God as the Creator of human beings and of the moral law dissolved the moral bonds of human society.

The idea that individuals should be free obviously requires repudiating God, but it less obviously requires repudiating the Republic. Which is why libertarianism is anathema to conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Catholic Latino leaders set ambitious goals for future (CNA, 7/25/10)

“CALL is now poised to play an even more effective role in mobilizing Latino Catholic leaders and renewing American society with the values of family, faith, hard work and moral character,” Archbishop Chaput concluded.

“The idea of CALL is very simple,” Archbishop Gomez explained during the first working session. “There is a need to reach out to Latinos that have been successful, because of the growing importance of Latinos in the Catholic Church and in the country.”

The Pew Hispanic Center conducted a major study last year on the way Hispanics are covered in the news media. Researchers looked at 55 different news outlets in the country—newspapers, cable and broadcast news, websites, and radio talk shows—from February 2009 to August 2009.

Out of almost 34,500 stories during that six-month period, only 645 contained substantial references to Hispanics. Of those, only 57 stories focused directly on the lives of Hispanics in the United States.

“This means that most Americans do not know well what Latinos are about. And if there is someone, some group that can help understand the Latinos and change their perception, it is an organization such as CALL. There is no doubt in my mind that our mission is to bring the reality of the Catholic Latino culture to the American culture, Archbishop Gomez continued.

“What CALL has to offer is what accountants like to call an ‘intangible good or service,’” said the coadjutor of Los Angeles, joking about his CPA background. “What we offer is spiritual growth and a way of helping other people. These are not things that you can ‘see’ or measure.”

“What is the ‘return on investment’ we offer to our members? I hope we will be able to say that it is this: Friendship, meaningful relationships," he listed, adding, "the regular chance for husbands and wives to grow in their faith, to hear engaging speakers, the opportunity to get away and go on pilgrimage. A means to get involved in their communities and in our nation’s political life,” he said.

“To create these opportunities is a practical, ‘do-able’ objective for us in the coming year,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Clear and Hold: a review of The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs by Roberta Brandes Gratz (Casey Walker, Boston Review)

Moses often acted as though the meat ax was the only tool at his disposal. Linger on some of his most shockingly misconceived plans and one begins to intuit how tendentious his reading of the city really was, and how many viable, or potentially viable, neighborhoods were lost under his bulldozers. Large sections of the South Bronx, for example, are either gone or have never recovered from Moses’s road-building and blockbusting.

SoHo, once a “blighted” neighborhood, is a counter-example, where Moses’s knock-down plans were defeated. The neighborhood may well be less interesting than it used to be—the artists who crowded downtown Manhattan in the 1980s are mostly a memory, the once-cheap converted warehouse lofts in Cast Iron buildings cost millions, and large retail chains and tourists are ubiquitous—but if Moses had his way, there would be no gentrification or tourist traps to lament. He proposed to bulldoze 45 acres of Cast Iron buildings (this was before the days of Landmark Protection) and give the city, voila, the Lower Manhattan Expressway.

Moses is perhaps most famous for the fervor with which he loved his roads. He saw vehicular traffic as the key to New York’s long-term success. He was far from alone in this belief. At least since the dizzying polemics of the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the 1920s, making way for the automobile seemed synonymous with making way for the modern city. Moses had little of Le Corbusier’s flair, but he did seem to share the belief that the decaying, crowded city would not survive without major improvements in its circulation, without more highways and parkways to bring goods and services to it and through it.

Moses’s missing term, of course, was the pedestrian, and for this reason his road-building suffered from chronic overreach. He wanted to put a road through New York’s Washington Square Park and, less often remembered, a highway through New Orleans’s French Quarter. If these mere suggestions boggle the mind now, that perhaps illustrates how far we have come, how successful Jacobs’s vision, among others, has been at inculcating in city-dwellers a historical consciousness, a desire for preservation, a vision of the city as more than a machine for producing efficient car traffic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


Zero tolerance: The misleading case against a mosque (Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2010)

[I]t's a 13-story, YMCA-style community center, with a gym, pool, lecture hall, performing arts venue and library, all of which will be open to the public — and it will have a mosque occupying one floor. [...]

The proposal hasn't aroused much opposition among residents of the neighborhood. The local community board approved the center by a 29-1 vote, partly because it will provide amenities the area sorely lacks.

Critics say Muslims are building a monument to terrorism. But it's grossly unfair to think that all or even many Muslims support violent extremism. The congregation behind it has a reputation for moderation. And it's hard to imagine hard-core militants wanting to create a space that will be used by a lot of non-Muslims. [...]

The imam of the mosque says the purpose is to promote interfaith understanding. But if critics think the result will be just the opposite, they might try sitting down with the sponsors and discussing the matter calmly, with a due regard for freedom of religion.

That may not be the practice in Saudi Arabia. But in America, thankfully, we do things differently.

...that decent white folk mix with Muslims, can they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Obama distances himself from voters (Keith Koffler, 7/26/10, Politico)

It’s not just Obama’s overall leadership polls that are looking bad. Americans increasingly seem to not really like him and to view him as distant. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted last month, less than half responded positively when asked if Obama is “honest and straightforward.” Some 30 percent said they “do not really relate” to the president, compared with just 8 percent who felt that way at the start of his presidency.

The Obama family’s recent summer getaway to the establishment vacation mecca of Bar Harbor, Maine, crystallized the president’s lost political touch. Just days before departing for Maine, first lady Michelle Obama was in Panama City, Fla., urging Americans to vacation on the Gulf and “come on down here and spend some money.”

The sense that such a vacation is for others — and not for the Obamas — provided a true Marie Antoinette moment that may be hard to live down. Late last week, after criticism of the Bar Harbor choice, the Obamas announced that they had found a weekend in August to sojourn briefly on the Gulf Coast. But the political damage is probably already done.

That Obama also relaxes in Hawaii — though his childhood home, it’s viewed by many Americans as a kind of paradise that they can never get to — and on tony Martha’s Vineyard evinces a penchant for ritziness that can’t help him with the general public.

Neither will the Portuguese Water Dog. Why not a mutt, or at least a Golden Retriever? [...]

Obama’s apparently unquenchable thirst for golf — he’s gone out 41 times since becoming president, according to White House chronicler Mark Knoller of CBS News — could cost him with a Democratic base that thought he was somehow one of them.

Most community organizers have other ways of relaxing, I’m willing to bet. And most voters, of course, either can’t afford, or don’t have time, for regular rounds of golf.

But beyond bungling the symbolism, Obama is failing to use the tools of the office that could help him win Americans’ hearts and secure solid support.

...is that it is because his attempts to use those tools has been so uniformly counterproductive that the UR has given up on them. His next good speech will be his first since at least the 2004 convention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Senate hopeful Buck regrets criticism of Tea Party birthers (Allison Sherry, 7/26/10, The Denver Post)

Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Ken Buck called Tea Partyers questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate "dumba---s" to a Democratic operative recording his comments without his permission.

On an audio tape obtained by The Denver Post, Buck was caught muttering "will you tell those dumba---s at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I'm on the camera?" outside a June 11 event in Crowley.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


"Why Has He Fallen Short?": a review of The Promise: President Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter (Frank Rich, 8/19/10, NY Review of Books)

There is nothing in these pages to contradict the idea that Obama is the smartest guy in every room, hard as he works to avoid advertising that fact. He is in on the joke of his own outlandish success and the almost absurd run of good luck that has helped fuel it. He never ceases to remark how unlikely it is that a man named Barack Hussein Obama, the black grandson of Kenyan goatherds, “could run against the most potent political machine in a generation and become president of the United States.” As Alter observes, FDR may have been a second-class intellect with a first-rate temperament, in the famous judgment of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., but Obama “came to office with both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament.”

To which one might respond: If he’s so smart, and so sane, why has he fallen short of his spectacular potential so far? That shortfall is most conspicuously measured by his escalation of a war held hostage by the mercurial and corrupt Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai; a woefully inadequate record on job creation; and the widespread conviction that the White House tilts toward Wall Street over those who have suffered most in the Great Recession. Alter doesn’t soft-peddle these criticisms. “Even by late 2009, when every major bank except Citigroup had paid back its TARP money,” he writes, “the impression of a colossal injustice remained—that fabulously wealthy bankers would be made whole, but ordinary Americans would not.”

Among those critics who are fundamentally sympathetic to Obama, explanations for his disappointing performance abound. To many, he is not and never really was a progressive, only a cautious pragmatist who pandered to primary voters in 2008 by speaking in broad liberal bromides and reminding them incessantly that he had been to the left of Hillary on Iraq. Many see him as far too wedded to a naive and platonic ideal of bipartisanship that amounts to unilateral political disarmament when confronting an opposition party as nihilistic and cynical as the current GOP. He lacks a fierceness in battle that, as William Pfaff and Robert Reich have suggested, might have driven him to exercise federal authority over BP at the start of the oil spill, much as an angered Truman did when he seized the steel industry to end the crippling strike of 1952. (Truman’s executive action was ruled unconstitutional in the absence of a law authorizing it, but Reich has argued that present law, including the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, would allow BP to be placed in temporary receivership as AIG and General Motors were last year.) Obama is also faulted by disappointed fans for his surprisingly subpar political skills. The master orator who left millions of Americans fired up and ready to go during election season has often come off as aloof once in office, and has proven a surprisingly prolix and lackluster salesman for his own policies.

There is some validity to all these diagnoses. The falloff in messaging prowess is particularly perplexing. Alter attributes some of it to the success of Obama’s speech on race during the Jeremiah Wright firestorm of the campaign. Because that comprehensive and nuanced address was “a hit without sound bites,” Obama felt that his congenital distaste for glib verbal formulas had been vindicated. But as Alter notes, his “diffidence toward cogency was ahistorical.” Sound bites like “a house divided against itself cannot stand” or “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” are hardly without their virtues. “Without them,” Alter writes, Obama’s speeches often amounted to “fast food that left you hungry again soon after the meal.”

The White House’s sporadic attempts to dress up its marketing with catchphrases—”New Foundation” as an umbrella description for Obama’s domestic programs, for instance—have been too bland and scattershot to gain traction. They are certainly no match for a focused, Fox-perfected Republican message that conjures up vivid bogeymen like “government takeovers,” “out-of-control spending,” and “death panels.” That the GOP, which perennially pushes for the castration of Medicare, could present itself as Medicare’s valiant defender during last year’s health care wars was a particularly telling feat. Obama had a lot of trouble formulating his own health care message in accessible language—”It was like he was trying to find the combination on a lock,” said his close friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett—and so the opposition could fill the White House’s vacuum with any outrageous bumper-sticker message it could whip up.

Not only can we rest assured that he's smarter than Vizzini but the proof is that he can't dumb himself down to the level of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 AM


Go for Growth: An agenda for Republicans. (Matthew Continetti, August 2, 2010, Weekly Standard)

The reason the economy hurts Obama is that his agenda has not produced a recovery. At best, the legislation he has signed into law has delayed the financial reckoning. At worst, it has actively hindered recovery by increasing the regulatory and tax burdens on business and crowding out private investment. And so a principled and cheerful opposition to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid legislation, and a promise to overturn that legislation’s worst elements, is the beginning of a Republican agenda. But just the beginning.

Luckily, the GOP still has some idea men in its ranks. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), led by Representative Tom Price of Georgia, has designed an alternative budget resolution. And Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has designed a long-term Roadmap for America’s Future. Both plans limit government and encourage growth. Ryan’s plan is especially audacious, as it overhauls the welfare state in a market-oriented, conservative direction. The really remarkable thing, however, is that these are the only two Republican visions of the future at this time of political and economic ferment. Why aren’t there more?

An enterprising conservative would build on the RSC and Ryan plans with an explicitly pro-growth agenda. He (or she!) would do this with the understanding that only robust, broad-based, and prolonged economic growth will produce jobs, reduce the debt burden, and increase social cohesion. He (or she) would be aware of a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation that found that net job growth in the United States comes from firms less than one year old. This enterprising conservative’s growth agenda, therefore, would make it a point to reduce hindrances to entrepreneurship and small business.

Meaning? An extension of current tax rates on income, dividends, and capital gains until the economy is booming and Congress is ready to undertake large-scale, pro-family, pro-investment tax reform. A payroll tax cut. A promise to take the Federal Register to the paper shredder, reducing the number of regulations that aspiring businessmen face when they start new ventures. A plan to withdraw from GM and Fannie and Freddie and end corporate welfare. A commitment to advance free trade by passing stalled agreements with South Korea and Colombia and championing new agreements with India and Africa.

The benefits associated with this agenda would not only be economic. The public would know where conservatives and Republicans stand. They would know what to expect in the years to come. And they would be able to hold the GOP accountable. The alternative is for Republicans to stand pat, benefit in the short term from Obama’s unpopularity in 2010—and reap the whirlwind in 2012.

...but, for another, the growth agenda is W's, and they hate W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


The Unpresidential President: Barack Obama has managed a rare feat: The longer he holds office, the more he diminishes in stature. (James W. Ceaser, August 2, 2010, Weekly Standard)

Tonal populism refers to a style of politics that disdains pretension and insists on the virtue of the plain and the down-to-earth—though not necessarily the average. A person who claims tonal populism is a guy like all -others, someone you could have a beer with, or a gal like all -others, someone you could be frank with, if not go moose hunting with. Populism in this sense may once have been thought vulgar, at least from an aristocratic point of view, but America’s democratic mores virtually ensured that it would eventually win its place as an acceptable and even respectable part of our politics. Tonal populism is anti-elitist, but without any special policy message. It can mildly amuse, as when Lamar Alexander, a former college president, campaigned for governor of Tennessee and then president of the United States wearing a red and black plaid shirt. More recently, there was Scott Brown’s self-presentation in his stump speech for the Senate campaign in Massachusetts: “Friends and fellow citizens, I’m Scott Brown, I’m from Wrentham, I drive a truck and I’m asking for your vote.” Forget Wrentham and fellow citizens; it is the truck that says it all.

It is commonly said that tonal populism originated with Andrew Jackson, who made no bones about his common origins or tastes. But this style only achieved full mainstream status when it became bipartisan during the 1840 presidential campaign, which John Quincy Adams described as marking “a revolution in the habits and manners of the people.” The Whig party, which hitherto had disdained “truckling” after votes, made the fateful decision to out-Jackson Jacksonianism. The Whigs invented the notion of the campaign as a mass spectacle by mobilizing the party faithful to hold rallies, sing songs, and enact dramatic skits in celebration of the down-home virtues of “Old Tip” (William Henry Harrison), whose simple ways were captured in the campaign’s symbols of the log cabin and hard cider. The slightest whiff of deference in American politics became a thing of the past.

Not everyone, of course, can successfully claim tonal populism, nor should they try. There are only so many country lawyers. For a politician to try to force himself into the mold of an ordinary guy when it does not fit can make him look not only phony, but ridiculous. Just ask John Kerry, who campaigned for the presidency in 2004 in a leather jacket, returning on weekends to one of his several mansions to drink green tea or go windsurfing. It never sold. Fortunately for American politics, there are other ways besides emphasizing tonal populism to rise to prominence, including demonstrating competence, achieving stature, and possessing charisma.

If claiming tonal populism is not essential for an American political leader, it is nevertheless important not to run afoul of it and be viewed as an “elitist.” Some who employ tonal populism adopt the demagogic ploy of trying to chase from politics those who have an old family name, are wealthy (especially when the wealth is inherited), or have attained a high educational status at a prized institution. While these objective indicators of elitism can present challenges to certain aspiring political leaders, they are rarely disqualifying factors. Americans can be remarkably tolerant, even of the wealthy and the privileged. But what people cannot easily forgive is an open attitude of elitism that expresses disdain for the average person. John Edwards, who ran for the presidency in 2008 as the self-proclaimed people’s candidate, was able to survive his multimillion-dollar fortune, his huge mansion, and even his $400 haircuts; what he could never have survived was his comment, only disclosed later, that he could not stand attending state fairs where “fat rednecks try to shove food down my face. I know I’m the people’s senator, but do I have to hang out with them?”

Political analysts agree that Democrats more commonly run afoul of tonal populism than Republicans, despite the fact that Republicans suffer more often from the objective disadvantages of family name and wealth, though probably no longer of educational status. The reason is that intellectual spokesmen on the Democratic side, while proclaiming their love of the people, prove themselves congenitally unable to hide their disdain for the people’s tastes and opinions. But generalizations about the parties do not govern every individual case. Bill Clinton remains the prime example of the Democrat who, even with a Yale law degree and a Rhodes Scholarship, had no trouble claiming the mantle of tonal populism. It was not just the fact that he came from a dirt-poor background in Arkansas and a troubled family or that he spoke with a Southern accent. He was saved by his vices. Any man who was known for gobbling down two Big Macs in one sitting, who could count among his girlfriends Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, and who had the nickname “Bubba,” was beyond all suspicion of elitism.

On the Republican side, the most interesting cases are the two Bushes, George H.W. and George W. Both of them carried the triple burden of family name, inherited wealth, and high educational status. These damaged George H.W. somewhat, especially when added to his “elite” government service as ambassador to the U.N. and to China and as director of the CIA. Ann Richards famously mocked him at the 1988 Democratic convention, in as elongated a Texas drawl as anyone had ever heard: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Bush overcame the charge to be elected, though the old ghost came back to haunt him in 1992, when, during a visit to a supermarket, he apparently expressed astonishment at seeing a price scanner. This immediately confirmed for many that he was a man “out of touch” with the average American, a charge that struck hard during tough economic times.

The case of George W. is more intriguing. On the scale of objective factors, W. was in a worse position than his father, as he was a son of a president and held degrees from both Yale and Harvard. But by the middle of his first term, he had been rescued from almost any taint of elitism. The smugness of his detractors, who so relentlessly attacked his supposedly lowbrow tastes and intelligence and ridiculed his evangelical faith, made it impossible for them to put any daylight between W. and middle America. They made George W. into an average American and had to live with their choice.

Barack Obama’s relation to tonal populism has been the most complicated of all the modern presidents. He made virtually no effort in the 2008 campaign to claim or establish himself as a “familiar” figure. He was able to eschew this kind of appeal because he had more compelling qualities. Not only was there his initial charisma, but also, as the campaign progressed, there was his reputation for intellectual bearing, as displayed in his Philadelphia oration on race, and his remarkable “coolness” and sobriety, as shown in his calm approach to the financial crisis that struck in September. Obama had no need to be of the people, because he was so evidently above them. Obama was, and in most ways remains today, a conspicuously nonpopulist figure in the tonal sense.

At the same time, it should have been easy for Barack Obama to escape offending the populist spirit and become a winner on all counts. Coming from a broken family without wealth or status and being from a race that has always been on the outside in American life, he should have been immune to any charge of elitism. All he had to do was live down his Harvard law degree and his position as a professor at the University of Chicago, hardly an insurmountable task for a talented politician. Yet in what must count as a clear blot on the ledger of his political skills, Obama has repeatedly blundered. His series of self-inflicted errors began with the decision during the campaign to stop wearing a flag pin on his lapel (which he later put back on) and continued with his nearly fatal comment in San Francisco about the “bitter” Midwestern workers, who “cling to guns or religion .  .  . as a way to explain their frustrations.” Hillary Clinton almost ended his campaign with the charge of elitism. Obama was reduced to pleading his case on the objective criteria: “I am amused about this notion of elitist, given that when you’re raised by a single mom, when you were on food stamps for a while when you were growing up, you went to school on scholarship.”

Since becoming president he has repeated his mistake, beginning with a gratuitous accusation against Officer James Crowley of acting “stupidly” in arresting Obama’s friend, Harvard English professor Henry Louis Gates. Following a half apology, he made matters worse by calling Crowley and Gates together to the White House for the so-called “beer summit.” In principle, there is nothing more populist in America than guys “having a beer.” And yet when the photographs of the summit were released, the only guy who looked at ease with his beer was Crowley. It remains a conspicuous fact about this administration that no one working for the president could plausibly utter an “Aw shucks” in public and get away with it. No wonder none of Obama’s aides restrained him from trying to score points by ridiculing Scott Brown’s truck.

Tonal populism has become part of the fabric and even the fun of American politics. Still, it has a growing number of critics today, especially on the left, as Republicans have proven more adept at tapping into its spirit. These critics no longer, of course, dismiss the idea of democracy and scoff, like Coriolanus, at “the beast with many heads.” To the contrary, they profess to be the people’s truest friends, objecting only to the fact that the people do not know how to serve the people’s real interests. There is doubtless a certain merit in questioning a populism that goes too far in celebrating mere common sense. But this criticism would be entitled to far more respect if it were not being used to promote the claim to rule by a class of experts that serves a partisan end.

His entire persona is built on pretentiousness. He was, after all, supposed to be the Messiah.

July 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Christie: Take my bipartisan example to pass immigration reform (Jordy Yager, 07/25/10, The Hill)

New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie called on Congress and the White House to push immigration reform on this year’s agenda, adding that they should take a cue from him on how to build a bipartisan consensus.

“The president and the Congress have to step up to the plate, they have to secure our borders, and they have to put forward a commonsense path to citizenship for people,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Sherlock, BBC One, review: Serena Davies reviews the much-anticipated new drama series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Serena Davies, 23 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The character of Holmes as reworked by writers Mark Gatiss (the multi-talented League of Gentlemen comic) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who’s new supremo) is a conceited, sociopathic ass whose genius ranges somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but who nevertheless possesses a sense of humour.

Cumberbatch conveyed all these facets within three seconds of our first encounter with him, when he happened to be flaying a dead body with a horsewhip (to research how quickly bruises came up). He was also filmed in such a way that, with a shock of blackened hair, his parchment-pale skin and liquid eyes took on a translucent quality that made him appear both sickly and mesmerisingly other-worldly. [...]

Sherlock worked because it was having fun. It also let down the po-faced pretence that the suffocating abundance of TV detective shows often labour under: that the detective actually cares about the victims. This Holmes revelled in horror: “Four serial suicides and now a note. It’s Christmas!” How have Barnaby, Taggart, Marple et al hidden their own jubilation for so long?

The torrent is already posted. And we have 10 more invites for The Box, so just e-mail if you need one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert (MARK MAZZETTI, JANE PERLEZ, ERIC SCHMITT and ANDREW W. LEHREN, 7/25/10, NY Times)

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

Has there ever been a leak that didn't demonstrate that intelligence should be open?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Bush's unpopularity among voters starts to fade (Michael A. Memoli, July 25, 2010, LA Times)

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush's personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama's, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM

2020 VISION:

Republicans launch yet another George Bush (Daily Telegraph, July 26, 2010)

Now George P., the son of the former Florida governor Jeb and his Mexican wife, Columba, has co-founded a new organisation, Hispanic Republicans of Texas, to support Latino candidates for office in the Lone Star state.

Slick, bilingual television commercials marking its launch showed how the clean-cut Mr Bush was a natural before the cameras - confirming the belief of many that, in time, he may become a candidate to take the Republican banner national.

But the 34-year-old Texas lawyer and property developer, a college football star, was not present for the group's formal launch in the Texan state capital, Austin.

For he was recently sent to Iraq as an intelligence officer in the Navy reserves - a deployment that further burnishes his political credentials.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


A Perfect Game: The metaphysical meaning of baseball (David B. Hart , Aug/Sep 2010, First Things)

My hope, when all is said and done, is that we will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented—who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered—the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the “moving image of eternity” in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.

I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this, but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas; but, throughout most of the history of the race, no culture was able to produce more than a shadowy sketch of whatever glorious mystery prompted those nameless longings.

The coarsest and most common of these sketches—which has gone through numerous variations down the centuries without conspicuous improvement—is what I think of as “the oblong game,” a contest played out on a rectangle between two sides, each attempting to penetrate the other’s territory to deposit some small object in the other’s goal or end zone. All the sports built on this paradigm require considerable athletic prowess, admittedly, and each has its special tactics, of a limited and martial kind; but all of them are no more than crude, faltering lurches toward the archetype; entertaining, perhaps, but appealing more to the beast within us than to the angel.

In a few, peculiarly favored lands, more refined and inspired adumbrations of the ideal appeared. The Berbers of Libya produced Ta Kurt om el mahag, and the British blessed the world with cricket, but, because the running game in both is played ¬between just two poles, neither can properly mirror the eternal game’s exquisite geometries, flowing grace, and sidereal beauties. And then there is that extended British family of children’s games from which baseball drew its basic morphology (stoolball, tut-ball, and, of course, rounders); but these are only charming finger-paint renderings of the ideal, vague, and glittering dreams that the infant soul brings with it in its descent from the world above before the oblivion of adulthood purges them from memory; they are as inchoately remote from the real thing as a child’s first steps are from ballet. In the end, only America succeeded in plucking the flower from the fields of eternity and making a garden for it here on earth. What greater glory could we possibly crave?

You needn’t smirk. I admit that my rhetoric might seem a bit excessive, but be fair: Something about the game elicits excess. I am hardly the first aficionado of baseball who has felt that somehow it demands a “thick” metaphysical—or even religious—explanation. For one thing, there is the haunting air of necessity that hangs about it, which seems so difficult to reconcile with its relatively recent provenance. It feels as if the game has always been with us. It requires a whole constellation of seemingly bizarre physical and mental skills that, through countless barren millennia, were not only unrealized but also unsuspected potencies of human nature, silently awaiting the formal cause from beyond that would make them actual. So much of what a batter, pitcher, or fielder does is astonishingly improbable, and yet—it turns out—entirely natural. Clearly, baseball was always intended in our very essence; without it, our humanity was incomplete. Willie Mays was an avatar of the divine capacities that lie within our animal frames. Bob Feller’s fastball was Jovian lightning at the command of mortal clay.

And there is something equally fateful, as has been noted so often, in the exact fittingness of the game’s dimensions: the ninety feet between bases, the sixty-and-a-half feet between the pitching rubber and the plate, that precious third of a second in which a batter must decide whether to swing. Everything is so perfectly calibrated that almost every play is a matter of the most unforgiving precision; a ball correctly played in the infield is almost always an out, while the slightest misplay usually results in a man on base. The effective difference in velocity between a fastball and a changeup is infinitesimal in neurological terms, and yet it can utterly disrupt the timing of even the best hitter. There are Pythagorean enigmas here, occult and imponderable: mystic proportions written into the very fabric of nature of which we were once as ignorant as of the existence of other galaxies.

How, moreover, could anyone have imagined (and yet how could we ever have failed to know) that so elementary a strategic problem as serially advancing or prematurely stopping the runner could generate such a riot of intricate tactical possibilities in any given instant of the game? Part of the deeper excitement of the game is following how the strategy is progressively altered, from pitch to pitch, cumulatively and prospectively, in accordance both with the situation of the inning and the balance of the game. There is nothing else like it, for sheer progressive intricacy, in all of sport. Comparing baseball to even the most complex versions of the oblong game is like comparing chess to tiddlywinks.

And surely some account has to be given of the drama of baseball: the way it reaches down into the soul’s abysses with its fluid alternations of prolonged suspense and shocking urgency, its mounting rallies, its thwarted ventures, its intolerable tensions, its suddenly exhilarating or devastating peripeties. Even the natural narrative arc of the game is in three acts—the early, middle, and late innings—each with its own distinct potentials and imperatives. And because, until the final out is recorded, no loss is an absolute fait accompli, the torment of hope never relents. Victory may or may not come in a blaze of glorious elation, but every defeat, when it comes, is sublime. The oblong game is war, but baseball is Attic tragedy.

All of this, it seems to me, points beyond the game’s physical dimensions and toward its immense spiritual horizons. When I consider baseball sub specie aeternitatis, I find it impossible not to conclude that its essential metaphysical structure is thoroughly idealist. After all, the game is so utterly saturated by infinity. All its configurations and movements aspire to the timeless and the boundless. The oblong game is pitilessly finite: Wholly concerned as it is with conquest and shifting lines of force, it is exactly and inviolably demarcated, spatially and temporally; having no inner unfolding narrative of its own, it does not end, but is merely curtailed, externally, by a clock (even overtime is composed only of strictly apportioned, discrete units of time).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Activists frustrated at Obama’s environmental record: Environmental activists were delighted to have Barack Obama replace George W. Bush as president. But greens are increasingly unhappy with Obama’s record – especially on climate change. (Brad Knickerbocker, 7/25/10, CS Monitor)

“We want to know who Salazar was talking to, what was said, and what deals were made,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the organization. “The Obama administration pledged to be open and transparent in its decision-making, but when it comes to meeting with oil industry lobbyists, this administration is as secretive as the Cheney-Bush White House.” [...]

“Obama is the first president in history to articulate in stark terms both the why and how of the sustainable clean energy vision,” writes physicist and author Joseph Romm. “But the question now is whether he really believed what he said.”

The vision could hardly be more articulate:
Every day energy brings countless benefits to our people. Energy powers new hospitals and schools so we can live longer and more productive lives. Energy transforms the way we produce food, so we can feed our growing populations. Energy enables us to travel and communicate across great distances, so we can expand trade and prosperity. Energy sustains the world's most advanced economies, which makes it possible for us to devote resources to fighting hunger and disease and poverty around the globe.

In this new century, the need for energy will only grow. Much of this increased demand will come from the developing world, where nations will need more energy to build critical infrastructure and grow their economies, improve the lives of their people. Overall, the demand for energy is expected to rise by more than 50 percent by 2030.

This growing demand for energy is a sign of a vibrant, global economy. Yet it also possesses -- poses serious challenges, and one of them, of course, is energy security. Right now much of the world's energy comes from oil, and much of the oil comes from unstable regions and rogue states. This dependence leaves the global economy vulnerable to supply shocks and shortages and manipulation, and to extremists and terrorists who could cause great disruptions of oil shipments.

Another challenge is climate change. Our understanding of climate change has come a long way. A report issued earlier this year by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded both that global temperatures are rising and that this is caused largely by human activities. When we burn fossil fuels we release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased substantially.

For many years those who worried about climate change and those who worried about energy security were on opposite ends of the debate. It was said that we faced a choice between protecting the environment and producing enough energy. Today we know better. These challenges share a common solution: technology. By developing new low-emission technologies, we can meet the growing demand for energy and at the same time reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, our nations have an opportunity to leave the debates of the past behind, and reach a consensus on the way forward. And that's our purpose today.

No one country has all the answers, including mine. The best way to tackle this problem is to think creatively and to learn from other's experiences and to come together on a way to achieve the objectives we share. Together, our nations will pave the way for a new international approach on greenhouse gas emissions.

This new approach must involve all the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, including developed and developing nations. We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach, including a strong and transparent system for measuring our progress toward meeting the goal we set. This will require concerted effort by all our nations. Only by doing the necessary work this year will it be possible to reach a global consensus at the U.N. in 2009.

Each nation will design its own separate strategies for making progress toward achieving this long-term goal. These strategies will reflect each country's different energy resources, different stages of development, and different economic needs.

There are many policy tools that nations can use, including a variety of market mechanisms, to create incentives for companies and consumers to invest in new low-emission energy sources. We will also form working groups with leaders of different sectors of our economies, which will discuss ways of sharing technology and best practices.

Each nation must decide for itself the right mix of tools and technologies to achieve results that are measurable and environmentally effective. While our strategies may be differentiated, we share a common responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping our economies growing.

The key to this effort will be the advance of clean energy technologies. Since I became President, the United States government has invested nearly $18 billion to research, develop and promote clean and efficient energy technologies. The private sector here in our country has responded with significant investments, ranging from corporate research and development to venture capital. Our investments in research and technology are bringing the world closer to a remarkable breakthrough -- an age of clean energy where we can power our growing economies and improve the lives of our people and be responsible stewards of the earth the Almighty trusted to our care.

The age of clean energy requires transforming the way we produce electricity. Electric power plants that burn coal are the world's leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions. The world's supply of coal is secure and abundant. And our challenge is take advantage of it while maintaining our commitment to the environment. One promising solution is advanced clean coal technology. The future of this technology will allow us to trap and store carbon emissions and air pollutants produced by burning coal. Since 2001 the United States has invested more than $2.5 billion to research and develop clean coal. And in partnership with other nations and the private sector we're moving closer to a historic achievement -- producing energy from the world's first zero-emissions coal-fired plant.

We also need to take advantage of clean safe nuclear power. Nuclear power is the one existing source of energy that can generate massive amounts of electricity without causing any air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Without the world's 439 nuclear power plants, there would be nearly 2 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere each year. And by expanding the use of nuclear power, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions even more.

The United States is working to reduce barriers to new nuclear power plants in our country without compromising safety. Just last week, a company applied for approval to build the first new nuclear reactor in my country since the since the 1970s. As we build new reactors here in the United States, we're also working to bring the benefits of nuclear energy to other countries.

My administration established a new initiative called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. This partnership will work with nations with advanced civilian nuclear energy programs, such as France and Japan and China and Russia. Together we will help developing nations obtain secure, cost-effective and proliferation-resistant nuclear power, so they can have a reliable source of zero-emissions energy.

We'll also need to expand our use of two other promising sources of zero-emissions energy, and that's wind and solar power. Wind power is becoming cost-effective in many parts of America. We've increased wind energy production by more than 300 percent. We also launched the Solar America Initiative to lower the cost of solar power, so we can make -- help make this technology competitive, as well. Taken together, low-carbon technologies like wind and solar power have the potential to one day provide up to 20 percent of America's electricity.

The age of clean energy also requires transforming the way we fuel our cars and trucks. Almost all our vehicles run on gasoline or diesel fuel. This means we produce greenhouse gas emissions whenever we get behind the wheel. Transportation accounts for about 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions every year. To reduce these emissions we must reduce our dependence on oil. So America is investing in new, clean alternatives. We're investing millions of dollars to develop the next generation of sustainable biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, which means we'll use everything from wood chips to grasses to agricultural waste to make ethanol.

We're offering tax credits to encourage Americans to drive fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. We're working to develop next-generation plug-in hybrids that will be able to travel nearly 40 miles without using a drop of gasoline. And your automobile doesn't have to look like a golf cart. (Laughter.)

We're on track to meet our pledge of investing $1.2 billion to develop advanced hydrogen-powered vehicles that emit pure water instead of exhaust fumes. We're also taking steps to make sure these technologies reach the market. We've asked Congress to set a new mandatory -- I repeat, mandatory -- fuel standard that requires 35 billion gallons of renewable and other alternative fuels in 2017, and to reform fuel economy standards for cars the same way we did for light trucks. Together these two steps will help us cut America's consumption of gasoline by 20 percent in 10 years. It's an initiative I've called 20-in-10.

Ushering in the age of clean energy is an historic undertaking. We take it seriously here in the United States. Achieving this vision will require major investment in innovation by all our nations. Today the United States and Japan fund most of the research and development for clean energy technologies. Meeting the objectives we share and the goal we're going to set will require all the nations in this hall to increase their clean energy research and development investments.

We must also work to make these technologies more widely available, especially in the developing world. So today I propose that we join together to create a new international clean technology fund. This fund will be supported by contributions from governments from around the world, and it will help finance clean energy projects in the developing world. I've asked Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to coordinate this effort, and he plans to begin exploratory discussions with your countries over the next several months.

At the same time, we also must promote global free trade in energy technology. The most immediate and effective action we can take is to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers on clean energy goods and services.

As we work to transform the way we produce energy, we must also address another major factor in climate change, which is deforestation. The world's forests help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by storing carbon dioxide. But when our forests disappear, the concentration of greenhouse gas levels rise in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that nearly 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas admissions [sic] are attributable to deforestation.

We're partnering with other nations to promote forest conservation and management across the world. We welcome new commitments from Australia, Brazil, with China and Indonesia. The United States remains committed to initiatives such as the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and the Asian Forest Partnership. We will continue our efforts through the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, which helps developing nations redirect debt payments toward forest conservation programs. So far my administration has concluded 12 agreements, concluding [sic] up to 50 million acres of forest lands.

America's efforts also include an $87-million initiative to help developing nations stop illegal logging. These efforts will help developing nations save their forests, and combat a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States is also taking steps to protect forests in our own country. It's one thing to help others; we got to make sure we do a good job here at home -- and we are. Since 2001, we've provided more than $3 billion to restore our forests and protect them against catastrophic fires as part of a Healthy Forest Initiative. In partnership with our farmers and ranchers, we're providing tens of billions of dollars in incentives for conservation. We're promoting sustainable public and private land-management policies. By taking these steps, we've helped increase the amount of carbon storage in our forests, and we've helped safeguard a national treasure for generations to come.

What I'm telling you is, is that we've got a strategy; we've got a comprehensive approach. And we look forward to working with our Congress to make sure that comprehensive approach is effective. And we look forward to working with you as a part of this global effort to do our duty.

And we've done this kind of work before. And we have confidence in the success of our efforts. Twenty years ago nations finalized an agreement called the Montreal Protocol to phase-out substances that were depleting the ozone layer. Since then, we have made great strides to repair the damage. Just last week, developed and developing nations reached consensus on speeding up the recovery of the ozone layer by accelerating the phase-out of these harmful substances. This accelerated phase out will bring larger benefits because they'll dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We have seen what happens when we come together to work for a common cause, and we can do it again. And that's what I'm here to urge you. The United States will do our part. We take this issue seriously. And we look forward to bringing a spirit of cooperation and commitment to our efforts to confront the challenges of energy security and climate change. By working together, we will set wise and effective policies. That's what I'm interested in, effective policies. I want to get the job done. We've identified a problem, let's go solve it together.

We will harness the power of technology. There is a way forward that will enable us to grow our economies and protect the environment, and that's called technology. We'll meet our energy needs. We'll be good stewards of this environment. Achieving these goals will require a sustained effort over many decades. This problem isn't going to be solved overnight. Yet years from now our children are going to look back at the choices we make today, at this deciding moment: It will be a moment when we choose to expand prosperity instead of accepting stagnation; it will be a moment when we turn the tide against greenhouse gas emissions instead of allowing the problem to grow; it will be a moment when we rejected the predictions of despair and set a course of a more hopeful future.

The moment is now, and I appreciate you attending this meeting. And we look forward to working with you. May God bless you all.

It just happens to be W's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Freeing "Pale Fire" From Pale Fire: The next big Nabokov controversy. (Ron Rosenbaum, July 23, 2010, Slate)

[L]et me give you the Pale Fire basics. Published in 1962, seven years after Lolita's scandalous success, it almost seemed designed to fend off readers and critics who mistakenly associated Nabokov with sensational transgressive salaciousness.

First, we read a brief, strange foreword written by someone who calls himself Charles Kinbote. Kinbote (who turns out to be a delusional madman not really named Kinbote) tells us he's absconded with a pile of index cards, the nearly completed manuscript of a poem written by a neighbor of his, John Shade, left behind after Shade was murdered.

The poem—the text of which follows the foreword—is called "Pale Fire" (after Shakespeare's line: "the moon's an arrant thief,/ and her pale fire she snatches from the sun," with all its resonance of the relationship between reality and its reflection/afterlife in art.) Kinbote, it becomes apparent, is an arrant thief as well; his "Pale Fire" he's snatched from the dead man's widow.

As we read the footnotes that follow the text of the poem, it is revealed that Kinbote has taken the stolen index cards and fled to a cheap motel in the American West, where he is madly scribbling delusional footnote annotations to "his" edition of the poem. In the footnotes he makes a desperate but comically inept attempt to prove the poem is "really" about him, Kinbote, and his exotic history as "King Charles the Beloved," the deposed and exiled ruler of an exotic "northern land" called Zembla and the real target of the bullet that killed his neighbor and colleague, Shade.

Got that straight? What gives the novel its postmodern, experimental look is that the bulk of it, some 230 pages that follow the 999-line poem, is made up of Kinbote's numbered and often long and meandering explicatory footnotes keyed to the poem's lines. Not a traditional novelistic form to say the least. It's as if T.S. Eliot made a madman's novel out of the footnotes to the "The Waste Land."

And yet, I want to re-emphasize this, the novel offers even the surface reader a multitude of traditional novelistic pleasures, anti-postmodern in their often humane and comic tenderness.

Over the past two decades, more and more Nabokov scholars and readers are crediting the novel as perhaps his best, surpassing Lolita, The Gift, and Ada. But there has been one persistent unresolved schism among them, and it centers on the aesthetic status of the eponymous poem within the novel.

From the beginning, there has been a debate among readers and critics over the relationship between the poem and the novel. Actually, that's not quite true, now that I think about it. From the moment I read the novel and read about it, I somehow took for granted what everyone writing about it seemed to take for granted: That there must be something wrong with the poem, since the novel gives so much weight to a madman's misguided obsession with it.

And then as I read and reread the novel, and sometimes just the poem, it began to dawn on me. Maybe the poem wasn't meant as a pastiche, a parody, an homage to Robert Frost. John Shade refers to his reputation with characteristic modesty as being "one oozy footstep" behind Frost, but that doesn't mean we should take his self-deprecation as gospel.) In fact, I must admit Frost has always left me cold, so to speak. And when I started asking myself what other American poet of the past century has done anything comparable in its offhand genius to "Pale Fire," I could only think of Hart Crane, the Hart Crane of White Buildings.

Once it dawned on me that the poem might not be a carefully diminished version of Nabokov's talents, but Nabokov writing at the peak of his powers in a unique throwback form (the kind of heroic couplets Alexander Pope used in the 18th century), I began to write essays that advanced this revisionist view of the poem. It was actually one of these that came to the attention of Dmitri Nabokov who seemed to indicate this was his understanding as well: That his father intended the poem to be taken seriously.

Of course, the question of intention is dicey. At Yale William K. Wimsatt thundered against "the intentional fallacy," the futile attempt to read the mind of the poet in order to get to the heart of the poem. I tend to agree with the argument that trying to figure out the poet's intentions rather than the poem's intent can be a mug's game. Nabokov himself had been sphinxlike about the poem's reception, but, on close reading, the poem does reflect the pale fire of his previous and later preoccupations.

It's a combination of meditations on life, death, art, and the afterlife, art as the afterlife, all built around a core of grief at the death of the fictional poet's daughter. And all the excellences of the poem's complex, Persian-rug pleasures suggest perhaps it deserves to be stolen back from the thief Kinbote and looked at as a pseudonymous work of Nabokov's that he had hidden inside the Russian doll construction of the novel.

That's the position taken by Mo Cohen in this new edition, designed by the artist and illustrator Jean Holabird. That the poem deserves to be read on its own terms, solus rex to use a Nabokovian phrase. Standing regally alone. Allowed to convey its own meanings once it's left the author's pen.

...and decide you should accept Kinbote's opinions?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Financial reform? Wall Street has all the power (Robert Reich, July 25, 2010, SF Chronicle)

The American people will continue to foot the bill for the mistakes of Wall Street's biggest banks because the legislation does nothing to diminish the economic and political power of these giants. It does not cap their size. It does not resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated commercial (normal) banking from investment (casino) banking. It does not even link the pay of their traders and top executives to long-term performance. In other words, it does nothing to change their basic structure. And for this reason, it gives them an implicit federal insurance policy against failure unavailable to smaller banks - thereby adding to their economic and political power in the future.

The bill contains hortatory language but is precariously weak in the details. The so-called Volcker Rule has been watered down and delayed. An important proposal from Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., that derivatives be traded in separate entities that aren't subsidized by commercial deposits has been shrunk and compromised. Customized derivates can remain underground. The consumer protection agency has been lodged in the Fed, whose consumer division failed miserably to protect consumers last time around.

On every important issue, the legislation merely passes on to regulators decisions about how to oversee the big banks and treat them if they're behaving badly. But if history proves one lesson, it's that regulators won't and can't. They don't have the resources. They don't have the knowledge. They are staffed by people in their 30s and 40s who are paid a small fraction of what the lawyers working for the banks are paid. Many want and expect better-paying jobs on Wall Street after they leave government, and so are shrink-wrapped in a basic conflict of interest. And the big banks' lawyers and accountants can run circles around them by threatening protracted litigation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


People, Places and Menace: Moody Paranoia (MIKE HALE, 7/25/10, NY Times)

As conceived by the writer and producer Jason Horwitch (“Medical Investigation”), who created “Rubicon” but left the show in February, the American Policy Institute was a research organization. Mr. Bromell, whose résumé as a writer and producer includes “Northern Exposure,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” came aboard after the original pilot was shot and became the sole show runner after Mr. Horwitch’s departure. He decided a change was needed.

“People think in think tanks,” he said. “And some of the topics that they’re dealing with are very interesting. But it’s very dry and very abstract.”

So the insitute became a hide-in-plain-sight group of intelligence analysts, a change in keeping with Mr. Bromell’s desire to make a show “redolent of those early ‘70s American movies that I love.” The show also reflected a central fact in his life: He grew up following his C.I.A. officer father from station to station around the Middle East. “It’s a very weird experience growing up in a house of secrets,” Mr. Bromell said. “My brother and I had a sense that he was not what he pretended to be, this regular guy. Because he just didn’t act that way, and he’d get a phone call in the middle of the night and disappear for two days. Stuff like that. His cover was usually a State Department cover, ‘second secretary of agriculture.’ ”

Mr. Bromell already addressed those memories more directly in his autobiographical novel “Little America” in 2001, but he’s quick to acknowledge that his personal history was part of what made “Rubicon” an attractive project.

“It does fascinate me,” he said of the intelligence world. “I have very, very mixed feelings about what those guys do and don’t do. But it’s like hookers. They’re not going away. They’re with us forever.”

Mr. Bromell still knows some of “those guys,” and he went to them for a refresher course while charting the first season of “Rubicon.” One thing he learned, he said, was that since the Sept. 11 attacks the role of the intelligence analyst has become more important “because it’s really more likely going to be something they figure out,” rather than action in the field, that prevents a future attack.

His research also reinforced an aspect of the show that has drawn a lot of comment since the pilot episode was shown: its retro, low-tech look, with an emphasis on stacks of documents and face-to-face meetings rather than digital displays and satellite communication. Mr. Bromell found that in the classified realms, paper and film retain their usefulness because they are harder to hack into than computers and cellphones.

“We’re not going to be able to solve anything though a Google search,” said Richard Robbins, a staff writer for the show. “Thank God. It’s a gift for a writer.”

Down on South Street this means desks and bookcases stacked with binders and maps bristling with push pins. A preponderance of clutter in one shot leads to an order to “lose some of the office gack,” and crew members dutifully strip official-looking papers from a bulletin board.

“Rubicon” will be the third drama series on AMC’s current schedule, joining the overwhelming critical favorites “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” shows it resembles only in having a distinctive look and pace that set it apart from just about anything else in prime time.

The show’s importance to AMC may have been reflected in an unusually long development process. Mr. Horwitch spent more than two years building up the concept and producing the pilot before AMC ordered a full season last summer. As work progressed on the additional episodes, Mr. Horwitch said, there was “a slight variation in what I had in mind for the long term of the show and what they were looking for,” which led to his departure. He declined to discuss that variation but suggested that in his original pilot the show’s story lines had been, by design, a little less clear.

The success of AMC’s other shows will mean added scrutiny for “Rubicon,” whose long, quiet takes and cerebral storytelling may come as a shock to viewers weaned on network crime dramas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades (ADAM LIPTAK, 7/24/10, NY Times)

The proposition that the Roberts court is to the right of even the quite conservative courts that preceded it thus seems fairly well established. But it is subject to qualifications.

First, the rightward shift is modest.

Second, the data do not take popular attitudes into account. While the court is quite conservative by historical standards, it is less so by contemporary ones. Public opinion polls suggest that about 30 percent of Americans think the current court is too liberal, and almost half think it is about right.

On given legal issues, too, the court’s decisions are often closely aligned with or more liberal than public opinion, according to studies collected in 2008 in “Public Opinion and Constitutional Controversy” (Oxford University Press).

The public is largely in sync with the court, for instance, in its attitude toward abortion — in favor of a right to abortion but sympathetic to many restrictions on that right.

“Solid majorities want the court to uphold Roe v. Wade and are in favor of abortion rights in the abstract,” one of the studies concluded. “However, equally substantial majorities favor procedural and other restrictions, including waiting periods, parental consent, spousal notification and bans on ‘partial birth’ abortion.”

Similarly, the public is roughly aligned with the court in questioning affirmative action plans that use numerical standards or preferences while approving those that allow race to be considered in less definitive ways.

The Roberts court has not yet decided a major religion case, but the public has not always approved of earlier rulings in this area. For instance, another study in the 2008 book found that “public opinion has remained solidly against the court’s landmark decisions declaring school prayer unconstitutional.”

...but still quite liberal by the standard of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM

80-20 COUNTRY:

-AUDIO INTERVIEW: S.E. Cupp, Losing Our Religion (Bill Thompson, Eye on Books)

Christianity is under a relentless media attack in America, says conservative commentator S. E. Cupp. She says the multi-pronged assault -- from the New York Times to network TV to Hollywood -- is aimed at undermining and marginalizing Christianity. Cupp claims to have unique credentials to make this argument, since she is a self-described atheist. Her book is called "Losing Our Religion."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Liberal activists say good riddance to Kerry-Lieberman climate bill (Alexander Bolton, 07/24/10, The Hill)

Charles Chamberlain, political director of Democracy for America, an advocacy group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, said liberal voters are happy that a climate bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was shelved.

“The reality is that the base didn’t have a lot at stake in the climate bill,” said Chamberlain.

“After the BP disaster, all we’ve heard from our members, the No. 1 issue is climate change and offshore oil drilling and oil,” he said. “But we polled our members about whether we should be fighting for the bill and it wasn’t even close. The answer was no.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Kerry docks yacht in R.I., avoids $500K in Mass. taxes (AP, 7/24/10)

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is docking his family's new $7 million yacht in neighboring Rhode Island, allowing him to avoid paying roughly $500,000 in taxes to his cash-strapped home state.

If the Isabel were kept at the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee's summer vacation home on Nantucket or in Boston Harbor near his city residence, he would be liable for $437,500 in one-time sales tax. He would also have to pay $70,000 in annual excise taxes.

Rhode Island repealed those taxes in 1993. That has made the state something of a nautical tax haven.

The national consumption tax would take care of that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


New Jersey Governor Christie Vetoes Bill Sending Millions to Planned Parenthood (Steven Ertelt, July 23, 2010, LifeNews.com)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won the praise of pro-life advocates today by vetoing a bill that would restore the family planning funds his administration cut from the state budget because of deep economic troubles. Although it doesn't fund abortions directly, the money goes to the Planned Parenthood abortion business.

The funds go to 58 family planning clinics but Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion chain, runs 29 of the facilities.

Christie thinks there's little reason to send the abortion centers $7.5 million when the state currently faces an $11 billion deficit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Britain Plans to Decentralize Health Care (SARAH LYALL, 7/25/10, NY Times)

Practical details of the plan are still sketchy. But its aim is clear: to shift control of England’s $160 billion annual health budget from a centralized bureaucracy to doctors at the local level. Under the plan, $100 billion to $125 billion a year would be meted out to general practitioners, who would use the money to buy services from hospitals and other health care providers.

The plan would also shrink the bureaucratic apparatus, in keeping with the government’s goal to effect $30 billion in “efficiency savings” in the health budget by 2014 and to reduce administrative costs by 45 percent. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost because layers of bureaucracy would be abolished.

In a document, or white paper, outlining the plan, the government admitted that the changes would “cause significant disruption and loss of jobs.” But it said: “The current architecture of the health system has developed piecemeal, involves duplication and is unwieldy. Liberating the N.H.S., and putting power in the hands of patients and clinicians, means we will be able to effect a radical simplification, and remove layers of management.”

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, also promised to put more power in the hands of patients. Currently, how and where patients are treated, and by whom, is largely determined by decisions made by 150 entities known as primary care trusts — all of which would be abolished under the plan, with some of those choices going to patients. It would also abolish many current government-set targets, like limits on how long patients have to wait for treatment.

Because modern medicine is just another consumer good, putting decisions in the hands of the people who want to consume the good and don't have to pay for it is lunacy.

July 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Where the JournoLists Roam (and Moan): Liberal bloggers sulk at this year's Netroots Nation gathering. (JOHN FUND, 7/24/10, WSJ)

How nervous are liberals about the November election and how angry are they at conservatives? Plenty, to judge from this year's Netroots Nation gathering of 2,000 liberal bloggers and activists.

At last year's Pittsburgh gathering, I saw a group of cheerful and upbeat folk assemble a full-fledged alternative convention for the Democratic Party. This year's meeting, in contrast, is characterized by angst and confusion. In Pittsburgh, I was treated with civility and even kindness. This year, three liberal bloggers surrounded me with video cameras within minutes of my arrival. They followed me into the media room, endlessly repeating questions about my articles on ACORN. Finally, they had to be asked to leave by other reporters there.

Signs that all is not well showed up in other places. Many of those in attendance openly expressed concern that President Obama is losing momentum in pushing their causes. "I've definitely never heard more cursing by speakers at a political conference than at Netroots Nation," Philip Klein of the American Spectator told me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 PM


Saudi: OK to uncover face in anti-burqa countries (Abdullah Al-shihri, 7/24/10, Associated Press )

A popular Saudi cleric said Saturday it is permissible for Muslim women to reveal their faces in countries where the Islamic veil is banned to avoid harassment, while deploring the effort to outlaw the garment in France.

Spanish mayor closes 'too popular' mosque (Fiona Govan, 23 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Angel Ros, the socialist mayor of Lleida, in the northeastern region of Catalonia, complained that the mosque was too full and closed it on Wednesday until further notice.

The building, a former garage used to service trucks, was often filled with crowds exceeding a thousand people, the council said, when the authorised limit for the venue is 240. [...]

The move follows a recent ban on women wearing the burka or niqab in municipal building in the Catalan town.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Prone to Error: Earliest Steps to Find Cancer (STEPHANIE SAUL, 7/20/10, NY Times)

Monica Long had expected a routine appointment. But here she was sitting in her new oncologist’s office, and he was delivering deeply disturbing news.

Nearly a year earlier, in 2007, a pathologist at a small hospital in Cheboygan, Mich., had found the earliest stage of breast cancer from a biopsy. Extensive surgery followed, leaving Ms. Long’s right breast missing a golf-ball-size chunk.

Now she was being told the pathologist had made a mistake. Her new doctor was certain she never had the disease, called ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S. It had all been unnecessary — the surgery, the radiation, the drugs and, worst of all, the fear.

“Psychologically, it’s horrible,” Ms. Long said. “I never should have had to go through what I did.”

Like most women, Ms. Long had regarded the breast biopsy as the gold standard, an infallible way to identify cancer. “I thought it was pretty cut and dried,” said Ms. Long, who is a registered nurse.

As it turns out, diagnosing the earliest stage of breast cancer can be surprisingly difficult, prone to both outright error and case-by-case disagreement over whether a cluster of cells is benign or malignant, according to an examination of breast cancer cases by The New York Times.

Advances in mammography and other imaging technology over the past 30 years have meant that pathologists must render opinions on ever smaller breast lesions, some the size of a few grains of salt. Discerning the difference between some benign lesions and early stage breast cancer is a particularly challenging area of pathology, according to medical records and interviews with doctors and patients.

Diagnosing D.C.I.S. “is a 30-year history of confusion, differences of opinion and under- and overtreatment,” said Dr. Shahla Masood, the head of pathology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville. “There are studies that show that diagnosing these borderline breast lesions occasionally comes down to the flip of a coin.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


America's Ruling Class -- And the Perils of Revolution (Angelo M. Codevilla, July 2010 - August 2010, American Spectator)

Professional prominence or position will not secure a place in the class any more than mere money. In fact, it is possible to be an official of a major corporation or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (just ask Justice Clarence Thomas), or even president (Ronald Reagan), and not be taken seriously by the ruling class. Like a fraternity, this class requires above all comity -- being in with the right people, giving the required signs that one is on the right side, and joining in despising the Outs. Once an official or professional shows that he shares the manners, the tastes, the interests of the class, gives lip service to its ideals and shibboleths, and is willing to accommodate the interests of its senior members, he can move profitably among our establishment's parts.

If, for example, you are Laurence Tribe in 1984, Harvard professor of law, leftist pillar of the establishment, you can "write" your magnum opus by using the products of your student assistant, Ron Klain. A decade later, after Klain admits to having written some parts of the book, and the other parts are found to be verbatim or paraphrases of a book published in 1974, you can claim (perhaps correctly) that your plagiarism was "inadvertent," and you can count on the Law School's dean, Elena Kagan, to appoint a committee including former and future Harvard president Derek Bok that issues a secret report that "closes" the incident. Incidentally, Kagan ends up a justice of the Supreme Court. Not one of these people did their jobs: the professor did not write the book himself, the assistant plagiarized instead of researching, the dean and the committee did not hold the professor accountable, and all ended up rewarded. By contrast, for example, learned papers and distinguished careers in climatology at MIT (Richard Lindzen) or UVA (S. Fred Singer) are not enough for their questions about "global warming" to be taken seriously. For our ruling class, identity always trumps.

Much less does membership in the ruling class depend on high academic achievement. To see something closer to an academic meritocracy consider France, where elected officials have little power, a vast bureaucracy explicitly controls details from how babies are raised to how to make cheese, and people get into and advance in that bureaucracy strictly by competitive exams. Hence for good or ill, France's ruling class are bright people -- certifiably. Not ours. But didn't ours go to Harvard and Princeton and Stanford? Didn't most of them get good grades? Yes. But while getting into the Ecole Nationale d'Administration or the Ecole Polytechnique or the dozens of other entry points to France's ruling class requires outperforming others in blindly graded exams, and graduating from such places requires passing exams that many fail, getting into America's "top schools" is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile. American secondary schools are generous with their As. Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that "the best" colleges require the least work and give out the highest grade point averages. No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority. [...]

The ruling class's appetite for deference, power, and perks grows. The country class disrespects its rulers, wants to curtail their power and reduce their perks. The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side's vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side -- especially the ruling class -- embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side's view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable.

In this clash, the ruling class holds most of the cards: because it has established itself as the fount of authority, its primacy is based on habits of deference. Breaking them, establishing other founts of authority, other ways of doing things, would involve far more than electoral politics.

....but Mr. Codevilla describes here why the neocons found the potential Justiceship of Harriet Miers so intolerable. Bad enough she was a Southern Evangelical, she simply wasn't in any of the right clubs. On the other hand, Mr. Alito could be recognized as a superior being just by virtue of the schools he attended and by his membership in the Federalist Society. Further consideration was unnecessary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Syrian Kurds – A Struggle in the Face of Government Repression (Joav Ben-Shmuel, 23 July 2010, ISN Blog)

On 21 March of this year, Syrian security forces opened fire on a crowd of over 5,000 in the northern town of Ar-Raqqah. The crowd had gathered to celebrate the Kurdish New Year as three people, including a 15-year-old girl, were killed. Over 50 were injured. Yet this incident was just the last in a long list of examples of the repression of the largest national minority in Syria – the Syrian Kurdish population.

Kurds in Syria occupy the lowest social rank among the country’s minorities. Estimated at approximately 1.7 million, the Syrian Kurds make up roughly 12 percent of the country’s population. Yet the Kurds living in Syria are not recognized as an ethnic group in their own right, and many not even as Syrian citizens. Their cultural and civil rights are withheld from them, while their political parties and organizations are forbidden.

The essay includes a nice map of the future Kurdistan:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Adios, Democrats: More Hispanic voters are Democrats, but the better Hispanic candidates are Republicans. (Molly Ball, July 23, 2010, Slate)

For Democrats, the most frightening candidate of 2010 may well be Susana Martinez, the Republican nominee for governor in New Mexico. If she wins in November, she will be the first female Hispanic governor in U.S. history—and an instant national GOP spokeswoman. [...]

In addition to Martinez, who currently leads in the polls and has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, there's Marco Rubio, the Tea Party favorite who drove Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Florida, and Brian Sandoval, a former judge who holds a big lead in the Nevada gubernatorial race. Sure, that's only three candidates. But in the 74 elections this year for governor or U.S. Senate—not all of them competitive—there are no Democratic Hispanic nominees. "Republicans have done a great job of recruiting Hispanic candidates," one Democratic strategist told me. "They are giving us a big wakeup call this year." [....]

One Democratic political consultant in Nevada told me canvassers in Las Vegas' heavily Hispanic neighborhoods hear over and over, "Si, si, Sandoval!" Never mind that Sandoval doesn't speak Spanish. That didn't stop him from making his first television ad of the general-election campaign a Spanish-language spot titled "Ya Es Hora" ("It Is Time") that ran during the World Cup. "When Sandoval says things like that he supports the Arizona law, Hispanic voters just assume he's lying to get elected," the consultant says.

Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington who is also a partner in a polling firm called Latino Decisions, has focused much of his research on Hispanic candidates. "Everything overwhelmingly points to a mobilizing effect for Latino voters," he says. "It is a huge, documented effect, with evidence across states, across types of offices. Latino voters respond, have higher rates of political engagement, are more trusting of government—all those things—when they see themselves represented in elected office."

Barreto's research on this effect builds on work dating to the 1950s, when Irish and Italian last names suddenly started showing up on ballots across the Northeast. "It was a ploy by both parties to engage white ethnic voters," he says. And it worked.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Dems Headed for Potential State House Disaster (Sean Trende, Jul 19, 2010, Real Clear Politics)

The biggest danger to the Democrats comes from the losses that they are poised to endure in the Governor's races. These losses are likely to be massive, and illustrate the size of the impending voter revolt. And they could not come at a worse time. Combined with likely statehouse gains, they threaten to put Republicans in charge of redistricting for the first time in several generations, and will potentially provide the GOP with a top-tier crop of Presidential hopefuls in the future.

The Democrats have dominated the governorships in post-Depression politics. Take the following chart, which tracks the annual percentage of governorships held by Democrats since the end of Reconstruction (we have to do this annually; some states had 1- or 3-year gubernatorial terms for much of this time frame):

From 1931 through 1994, Democrats fell below a majority of governorships only 8 times. The 1994 blowout dropped them to 39% of the governorships, though they returned to parity after the 2006 elections. Their absolute worst results in the past 134 years came in 1921 and 1922, when the Harding landslide took them down to 29% of the seats.

This year, Democrats are poised to test that floor. Consider today's RealClearPolitics No Toss Up Map, which shows the state of the 2010 Governor races based off of the latest RCP Averages and polls:

Based on this, Democrats are headed toward holding 28% of the Governor's seats. This is their lowest result since the ending of Reconstruction allowed for fully competitive gubernatorial elections in all states. It is well below their 134-year average of 55% of seats held.

Dems sound alarm on state races (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 7/23/10, Politico)
Mike Lux, a leading progressive political consultant, warned that the governorships in those states [California, Florida and Texas] were critical with redistricting looming, since they are home to roughly a quarter of the 435 House seats.

“If you take states that big and mess with their borders, you could change our national politics for the next decade,” he said.

Yet governors’ races aren’t the only contests that could have a transformative effect on the political landscape. Numerous state legislatures are at stake —including those in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado, among others—and thousands of state legislative seats across the country up for grabs in November. Those lesser-heralded contests could ultimately play a key role in determining the make-up of the U.S. House, since the majority party in state legislatures typically occupies the commanding heights in redistricting in many states.

“It’s always a struggle to generate enough national attention to how important state legislative campaigns and majorities are,” said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, who spoke on a separate panel Friday on reapportionment and redistricting. “With redistricting coming up, the future of the Democratic Party will largely be decided upon the results of the elections this November.”

July 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


David Cameron's dream could be President Obama's nightmare (Michael Gerson, July 23, 2010, Washington Post)

If Cameron's approach works -- dramatically cutting deficits without stalling economic growth -- it will be an obvious, powerful example for America and other nations.

But Cameron's progress offers two other lessons that some Republicans may be less willing to acknowledge.

First, Cameron's austerity measures have succeeded (so far) in the context of a coalition government with Liberal Democrats -- Britain's centrist third party. This alliance of the middle has made Cameron's government less dependent for support on the extremes of either party, resulting in a truce on divisive issues such as immigration and European integration. Cameron's alliance remains strong at the highest levels of political leadership. It will be tested as party activists from both coalition partners canvass against each other in next year's local elections and referendum on electoral reform.

A formal coalition government is not an option in America, which lacks a viable third party eager for power. But large, politically risky spending reductions will require spreading the responsibility and the blame beyond a single party. Some type of center-right alliance of fiscally conservative Democrats and Republicans -- a coalition of the complicit -- will be needed to act boldly and marginalize partisan extremes.

Second, Cameron makes clear that austerity alone is not a sufficient message for a political party. He calls deficit reduction his "duty." He refers to his social agenda -- the "Big Society" -- as his "passion." Cameron has paired his emergency budget with a series of measures designed to encourage volunteerism, empower local communities, create charter schools, reform welfare and fund the work of private charities. The problem with centralized, government-oriented policies, he argues, is not only their expense. They have "turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help." The alternative is a "thoughtful re-imagination of the role, as well as the size of the state."

Cameron envisions a radical kind of devolution, not only to local governments but also to communities and individuals. Government, in his view, has an important role in building the Big Society, but it is mainly catalytic -- providing resources and authority to community institutions.

...for running on compassionate conservatism.

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Addicted to Bush (PAUL KRUGMAN, 7/23/10, NY Times)

The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.

In reality, the poll numbers were largely a function of Congressional Republicans and Beltway conservatives bailing on President Bush. They were predictably terrified of even trying to pass the SS reforms that he ran on twice and won. Nor would they move tax reforms--the shift to consumption taxes--that were the follow on to reducing taxes on income, savings and investment. They got cold feet about Iraq. They became hysterical about the Dubai Ports deal. They axed Harriet Miers. And they killed immigration reform in a manner that confirmed the very worst caricatures of the GOP. Then, to top it all off, the House caucus refused to support the bank bailout that W presented them wrapped with a bow at a point when they could have still won the Fall elections.

It's worth recalling that W's two signature domestic victories--tax cuts and NCLB--became law because of two Democrats, Jim Jeffords and Ted Kennedy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Field Poll finds 70% support death penalty (Bob Egelko, 7/22/10, SF Chronicle)

The survey of registered voters found 70 percent backing for capital punishment, up from 67 percent in the last statewide poll in 2006. Substantial majorities supported it, regardless of age, gender, race, religion or party. Twenty-four percent opposed the death penalty and 6 percent had no opinion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Senate Passes U.S. War Bill Without State Aid for Teachers Sought by House (Brian Faler, Jul 23, 2010, Bloomberg)

The U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion measure to fund the troop buildup in Afghanistan after refusing to include $10 billion in state aid sought by the House to prevent an estimated 140,000 teacher layoffs.

The House plan, which the Obama administration had threatened to veto, was blocked late yesterday on a 46-51 procedural vote, with 60 needed. The Senate then voted unanimously to pass its version of the war bill and send it to the House for approval.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Climate Bill, R.I.P.: Instead of taking the fight to big polluters, President Obama has put global warming on the back burner ( Tim Dickinson, Jul 21, 2010 8, Rolling Stone)

[O]bama, so far, has shown no urgency on the issue, and little willingness to lead – despite a June poll showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the government should limit climate pollution. With hopes for an economy-wide approach to global warming dashed, Congress is now weighing a scaled-back proposal that would ratchet down carbon pollution from the nation's electric utilities. It has come to this: The best legislation we can hope for is the same climate policy that George W. Bush promoted during the 2000 campaign. [...]

[T]he president has made no concrete demands of the Senate, preferring to let Majority Leader Harry Reid direct the bill – a hands-off approach that is unlikely to produce a measure of any substance. "You have two camps right now in the Senate," says a top congressional source. "One is the camp of 'Let's put something together, put it out there, whip it really hard and get to 60.' And then you have the Harry Reid model, which is 'Let's wait until we know we have 60 votes.' " Climate advocates are furious at the least-common-denominator approach, saying it takes victory off the table. "You can't run up the white flag," Sen. Jeff Merkeley of Oregon said in June, "until you have the fight."

From the start, Obama has led from behind on climate change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Sarah Palin strikes back at Journolist’s ’sick puppies’ (Jonathan Strong, 7/22/10, The Daily Caller)

Palin says the feeding frenzy culture of the media galvanized her political opponents in Alaska. “The media incentivized political opponents to file false ethics charges and expensive, wasteful, frivolous lawsuits against me, my family and my staff, in an obvious attempt to destroy us,” Palin said.

When those lawsuits — which Palin said she won, but the media didn’t cover — caused legal costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Palin had finally had it, she said.

“I said, ‘Enough. Political adversaries and their political friends in the media will not destroy my State, my administration, nor my family. Enough.’"

...but folks think she can handle a presidential run?

July 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM

"MORE AIR, MORE ERROR" (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Perfection in the Horseshoe Pit (JOHN BRANCH, 7/20/10, NY Times)

DEFIANCE, Ohio — From behind a neat, ranch-style house on Melody Lane came the clinking and clanking rhythm of iron striking iron.

Alan Francis stood more than a dozen long-legged strides from an inch-thick stake drilled deep into tacky clay. Perhaps the most dominant athlete in any sport in the country, Francis lifted his right arm, swung it behind him and forward again.

He launched a horseshoe toward the target 40 feet away. It weighed a little more than two and a half pounds and spun slowly, sideways. It rose and fell in an arc until its narrow open end, three and a half inches across, caught the stake with percussive perfection.


Francis, satisfied but expressionless, pitched another.


“Those are the sounds you want,” he said, smiling.

Built narrow like a stake, with a mustache and a crew cut, Francis is widely considered the best horseshoe pitcher in history. He has won 15 world titles, including the past seven. He hopes to extend his streak in early August at the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association world tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But the number that most impresses those whom the 40-year-old Francis routinely beats or who gather to watch him pitch is the key statistic in horseshoes: ringer percentage.

Get a ringer 70 percent of the time, and you are in a shrinking class of world-class pitchers. Get one 80 percent of the time, and you are probably in the top two.

Get one 90 percent of the time, and you are Alan Francis. [...]

In the championship game of last year’s world tournament, which had more than 1,300 participants, Francis fell far behind Vermont’s Brian Simmons, a two-time world champion and Francis’ only viable rival. Francis pitched ringers on 25 of his final 26 shoes to win what some call the greatest match in the sport’s history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


The Atlanta Braves Clubhouse Report 7/21/10: Jim Powell spends some time with Braves Closer Billy Wagner for this week's edition of the Atlanta Braves Clubhouse Report. (680TheFan, 7/21/10)

When he starts talking about Dale Murphy and then brushing back his own kids (around the 7 minute mark) it's priceless.

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If You Build It, Nothing Bad Will Happen: May the mosque go up near Ground Zero, and thrive in peaceful coexistence with all members of its new community. (Conor Friedersdorf, 07.22.10, Forbes)

The closest strip club to Ground Zero happens to be two blocks away, a fact that has nothing to do with our reverence for the place where so many Americans were killed by terrorists. As you've probably noticed, it doesn't even make sense to call it The Ground Zero Strip Club.

But it makes no less sense than naming an Islamic community center "The Ground Zero Mosque"--as much of the media have done--because it's going to be located a couple blocks away. Even worse, opponents of the project are opportunistically invoking the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even going so far as to appropriate their imagery. "Join the fight to kill The Ground Zero Mosque," intones a video advertisement released by a group called National Republican Trust PAC. "A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand. The political class says nothing. The politicians are doing nothing to stop it. But we Americans will be heard. "

As an American in good standing, I'd like to be heard--and to make sure that James Madison, a colleague of mine in citizenship, is heard too. The fourth president of the U.S. once wrote, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It's a line that National Republican Trust neglects to remember. Perhaps "the political class" isn't doing anything to stop the construction of an Islamic community center because the Constitution forbids it. Even worse, the advertisement I've mentioned engages in just the sort of religious bigotry that the First Amendment is meant to guard against. "On Sept. 11 they declared war against us," the narrator says. "And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at ground zero."

It's the word "they" that's doing all the misleading work. The people who declared war against us on Sept. 11, 2001, were al Qaeda radicals led by Osama bin Laden and his followers. Who are the people trying to build a 13-story Islamic community center that includes a single floor of prayer space, a swimming pool, a library, a child-care center, a concert hall, a gym, a culinary school and a restaurant? "They" are an Islamic group that has long run a mosque in the area for New York City Muslims. On 9/11, "they" found their community under attack, too. It is slander to assert that they've declared war against us, or that their motive in building a community center is celebrating the murder of Americans.

One last line from the advertisement is notable: "Where we weep, they rejoice. That mosque is a monument to their victory, and an invitation for war." Talk about defeatism! The al Qaeda leaders responsible for 9/11 are either dead or hiding in caves. The U.S. remains the Earth's most powerful and prosperous nation. The hysterical cowards at National Republican Trust are nevertheless ready to concede victory to our terrorist enemies if a group of peaceful Muslims succeed in building a prayer room, a swimming pool and the balance of a community center.

Let's be sure that no one gives them a white flag.

Putting a place where Muslims can gather and worship freely right at the heart of the quintessentially American business center of the world is actually a perfect symbol of everything OBL hated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


DREAM-LOGIC, THE INTERNET AND ARTIFICIAL THOUGHT: Will computers be able to think again? And what Sigmund Freud would have to do with cyberspace? Internet pioneer David Gelernter predicts the next stage of development of artificial intelligence. (David Gelernter, July 2010, Edge)

Here is an unfortunate truth: today's mainstream ideas about human and artificial thought lead nowhere.

We are trapped by assumptions that unravel as soon as we think about them: "we" meaning not only laymen but many philosophers and scientists. Here are three important wrong assumptions.

Many people believe that "thinking" is basically the same as "reasoning."

But when you stop work for a moment, look out the window and let your mind wander, you are still thinking. Your mind is still at work. This sort of free-association is an important part of human thought. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can free-associate.

Many people believe that reality is one thing and your thoughts are something else. Reality is on the outside; the mental landscape created by your thoughts is inside your head, within your mind. (Assuming that you're sane.)

Yet we each hallucinate every day, when we fall asleep and dream. And when you hallucinate, your own mind redefines reality for you; "real" reality, outside reality, disappears. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can hallucinate.

Many people believe that the thinker and the thought are separate. For many people, "thinking" means (in effect) viewing a stream of thoughts as if it were a PowerPoint presentation: the thinker watches the stream of his thoughts. This idea is important to artificial intelligence and the computationalist view of the mind. If the thinker and his thought-stream are separate, we can replace the human thinker by a computer thinker without stopping the show. The man tiptoes out of the theater. The computer slips into the empty seat. The PowerPoint presentation continues.

But when a person is dreaming, hallucinating — when he is inside a mind-made fantasy landscape — the thinker and his thought-stream
are not separate. They are blended together. The thinker inhabits his thoughts. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind.

What does this mean for the internet: will the internet ever think? Will an individual computer ever think?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Judge doubts the constitutionality of Arizona's immigration law (Nicholas Riccardi, 7/22/10, Los Angeles Times)

A federal judge on Thursday expressed skepticism that a key part of a controversial Arizona law to control illegal immigration is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton noted at a hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court has long barred states from creating their own immigrant registration systems. She said the Arizona measure's stipulation that makes a crime of failing to have immigration documents may violate that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


White House's anxiety on race resurfaces (Ben Evans, 7/22/10, Associated Press)

The Obama White House is back to a teaching moment on race, once again playing the student.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Texas GOP group aims to get Hispanics elected (APRIL CASTRO, 7/20/10, Associated Press)

Eager to attract a growing Hispanic voting population in Texas, a new Republican group launched an effort Tuesday to recruit and train GOP candidates.

The Hispanic Republicans of Texas, led by George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush, said in addition to recruiting potential candidates, they would help financially with potential candidates around the state who are interested in running for school board or any other office. [...]

Hispanics represent 37 percent of the Texas population and 40 percent of students in public schools, but none of the 96 Republicans in the Legislature is Hispanic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The Jolly Boys: sound that rocked Jamaica - and Errol Flynn: Calypso-style 'mento’ music, which pre-dates reggae by decades, is enjoying a revival. Pioneering practitioners the Jolly Boys are coming to the UK. (Neil McCormick, 21 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Albert pauses to point out the marina, where he used to dive for coins back in the Forties, when the banana boat pulled in. “Way back when England was our mother,” he says, a mischievous smile displaying his few remaining teeth.

This was where Errol Flynn used to dock his yacht, Zaca, back when the buccaneering Hollywood star was known as “Jamaica’s greatest tourist”. “Mr Errol Flynn, man. Yeah, baby!” twinkles Minott. “He loved the local bars. He’d hang here and buy a bottle of white rum for the people.”

Like most of Port Antonio, the bars have seen better days, a parade of gaudy rum shacks touting lazily for business. Higgledy-piggledy housing lurches up the mountainside, where the Jamaican rainforest sweeps down to the sea. “I show you the city’s ripped backside,” Minott chuckles, incongruously quoting Iggy Pop.

At an age when most of his contemporaries are retired or dead, Minott is about to release his debut album, with septuagenarian mento band the Jolly Boys. Entitled Great Expectations after a run-down bar where they sometimes drink, it remakes punk-edged hits (including Iggy Pop’s The Passenger) with a raw, acoustic Jamaican sound that the Jolly Boys have been playing for more than 50 years.

“Mento is the word, mento is the world,” says Minott. “Mento is a whirl of music coming from the cane field. Every other music come off mento in Jamaican style, and that’s why I stick to my mento, and I never leave it.”

Jamaica has become synonymous with reggae, but there was an island music before that. “It really emerged in the late 19th century, although some people say it goes back to slavery,” according to ethno-musicologist Daniel Neely of New York University. “It’s a community music, based on folk, gospel and popular songs everyone is going to know. A mento band would play at funerary events, weddings or festivals, wherever people come together and everyone could join in, so you might have 20 musicians playing a kind of a composite of different rhythms that fit together in easy to identify ways.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


PD James interview: 'I have lived a very happy and fulfilled life': She’s a life peer, a best-selling crime novelist, and last year, the BBC’s scariest interrogator. As she approaches 90, PD James reflects on death, family − and the husband she couldn’t save. (Nigel Farndale, 21 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Combined with her masculine sounding surname these have led some readers over the years to assume that PD James is a man. Her genre, crime fiction, might be considered more manly than womanly, too, were it not for the fact that so many of the most successful crime writers have been women: from Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers to Ruth Rendell and Patricia Cornwell.

Added to all this, her best known hero, the detective Adam Dalgliesh, is a man. When I ask her what it has been like being, as it were, inside his head for the past 47 years she chuckles and says: ‘Well, he is a male version of me. Brainier than me but his emotions are mine. The empathy is mental rather than physical. I never describe Dalgliesh getting up and getting dressed.’ So is she, like her hero, unsentimental? ‘Yes, I’m very unsentimental. Very.’

Her most recent Dalgliesh novel was published in 2008, might there be another one? ‘I’m not sure yet. Life has been so busy I have only done 10,000 words in six months. I don’t want the standard to drop and I don’t want a reviewer to be saying: “It’s a remarkable book, for a 91 year-old.” And I don’t want them to say: “It’s not vintage PD James.” If I’m not doing it as well as I have done it in the past, then there is no point in my doing it at all.’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Why not Jeb Bush? (Joshua Green, July 22, 2010, Boston Globe)

Bush...has a solid conservative record that wasn’t amassed in Washington and broad appeal in a critical state; for a party conspicuously lacking a positive agenda, he’s also known as an ideas guy. Bush hasn’t followed the Tea Partiers to the political fringes — he opposed Arizona’s racial profiling law, for instance — but neither has he ignored them. On Monday, he’ll appear at a Kentucky fundraiser for Tea Party favorite and GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul.

But what about his big obstacle — the name? It’s often asserted that Bush could never overcome the burden. But there’s clear evidence that voters distinguish between George W. Bush and his family members. In a 2008 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 35 percent of voters held a favorable opinion of George W., versus 65 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Those numbers reversed for his father: 57 percent viewed him favorably and just 34 percent unfavorably.

Would Republicans dare coalesce behind Bush? Surely they would. The hallmark of today’s politics is a truculent refusal to concede error. What could possibly show up those arrogant liberals like nominating another Bush? Nor is it apparent that doing so would be politically perilous. As Obama’s approval ratings continue to fall, it seems ever more likely that the 2012 election will be hard-fought and close, regardless of who is the Republican nominee. And Jeb Bush’s appeal to the center is at least as strong as that of his colleagues.

The biggest obstacle to a Jeb Bush candidacy is Bush himself. Though he is traveling more often and raising money for Republicans, he has kept a low profile. Friends say he dislikes Obama’s constant criticism of his brother. “It’s childish,’’ he told the New York Times last month. Of course, the surest way to defend the family name would be to defeat the president who got elected by impugning it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


The Liberal Dilemma: The Democratic Party's capture by public unions and professional politicians is strangling much of liberalism's agenda. (DANIEL HENNINGER, 7/22/10, WSJ)

In the distant future, some U.S. historian in kindergarten today will write about Congressman David Obey's contribution to the splitting apart of American liberalism's assumptions about the purpose of government. Mr. Obey of Wisconsin is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the spenders. People have said for years that government robs Peter to pay Paul. Now brother is ripping off brother. Mr. Obey plans to send $10 billion to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs and will pay for it in part by taking money from several school reform programs, such as Race to the Top.

President Obama has threatened a veto. Keep an eye on it. If this Democratic president stops that Democratic congressman from knee-capping school reform to protect unionized teachers from the world the rest of us live in, you can mark down August 2010 as a first step back from the crack-up. That would be the kind of change Mr. Obama's admirers thought they were getting.

The bottom line is he has to move Right to save himself and all he cares about is himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Obama Girl Is Nowhere to Be Found: A plurality of voters believe the country would have been better off if John McCain had beaten Mr. Obama in 2008. (JOHN FUND, 7/22/10, WSJ)

Democrats will be gulping this morning at the Quinnipiac Poll's latest results. For the first time in the survey's history, Americans believe by a 48% to 40% margin that President Obama doesn't deserve re-election. Almost as stinging, a plurality believe the country would have been better off if John McCain had beaten Mr. Obama in 2008. [...]

Mr. Obama's approval rating continues to slide, and is dragging his party down. While last July Mr. Obama had a 57% positive rating, Quinnipiac now pegs him at just 44% approval -- a number below President Bill Clinton's approval rating just before his party lost control of Congress in 1994. When asked which party they plan to vote for this November, likely voters in the Quinnipiac survey picked Republicans by 43% to 38%.

...if the election were held today....a lot of people would be surprised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Bad news for Mitt?: Presidential primary schedule might ruffle Romney's chances (DAVID S. BERNSTEIN, July 21, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

The RNC has taken major steps this summer toward defining the 2012 calendar, so that the primary contests start later, and are less bunched together, than in 2008 — when 28 states held their Republican nominating elections by February 5.

The RNC's suggested 2012 schedule would start in February, with contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Then, to dissuade states from crowding forward into a "Super-Duper Tuesday," the RNC would reward states that wait until at least April, by letting them hold "winner-take-all" primaries. Most state GOP parties prefer that, because it heightens the stakes, enticing candidates to come campaign in the state.

States holding their nominating contests in March would have to use a proportional system, under which candidates can win delegates with a second- or even third-place finish.

If adopted, and if states react as party leaders hope, the rules would lead to a slower-paced nomination process, with candidates building up their delegate totals bit by bit over several months.

That slow-down is deliberate; party leaders believe that there are political drawbacks to settling on a nominee in February. (For one thing, the media largely stops paying attention until the late-summer convention.)

But a broader concern, two Republicans close to the process tell the Phoenix, was ensuring a full vetting of the winning candidate on the campaign trail. GOP party leaders don't want a celebrity candidate like Sarah Palin — or worse, some Rand Paul–like flavor-of-the-month — sweeping to the nomination.

July 21, 2010

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Falling Out of Love With Obama: The left is finding out that Obama is not the progressive they fell in love with, but they should remember that progressive politicians have all the cards stacked against them. (Paul Waldman, July 20, 2010, American Prospect)

Remember when Barack Obama's presidency was going to wash over the capital like a cleansing tide, renewing both the government's ability to accomplish great things and restoring the people's faith in that ability? It seems so much longer than a year and a half ago.

All over the country, progressives are gripped by gloom. It's partly directed at Obama (if only he had done this or that, everything would be different) and partly about the fact that the GOP seems to grow dumber and more ideologically radical by the day. But the broader frustration is with a system whose dysfunction and corruption seem worse than ever -- one that seems like it's designed to stop progressive change.

You can see it in influential voices on the left. The blogger Digby described her "slow growing sense of despair over the fact it looks more and more as if the party of Michelle Bachman and Darrell Issa are going to have subpoena power starting next January. ... That outcome is probably what the Democrats deserve. Maybe it's even what all adult Americans deserve." Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote: "Here's the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here's the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick." Eric Alterman began a much-discussed 17,000-word essay on the state of American democracy by writing, "Few progressives would take issue with the argument that, significant accomplishments notwithstanding, the Obama presidency has been a big disappointment."

Even if you see that cup as half full, it's emptier than we believed it would be. Part of the problem is that progressives thought that they had finally found the president they'd love the way conservatives love Ronald Reagan. After a string of unsuccessful candidates and compromised presidencies, Obama seemed to have it all -- the intelligence, the oratorical skills (no small thing after the previous two nominees), the political savvy, the nerve not to fear Republicans. Progressives liked that the rest of the world was smitten with him, a relief after eight years of a president who seemed to embody everything anti-Americans want people to believe about Americans. And yes, voting for him made them feel good about themselves and about "how far our country had come." It's no wonder that when Obama was battling with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008, the prevailing opinion was that he was much more of a "real" progressive than she was, despite thin evidence to support the assertion.

Progressives have concluded that Obama is not exactly the man they fell in love with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Science: Men Care as Much About Celeb Shoes as Women (Marty Beckerman, 7/21/10, Esquire)

Dutch neuroscientists recently released a study that more or less confirmed the obvious: Not only do women love examining celebrity fashion, their brains actually light up when Julia Roberts is wearing a pair of Louboutins as opposed to, say, a single mother on a check-out line. Clothes officially don't make the woman; the woman makes the clothes. But when The Style Blog asked the researchers on Monday whether men transfer the same kind of "positive emotions" toward famous people's clothes, we got a surprising answer.

"There's no reason to think it would be different for men, and it's not gender-related in the sense that only male celebrities appeal to men or vice versa," said lead scientist Mirre Stallen, a doctoral student at Erasmus University.

And what is science if not assuming you know the answer to one question because you studied another?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


President Obama, White House react to 'cable chatter' (JONATHAN MARTIN, 7/21/10, Politico)

[T]his week’s forced resignation of a previously obscure Agriculture Department employee is just the latest example of Obama officials reacting to a cable news-driven obsession of the right.

It not only infuriates Obama’s liberal base, which feels like the episodes just reinforce the power of the right to push a damaging story into the mainstream press. But as this week shows, the White House’s touchiness even threatens Obama’s ability to keep control of his own public persona, or steer the national conversation in a way that’s conducive to promoting his message and his agenda.

The anger on the left is now reaching new decibel levels due to the quick decision by the Agriculture Department to push out a Georgia-based employee, Shirley Sherrod, who was captured on video at a recent NAACP conference appearing to make racially insensitive comments about a white farmer.

...when it was the thinness they should have fretted about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Revolt Inside the Tea Party: The dumping of a Tea Partier who made racially charged remarks was about more than just political correctness. Zachary Roth on the deep split that could blow the movement apart. (Zachary Roth, 7/21/10, Daily Beast)

In setting itself up as the Tea Party’s internal race cop, the Federation may have overplayed its hand—and provoked a more-or-less open rebellion against its bid, launched in April, to unify the famously fractious movement. The controversy over Williams has helped reignite a major internecine power struggle among Tea Partiers that could make it harder to operate effectively come November.

Last week, outraged by an NAACP resolution condemning Tea Party racism, Williams posted on his blog a “satirical” letter, since removed, which was written in the voice of an NAACP official and praised slavery for offering blacks “three squares, room and board.” In response, a spokesman for the National Tea Party Federation, an umbrella organization of Tea Party groups, announced Sunday on Face The Nation that Williams and Tea Party Express, the group for which he has been acting as a paid spokesman and public speaker, had been expelled from the Federation, calling the letter “clearly offensive.”

But in a statement to reporters released Monday, Joe Wierzbicki, a spokesman and organizer for Tea Party Express, declined to criticize Williams, a conservative talk radio host with a history of incendiary racial comments. Instead, Wierzbicki called the Federation’s decision to oust Williams and the Express “arrogant and preposterous,” and downplayed the impact the expulsion will have on his group—which in January gave a major boost to Scott Brown’s Senate campaign in Massachusetts. “The Tea Party Express, with over 400,000 members, is far larger than the Tea Party Federation’s entire membership,” said Wierzbicki.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Exceptional Down to the Bone (James C. Bennett, June 21, 2010, National Review)

American exceptionalism took on institutional and legal form with the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. These milestones certainly make us exceptional, but they should be understood in the context of the cultural foundations that preceded them, which gave rise to a constitutional republic and have kept it going for over two centuries. The lesson is that American exceptionalism is primarily cultural, and only secondarily constitutional or economic or technological or military. Our rule of law, our economic might, our technological dynamism, our military power, all rest on cultural foundations that have taken form over four centuries in North America, and have deeper roots going back to England.

Almost all the further differences between the U.S. and other English-speaking nations are matters not of culture, but of narrative. By narrative, we refer to the way people talk about and understand their country and its history, the words and phrases they use to understand themselves. This is not to say that narrative is trivial. Culture rarely makes anybody walk into a recruiting station and volunteer for a war; it’s narrative that does. But narrative evolves from generation to generation and from circumstance to circumstance. Every generation’s understanding of what it means to be an American has been different from that of the previous one, back to the generation of 1776, which had grown up certain that to be a good American was to be loyal to king and empire.

The American narrative has developed in stages. From our multiple founding populations we inherited a variety of styles for a free and voluntaristic society (including one that relied heavily on slavery). These were fused at the time of the Revolution into a republican universalism expressed in Anglo-American Enlightenment language of natural rights and liberty. Subsequent events added a patriotic pride in American achievements, and the Civil War linked the Declaration’s principles to the expansion of rights within America. Wilson and FDR turned republican universalism outward to play an assertive role in foreign affairs, and Ronald Reagan harnessed this impulse to the cause of defeating the Soviet empire in the Cold War.

We are conflicted about the universalist narrative because we are divided between an inward-looking and an outward-looking understanding of universalism. The former says “anybody can become an American,” while the latter says “anyplace can become America.” At present, the former proposition is widely accepted, at least with the caveat that we should strongly promote assimilation, based on a record of success over two centuries. The latter has been a problematic aspect of foreign policy in many eras, including our own. [...]

To the extent that we do look abroad, it’s most useful to look at other English-speaking countries for both good and bad examples — but even there, it’s important to be mindful of the whole context. For example, advocates of government health provision often point to Britain and Canada as models, but they rarely discuss the much less pro-plaintiff civil-law systems in those countries, which do much to limit malpractice costs.

The differences between America and other English-speaking countries are real, but often exaggerated. This is partly because of what anthropologists call “ethnographic dazzle” — the obsession with obvious surface-level differences. It is also an artifact of journalistic incentives: Reportage on, say, Anglo-American differences is news, whereas an account of the similarities is the ultimate dog-bites-man story.

From a global perspective, the politics of the English-speaking world are more similar than different, exactly because of the underlying cultural commonalities. This is both good news and bad. It is highly unlikely that America will ever become as dysfunctional as East Germany; however, it is quite possible that we could become as dysfunctional as 1979 Britain.

The U.S. has created a particularly robust form of Anglosphere culture that has been remarkably successful at assimilating millions of immigrants. The idea that anyone can become an American has proven to be true most of the time. (It has also proved to be a warning to continue encouraging immigrants and their children to adopt American culture.) Openness to immigration, with the requirement of robust assimilation, has worked for us, and it can continue to work. So, with some caveats, we can say that it is generally true that “anyone can become an American.” But the outward-looking variety of universalism in U.S. foreign policy, the idea that anyplace can become America, has been a mixed bag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


The Death of JournoList: Does Privacy End at the Edge of Your Thoughts? (Walter Shapiro, 7/21/10, Politics Daily)

The life and death of a 3-year-old members-only online liberal bulletin board is a story that normally would offer all the searing drama of a public television pledge drive. But the sudden collapse of JournoList Friday afternoon -- after the private e-mails of Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel were maliciously leaked -- offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of candor in an age when everybody (and not just Big Brother) is watching.

Founded in early 2007 by the youthful Ezra Klein, now a columnist for The Washington Post, JournoList was a private bull session which brought together left-of-center think tankers, government-oriented academics and opinion-mongers to discuss and debate economics, health care reform, foreign policy and the day's headlines. As an informal conversation, with maybe 400 participants (including me), it was about as conspiratorial and aggressively partisan as the cafeteria chatter at the Brookings Institution.

Every entry on Google Groups, where JournoList resided, ended with the cautionary line, "And remember: All postings are off-the-record." But someone -- whose motivations were mysterious and whose lack of integrity was obvious -- collected all of Weigel's back e-mails and apparently sent the most intemperate comments (ripped out of context) to FishbowlDC, a media gossip website, and the Dally Caller, a new conservative online newspaper. Weigel, who had recently been hired by The Washington Post to write about the conservative movement, resigned from his new job Friday because of the furor.

Miller's Time: A biased salute to two brave friends. (Walter Shapiro, July 6, 2005, Slate)
The Bush White House has been the most locked-down in history for reporters. And future administrations, even Democratic ones, are likely to emulate this nearly impenetrable Karen Hughes-inspired, message-discipline approach, under which even innocuous unauthorized conversations with the press can be potential firing offenses. As a result, the only way that even a glimmer of truth can emerge from places like the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA will be if government officials trust reporters to keep their identities secret. That means that reporters must stand their ground amid the predictable frenzy of leak investigations. It is not an appealing bargain if a reporter promises to protect a source ... as long as it is convenient.

There have been acrobatic efforts to distinguish between good leaks (say, the Pentagon Papers) and bad leaks (Plame's CIA position). But who is going to make these hair-splitting distinctions? And on what grounds? Those who scream "national security" or even (hysterically) "treason" over the flaming of Plame should recall that these very same arguments were brandished by the Nixon administration against the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Moreover, if so-called bad leaks are those motivated by personal malice or a political agenda, that standard would apply to a high percentage of Washington whistle-blowers. Where in the journalistic handbook does it say that reporters should only obtain confidential information from saintly figures? That would certainly have ruled out Deep Throat (aka Mark Felt), who had authorized unlawful FBI break-ins against the anti-war movement.

First, let me confess to not following this JournoList kerfuffle very closely. The tone of many of the missives these folks sent each other seems unfortunate--wishing death or harm to people with whom they have political differences--and the presence of some serious reporters on the list is disturbing, but, for the most part, if a bunch of liberal opinion writers want to bitch amongst themselves about how awful the Right is, the exercise is pretty harmless. If anything, the danger is to themselves, as they could begin to mistake their little bubble for reality. But, for instance, our friend Rick Perlstein was on the list and, in the meantime, he also had his own list of pet conservatives from whom he'd gather the opposing viewpoints. So there's nothing wrong with the list per se. Nor does this seem like a conspiracy to shape the news, no matter how much a few participants might have wished it to be one.

On the other hand, it's awfully hard to take seriously the indignation of the participants and their friends that the contents of the list leaked. One struggles to recall any of them expressing similar concerns when the press has been the recipient of leaks regarding conversations within government, business, the political parties etc. And it won't do to claim that they are private figures. We afford the Press certain special rights and privileges precisely because it serves a public or quasi-public function. Just as they often expose what people thought were private communications, because they believe there is a news value inherent to those communications, so too must they live with the fact that their own communications may be newsworthy. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Damage control: As the deadline for the referendum on independence for southern Sudan approaches, fears are growing that the country could be dragged back to war, writes Dina Ezzat, 7/20/10, Al-Ahram)

Scheduled to take place in January, the referendum was a central component of the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed less than six years ago, after a brutal two- decade war between the north and south. It included a clause calling on all parties to work towards making the choice of unity attractive for the people of southern Sudan. The Khartoum regime -- predominantly Islamist -- and Arab countries, predominantly in favour of the continued unity of Sudan, failed to act on the clause. The result according to Arab, Western, African and Chinese diplomats, is that the south will vote overwhelmingly for independence.

The liberation of the South was one of W's less recognized achievements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Whitening Cities' Roofs Is Environmental Equivalent of Taking 300 Million Cars Off the Road, DoE Study Says (Rebecca Boyle, 07.21.2010, Popular Science)

Whitening the world's roofs would offset the emissions of the world's cars for 20 years, according to a new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Overall, installing lighter-colored roofs and pavement can cancel the heat effect of two years of global carbon dioxide emissions, Berkeley Lab says. It's the first roof-cooling study to use a global model to examine the issue. [...]

Lightening-up roofs and pavement can offset 57 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, about double the amount the world emitted in 2006, the study found. It was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Former Agriculture Department Official Denies Racism, Is Backed By Fuller Video (Jake Tapper, July 20, 2010, Political Punch)

Left out of the story’s race throughout the media world, at least in its initial few laps, were the facts that the incident in question took place in 1986 when she worked for a non-profit, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Sherrod’s larger argument was that her involvement with the white farmers in question -- Roger and Eloise Spooner from Iron City, Ga. -- made her realize a larger lesson. As she said in a different part of the video splice, “it was revealed to me that it’s about the poor versus those who have.”

Or, as she told ABC News Tuesday afternoon, she tells the story to share with people “how I grew. What happened to me while I worked for that farmer -- it helped me to see that it’s not about race, you know, we need to move beyond that.”

But back then, why would she look at white farmers differently than she did at black farmers?

“Because I always – up to that point – I felt they had all the advantages,” Sherrod said. “Until I started working with that farmer, I didn’t think white farmers were treated like black farmers were treated by the agency….There are a few of them who get treated like black farmers.”

For decades, black farmers have said the Agriculture Department unfairly denied them loans or took much longer to process their loans. A class-action lawsuit against the Department followed. Earlier this year, the Obama administration agreed to a $1.25 billion settlement.

Sherrod’s story, she says, was to argue that race shouldn’t matter. [...]

“It never, never crossed my mind,” Roger Spooner told ABC News. “Never crossed my mind. Me and the wife, we never, we never, we never saw that at all. Absolutely. It’s unbelievable.”

Spooner told ABC News today that without Sherrod he would have lost the farm.

”If we had not found her, me and my wife -- we went checking here and yonder and everywhere -- if it hadn’t been for her, we’d of lost. It was just a matter of a few months and we would have lost it.”

On Tuesday evening, the NAACP posted a more complete video of Sherrod's remarks, and the longer version supports her story. The fuller video shows her telling the story about how the white lawyer to whom she introduced Spooner did little to help him, with Spooner calling her to tell her "the lawyer wasn't doing anything."

So Sherrod helped him. "Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't," she said. "You know, and that they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people, those who don't have access the way others have." "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Obama’s Overdue AIDS Bill (DESMOND TUTU, 7/20/10, NY Times)

George W. Bush made an impressive commitment to the international fight against AIDS when he formed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program. Since 2004, Pepfar has spent $19 billion to help distribute anti-viral treatments to about 2.5 million Africans infected with H.I.V.

Thanks to these efforts — and similar initiatives, like those spearheaded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — the number of African patients with access to AIDS drugs jumped tenfold from 2003 to 2008. Since 2004, the AIDS-related mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped 18 percent.

Yet President Obama added only $366 million to the program this year — well below the $1 billion per year he promised to add when he was on the campaign trail. (Pepfar’s total budget now stands at $7 billion.) Most of the countries in Pepfar will see no increase in aid.

Under the Bush administration, about 400,000 more African patients received treatment every year. President Obama’s Pepfar strategy would reduce the number of new patients receiving treatment to 320,000 — resulting in 1.2 million avoidable deaths over the next five years, according to calculations by two Harvard researchers, Rochelle Walensky and Daniel Kuritzkes. Doctors would have to decide which of the 22 million Africans afflicted with H.I.V. should receive treatment and which should not.

Bush Lite is less filling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


There's a good idea in Cameron's 'big society' screaming to get out: Labour must seize this flawed initiative from the Tories, reclaim its Labour origins and then set about improving it (Jonathan Freedland, 7/21/10, guardian.co.uk)

Ed Miliband wasted no time, branding the big society – which hopes to see citizens, local communities, voluntary groups and philanthropists take on tasks currently performed by central government – a return to "a 19th-century or US-style view of our welfare state", comparisons that were not meant as compliments. Yet insults and sniggers, however enjoyable, might not be the right response. For this is a rare case of the wrong person at the wrong time and in the wrong way delivering the right idea – an idea that Labour and the left would be foolish to reject.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


The blues: GOP has little shot at Senate (DAVID CATANESE | 7/21/10, Politico)

The Republican path to a Senate majority runs through a handful of hostile states, most of which are so deep blue that they haven’t sent a member to the upper chamber in more than a decade.

Boiled down, the problem is this: The first six or seven seats of the 10 necessary for a takeover are within the GOP’s grasp. Winning the final three or four, however, will require something close to a historic wave. [...]

Republicans are well-positioned to pick up seats in North Dakota, Indiana and Delaware — where incumbent Democrats are retiring — and in Arkansas, where polls show Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln far behind in her reelection bid. And the GOP is going toe to toe in traditional battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Colorado and Nevada.

But the hard slog for the GOP will most likely come down to a batch of blue states that Barack Obama carried with ease two years ago: Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and California.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Democrats to Propose Extending Bush's Middle-Class Tax Cuts (Jay Newton-Small, 7/21/10, TIME)

Senate Democrats will soon advance a plan to make permanent President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts for middle-class Americans earning less than $200,000, but let the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire, two Senate party aides said Tuesday. They will also propose to reinstate a 45% estate tax on individuals for the next two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The 'Tax Expenditure' Solution for Our National Debt: The credits and subsidies that make the tax code so complicated cost big bucks. Reduce them by third and the debt will be 72% of GDP in 2020 instead of 90%. (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, 7/20/10, WSJ)

When it comes to spending cuts, Congress is looking in the wrong place. Most federal nondefense spending, other than Social Security and Medicare, is now done through special tax rules rather than by direct cash outlays. The rules are used to subsidize a wide range of spending including education, child care, health insurance, and a myriad of other congressional favorites.

These tax rules—because they result in the loss of revenue that would otherwise be collected by the government—are equivalent to direct government expenditures. That's why tax and budget experts refer to them as "tax expenditures." [...]

Neither party has focused on controlling this kind of spending. Democrats are reluctant to cut such programs, because once built into the tax law they don't have to be reauthorized each year, but remain on the books unless they are repealed. Income limits on the taxpayers who can take these deductions or tax credits allow Congress to target the benefits to lower-income groups. Moreover, many tax expenditures are refundable, so the government sends the individual a check for the benefit even if he owes no tax. Democrats can thus cleverly avoid the traditional accusation of being the party of "tax and spend."

Republicans also are reluctant to cut these tax perks, because they regard the additional revenue collected by the federal government as a "tax increase"—even though the increased revenue is really the effect of a de facto spending cut. A Republican who would vote to cut or eliminate an ordinary spending program therefore won't do so if it is packaged as a tax benefit.

But eliminating tax expenditures does not increase marginal tax rates or reduce the reward for saving, investment or risk-taking. It would also increase overall economic efficiency by removing incentives that distort private spending decisions. And eliminating or consolidating the large number of overlapping tax-based subsidies would also greatly simplify tax filing. In short, cutting tax expenditures is not at all like other ways of raising revenue.

July 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Palestinian jailed for rape after claiming to be Jewish (Adrian Blomfield, 20 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

A court in Jerusalem has made international legal history by jailing Sabbar Kashur, a 30-year-old delivery man from East Jerusalem, for 18 months.

He was convicted of "rape by deception" following a criminal trial that has drawn criticism from across Israel.

The court heard accusations that Mr Kashur misled the woman, whose identity has not been disclosed, by introducing himself with the traditionally Jewish name during a chance encounter on a street in central Jerusalem in 2008.

After striking up a conversation, the two went into a top-floor room of a nearby office-block and engaged in a sexual encounter, after which Mr Kashur left before the woman had a chance to get dressed. It was only later that she discovered Mr Kashur's true racial background, lawyers said.

Although conceding that the sex was consensual, district court judge Tzvi Segal concluded that the law had a duty to protect women from "smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


From Drop Box

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Rivals unite to stop al Maliki staying as PM (Phil Sands, July 20. 2010, The National)

Mr Allawi, the leader of the Iraqiyya bloc that narrowly won Iraq’s March elections, and Mr al Sadr, the head of the powerful grassroots Sadr movement agreed to a broad set of principles as a result of their discussions, according to Ahmed al Dulaimi, an Iraqiyya official.

Perhaps most critically, they united in refusing to allow Iraq’s current prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, to stay in office for another term, Mr al Dulaimi said.

“They [Mr Allawi and Mr al Sadr] agreed there must be a peaceful hand-over of power and that authority would be divided up in a way that respected the election results,” he said yesterday. “They also agreed to speed up efforts in forming a new government and that there must be no renewal for Nouri al Maliki as prime minister.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


The Alien Among Us: A Conservative Christian Perspective (Jonathan Moore, July 19, 2010, Ignatius Insight)

[C]lear solutions to the conundrum are difficult to arrive at. What we can get at, however, is a broad set of principles (which some Christian conservatives have a difficult time grasping) that policy makers should consider in any reform effort to construct a rational, God-honoring immigration law.

1) God created man in his own image, and as such, human beings need to be treated in a compassionate, loving manner.

As God’s image bearers, humanity has intrinsic, literally God-like value, and should be cherished.

The Bible has much to say about how to treat God’s image bearers, even when they are foreigners. For instance, in Leviticus 19:33-34, the children of Israel are taught to love the alien in their midst as they would one of their own: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.”

In short, a moral and just immigration policy should reflect God’s attitude towards immigrants. To paraphrase Kepler, man is at his best when he “thinks God’s thoughts after him.”

One of the most loving ways to decrease global poverty is to create new opportunities for people to work themselves out of poverty and provide for their families.

Few foreigners have opportunities to care for their families in their home country like they would in the United States. Allowing them to come to here to better their lives is a Christ-like option.

2) The more people, the better.

Conservatives hold this to be true in matters such as abortion, eugenics, and forced sterilization. More people produce more goods and services for society. Even those deemed a “drain” on society should be valued.

Yet on immigration, many conservatives find themselves on the same side of the issue as people who have values diametrically opposed to their own; population-control advocates.

In a puzzling twist, conservatives have recently found themselves using the same rhetoric as zero-population-growth advocates, arguing that allowing more people to enter this country is a net loss for society due to increased unemployment, increased consumption of social services, etc. They would never accept the same arguments as justification for ending the lives of (or deporting) disabled children, the elderly, or other individuals who consume more societal resources than they contribute.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


Message Control: Is Obama’s White House tighter than Bush’s? (Clint Hendler, July/August 2010, CJR)

Message control is central to every administration, and it would have been naïve to expect much else. But the Obama White House has actually regressed in some troubling ways. For instance, Obama has been far less available for questioning by journalists than even President Bush, who was openly contemptuous of the press. And accommodations on off-the-record background briefings and White House photo releases—both forged in the wake of significant press failures in the run-up to the Iraq war—have eroded since Obama took office.

Photo releases, where shots taken by the official White House photographer are offered to news outlets, are nothing new. But photojournalists have long been irked when such photos are the only images of an event that could have easily been made public. In 2005, after an increase in presidential events from which they were excluded, the White House News Photographers Association allied with other press organizations and successfully pressed the Bush White House to routinely allow photographers back in. “We won the access under the Bush administration, and it has been taken away under the Obama administration,” says Ron Sachs, who chairs the association’s advocacy committee. He pointed to a series of recent incidents, including the decision to bar photographers from Obama’s February 18 meeting with the Dalai Lama in favor of releasing a single, no-smiles still taken by Pete Souza, the official White House photographer.

It wouldn’t take much to let the photographic pool into the room for half a minute, thereby producing dozens of shots for editors to choose from. Instead, the only record of official White House business is often a single frame, curated by the president’s staff in accordance with the administration’s message of the day.

Message control is enhanced by eliminating instances when the president is forced to answer inconvenient questions—and possibly provide inconvenient answers. Remember the very real national distraction that ensued after Obama suggested at a July 2009 press conference that the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police had “stupidly” arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his home? That was Obama’s last formal press conference after a remarkable opening string. In February, shortly after The Washington Post and The New York Times published pieces pointing out the drought, Obama made a surprise half-hour visit to the briefing room. Besides that, he went without a White House press conference until late May—309 days.

For White House reporters the absence of informal opportunities to question the president is at least as galling as the dearth of formal sessions. Richard Stevenson, who covered the Bush administration for The New York Times, says it was routine for reporters to be allowed to ask the president questions—often several times a week—when they were ushered into the Oval Office for quick pool sprays or in other less regimented settings. “It wasn’t an extensive give-and-take, but he did take questions quite frequently,” says Stevenson, now the paper’s deputy Washington bureau chief. “Obama has almost completely stopped doing that.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM

Robert Randolph And The Family Band In Concert (XPN, 7/20/10)

[T-Bone] Burnett , an auteur of "roots music" production and the man behind the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Robert Plant's collaboration with Alison Krauss, produced Randolph's new record, We Walk This Road. The two aimed to survey the past hundred years of African-American music (with originals, covers and traditional tunes), then sculpt Randolph's sound to set all of the songs in the present. We Walk This Road is Randolph's most ambitious album to date, and you can hear many of its songs (and even a Lady Gaga cover) in Randolph's festival-capping performance at WXPN's XPoNential Music Festival.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Times loses almost 90% of online readership (Josh Halliday, 7/20/10, guardian.co.uk)

The Times has lost almost 90% of its online readership compared to February since making registration mandatory in June, calculations by the Guardian show.

Unregistered users of thetimes.co.uk are now "bounced" to a Times+ membership page where they have to register if they want to view Times content. Data from the web metrics company Experian Hitwise shows that only 25.6% of such users sign up and proceed to a Times web page; based on custom categories (created at the Guardian) that have been used to track the performance of major UK press titles online, visits to the Times site have fallen to 4.16% of UK quality press online traffic, compared with 15% before it made registration compulsory on 15 June.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


A Staunch and Self-Confident Ally: We have a clear common agenda: succeeding in Afghanistan, securing economic growth and fighting protectionism. (David Cameron, 7/20/10, WSJ)

There are three sets of critics who seem to fret incessantly about the relationship: those who question the whole concept, those who say it is no longer "special," and those fixated on form rather than substance. Each of them is misguided.

The first group seems to view America as some sort of "evil empire," a country that is too powerful, that does nothing but sow discord in the world. They say Britain should have much less to do with America. I say they are just plain wrong.

The U.S. is a formidable force for good. Together we fought fascism, stood up to communism, and championed democracy. Today we are combating international terrorism, pressing for peace in the Middle East, working for an Iran without the bomb, and tackling climate change and global poverty.

Then there are those who claim the U.S.-U.K. relationship was special once but not any longer. They argue that the U.S. doesn't care about Britain because we don't bring enough to the table. This attitude overlooks our unique relations across the world—throughout the Gulf States and with India and Pakistan, not to mention the strong ties with China and our links through the Commonwealth with Africa and Australia. There's also the professionalism and bravery of our servicemen and women who have spent much of their careers serving alongside Americans in the world's combat zones. And the skill and close relationship of our intelligence agencies.

Finally, there are those who over-analyze the atmospherics around the relationship. They forensically compute the length of meetings; whether it's a brush-by or a full bilateral; the number of mentions in a president's speech; dissecting the location and grandeur of the final press conference—fretting even over whether you're standing up or sitting down together. This sort of Kremlinology might have had its place in interpreting our relations with Moscow during the Cold War. It is absurd to apply it to our oldest and staunchest ally.

The folks at The Box have started a new site, The Empire, with torrents from the colonies. One of the first things you notice if you watch a little bit of Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, British, American tv is how few differences there are amongst us. At the end of the day, we're too similar for the atmospherics between temporary leaders to matter to our alliances.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Ayn Rand: Architect of the culture of death: No philosopher ever proposed a more simple and straightforward view of life than the one Ayn Rand urges upon us. (DONALD DEMARCO, National Catholic Register)

Throughout the course of history, according to Ayn Rand, there have been three general views of morality. The first two are mystical, which, for Rand, means fictitious, or non-objective. The third is objective, something that can be verified by the senses. Initially, a mystical view reigned, in which the source of morality was believed to be God's will. This is not compatible either with Rand's atheism, or her objectivism. In due course, a neo-mystical view held sway, in which the "good of society" replaced the "will of God. The essential defect of this view, like the first, is that it does not correlate with an objective reality. "There is no such entity as 'society,'" she avers. And since only individuals really exist, the so-called "good of society" degenerates into a state where "some men are ethically entitled to pursue any whims (or any atrocities) they desire to pursue, while other men are ethically obliged to spend their lives in the service of that gang's desires."

Only the third view of morality is realistic and worthwhile. This is Rand's objectivism, a philosophy that is centred exclusively on the individual. It is the individual alone that is real, objective, and the true foundation for ethics. Therefore, Rand can postulate the basic premise of her philosophy: "The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A – and Man is Man."

An individual belongs to himself as an individual. He does not belong, in any measure, to God or to society. A corollary of Rand's basic premise is that "altruism," or the sacrifice of one's only reality – one's individuality – for a reality other than the self, is necessarily self-destructive and therefore immoral. This is why she can say that "altruism holds death as its ultimate goal and standard of value." On the other hand, individualism, cultivated through the "virtue of selfishness," is the only path to life. "Life," she insists, "can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action." Man's destiny is to be a "self-made soul."

Man, therefore, has a "right to life." But Rand does not mean by this statement that he has a "right to life" that others have a duty to defend and support. Such a concept of "right to life" implies a form of "altruism," and consequently is contrary to the good of the individual. In fact, for Rand, it constitutes a form of slavery. "No man," she emphasizes, "can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as 'the right to enslave.'" Moreover, there are no rights of special groups, since a group is not an individual reality. As a result, she firmly denies that groups such as the "unborn," "farmers," "businessmen," and so forth, have any rights whatsoever.

Her notion of a "right to life" begins and ends with the individual. In this sense, "right to life" means the right of the individual to pursue, through the rational use of his power of choice, whatever he needs in order to sustain and cultivate his existence. "An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is evil." As Rand has John Galt tell her readers, "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence." Man's existence must stay in existence. This is the mandate of the individual and the utility of the virtue of selfishness. Non-existence is the result of altruism and careens toward death. Making sacrifices for one's born or unborn children, one's elderly parents or other family members becomes anathema for Ayn Rand. She wants a Culture of Life to emerge, but she envisions that culture solely in terms of individuals choosing selfishly, the private goods of their own existence. If ever the anthem for a pro-choice philosophy has been recorded, it comes from the pen of Ayn Rand: "Man has to be man – by choice; he has to hold his life as a value – by choice; he has to learn to sustain it – by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practise his virtues – by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality."

No philosopher ever proposed a more simple and straightforward view of life than the one Ayn Rand urges upon us. Man=Man; Existence = Existence; only individuals are real; all forms of altruism are inherently evil. There are no nuances or paradoxes. There is no wisdom. There is no depth. Complex issues divide reality into simple dichotomies. There is individualism and altruism, and nothing in between. Despite the apparent superficiality of her philosophy, Rand considered herself history's greatest philosopher after Aristotle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


To Protest Hiring of Nonunion Help, Union Hires Nonunion Pickets (Jennifer Levitz, 7/16/10, The Wall Street Journal)

Billy Raye, a 51-year-old unemployed bike courier, is looking for work.

Fortunately for him, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters is seeking paid demonstrators to march and chant in its current picket line outside the McPherson Building, an office complex here where the council says work is being done with nonunion labor.

"For a lot of our members, it's really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else," explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.

So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines.

July 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Head for the Hills? No Way, He Says (JEFF SOMMER, 7/19/10, NY Times)

Now a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Siegel, 64, knows that not everyone shares this passion — but says he believes that nearly everyone should invest in the stock market and keep their money there as long as they can. [...]

As for the stock market, Professor Siegel said, “there is every reason to believe that mean reversion will continue” — that is, that despite sometimes excruciating declines, the market over the long run will produce average real returns of more than 6 percent annually. “The shocks of the recent past shouldn’t alter investors’ belief in the future,” he said.

The spine of “Stocks for the Long Run” was a study of the United States market going back to 1802, using data from several sources. Over that period, he found that the stock market outperformed every other asset class. In stretches as long as 20 years — including the last 10 and 20 years, according to data provided to Sunday Business by Morningstar — long-term government bonds have sometimes outperformed stocks. But as holding periods lengthened, he found, the stock market has almost always pulled ahead. Other studies have found similar results in other countries.

Emphasizing dividend-paying value stocks and investing globally will bolster your chances, he said.

What’s more, when stocks are cheaper than average, as measured by the price-to-earnings ratio, positive returns became more probable in subsequent years. That is very encouraging for the current market, in which earnings have been rising despite widespread skepticism, keeping the P/E of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index at a modest level. Based on consensus estimates, it stands at 13. That compares with an annual average of 15.2 since 1945, he said.

If post-World War II patterns hold for the future, he calculated last week, prospects for stock investments are excellent: there would be a 96.6 percent probability of a positive return for the next 5 years, going up to 100 percent for 10- and 20-year periods. Average real returns would be stellar — about 11 percent annually in holding periods from 1 to 20 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


African experience converts a socialist (Jay Ambrose, July 18, 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel)

Martin Fisher was a socialist. It didn't work. He gave it up. He became an entrepreneur, someone selling a product. This did work to the tune of improving the lives of a half million African farmers, something worth noting at a time when free enterprise is in desperate conflict with Obama-style statism.

Told on a recent PBS "NewsHour" and related in more detail on the Internet, the Fisher narrative is about an extraordinary altruist taking his Ph.D. in applied mechanics to Kenya and struggling to relieve poverty through such means as building free, large-scale water projects. When later checking progress, he found there had been none.

His efforts had come to almost nothing.

So Fisher and others in a nonprofit organization known as KickStart rethought what they were doing. They decided the African families mainly needed to get more cash in their pockets and began inventing and selling cheap, sturdy, simple irrigation pumps that could make family businesses bloom.

These efforts came to something big.

"I went over to Africa as a socialist and came - after about five or six years of hitting my head against the wall, became a small-c capitalist," he said on PBS. The large-scale irrigation programs weren't successful, he said, because they killed "local initiative" and "the local private sector." Something else: "People don't really appreciate things that they get given. They don't use them fully."

"If we buy something," Fisher said, "we're going to make sure we use that thing, and especially when you're poor."

Martin Fisher: 2008 winner of the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability (Winners' Circle, Lemelson MIT)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


David Cameron launches his Big Society (Rosa Prince, 18 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Local communities will get the power and money to run bus services, set up broadband internet networks and take over neighbourhood recycling schemes under a mass transfer of power from the state to the people, David Cameron will announce on Monday.

In his first major speech on the theme of the “Big Society” since winning the election, the Prime Minister will announce the “biggest redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street”.

Mr Cameron - who is keen to present his administration as offering optimistics new policies that are not just about cuts - will say that the “liberation” of volunteers and activists to help their own communities is the vision which drives his premiership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


We the Living by Ayn Rand (John Gray - 19 July 2010, The New Statesman).

In her foreword to We the Living, written for its republication in 1959 and reprinted in the new Penguin edition, Rand tells the reader that in some places she has "reworded the sentences and clarified their meaning, without changing their content. All the changes are merely editorial line-changes. The novel remains what and as it was." Her insistence that nothing of substance has been blanked out is disingenuous, to say the least. The first edition has long been a rare book. Years ago, coming across a copy while browsing in the stacks of an American university library, I was amused to read passages that had disappeared in the second edition. Most have faded from memory, but Wikipedia reminds me of some of them. The heroine tells a Bolshevik admirer, "I admire your methods. I loathe your ideals", and later asks him, "What are the masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?" One of the few writers of fiction to succeed in making the Bolsheviks seem attractive, Rand did not hate the new Soviet regime because it oppressed the masses. She hated it because she believed it did not oppress the masses enough.

The Nietzschean quality of the deleted passages is not accidental. She belonged to a generation of young Russians whose view of the world was shaped largely by Nietzsche. Just about every literate Russian teenager had read or heard about the excitable German thinker. Where Rand was original was in transmuting his ideas, in her later work, into an American myth. Nietzsche's absurd Superman became a heroic entrepreneur - John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, for example - and an explicitly elitist ideology merged with the American folk religion of laissez-faire capitalism.

Reprocessed as Americanised myth, Rand's vulgar-Nietzschean world-view fuelled a publishing phenomenon (Atlas Shrugged has sold millions). More significantly, her bizarre confection had some influence on US public policy. Greenspan may have deviated from the strict Randian faith, but he retained one of its craziest tenets: get rid of government interference, and freedom and prosperity will inevitably follow. As much as reckless greed, it was this ideology that led to the crash whose first act has been playing out over the past two years.

Rand is easily mocked - and rightly so - but the type of thinking she exemplified is to be found not only on the right. Her capitalist superman is a ludicrous conception, but no more so than Trotsky's idea that, in a future socialist society, the human animal would be replaced by a higher species whose average member, he predicted, would far exceed Aristotle in abilities. It is childish to argue, as right-wing ideologues do, that the failures of global capitalism derive from there never having been a truly free market; but it is just as silly to maintain that the horrors of Soviet communism occurred only because real socialism never existed in Russia. In each case, disaster predictably followed from attempting to impose a dream of reason on society.

Left-wing progressives are not as remote from Rand as they like to think. They also aim to remake society through reason. And they, too, dream of turning the shifts and turns of history into a rational dance.

Which is why Whittaker Chambers had her number.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


Obama Gains Evangelical Allies on Immigration (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, 7/19/10, NY Times)

“I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order,” said Matthew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm. “There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.”

When President Obama gave a major address pushing immigration overhaul this month, he was introduced by a prominent evangelical, the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Three other evangelical pastors were in the audience, front and center.

Their presence was a testament, in part, to the work of politically active Hispanic evangelical pastors, who have forged friendships with non-Hispanic pastors in recent years while working in coalitions to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. The Hispanics made a concerted effort to convince their brethren that immigration reform should be a moral and practical priority.

Hispanic storefront churches are popping up in strip malls, and Spanish-speaking congregations are renting space in other churches. Some pastors, like Mr. Hybels, lead churches that include growing numbers of Hispanics. Several evangelical leaders said they were convinced that Hispanics are the key to growth not only for the evangelical movement, but also for the social conservative movement.

“Hispanics are religious, family-oriented, pro-life, entrepreneurial,” said the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm. “They are hard-wired social conservatives, unless they’re driven away.

“I’ve had some older conservative leaders say: ‘Richard, stop this. You’re going to split the conservative coalition,’ ” Dr. Land continued. “I say it might split the old conservative coalition, but it won’t split the new one. And if the new one is going to be a governing coalition, it’s going to have to have a lot of Hispanics in it. And you don’t get a lot of Hispanics in your coalition by engaging in anti-Hispanic anti-immigration rhetoric.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 AM

50 in '10:

GOP Sees Path to Control of Senate (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 7/19/10, WSJ)

Democrats for the first time are acknowledging that Republicans could retake the Senate this November if everything falls into place for the GOP, less than two years after Democrats held a daunting 60-seat majority. [...]

As the races warmed up this spring and summer, Republicans raised more money than Democrats. In a dozen of the closest Senate contests reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the GOP candidates as a group claimed 58% of contributions raised during the three-month period ending June 30. Democrats in those races, as a group, had a slim lead in total cash on hand.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who lost his seat to onetime comedian Al Franken in 2008, is CEO of American Action Network, a conservative group that is spending about $750,000 to defeat three-term Sen. Patty Murray in Washington State. "Races like Wisconsin, California and Washington are clearly in play," Mr. Coleman said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 AM


Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control (Dana Priest and William Arkin, 7/19/10, Washington Post)

"There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that - not just for the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], but for any individual, for the director of the CIA, for the secretary of defense - is a challenge," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post last week.

In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.

"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.

"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.

...precisely because no one is ever going to see it. In all those paranoid movies where the government follows everything you do all day, it seems never to occur to anyone that each of us would require multiple agents observing us, who would each require numerous agents observing them, who would require....

July 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Yankees Reportedly Weighing Bid for Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur (Andrew Johnson, 7/18/10, MLB Fanhouse)

The New York Yankees are considering making an ownership bid for soccer club Tottenham Hotspur F.C. of the English Premier League, according to a report in the Daily Star, a British tabloid.

With control of the Yankees now in the hands of George Steinbrenner's sons Hal and Hank -- the latter of whom played soccer in college -- the pair could lodge a £450 million pound (roughly $687 million) bid for the club, known in England as Spurs, said the Star.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Boeing Dreamliner makes first overseas landing; completes first flight outside US (Kyle Peterson, 7/18/10, Reuters)

Boeing Co's new 787 Dreamliner touched down in Britain on Sunday on its first trip outside the United States, thrilling hordes of eager planespotters who came out to see the breakthrough carbon-composite plane. [...]

Test pilot Mike Bryan told reporters that landing on Farnborough's "short" runway after the nine-hour flight reminded him of his time landing on aircraft carriers in the Navy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Fear drives many illegal immigrants from Mexico to Oklahoma: Mexican nationals appear to be entering Oklahoma illegally as steadily as ever for work, family and sanctuary from a violent homeland. They come despite a sagging economy and anti-immigration sentiments. (RON JACKSON, 7/18/10, Oklahoman)

The Rev. Michael Chapman, pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church near downtown Oklahoma City, likens the migration trend to "a flowing river.”

"I see new faces every week,” Chapman said. "Generally, they have some sort of family tie to the parish — a brother, a sister, a cousin.”

Chapman suspects all the 600 parish families either know or are related to an illegal immigrant. [...]

Jessica's story is typical of countless others living in Oklahoma illegally. She left Mexico last year at the mere whisper of opportunity.

Last summer she worked 12-hour days as a waitress in Monterrey, riding several hours to and from work on a bus. Loved ones feared for her safety, let alone her future.

"My father begged me to come to the United States,” said Jessica, who asked that her last name not be used.

"He said I could go to school and get an education. For years, he has lived in Oklahoma, but has been nothing more to me than a photograph and a voice on the phone. Finally, I decided to go.”

Clutching fake documents, Jessica crossed the border checkpoints undetected. She reunited with her father who had been living in Oklahoma illegally for years. Today she attends an Oklahoma City high school and dreams of becoming a teacher. The dream is a long shot given her immigration status, but one she clings to nonetheless.

But her motivation to live in Oklahoma is ultimately fueled by something more fundamental.

"Why did I come?” Jessica said. Tears fell from her cheeks as she paused and then answered, "Family.”

Miguel Banuelrs is arguably as connected to his community as anyone. He owns a meat market, bakery and money wire service at NW 29 Street and Western Avenue in south Oklahoma City, an area saturated in Hispanic culture.

One can buy authentic Hispanic food from aging trucks parked along NW 29, or gaze at storefront windows decorated with colorful pinatas, Spanish signs and Mexican flags.

Mostly, onlookers will see a neighborhood teeming with people. They are working as cooks, maids, janitors, masons, landscapers and roofers, and according to Banuelrs, traveling from previous stops in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and even Arizona where Senate Bill 1070 has illegal immigrants fearful.

Banuelrs saw a different neighborhood after the passage of Oklahoma's HB 1804.

"People were scared,” he said. "A lot of people left. Those who stayed wouldn't go outside. I lost 25 percent of my business.”

Times have again changed. The fear has subsided. Banuelrs points to Fridays as a good indication of the local activity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Changing Stance, Administration Now Defends Insurance Mandate as a Tax (ROBERT PEAR, 7/16/10, NY Times)

In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is “a valid exercise” of Congress’s power to impose taxes.

Congress can use its taxing power “even for purposes that would exceed its powers under other provisions” of the Constitution, the department said. For more than a century, it added, the Supreme Court has held that Congress can tax activities that it could not reach by using its power to regulate commerce.

While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.

“For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase,” the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week.”

When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, “I absolutely reject that notion.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Either Reagan or George W. Bush could shape the fall election (David S. Broder, July 18, 2010, Washington Post)

Unprompted, only 25 percent of voters in this survey said that they think that if Republicans regain a majority it will signal a return to Bush's economic policies. By comparison, 65 percent say that a Republican Congress would promote "a new economic agenda that is different" from Bush's.

The difference is dramatic when Bush enters the equation. Obama's economic agenda is preferred over Bush's by 49 percent to 34 percent. But a generic conservative approach, pitting a leader "who will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy" beats one committed to sticking with Obama's policies, 64 percent to 30 percent. [...]

One question in the Third Way poll asked which path voters prefer to jump-start private-sector job creation and economic growth -- new government investments or cutting taxes on business?

Cutting taxes on business won 54 percent to 32 percent. This sounds to me like Ronald Reagan returning to whomp Barack Obama.

...W was in reality what Reagan was only rhetorically, especially on taxes, which The Gipper raised repeatedly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


For many pregnant Chinese, a U.S. passport for baby remains a powerful lure (Keith B. Richburg, 7/18/10, Washington Post)

What can $1,475 buy you in modern China? Not a Tiffany diamond or a mini-sedan, say Robert Zhou and Daisy Chao. But for that price, they guarantee you something more lasting, with unquestioned future benefits: a U.S. passport and citizenship for your new baby.

Zhou and Chao, a husband and wife from Taiwan who now live in Shanghai, run one of China's oldest and most successful consultancies helping well-heeled expectant Chinese mothers travel to the United States to give birth. [...]

At a time when China is prospering and the common perception of America here is of an empire in economic decline, the proliferation of U.S. baby services shows that for many Chinese, a U.S. passport nevertheless remains a powerful lure. The United States is widely seen as more of a meritocracy than China, where getting into a good university or landing a high-paying job often depends on personal connections.

"They believe that with U.S. citizenship, their children can have a more fair competitive environment," Zhou said.

No one but pols, pundits and paranoids believes China has a future.

July 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 AM


Man with neo-Nazi ties leading patrols in AZ (MICHELLE PRICE, 07/17/2010, AP)

Jason “J.T.” Ready is taking matters into his own hands, declaring war on “narco-terrorists” and keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants. So far, he says his patrols have only found a few border crossers who were given water and handed over to the Border Patrol. Once, they also found a decaying body in a wash, and alerted authorities.

But local law enforcement are nervous given that Ready’s group is heavily armed and identifies with the National Socialist Movement, an organization that believes only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should be American citizens and that everyone who isn’t white should leave the country “peacefully or by force.”

“We’re not going to sit around and wait for the government anymore,” Ready said. “This is what our founding fathers did.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Reagan Embraced Free Trade and Immigration (Daniel Griswold, June 24, 2004, Cato.org)

Reagan's words and deeds regarding immigration were equally expansive. At a ceremony at Ellis Island in 1982, he spoke movingly of immigrants who "possessed a determination that with hard work and freedom, they would live a better life and their children even more so." As with trade, Reagan's record on immigration was mixed. He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which included stepped up border enforcement and sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. But that legislation also legalized 2.8 million undocumented workers. More immigrants entered the United States legally under President Reagan's watch than under any previous U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt.

Like President George W. Bush today, Reagan had the good sense and compassion to see illegal immigrants not as criminals but as human beings striving to build better lives through honest work. In a radio address in 1977, he noted that apples were rotting on trees in New England because no Americans were willing to pick them. "It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won't do?" Reagan asked. "One thing is certain in this hungry world; no regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters."

In his farewell address to the nation in January 1989, Reagan beautifully wove his view of free trade and immigration into his vision of a free society: "I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here."

Compare Reagan's hopeful, expansive, and inclusive view of America with the dour, crabbed, and exclusive view that characterizes certain conservatives who would claim his mantle. Their view of the world could not be more alien to the spirit of Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan, June 1952 (from a commencement address at Williams Woods College, one of the oldest surviving speeches of Reagan's)
"I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM

Fretful Porcupine

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Religious conservatives want immigration reform (Eric Marrapodi, 6/09/10, CNN)

"A significant part of our churches and denominations are part of the immigrant community so we have a very close connection and a very great interest," Leith Anderson, president of the influential lobbying group National Association of Evangelicals, said Wednesday, " ... but our interest is really rooted in what the bible teaches how we treat people and how we treat particularly people who are aliens or strangers in the land."

Anderson's group last year authored a resolution in favor of reform using biblical immigrants Abraham, Joseph, Naomi, Mary and Jesus. Their examples, the group said, "reveal God's hand in the movement of people and are illustrations of faith and God in difficult circumstances."

"The issue is one that affects us as a congregation," said Rich Nathan, senior pastor at the Vineyard Church in Columbus, Ohio, noting that his church of 8,500 members includes congregants born in 92 countries. "It's not just an abstraction."

"I'm aware of no other public policy issue that would join together mainline (denominations), Roman Catholic, evangelicals, right and left across the spectrum," Nathan said. "Abortion divides us, gay rights divide us, war and peace divides us, but comprehensive immigration reform unites us."

Mat Staver, director of the Liberty Center for Law and Policy at Liberty University in Falls Church, Virginia, said all the groups represented shared two common goals: border security and a just and compassionate immigration policy.

"We believe there should be a pathway for earned legal status and or citizenship for those seeking to do so," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


FREE E-BOOK: Liberty or Equality by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (Mises.org, March 2, 2007)

Sometime in the 18th century, the word equality gained ground as a political ideal, but the idea was always vague. In this treatise, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn argues that it reduced to one simple and very dangerous idea: equality of political power as embodied in democracy. He marshals the strongest possible case that democratic equality is the very basis not of liberty, as is commonly believed, but the total state.

He uses national socialism as his prime example. He further argues the old notion of government by law is upheld in old monarchies, restrained by a noble elite. Aristocracy, not democracy, gave us liberty. On his side in this argument, he includes the whole of the old liberal tradition, and offers overwhelming evidence for his case. In our times, war and totalitarianism do indeed sail under the democratic flag.

Mr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is not the easiest of authors--he tends to be so bursting with ideas that he can overwhelm--but he makes for rewarding reading.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Flawless Spain are a footballing pain: I blame the English parents (Simon Burnton, 7/16/10, The Guardian)

[I]t has recently become apparent that football isn't the greatest sport at all. Worse, it wasn't any good in the first place.

It turns out that football is only enjoyable when most people are no good at it. We enjoy watching brilliant wingers mesmerise outclassed full-backs. We applaud great sides as they destroy inferior rivals. We adore useless no-hopers who somehow conjure shock wins over massively superior opponents despite manifest technical failings. We are mildly entertained as two top teams tap away at the granite hunks of their defences before finally finding a faultline and merrily skipping through it. We embrace the greatest players, but we like them a lot more when they have a drink problem, require anger-management counselling and have a way with the ladies. It isn't the football that we love so much as the flaws – all football did was help us see them.

Over time, teams sought to become less imperfect – which was fine, admirable even, and we found that football was more good when those involved were less bad – but, and this is crucial, only up to a point. Now there is a team with almost no faults, and they are no fun at all. The new world champions are almost error-free, but against decent opponents Spain disappear into a world of flawless but joyless technical showmanship, like that bloke with an alto sax you saw once when the bar you were in turned out to be hosting an open-mic jazz improv evening. Once you have spent a while marvelling over each player's ability to accept a ball from a team-mate and shuffle it off to another one, there is very little left to love. This is not a complaint about Spain, who are merely the first to achieve what everyone has attempted. It is a problem with the sport itself. This is what football is, when played without faults: all technique and no mystique.

Spain's opponents behave like escapologists stuck in a flawless, airless glass box: first they seek a simple way out, for they are trained to believe that there is always a simple way out; then they try to break the walls open by throwing themselves into them or kicking them really, really hard. Once that has failed they start complaining loudly to anyone who will listen and might be able to help. Finally, they die of suffocation.

By taking football to hitherto unexplored peaks of perfection, the Spanish have ruined it for all of us. Imagine if everyone were as good as them – nothing genuinely interesting would ever happen. It's not just the players, either – soon we'll have goalline technology and video replays, and not even the referees will make mistakes.

Not only did we handle them 2-0 in the Confederations Cup but even the Swiss beat them in this World Cup by aping our methods.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Immigrant deaths in Arizona desert soaring in July (AMANDA LEE MYERS, 7/16/10, Associated Press)

A county medical examiner says deaths among illegal immigrants crossing the southern Arizona desert from Mexico are soaring so much this month the office is using a refrigerated truck to store some of the bodies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


“Entirely a National Government”? The Anti-Federalist Perspective: an excerpt from Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin By Bill Kauffman (Bill Kauffman - 07/16/10, First Principles)

Permit me to say a few words for the Anti-Federalists.

The Antis are the men—and women, I add, not as a p.c. genuflection but in recognition of the Bay State’s Mercy Otis Warren, playwright and historian and among the most literary Anti-Federalists—who considered what the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had wrought in that sweltering Philadelphia summer of 1787 and said No. They included dissenting delegates to that convention, like George Mason of Virginia; patriots still afire with the spirit of ’76, like Patrick Henry; and backcountry farmers and cobblers and libertarian editors and malcontent layabouts. They were “not simply blockheads standing in the way of progress,” wrote Robert Rutland in The Ordeal of the Constitution, “but . . . serious, oftentimes brilliant, citizens who viewed the Constitution in 1787–88 with something less than awe.”

The Anti-Federalists regarded consolidation of governmental power with what seems to me a meet suspicion, though it has seemed to others to verge on paranoia. One of my favorite Anti-Fed pseudonyms was taken by the writer who called himself “None of the Well-Born Conspirators.”

They often made wild predictions about where this all would lead. For instance, George Clinton—not the funky parliamentarian but the New York Anti-Federalist—prophesied that the federal city created by the Constitution, later known as Washington, D.C., “would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious.” Gee, thank God that never happened.

The Anti-Federalists raised a central question of political philosophy: Where ought political power to reside? In a remote central authority, or hard by the people? (My invidious phrasing, I admit.) A prominent Federalist—which is to say, using the down-is-up nomenclature devised by those crafty consolidationists, an advocate of the new Constitution—lectured that “we must forget our local habits and attachments,” but this is only possible for those who have no local habits or attachments. One might as well enjoin that “we must forget our heart and lungs.”

The sheer scope of this new system, the audacity of bringing thirteen far-flung states under one central government, astonished the Anti-Federalists. James Winthrop of Massachusetts marveled, “The idea of an uncompounded republick, on an average one thousand miles in length, and eight hundred in breadth, and containing six millions of white inhabitants all reduced to the same standard of morals, of habits, and of laws, is in itself an absurdity, and contrary to the whole experience of mankind. . . . Large and consolidated empires may indeed dazzle the eyes of a distant spectator with their splendour, but if examined more nearly are always found to be full of misery.”

The Antis were not quibblers, not captious carpers arguing about dotted i’s and uncrossed t’s. Their objections cut to the heart of the new Constitution. Indeed, they began with the preamble. Samuel Adams, brewer and sometime Anti-Federalist, upon reading “We the People of the United States,” remarked wryly, “As I enter the Building I stumble at the Threshold. I meet with a National Government, instead of a Federal Union of Sovereign States.” Patrick Henry stumbled, too: “The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing—the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America”—a locution that was “extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous.”
Patrick Henry

“For the Anti-Federalists,” wrote the historian Herbert J. Storing, “government is seen as itself the major problem.” The Anti-Federalists stood for decentralism, local democracy, antimilitarism, and a deep suspicion of central governments. And they stood on what they stood for. Local attachments. Local knowledge. While the Pennsylvania Federalist Gouverneur Morris “flattered himself he came here in some degree as a Representative of the whole human race,” Anti-Federalists understood that one cannot love an abstraction such as “the whole human race.” One loves particular flesh-and-blood members of that race. “My love must be discriminate / or fail to bear its weight,” in the words of a modern Anti-Federalist, the Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry. He who loves the whole human race seldom has much time for individual members thereof.

* * *

The Anti’s Anti, the man who is, without doubt, the least honored delegate to the Constitutional Convention, is Luther Martin of Maryland. Popular accounts of the Constitutional Convention designate Martin as the villain—think a circa-1973 hybrid of Dennis Hopper and Ernest Borgnine, endlessly talkative but fitfully coherent, an obstructionist, a naysayer. He is the town drunk, the class bore, the motormouth.

Yet he was also, as the historian M. E. Bradford has written, “The tireless champion of the sovereignty of the states . . . A cheerful pessimist . . . and a great original.”

“The federalistic principles found in the Constitution are largely a result of concessions to [Martin’s] demands,” wrote historian Everett D. Obrecht. “Without his presence in the convention, the new national government would have been far more powerful.” Yet it was still too powerful for Luther Martin.

Martin understood quite clearly that the Constitution was a counterrevolution, recentralizing that which had been decentralized upon the assertion of American independence. “Men love power,” Hamilton told the convention. To Hamilton this was a simple statement of fact, not at all deplorable. The Anti-Federalists had their doubts about its accuracy—did not men love their families, their homeplaces, their liberties even more?—but in the event, they desired not to channel this powerlust toward profitable ends but rather to block those avenues down which power is pursued. If it is true that men love to wield power over other men and that a centralized state will attract such warped creatures, then rather than design a Rube Goldberg scheme by which the will to dominate is transmuted into gold for the commonweal, why not just not construct a centralized state? Remove the means of gratifying the temptation.

Luther Martin was “the bitterest states’ rightser at the Convention,” wrote Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. “He was unyielding, beyond compromise on the point, and when he spoke on the issue it was always in the strongest of terms.” This is because he conned the game and he kenned the consequences. Not only the rights of the states but their very existence was at stake.

Lest the dire warnings of Martin and the Anti-Federalists be dismissed as so much alarmist hokum, consider that not every nationalizer spoke with politic caution. Delaware’s George Read declared: “Too much attachment is betrayed to the State Governments. We must look beyond their continuance. A national Govt. must soon of necessity swallow all of them up. They will soon be reduced to the mere office of electing the national Senate.” Effused Read: We must “do . . . away States altogether.”

Or ponder the exchange between James Wilson, the archcentralist Scotsman, and Alexander Hamilton. Though they putatively represented Pennsylvania and New York, their ultimate loyalties could never be centered upon mere states of a confederacy. “With me, it is not a desirable object to annihilate the State governments,” Wilson said on June 19, “and here I differ from the honorable gentleman from New York. In all extensive empires, a subdivision of power is necessary.”

Hamilton objected, ever so mildly, to Wilson’s verb. In his lengthy address of the day ultimo, “my meaning was, that a national government ought to be able to support itself without the aid or interference of the state governments,” explained Hamilton. The states, he added, “will be dangerous to the national government, and ought to be extinguished, new modified, or reduced to a smaller scale.”

Extinguish, yes; annihilate, no. The only difference is in the violence of the verb.

Time and again, Luther Martin stood alone, or nearly so, in attempting to infuse the new Constitution with something of the spirit of ’76. He was a libertarian in a body of men convinced that America needed a more vigorous government; he spoke of decentralism to men with centripetal convictions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Don't Be Stupid: Despite America's class conflict, faith and reason still go together. (Joe Knippenberg, October 19, 2008, Cuture 11)

In politics, so the argument goes, what matters are modesty and a commonsensical attention to real life experience, not an often arrogant (and perhaps smug) belief in one’s intellectual capacity to remake the world to bring it in line with some highfalutin theory.

Republicans have their smart and sophisticated guys, some even capable of serving on the Harvard faculty (if only they could be hired). But they tend not to parade them in front of the voters, advertising their intelligence. There are at least two reasons for this, one of which I’ve already mentioned (and to which I’ll return momentarily). The other is that the Republicans most widely known for their braininess are the so-called neo-conservatives, who are (rightly or wrongly) identified with the Bush Administration’s missteps in Iraq and hence not in good odor either in the G.O.P. or in the public at large.

But for me the more interesting reason is the one to which the late William F. Buckley, Jr. alluded. To the degree that intelligence is connected with proud self-assertion, a hubristic belief in one’s own capacity to understand and remake the world, it tends not to be conservative or respectful of the lessons and burdens of the past. It looks forward to the change it can effect as it rationalizes and humanizes the world. It does not bow before anyone, least of all a creator God.

Nonetheless, there are some smart and learned people who don’t take this view.

While he objects to the term "stupid," Mr. Knippenberg points to the reason that it is correct to consider conservatism the Stupid Party. If Intellectualism can be said, as seems fair, to be the hubristic belief in remaking the world according to one's own rationalizations, then conservatism is profoundly anti-intellectual.

Conservatism, which accepts Creation as a gift from God and men as beholden to the lessons of the past, can even be said to be "stupid." This is particularly clear in the sphere of morality, where conservatism proceeds from the idea that, as Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn puts it in Leftism, Man is:

A person with an intransferable destiny, unique created in the image of God, responsible to God, endowed with an immortal soul.

or, as Jacques Maritain put it in The Person and the Common Good:
The human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end.

Every variation of Intellectualism, or Leftism as Mr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn would have had it, is just a form of rebellion against this "stupid" recognition that we are Created by and responsible to God, rather than self-created and responsible only to the self. This latter bit of foolishness reaches its apotheosis in Richard Dawkin's delusion of existence being the product of "selfish genes," Mr. Dawkins being, not coincidentally, one of the popularizers of the term "Brights" to describe an individual who considers himself to be an end in himself.

The capacity of this simple bifurcation -- between the Stupid, who recognize obligations and responsibilities outside of the self, and Brights, who are completely inner-directed and self-obsessed -- to explain pretty much all of modern politics, philosophy, science, culture, etc., suggests that we conservatives ought not be bothered by the brand.

Sharansky's mistaken identity: a review of Defending Identity by Natan Sharansky (Spengler, 10/21/08, Asia Times)

A worthwhile thought was gestating in Sharansky's mind, but was stillborn in the present volume. Sharansky wants to say that the particularism of Jewish national identity offers universal benefits for humankind. But he does not want to say so in religious terms, and cannot find a clear way to say so in secular terms.

Jews often are loath to make theological claims for their own importance, which sound megalomaniac to secular ears. But the Jews might as well resign themselves to being hanged for a sheep as well as a lamb. Except for its religious implications, the world has little use for Jewish nationhood, and considers the presence of a few million Jews in the Middle East an inconvenience at best, and a danger at worst. That is why the only true friends of the Jewish state are American and some other evangelicals, and a few leaders of the Catholic Church.

Franz Rosenzweig, the great German-Jewish theologian, asserted that the history of Israel was the history of the world. Expansive as this claim may appear, it is well grounded in Rosenzweig's sociology of religion. What Rosenzweig meant is that Israel's existence forever transformed human identity. From Israel, Western Asia and Europe first heard the promise of eternal life, and afterwards looked at themselves differently. The pagans of the ancient world knew their days on Earth were numbered, and that their time would come to die out and be forgotten. But the promise of eternal life that the nations heard from the Jews undermined their ancient fatalism.

Reasonably, or not, we want to live forever. The first people to believe that God promised that it would endure forever became the standard against which all nations must measure their condition. From Ireland to Afghanistan, the identities of all tribes and nations became a response to Israel: Christianity offers a New Israel, Islam a competitor to Israel, neo-paganism a Satanic parody of Israel. The trouble is that Jewish national identity is not one national identity among many national identities. There is only Jewish identity, and a set of responses to Jewish identity. Jewish national identity has a radically different character than all other national identities, for the Jews uniquely believe that their nation was summoned into being to serve the sole creator God of the Universe. [...]

Sharansky wants to fall back on old-fashioned national identity, yet in Europe, national identities were not a sui generis expression of ancient culture and ethnicity. On the contrary, as Rosenzweig reports, Christianity turned European national identity into a parody of Israel's Election. Europe was only half-Christianized. Christianity - at least in its Western, Catholic or Protestant manifestation - demands that the individual repudiate the sinful flesh of his Gentile origin, and by water and the Spirit be reborn into a new people, that is, the People of Israel. From the (Western) Christian perspective, God's promise to Abraham remains valid: it is simply that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross makes possible the miraculous rebirth of each individual Christian into Israel.

The trouble with European nationalism is that the Europeans did not want to be saved by repudiating their Gentile flesh and joining Israel of the Spirit, namely the Church. On the contrary, they wanted to be Elected, that is, accorded eternal life, but in their own French, German, Italian or Ukrainian skins. That is the not-so-secret source of anti-Semitism. All European nationalism is hostile to Israel, for the existence of Israel stands as a reproach to the pathetic pretensions of each European nation to immortality. In its most extreme form, namely Hitler's, the obsession takes hold of the existentially challenged nation that in order for it to be the Chosen People, the original Chosen People must be exterminated.

European national identity is dead and gone for tragic reasons, which is to say very good ones, and the thin broth of European cosmopolitanism that bubbles in its place is not a substitute so much as tasteless residue. When the dogs no longer want to live forever, they don't trouble to have puppies, and in a few generations the problem resolves itself through depopulation and ruin.

It was the genius of John Paul II, the last great hero of Christian Europe, the pope who brought down communism, to understand that the true Europe needed Israel. Not the Europe of the peoples, but the Europe of the universal Church, required the living presence of Israel as the exemplar of a People of God, and John Paul II declared God's Covenant with the Jewish people to be eternally valid, and instituted diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

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[originally posted: 10/20/08]

July 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


How Serious Is the Chinese Challenge?: Despite its rise, China has lopsided financial interdependence with the US (Markus Jaeger, 15 July 2010, YaleGlobal)

While China’s rise has greatly increased its power, this has thus far translated into limited bilateral influence vis-à-vis the US. China’s most important economic-financial lever of influence regarding the US is the threat to sell off its estimated $1.4 trillion in US treasury and agency debt.

Such a move would be costly for Beijing, however, economically and financially, China would shoot itself in the proverbial foot. First, the value of its holdings would decline, and higher US interest rates would weigh on the US growth outlook, hurting Chinese exports. Furthermore, unless it’s willing to accept renminbi apprecation, China would have to find other dollar assets to invest in,as rapid renminbi appreciation is hardly in China’s interest in terms of exports and dollar-denominated US debt holdings. However, if China does re-invest in dollar-denominated assets, this would presumably help ease financing conditions in other segments of the US financial system, potentially offsetting negative effect of higher rates in the treasury market on the economy.

Second, if Beijing were to dump large chunks of US debt, it might disrupt financial markets in the short run. The medium-term impact would likely be manageable, as other official foreign buyers with close security ties to the US, including Japan and Gulf nations, would step in, albeit at higher interest rates.

Last but not least, any politically motivated fire sale of US debt would trigger a severe political backlash – and not just from the US – as well as undermine China’s standing as a reliable financial investor and economic partner.

Financially, economically and politically, Beijing would pay a high price for significantly raising US borrowing costs and it would end up paying a higher price than Washington – simply reflecting the fact that China is much more dependent on the US than vice verssa. The US has access to a more diversified investor base, with which it maintains close political relations. The US market is substantially more important to China in terms of both exports and imports than vice versa – and the Chinese export sector is relatively more employment intensive.

On the other hand, since China adds no value to the parts it assembles for us, we'll be more than happy to move on to the next cheap labor source.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


Obama's Surprise Abortion Move (Dana Goldstein, 7/16/10, Daily Beast)

As President Barack Obama heads off to vacation in Maine, yet another interest group is furious with his administration. Feminist organizations say Obama has stepped beyond the letter and spirit of the new health-care reform law by banning abortion coverage in a new insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions.

Reproductive rights advocates spent the earlier part of the week advocating for expanded access to birth control under the law and say they are shocked by the development, which pushes abortion back to the center of the debate. “We are deeply disappointed,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


The Iranian Regime's Numbered Days (Melik Kaylan, 07.16.10, Forbes)

First, the United Arab Emirates has chosen, in effect, to back sanctions by freezing 41 top regime bank accounts and is boarding ships with suspicious cargo bound for Iran. The UAE was hitherto a leading port for goods being smuggled into Iran and a top beneficiary of off-shore Iranian bank accounts. The pressure is now on Dubai to follow suit.

Second, the Bazaaris in Tehran and other major cities have gone on strike. This could topple the regime entirely on its own. The Bazaaris, Iran's highly conservative merchant class, the backbone of the retail and wholesale economy, were the pivotal force in collapsing the Shah's rule. As Iranian commentators have observed down the years, once the Bazaaris turned, the Shah's days were numbered. Now they've turned against Ahmadinejad's government.

The trouble began when Tehran announced on July 6 a 70% tax hike on the Bazaari merchants. They immediately went on strike and the tax authorities backed down. But the strikes have not stopped. Instead they have spread to other major cities such as Tabriz and Isfahan. On Monday and Tuesday of this week the government suddenly declared a “general holiday” due, it claimed, to the hot weather. In reality, state officials panicked in the face of a growing national strike of Bazaaris and wanted quiet time to force guild and community leaders back to work. Thus far they have not succeeded.

The Bazaaris are a bellwether of the economy and the national mood. They have been staunch supporters of the Islamic Revolution when it was run doctrinally by the Mullahs before the Revolutionary Guards became the primary center of power. They consider the new ruling elite to be outside the law, bad for business and bad for the country. Their defection is a great blow to the regime against whom they now represent a genuine existential threat, not least because of their oddly influential urban locations: the warren of enclosed spaces they traditionally occupy at the heart of Iranian cities. It's in exactly such places that conspiracies grow unhindered into demonstrations and movements and spill fully grown out into city streets. That's what happened in the Shah's time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Don't believe the populist hype (Becky Quick, 7/16/10, Fortune)

Beware the revisionists. It was bound to happen eventually, but here we are, less than two years after the U.S. faced its worst financial crisis in decades, and a steady stream of politicians routinely take to the airwaves to declare that the government overreacted with the $700 billion TARP plan and ripped off the taxpayer. That the incredible interventions by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury weren't necessary. That we should have taken our lumps and let the chips fall where they may.

Yeah, right. Jimmy Dunne, senior managing principal at investment-banking firm Sandler O'Neill, summed up my feelings perfectly when I asked him recently what he thought of those politicians: "They're idiots," he said.

Dunne is one of many who watched the meltdown from a courtside seat. "You had to be at your desk every day, but there was just this feeling of hopelessness, like there was nothing you could do," he says of those dark days in the fall of 2008. "You just had this feeling in your stomach that if the government didn't stand up and say, 'We will be there,' the whole thing would be crumbling down."

Why would things crumble? Because our financial system is one that operates on the idea of faith. Faith that institutions will back their promises, that people will pay their bills. And this nation went through a period where everyone questioned that faith. [...]

That's why the government had to step in and take such extraordinary steps, from backing the credit markets to insuring money market investments to raising the FDIC's deposit insurance to $250,000 per bank account. Combined, those moves helped stop the run on the banks and kept the panic from spreading.

It's peculiar, FDR prolonged the Depression needlessly yet is held up as a savior of capitalism, while W averted a Depression and gets no credit. Thankfully, he wasn't in the job for plaudits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Interview: Naomi Novik on her Temeraire series: From Neverwinter Nights to the Napoleonic War — with dragons (CLEA SIMON, July 14, 2010, Boston Phoenix)

Your books are basically the Napoleonic War with dragons. How did you come up with that?

I became a fan of Patrick O'Brian shortly before I started writing the Temeraire series. I was introduced to his work by the movie Master and Commander. I had always been a fan of the Napoleonic Wars era and had by that point read about 10 biographies of Napoleon, just for fun, and I love Jane Austen and the Regency period afterward. What O'Brian brought to the table was this idea of mixing swashbuckling adventure with comedy of manners, and that was the missing element that made me really want to write it. And dragons, well, I've been a science-fiction and fantasy fan my whole life. Somehow, that seems quite natural to me.

And now Peter Jackson has signed on to make a Temeraire movie?

We actually made a handshake deal before the books were even published. It took quite a while before the legal details were ironed out, and now he has the option. He has people down in New Zealand exploring things.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


Poll: Most Americans would back Israel attack on Iran (Shlomo Shamir and Haaretz Service, 7/16/10, Ha'aretz)

According to the poll, 43 percent of U.S. Democrats approve of Israel taking military action against Iran to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, while 40 percent disapprove. However, when Republicans were asked the same question, 74 percent voiced approval while 17 percent disapproved. Among independents, 56 percent approved of military action while 30 percent disapproved.

Overall, 56 percent of Americans approved a military strike, while 30 percent disapproved, according to the poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


The Diaspora Need Not Apply (ALANA NEWHOUSE, 7/16/10, NY Times)

On Monday, a Knesset committee approved a bill sponsored by David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would give the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. If passed, this legislation would place authority over all Jewish births, marriages and deaths — and, through them, the fundamental questions of Jewish identity — in the hands of a small group of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, rabbis.

The move has set in motion a sectarian battle that is not only dividing Israeli society but threatening to sever the vital connection between Israel and the American Jewish diaspora.

The problem is not simply that some of these rabbinical functionaries, who are paid by the state and courted by politicians, are demonstrably corrupt. (To take the most salacious of a slew of examples, an American Haredi rabbi who had become one of the most powerful authorities on the question of conversion resigned from his organization in December after accusations that he solicited phone sex from a hopeful female convert.) Rather, it is that the beliefs of a tiny minority of the world’s Jews are on the verge of becoming the Israeli government’s definition of Judaism, for all Jews.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


My Biggest Mistake in the White House: Failing to refute charges that Bush lied us into war has hurt our country. (KARL ROVE, 7/15/10, WSJ)

Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham organized a bipartisan letter in December 2001 warning Mr. Bush that Saddam's "biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs . . . may be back to pre-Gulf War status," and enhanced by "longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies." Yet two years later, he called for Mr. Bush's impeachment for having said Saddam had WMD.

On July 9, 2004, Mr. Graham's fellow Democrat on Senate Intelligence, Jay Rockefeller, charged that the Bush administration "at all levels . . . used bad information to bolster the case for war." But in his remarks on Oct. 10, 2002, supporting the war resolution, he said that "Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose real threats to America."

Even Kennedy, who opposed the war resolution, nonetheless said the month before the vote that Saddam's "pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated." But he warned if force were employed, the Iraqi dictator "may decide he has nothing to lose by using weapons of mass destruction himself or by sharing them with terrorists."

Then there was Al Gore, who charged on June 24, 2004, that Mr. Bush spent "prodigious amounts of energy convincing people of lies" and accused him of treason, bellowing that Mr. Bush "betrayed his country." Yet just a month before the war resolution debate, the former vice president said, "We know that [Saddam] has stored away secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

Top Democrats led their party in making the "Bush lied, people died" charge because they wanted to defeat him in 2004. That didn't happen.

Despite being the main focus of our entire national security apparatus for ten years, we had no idea what actually went on in Iraq and could have no idea what weapons he had, wanted to buy, or was developing. In the end, we took his word that he still had WMD hidden, in violation of UN Resolutions,and would use them against innocents.

Meanwhile, no one disputes that he was a brutal, even genocidal, dictator who oppressed the Shi'ite majority in Iraq, again in contravention of UN Resolutions he accepted in order to end the first Gulf War.

All Saddam had to do to avoid war was follow the Resolutions. All we did was enforce them. As a result the people of Iraq (and Kurdistan) now govern themselves. What's the downside here?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Japan's Provinces Are Withering Away: Tokyo keeps growing while rural areas lose people and jobs, further widening the disparity between the capital and non-urban areas. Budget cuts will accelerate rural decline (Aki Ito and Toru Fujioka, 7/15/10, Business Week)

On the block where Mika Nasu's clothing shop sits along the main street of Atami, a resort town 65 miles south of Tokyo, 13 of 19 stores are shuttered. "Recovery? What recovery?" asks Nasu, 50. "It just gets worse and worse."

Nasu's struggles are reflected in the Bank of Japan's Sakura Report, a regional survey akin to the Federal Reserve's Beige Book. In the July 8 report, companies from seven of Japan's nine regions expect business to worsen in the next three months. Kanto, the region that includes metropolitan Tokyo, is the only one where business anticipates any improvement.

...just no Japanese who do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Three books on the Battle of Britain: review: Saul David on James Holland's The Battle of Britain, Leo McKinstry's Hurricane, and Max Arthur's Last of the Few, three new histories of Britain's finest hour (Saul David, 7/16/10, Daily Telegraph)

The Battle of Britain is one of the landmarks of our military history. From July to October 1940, the fighter pilots of the RAF struggled to defeat the German Luftwaffe, fresh from its victories over the Polish, Belgian, Dutch and French.

Without this heroic contribution of the “Few” (in Churchill’s immortal phrase), Britain would surely have succumbed to German invasion and the outcome of the Second World War might have been very different. So 1940 rightly takes its place as one of three dates – the others are 1588 and 1805 – when Britain was narrowly saved from foreign conquest by a single victory.

It just wasn't a losable battle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


GOP eyes turning tides in New York (MAGGIE HABERMAN, 7/16/10, Politico)

A little more than a decade ago, there were 13 Republican-held seats; of the 29 in the state, the GOP now holds just two, thanks to a wave of scandal, Republican infighting, registration shifts and the general mood.

Yet of the six seats that shifted from GOP to Democratic hands since 2006, at least three could easily go Republican in November. Two others are also considered competitive, thanks to their enrollment and history of voting Republican in presidential races.

“It’s very significant, and Republicans probably need to win four seats in New York to take back the House,” said David Wasserman, a House analyst for The Cook Political Report, which monitors races nationally.
...the GOP won an open Senate seat in 1980 (open because Al D'amato knocked off Jack Javits) and the gubernatorial in 1994.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Financial Overhaul Signals Shift on Deregulation (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 7/16/10, NY Times)

Some pushed to break apart large banks and curtail risky kinds of trading. Others sought a grander overhaul of federal regulation. The administration’s approach, which prevailed, instead is focused on giving existing regulators additional powers in the hope that they will produce better results.

The legislation is painted in broad strokes, so like actors handed a script, those regulators have broad leeway to shape its meaning and its impact.

“This is a framework that has the potential to be as modern as the markets, but its efficacy will certainly depend upon the judgments that regulators make,” said Lawrence H. Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser.

The legislation, for example, requires many derivatives to be traded through clearinghouses, a form of insurance for the traders, and it requires traders to disclose pricing data to encourage competition. But regulators will decide which derivatives, and how long traders can wait to disclose pricing information.

The administration can shape that process through the appointment of new leaders for the various agencies. The Senate held confirmation hearings on Thursday for three nominees to the Fed’s board of governors. In addition to appointing a new consumer regulator, the president will nominate a new comptroller of the currency, responsible for regulating national banks.

The same groups that fought to shape the legislation — bankers and business groups, consumer advocates and trade unions — already have turned their attention to the rule-making process, seeking a second chance to influence outcomes. Much of the work must be completed over the next two years, but the bill sets some deadlines more than a decade from now.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who as banking committee chairman was a main architect of the legislation, said its success ultimately would depend on regulators’ performance.

So let us accept as a given that this is a huge legislative success that will transform the way the financial sector of the economy is governed. After the recent credit crisis, which was produced by the manipulation of derivatives and other instruments by this sector, this should, in theory, be a popular measure.

Now, try to come up with a matchbook cover description of why voters should be impressed by and pleased with the legislation. The story suggests that the legislation basically keeps the same regulators who oversaw the fiasco in place, but adds a bunch of new ones, and allows for many new regulations down the road, should they survive the federal rulemaking process.

No matter how well you communicate that to the electorate it is difficult to see why they should be enthused about it. What has been done is so amorphous and so prospective that it could improve things, make things worse or have no effect and the Administration is acknowledging that we won't even know what has been done for years. The only thing that's certain is the federal payroll was just expanded at a time when even Democrats are worried enough about spending to talk Social Security cuts. That's how you lose by winning.

Financial Reform, R.I.P.: The Dodd-Frank bill does nothing to deal with Wall Street's central problem: systemic non-disclosure. (James S. Henry and Laurence Kotlikoff, 07.15.10, Forbes)

Dodd-Frank is a full-employment act for regulators that addresses everything but the root causes of the financial collapse. It serves up a dog's breakfast covering proprietary trading, consumer financial protection, derivatives trading, executive pay, credit card fees, whistle-blowers, minority inclusion and Congolese minerals. Dodd-Frank also mandates 68 new studies of carbon markets, Chinese drywalls, and person-to-person lending, and many other irrelevancies.

None of this deals with the central problem--Wall Street's ability to hide behind claims of proprietary information to facilitate the production and sale of trillions of dollars in securities whose true values are almost impossible for outsiders to determine.

This policy of "systematic non-disclosure"--the absence of complete transparency about what financial firms really owe and are owed--left only its CEOs and their top consiglieres in a position to know what their companies really owned and owed. Consequently, the valuation of Wall Street firms came down to trusting the bank's senior executives--those who often had the greatest stakes in the non-disclosure system.

About That Financial Reform 'Victory' (KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL, 7/15/10, WSJ)
[L]ike stimulus and health care, Democrats turned the financial regulation bill into a monstrosity. What started as a promise to streamline and modernize the financial system turned into 2,300 pages of new agencies and new powers for the very authorities that fomented the financial crisis. The bill is laden with uncertainty and brimming with costly regulations on small businesses. Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank made it easy for Republicans to pronounce their bill more Obama Big Government—a "Main Street takeover"—and to justify their votes against it.

Those votes were made easier by the knowledge that, like stimulus and health care, this is legislation that has overpromised. The bill does nothing to address the root causes of the crisis.

Citi Explains How It Hid Risk From the Public (MICHAEL RAPOPORT, 7/16/10, WSJ)
In a filing made public Thursday, Citigroup explained how it made an accounting mistake that hid billions of dollars in debt from investors by misclassifying certain short-term trades as "sales" when they should have been classified as borrowings.

Citi had acknowledged in a securities filing in May that it had misclassified as much as $9.2 billion of short-term repurchase agreements, or "repos," at times over the past three years, but it had provided few details.

The disclosure highlights one of the ways banks can engage in Wall Street "window dressing." The traditional way banks have done this is by temporarily shedding debt just before reporting their finances to the public at the end of quarterly periods.

In this case, Citigroup went further by improperly booking repos as sales and not borrowings. Both types of window dressing hide from investors the true risk banks are taking on.

Though window dressing isn't illegal, intentionally masking debt to deceive investors violates regulatory guidelines.

July 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 PM


The Jesus Litmus Test: In today’s Republican Party, racial barriers may be falling, but religious barriers are alive and well. Just ask Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley. Peter Beinart on the GOP’s phony diversity. (Peter Beinart, 7/15/10, Daily Beast)

[F]or many Republicans, ideology doesn’t just mean lower taxation and higher military spending. It also means Christianity (or at least Judeo-Christianity). In the United States today, and in particular in the GOP, racial barriers may be falling, but religious barriers are alive and well.

Jindal was raised Hindu and converted to Catholicism; Haley is a Sikh who became evangelical. There’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of their conversions. But both also seem aware that maintaining the non-Western religious traditions of their birth would have imperiled their political careers. In 2007, when Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing the Hindu and Sikh festival of Diwali, Jindal abstained. Before running for governor, Haley noted that her family attended a Sikh Temple as well as a Methodist Church, but today she studiously avoids any reference to being born Sikh and as the campaign has progressed, her website has been updated to stress in increasingly emphatic terms her devotion to Jesus Christ. That’s hardly surprising given that the co-chairman of one of her Republican gubernatorial rivals circulated an email claiming that Haley “can’t seem to make up her mind about her faith.”

Explaining a faith that is not strictly monotheistic would be challenging in any political environment, but the barriers to religious diversity are clearly highest in the GOP. The South Carolina Republican Platform, for instance, declares, “We recognize the Judeo-Christian ethic embraced by our founding fathers and call upon our state and nation to return again to the values that made America and the American people great.” It’s less likely that Haley would have had to hide her Sikh heritage had she been running in, say, a Democratic primary in California, as opposed to a Republican primary in a state whose GOP-dominated legislature recently tried to put a Christian message on license plates.

Bully for Mr. Beinart. Losing track of that central fact about conservatism is how analysts tend to confuse themselves about the relative power of libertarians, neocons, and the like within the party and how they get the primaries so wrong.

A New Conservatism?: Either it will be Christian or not at all (ANTHONY ESOLEN, February 2010, Catholic World Report)

It must be rooted in natural piety. Our schoolchildren these days know next to nothing about the heroes of their native land, flawed though these heroes certainly were. They know little enough about the place where they live, as their days are devoured by the institutional school and the place-denying un-world of the television and the Internet. They are taught to dissociate themselves, in pride, from the narrow prejudices of their parents, thus enabling them all the more easily to absorb the narrow prejudices of their keepers in the schools and in the media.

The result of all this dissociation is that we hardly have citizens at all, who take pride in their localities and exert themselves to preserve them and pass their beauty along to the next generation. We have instead a mass of rootless people, isolated in time – since they come from nowhere in particular, and are going nowhere but to the place where their untrained wills must lead them – and alienated from one another. We must remember that piety is a natural virtue before it has been baptized; it is a deeply human thing to love one's place merely because it is one's own, and to cherish memories of those who dwelt in it before and helped to make it what it is.

It must recognize zones of authority. Libertarianism is, I am afraid, a false friend. It assumes that my freedom is defined by what others cannot legitimately prevent me from doing: from learning how to play the violin, if I so choose (to use Isaiah Berlin's example), or, far more sinister, from destroying the offspring in the womb. But that is a cramped view of freedom, and assumes that the relationship between freedom and authority is adversarial.

For authority is not opposed to freedom; it is rather its precondition. We can divine this from the suggestive Latin etymology: the auctor is one who gives increase. When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him. He becomes a responsible young man capable of shingling a roof, or changing the oil in the car, or kneeling before the Lord in humble and exalting prayer.

The family, for instance, ought to be an area of freedom from state intrusion not, principally, because the individuals in it should be allowed to do as they please within the bounds of the civil law, nor even because the family can accomplish what the state cannot, but because it is in itself an area of law-giving and law-abiding. It has its own authority, which demands respect. The school, the parish, the neighborhood, the city, the workplace, the football team, indeed all free associations of human beings – both those that arise by nature and those that men create and choose – should be afforded freedom, not as part of a Madisonian compromise among competing factions, but as an acknowledgment by the state of what is after all human reality.

Such a vision would, paradoxically, help deliver the freedom which libertarians long for while grounding it in the virtue of obedience and breaking the terrible reduction of human life to the conflict between individual will and state control.

It must uphold human nature: both what is human, and what is natural. We will perhaps soon hear scientists, motivated by the lust for glory and power, championing the production of "transhuman" creatures, or suggesting that we take control of our own evolution by placing it in the capable hands of politicians and genetic engineers. This, of course, is rather like looking for one's philosophy of life from mayors and plumbers – meaning no disrespect to mayors and plumbers, so long as they keep to what they know how to do, such as cutting ribbons at a statue-unveiling, or laying pipes in the right direction.

When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him.

The conservative must reject all violations of the human and the natural. We must treasure the beauty not of some imagined life of indefinite duration, cobbled together with spare parts grown from embryos for our own purposes, reducing ourselves and them to mere machines. We must instead insist upon the holiness of a human life, from conception to natural death; and we must see that yielding to a secular vision of freedom as autonomous choice has now brought us near the disaster of an engineered world, with children pieced together according to our specifications, to fulfill our ambition or vanity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


A Soccer Story (Joe Posnanski, July 15th, 2010)

The point is, I learned these things, many of them when I was a kid. I didn’t know anything so baseball as an open world, full of discovery, full of stories, full of great characters, full of funny lines. It still can be, and I still hear about teams and players I knew nothing about. But it’s not the same … I know the main characters, and I know the biggest stories. The same is true for football, for basketball, for golf, for just about all of our games. This is what happens when you grow up a sports fan in America. It’s the biggest reason why I love our games.

But … I know almost nothing about soccer’s past. I know only a handful of names, know only a handful of stories. I know Pele’s father cried when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final, and Pele promised him that someday he would win the World Cup. I know a bit about how the New York Cosmos tried to make soccer popular by importing gigantic stars to the North American Soccer League. I know Beckham married a Spice Girl. I know how Nick Hornby fell in love with Arsenal. That about covers it.

So, soccer is an open world for me … coming to soccer at the World Cup really felt a bit like being a kid again. And at the World Cup in South Africa people (fans, journalists, strangers on the street) were thrilled to talk soccer, to teach a few basics, to educate an American who showed any curiosity at all. More than once, I heard Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt try to explain why he loved soccer — Hunt is in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and was for much of his life one of the leading forces in the effort to make the world’s sport more popular here. He told me that he went to the World Cup in 1966 and fell in love with the passion of the game. That was the word he always used — the word everybody tends to use about soccer. Passion. It’s everywhere at a soccer match. It’s on the field. It’s in the stands. It’s in the game reports. People just care SO much, and it’s a difficult thing for a soccer amateur to understand. But people always wanted to share it with me. And I realized when I was there that you don’t have to understand it to love it.

I also heard soccer stories … lots of soccer stories. About Total Football in Holland. About Garra in Uruguay. About Maradona in Argentina. About the importance of beauty in Brazil. About self loathing in England. About the German persistence. About artistry in Spain.

I also heard a story that I had never heard … one that I suppose is extremely famous in soccer communities, probably every bit as famous around the world as the 1958 NFL Championship or Carlton Fisk’s home run or the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team or Michael Jordan’s final shot against Utah is here at home. Someone mentioned it to me in passing while I was in South Africa, and I said something like “What’s that?” The shake of the head suggested that I was missing something EVERYBODY knows. There’s a good chance you’ve heard it already.

...a child can comprehend soccer in its entirety. (Which is a good bit of why it is ultimately so unsatisfactory for adults.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Gaddafi Jr.: Libya to funnel $50M to Gaza (Roee Nahmias, 07.15.10, Ynet)

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation which tried to send an aid vessel to Gaza, says he reached an Egyptian-mediated agreement with Israel on Wednesday, allowing him to infuse $50 million for the restoration of the Strip and transfer construction materials to Gaza.

"We go the grapes, so why kill the vineyard guard?" the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi told the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.

"We will soon start funneling $50 million in coordination with UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) to begin rebuilding Gaza and transfer humanitarian aid and construction materials, without any objection on the part of the Israeli government."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


The Palestinians: Who's Afraid of Elections? (Khaled Abu Toameh, June 15, 2010, Hudson)

Many Palestinians who have condemned the decision as undemocratic and illegal say that the real reason behind the cancellation of the vote is Abbas's fear that his ruling Fatah faction would suffer a humiliating defeat. [...]

[A] party that cannot even hold a municipal election should not be treated as a real partner to anything.

Following Fatah's sixth general assembly in Bethlehem in 2009, some Western and Israeli political analysts started reporting how the faction has gone a long away toward reuniting and reforming itself.

The decision, however, to call off the municipal election in light of deep divisions in the faction proves that all the talk about Fatah "getting its act together" was nothing but wishful thinking.

Fatah continues to be dominated by most of the figures that were responsible for its defeat to Hamas in the last two elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Seven Reasons We Still Might Bomb the Oil Leak (Really) (David Axe, 7/15/10, Esquire)

1. It's worked before.

On at least three occasions in the '60s and '70s, the Soviets succeeded in burying small nuclear warheads to crimp and permanently seal leaking natural-gas wells on land. The blasts were meant to shift the rock strata, collapsing the well shafts. Using a nuclear bomb for anything these days — even tests — is politically unacceptable, but there are no such hang-ups about conventional explosives. "The physical principles of an explosion-induced shockwave are very good," says U.S. Marine Corps science advisor Franz Gayl, the main proponent of the bomb plan who's been making the rounds from the Pentagon and through blast modeling all the way up Capitol Hill.

2. We've got the hardware.

Back in the Gulf War, when the Iraqi army torched hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells, Gayl started thinking about using bombs on oil leaks, too. An advance engineer who would later go to advise the Pentagon on drones for Afghanistan, his idea was to use several standard, 2,000-pound U.S. Air Force bombs dropped by a B-52. But Gayl has modified his scheme for the Gulf of Mexico, limiting warheads to one or two of the Air Force's special bunker-buster munitions, each weighing in at between 23,000 and 30,000 pounds. The (relatively) measured explosion, Gayl and other proponents say, should crimp the well.

3. We've crunched the numbers.

Make no mistake: Gayl is not acting on behalf of the U.S. military or government, but with scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and defense consultant SAIC modeling the effects of his undersea blast plan, he's no mad scientist, either. "Results look good," one scientist told Gayl. In an interview with The Politics Blog, the same scientist, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution within the Obama administration, said the bomb plan was not a "slam dunk" but that "the initial looks suggest it might be worth pursuing as backup should relief wells not work."

...we're entitled to a bang.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Why President Obama loses by winning (JOHN F. HARRIS & JIM VANDEHEI, 7/15/10, Politico)

This is an odd reversal of expectations. When he came into office, the assumption, even among some Democrats, was that he was a dazzling politician and communicator who might prove too unseasoned at governance to win substantive achievements.

The reality is the opposite. You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But especially after Thursday’s vote, you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done. To the contrary, he has, as promised, covered the uninsured, tightened regulations, started to wind down the war in Iraq and shifted focus and resources to Afghanistan, injected more competition into the education system and edged closer to a big energy bill.

The problem is that he and the West Wing are not especially good at politics, or communications — in other words, largely ineffective at the very things on which their campaign reputation was built. And the promises he made during two years of campaigning have turned out to be much less appealing as actual policies.

The problem there is that the last sentence essentially undermines everything that has come before. Because, if you are a brilliant politician, as witness having passed everything you set out to do, and a gifted communicator, so folks are all aware of what you have done, but the American people wish you hadn't done any of those things, then you'd be in exactly the position Mr. Obama is today.

The pig is just unlipstickable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


Dubie raises $943K (NEAL P. GOSWAMI, 07/14/2010, Bennington Banner)

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the GOP candidate for governor, was eager to report Wednesday that his campaign has raised nearly $1 million raised in his bid to replace fellow Republican Gov. James Douglas. [...]

"The fact that more than 4,000 people care enough about this campaign to write a check is truly encouraging," Dubie said in the statement. "People are responding to my positive, pro-jobs message. There is a clear difference between my opponents and myself. They want to increase government spending and raise taxes. I want to control spending and cut taxes. People are seeing this contrast and supporting my campaign."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM

OR, AS MAVERICK CALLS IT... (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Poll: McCain topping primary opponents by wide margin (CNN, 7/15/10)

Sen. John McCain is widely ahead of his two primary challengers, according to a new poll.

A Behavior Research Center survey released Thursday indicates that 64 percent of likely Arizona Republican primary voters support McCain, with19 percent backing former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, five percent supporting Jim Deakin, a Tea Party activist, and 12 percent undecided. The primary is scheduled for August 24.

..."Six weeks until I can stop making an ass of myself on immigration."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Economics Behaving Badly (GEORGE LOEWENSTEIN and PETER UBEL, 7/15/10, NY Times)

As policymakers use it to devise programs, it’s becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn’t meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics.

Take, for example, our nation’s obesity epidemic. The fashionable response, based on the belief that better information can lead to better behavior, is to influence consumers through things like calorie labeling — for instance, there’s a mandate in the health care reform act requiring restaurant chains to post the number of calories in their dishes.

Calorie labeling is a good thing; dieters should know more about the foods they are eating. But studies of New York City’s attempt at calorie posting have found that it has had little impact on dieters’ choices.

Obesity isn’t a result of a lack of information; instead, economists argue that rising levels of obesity can be traced to falling food prices, especially for unhealthy processed foods.

To combat the epidemic effectively, then, we need to change the relative price of healthful and unhealthful food — for example, we need to stop subsidizing corn, thereby raising the price of high fructose corn syrup used in sodas, and we also need to consider taxes on unhealthful foods. But because we lack the political will to change the price of junk food, we focus on consumer behavior. [...]

The same pattern can be seen in health care reform itself. The act promises to achieve the admirable goal of insuring most Americans, yet it fails to address the more fundamental problem of health care costs. Instead of requiring individuals to pay out of pocket if they choose to receive expensive and unproven interventions, the act tries to lower costs by promoting incentive programs that reward healthy behaviors.

Prevention is certainly a worthy goal; it is much better to prevent a case of lung cancer than to treat it. But efforts to improve public health, even if enhanced by insights from behavioral economics, are unlikely to have a major impact on health care costs. Studies show that preventive medicine, even when it works, rarely saves money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Congress debates biblical stance on immigration (Alan Silverleib, 7/14/10, CNN)

The debate occurred during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing featuring Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention; Bishop Gerald Kicanas from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University law school; and James Edwards Jr., a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue since it impacts the basic rights and dignity of millions of persons and their families," Kicanas said. "As such, it has moral implications, especially how it impacts the basic survival and decency of life experienced by human beings like us. ... Our current immigration system fails to meet the moral test of protecting the basic rights and dignity of the human person."

Kicanas, who is bishop of the Catholic archdiocese in Tucson, Arizona, noted that thousands of men, women and children have died in the desert over the past decade trying to cross from Mexico into the United States.

The current law has to be changed, he said. "Because of a broken system, immigrant families are being separated. Migrant workers are subject to
exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and those attempting to find work by
coming north are being abused and taken advantage of by human smugglers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM

ON TO THE NEXT CONTEST (via Bart Rhodes)::

Friend Bart finally found us a Grand Slam contest where we won't have to figure out the results ourselves and we have lots of books to give away.

To join your friends' group, first sign up for the contest at http://seattletimes.golf.upickem.net, which enables you to win prizes for each event or a grand prize overall. After you log in, click on the "My Groups" tab, click on "Join a Private Group" and submit the following:

Contest URL: http://seattletimes.golf.upickem.net
Group Name: BroJudd
Group Password: ericjulia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


House Democrats hit boiling point over perceived lack of White House support (Paul Kane, 7/15/10, Washington Post)

House Democrats are lashing out at the White House, venting long-suppressed anger over what they see as President Obama's lukewarm efforts to help them win reelection -- and accusing administration officials of undermining the party's chances of retaining the majority in November's midterm elections.

In recent weeks, a widespread belief has taken hold among Democratic House members that they have dutifully gone along with the White House on politically risky issues -- including the stimulus plan, the health-care overhaul and climate change -- without seeing much, if anything, in return. Many of them are angry that Obama has actively campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates but has done fewer events for House members. [...]

House members complain that the White House routinely shows them disrespect. Until recently, some said, administration aides would wait until the last minute to inform them when a Cabinet official would be traveling to their districts to give a speech or announce a government grant. Lawmakers love these events, which let them take advantage of local press coverage.

House Democrats are far more upset that they have repeatedly voted to support Obama's agenda and then felt they were left to fend for themselves when the legislation was watered down in the Senate. First with the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan and then again with the landmark health-care bill, House members approved far-reaching, controversial early versions that reflected the White House's desires. But the bills stalled in the Senate under Republican filibuster threats and were scaled back. Now these lawmakers are left to defend their earlier votes on the campaign trail.

Some representatives from industrial states are especially angry over their efforts to enact climate change legislation. At the urging of the president and Pelosi, the House narrowly approved a controversial bill in June 2009. But more than a year later, the Senate has yet to take up the issue, leaving lawmakers feeling as if the White House pushed them to take a huge political risk -- and one they now have to explain to the voters -- for nothing.

...to believe him smart enough to notice that Bill Clinton was able to dodge the fifty year pattern of one term Democrats only after he got a GOP majority to work with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Cricket and Baseball Find Common Ground in Show (JOHN F. BURNS, 7/14/10, NY Times)

For the English, cricket has always been the gentlemen’s game — played in whites, with decorum prized as highly as the grace of a batsman’s “strokes,” and committees to codify “the spirit of the game,” above all the principle that playing honorably is more important than winning. Baseball, by contrast, has been seen by most cricket lovers as a vulgarization of the true bat-and-ball game, which Rudyard Kipling said defined what it was to be properly English.

Baseball, in this view, was a game for stoutly built men proud to be called “sluggers,” uncouth players who said things like “I’d rather be lucky than good” and chewed tobacco, and who, unlike barehanded outfielders in cricket, wore leather gloves to catch balls. Worse, there were baseball managers who kicked dirt at umpires.

For their part, most Americans have professed bewilderment at what has so enthralled the English and their former colonial subjects who took up cricket and, in many cases, learned to regularly thump their former masters. With “test matches” between the main cricket nations lasting as long as five days, and then often ending in draws, it has been an American commonplace to say that watching a cricket match is as exciting as watching the grass grow.

Against this background, the Lord’s exhibition is a bid for a kind of standstill agreement, an effort to move the games beyond decades of chafing toward a new era of respect. At a time when BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill has engendered new trans-Atlantic tensions, the exhibition, titled “Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect,” may carry a wider message about two countries that have traditionally combined admiration for each other with a degree of wariness and mostly good-natured disregard. [...]

The exhibit also makes the case that cricket, played in America from as early as 1709, was America’s principal bat-and-ball game until the eve of the Civil War, with thriving cricket clubs in many major East Coast cities, including New York, Brooklyn, Newark, Boston and especially Philadelphia.

But the story traced by the exhibit, like the arc of the two games as they are played today, is as much about baseball’s influence on cricket as the other way around. In recent years, as test match crowds have dwindled, the most popular forms of cricket have been the new, shorter varieties of the game, played within a single day, or, with an even more rambunctious following, the Twenty20 form that is played faster than many baseball games.

Cricket talk is now sprinkled with baseball terms — “batter” (in place of batsman), “catcher,” “pinch hitter,” “outfield,” “switch-hitter,” “strike,” “curveball” and “home run derby,” to cite examples overheard during a recent test match at Lord’s. Some of the best cricket teams — Australia’s, for one — have hired baseball coaches to improve throwing skills, one area where baseball has long had an edge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


The dreaded double-dip recession (Kurt Brouwer, 7/14/10, Fundmastery Blog)

This chart shows (blue line) the probability of a recession. As short-term rates rose in 2006 and 2007, the blue line went up indicating the probability of a recession was getting higher. Now, the probability of recession is low, close to zero actually. That is, no recession in sight according to this indicator.

Now, before I get flamed in the comments, I need to make one thing clear. The economy is not good now. High unemployment, low business confidence and many other factors suggest the economy is slowing.

Though painful, a sluggish economy or even a double-dip recession is not the end of the world. The last double-dip recession happened in the period from 1980 to 1982 when Fed Chairman Paul Volcker raised interest rates way, way up. There was a mild recession in 1980 and then, shortly thereafter, a much steeper recession. Once we got through the second recession, the economy began a long and strong economy recovery that lasted for many years.

We have already suffered through a steep economic downturn. If we do enter another recession, it is likely to be mild. I do not think a double-dip recession is likely. Normally, before a recession begins, the yield curve flattens or even inverts such that T-bills have higher yields than T-bonds. We are not even close to that now and, with T-bill rates at essentially zero, a flat or inverted yield curve is impossible unless you think Treasury bonds are going to zero.

Nonetheless, if enduring a double-dip recession is what it takes to usher in a long period of economic growth, then that would not be a bad tradeoff in my view.

...even the UR didn't raise taxes during this recession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Missouri governor lets abortion law take effect (DAVID A. LIEB, 7/14/10, Associated Press)

Missouri abortion clinics will face new mandates to offer women ultrasound images and heartbeats of their fetuses as a result of legislation allowed to become law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Democratic governor, facing his first decision on an abortion bill, sidestepped a direct endorsement of the new requirements by citing a Missouri constitutional provision allowing bills to become law without the governor's signature.

The legislation is part of a national trend among abortion opponents to encourage women to reconsider their decisions through the use of modern medical technology. [...]

"[T]here are various aspects of this law that are troubling, difficult and are really just intended to make it harder for women to get safe legal abortions," said Paula Gianino, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


VIDEO ARCHIVE: The Hayek Interviews: Alive and Influential (Armen A. Alchian, May 1983 )

The idea of capturing visually and orally the personality of Friedrich von Hayek, 1974 Nobel laureate, was so attractive that when the Earhart Foundation agreed to fund such an arrangement, the Pacific Academy for Advanced Studies was proud to undertake the pleasant task. No attempt was made in these interviews to restate or review Hayek's staggering intellectual accomplishments or his influence on contemporary understanding of social, political, and economic events. Nor is this introduction the place to recount them. Either you know of the man's contributions or you do not. If the latter is true, then I suggest you read some of his books, the most popular lay book being The Road to Serfdom.

A series of conversations with Hayek was conducted in a television studio. This volume provides an edited transcript of those conversations. An integral part of Hayek's recorded oral history, indeed the most interesting, are the videotapes. Seeing the man gives a reliable picture of his personality and traits: calm, imperturbable, systematic, questioning, uncompromising, explicit, and relaxed. It is the personality of the man that was sought, and the video and audio record helps capture it faithfully.

The economist has only to grieve that similar tapes do not exist for Adam Smith or David Ricardo. What a treat if one could see such a record of those men, a treat such as is here made available to future generations. Incidentally, it was and still is the hope of the Pacific Academy for Advanced Studies to obtain such interviews with all the Nobel laureates in economics—or at least all except those two who have experienced the inevitable. As for many desirable things, the costs are still insurmountable.

So, here is the man, alive and influential, whether this be read in 1984 or in the inscrutable future years of 2034, 2084, or, hope of hopes, 2984. Here are represented the visions and beliefs of a group of people in 1978. See and hear their manner of expression, their subtle prejudices and misconceptions, fully apparent only to people a century from now. Perhaps we in 1983 will be envied, perhaps we will evoke sympathy. Whatever it may be, if not both, here is the personality, appearance, and style of Friedrich von Hayek, a man for all generations, who believes mightily in the freedom of the individual, convinced that the open, competitive survival of diffused, decentralized ideas and spontaneous organizations, customs, and procedures in a capitalist, private-property system is preferable to consciously rational-directed systems of organizing the human cosmos—a judgment that distant future viewers and readers may more acutely assess.

July 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Was George Bush's AIDS Strategy Better Than Barack Obama's? (Patrick Range McDonald., Jul. 14 2010, LA Weekly: Queer Town)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation founder Michael Weinstein came out swinging yesterday at a Washington D.C. press conference, offering up that President Barack Obama's AIDS strategy measures up poorly to his predecessor's, former president George W. Bush. [...]

At the press conference, Weinstein unveiled a new advertising campaign to put the heat on Obama by questioning who has the better AIDS policy: Obama or Bush?

According to AHF, that person is George W., who hasn't been much of a friend to the gay community over the years -- Bush once pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"President Bush created the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," AHF wrote in a press release, "the successful U.S. global AIDS program, which has also been neglected and underfunded on Obama's watch."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


The World's Happiest Countries (Francesca Levy, 07.14.10, Forbes)

The five happiest countries in the world--Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands--are all clustered in the same region, and all enjoy high levels of prosperity.

"The Scandinavian countries do really well," says Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup, which developed the poll. "One theory why is that they have their basic needs taken care of to a higher degree than other countries. When we look at all the data, those basic needs explain the relationship between income and well-being." [...]

"Money is an object that many or most people desire, and pursue during the majority of their waking hours," researchers wrote in the report. "It would be surprising if success at this pursuit had no influence whatsoever when people were asked to evaluate their lives."

Indeed, Denmark, the world's happiest country, had a per-capita GDP of $36,000 in 2009, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. That's higher than 196 of the 227 countries for which the CIA collects statistics.

But there's more to happiness than riches. The Gallup study showed that while income undoubtedly influenced happiness, it did so for a particular kind of well-being--the kind one feels when reflecting on his or her own successes and prospects for the future. Day-to-day happiness is more likely to be associated with how well one's psychological and social needs are being met, and that's harder to achieve with a paycheck.

Take Costa Rica. The sixth-happiest country in the world, and the happiest country in the Americas, it beat out richer countries like the United States. That's because social networks in Costa Rica are tight, allowing individuals to feel happy with their lot, regardless of financial success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


The Baloch State: A vision for the world: With the killing of senior Baloch leader Habib Jalib Baloch in Quetta on Wednesday morning, the Balochistan resistance has once come into focus. In this column, Dr Jumma Khan Marri, a leading Baloch activist, offers his vision for his people (Dr Jumma Khan Marri, 7/14/10, IST)

Sooner or later the world will have to recognise the legitimate right of the Baloch people to independence, for without giving the Baloch their due rights, there is no hope for peace in the areas inhabited by the Baloch in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The powers that have the clout to persuade these countries to give rights to the Baloch should start using their influence if they want and desire stability and peace in this strategically important region. It should be understood that though the Baloch may not be powerful enough to wrest independence today, the increasing politicisation of the Baloch people is currently underway as much due to the efforts of independence seeking groups as to the constant repression and denial of rights by the concerned countries. If the world wants peaceful passage for the energy resources to reach the markets, they will have to agree to the demands of the Baloch people.

The goal of this article is an attempt to offer the Baloch viewpoint on the ongoing events in Balochistan for the Pakistani and international community to judge. It is also an attempt to offer a possible way out of the tragic deadlock by the Islamabad [ Images ] regime. The irresponsible games the international community has been playing with the Pakistani regime have driven the people of Balochistan and Pakistani establishment into fatal embrace in a way that puts the entire region into instability, which can risk international peace.

This author expresses the hope that this article will be viewed by the apologists with due consideration, no prejudice or hostility, which unfortunately became a logic manifestation of unprecedented anti-Baloch moods (like Balochphobia) in the Pakistani establishment and army.

In spite of the fact that hypocrisy became a business card in international relations a long time ago, we are stating that hypocrisy in politics is counterproductive. Relations between states and nations, as well as between people, are subject to the same law: the law of logic and experience.

It is stupid and amoral for a Baloch to be expressing hypocritically such pro-Western positions in order to gain favour from the international community while in a confrontation with Pakistan. It is just as stupid and useless as the Pakistani side assuring the world community that the Baloch freedom-fighters, who took up arms and who are fighting for freedom, are an aggression through foreign paid agencies. The Baloch national struggle is purely the result of the inhuman condition in which the Baloch are forced to live in. The Baloch people's lands are full of wealth while they can barely feed their kids leave alone the other human needs, but the politics of the world demands they be 'smarter and more artful'. According to this new logic, the Baloch struggle is supposed to be somewhat underground, so that God forbid, Washington or Islamabad do not find out about it.

But in reality it makes no sense and it is counterproductive to try and delude somebody or delude your own self. The point is not to conceal the obvious, but to show the interested countries that the Baloch freedom struggle poses no threat to the world and that it is a natural reaction to foreign aggression and the attempt to physically exterminate the Baloch ethos. And for the Baloch, the international law is a condition of vital importance for national survival and for preservation of their territorial and ethnic identity and independence.

The Baloch freedom struggle is not at war with the Western alliance, even though the Western alliance headed by the US has always been helping Pakistan murder innocent Baloch women and children and to occupy Balochistan and is directly responsible for the crimes against humanity committed by the Islamabad regime.

The Baloch side is defining its goals plainly and clearly and is trying to explain them to the world in an intelligible way that is easy to understand. Proceeding from these tasks, the Baloch side is searching for some common ground with the Western alliance, as well as common ground with the other friendly countries in the region which are totally dependent on the Western alliance.

Once the priorities are highlighted, the Baloch side offers the specific plan of 'political trade operation' ('security in exchange for independence'), where all sides, including the Western alliance, can see their own interests reflected in it. At the same time the Baloch side defends its own interests and its own position, proceeding from the powers and capabilities that it already has, and is stating that it is willing to show responsibility to its partners.

The result can be achieved not by humiliating Islamabad's dignity and betraying the principles, but by a clear and unambiguous indication of the Baloch national goal, which must show the international community and Islamabad the responsibility of the Baloch people and of their leaders just as clearly and unambiguously.

Considered from a selfish Western perspective, carving the region up into -stans will either drain the rage and frustration of the various nationalisms and make the area more peaceful, which is good for everyone, or lead to wars between the statelets, which is very bad for them but good for us, since they'd be turning their hatreds inwards instead of outwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Attention, Democrats! The Senate Is Now in Play (William Galston, July 14, 2010, New Republic)

To retain control, Democrats need at least 50 seats. They start with 45 seats that are safe or not up for election this year, and there are three more races (NY, CT, and OR) that they are likely to win, for a total of 48. (The comparable number for Republicans is 41.) That leaves 11 seats in play. Here they are, along with the most recent survey results:

CA Fiorina (R) 47, Boxer (D) 45

CO Buck (R) 48, Bennet (D) 39

FL Rubio (R) 36, Crist (I) 34, Meek (D) 15

IL Giannoulias (D) 40, Kirk (R) 39

KY Paul (R) 43, Conway (D) 43

MO Blunt (R) 48, Carnahan (D) 43

NV Angle (R) 48, Reid (D) 41

OH Portman (R) 43, Fisher (D) 39

PA Toomey (R) 45, Sestak (D) 39

WA Murray (D) 47, Rossi (R) 47

WI Feingold (D) 45, Johnson (R) 43

Apply whatever discount you want to individual surveys of varying quality and provenance; the overall picture is pretty clear.

...it's not the seats that are in play that are the story--you lose them--it's those "safe" seats that are the key. It turns out that they were in play too, you just didn't realize it at the time. The GOP will win at least one of those three.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Arrogance Surplus Leads to Government Excesses (Amity Shlaes, Jul 13, 2010, Bloomberg)

The problem for all is that business isn’t an identifiable person, group or company. Good policy is what might be called humble policy. It starts with admitting what we don’t know. That includes who will lead growth in 2011 or 2012, where that person lives, and how he or she will get capital. Humble policy then goes on to concentrate on trying to let our economy become that broad space that future businesses and industries still unknown, might find inviting.

Humble policy is, of course, hard for a U.S. Congress to get its head around. Policy, in lawmakers’ minds, is all about knowing and crafting smarter law. Lawmakers are arrogant in their certainty that voters will never accept policy that doesn’t reward voters like Pavlov’s dogs. Lawmakers are also certain that they shouldn’t be seen to write law that will help the rich in the future. But again, there is that mistake: they are assuming they know who the rich will be.

First Step

But to the plan. Humble step No. 1: Permanently set tax rates lower for all. That means keeping the dividend tax low, keeping the top income-tax rate at 35 percent and sustaining the capital-gains rate at 20 percent or lower. Cutting the corporate tax would help the U.S. compete with the rest of the world.

Even better would be to pass the plan of the humble congressman, Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The Ryan plan advocates abolishing taxes on capital gains and dividends, and reduces the top marginal rate on income taxes to 25 percent.

Lower taxes would increase growth. When President George W. Bush and Congress lowered dividend and capital gains rates taxes, they increased gross domestic product by 0.25 percentage point. When President Bill Clinton and Congress lowered the capital gains rate in the 1990s, growth likewise increased. The revenue from the cuts were in both incidents higher than static analysis from federal offices predicted.

Productivity, capital gains, profits, income, savings, etc. are all the things you want to foster, so we ought not tax them at all. This is W's Neoconomics.

It’s the Neoconomy, Stupid! What Awaits If Bush Wins: a review of Neoconomy: George Bush’s Revolutionary Gamble with America’s Future, by Daniel Altman (Sheelah Kolhatkar, October 31, 2004, NY Observer)

It’s not as if Mr. Bush has made his tax dreams a secret. In addition to implementing two rounds of cuts favoring the wealthy—and last week quietly signing into law a $140 billion tax gift to corporations—Mr. Bush has said that he wants to make "tax relief" permanent, to "simplify" the tax code and create a "simpler, fairer, pro-growth system." According to Daniel Altman in his provocative new book Neoconomy, this should have us quaking in our Pumas. While Mr. Altman’s revelations are unlikely to alter the course of the election, they’re a useful reminder that there’s more at stake in this political season than the war in Iraq (as if that weren’t enough).

President Bush’s tinkering with the tax code is changing the way that everything from schools to missile shields is paid for in this country, shifting the financial burden of the nation from one group of people to another and encouraging saving over earning. It’s the piecemeal dismantling of the tax system that’s been the dream of economic hawks for decades, and there’s much more to come. According to Mr. Altman, it’s nothing short of a revolution, with George W. Bush serving as the puppet for a group of academic ideologues.

A Bad Bet: a review of Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble with America's Future by Daniel Altman (James Surowiecki, November/December 2004, Mother Jones)
At first glance, the administration’s economic policy seems to boil down to one thing: tax cuts. A major tax cut was the first initiative President Bush pushed through Congress, and he went on to slash taxes twice more, even as the budget deficit soared and the country fought two wars. This may have seemed excessive and unjust -- especially since the principal beneficiaries of the tax cuts are those at the very top of the income scale -- but is it really radical?

The answer, Altman convincingly argues, is yes, because of the kinds of tax cuts that the administration pushed for, and the kinds of changes it was trying to bring about. It is also radical because of the risks it poses to America’s future as a middle-class society.

The neoconomists, like all good conservatives, want lower taxes across the board. But the most important thing, they believe, is making it as cheap as possible for people to save and to invest. To put it crudely, the Bush administration has wanted to tax savings and investments less; in practice, this has meant taxing wealth less and taxing work more.

It may be tempting to simply write off the neoconomists as the sinister minions of fat cats. But they have zeroed in on a real problem: Americans don’t save enough. The more we save, the more money is available for businesses to invest. In theory, the more they invest -- in new technologies, new plants, new products -- the more productive the economy becomes.

Doing away with a raft of estate, dividend, interest, and capital gains taxes would free up enormous amounts of capital; if the neoconomists are to be believed, this should, in turn, lead to a permanent across-the-board improvement in the health of the U.S. economy. Yes, the wealthy would get a whole lot wealthier. But (in theory at least) everyone up and down the income ladder could end up better off. As Altman puts it with dry wit, “So there Americans would be, merrily keeping more of their income, merrily saving more, and merrily watching the economy expand more quickly than ever.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Jon Lester Doesn't Care to Share Pizza With Hanley Ramirez (Josh Alper, 7/14/10, FanHouse)

Jon Lester and Hanley Ramirez were once teammates in the Red Sox minor league system but were on opposite sides of the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Lester retired Ramirez on a bouncer back to the mound and after the game he was asked if he and Ramirez had ever gone out for pizza and fantasized about being in the Midsummer Classic while they were on their way up the baseball ladder.

It's a silly question, but Lester didn't have a particularly jokey response.

"I'd have a better chance of being struck by lightning than me and him getting a pizza together," Lester said. "You can take that for what it's worth. But there was no chance on God's green earth that I was getting a pizza with him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Worth It: Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions by Joy Gordon (Andrew Cockburn, London Review of Books)

Visiting Iraq in that first summer of postwar sanctions I found a population stunned by the disaster that was reducing them to a Third World standard of living. Baghdad auction houses were filled with the heirlooms and furniture of the middle classes, hawked in a desperate effort to stay ahead of inflation. In the upper-middle-class enclave of Mansour, I watched as a frantic crowd of housewives rushed to collect food supplies distributed by the American charity Catholic Relief Services. Doctors, most of them trained in Britain, displayed their empty dispensaries. Everywhere, people asked when sanctions would be lifted, assuming that it could only be a matter of months at the most (a belief initially shared by Saddam). The notion that they would still be in force a decade later was unimaginable.

The doctors should not have had anything to worry about. Resolution 661 prohibited the sale or supply of any goods to Iraq (or to Kuwait while it was under Iraqi control) with the explicit exception of ‘supplies intended strictly for medical purposes, and, in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs’. However, every single item Iraq sought to import, including food and medicine, had to be approved by the ‘661 Committee’, created for this purpose and staffed by diplomats from the 15 members of the Security Council. The committee met in secret and published scarcely any record of its proceedings. Thanks to the demise of the Soviet Union, the US now dominated the UN, using it to provide a cloak of legitimacy for its unilateral actions.

The 661 Committee’s stated purpose was to review and authorise exceptions to the sanctions, but as Gordon explains, its actual function was to deny the import of even the most innocuous items on the grounds that they might, conceivably, be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. An ingenious provision allowed any committee member to put any item for which clearance had been requested on hold. So, while other members, even a majority, might wish to speed goods to Iraq, the US and its ever willing British partner could and did block whatever they chose on the flimsiest of excuses. As a means of reducing a formerly prosperous state to a pre-industrial condition and keeping it there, this system would have aroused the envy of the blockade bureaucrats derided by Keynes. Thus in the early 1990s the United States blocked, among other items, salt, water pipes, children’s bikes, materials used to make nappies, equipment to process powdered milk and fabric to make clothes. The list would later be expanded to include switches, sockets, window frames, ceramic tiles and paint. In 1991 American representatives forcefully argued against permitting Iraq to import powdered milk on the grounds that it did not fulfil a humanitarian need. Later, the diplomats dutifully argued that an order for child vaccines, deemed ‘suspicious’ by weapons experts in Washington, should be denied.

Throughout the period of sanctions, the United States frustrated Iraq’s attempts to import pumps needed in the plants treating water from the Tigris, which had become an open sewer thanks to the destruction of treatment plants. Chlorine, vital for treating a contaminated water supply, was banned on the grounds that it could be used as a chemical weapon. The consequences of all this were visible in paediatric wards. Every year the number of children who died before they reached their first birthday rose, from one in 30 in 1990 to one in eight seven years later. Health specialists agreed that contaminated water was responsible: children were especially susceptible to the gastroenteritis and cholera caused by dirty water.

If the aim of such a comprehensive embargo had indeed been the dictator’s overthrow, its perpetrators might have pondered the fact that it was having the opposite effect. Saddam, whose invasion of Kuwait had led to the disaster, was now able to point to the outside powers as the source of Iraqis’ suffering. As most people’s savings and income dwindled away in the face of raging inflation and widespread unemployment, they became ever more dependent on the rations, however meagre, distributed through Saddam’s efficient government apparatus. Because medicine was in short supply and hospitals were deteriorating, Iraqis came to believe that almost any disease might be curable were it not for sanctions. In the countryside, villagers often kept dusty X-rays in case sanctions ended one day and they could find a cure.

Most of the time, those overseeing the blockade were able to go about their task without public reproach. Every so often a press report from Baghdad would highlight the immense slow-motion disaster in Iraq, but for the most part the conscience of the world, and especially that of the American public, remained untroubled. Administration officials reassured themselves that any hardship was entirely the fault of Saddam, and that in any case reports of civilian suffering were deliberately exaggerated by the Iraqi regime. As one US official with a key role in the Unscom weapons inspections said to me in all sincerity at the time: ‘Those people who report all those dying babies are very carefully steered to certain hospitals by the government.’ In spite of reams of child mortality statistics collected by various reputable outside parties, such as the World Health Organisation, it was impossible to convince him otherwise.

Very occasionally, a ray of truth would shine through. In 1996, the 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl interviewed Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN. Albright maintained that sanctions had proved their value because Saddam had made some admissions about his weapons programmes and had recognised the independence of Kuwait (he did this in 1991, right after the war). Asked whether this was worth the death of half a million children, Albright replied: ‘We think the price is worth it.’ Years later, as Gordon observes, Albright was still ‘trying to explain her way out of her failure to respond more effectively to what she described as “our public relations problem”’. Her attempts to justify the policy were echoed by other sanctioneers, such as the State Department official quoted by Gordon who maintained that ‘the US is conducting a public good which it has done a poor job of selling to other countries.’

In the first year of sanctions the UN offered to allow Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil under strict conditions. Saddam turned this down on the grounds that it infringed on Iraq’s sovereignty, but five years later he accepted an improved offer which allowed Iraq to sell its oil and use the proceeds, under UN supervision, to buy food and some other necessities. Under the terms of the programme, much of the money was immediately siphoned off to settle what critics called Kuwait’s ‘implausibly high’ claims for compensation for damage from the 1990 invasion and to pay for the Unscom inspections and other UN administrative costs in Iraq. Although the arrangement did permit some improvement in living standards, there was no fundamental change: the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reported in November 1997 that despite the programme, 31 per cent of children under five still suffered from malnutrition, supplies of safe water and medicine were ‘grossly inadequate’ and the health infrastructure suffered from ‘exceptionally serious deterioration’.

It was possible for the Iraqis to wring some pecuniary advantage from the Oil for Food programme by extracting kickbacks from the oil traders whom it favoured with allocations, as well as from companies, such as wheat traders, from which it bought supplies. In 2004, as Iraq disintegrated, the ‘Oil for Food scandal’ was ballyhooed in the US press as ‘the largest rip-off in history’. Congress, which had maintained a near total silence during the years of sanctions, now erupted with denunciations of the fallen dictator’s fraud and deception, which, with alleged UN complicity, had supposedly been the direct cause of so many deaths.

Gordon puts all this in context. ‘Under the Oil for Food programme, the Iraqi government skimmed about 10 per cent from import contracts and for a brief time received illicit payments from oil sales. The two combined amounted to about $2 billion . . . By contrast, in 14 months of occupation, the US-led occupation authority depleted $18 billion in funds’ – money earned from the sale of oil, most of which disappeared with little or no accounting and no discernible return to the Iraqi people. Saddam may have lavished millions on marble palaces (largely jerry-built, as their subsequent US military occupants discovered) but his greed paled in comparison to that of his successors.

The economic strangulation of Iraq was justified on the basis of Saddam’s supposed possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Year after year, UN inspectors combed Iraq in search of evidence that these WMD existed. But after 1991, the first year of inspections, when the infrastructure of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme was detected and destroyed, along with missiles and an extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, nothing more was ever found. Given Saddam’s record of denying the existence of his nuclear project (his chemical arsenal was well known; he had used it extensively in the Iran-Iraq war, with US approval) the inspectors had strong grounds for suspicion, at least until August 1995. That was when Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law and the former overseer of his weapons programmes, suddenly defected to Jordan, where he was debriefed by the CIA, MI6 and Unscom. In those interviews he made it perfectly clear that the entire stock of WMD had been destroyed in 1991, a confession that his interlocutors, including the UN inspectors, took great pains to conceal from the outside world.

Nevertheless, by early 1997 Rolf Ekeus had concluded, as he told me many years later, that he must report to the Security Council that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was therefore in compliance with the Council’s resolutions, barring a few points. He felt bound to recommend that the sanctions should be lifted. Reports of his intentions threw the Clinton administration into a panic. The end of sanctions would lay Clinton open to Republican attacks for letting Saddam off the hook. The problem was solved, Ekeus explained to me, by getting Madeleine Albright, newly installed as secretary of state, to declare in a public address on 26 March 1997 that ‘we do not agree with the nations who argue that, if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.’ The predictable result was that Saddam saw little further point in co-operating with the inspectors. This provoked an escalating series of confrontations between the Unscom team and Iraqi security officials, ending in the expulsion of the inspectors, claims that Saddam was ‘refusing to disarm’, and, ultimately, war.

Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq who resigned in 1998 in protest at what he called the ‘genocidal’ sanctions regime, described at that time its more insidious effects on Iraqi society. An entire generation of young people had grown up in isolation from the outside world. He compared them, ominously, to the orphans of the Russian war in Afghanistan who later formed the Taliban. ‘What should be of concern is the possibility at least of more fundamentalist Islamic thinking developing,’ Halliday warned. ‘It is not well understood as a possible spin-off of the sanctions regime. We are pushing people to take extreme positions.’ This was the society US and British armies confronted in 2003: impoverished, extremist and angry. As they count the losses they have sustained from roadside bombs and suicide attacks, the West should think carefully before once again deploying the ‘perfect instrument’ of a blockade.

No matter how many North Koreans we've killed since the "end of the war" we never stop congratulating ourselves about the "peace."

But, contra Mr. Cockburn, it was not Saddam's violation of the weapons resolutions that mattered, but his refusal to comply with UN Resolution 688, which required him to end his repression of the Iraqi people. In essence, to end the first Gulf War he had agreed to remove his own regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


The Reeducation of Rand Paul (Robert Costa, 7/14/10, National Review)

Soon after Rand Paul won Kentucky’s GOP Senate primary in May, his campaign was rocked — not by an affair or a kamikaze YouTube clip, but by his own textbook libertarianism. In a series of post-election interviews, Paul criticized parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, expressing concern about the federal government’s power to regulate private behavior. For raising a question about the landmark bill, Paul was roundly lambasted by the press, Democrats, and many Republicans. “Everybody piled on,” he laments in an interview with National Review. To stop the bleeding, Paul quickly went mum, canceling a scheduled sitdown with NBC’s Meet the Press and other media appearances.

Now, two months later, Paul leads in the polls, topping Democrat Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general, by seven points in Rasmussen’s latest survey. His campaign has also had its best quarter at the bank, raking in $1.1 million.

If he were to enter a monastery and stay until mid-November he'd be a lock. He can only lose if he speaks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


George Steinbrenner (Joe Posnanski, July 13th, 2010)

You probably know that in 1971, George Steinbrenner put in a bid to buy the Cleveland Indians. Steinbrenner grew up in Cleveland and, even more, he was of Cleveland. The city’s charms and flaws, strengths and insecurities, outsized kindness and comical fury, all these gyrated inside Steinbrenner. The Indians were in desperate shape in the early 1970s — there were credible rumors that the team was going to split for New Orleans. This was a chance for Steinbrenner to save his hometown and, even more, become a legend. George Steinbrenner was one of those kids who grew up believing that somehow, some way, he would be great. Here was a chance.

I’ve often wondered how different baseball — no, American sports as a whole — would be if Steinbrenner had been successful in buying the Indians. Imagine baseball history without the the Bronx Zoo teams of the late 1970s. Imagine it without the Steinbrenner-Billy Martin tango. Imagine it without King George II spending all that money for the glorification of New York, the Yankees and, sure, yes, George Steinbrenner himself.

Imagine if he had bought the Indians. This alternative-history is not as simple (not even close to as simple) as just swapping the fates of the Indians and Yankees — I feel 100% certain that sort of swap would not have happened. Cleveland is not New York. And New York is not Cleveland. What would have been more likely to happen is that Steinbrenner, frustrated by his city’s limitations (and his own financial limitations) would have flamed out dramatically and probably ended up bitter and burned out, a Cleveland version of Charlie Finley. The Yankees probably would have sailed unsteadily through the next 40 years, not unlike the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning some and losing some, all depending on the motivations of ownership, the quirks of good luck and the direction of the wind.

But Steinbrenner did not buy the Indians. No. He bought the Yankees.

...mighn't we expect them to have their own cable channel that dominates the region? After all, the Yankees share a city with the Mets and their geography is limited by the Phillies to the South and the Sox to the North.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


How fast will the Gulf bounce back from the BP oil spill?: Like a giant industrial strength washing machine, the Gulf of Mexico will clean up most of the BP oil spill by itself, as it has other big spills. But environmental resilience has its limits. (Patrik Jonsson, 7/14/10, CS Monitor)

More than 4 million gallons of sweet Louisiana crude oil has likely spilled into the Gulf during the BP oil spill. President Obama has called it the worst ecological disaster in US history, rivaling the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, which killed 35,000 birds and nearly destroyed commerce in Alaska's Prince William Sound. [...]

Based on past oil spills in the Gulf, including the 1979 Ixtoc rig disaster that spilled 3 million gallons of crude in shallower waters off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, scientists say the Gulf's warm, agitating, bacteria-filled waters have a remarkable ability to chomp through even the toughest crude. It's also a place where hurricanes can drive oil inland, but storms can also drag oil off beaches to be refined at sea by natural processes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Both parties mull raising retirement age: House leaders get frank about Social Security cost (Patrice Hill, July 13, 2010, Washington Times)

[L]essons learned from the debt crisis in Europe and worries that the U.S. could soon confront its own debt crisis, with annual deficits projected at about $1 trillion for years to come, may have prompted the unusually frank comments by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Speaking in unrelated forums, both leaders stressed that with people living longer and enjoying better health in their senior years, the nation simply can't afford any longer to be paying out benefits for as long as 30 years after retirement.

"We need to look at the American people and explain to them that we're broke," Mr. Boehner said in an interview last week with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Besides raising the retirement age for full Social Security benefits to 70 for people now 50 or younger, Mr. Boehner suggested curbing benefit growth by tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than growth in wages, and providing benefits only to those who need them.

"If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you're retired, why are we paying you at a time when we're broke?" he said. "We just need to be honest with people."

Mr. Hoyer also said it was time to be honest with the public that the sheer size of the deficits and public debt means any serious effort to cut them back to manageable levels will require cuts and reforms in all major programs — including defense and Social Security — as well as tax increases.

"We could and should consider a higher retirement age, or one pegged to life span," he said in a speech last month before the Third Way think tank.

...but who thinks he'll sieze it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Who's Sorry Now? (RiShawn Biddle, 7.14.10, American Spectator)

CERTAINLY BARNES ISN'T THE ONLY Democrat seeking the coffers (and rank-and-file support) of the NEA and American Federation of Teachers. Centrist Democrat school reformers may have won over President Barack Obama, and ended unquestioned support for the teachers union agenda. But they remain an influential force within Democratic Party politics, especially as voter disenchantment with Obama on other issues has fueled a string of Republican victories.

So far in the 2009-2010 election cycle, the NEA and AFT have donated $22 million to candidates, party committees, and ballot measures, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Among the struggling Democrats benefiting from the largesse: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (who faces a rematch against his predecessor, Robert Ehrlich), and Alabama gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks, who trails both Republican aspirants for the Cotton State's high office, according to Rasmussen Reports.

The NEA and AFT displayed their brute force late last month when it convinced House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey to tuck a $10 billion school bailout package aimed at stemming the layoffs of at least 100,000 teachers and other school employees into a supplementary war spending bill -- and fund it by cutting $800 million from such Obama school reform efforts as the $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative. All but 15 House Democrats supported the plan over the objections of centrist Democrat school reformers and Obama himself-- who has threatened to veto the entire package. (It faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which has already rejected Education Committee Chairman Tom Harkin's efforts to pass a similar plan.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


What next for 4-4-2?: British football's favourite formation isn't dead – but the World Cup proved the future of 4-4-2 looks bleak (Jonathan Wilson, 14 July 2010, The Guardian)

Johan Cruyff got stuck in as well last week – not particularly surprisingly given his lifelong ideological insistence on 4-3-3 – pointing out that "the numbers don't match up" and explaining that a system of three straight bands doesn't lend itself to the creation of passing triangles. This has always been an axiom: all else being equal, a triangle will always beat a line, and the Cruyff mode of play has always been predicated on the creation of triangles. A 4-2-3-1, with its W shape in midfield, is essentially comprised of interlocking triangles.

Which raises the question of why, if 4-4-2's disadvantages are so obvious, it has survived for so long? To start with, it should be made clear that Cruyff is speaking about his particular vision of football, which is rooted in ball possession and pressing, something that caused him, even before the game, to align himself with Spain rather than Holland in the World Cup final. That is one way to play – and the recent success of Barcelona and Spain shows it is a successful way to play – but it certainly isn't the only way. That a short-passing, technique-based game isn't for everybody was demonstrated very clearly in a tournament in which many people preferred the more dynamic, if more reactive, football of Germany.

Those passing triangles are only important for a side looking to dominate possession. For a side looking to disrupt that, 4-4-2 can be extremely effective – the famous "two banks of four" that for a long time seemed to be such a feature of any English team playing an away game in European competition. Fulham showed last season how effective the style can still be. Sit the midfield line deep on the back four so there is minimal space between the lines for attacking midfielders or deep-lying forwards to exploit, and it becomes very hard to penetrate. It doesn't matter how many triangles you create if you never get the ball closer than 35 yards from the opposition goal. [...]

Perhaps it is just about conceivable that, if players could be persuaded to put their egos to one side (and that could be an issue for Roy Hodgson if he attempts to apply the Fulham system at Liverpool this season), a club team could still be drilled into an effective pressing 4-4-2, but achieving that level of discipline is an exhausting, demoralisingly boring process that became too much even for Milan after three seasons; it was very hard to implement then, with the change in the offside law and players enjoying greater freedom to change clubs it is even harder now. At international level, anyway, where the time available to work with players is limited and they are fatigued by club commitments, it is impossible, something even Sacchi was forced to acknowledge.

What the World Cup has done is to expose the problems 4-4-2 without hard pressing faces, and not just in terms of being outnumbered in midfield; with the stretching of the effective playing area, the midfield band can become exposed, with space in front of it and space behind it. That gap between defensive and midfield lines was precisely the space Mesut Ozil exploited so well in the first half of Germany's victory over England (this space, as Matthias Sindelar, Alfred Bickel, Laszlo Kubala, Nandor Hidegkuti, Pelé, Günter Netzer,Diego Maradona, Ruud Gullit, Zinedine Zidane, Rui Costa and Juan Román Riquelme and countless others have demonstrated, has always been a problem for England, and that weakness is one of the reasons Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola were so successful in the Premier League in the 90s). Quite apart from the furious search for immediate justice that followed the non-award of a goal after Frank Lampard's shot had crossed the line, it may be that a desire to compress that area was partly behind England's suicidally high line in the second half of that game.

As Spain accidentally showed, it's danged hard to score out of those triangles and impossible to score through the middle if the opponent just keeps two central defender and two defensive midfielders in position. The problems were compounded for Spain because they have no striker sizable enough to receive balls played in from the wings. The only time they look threatening in the box is on set pieces, where they can bring their bigger defenders forward.

A year ago, in the Confederations Cup, the US had this defensive set up down pat, but Gooch and DeMerit were both healthy and Michael Bradley was content to defend. Take Gooch and Ricardo Clark out, give Bradley and Feilhaber offensive responsibilities and you've imploded your own formation from within.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


New Role-Playing Game: You vs. the National Debt: An online game that tasks players with reining in government spending suggests the public is more willing to make hard choices than they get credit for. (Emily Badger, Miller-McCune)

[T]he bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has invited people to go through these programs line-by-line. They’ve built an online “exercise in hard choices,” a game about as fun as filing your taxes but probably more satisfying for anyone who finishes it.

“I have no idea what brings people in, who it is that’s willing to play a budget simulator,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the CRFB. “All I know is that we’ve been astounded and gratified by the participation.”

Since the simulator first went online two months ago, 7,200 people have tried their hand at it. About 3,000 so far have offered to share the results of what they came up with, giving the CRFB a burgeoning collection of public-opinion data it intends to share with real-life lawmakers.

Surprisingly, many of those people actually succeeded in stabilizing the problem, or reining in debt to 60 percent of GDP by 2018. CRFB borrowed that benchmark from a recommendation by the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, which calculated the figure as “the most ambitious yet realistic goal” we can get to in the next seven years. (For comparison: That Peterson-Pew report showed debt rising from 41 to 53 percent of GDP over the previous year alone, with projections for it to reach 85 percent by 2018 and 100 percent by 2022.)

What’s most encouraging, MacGuineas says, is that those 3,000 people who shared their answer sheets had a remarkable amount of consensus. Their top five most-common proposals were to eliminate outdated programs, reduce the size of government earmarks and farm subsidies, reform the international tax system and set the retirement age for Social Security at 68 (total savings: $430 billion).

Which brings up CRFB’s other goal with the game. MacGuineas doesn’t just want to show citizens how serious this task is — she also wants to show politicians what people say they’re willing to cut.

July 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


D.C. relies on charter schools as training tool: Reconstitution a threat to many unionized teachers (Deborah Simmons, July 13, 2010, Washington Times)

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is applying that old maxim "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" to her brand of school reform.

Charter schools have long been among the best performers in the city, and, in a move guaranteed to anger teacher unions, the chancellor is turning to them to help her turn around some of the worst.

At the start of the 2009-10 school year, Friendship Public Charter Schools began managing Anacostia High School, and Friends of Bedford partnered with DCPS to run troubled Coolidge and Dunbar high schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


Acclaimed magician Falkenstein dies at 78 (AP, 7/13/10)

A longtime Los Angeles resident, Falkenstein rose to fame in the 1970s by impressing audiences with mind-reading tricks on his radio show. He also took his magic act to television, including one of Regis Philbin’s early talk shows, and appeared in shows in Las Vegas, opening for such headliners as Ann-Margaret.

Falkenstein always disclaimed any psychic powers, and was careful to call himself a mentalist, not a mind-reader, but many fans were convinced he could indeed read their thoughts.

He performed regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif., a private club for the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc., and was Stage Magician of the Year in 1971.

In 1984, he married Willard, daughter of famed magician Harry Willard, and the duo performed their signature “spirit cabinet” trick worldwide. The illusion had Willard bound to a chair within a curtained enclosure while items placed inside began flying about.

When not performing, Falkenstein taught speech pathology at Los Angeles schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Whitman attacks on nurses part of larger strategy (JULIET WILLIAMS, 07/13/2010, AP)

The California Nurses Association, one of the most aggressive labor groups in the state...is accustomed to winning, often in attention-grabbing ways. But it now finds itself in Whitman’s crosshairs as part of her campaign against California’s Democratically aligned public employee unions.

While the nurses association represents both public and private employees, it is part of the labor establishment Whitman has railed against. To Whitman, the unions symbolize California’s undisciplined spending, political gridlock and inefficient, outdated operations that are anathema to her corporate sensibilities.

After the nurses association rejected Whitman’s request to turn over its membership roster, she responded by buying a publicly available list of all the state’s registered nurses, about 370,000. She then began mailing them fliers that slam the union’s leadership, questioning its spending on anti-Whitman campaign events and saying its approach is unprofessional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Fiddle me this: Kingsley Flood don't even like alt-country (BARRY THOMPSON, July 13, 2010, The Phoenix)

I tend to suspect a solid percentage of what appear to be roots-movement bands are, in fact, punk bands who realized they get taken more seriously when they play acoustic guitars and pretend they've always been huge Johnny Cash fans. [...]

"I still don't listen to much roots rock," says bassist Nick Balkin, when I join him with three other area Kingsleys at Lord Hobo in Cambridge. "When Naseem and I started playing, his songs were just really good folk songs. Then it turned into something you could label Americana, because we kept saying things like, 'Oh, this would be cool with a fiddle,' or 'This part would be cool with a mandolin.' "

Of course, 90 percent of bands who say they didn't expect to end up lumped in with whatever genre either have no self-awareness or are lying. But this year's self-released Dust Windows indicates that Kingsley Flood know themselves quite well. Sometimes a straight-rock essence supplants their flickering traditionalist zeal. But then there's "Devil's Arms," which could inspire you to hop a train and guzzle moonshine. And "When I Grow Up" and "Just a Midnight Ride" fall into that select cadre of really cool indie songs I wonder whether my dad wouldn't enjoy.

Even on those tracks, Khuri never quite ceases to evoke an impish, Dustbowl-era troubadour spinning narratives where the Devil and Jesus exist as characters in the story, as opposed to anything allegorical. Which is weird, given that dude's got a grad degree from Harvard. But had he not pursued academe, he never would've started his fiddly rock band. Balkin, then known mainly as guitarist for space-age neo-Britpop lads Logan 5 and the Runners, first met Khuri through a Craigslist roommate arrangement while the latter attended school. After some fluctuation, the line-up has settled into Khuri, Balkin, lead-guitarist George Hall, mandolinist/fiddler Jenée Morgan, trumpeter Chris Barrett, and drummer Will Davies. They all seem to share a dislike of contemporary alt-country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


The consequences of taxation (Arpit Gupta, 07/13/2010, Daily Caller)

America is substantially wealthier than many European countries. For instance, America’s per capita income was over $45,000 in 2007, while Germany’s weighed in at just over $34,000. If Germany were an American state, its per capital level would sit in between South Carolina and Oklahoma. For an even more stark comparison, Greece’s per capital income level is lower than every American state.

A number of economists – among them Ed Prescott – have argued that higher European taxes play a large role in determining this outcome. During the 1970s, Western Europeans worked more than Americans. Now, Americans work 50% more than Europeans. This argues against durable cultural differences as an explanation for greater American employment, and points to recent policy changes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Obama's Entitlement Opportunity: The president's deficit commission isn't likely to agree on tax increases, but don't be surprised if it recommends Social Security reform. (Fred Barnes, 7/12/10, WSJ)

One reform that could win bipartisan support would, over time, raise the Social Security retirement age to 70. An extension of retirement age to 67 from 65 was pushed in 1983 by the Greenspan Commission, along with a boost in the income base for payroll taxes. President Reagan backed the changes and Congress enacted them.

A second reform, bolder and more controversial, would means-test Social Security, gradually slowing the growth of benefits for the more affluent but sparing those with lower incomes. The model for this is the Pozen plan, the brainchild of Robert Pozen, a former vice chairman of Fidelity Investments and influential Social Security reformer.

The Pozen strategy would utilize a formula called "progressive indexing." Future retirees with higher incomes would see their benefits rise less than under the current formula, those with low incomes would continue to get full increases, and the benefits of those with middle incomes would rise according to a sliding scale. Current Medicare recipients would not be affected.

No one, not even those with high wages in the years on which their Social Security benefits are calculated, would face an actual reduction. Under the Pozen plan, higher income workers would have increases in their benefits based on inflation, while those with low incomes would continue to have theirs based on the more generous index of wages.

The great attraction of the Pozen plan is that it would erase more than two-thirds of Social Security's long-term shortfall of $4 trillion. (The 2010 shortfall is $29 billion.) The downside is that many Democrats opposed the plan when President Bush endorsed a version of it in 2005 when he was promoting broad reform of Social Security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Crash Data Suggest Driver Error in Toyota Accidents (MIKE RAMSEY And KATE LINEBAUGH, 7/13/10, WSJ)

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes. [...]

The findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve a sample of reports in which a driver of a Toyota vehicle said the brakes were depressed but failed to stop the car from accelerating and ultimately crashing.

The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government.

The findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


The Top Five Business Achievements of 'The Boss' (Jon Weinbach, 7/13/10, FanHouse)

George Steinbrenner will be remembered for many things -- his imperious leadership style, his commitment to winning, his feuds with Billy Martin, his attempt to extort Dave Winfield, and his stewardship of the Yankees' resurrection over the last 15 years -- but his most lasting achievements were on the business side of sports. Quite simply, Steinbrenner revolutionized the role of the pro sports owner and ushered in an era of explosive and unprecedented growth for the global sports industry. [...]

"The Boss" took several landmark steps to transform the Yankees into an economic juggernaut -- and here's a rundown of his top five most influential business achievements: [...]

2. The formation of the YES Network in 1999

By partnering with Goldman Sachs and the former owners of the New Jersey Nets, Steinbrenner created an instant media behemoth that may ultimately be the most lucrative component of the Yankees empire. After a series of well-publicized fights with New York City-area cable operators over carriage fees for YES, the eight-year-old channel is now the most-watched regional sports network in the country, with a programming slate that includes nearly all the Yankees' and Nets' regular-season games, as well as college sports and original shows. Last Saturday night, YES produced the first 3D baseball telecast, broadcasting the 3D feed on DirecTV. While the Yankees do not own all of the network, Steinbrenner's family owns a sizable stake in the holding company which oversees YES. When the network was rumored to be for sale in 2007, valuations for YES ranged anywhere from $3 to $4 billion.

Winning dominates Steinbrenner's complicated legacy (Scott Miller, 7/13/10, CBSSports.com)
To those baseball fans who hated him, I would only ask this:

If you could, would you trade the owner of your club for an in-his-prime Steinbrenner if the package included Steinbrenner's same zeal to win and gusto to make the hometown fans proud?

Of course you would. No questions asked.

New York was lucky to have him. Much as it might seem difficult to fathom, baseball benefited by his single-minded zeal, because, on the other side of all rabid Yankees fans, everybody else's fans always need someone to hate.

And free agents ... oh, my, the free agents. The gold with which so many have lined their pockets for so long was underwritten by Steinbrenner, either directly when they signed with the Yankees or indirectly when they signed elsewhere for a figure that was a Yankee-inflated price.

Today's Yankees are a monolith, created and designed by Steinbrenner.

Just as the old Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built, the new palace is The House That Steinbrenner Built.

In the end, Ronald Reagan pardoned him, Seinfeld parodied him and New York loved him. I'm sure, in his quiet moments, Steinbrenner considered himself, and not Lou Gehrig, the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

...that is to say, your team is and has been content just to exist, rather than expending any effort to win. Say what we will about The Boss, he'd never have allowed any team he owned to settle for existence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


A Demographic Disaster: The Chinese government is now studying the consequences of its one-child policy (Michael J. Miller, July 2010, Catholic World Report)

The human costs of the one-child policy have been incalculable. Huo Datong, a psychoanalyst who trained in France and practices in China, says that “the trauma of the only child is the major challenge confronting China.” In a book titled China on the Psychiatrist’s Couch he explained that “the One-Child Policy strikes at the heart of the Chinese family structure, which is founded on many children—a sign of prosperity…. The government cannot eradicate the Chinese cultural desire to be the father or mother of many children…. A new equilibrium has to be devised.” Congressman Smith described the devastation more bluntly. “Women are severely harmed emotionally, psychologically, and physically. Chinese women are violated by the state. The suicide rate for Chinese women—about 500 a day—far exceeds suicide rates anywhere on earth.”

Females of all ages have suffered disproportionately from the government restrictions. Mosher writes, “Within a few years of the introduction of the one-child policy, hundreds of thousands of baby girls were being drowned, smothered, or abandoned at birth each year…even in relatively wealthy areas like the Pearl River Delta, where female infanticide was unknown in earlier times.”

The increased availability of techniques for determining the sex of a fetus has led to widespread selective abortion. An official report notes that currently 119 boys are born for every 100 girls (in 1982 the ratio was 108 boys to 100 girls). It is expected that by 2020 between 25 and 30 million Chinese men will have no prospects of marrying.

This gender imbalance has already led to a host of social ills: higher rates of crime, homosexuality, and divorce, and a lucrative market in surrogate mothers (usually recruited by agencies from poor villages). The Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing admits that there is trafficking in North Korean and Vietnamese women, who are sold to single Chinese farmers. These “undocumented slaves” are often resold to other networks or else handed over to the Chinese police, who receive a bounty for sending them back across the border.

In May 2009, the French newspaper Libération published an article on the abduction or “theft” of Chinese children. (A piece in English by Peter Hitchens corroborated the story in April 2010.) Between 8,000 and 15,000 children disappear in China each year; three quarters of them are boys, victims of human trafficking. A Chinese lawyer maintains that “the government does not want to acknowledge the breadth” of the phenomenon and does nothing to combat it. “There are three sorts of buyers: families without children; those who have daughters only; those who have a son but want to have several descendants in keeping with the traditional image of the family…. Theoretically one has to satisfy several criteria in order to adopt, but there are always local arrangements. After several years…the village leader legalizes the child,” making it impossible for the biological parents to find their child. (Human trafficking in Chinese children is hushed up because it would tarnish the country’s image.)

In February 2009, another study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted that in a poll of 18,638 women, 69 percent of those who were authorized to have a second child said that they did not want one, mainly for financial reasons. The urban Chinese, at least, have learned well the lessons of the past 30 years: China’s vast but shallow economic development leaves money tight, and parents have little margin of error.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


It’s Obama’s Empire Now (Stanley Kutler, 7/13/10, TruthDig)

The Obama administration is thoroughly committed to defense of the empire it inherited; there is no or little retreat from the mindless expansion of American ambition. Teddy Roosevelt would be proud. Why are supporters of Barack Obama dismayed and shocked by his Afghanistan course, when, after all, in his 2008 campaign he promised nothing less? In his first presidential campaign debate with John McCain, Obama said: “We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate. We need more troops there. We need more resources there. … So I would send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan.”

Democrats and liberals so fear the war-loving right that they believe they must have their own adventures. But this is not 1961, when President John F. Kennedy told an enthralled nation that we “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” And thus he brought the Vietnam quagmire. There are limits to our power; sadly, presidential candidates will not utter that truth, whatever painful adventures we have had. Obama might remember what he said in 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.” Our diminished capacities and resources make such endeavors problematic. We cannot ignore present realities and forget the past.

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele recently attacked the Obama administration’s Afghanistan war efforts in a thoughtful statement. Typically, the media jumped on him—NPR called it his “gaffe”—and his speech contained the media’s Sound Bite of the Week: “a war of Obama’s choosing.” Steele’s remarks, which include a larger criticism of the war, are worth reading in full.

It was a gaffe, as defined by the Kinsley Rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Obama looks to Bush’s worldwide strategy on AIDS (DONNA BRYSON, 07/13/2010, AP)

The national strategy for combatting HIV and AIDS the Obama administration released Tuesday credits the Bush-era international campaign against AIDS for setting clear targets and ensuring a variety of agencies and groups worked together smoothly to achieve them.

George W. Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR in 2003 in 15 countries, 12 of them African, that bear most of the world’s AIDS burden. It has helped to treat more than 2 million Africans and supported 10 million more.

“The people here are so incredibly grateful for the impact it has had,” said Kate Bistline, an official with Right to Care, a South African AIDS group that receives PEPFAR funds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Storm over 'bunch of gays' in Germany's World Cup team: Agent of injured captain Michael Ballack alleged to have sneered at 'bunch of gays' in national team (Kate Connolly, guardian.co.uk)

In an essay entitled New German Men, Aleksander Osang recounts an interview he had with Becker prior to the World Cup in which the agent allegedly told him which of the players in the team were gay. He later said that a former national player was ready to reveal the "bunch of gays" in the German team, according to Osang. Asked about the sexuality of one of the newer players, Becker, who is a lawyer by profession, referred to him as being "half gay".

Osang went on to say that Becker put the new adroit, lighter and elegant style of play that has become a trademark of trainer Joachim Löw's players down to their homosexuality, in contrast to the typically more aggressive and offensive German style of past years, but suggested they played too delicately to assure themselves a place in the final.

According to Der Spiegel, when Becker made his remarks about the "bunch of gays" he expected the ears of fellow journalists present to "prick up".

Well, that's obviously an unfortunate choice of terminology....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Can the Coalition triumph on the battlefield where Tony Blair was beaten?: The Government must learn from New Labour's failed attempts to reform the public sector (Fraser Nelson, 12 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Ten years ago, Mr Blair and Alan Milburn also believed they could direct reform from Whitehall. But as time went on, they found that they were outmanoeuvred at every level. GPs would simply refuse to inform patients that they had the right to attend a private clinic at the NHS's expense. The new GPs' contract was a disaster for ministers – and the latest in a long series of triumphs for the British Medical Association. Talk of having private clinics conducting 10 per cent of NHS operations came to nothing. They fought the system – and the system won.

Rather than pick up this unwon cause, Mr Lansley says he will not judge success by greater numbers of independent providers in the system. The NHS, he says, is full of people crying out for change. There are some. Sue Page, who runs the Primary Care Trust in Cumbria has been trying to develop GP commissioning for years – thereby putting herself out of a job. She will welcome yesterday's announcement. But few of her counterparts are so public-spirited, and will more likely use every tool at their resource to thwart Mr Lansley in ways that he can hardly begin to imagine. They beat the Blair government, and are preparing for a rematch.

Michael Gove is also facing a rerun of a Blair-era battle. His "free schools" agenda has caught the public imagination – but its enemies have been here before. Such was their success last time that almost everyone has forgotten Mr Blair's attempt. "All state schools to go independent" was the Daily Telegraph's front-page headline following the publication of the Education White Paper in 2005. The then prime minister said this would happen within five years: the calamitous comprehensive education experiment would be drawn to an end, and he would fight off any opposition from the teachers' unions.

The unions won. They mounted an effective under-the-radar campaign, town hall power-brokers called in favours from MPs, and the Bill was perforated with bullet holes by the time it returned to the House of Commons. Had Blair been able to deliver his policy, every pupil in England would today attend an independent school. Mr Gove would not have a schools policy. Just as in the NHS, the empire fought back – and won.

Politicians seldom admit defeat. But here is the extraordinary opportunity of the Blair biography, due out in September. "He is utterly without ego," I am told by one of his friends who has read the book, "and will be brutally honest." If so, he could admit how, in his first term, he was naïve enough to believe (as many Tories do now) that the Civil Service was in some way a Rolls-Royce that just needed to be driven correctly. And how he came to learn that bureaucracies always give the best service to the sharpest elbows – and that they must be dismantled, rather than fine tuned. His memoir can say how he came to realise that the market is the surest guarantor of social justice.

When I worked on the NJ gubernatorial in 1985, the candidate used to tell a story about his first day as the first ever Essex County Executive. He arrived at the County building in Newark and got in the elevator to go the one story up to his office. There was an elevator "operator" sitting on a stool who pushed the button for him. Appalled by the obvious inefficiency he asked what sort of employee status the guy had:

I'm a B employee.

A B employee?

I be here before you got here. I'll be here while you're here. And I'll be here after you're gone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Meg Whitman’s successful courtship of Latino voters (Aaron Guerrero, 07/13/2010, Daily Caller)

When president Bush captured 40 percent of the their vote en route to his reelection in 2004, GOP strategists salivated over the prospect of having a legitimate chance to compete for an up-and-coming voting bloc for years to come, proving that the Republican Party and its agenda could attract minority voters in significant numbers and percentages.

But the tumultuous debate over immigration the past few years has left the once promising relationship between the GOP and the emerging constituency in tatters. [...]

[I]f Republicans are looking for a long-term blueprint for how they can woo Latino voters again, they may have to look no further than the California gubernatorial campaign of Meg Whitman.

Since the conclusion of a contentious Republican primary in June, where she reluctantly had to tack to the right on immigration, the former eBay CEO has engaged in a full-court press of Latino voters.

Her efforts are paying dividends and she may well prove to be a future case study for how the GOP can navigate the rough terrain of the immigration debate.

According to a July Field poll, Whitman now trails Democrat and former two-term governor Jerry Brown by 11 points among Latinos, cutting what was once a nearly a 30 point deficit back in March; the overall race is essentially tied.

The proper strategy is to loudly denounce amnesty but embrace amnistia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Moguls Revolt Against Obama: At last week’s Sun Valley summit of media titans, the mood was dour, the forecast anxious. Peter Lauria on how America’s moguls are growing increasingly skeptical about the president. (Peter Lauria, 7/13/10, Daily Beast)

The White House’s charm offensive toward the business community could have used a representative in Sun Valley last week. While President Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner all talked up the economy and the positive impact of the administration’s policies in interviews last week, their words were viewed suspiciously by the titans of media, technology, and finance assembled for Allen & Co.’s annual conference in the sleepy resort town nestled in the crevices of Idaho’s Pioneer Mountains. The most generous comment about the current state of the economy came from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who serves as an adviser to the president on science and technology, and even then the best he could muster was that, “Everybody is in a sort of funk.”

In both on- and off-the-record conversations with The Daily Beast, many of the other moguls in attendance—who collectively control hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars, of the country’s gross domestic product—were less diplomatic, expressing serious concern about the administration’s motives and openly worrying that its policies will cause sustained damage not just to their consumer-facing businesses, but also to the long-term health of the country. [...]

Added John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Communications: “Government needs to focus on how to incentivize companies because we in business are the ones who create jobs. I’d like to see them come around and be more proactive about free enterprise and this wonderful system we have.”

The guy was supposed to be smarter than a million Isaac Newton's but he can't figure out basic economics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Ideas Having Sex: How prosperity and innovation exceeded the expectations of John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith (Matt Ridley, July 2010, Reason)

The phrase diminishing returns is such a cliché that few people give it much thought. Picking out the pecans from a bowl of salted nuts gives diminishing returns: The pieces of pecan in the bowl get rarer and smaller. The fingers keep finding almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, or even—God forbid—Brazil nuts. Gradually the bowl, like a moribund gold mine, ceases to yield decent returns of pecan.

Now imagine a bowl of nuts that has the opposite character. The more pecans you take, the larger and more numerous they grow. That is the human experience for the last 100,000 years. The global nut bowl has yielded ever more pecans.

Nobody predicted this. The pioneers of political economy expected eventual stagnation. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Robert Malthus all predicted that diminishing returns would eventually set in, that the improvement in living standards they were seeing would peter out. “The discovery, and useful application of machinery, always leads to the increase of the net produce of the country, although it may not, and will not, after an inconsiderable interval, increase the value of that net produce,” said Ricardo, who perceived an inexorable tendency toward what he called a “stationary state.” John Stuart Mill, conceding that returns were showing no signs of diminishing in the 1840s, put it down to luck. Innovation, he said, was an external factor, a cause but not an effect of economic growth.

Even Mill’s modest optimism was not shared by his successors. They feared that as discovery began to slow, competition would drive profits out of the increasingly perfect market until all that was left was rent and monopoly. With Smith’s invisible hand guiding myriad market participants possessing perfect information to profitless equilibria and vanishing returns, neoclassical economics gloomily forecast the end of growth.

To explain the modern global economy’s bottomless nut bowl, you must explain where the perpetual innovation machine and its increasing returns came from. They were not planned, directed, or ordered. They emerged, evolved, bottom up, from specialization and exchange. The accelerated exchange of ideas and people made possible by technology fueled the accelerating growth of wealth that has characterized the last century. [...]

It used to be popular to argue that the European scientific revolution of the 17th century unleashed the rational curiosity of the educated classes, whose theories were then applied in the form of new technologies, which in turn allowed standards of living to rise. But history shows this account is backward. Few of the inventions that made the industrial revolution owed anything to theory.

It is true that England had a scientific revolution in the late 1600s, but the influence of scientists like Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke on what happened in England’s manufacturing industry in the following century was negligible. The industry that was transformed first and most, cotton spinning and weaving, was of little interest to scientists. The jennies, gins, frames, mules, and looms that revolutionized the working of cotton were invented by tinkering businessmen, not thinking boffins. It has been said that nothing in their designs would have puzzled Archimedes.

Even the later stages of the industrial revolution are replete with examples of technologies that were developed in remarkable ignorance of why they worked. This was especially true in the biological world. Aspirin was curing headaches for more than a century before anybody had the faintest idea of how. Penicillin’s ability to kill bacteria was finally understood around the time bacteria learned to defeat it.

Most technological change comes from attempts to improve existing technology. It happens on the shop floor among apprentices and mechanics or in the workplace among the users of computer programs, and only rarely as a result of the application and transfer of knowledge from the ivory tower. [...]

It is the ever-increasing exchange of ideas that causes the ever-increasing rate of innovation in the modern world.

Innovators are in the business of sharing. It is the most important thing they do, for unless they share their innovation it can have no benefit for them or for anybody else. And the one activity that got much easier to do after about 1800, and has gotten dramatically easier recently, is sharing. Travel and communication disseminated information much faster and further. Newspapers, technical journals, and telegraphs spread ideas as fast as they spread gossip. In a recent survey by the economists Rajshree Agarwal and Michael Gort of 46 major inventions, the time it took for the first competing copy to appear fell steadily from 33 years in 1895 to three years in 1975. And the speed has increased ever since.

When Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine in the first century A.D. and employed it in opening temple doors, news of his invention spread so slowly and to so few people that it may never have reached the ears of cart designers. Ptolemaic astronomy was ingenious and precise, if not quite accurate, but it was never used for navigation because astronomers and sailors did not meet. The secret of the modern world is its gigantic interconnectedness. Ideas are having sex with other ideas from all over the planet with ever-increasing promiscuity. The telephone had sex with the computer and spawned the Internet.

Technologies emerge from the coming together of existing technologies into wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Henry Ford once candidly admitted that he had invented nothing new: He had “simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.” Inventors like to deny their ancestors, exaggerating the unfathered nature of their breakthroughs, the better to claim the full glory (and sometimes the patents) for themselves.

...to say that science has added no value to the modern world. Technological innovation is a function of intelligent tinkering, not intellectual theory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


So that's OK then. It's fine to abuse young girls, as long as you're a great film director: The Swiss government has admitted "national interests" may be a factor (Johann Hari, 13 July 2010, Independent)

So now we know. If you are a 44-year-old man, you can drug and anally rape a terrified 13-year-old girl as she sobs, says "No, no, no," and pleads for her asthma medication – all according to the victim's sworn testimony – and face no punishment at all. You just have to meet two criteria – (a) you have to run away and stay away for a few decades; and (b) you need to direct some good films. If you do, not only will you walk free, there will be a huge campaign to protect you from the "witch-hunt" and you will be lauded as a hero.

If you're going to react against Christianity then you have to embrace immorality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Safer Sex By Young In Africa Drives HIV Rates Down (REUTERS, 7/13/10)

In a study published ahead a global AIDS conference due to be held in Vienna next week, UNAIDS found that in 16 of the 25 worst affected countries, rates of HIV had been falling among young people, with some of the most dramatic declines seen in Kenya, where there was a 60 percent change between 2000 and 2005.

Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe have all achieved a goal set agreed in 2001 to reduce HIV prevalence in 15 to 24-year-olds by 25 percent by 2010, it said. Burundi, Lesotho, Rwanda, Swaziland, the Bahamas and Haiti were all "likely to achieve" it.

The study found the main drivers of the reductions were changes in sexual behaviour. Young people in 13 of the 25 countries were waiting longer before they become sexually active. In more than half of the 25 countries, young people were choosing to have fewer sexual partners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


GOP Hispanic candidates go against trend (John Fritze, 7/12/10, USA TODAY)

From a sprawling district on the U.S.-Mexican border to the northernmost reaches of Idaho, a handful of Hispanic candidates in competitive races are bucking political conventional wisdom. They're running as Republicans.

In some cases, such as in Idaho, they are competing in House districts with small Hispanic populations. Others are running in majority-Hispanic districts, such as in Southwest Texas, where voters typically send Democrats to Washington. [...]

[G]OP candidates said they aren't willing to cede the nation's fastest-growing minority group to Democrats.

Some point to George W. Bush, who aggressively campaigned among Hispanics when he ran for president, sometimes speaking Spanish on the campaign trail.

Bush captured 35% of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 44% in 2004, according to surveys of voters leaving polling places.

"The Republican Party gave Hispanics a voice when we were not a targeted group," said Alci Maldonado, chairwoman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Saudi Arabia's House Of Cards (Ilan Berman, 07.13.10, Forbes)

How stable is Saudi Arabia? Not very, according to at least one member of the Kingdom's ruling class. Last month Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a prominent dissident now in exile in Cairo, issued an open letter to his fellow royals, urging them to abandon their desert fiefdom for greener pastures. According to the prince, the current social compact between the House of Saud and its subjects had become untenable, with the government no longer able to "impose" its writ on the people and growing grassroots discontent at the royals "interfering in people's private life and restricting their liberties." His advice? That King Abdullah and his coterie flee the Kingdom before they are overthrown--and before their opponents "cut off our heads in streets."

Or so the story goes. Reports of Turki's missive have understandably made a splash in the Iranian press, with Riyadh's regional rival engaging in some thinly veiled schadenfreude. But the actual letter itself is exceedingly hard to come by, at least in its English translation. Were it not for a report from the country's official news agency denouncing the communiqué, you might think the entire episode was made up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


CBS 5 Poll: Whitman, Prop19 Lead; Senate Race Even (CBS 5, 7/12/10)

If the election for governor of California were held today, Republican Meg Whitman would edge out Democrat Jerry Brown 46% to 39%, according to a new CBS 5 KPIX-TV poll of likely voters released Monday. [...]

In the race for U.S. Senator from California, Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina are effectively even, the poll found.

Fiorina got 47% voter support compared to Boxer's 45%, which is within the poll's four percentage point margin of error.

Whites in state 'below the replacement' level (Justin Berton, June 5, 2010, SF Guardian)
California's white population has declined since 2000 at an unprecedented rate, hastening the day when Hispanics will be the state's largest population group, according to newly released state figures. [...]

The study also confirmed projections that a steadily growing Hispanic population will surpass whites as the state's largest racial demographic in 2016. Hispanics are expected to become a majority of all Californians in 2042, Heim said.

Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California, said white women in recent decades have tended to pursue higher-education degrees and stay in the workplace, leading them to have fewer children. The white population is now "below the replacement" level, Johnson said. "They're simply not replacing themselves."

The median age among California's whites is 44, while the median age for the Hispanic population is 28, according to the study.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Obama's Immigration Fakery: In 2007, then-Sen. Obama helped derail an immigration bill he claimed to support. He's no more serious about a bipartisan bill today. (William McGurn, 7/13/10, WSJ)

Earlier this month President Obama gave us his speech on comprehensive immigration reform. Since then, observers have commented on its similarity to the Oval Office address given by George W. Bush four years earlier. As someone who had a hand in the Bush speech, let me point out two striking differences.

First, President Bush actually wanted an immigration bill, and indeed many of his conservative critics loathed him for it. Second, because he knew that such a bill required bipartisan support, he did not disparage members of the other party.

Wait a minute. Hasn't Mr. Obama told us how he "reached across the aisle in the Senate to fight for comprehensive immigration reform"? Well, yes, those are his words. The back story, however, suggests another face to our president. For then-Sen. Obama also favored a series of amendments that were plainly recognized as bill-killers—spurning not only Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain but the Democratic architect of that compromise, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.).

One such amendment was Mr. Obama's own, which aimed to substitute family ties for education and skills when determining who gets green cards. That led to what the Associated Press called a "heated exchange" with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). Mr. Graham accused Mr. Obama of undercutting Democrats and Republicans working for reform—contrary to his lofty campaign rhetoric about Americans coming together.

"So when you are out on the campaign trail, my friend, tell them about why we can't come together," said Mr. Graham. "This is why."

Mr. Obama's mischief did not stop there. Though his own amendment failed, he supported another poison pill by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.). Mr. Dorgan's target was the guest-worker provision, another key to GOP and business buy-in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


New Jersey Governor Defies Political Expectations (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 6/11/10, NY Times)

Mr. Christie has turned out to be a far more deft politician than his detractors — and even some supporters — had expected, making few compromises as he pursues a broad agenda for remaking New Jersey’s free-spending political culture. So far, polls suggest, the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“The most important thing in public life, in a job like governor, is for the people you’re representing to know exactly where you stand,” Mr. Christie said in an interview on Friday. “People who disagree with me on things at least have a sense of comfort in knowing where I’m coming from.”

In a mostly blue state where Democrats control the Legislature, Mr. Christie, a Republican, won election last year mostly because of the deep unpopularity of his opponent, Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor known for aggression rather than deal-making, took office to predictions that his hard-charging style would not work in the labyrinth of Trenton, where factions of party, region and interest group would slow him down.

Instead, he confronted the powerful public employees’ unions and won, cutting future pensions and benefits, and persuaded voters to defeat hundreds of local school budgets. He got nearly everything he wanted in the state budget, making the deepest cuts in generations. And the Assembly is expected this week to give final passage to one of his cherished goals: a cap on local property taxes.

The governor has repeatedly used his powers more confrontationally than his predecessors, wading into school budget fights, freezing the actions of semiautonomous public authorities and breaking with tradition by refusing to reappoint a State Supreme Court justice.

“I think we all underestimated his political skill coming in,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “You can’t deny that he’s been a tour de force in Trenton. He has managed to control the legislative agenda more than other governors, despite having a Legislature controlled by the opposite party.”

The governor has a direct, pithy speaking style — the sharp rise in property taxes in the past decade, he said, “is not a mystery; it’s a mandate” — often leavened by humor. And he is relentless, willing to hammer any message repeatedly and take on any critic, and he rarely meanders or evades a question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Why Southern Baptists Are Now Pro-Immigrant (Jessica Belt, Jul 12, 2010 , Patrol)

“If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition,” Land told NPR last week, “it's going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it, that's dictated by demographics, and you don't get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you're engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.” [...]

Richard Land doesn't mince words when he speaks about historical anti-immigration policies aimed at Italians and the Irish – he doesn't hesitate to admit those were both losing campaigns. Within Evangelicalism, Hispanics are a growing population, and Land told one reporter, “I don’t want to come back here 15 years from now and apologize to Hispanics.” At least in his public speeches, it's history not scripture that has convinced Land to welcome Hispanics, especially Southern Baptists, and to advocate for their needs. After all, that’s his job.

But it's also more than a job. It doesn't take long to understand that Land's position goes much deeper than his paycheck, and empathy makes all the difference. It's likely that Land knows families who do not have legal immigration status. It is also likely that Land has sat next to an undocumented person in a pew or shared the Lord's Supper with someone whose Green Card had expired. I'm speculating here, but Land's earnestness comes from a place that understands, or has tried to understand, the struggles of those for whom he advocates.

I speculate, because I spent my first 18 years attending Southern Baptist services on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and often weeknights, too. The Southern Baptists dunked me in a pool of water when I wanted to be baptized. The Southern Baptists gave me a primer in geography and cross-cultural differences through our annual foreign missions fundraiser. While many of the people within my church community were not interested in politics-at-large, they knew that if someone was sick, the best thing to do was to bring dinner to the infirmed. And now, as our country decides what is to be done with the millions of underpaid, undocumented workers (and some non-workers) who have crossed our borders, Southern Baptists like Land are saying that they aren't criminals, but neighbors. In some cases they are members of our congregations. We can't just deport them and wash our hands clean.

You don't get to love your neighbor only on Sunday and hate him the rest of the week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Jimmy Cliff: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 7/12/10, NPR)

For a musician, it must be hard to have your career hinge on your early music, but Jimmy Cliff always soldiered on. Still does. And his new songs are often as good as those early ones — he performs one, "I Got to Move On," here. But it is often circumstances, not songwriting abilities, that land a tune in the canon.

Jimmy Cliff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year — and was, for many, the star performer there. In myriad ways, his aging voice sounds better than ever, having grown into those songs he wrote and sang nearly four decades ago. I felt honored to be a part of this Tiny Desk Concert, and pleased that we captured it for posterity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


"The View" silent on HIV misstep: GLAAD calls out ABC for spreading misinformation about black women and AIDS, and the network stays quiet (Tracy Clark-Flory, 7/12/10, Salon)

On Monday, GLAAD stepped up its campaign to get ABC to correct a careless myth it recently promoted on-air about HIV and black women. The organization chose that favorite escalation strategy of the entertainment industry: a full-page ad in Variety.

On the June 22 episode of "The View," guest co-host D.L. Hughley announced with seeming authority: "When you look at the prevalence [of HIV] in the African American community, it's primarily young women who are getting it from men who are the down low." In case you missed the fear-mongering episode of "Oprah" that introduced middle America to the concept, a black man is said to be "on the down low" when he is in a straight relationship but secretly sleeps with other men.

The buzzterm has been used to explain the alarmingly high rate of HIV among African Americans and the skyrocketing rate of new infections in black women. But, as is often the case with catchy phrases of the moment, it's too easy an answer, and it's been thoroughly debunked as a causal (or even correlative) theory. Black women are far more likely to contract HIV by having unprotected sex with a man who uses intravenous drugs or has multiple partners.

HIV Risk Behaviors Among African American Men in Los Angeles County Who Self-Identify as Heterosexual (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
November 12, 2002)
The current study examines risk behaviors in a case-control study of 90 HIV-infected and 272 uninfected African American men in Los Angeles County who self-identified as heterosexual. Thirty-one percent of the infected men and sixteen percent of the uninfected men reported having anal sex with men. Among that group, 100 percent of the infected men and 67 percent of the uninfected men reported inconsistent condom use during anal sex with men. Few of the infected (12 percent) or uninfected (2 percent) men reported oral sex with other men. Forty-six percent of the HIV-positive men and 37 percent of the HIV-negative heterosexuals reported anal sex with women with infrequent condom use.

Whatever Happened to AIDS and Straight Men? (Kevin Gray, March 2004, Details)
Straight men and women make up 90 percent of the population, but they account for only 15 percent of non-childhood AIDS cases. Only 6 percent of men with AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, contracted the virus from straight sex. And even that figure doesn't hold up to a closer look. Several studies now suggest that most men who claim they got the virus this way are lying. They got it from sex with other men or sharing needles with addicts. Those studies also show that many women listed in the straight-sex category are either IV-drug users themselves or have likely contracted AIDS from sex with an IV drug user.

Health officials have known these things for years. A growing pile of federally funded reports on HIV transmission, published over the past decade and available to anyone who has the time to read them, shows that men almost never get HIV from women. In fact, according to a 1998 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a disease-free man who has an unprotected one-nighter with a drug-free woman stands a one in 5 million chance of getting HIV. If he wears a condom, it’s one in 50 million. He’s more likely to be struck by lightning (one in 7000,000).

Female to male transmission is very inefficient, says Dr. Nancy Padian a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the University of California, San Francisco and the author of a 1996 10 year study of HIV infected heterosexual couples, the nation's longest and largest. She points out that “its two to three times easier for men to infect women.” But even so, if there are no other risk factors involved, the rate at which an infected man will transmit the virus to a woman is one in 1,100 sex acts.

Today it’s clear that the AIDS epidemic in the United States peaked in 1993 when 106.000 new cases turned up [A & W note: The 106,00 new cases referred to above were added by reclassifying past and present HIV positives under an expanded definition of AIDS instituted in 1993. This broadened definition included more types of pneumonia, women with cervical cancer, and the non-illness criteria of a lab test of 200 or less T cells that has since been the determining factor for an AIDS diagnosis in at least 50% of all new cases. AIDS cases had actually leveled off by 1992 and increased only due to the expanded definition, a fact omitted from this article]. Then it began a slow decline and has now leveled off to 40,000 new cases a year. Thanks to powerful anti-retroviral drugs that allow HIV-infected people to live longer, AIDS deaths have plummeted 14 percent since 1998, falling in 2002 to a new low of 16,371.
[A & W note: The figure cited above of 40,000 new AIDS cases a year is an error. Rather, official estimates claim there are 40,000 new HIV infections annually in the US. The notion there are 40,000 new HIV positives each year however is derived from an unsubstantiated estimate and calculated by dividing the high end total of estimated HIV positive Americans (around 900,000) by the number of “AIDS years” (around 20). Also, the “powerful new AIDS drugs” thought to be responsible for decreased deaths were introduced in 1996, not 1998 as the articles states, which is a year after AIDS deaths had already peaked. Futher, there is still no published data in the mainstream medical literature showing that these new drugs increase life expectancy, improve clinical health, or prevent the illnesses associated with AIDS. And no AIDS drug since 1986 has ever been tested against a true placebo control.]

Clearly, a single death from this illness is one too many. But AIDS is not killing Americans at the levels of cancer (554,000 deaths in 2001), diabetes (71,000), or Alzheimer’s (54,000). In fact, the CDC has not put the disease on its list of the top 15 killers since 1998.

America may be winning the war on AIDS, but not without collateral damage. After two decades, we are still overwhelmed with misinformation and misconceptions about how the virus spreads. Straight men are still haunted by the notion that old-fashioned sex can be lethal. Among the biggest fear factors, some AIDS educators say, is shoddy federal health data. The CDC statistics are only good as the local health departments that gather them. But many of those departments don’t have time or resources for “surveillance” staff to investigate every person’s claim of how they contracted the virus. If a man wants to lie about having had sex with other men, he can, and that makes it look like more people get AIDS from straight sex than really do. By re-interviewing victims, their doctors, and their families, Chicagohealth officials found in 1997 that in 85% of the cases the city had blamed on heterosexual transmission, other risk factors were present. This phenomenon became a source of black humor at New York City’s overworked health department in the late eighties. “What do you call a man who got HIV from his girlfriend?” the joke went. “A liar.”

The truth is out there, but its not reaching people who have been needlessly scared—the result, some critics charge, of a conspiracy of silence. “It’s not in anybody’s interest to clear this up,” says Joseph Sonnabend, a physician who treated some of New York City’s first AIDS cases. Sonnabend, helped found what later became the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), But he quit the group in the mid-eighties when it claimed—falsely, he believed—that a heterosexual epidemic could be coming. “Gay men don’t want it fixed because they’ll be blamed again for the disease,” Sonnabend says. “Charities like AmFAR don’t want it fixed because they’ll lose their funding. And “straight” men with HIV certainly don’t want it fixed because then everybody will know they’ve been having sex with men. Those are the ones who will scream bloody murder if you print all this stuff. You’re outing the poor bastards.”

Any overhaul in America’s AIDS policies has to begin with an overhaul of public perception away from the anyone-can-get-AIDS mentality. That means looking at the cultural forces that originally shaped that perception and continue to do so today. Many scientists now say that the first major public awareness program, 1987’s America Responds to AIDS campaign, was not only largely wasted on mainstream America but deadly to those most at risk, drawing precious funds from the very people AIDS was attacking: gays, bisexuals, drug addicts, and the poor.

July 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Hayek: The Back Story (JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, 7/01/10, NY Times Book Review)

In ominously titled chapters like “The Totalitarians in Our Midst” and “Why the Worst Get on Top,” Hayek laid out his case against “socialists of all parties” who he believed were leading the Western democracies into tyranny that mirrored the centrally planned societies of Germany and the Soviet Union.

This theme, being taken up today by Beck and other antigovernment sorts, had a plausible basis at the time. Caldwell quotes a 1942 Labour Party pamphlet that declared, “There must be no return to the unplanned competitive world of the interwar years. . . . A planned society must replace the old competitive system.”

When it appeared in 1944, “The Road to Serfdom” received a courteous if mixed reception in Britain (where paper shortages limited the print run). Keynes, Hayek’s friend and lifelong intellectual opponent, called it “a grand book,” adding, “Morally and philosophically, I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it.” George Orwell, more equivocal, conceded that Hayek “is probably right” about the “totalitarian-minded” nature of intellectuals but concluded that he “does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse . . . than that of the state.”

It was in the United States, however, that Hayek met with his greatest success — and the most intense hostility. Rejected by several trade publishers, “The Road to Serfdom” was picked up by Chicago, which scheduled a modest print run. It got a boost when Henry Hazlitt, a prominent free-marketeer, assessing it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review in September 1944, proclaimed it “one of the most important books of our generation,” a call to “all those who are sincere democrats and liberals at heart to stop, look and listen.” The political scientist Herman Finer, on the other hand, denounced it as “the most sinister offensive against democracy to emerge from a democratic country for many years.” But the most important response came from the staunchly anti-Communist Reader’s Digest, which ran a condensed version of the book in April 1945, with reprints available through the Book of the Month Club for 5 cents each. The condensation sold more than a million copies.

Reading the book today, it’s easy to see why Hayek’s message caught on with a public divided over the New Deal, struggling with the transition from a regulated wartime economy and concerned about rising Soviet power. But unlike some of his champions in 2010, Hayek didn’t oppose all forms of government intervention. “The preservation of competition,” he wrote, is not “incompatible with an extensive system of social services — so long as the organization of these services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields.”

...how many of the advocates of the End of History would be just as shocked by its arrival as the opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM

Dierks Bentley On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 7/12/10)

Country star Dierks Bentley first discovered bluegrass music as a teenager at Nashville's Station Inn. There, he met Rob and Ronnie McCoury and fiddler Jason Carter — all of the Del McCoury Band — and fell in love with the style of music. Now, after many hit songs and millions of records sold, Bentley makes his third appearance on Mountain Stage with songs from his bluegrass-flavored album Up on the Ridge.

Here, Bentley brings along The Travelin' McCourys — Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Rob McCoury on banjo, Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass — who also helped record Bentley's new album, Up on the Ridge. They're joined by drummer Steve Mismore and Tim Sargeant on steel guitar; both are members of Bentley's regular touring band. The band gets to stretch out in the bluegrass standard "Rovin' Gambler" before Bentley sings the touching "Down in the Mine."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Cruyff critical of Dutch display (Evening Standard, 12.07.10)

"Thursday they asked me from Holland 'Can we play like Inter? Can we stop Spain in the same way Mourinho eliminated Barca?'" Cruyff told El Periodico, in reference to the way Inter Milan defended their way to a Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona.

"I said no, no way at all. I said no, not because I hate this style - I said no because I thought that my country wouldn't dare to and would never renounce their style. I said no because, without having great players like those of the past, the team has its own style.

"I was wrong. Of course I'm not hanging all 11 of them by the same rope, but almost. They didn't want the ball.

"And regrettably, sadly, they played very dirty. So much so that they should have been down to nine immediately, then they made two (such) ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage.

"It hurts me that I was wrong in my disagreement that instead Holland chose an ugly path to aim for the title.

"This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing.

"They were playing anti-football."

The aesthetic and moral bases from which soccer analysis proceeds may be Europe's last remnant of Western Culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Reform and Conservative Jews fuming ahead of Knesset vote on conversions: Knesset to vote in first reading Monday bill to grant Chief Rabbinate sole authority over conversions in Israel (Natasha Mozgovaya and Jonathan Lis, 7/11/10, Ha'aretz)

The Reform and Conservative movements both in Israel and abroad were up in arms on Sunday, a day before the Knesset plenum was to stage its first vote on a proposal that would grant the chief rabbinate exclusive authority to oversee conversions in Israel. [...]

However, the rabbinical movements not affiliated with the rabbinate see the bill as a method of usurping their authority and subverting the desires of those not affiliated with Orthodoxy to convert according to their chosen religious stream.

The Interior Ministry currently recognizes Conservative and Reform conversions carried out abroad.

Those opposed to giving the rabbinate exclusive authority believe that if the bill is passed into a law, the option of converting abroad without Orthodox supervision will be nullified.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Population explosion scrutinised as scientists urge politicians to act (Steve Connor, 12 July 2010, Independent)

Britain's premier scientific organisation has launched a two-year study into global population levels. A growing body of scientists believe the time has come for politicians to confront the problems posed by the future increase in human numbers.

Have they placed their order for Zyklon B yet?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Think Big: Republicans should embrace Paul Ryan's Road Map. (Fred Barnes, July 19, 2010, Weekly Standard)

For now, the Road Map has a relatively small but growing cheering section. A dozen House members have endorsed it. Senator Jim DeMint praised it in his book Saving Freedom. Jeb Bush likes it. On CNN last week, economic historian Niall Ferguson called Ryan “a serious thinker on the Republican right who’s prepared to grapple with these issues of fiscal sustainability and come up with a plan.”

Ferguson sees the Road Map as “radical fiscal reform,” which it is, and said Washington should recognize it as the alternative to “the Keynesian option,” which Washington doesn’t. “I’m depressed how few people in Washington are prepared to talk about” the Road Map option, he said.

Ryan isn’t depressed. “As soon as people become informed and know the details, the more they like it,” he told me. He says the Road Map is “based on a fundamentally different vision” from the “government-centered ideology now prevailing in Washington .  .  . and restores an American character rooted in individual initiative, entrepreneurship, and opportunity.”

The full plan—“A Road Map for America’s Future”—is outlined in a formidable, 87-page document. It would give everyone a refundable tax credit to buy health insurance, allow individual investment accounts to be carved out of Social Security, reduce the six income tax rates to two (10 and 25 percent), and replace the corporate tax (35 percent) with a business consumption tax (8.5 percent). And that’s not the half of it.

As ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, Ryan was able to get the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to run the numbers in his plan. CBO concluded the plan would “make the Social Security and Medicare programs permanently solvent [and] lift the growing debt burden on future generations, and hold federal taxes to no higher than 19 percent of GDP.” Pretty impressive results, I’d say.

The Road Map does one more thing. It would give Republicans an agenda if they gain control of the House or Senate in the midterm election—or a mandate if they win both. “What’s the point of winning an election if you don’t have a mandate?” Ryan asks.

The moist basic political reality across the Anglosphere is that the party that is most closely associated with such Third Way reforms wins the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


The Class War We Need (ROSS DOUTHAT, 7/12/10, NY Times)

The left-wing instinct, when faced with high-rolling irresponsibility, is usually to call for tax increases on the rich. But the problem, here and elsewhere, isn’t exactly that we tax high rollers’ incomes too lightly. It’s that we subsidize their irresponsibility too heavily — underwriting their bad bets and bailing out their follies. The class warfare we need is a conservative class warfare, which would force the million-dollar defaulters to pay their own way from here on out.

Consider the spread that the Giudices currently occupy (pending potential foreclosure proceedings, of course). The first million of its reported $1.7 million price tag is presumably covered by the federal mortgage-interest tax deduction. Intended to boost middle-class homebuyers, this deduction has gradually turned into a huge tax break for the affluent, with most of the benefits flowing to homeowners with cash income over $100,000. In much of the country, it’s a McMansion subsidy, whose costs to the federal Treasury are covered by the tax dollars of Americans who either rent or own more modest homes.

This policy is typical of the way the federal government does business. In case after case, Washington’s web of subsidies and tax breaks effectively takes money from the middle class and hands it out to speculators and have-mores. We subsidize drug companies, oil companies, agribusinesses disguised as “family farms” and “clean energy” firms that aren’t energy-efficient at all. We give tax breaks to immensely profitable corporations that don’t need the money and boondoggles that wouldn’t exist without government favoritism.

And we do more of it every day. Take Barack Obama’s initiative to double U.S. exports in the next five years. As The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney points out, it involves the purest sort of corporate welfare: We’re lending money to foreign governments or companies so that they’ll buy from Boeing and Pfizer and Archer Daniels Midland. That’s good news for those companies’ stockholders and C.E.O.’s. But the money to pay for it ultimately comes out of middle-class pocketbooks.

This isn’t just a corporate welfare problem. The same pattern is at work in our entitlement system, which is lurching toward bankruptcy in part because of how much Medicare and Social Security pay to seniors who could get along without assistance. Instead of a safety net that protects the elderly from poverty, we have a system in which the American taxpayer is effectively underwriting cruises and tee times.

All of this ought to be grist for a kind of “small-government egalitarianism,” in the economist Edward Glaeser’s useful phrase, that seeks to shrink government by attacking Washington’s wasteful spending on the well-connected.

There must be some way to blame Barney Frank.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


U.S. Weighs Tax That Has VAT of Political Trouble (JOHN D. MCKINNON, 7/12/10, WSJ)

[A]ccording to some economists, a VAT can produce all that revenue without discouraging investment as higher income taxes would.

"If you're looking for more revenue, I think raising rates under the current income tax probably is not a good idea and could do significant economic harm," says Eric Toder, a co-director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center think tank. By contrast, a VAT "doesn't interfere with where goods are produced...and doesn't interfere with savings, investment and capital formation."

A White House spokeswoman said President Barack Obama "has not proposed this idea nor is it under consideration."

Second, many U.S. multinationals increasingly suspect they might have little choice but to accept a VAT, or some similar tax, if they hope to avoid further increases in U.S. corporate income taxes, or even win cuts in current rates. They regard current corporate taxes as too high, particularly given global trends toward reducing them. Some companies are hoping a VAT would encourage Congress to streamline and lower the corporate tax, something they regard as critical given international trends.

Third, even a few domestic businesses are beginning to eye the VAT as a possibility, despite the considerable administrative burden it creates. That's largely because value-added taxes are imposed on imports at the border, and refunded to domestic businesses on their exports, making a VAT an effective subsidy for U.S. producers, according to the advocates. (Some experts disagree.)

Still, there are many reasons why the VAT remains a heavy lift in Washington: As a consumption tax, the VAT hits lower-income earners disproportionately, because they spend more of their income. Fixing that problem probably requires offsetting the VAT with some kind of credit for the poor.

...is a considerable portion of the attraction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


We'll transform Britain by giving power away: Dealing with the deficit is vital, but the real mission of the Coalition is to give people control over their lives (David Cameron and Nick Clegg, 12 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Whatever the differences that exist between us and our parties, we both passionately believe in giving people more power over their lives. It has become increasingly clear to us that we can be a strong, reforming government if we build outwards from the instincts we share.

But our commitment to give power away isn't just born of instinct; it has been strengthened by the evidence of the past. For decades, governments have assumed that the only way to make things better is to centralise. Of course, central government has a crucial role to play, but it cannot and should not try to do everything. It's time for the central state to allow the genius of grassroots innovation, diversity and experimentation to take off.

We know this won't be easy. We know that the political machine has an inbuilt tendency to centralise. That's why we are bringing in a new way of coordinating government action. Last week we started publishing Structural Reform Plans, one for each government department. Don't let the dry name fool you. These are radical documents that are going to change the way government works.

Each government department has its own plan, with a list of objectives and deadlines to achieve them by. So far, this might sound like the last government with its Public Service Agreements and Prime Minister's Delivery Unit. The difference is in what we're asking departments to do – not to control things from the centre but to put in place structures that will allow people and communities to take power and control for themselves. In place of the old tools of bureaucratic accountability – top-down regulation and targets – are the new tools of democratic, bottom-up accountability – individual choice, competition, direct elections and transparency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Obama’s Health Care Bill Is Enough to Make You Sick (Chris Hedges, 7/12/10, TruthDig)

The 2,000-page piece of legislation, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), will leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. It will permit prices to climb so that many of us will soon be paying close to 10 percent of our annual income to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will only pay for about 70 percent of our medical expenses. Those who become seriously ill, lose their incomes and cannot pay skyrocketing premiums will be denied coverage. And at least $447 billion in taxpayer subsidies will now be handed to insurance firms. We will be forced by law to buy their defective products. There is no check in the new legislation to halt rising health care costs. The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female work forces can be charged higher gender-based rates. The dizzying array of technical loopholes in the bill—written in by armies of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means that these companies, which profit off human sickness, suffering and death, can continue their grim game of trading away human life for money.

“They named this legislation the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and as the tradition of this nation goes, any words they put into the name of a piece of legislation means the opposite,” said single-payer activist Dr. Margaret Flowers when I heard her and Helen Redmond dissect the legislation in Chicago at the Socialism 2010 Conference last month. “It neither protects patients nor leads to affordable care.”

“This legislation moves us further in the direction of the commodification of health care,” Flowers went on. “It requires people to purchase health insurance. It takes public dollars to subsidize the purchase of that private insurance. It not only forces people to purchase this private product, but uses public dollars and gives them directly to these corporations. In return, there are no caps on premiums. Insurance companies can continue to raise premiums. We estimate that because they are required to cover people with pre-existing conditions, although we will see if this happens, they will argue that they will have to raise premiums.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Israel's 'street apartheid' (Mya Guarnieri, 7/10/10, Al Jazeera)

Traffic jams are just one of the many problems that plague infrastructure and services in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. Roads are poorly maintained. They are narrow and bumpy, riddled with cracks and potholes. Street signs and sidewalks are almost non-existent.

Trash containers are usually communal and there are often too few to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. Pedestrians, forced to walk on the shoulder of the road, wade through garbage.

Jewish neighbourhoods and settlements, on the other hand, are neat and orderly. Sidewalks and traffic circles keep pedestrians safe; roads are well-marked, some with lit signs. Most buildings have a garbage bin and the streets are free of litter.

In one Jewish area, a grassy median is adorned with a rainbow assortment of decorative sculptures - metal children playing, kicking footballs, and riding bikes.

When Al Jazeera presented a list detailing the differences between Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods to the Jerusalem municipality, the spokesperson denied the findings.

But, speaking on the condition of anonymity, a former employee of the Jerusalem municipality confirmed that there is discrimination on a budgetary level. The sports department offers the most dramatic example - only 0.5 per cent of funds are allocated to Palestinian neighbourhoods. The other 99.5 per cent goes to Jewish areas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Total Football marred by thuggery (Richard Jolly, July 12. 2010, The National)

Operation Stop Spain did not contain the element of surprise. The pre-match comments from the Dutch camp indicated a gameplan based on a determination to disrupt. Deprive Spain of rhythm, the theory seemed to go, and it would be like denying them oxygen.

Hassle and harry, rather than being seduced by the Spanish ploy of perpetual passing, appeared Bert van Marwijk’s instructions. But the disappointment was the undercurrent of thuggery it contained.

This was not the beautiful game. A showpiece was turned into an unedifying exercise as Holland went from “Total Football” to anti-football in 36 years. In 1974, the Dutch endeared themselves. This served to alienate them. [...]

Winning ugly used to be anathema to Holland. It is not now. But they lost ugly, minus silverware and plaudits alike. There was no chance of the sort of moral victory that has been the preserve of past Dutch teams.

Holland and Spain's anti-football lets Europe down: We expected a classic clash of philosophies, but Holland and Spain's negativity was not a fitting end to a World Cup (Richard Williams, 7/12/10, The Guardian)
No more all-European finals, thank you very much. The one four years ago that ended with Zinedine Zidane's head-butt and a penalty shoot-out was bad enough. But no one seriously expected a classic in Berlin that day. Last night's match was supposed to be a fascinating contest of stylistic nuances, a collision of rival philosophies featuring some of the finest attacking talents in the modern game. But as we had to wait until deep in extra time for Andrés Iniesta's goal, 84,000 people in the stadium and a reputed 700 million television spectators were left wondering when the football was going to start.

Didn't someone tell the players that Nelson Mandela was in the house, never mind Shakira, Charlize Theron and 16 heads of state? Football is about 22 men in search of a result, nothing more and nothing less, but a little entertainment never goes amiss.

The previous night's third-place play-off had produced a match far worthier to be called a final. Germany and Uruguay, in a fixture popularly supposed to exist only to make a bit more money for the organisers, both went for victory from start to finish in what was very probably the best of the tournament's 64 games.

July 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Bob Sheppard, Voice of the Yankees, Dies at 99 (RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, 7/11/10, NY Times)

From the last days of DiMaggio through the primes of Mantle, Berra, Jackson and Jeter, Sheppard’s precise, resonant, even Olympian elocution — he was sometimes called the Voice of God — greeted Yankee fans with the words, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.”

“The Yankees and Bob Sheppard were a marriage made in heaven,” said his son Paul Sheppard, a 71-year-old financial adviser. “I know St. Peter will now recruit him. If you’re lucky enough to go to heaven, you’ll be greeted by a voice, saying, ‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to heaven!’ ”

In an era of blaring stadium music, of public-address announcers styling themselves as entertainers and cheerleaders, Sheppard, a man with a passion for poetry and Shakespeare, shunned hyperbole.

“A public-address announcer should be clear, concise, correct,” he said. “He should not be colorful, cute or comic.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Tennesee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, says his party must be more centrist (Dan Balz, 7/09/10, Washington Post)

Bredesen called the new health-care law "a missed opportunity," saying Democrats would have been better off politically if they had been able to put together bipartisan reform. He said efforts by a small, bipartisan group of governors to offer ideas for doing so were rebuffed by Congress.

The governor's comments reopened a long-standing schism within the Democratic Party between its liberal and centrist wings. Centrists held sway through much of Bill Clinton's presidency but the energy shifted to progressive and grassroots activists during George W. Bush's eight years in the White House.

The economic problems brought huge increases in federal spending under Obama, which has triggered a backlash among Republicans and many independents, although many liberal activists have been disappointed in Obama for not pushing harder to implement an even more progressive agenda.

With Democrats looking at potentially substantial losses in the midterm elections, the debate about the direction of the party is likely to flare again. Bredesen, coming from a southern state that has trended toward the GOP for some years, has long been an advocate for a more centrist party. His comments on Friday reflected his acute concerns that the Democrats' current problems are partly self-inflicted.

The Tennessee governor was particularly critical of the Democratic Congress. "We have put a lot of Democratic policies in the hands of committees and committee chairs who are not members of the New Democrats," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


They Reign in Spain (MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, 7/12/10, WSJ)

Spain's win puts an exclamation point on the country's emergence as a sports superpower that began nearly two decades ago at the Barcelona Olympics. Until then, Spain had never won more than six medals in an Olympic games. In Barcelona it won 22, and since then the country has churned out athletes and teams that are now at the pinnacle of several sports.

Rafael Nadal is once again the preeminent tennis player and the leader of Spain's two-time defending Davis Cup champions. Pau Gasol is the second-most important Laker and led Spain's 2006 world championship basketball team.

Its cyclists have won the Tour De France, the world's most prestigious cycling race, three years running. Even its water polo team is an emerging power, taking silver last year at the world championships in Rome.

But in soccer, the sport closest to Spanish hearts, teams loaded with talent always disappointed when crunch time arrived.

With Fernando Torres unable to get healthy they really just have no cutting edge, no matter how easily they control possession. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to have the best goalie in the world.

Meanwhile, the Dutch are a disgrace--especially Van Bommel, Robben, and Van Persie.

Spain Wins World Cup in Tense Final Over Netherlands (Rahul Vaidyanath, 7/12/10, Epoch Times)

The first half was a disappointing. English referee Howard Webb handed out five yellow cards, four of which came in the first 22 minutes. Spain and Netherlands did not bring their “A-game.” Instead, they combined for 20 fouls.

Both teams did effective jobs at closing down spaces, pressuring the goalkeeper and defenses who seemed to have no answer for the pressure.

Nigel De Jong could have easily been sent off for a studs-to-the-chest foul on Xabi Alonso just before the half-hour mark.

The best scoring chance of the first half came in the fifth minute as Spanish full back Sergio Ramos gets a point blank header on target but Maarten Stekelenburg came up with a great reaction save.

Arjen Robben was the main threat for the Dutch. His speed was the key to unlocking the Spanish defense. But he was unable to finish his chances and never hesitated to complain bitterly to referee Webb.

The match actually became quite scrappy as the fouls continued into the second half. In the end, Netherlands accumulated seven yellow cards and Spain racked up six. John Heitinga also saw red for getting two yellow cards.

The plan for the Dutch seemed to be to stifle the Spanish possession game. They attempted to break it up with fouls and physical play.

Andrés Iniesta finds key for Spain to beat Holland (Kevin McCarra, 7/12/10, The Guardian)
An unforgettably ugly World Cup final ground its way to a penalty shoot-out, after offering cautions in place of goals. Holland were overwhelmingly the guilty party, with eight bookings to Spain's four. Although football was not wholly excluded, chances were shunned and the Spain right-back Sergio Ramos put a free header high from a corner kick in the 77th minute. A little later, Arjen Robben broke clear for Holland but Iker Casillas saved at his feet. The goalkeeper's team-mates had not been incisive enough until the very end.

The mayhem and nastiness of the occasion was an encumbrance for Spain, who will have visualised a wholly different type of game. It was potentially unsettling that victory should be seen as their destiny considering that they had never even reached the final before. Vicente del Bosque's side, for that matter, have developed a highly individual style founded on exceptional technique that exhausts and demoralises opponents as a midfield of supreme artistry confiscates the ball.

The flaw lies in the fact that possession can be an end in itself for Spain. European champions though they might be, the team began its World Cup programme in South Africa with a defeat by Switzerland. They went behind then and a single goal sufficed for the victors.

Spain fail to banish the demons of USA after Switzerland defeat: Switzerland emulated USA’s Confederation Cup tactics against Spain to shock the European champions. (6/16/10, Arsenal Column)
Did Spain lose to USA?

Yes, they did. 2-0 in fact, in the Confederations Cup and they are hoping, on a little-known Wednesday on the 24th of June 2009. Because, despite cantering to the semi-final of the tournament without breaking as much as a sweat, the tiki-taka football found itself unstuck by the American’s defensive doggedness and speed on the break. Those tactics, Vicente Del Bosque knows, are prone to being imitated by his World Cup opponents and just like an honour student with a failure in gym class, has tried to cover up the blotches on the grade sheet.

Del Bosque has brought in two defensive midfielders – Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets – to guard his side on moments of transitions. Fernando Torres, whose scoring record has in recent times been overshadowed by his strike partner, David Villa, is now not guaranteed a starting place. The double pivot allows Xavi freedom to get forward into the box while also providing protection for the full-backs who are now detailed to stretch play on either side, almost as wing-backs.

And in the first-half against Switzerland, Spain were relatively comfortable without being very penetrative themselves. They passed the ball back and forth across the pitch with much patience, looking to drag a Swiss defender out of position. Phillipe Senderos committed a series of fouls to indicate that a mistake was imminent. Only two in the end as Gerard Pique once again produced a magic in the opponent’s box akin to the Champions League semi-final but saw his shot fired straight at Diego Benaglio. David Villa got his golden opportunity but saw his chipped effort go disappointing wide. A goal was coming they thought, as Switzerland’s minds and legs would inevitably tire and Spain’s technical superiority would come out on top.

However seven minutes into the second period and the unthinkable happened. Switzerland broke through on the counter attack, Casillas came rushing out and from a moment of messiness, Gelson Fernandez was able to convert from amongst the wreckage. Suddenly that meticulous preparation has to be revised – time was not on their side any more and Spain had to find try to find a goal. Cesc Fabregas, usually Luis Aragonés’ Plan B, was not even summoned off the bench. Perhaps it had become blasphemy to take off Xavi as Del Bosque’s predecessor did on frequent occasions in Euro 2008. Certainly the Arsenal man has added power and dynamism to his game to be both a Plan A and a Plan B being able to seamlessly fit in to the endless triangle passing. Del Bosque usually experimented with a winger in the midfield four in the Confederation’s Cup, typically Albert Riera, but as the former Liverpool manager has indicated, the wide man had let his status in the national side get to his head. Jesus Navas’ introduction saw the Sevilla man fire in 19 crosses but without a target in the box, nothing materialised.

The unthinkable happened and much credit must go to Ottmar Hitzfeld for instilling a discipline and concentration in his side and ultimately doing what USA did against Spain. Switzerland were narrow and conceded the wings to La Roja because essentially there was only one to aim for and that was Villa.

Dirty Dutch whine over Webb 'bias' (Ian Ladyman, 12th July 2010, Daily Mail)
Holland coach Bert van Marwijk astonishingly accused English referee Howard Webb of being biased towards Spain after the Dutch tried and failed to kick their way towards World Cup glory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


The first N.H. primary?: New research shows how a little-noticed series of speeches by Lincoln in the Granite State changed the course of history (Mike Pride, July 11, 2010, Boston Globe)

ON MARCH 1, 1860, Abraham Lincoln boarded a northbound train in Lawrence. In one of the cars he met Frederick Smyth, who was headed for New Hampshire. That evening, back home for a Republican rally in Manchester, Smyth surprised his listeners — and possibly the speaker himself — by introducing Abraham Lincoln as “the next president of the United States.’’ [...]

[L]incoln’s 1860 visit turned out to be a prototype for the primary. After delivering four speeches in three days in New Hampshire, meeting powerful people and average folk alike, his reward was a bounce that helped him become president.

Fresh from laying out his anti-slavery views to an eastern audience at New York City’s Cooper Union, Lincoln ostensibly came to New Hampshire to visit his eldest son. Robert Todd Lincoln had flunked the Harvard College entrance exams and was studying at Phillips Academy in Exeter to improve his chances of passing them.

When state Republican leaders heard that Lincoln was coming, they scrambled to put his time to good use. The annual state election was scheduled on March 13, town meeting day. Lincoln had never been to New Hampshire before, but his 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas in the US Senate race in Illinois had made him a political celebrity. He was an ideal guest speaker for rallies to get out the Republican vote.

Lincoln accepted four invitations. He spoke in Concord and Manchester on March 1, in Dover the next day and in Exeter the next.

HISTORIANS HAVE long been divided about whether Lincoln had, at that point, already decided to run for president. Lincoln’s trip to New Hampshire suggests that he had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


What Bam can learn from Bill: President Clinton's former pollster tells Obama how to win independent (Douglas E. Schoen, 7/11/10, NY Daily News)

The independent swing voters who hold the fate of the Democratic Party in their hands are looking for candidates and parties that champion fiscal discipline, limited government, deficit reduction and a free market, pro-growth agenda.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Japan government loses upper house majority: Exit polls (AFP, Jul 11, 2010)

The election result -- the first ballot box test since Kan's party swept to power under a previous leader in a landslide poll last summer -- complicates his ambitious reform plans for the world's number two economy.

When Kan took office a month ago as Japan's fifth prime minister in four years, he pledged to restore the nation's vigour after two decades of economic malaise and to whittle down a huge public debt mountain.

The one-time leftist activist also promised to strengthen the social safety net for the rapidly ageing society and raised the prospect of tax hikes to pay for it all -- a gamble that backfired badly on election day.

...which makes the idea of raising taxes sheer lunacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Economics: Green Shoots & Immigration (Bill Watkins, 07/11/2010, New Geography)

[W]e do have one option that would provide immediate and sustained economic growth without increasing leverage. That option would be a massive increase in immigration.

The initial benefits of a new wave of immigration would be seen remarkably quickly. Housing demand would increase, leading to renewed vigor in our real estate markets and the construction industry. Our inner cities would be renewed, as they always have been by immigration waves. New business formations would soar. The tax base would increase, helping to fund debt repayment and baby-boomer retirements.

Many would oppose such an immigration increase. They worry about increasing job competition, unemployment, crime, and even more demand on welfare programs.

These fears are misplaced. Criminals are easily sorted out by effective screening processes. People don’t migrate for welfare benefits, but if this is a concern, it is easy to deny immigrant access to social programs for some number of years after immigration. Similarly, people don’t migrate to be unemployed, and unemployment benefits can be denied to immigrants.

People migrate to more effectively use their human and physical capital, their technology, and their labor. Effectively, immigration would provide new capital, technology, and labor. This is exactly what we need, and it is free. Immigration has served America well in the past. It can serve us well today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich (NY Times, 7/08/10)

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars is seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.

“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Palinisms: Did Sarah Palin really say that? (Jacob Weisberg, July 11, 2010, Slate)

"We have a President, perhaps for the very first time since the founding of our republic, who doesn't appear to believe that America is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known."

Who does Mr. Weisberg think she left out?

I can imagine coherent, though not necessarily convincing, arguments for Nixon and Carter. But wouldn't even insisting on that grouping make her point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


School To Remove Phones From Dorms (AP< July 10, 2010)

With most students now using cell phones, Indiana State University officials plan to remove telephone service from individual residence hall rooms.

Campus residential life director Rex Kendall said usage of residence hall land lines has plummeted over the past few years as cell phone use has soared nationwide.

Until now, each residence hall room at the Terre Haute campus has had a telephone, and students paid for the service as part of their room and board fees.

The point of college is to get off on your own and experience some independence (in a reasonably safe environment with light adult supervision)--why would you make it so easy for your parents to contact you? One phone per floor, generally unanswered, was always sufficient.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Arizona's leaders resort to lies - and make their state a pariah (Dana Milbank, 7/11/10, Washington Post)

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," she announced on local television. [...]

The Arizona Guardian website checked with medical examiners in Arizona's border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer's press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer's mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix now the world's No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy.

That would be the excuse for the law, not the premise.

July 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier (Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, July 11, 2010, LA Times)

When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to "guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch."

Many government scientists hailed the president's pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.

"We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration," said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.

They call themselves Brights but they're surprised he won't buck the American people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


Catalans rally for greater autonomy within Spain (Emilio Morenatti, Associated Press)

More than a million people gathered Saturday in northeastern Barcelona to demand greater regional autonomy for Catalonia and protest a recent court ruling forbidding this prosperous region from calling itself a nation.

City government spokesman Manuel Campillo said police had counted 1.1 million people at a vast rally that filled Barcelona's major Gran Via, Diagonal and Paseo de Gracia boulevards. Rally organizers, Omnium Cultural, calculated attendance at 1.5 million, spokesman Daniel Jove said.

Spain's courts recently granted sweeping new powers of self-rule to the region, but on Friday its highest court ruled that the country's Constitution recognized Spain as the country's only nation, dealing a blow to efforts by Catalonia to assume that status.

They're a nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Where New York's not proud to lead (JOHN WILSON, July 1, 2010, NY Post)

Forty years ago today, New York became the first state in the US where abortion was broadly legal. Since then, New York City has become the nation's undisputed abortion capital, with an overwhelmingly pro-choice political establishment -- and an abortion rate that's three times the national average.

And a stifling taboo on the subject that chokes off any mature discussion about what such a rate means for the public welfare.

According to the city Health Department, 2008 saw 89,469 abortions performed in New York City -- seven for every 10 live births. Among black women, abortions out number live births by three to two.

Which was the point of Roe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Shades of Gandhi in Palestinian movement (IST, Jul 10, 2010)

Abu Mahmoud's storefront window, like thousands of others in the West Bank, is adorned with a yellow sticker that reads: "Your Conscience, Your Choice." It's part of an effort by the Palestinian Authority to boycott all goods made in Israeli West Bank settlements. Palestinians view the settlements as usurping their territory and much of the international community considers them illegal. And it's why Abu Mahmoud now exclusively carries Palestinian chocolate.

The movement is grassroots to the bone. Many Palestinians have been observing a boycott of settlement goods for years. The Palestinian Authority, however, formalised the boycott this year, decreeing punishments for those who stock settlement goods on their store shelves and, in the last few weeks, deploying a small army of volunteers to inspect shops across the territory. Five such volunteers recently showed up at Joe's supermarket in Ramallah to check for any outlawed goods. They didn't find any. "There were not too many goods from the settlements," said Yazan Tartir, who works at Joe's. Tartir noted that before the inspection, he only had to pull a few yoghurt and biscuit products from his shelves. [...]

Israel, for its part, has many means of economic retaliation at its disposal if the boycott threatens settlement economies. The Jewish state controls over 500 checkpoints in the West Bank, which it can shut down as it sees fit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Is World Cup soccer socialist?: No, and Americans -- especially conservatives -- should embrace soccer as a democratic and meritocratic game. (Daniel Allott, July 10, 2010, CS Monitor)

For one, when you take in a soccer match, though goals may be scarce, you’ll be watching 90 minutes of almost nonstop action (not commercials!).

Let’s compare that with America’s favorite spectator sport, professional football. According to a Wall Street Journal study, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL games is less than 11 minutes. The remainder of the 174 minutes that make-up a typical broadcast are filled with images of players huddling and milling around, images of coaches and referees and, of course, commercials.

Until you attend an NFL game you don't have a great sense of how little happens for three hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:49 PM


Representation Without Taxation Bad for Democracy (Ed Feulner, 7/10, 10, Real Clear Politics)

According to a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, in 2007 (the most recent year for which figures are available) the top 20 percent of earners paid 70 percent of all federal taxes. The bottom 40 percent of earners paid no income tax.

In fact, the CBO reports that during the Bush presidency the tax burden for the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers plunged, even as their income grew. For those in the bottom 20 percent, for example, income increased 4.6 percent, while the tax share paid dropped by 27 percent. The same held true for the next four quintiles -- they earned more, yet paid a smaller percentage of taxes.

It's only the highest earners (the top 20 percent) who saw their share of the tax burden increase. It jumped by 3.4 percent, while they enjoyed a 12 percent increase in their income.

Lawmakers aren't just talking about taxing the rich; they're doing it. And political rhetoric, aside, the already disproportionate burden on the highest earners has been growing. Except for "the rich," Americans tend to be getting more for less.

This matters, because paying taxes should be a civic duty. It gives Americans a stake in our country, and gives us a reason to keep a skeptical eye on Washington. It seems only fair that, while the wealthy will always pay more, everyone should pay something. Everyone, after all, benefits from our unparalleled military might, and we all ought to contribute something, no matter how small an amount, to keep it strong.

Like amnesty and Obamacare, we'll have to give the VAT a new name when the GOP adopts it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 PM


Named after Tony in the land where Blair is king (Ben Chu, 10 July 2010, Independent)

"A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country". How keenly Tony Blair must have appreciated the wisdom of those words on his visit to Pristina yesterday.

The streets in the Kosovan capital were covered with posters showing our former prime minister's beaming face and proclaiming: "A Leader. A friend. A Hero".

Were such posters to be put up in many other nations the words "A war criminal" would probably be graffitied beneath that list of achievements. But not in Kosovo, where Mr Blair is revered for his active support for the 1999 Nato military operation to defend the former Yugoslav province from Serbian aggression.

It was a day of multiple honours. Mr Blair was met by the Kosovan Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, and serenaded by the Kosovo Ceremonial Guard. He was then whisked away to the main square in the capital to pose with a convention of what looked, at first sight, like a line-up of junior Milibands. These turned out to be nine "Toniblers" and "Tonis", ethnic Albanian children named after him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


Union rules: If David Cameron is looking for potential enemies, he need not worry about the Labour party. (The Spectator, 10 July 2010)

It is hard to overstate the power of teachers’ unions in Britain. For decades they have worked with local authorities to assert complete bureaucratic control over the schools system. The Education Secretary’s job is to pretend to have power (as Michael Gove will be finding out). The minister is tied like Gulliver in a matrix of regulations, legal threats, and arm’s-length agencies over which he has no power while the system is run by officials he can’t sack. From this stagnation, we have an education system run for the benefit of its providers more than its users.

If Mr Gove’s ambition were only to slash the schools budget, he would not represent a danger to the unions. But instead he wields a new model, in which schools will be independent of government — and able to pay good teachers what they like. With this will come a practice now obsolete in Britain: sacking bad teachers. Determined young teachers may even be able to set up their own school, just as determined lawyers can set up their own firm. There would be no need for a union, ensuring collective pay bargaining.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


Make Social Security Pay, Today (DONALD B. SUSSWEIN, 7/10/10, NY Times)

To stimulate the economy now with no long-term increase in government debt, Congress should therefore temporarily exempt a portion of wages from the Social Security taxes imposed on workers; at the same time, those exempted wages would not be credited in computing that worker’s future retirement benefits.

For example, a 40-year-old earning $50,000 and paying annual Social Security taxes of about $3,000 could see those taxes cut to about $2,000. The added $1,000 in his paycheck, along with similar amounts for other workers, could be a huge stimulus to the economy.

In the future, of course, there would be a price to pay: the growth in that worker’s retirement benefits would be slightly reduced — much as if he had taken off four months without pay.

But the emphasis should be on “slightly.” Because benefits are typically paid over decades, the cost of a temporary $1,000 tax cut would be spread over many years; it could amount to a reduction in annual pension benefits of less than $100. The holiday could even be limited to workers under the age of 55, to allow plenty of time for them to salt away a few extra dollars for retirement once the economy improves.

Best of all, the costs and benefits would be matched to each worker. Those who get a pickup today would pay it back later on. This way, the Keynesians would get their stimulus, and the deficit hawks could sleep better at night.

...how few "shovel ready" projects there were waiting for his stimulus dollars. The taxpayers are always shovel ready.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


A Talk with Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr (Ma'ad Fayad, 7/10/10, Asharq Alawasat)

Not only is the great religious reference Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr different from other religious references in Iraq because he is open to all faiths and sects but he is also open to the media and intellectuals, both Iraqis and others. He is also different because he is open to all that is contemporary and beneficial around the world.

Sayyid Hussein al-Sadr, who communicates with others through the Internet, owns a satellite channel called "Peace" [Al-Salam]. He also owns centers around the world in the name of "humanitarian dialogue," in addition to periodicals and regular publications. More importantly his institutions oversee dozens of centers and private education institutions mainly for girls and secondly for boys where they learn computer skills, drawing, the art of delivering speeches, and science. This is in addition to the health centers, orphanages, colleges, and centers to protect women and the disabled, which extend from Baghdad to Al-Anbar. Al-Sadr sees the Iraqis as equal in their rights and that there is no difference between a Muslim and a non Muslim, between a Sunni and a Shiite, or between and Arab and non Arab.

In Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat visited some centers and institutions belonging to Sayyid Hussein Ismail al-Sadr before he went to his office in the city of Al-Kazimiyyah where there were a number of visitors including a percentage of women and non Muslim men. Asharq Al-Awsat conducted an extensive interview that touched on most aspects of the current Iraqi situation. [...]

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it better that a country be governed by people who separate religion from politics?

[Al-Sadr] We often reiterate in the media that he who is in charge must have three characteristics: first and foremost is patriotism and faith in the homeland; second is competence and professionalism; and third is fairness and honesty. I constantly stress that religion must be separate from the practical side of politics. I distinguish between politics and patriotism because politics today means the art of possibility; and second, politics, at least in the understanding of Iraqi politicians is sectarian, personal, patriotic, and party gains. Religion is above all this. Therefore, in my opinion he who carried this heavenly message cannot become politicized. There is nothing wrong in a politician being religious but this does not mean he can politicize his faith. If a politician prays and fasts then I believe he is more capable of carrying his message and performing his duties. If he is aware in the way he worships God and his relationship with God opens him for serving people and works in accordance with the Hadith "The best of people is he who benefits people" and interprets every Koranic verse that says 'for the sake of God' to mean for the sake of mankind and for the service of mankind. This is what we constantly stress when we interpret religious texts that whenever there is a mention of 'for the sake of God' it means in order to serve the people because God is not in any need, is strong, and does not need the service of people. Therefore we serve God in his project of existence and God's existence project is humanity. Human beings are the most important and dearest possessions of God on earth since He created the heavens and earth for him and therefore it is incumbent on us to serve man.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a problem that we in Iraq did not know before and that is the so-called sectarianism, and separating the Sunnis from the Shittes, and creating divisions between them. However, we are aware of your great efforts to fight this issue and trying to bring Muslims together.

[Al-Sadr] We constantly stress that there is no sectarian issue among the people of Iraq. The problem is, however, between the Iraqi politicians and with some politicians who do not have a strong popular base. Those politicians try to make sectarian division a way for them to gain benefits and to create a popular base. Therefore, the problem is not one between the Iraqi people. There has never been a sectarian problem between the Iraqi people. This is why during the most difficult period between the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 we met and received all spectrums of Iraqi society from all faiths: Christians, Sabeans, Azidis and all Islamic schools. During the conferences, seminars, and meetings we discussed and consolidated the issue of the unity of the Iraqi people. There was no problem whatsoever. The problem is that some politicians tried to create problems through specials benefits for themselves such as gaining certain positions. Regarding these attempts, which we see as lowly attempts to plant the seeds of the sectarian culture by those who carry this culture whether or not they are politicians. Then, we convened many conferences and meetings that underlined the ties of faith, Iraqi nationalism, and humanitarianism. Praise be to God the results were felt on the Iraqi scene even though the Iraqi scene is suffering from many problems.

A few moments ago I spoke about the health issue and how it is neglected. There is also the educational issue that is no less important than the health issue. Iraq was, and will continue to be, a beacon of knowledge and civilization with its achievements and symbols; however, today it is the second most illiterate country in the world. In all honesty, this means the death of Iraq. This is all because of the lack of attention by Iraqi politicians and them not paying attention to the most important point in the life of Iraqi people and that is education, culture, and awareness. A person cannot be cultured and aware if he is not educated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The BBC series, Trees that Made Britain is very nearly as good as Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys and the two by themselves are reason enough to join The Box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


At the Axis of Blues, Gospel and Rock: A talk with Robert Randolph and a look at his 'We Walk This Road' (JIM FUSILLI , 7/10/10, WSJ)

The cross-pollination of blues, gospel and rock inspired Mr. Randolph's band and some well-chosen guests, and the rousing result is in kinship with the kind of zealous music he made in church. The album's songs reflect the bond: "I Still Belong to Jesus" and "Salvation"; "Traveling Shoes" and "Dry Bones," sparked by traditional field songs; and "Shot of Love," the title track of Bob Dylan's 1981 Christian-themed album. "If I Had My Way" includes biblical references and is sung by Ben Harper. Leon Russell plays piano on "Salvation."

Because it exists at the axis of several types of American music, "We Walk This Road" keeps one foot in the secular world with songs by Prince and John Lennon, among others, all played in Mr. Randolph's ebullient style.

When Mr. Randolph gets going, he's gone: During his recent tour, his aggressive playing broke all four pedal-steel instruments he'd brought along. The audience at his performance late last month at the Bowery Ballroom here was unaware that he switched to a standard Fender Telecaster guitar because he'd damaged his only remaining pedal steel, which was then jury-rigged by a tech so he could finish the show.

The pedal-steel guitar is at the heart of Mr. Randolph's music. With its pedals and levers that change its pitch, it can sound like an organ—which is why its predecessor, the lap-steel guitar, was played in churches where the congregation couldn't afford a keyboard. It can, as you might imagine, sound like a slide guitar, and Mr. Randolph can make it sing a la Sonny Landreth or Warren Haynes. But his biggest influences are the men who performed during church services: early masters, such as Henry Nelson and Willie Eason, and the new generation, including Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell and Ted Beard.

Robert Randolph Performs Live In NPR's Studio 4A (NPR, 6/20/10)
Robert Randolph began playing his pedal steel guitar at House of God Church in Orange, N.J. But he and his Family Band quickly made a name for themselves with their amped-up blues-rock take on gospel. They sold out New York City venues soon after forming, and since 2001, they've released three studio albums. The latest, We Walk This Road, comes out Tuesday.

T-Bone Burnett, the award-winning musician and producer, helped the band develop its original pieces and put its own bluesy stamp on songs by legends such as Prince, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. In an interview with Weekend Edition Sunday's Liane Hansen, Randolph praises Burnett's expertise in music history — a crucial asset when reviving early standards on his record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Big Think interview with Clay Shirky: A conversation with the writer and NYU Interactive Telecommunications Professor. (July 6, 2010, Big Think)

July 9, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


The other Israeli conflict: with itself: Ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose influence is growing, defied a recent ruling of the secular Supreme Court. A domestic Israeli conflict is brewing over the Ultra-Orthodox, whose men refrain from military service and generally choose state-subsidized study over employment. (Joshua Mitnick, July 9, 2010, CS Monitor)

With birthrates three times the Israeli average, Haredi influence is growing – increasing tensions. Only 5 percent of Israel's population in 1990, Haredim are expected to account for 1 in 3 Jewish children under age 14 by 2028.

Haredi and secular Israel are on a "collision course," says Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the nonpartisan Shalom Hartman institute in Jerusalem, which focuses on Jewish affairs.

"The situation is untenable. The ultra-Orthodox separate themselves from the rest of the Jewish people. They refuse to participate in the burden of defending the country. They insist on being subsidized for their separation and lack of participation," he says, adding that Israel is too preoccupied with the Arab conflict. "The ultra-Orthodox situation is a long-term existential crisis, but the Israeli attention span is dominated by short-term existential crises."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Sister Maha's Sadr City salvation (Ali Kareem, 7/10/10, Asia Times)

Her critics see Douri's prominent role in the Sadrist movement as a public relations ploy, as window dressing for the hardline Shi'ite movement, and herself as an apologist for the controversial Muqtada, whose Mahdi Army fanned sectarian violence in 2006-2007.

"If my links to Muqtada al-Sadr and my rejection of the occupation are considered radical, then I have to admit that I am a radical. I believe in my country and that it will continue to suffer as long as the occupier is on our land," Douri said.

"My beliefs don't contradict with my advocacy work. Muqtada [al-Sadr] was one of the first leaders in Iraq to start programs for widows and orphans, as well to demand better schools. We are politicians working for our people, so I don't thing we can be branded radicals just because we are against the occupation." [...]

"Dr Maha al-Douri is very popular in Sadr City because she helps people, especially widows and the poor," said Awatef Hussein, 30, a factory worker. "She opens her house twice a week to receive people and helps through her charity - gifts and money. She attends Friday prayers every week, and I heard that Muqtada personally asked her to participate in the election because of her popularity."

In the 2005 election, Douri was elected as a parliamentarian representing Sadr City. Iraq's quota system, mandating that 25% of lawmakers be women, may have been a factor five years ago but not in the most recent election. This year, Douri won enough votes to be elected without the quota system and outperformed many more recognizable figures in the same Iraqi National Alliance to which she and the Sadrists belong, including former oil minister Ahmad Chalabi.

As a parliamentarian, Douri called for women to play a bigger political role in Iraq, and she helped draft a still-pending law on violence against women and children. She served on parliament's community complaints committee, where she pushed for improved public services
, including electricity, sanitation and clean water. Douri described her role in government as "a bridge between people and officials".

Safiyah al-Suhail, a member of parliament from the predominantly Sunni State of Law coalition who has worked with Douri over the past five years, described her as a champion of Iraq's women and children. [...]

"Her arguments in parliament have made her famous with Muqtada's followers and poor citizens. They see her as a woman who will not be silenced, unlike even a number of men in parliament. They see her as a hero," [Ibrahim al-Sumaidei, a Baghdad political analysts and newspaper columnist] added.

With her strong support from Baghdad 's women and urban poor, Douri is focused on the future and the role of women in the next Iraqi government, and beyond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


If we lose the battle: Our runner-up for book of the year was written by Eric Metaxas (Marvin Olasky, 7/08/10, World)

Bonhoeffer felt secure in the love of his parents and God, but few of his countrymen did. The "higher criticism" that originated in Germany in the 19th century had eaten up most of the land's seminaries and churches by the 1920s. The liberal theology proclaimed from pulpits left both war veterans and the younger generation searching for a different savior.

Bonhoeffer in 1933, at age 26, understood these holes in souls and gave a radio talk on the problem only two days after Germans elected Hitler to be their chancellor. He said, "Whereas earlier leadership was expressed in the form of the teacher, the statesman, the father . . . now the Leader has become an independent figure. The Leader is completely divorced from any office; he is essentially and only 'the Leader.'"

Bonhoeffer continued his critique of the Führer principle: "If he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility . . . then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself. The true Leader . . . has to lead the individual into his own maturity. . . . He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted."

And that, of course, is what Hitler refused to do: He demanded worship. As Metaxas skillfully shows, he manipulated weak churchmen for his own purposes and had his prime propagandist, Alfred Rosenberg, create a plan for a "National Reich Church." Metaxas quotes Rosenberg's plan: "The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany. . . . The National Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Führer's Mein Kampf is the greatest of all documents. . . . On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf."

Bonhoeffer vehemently opposed such plans and those of the "German Christian" movement, as enunciated in 1933 by Reinhold Krause: Get rid of the Old Testament "with its Jewish money morality and its tales of cattle merchants and pimps." Rewrite the New Testament so it presents a Jesus "corresponding entirely with the demands of National Socialism" and removes the depressing "emphasis on the crucified Christ."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Obama threatens to follow in FDR's economic missteps (Amity Shlaes, July 9, 2010, Washington Post)

Taxation is an obvious area the Obama administration ought to reconsider. Income taxes, the dividend tax and capital gains taxes are all set to rise as the Bush tax cuts expire. The Obama administration portrays these increases as necessary for budgetary and social reasons. A society in which the wealthy pay their share, the message goes, has a stronger economy. The administration and congressional Democrats are also striving to ensure that businesses pony up. The carried-interest provision in the tax extender bill seeks to raise rates on gains by private equity and hedge funds. If that were not enough, a so-called enterprise value tax would be levied on partnerships that sought to elude the new high taxes by selling their companies.

Roosevelt, too, pursued the dual purposes of revenue and social good. In 1935 he signed legislation known as the "soak the rich" law. FDR, more radical than Obama in his class hostility, spoke explicitly of the need for "very high taxes." Roosevelt's tax trap was the undistributed-profits tax, which hit businesses that chose not to disgorge their cash as dividends or wages. The idea was to goad companies into action.

The outcome was not what the New Dealers envisioned. Horrified by what they perceived as an existential threat, businesses stopped buying equipment and postponed expansion. They hired lawyers to find ways around the undistributed-profits tax. In May 1938, after months of unemployment rates in the high teens, the Democratic Congress cut back the detested tax. That bill became law without the president's signature.

Then there is labor policy. Obama announced this year that the federal government would award contracts to firms with more generous pay and benefit packages. With its support of private- and public-sector unions -- recall its treatment of the automakers' unions in the 2009 bailout -- the administration generally wants wages or compensation to be high.

Roosevelt's flamboyant pursuit of a similar goal cost the economy dearly. The National Industrial Recovery Act and, later, the Wagner Act gave workers the power to demand higher wages. They got them. But employers struck back, choosing not to hire or rehiring many fewer workers than they otherwise might have. In the later 1930s, the divide deepened between those with jobs and the unemployed. Economists Harold Cole and Lee Ohanian wrote in the Journal of Political Economy that the politically driven wage increases were the most important factor in the double-digit unemployment of the later 1930s. A popular Gershwin song of the period, "Nice Work If You Can Get It," captured the bitterness.

...let's make hiring and earning less attractive!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Democrats battle independents' weakening support of Obama and Congress (Dan Balz, 7/08/10, Washington Post)

Of all the problems Democrats face this fall, none may be more challenging than trying to win back the support of independent voters.

President Obama has been going backward with independents for more than a year, and the Democrats stand to suffer the effects in the November elections. The Gallup organization reported this week that just 38 percent of independents now approve of the job Obama is doing, the lowest point in his presidency and down from 56 percent a year ago. [...]

What caused the defection of a group that stood solidly with the Democrats in 2008, as well as in 2006, when the party was returned to power in Congress? The factors include dissatisfaction with the economy, a rebellion against the president's agenda and disappointment that Obama hasn't delivered on his campaign promises to change the culture of Washington.

He was doing just fine...until he had to govern...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Whitman's new billboards in Spanish: I'm against Prop 187, AZ law (Joe Garofoli, July 07 2010, SF Gate)

The billboard, spotted on Highway 99 about 2 miles north of Earlimart in Tulare County, says:

"NO a la Proposicion 187 y NO a la Ley de Arizona -- Meg Whitman."

Thomas Holyoke, an associate professor of political science at California State University-Fresno, told us that according to Wednesday's Field Poll, Whitman's outreach is paying early dividends.

It appears to have helped, Holyoke said, that Whitman said she would have opposed Arizona controversial new immigration law. She said that even as GOP primary rival Steve Poizner was veering hard right on immigration.

"That Arizona law is something that appears to be resonating with Latino voters, Holyoke said.

As we told you about a while back -- and again during our rundown of this week's Field Poll on the guv's race -- Whitman is trying to distance herself from her campaign chair's Pete Wilson's championing of Prop 187. Her campaign has acknowledged the Republicans haven't done a good job reaching out to Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Colbert teams up with UFW over immigration (AP, 7/09/10)

[T]he host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” teamed up Thursday night with Arturo Rodriguez, the president of the United Farm Workers of America, in a challenge to unemployed Americans: Come on, take our jobs.

The union has been asking Americans to fill out an online form under the banner “I want to be a farm worker” at www.takeourjobs.org.

Rodriguez says that so far just three have responded and were in the fields.

“Make that four,” the comedian replied emphatically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Yankees on brink of landing Cliff Lee (JOEL SHERMAN, July 9, 2010, NY Post)

The Knicks didn’t get LeBron James, but the Yankees were on the brink of obtaining Cliff Lee late last night for a package that would include top prospect Jesus Montero, the Post has learned.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik have been in constant contact over the last week, but it was only last night that the Seattle GM told Yankee officials he wanted to move quickly, possibly before the All-Star break. [...]

In an odd twist, Lee is scheduled to pitch against the Yankees tonight in Seattle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Americans tuned out TV in droves last week (David Bauder, 7/08/10, Associated Press)

Americans avoided television in historic levels during the last week.

CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox together had the fewest prime-time viewers last week in two decades of record-keeping, the Nielsen Co. said. Given the dominance of the big broadcasters before then, you'd probably have to go back to the early days of television to find such a collective shrug.

The first week of July tends to be among the slowest weeks of the year in television, anyway, with families more engaged in barbecues and fireworks. The problem was magnified this year because July Fourth came on Sunday, largely knocking out one of a typical week's biggest viewing nights. [...]

While the biggest broadcast networks are suffering, the Spanish-language Univision is stepping up. Among the closely watched 18-to-49-year-old demographic, Univision finished second only to Fox in prime time last week.

Seen the new Bing ad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Obama Promises Push on Trade Pacts (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 7/08/10, NY Times)

President Obama, who vowed in his State of the Union address to double American exports over the next five years, said on Wednesday that he would renew his efforts to renegotiate long-stalled free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia and persuade Congress to adopt them.

The two trade pacts, and a third one with South Korea, were negotiated by the administration of former President George W. Bush, but all three have languished in Congress because of deep opposition from Democrats.

His path to a second term lies in such aping of Bill Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 AM


One man’s death, a nation’s awakening? (Amro Ali, 9 July 2010, Online Opinion)

In the aftermath of his death, Saeed was transformed into the unifying poster-child of Egypt's disparate reform movements, and has endowed the former United Nations nuclear chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, with a springboard to run in next year’s presidential elections. Although his high profile visit to pay condolences to Saeed’s family and leading peaceful demonstrations was a feat in bolstering Egyptian hope for reform, it remains to be seen whether his words translate into political change.

The tragedy has exposed something bigger than Saeed. Under scrutiny are the loathed emergency laws that have been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981 - ironically, the eve of Saeed’s birth. These laws allow police to arrest and detain individuals without regard to the due process guaranteed under the criminal procedure code. Hence an ordinary citizen’s basic rights are restricted, police impunity becomes the norm, and a Saeed scenario is your outcome. It’s like the US PATRIOT Act on crack. Saeed has now been elevated to the status of the “emergency law martyr”. And now, Egypt’s security apparatus is showing signs of strain under the system it is supposed to uphold.

I’ve seen other signs of Egypt’s simmering frustration with its government. On a recent visit to Alexandria, I took the sentimental six-stop journey from Cleopatra Hammamat to see relatives in the suburb of Camp Chezar (Camp Caesar) where legend has it Julius Caesar first set up camp; Caesar’s despotism would eventually be his downfall.

The train sent me on a trajectory, back in time, through a land saturated in history, where the ruins of the past strangely reflect the narratives of the future. On this particular day, an old white-bearded man on board poignantly got up from his seat, gripping in his hand a copy of the Al-Ahram (The Pyramids) newspaper; its front cover displaying images of dead Palestinians from Israel’s occupation. Seemingly agitated by the newspaper’s images, he went on to openly denounce the Egyptian regime’s perceived complicity in Israel’s brutal occupation and the apathy of the Egyptian people before some 25 commuters. At one point, one of the passengers advised the old man to be quiet when a senior police officer boarded the train, yet the old man continued unrepentant. Many onboard came to his defence, with one man saying: “What is he saying that is wrong? He’s speaking the truth! Continue ya Hagg”, a title of respect given to those who have performed the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

By the time the train reached the fifth station, the ancient Jewish district of Al Ibrahimiyya (named after the Patriarch Abraham), the old man, with a Moses-like solemnity rallying the crowds to beseech a Pharaoh to let his people go, was fired up more than ever. All the while, the commuters rallied behind him as the impromptu mouthpiece, finally venting their collective frustration. The police officer, who had been up until then cowering in the corner of the carriage, not bothering with the whole episode, meekly disembarked (I suspect this was not even his intended destination). Even the security organs, the lynchpin of the regime, are being further blunted as the tide of nationwide exacerbation at authoritarian rule grows. It struck me that the public agitation on the train was a microcosm of a larger Egypt on a fault line, with an apathetic regime that is losing its sense of orientation.

This is not the first time the Egyptian people have balked against an administration’s brutality. Observers are comparing the incident to the Denshawai Affair of 1906, when, on a hot June afternoon, five British officers entered the Egyptian village of Denshawai to go pigeon shooting. The angry villagers protested the shooting of their domesticated livelihood. One of the officers, in a Cheney-style moment, accidentally shot a female villager and set fire to their grain. The angry villagers retaliated and the British officers wounded five villagers - the exchange resulted in casualties on both sides. When the British authorities intervened, they had the choice between serving out justice or order. They purely chose the latter: 52 villagers were put on trial for premeditated murder, 32 were found guilty with four hanged, and the rest were flogged. The Egyptian public was up in flames. The event would mark a dramatic turning point in the British occupation of Egypt and see the Empire’s sun set over the Nile.

Thus, Saeed’s tragedy is Egypt’s tragedy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Obama may have worn out his welcome on Capitol Hill: The president's threat to veto a war funding bill is an 'unwelcome message' to House Democrats, many of whom face a tough midterm election after yielding to the White House's agenda. ( Lisa Mascaro, 7/09/10, LA Times)

Then, last week, the president asked them to bend yet again — this time to approve more money for his troop buildup in an Afghanistan war that many Democrats oppose.

And once again, lawmakers went to work. On the eve of the vote last week, Democratic leaders compiled a complicated $82-billion package of war funding, disaster aid and domestic spending that achieved the seemingly impossible — meeting the president's request while accommodating the needs of its politically diverse members.

Obama responded with a one-word message that sent shudders through his party on the Hill: veto.

In that exchange, the tension between the White House and the president's Democratic allies spilled over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


Arizona immigration law unlikely to survive federal lawsuit: Legal experts cite the longstanding principle that the federal government has exclusive control over immigration. (David G. Savage, July 9, 2010, LA Times)

Arizona's law giving local police immigration enforcement powers is likely to be struck down, most legal experts predict, now that the Obama administration has gone to court asserting that it conflicts with federal law.

They cite the longstanding principle that the federal government has exclusive control over immigration and that "no state can add or take away" from the policy set in Washington.

...but if AZ won then all we'd need is one state to grant new immigrants legal status and laws like AZ's would be nullified.

July 8, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Interview: Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band (David Lindquist, 6/30/10, Metromix)

“The Wages” features new versions of fan favorites “The Train Song” (previously featured on debut recording “The Pork n’ Beans Collection”) and “Two Bottles of Wine” (until now available on a limited-edition run of 1,100 vinyl singles).

Vocalist-guitarist Josh Peyton, washboard player Breezy Peyton and drummer Aaron Persinger made the “Clap Your Hands” video in a barn with dozens of seemingly mismatched dancers. [...]

Were you surprised by anything that transpired during the video shoot for “Clap Your Hands”?

That it even happened. The video was Breezy’s idea: She said, “We should get a bunch of different dancers together. We’ll get breakdancers and cloggers,” and on and on. I said, “How are we going to get people like that to come out for nothing? We have no money to pay anybody.” She said we’d be able to pull it together from our friends and fans. I’m ashamed for being such a skeptic. Making that video that day in that barn — with all these people who came from all over Indiana — I was humbled in a way that’s hard to describe. I told someone, “If I found out there was no film in those cameras or if they got dropped in a river and we lost everything, that would still be one of the best days of my life.”

Find more videos like this on video.filestube.com.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Field Poll: California Senate race in statistical tie (Associated Press, 07/08/2010)

Sen. Barbara Boxer's popularity with Californians is falling as she finds herself in a statistical tie with her Republican challenger, former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina, according to a Field Poll released Thursday.

If the two races at the top of the ticket are in play, then a whole bunch of "safe" House seats are too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Green Menace (Blake Hurst, July 6, 2010, American)

One in four Haitians is hungry and, even before the earthquake, the average caloric intake in the country was far below United Nations-recommended levels. But that, of course, is of no consequence when compared to the importance of planting seeds untouched by multinational hands. Better starvation than accepting gifts from a company as evil as Monsanto.

Not to worry, as a coalition of church groups in the United States is providing 13,300 machetes and 9,200 hoes for the Haitian peasants. The groups are also supplying local and organic seeds, as many Haitian farmers are too poor to purchase seeds of any kind, even local and organic seeds. By all means, protect the “sovereignty” and integrity of the Haitian food system: hoes, machetes, and local and organic seeds have done such a good job of feeding Haitians in the past.

Hybrid seeds don't breed true (reproduce their characteristics faithfully in their offspring) so farmers usually purchase them each year rather than save their seed and risk a worse crop from the offspring. Hybrids will germinate, however, and the farmer can save the seed if he wants to (not only that, but the seeds have been treated with chemicals to protect them against bacterial disease and fungus, improving germination). This fact undermines the outlandish claims made by the peasant groups and their supporters. According to the critics, purchasing seed is very bad because it might provide a market for seed companies. Supporters of food sovereignty believe farmers ought not buy supplies, but be totally self-sustaining. Importing productive seeds will lead directly to the kind of "industrial" farming found in the United States. Next thing you know, those Haitian farmers will drive gas guzzling, four-wheel-drive pickups and lust after John Deere tractors.

Just like the local drug pusher handing out free samples or cigarette companies slipping teenagers smokes, Monsanto's motives are not perceived as altruistic, but rather as an intrusion into the lives of Haitian peasants, enticing the indigent farmers to trade their future and sovereignty for the temporary fix of evil corporate seeds.

The groups organizing against the gift are quite certain that Haitian farmers can't possibly be trained to handle the seeds safely. That's the worst sort of condescension; the seed treatments are the same as those used widely and safely for decades in the United States. There’s no reason Haitian farmers couldn’t use them as well.

Critics also worry that the hybrid seeds won't grow without fertilizer and chemicals, which the peasant farmers can't afford. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hybrid seeds will increase yields over open-pollinated seeds, whether purchased fertilizer is applied or not. This is why U.S. farmers adopted hybrids a generation before the widespread availability of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Having said that, an increase in the use of purchased fertilizers by Haitian agriculture would increase output. When people are starving, that is a worthwhile goal.

Haiti desperately needs a productive agriculture, and farmers there have been hurt in the past by donations of western food, which can devastate local markets. Monsanto's donation is different. Monsanto is offering tools that can increase the productivity of Haitian agriculture, and the Haitian government has sensibly accepted the gift. If the seeds can avoid national coordinating committee members bearing torches and are actually planted in Haitian fields, yields will improve and hunger will be lessened.

One wonders why U.S. groups are so interested in protecting the existing agriculture in Haiti, which has so clearly failed. To consign Haitians to lives of hunger and poverty, because you disapprove of the kind of "industrial" agriculture practiced in the United States, is immoral.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM

Blueberry Onion Marmalade Over Grilled Lemon Chicken (LA Times, 7/08/10)

4 whole chicken breasts
2 lemons
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
White pepper
1 pound chopped sweet onions
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1 cup chicken stock
1/8 pound butter
Sea salt
White pepper

Zest one lemon and squeeze the juice from both. Cover chicken with the olive oil and lemon juice. Marinate for two to three hours. Toss together sea salt and zest. Remove chicken from marinade and sprinkle with lemon salt and white pepper.

Grill on each side until browned, but still rare in center. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350-degree oven until they reach 150 degrees in center. Let stand for 5-8 minutes before slicing. (The chicken should reach 160 degrees while resting.) Slice in 1/4-inch slices.

In melted butter, simmer the onions slowly for about an hour. Continuously add chicken stock during the cooking process to keep moist. When onions are soft, add blueberries and cook slowly for 20 minutes.

When the onions are almost a jam, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over sliced lemon grilled chicken.

Note: Recipe courtesy of Jerry Edwards of Chef's Expressions Catering

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Mortgage rates drop to lowest point in 50 years (AP, 7/08/10)

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.57 percent this week, mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That's down from the previous record low of 4.58 percent set last week.

It's the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. The last time rates were lower was in the 1950s, when most long-term home loans lasted just 20 or 25 years.

Rates have fallen over the past two months. Investors, concerned with the European debt crisis, have poured money into the safety of Treasury bonds. Treasury yields have fallen and so have mortgage rates, which tend to track yields on long-term Treasurys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Southern Baptists, Obama and illegal immigration (Jim Galloway, 7/07/10, Atlanta Journal Constitution)

[I]t comes as something of a surprise to learn that one of the most prominent voices pushing a bipartisan deal on immigration — and urging more cautious rhetoric when discussing it — belongs to an institution of the solid Southern right.

Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is through his Nashville offices that the nation’s largest Protestant denomination engages Washington on topics such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research. The SBC is against both.

But last week, when President Barack Obama gave his speech demanding action on immigration reform, Land was among those invited to sit in the audience. Because he had been among a group of conservative evangelical leaders who asked Obama to deliver it.

“I met with the president’s people about 10 days prior to that and urged them — for him to give a major speech on the issue,” Land said Sunday, after he’d delivered three sermons in Flowery Branch. “I said, ‘He needs to give a speech like the race speech he gave —which makes it clear that he understands both sides.’”

Afterwards, Land praised the president’s speech as a good start, likening it to an “initial proposal” of marriage.

“We need to call upon our congressmen and senators to behave like statesmen. Politicians think about the next election. Statesmen think about the next generation,” Land said.

And the Arizona law? “To me, it’s a symptom. It’s a cry for help from a state that feels the federal government has let it down and is not doing its job,” he said.

Land and his Baptist brethren were among those who supported the Ted Kennedy-John McCain compromise on immigration reform that exploded in 2007, damaging every Republican close to it — including U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

Land’s position remains much the same. Among active Southern Baptists, he said, “there’s clearly a consensus behind comprehensive immigration reform that secures the border first — and then lays out a compassionate, just pathway to earning citizenship or legal status.”

What would be surprising is if they'd learned nothing from their disgraceful truck with Jim Crow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


For Democrats, Debt Debate and Familiar Ring of Disunity (MATT BAI, 7/07/10, NY Times)

In case you’ve been out of the country for the last 25 years and were afraid that nothing had stayed the same, here are some current events you may find comforting: Bon Jovi is touring. The Russians are spying on suburbia. And Democrats in Washington are squabbling over the direction of their party.

The latest flare-up of Democratic disunity has to do with how the party should respond to an explosion in government debt. This is a serious policy debate, obviously, and something of a political one, too, since both sides also have in mind November’s midterm elections. But in a more fundamental way, the argument over fiscal policy represents the churning of a cultural fault line that has defined and destabilized Democratic politics pretty much since the onset of the Great Society. And President Obama is only the latest Democratic Party leader to find himself tossed about in the tremors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Shattering some of the Stalin-Hitler myths: ‘Deathride’ revises much about tyrants (David M. Shribman, July 8, 2010, Boston Globe)

Mosier is arguing that World War II was fought for economics, not for political or ideological reasons. That is not a new thesis, to be sure, but his is a creative approach, holding that not only the motivations but also the maneuvers of the war were almost entirely economic in nature.

Hitler, for example, wanted Poland because it was a net exporter of goods to Germany. The Allies then tried to block iron ore shipments from Scandinavia, hoping to deny the Nazis the materials required to build tanks and planes. And the whole bloody thing was a war on an economic, not a political, front. The Allies, which included the Soviet Union by war’s end, simply out produced Germany, and in fact the Third Reich was defeated by two nations that weren’t even their adversaries when the war began, the United States and the Soviet Union.

This is a clear-eyed, compelling description of a battle that has been described many times, but seldom with such an ironic eye. This monstrous war, conducted against the backdrop of the tyrants’ purges and their mechanical approaches to civilian death, was conducted in a great killing field of ethnic groups, including the Poles and other Slavic peoples, many of whom fared little better under Stalin than they did under Hitler. And these persecuted Eastern Europeans were themselves no friends of the Jews, who were virtually exterminated in this charnel house.

What emerges from these pages is a struggle between vicious Soviet bunglers with a craven leadership willing to sacrifice millions to survive versus vicious German technocrats with a leadership that didn’t anticipate the dangers of military over-extension and the advantages its rival possessed by fighting a defensive war in a primitive land with unlimited cannon fodder.

Mr. Mosier's Myth of the Great War is a terrific look at just how decisive American intervention was in WWI.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Goliath and David in Afghanistan: The arrival of General Petraeus to take charge of the war against the Taliban highlights enduring tensions in the US over the role of the military in political life. (Godfrey Hodgson, 7 July 2010, MercatorNet)

For most of its history, the United States has been able to deploy far more powerful military force than its adversaries. In the 19th century, both before and after the civil war, American officers gained military experience in Indian wars where their troops’ superiority in firepower and mobility was usually assured. In its 20th-century wars, American generals - John J Pershing in 1918, Eisenhower in 1944-45, William C Westmoreland in Vietnam, and Norman Schwarzkopf in Kuwait/Iraq in 1990-91 - commanded forces that possessed crushing military advantage (even if deploying this effectively was another matter entirely). The United States joined the first world war in 1917 after Germany had been exhausted; in the second, it overwhelmed Germany and Japan (along with its allies) through its far greater industrial-military capacity.

Yet the United States began life as a small country that expended blood and treasure in throwing off colonial rule - and the legacy of that experience is the enduring presence, deep in the American psyche, of an “underdog” mentality. This contradiction - equivalent to Philistine-warrior Goliath identifying with shepherd-boy David in the biblical story - explains much of the dilemma that confronts President Obama and his shifting cast of commanders in Afghanistan.

...not identify with David?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


Government jobs: Bloated pay, benefits cost us all (James Sherk, 7/07/10, USA Today)

[B]enefits include more than one type of retirement plan. Federal employees can enroll in a Thrift Savings Plan that works like a 401(k). But they also get a "defined contribution" plan, which lets a worker with 30 years of experience retire at 56 with full benefits.

Government workers also can enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. There are no age, health, or pre-existing condition restrictions.

Paid leave? Check. Federal employees with just three years of experience get 20 days annually, and those who have logged more than 15 years get 26 paid days off. Group life insurance? Check. And many federal buildings even offer on-site child care. To be sure, many large private employers offer two or three of these benefits, but very few offer them all.

Once you add up these benefits, the gap in total compensation rises even higher — 30% to 40% above comparable private-sector workers.

Federal civil servants enjoy another perk: near-absolute job security. Private businesses cut hiring and increase layoffs when sales drops. From 2007 through 2009, the adult unemployment rate in the private sector more than doubled, from 4.2% to 9.4%. Not in government. The percentage of federal employees who lost jobs barely budged, going from 2.0% to 2.9%.

This is largely because of civil service rules. It's virtually impossible to fire federal employees for bad performance once they've passed a one-year probationary period.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 AM


A de facto partition for Afghanistan (Robert D. Blackwill, July 7, 2010, Politico)

Announcing that we will retain an active combat role in Afghanistan for years to come and that we do not accept permanent Taliban control of the south, the United States and its allies could withdraw combat forces from most of Pashtun Afghanistan (about half the country), including Kandahar, over several months.

We would stop fighting and dying in the mountains, valleys and urban areas of southern Afghanistan — where 102 coalition soldiers were killed in June, the most in any month of the war and almost three times as many as a year ago. But we could be ready to assist tribal leaders on the Pashtun periphery, who may decide to resist the Taliban.

We would then focus on defending the northern and western regions — containing roughly 60 percent of the population. These areas, including Kabul, are not Pashtun dominated, and locals are largely sympathetic to U.S. efforts.

We would offer the Afghan Taliban an agreement in which neither side seeks to enlarge its territory — if the Taliban stopped supporting terrorism, a proposal that they would almost certainly reject.

We would then make it clear that we would rely heavily on U.S. air power and special forces to target any Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan Taliban leaders who aided them. We would also target Afghan Taliban encroachments across the de facto partition lines and terrorist sanctuaries along the Pakistan border.

Though careful analysis is needed, this might mean a longtime residual U.S. military force in Afghanistan of about 40,000 to 50,000 troops. We would enlist Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and supportive Pashtun in this endeavor, as well as our NATO allies, Russia, India, Iran, perhaps China, Central Asian nations and, one hopes, the U.N. Security Council.

We would continue accelerating our Afghan army training. We would devote nation-building efforts to the northern and western regions, where, unlike the Pashtun areas, people are not conflicted about accepting U.S. help and not systematically coerced by the Taliban.

There might even come a time when a stronger Afghan National Army could take control of the Pashtun areas.

Such fundamentally changed U.S. objectives and strategies regarding Afghanistan would dramatically reduce U.S. military causalities and thus minimize domestic political pressure for hasty withdrawal. It would substantially lower our budget-breaking military expenditures on Afghanistan — now nearly $7 billion per month.

This would also allow the U.S. Army and Marines to recover from years of fighting two ground wars; increase the likelihood that our coalition allies, with fewer casualties, might remain over the long term; encourage most of Afghanistan’s neighbors to support an acceptable stabilization of the country and reduce Islamabad’s ability to parlay the U.S. ground role in southern Afghanistan into tolerance for terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

The government that emerged in a recognized state of Pashtunistan would be a much easier target to strike if they did not exercise sovereignty over the Taliban.

July 7, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


Papers reveal Nixon plan for North Korea nuclear strike (Chris McGreal, 7 July 2010, The Guardian)

According to newly revealed government documents, Nixon is even believed to have ordered nuclear bombers to be put on standby for an immediate strike after North Korean jets downed the American plane as it flew over international waters collecting electronic and radio intelligence.

The documents, obtained by the National Security Archive in Washington after a freedom of information request, describe the plan codenamed Freedom Drop, which called for "pre-co-ordinated options for the selective use of tactical nuclear weapons against North Korea".

Surprisingly, the contingency plans predicted that – depending on the scale of the nuclear strike – there could be as few as 100 casualties and no more than a few thousand.

Starving and desperate, North Koreans have nothing left to lose (John Garnaut, 6/05/10, SMH)
NORTH KOREA'S recent history is written in the stunted bones of Wilson Im. The 29-year-old defector scraped together enough corn to stay alive during his adolescent years but not so much that he might reach the height of either of his parents. He stands out on the thriving streets of Seoul because he is barely 150 centimetres tall.

Im's stature was an advantage in his homeland because it meant he could survive on fewer calories. His father died before he was born. His mother and three elder brothers probably all perished from starvation and malnutrition, although it is possible one brother remains alive inside the country's gulag. Im's family was unlucky, but not exceptional. The most sophisticated estimates suggest North Korea lost about 1 million people - nearly 5 per cent of its population - in the peak famine years that struck in the mid-1990s. [...]

Barbara Demick, in her new book based on interviews with defectors, Nothing To Envy, Ordinary Lives In North Korea, writes how survival is directly related to an individual's capacity to evade or ignore the country's totalitarian strictures. The armies of secret police are as arbitrary and brutally active as they ever were but can no longer compel the same Orwellian conformity. Faced with the choice of possible jail or certain starvation, North Koreans have broken down stifling restrictions on travel, trade and initiative.

Survivors learnt to cook the inner bark from pine trees, tend their own private vegetable gardens and peddle goods and food in street markets or on the black market. They learnt to beg, steal, prostitute, bribe and wade across the icy Tumen and Yalu rivers in their thousands into China.

Chinese villagers along the northern border told the Herald of North Koreans plundering their livestock, tools and any other objects not nailed down. They told of women crossing the river to trade backpacks full of soy bean paste for luxuries like nail clippers, shoes and rice. Wilson Im survived his adolescent years in South Pyongan by scavenging aluminium pots, pans and cutlery, of which his bauxite-rich neighbourhood had relative plenty. He would pack them in his school bag, and stow away on south-bound trains to trade for rice on the flatter and more fertile fields closer to Pyongyang.

Lately the regime has been battling to reimpose its tight-fisted control by restricting street markets and launching a campaign against imported Chinese goods. It has slowed the refugee traffic to a trickle by increasing patrols.

Refugee activists in China told the Herald they had grown reluctant to help arrivals because they could no longer tell a genuine refugee from a North Korean secret agent who had starved themselves to infiltrate their networks. North Korea presents itself as a nation of brainwashed robots. But its citizens cannot help but contrast their current misery with the world they hear about from returned refugees and traders, or with the relative abundance of the 1980s.

''The people are well aware of their relative and absolute deprivation,'' says Peter Hayes, a frequent visitor to North Korea who runs the non-profit Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability.

Kim Jong-il's utopian fantasies are not as convincing as they used to be. Even soldiers, about one in five of the working-age population, and who chew up a quarter of the country's GDP, are often stunted and incapable of focusing on much beyond their own survival.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


KENYA: "The Power Rests with You,” Joe Biden (CISA, 14 Jun 10)

He told his audience that the US Government could not dictate to a section of its elected leaders on what to say about the Kenya constitutional review process.

"It is one of the drawbacks of democracy," he said in reference to reports that American right wing groups were supporting Kenya religious leaders’ efforts to shoot down the proposed constitution.

Kenya’s Churches are against the clause on abortion that allows a health professional to terminate a pregnancy if the womans health is in danger and reports indicate that they are getting funds from US anti-abortionists to defeat the new law.

"Do not confuse that with the position of the US President, US Vice President and US Government," he said in answer to the Rev Timothy Njoya’s question on the issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Shameless and Disturbing (Amitai Etzioni, 7/07/10, Huffington Post)

As [Richard] Clarke reports, prior to the 1990s, the Pentagon made extensive use of specialized software designed by in-house programmers and a few defense contractors. But under pressure from libertarian ideologues and business lobbyists, the Pentagon began to use commercial software instead -- in particular, Microsoft software. However, it turned out that Microsoft had built a low cost brand based on a principle of "one format for all" -- rather than software that was tailored to special security needs. Problems soon arose, including, as Clarke recounts, a 1997 incident when the USS Yorktown, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser whose ship operations were administered on computers running Windows NT, was rendered inoperable after Windows crashed. "When the Windows system crashed, as Windows often does," Clarke writes, "the cruiser became a floating i-brick, dead in the water." After this and a "legion of other failures of Windows-based systems," the Pentagon considered a shift to free, open-source operating systems like Linux. The code of open-source software can be altered by the user, and so the government would be free to change the software without interference from companies jealously guarding their design. It is also free.

Such a switch, though, would have been disastrous for Microsoft's lucrative dealings with the government. The company was already fiercely opposed to regulation of its products' security; it did not want the added delay and cost of improving its software in order to decrease its vulnerability. If the government switched to open-source software, it could make the improvements itself -- but doing so would deal a major blow to Microsoft's profits. So Microsoft moved to prevent the government from exploring any alternatives. It "went on the warpath," writes Clarke, threatening to "stop cooperating" with the government if it adopted an open-source platform. It made major campaign contributions and hired a small army of lobbyists. Clarke outlines their purpose as: "don't regulate security in the software industry, don't let the Pentagon stop using our software no matter how many security flaws it has, and don't say anything about software production overseas or deals with China." (China, security experts feared, could plant logic bombs and malware into the software.)

Clarke reports that Microsoft insiders admitted that the company "really did not take security seriously," because "there was no real alternative to its software, and they were swimming in money from their profits."

And you choose La Cosa Gates?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


The Government Pay Bonus: Private employees toil 13½ months to earn what federal workers do in 12. (ANDREW G. BIGGS AND JASON RICHWINE, 7/06/10, WSJ)

Conducted for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPS is a long-running survey that couples earnings and employment information with detailed demographic characteristics of the survey population. At first glance, the CPS data show that the average hourly wage for a federal worker is about 48% higher than a private worker's. Yet because federal employees tend to be more educated and experienced than their private counterparts, as Mr. Orszag noted, one has to control for these skill differences. This reduces the public-private salary gap—but it does not eliminate it. The federal wage premium for workers who have the same education and experience stands at 24%, still a windfall for public employees.

Even using all the standard controls—including race and gender, full- or part-time work, firm size, marital status, region, residence in a city or suburb, and more—the federal wage premium does not disappear. It stubbornly hovers around 12%, meaning private employees must work 13½ months to earn what comparable federal workers make in 12.

Most academic studies dating back to the 1970s have found similar pay differences. In addition to the wage premium, federal workers enjoy more generous fringe benefits than do private workers. For instance, federal workers receive a defined benefit pension with benefit levels comparable to those from private 401(k) plans, except that federal workers contribute only 0.8% of pay and are not subject to any market risk. They also receive employer matches to the defined contribution Thrift Savings Plan that significantly exceed the typical private employer match.

If the overall generosity of federal benefits matches that of federal salaries (which seems quite likely), total compensation for federal workers may easily exceed $14,000 per year more than an otherwise similar private employee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Obama Is Barely Treading Water: The president's problem is simple: the economy and jobs (Mortimer B. Zuckerman, July 2, 2010, US News)

The administration's stimulus program, because of the way Congress put it together, has created far fewer jobs than anyone expected given the huge price tag of almost $800 billion. It was supposed to constrain unemployment at 8 percent, but the recession took the rate way above that and in the process humbled the Obama presidency. Some 25 million jobless or underemployed people now wish to work full time, but few companies are ready to hire. No speech is going to change that.

Little wonder there has been a gradual public disillusionment. Little wonder people have come alive to the issue of excess spending with entitlements out of control as far as the eye can see. The hope was that Obama would focus on the economy and jobs. That was the number one issue for the public—not healthcare. Yet the president spent almost a year on a healthcare bill. Eighty-five percent in one poll thought the great healthcare crisis was about cost. It was and is, but the president's bill was about extending coverage. It did nothing about the first concern and focused mostly on the second. Even worse, to win its approval he accepted the kind of scratch-my-back deal-making that suggests corruption in the political process. And as a result, Obama's promise to change "politics as usual" disappeared.

The president failed to communicate the value of what he wants to communicate. To a significant number of Americans, what came across was a new president trying to do too much in a hurry and, at the same time, radically change the equation of American life in favor of too much government. This feeling is intensified by Obama's emotional distance from the public. He conveys a coolness and detachment that limits the number of people who feel connected to him.

...didn't it? Who outside the Democratic caucus thought top-down stimulus would produce jobs?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


'Hitler's Pope' saved thousands of Jewish lives: Pope Pius XII, the controversial wartime pontiff, may have saved thousands of Jews by secretly securing visas so they could escape Nazi Germany, a historian has claimed. (Simon Caldwell, 06 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Dr Michael Hesemann, a German historian carrying out research in the Vatican archives for the Pave the Way Foundation, a US-based inter-faith group.

He said that Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli – the future Pius XII – wrote to Catholic archbishops around the world to urge them to apply for visas for “non-Aryan Catholics” and Jewish converts to Christianity who wanted to leave Germany.

Elliot Hershberg, the chairman of the Pave the Way Foundation, said:“ We believe that many Jews who were successful in leaving Europe may not have had any idea that their visas and travel documents were obtained through these Vatican efforts.

“Everything we have found thus far seems to indicate the known negative perception of Pope Pius XII is wrong.”

...is a modern fabrication to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover perform in The Current studios (David Campbell, 7/04/10, Minnesota Public Radio)

Before Prince, Soul Asylum, Hukser Du and even Bob Dylan, Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover were making their legendary blend of folk and blues. True folk icons, Spider John and Tony Glover, along with Dave "Snaker" Ray, started playing around the beat coffeehouses of Dinkytown in the 1960's. Since their first album "Blues, Rags and Hollers," Koerner, Ray and Glover have inspired the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, David Bowie and Bonnie Raitt (who covered "I Aint Blue" on her debut album).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Poll: Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown in virtual tie (Joe Garofoli,Drew Joseph, 7/07/10, SF Chronicle)

While opinions expressed in a poll taken five months before an election tend to be a bit soft, analysts said today's poll includes other ominous signs for Brown, particularly his eroding support among Latinos, who make up roughly 18 percent of the electorate and typically offer overwhelming support for Democrats.

Whitman has trimmed Brown's lead among Latino voters to 11 percentage points, down from 24 points in January, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

"He needs to get at least two-thirds of the Latino vote," said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. "This is not a poll that bodes well for him."

Whitman began advertising heavily on Spanish-language media last month to coincide with the beginning of the World Cup soccer tournament.

Her ad campaign is an attempt to soften reaction to some of the positions she took in the primary, where Poizner staked out a more conservative position on immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches (Bob Blumer, January 1997, Salon)

* 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
* 1/2 very ripe banana, mashed with a fork
* 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
* 2 slices Wonderbread


1. Lightly toast bread in a toaster.
2. Spread peanut butter on one slice, then top with banana mush.
3. Cover with the second slice of toast.
4. In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
5. Add sandwich and brown on both sides like a grilled cheese sandwich

...top it with sausage gravy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


So Much for the European Project (Doug Bandow, 7.7.10, American Spectator)

Expelling Athens from the Eurozone was another option. But the euro is a political as well as an economic institution. Warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "If the euro fails it's not just the currency that fails, but Europe and the idea of European unification."

So rather than hold irresponsible spendthrifts accountable and respect the no bailout provisions of EU treaties, the organization rushed to Greece's aid. But that has turned out to be merely the start rather than the end of the crisis.

A Greek economic crash merely has been postponed. Athens will likely have to restructure its debt at some point. With $420 billion in sovereign debt, a Greek default would be the largest such bust in history.

Even worse, other European nations with larger economies risk a debt collapse. University of Chicago economist John H. Cochrane bluntly predicts: "barring a fiscal and growth miracle, we will either see sovereign defaults (larger and more chaotic for having been postponed) or the ECB [European Central Bank] will have to print euros to buy worthless debt, leading to widespread inflation." Spain, Portugal, and Ireland appear to be at greatest risk.

Willem Buiter, the chief economic at Citigroup, recommends a 2 trillion Euro European Monetary Fund. But who would pay for it and any future bailouts in what the think tank Open Europe calls "a de facto debt union"? Europe's contingent obligations already are huge, with EU members facing massive bank and other write-offs growing out of the financial crash and recession. It's not clear the leading European states could tax and borrow enough to bail out their neighbors even if they felt inclined to do so.

And the inclination to do so is fast running out. Britain is not part of the Eurozone and resents having been handed part of the Greek bailout bill. The newly installed prime minister in Slovakia, Iveta Radicova, is threatening to renege on the deal. She asked: "Why should poor Slovakia pay for the richer Greece?"

Most important, Berlin can no longer be counted on. Since World War II the Germans have subsidized their economically weaker neighbors in order to assuage their war guilt. But the number of Germans ready to seek financial penance for the political crimes of their fathers is rapidly falling.

July 6, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


What Economists Can Teach World Cup Coaches (JACK EWING, 7/06/10, NY Times: Economix Blog)
n a paper issued by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich, Alexander Ebertz and Marc Gronwald argue that the notion of evolutionary finance may help explain why certain styles of soccer seem indomitable for a time, only to eventually be usurped by a new strategy.

As described by the authors, evolutionary finance regards financial markets as a competition not so much among individuals as among strategies. In Darwinian fashion, strategies constantly adapt and mutate, and no strategy can be assured of long-term success. Rather, an investment strategy is only superior until another evolves that is better. Successful strategies must always be seen in light of competing strategies.

So it is with soccer, Mr. Ebertz and Mr. Gronwald argue. They note that various soccer strategies have been hailed as modern and superior, only to be supplanted by new methods of play.

Currently, Mr. Ebertz and Mr. Gronwald write, commentators seem to believe that the most effective style is that practiced by top clubs like Munich Bayern, FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team, which on Wednesday will meet Germany in South Africa.

This style calls for maximum ball possession; short, accurate passing; and constant probing and exploitation of any crack in the opponent’s defense.

But the authors note that the history of soccer has seen numerous strategies come and go, from extreme offensive play with 9 strikers (out of 11 players on a team) to extreme defensive play practiced at Inter Milan in the 1960s under coach Helenio Herrera — who, it happens, was the same nationality as Mr. Maradona, whose strategy as the Argentine coach at the World Cup competition in South Africa this year was all about offense.
Which is why we need better coaching more than better players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Singapore's Demographic Winter (Joel Kotkin, 07.06.10, Forbes)

Over the past half century arguably no place on earth has progressed more than the tiny island state of Singapore. A once impoverished, tropical powder keg packed into 268 square miles at the foot of the Malay Peninsula, the Mandarin-led republic has ascended from its difficult founding in 1965 to one of the richest economies on the planet. Today, in terms of purchasing power, its per capita income stands higher than most European countries' or Japan's and is roughly equal to that of the U.S.

But a catastrophic plunge in the country's birthrate--a problem plaguing many of the world's affluent economies--could undermine Singapore's success. In 1965 Singapore's leaders feared it could not survive an unsustainable fertility rate above 3.5 and embarked on a campaign encouraging citizens to have smaller families. Today the country's fertility rate--the number of children per female--has sunk to roughly 1.2 , a rate lower than all but a handful of countries and well below replacement level.

This pattern poses a threat to the republic's continued progress over the coming decades. The dependency ratio between retired persons and those 15 to 64--far lower than Europe, America or Japan in the 1970s--will reach the unsustainable levels of places like Japan, Germany and Italy by 2030. By then there could well be more people over 65 than under 15.

Was talking to a friend who specializes in Asia at our neighborhood 4th of July barbeque. She'd been invited to a big do by a Japan/America foundation that is worried no one studies Japan anymore nor takes it seriously. So they had a series of speakers explain why you should be studying them but then concluded with a guy who presented the demographic data and basically told them that Japan was ceasing to exist. Which leads to the obvious question: why should you study Japan as if it were a significant nation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 PM


Court Wrong On The Chicago Gun Case: There is no constitutional reason the states can't limit the right to bear arms. (Richard A. Epstein, 07.06.10, Forbes)

First, it helps to set out the Second Amendment in full: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." By way of background, the militia, as a forebear to today's National Guard, was and is a state-run operation designed in 1787 to protect states against invasions from other states and to be available for call-up to the U.S. when needed "to execute the Law of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions."

Read in context, the Second Amendment limits the power of the Congress to disarm the state militia by general regulation. Ironically, the only place that this worry does not apply is to the District of Columbia, where there was no state militia to protect or disarm. But Justice Scalia's upside-down decision Heller v. District of Columbia held that this was the easiest place to apply the Amendment. Since the case was against the federal government, the incorporation doctrine was not in play. Scalia just excised the introductory clauses from the Second Amendment to make it read like some acontextual substantive right. "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The Right to Bear Arms? What History Tells Us. (Nathan Kozuskanich, 3/17/08, HNN)
Previous work by legal scholars Michael Dorf and David Yassky has conclusively demonstrated that Congress used the phrase “bear arms” in a military context or to connote military action. Given that the Second Amendment was drafted by Congress this ought to end the discussion, since it would make little sense if this usage were the only time Congress departed from its orthodox meaning. Of course, one might make the dubious argument that the term was used in a less precise way outside of Congress. But, the plain fact of the matter is that the phrase “bear arms” was consistently employed in a military context not only in Congress, but also by the American press. This assertion can be backed up by empirical evidence, not the impressionistic sampling of sources that the respondent and his amici rely on, which draws heavily on sources from outside the Founding era.

William Blackstone tells us that when interpreting law “Words are generally to be understood in their usual and most known signification; not so much regarding the propriety of grammar, as their general and popular use.” (Commentaries, 1:59). What Heller fails to address is exactly how the occasional usage of “bear arms” outside of a clearly military context can be considered common or popular usage. More importantly, the essential historical question that the respondent fails to ask is whether this idiosyncratic individual usage had any actual impact on the drafting of the Second Amendment. Did Congress ever employ “bear arms” in an individual sense? Did an individual construction of “bear arms” have any currency in the colonial and American press? The answer to both of these questions is an emphatic no.

A keyword search of the Library of Congress database (which includes Letters of Delegates to Congress, Journals of the Continental Congress, Elliot’s Debates, and the House and Senate Journals of the 1st Congress) for the term “bear arms” between 1775 and 1791, returns forty-one relevant hits, of which only four do not use the phrase “bear arms” in an explicitly military context. Of course, Heller’s lawyers feel they have absolved themselves from using these sources by implying that if the term “bear arms” was not exclusively military in meaning then there is room for an individual gun rights interpretation. But surely the issue of how this phrase was understood turns precisely on which meanings were orthodox and which were idiosyncratic. In essence, what the respondent is asking us to do is ignore the preponderance of evidence that supports a military reading of “bear arms” in favor of a few sources that do not.

Readex’s Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers databases together encompass most of the American newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides published in the crucial period of 1763 to 1791. The comprehensive nature of these archives can give scholars a high degree of certainly that keyword searches accurately reflect common usage since they contain most of the surviving printed material from the colonies and early Republic. The Early American Imprints series contains over 15,500 documents from 1763-1791 alone, 273 of which use the phrase “bear arms.” Disregarding reprints of the Bill of Rights, all quotations of the text of the Second Amendment in congressional debate, foreign news (even though it is usually about military actions overseas), reprints of the Declaration of Independence (even though its condemnation of Britain for forcing Americans to “bear arms against their country” has a clear military meaning), and all repeated or similar articles, 111 hits remain. Only two do not use the phrase in a military context or to connote collective military action.

Using the same method of sorting results from the 132 papers published from 1763-1791, the Early American Newspapers database returns 115 relevant hits, with all but five using a military construction of “bear arms.” The evidence, more fully explained in my forthcoming article, is clear: the dominant understanding of the term “bear arms” at the time the Second Amendment was proposed fits the militia model, not the private rights model. Even the oft quoted Tench Coxe, who believed that the people had a right to “keep and bear their private arms” made his comments on arms-bearing while discussing the need for “military forces which shall be occasionally raised to defend our country.” Indeed, the dominant model of keeping and bearing arms in the Founding era was one in which citizens kept private arms that were regulated for a particular public purpose.

Sadly, the Court's "conservatives" are just as willing to do violence to the plain meaning of the Constitution as the liberals were.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Savory bread pudding with summer vegetables (Sally Pasley Vargas, July 7, 2010, Boston Globe)

Butter (for the pan)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 wedges leftover pan bagnat, cut in 1-inch cubes (to make 8 loosely packed cups)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together.

3. Arrange the cubed pan bagnat in the baking dish. Pour in the egg mixture. With the back of a spoon, press the cubes lightly into the liquid. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is set. Let the mixture settle for 5 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:31 PM


The Myth of the Back-to-the-City Migration (Joel Kotkin, 07/06/2010, New Geography)

[T]the great migration back to the city hasn't occurred. Over the past decade the percentage of Americans living in suburbs and single-family homes has increased. Meanwhile, demographer Wendell Cox's analysis of census figures show that a much-celebrated rise in the percentage of multifamily housing peaked at 40% of all new housing permits in 2008, and it has since fallen to below 20% of the total, slightly lower than in 2000.

Housing prices in and around the nation's urban cores is clear evidence that the back-to-the-city movement is wishful thinking. Despite cheerleading from individuals such as University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida, and Carole Coletta, president of CEOs for Cities and the Urban Land Institute, this movement has crashed in ways that match—and in some cases exceed—the losses suffered in suburban and even exurban locations. Condos in particular are a bellwether: Downtown areas, stuffed with new condos, have suffered some of the worst housing busts in the nation. [...]

Behind the condo bust is a simple error: people's stated preferences. Virtually every survey of opinion, including a 2004 poll co-sponsored by Smart Growth America, a group dedicated to promoting urban density, found that roughly 13% of Americans prefer to live in an urban environment while 33% prefer suburbs, and another 18% like exurbs. These patterns have been fairly consistent over the last several decades.

Demographic trends, including an oft-predicted tsunami of Baby Boom "empty nesters" to urban cores, have been misread. True, some wealthy individuals have moved to downtown lofts. But roughly three quarters of retirees in the first bloc of retiring baby boomers are sticking pretty close to the suburbs, where the vast majority now reside. Those that do migrate, notes University of Arizona Urban Planning Professor Sandi Rosenbloom, tend to head further out into the suburban periphery. "Everybody in this business wants to talk about the odd person who moves downtown, but it's basically a 'man bites dog story,'" she says. "Most retire in place."

Historically, immigrants have helped prop up urban markets. But since 1980 the percentage who settle in urban areas has dropped to 34% from 41%. Some 52% are now living in suburbs, up from 44% 30 years ago. This has turned places such as Bergen County, N.J., Fort Bend County, Texas, and the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles into the ultimate exemplars of multicultural America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Queen Elizabeth to Visit Manhattan on Tuesday (ROBERT D. McFADDEN, 7/06/10, NY Times)

Nearly two decades later, in 1976, the 50-year-old queen made her second visit to New York, marking the Bicentennial of America’s Declaration of Independence from Britain, part of a six-day tour that took her to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. She was hailed by huge crowds and became a centerpiece of the celebrations. Mayor Abraham D. Beame proclaimed her an honorary New Yorker.

Now, in the twilight of a reign that has spanned 58 years, one of the longest of any British monarch, the 84-year-old queen is to visit New York on Tuesday for a third and perhaps final time, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The royals will arrive in a private plane from Canada, where they have been traveling for nine days, and fly home to Britain in the evening.

Although the queen arrives in the summer’s worst heat wave, she is not the wilting kind. The dark hair has gone white and the shoulders are a bit rounded with age now, but her step is still lively and the face engaged on a reception line or at a garden party as she shakes another hundred hands and speaks with simple dignity. She is addressed initially as “Your Majesty” and thereafter as “Ma’am.”

What can a visitor do with less than a half-day in New York? Quite a lot, it seems, if she is moving through Manhattan’s traffic morass in a motorcade escorted by police officers, watched over by cordons of federal, state and Scotland Yard agents and ushered through formalities by a protocol phalanx from City Hall and the State Department.

In contrast to her first two visits to the city — what might be called her awe-struck first impressions and her more mature celebratory return — this is to be a short, relatively solemn occasion: a valedictory at the United Nations, a reflective half-hour at ground zero and a stroll through a garden created in the canyons of Lower Manhattan as a memorial to the 67 Britons killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The Queen’s Tears: And global resolve against terrorism. (Mark Steyn,September 17, 2001, National Review)
The foreign leader who said it best last week was the Queen, though she didn't really say a word. I have met Her Majesty from time to time (I am one of her Canadian subjects), and to put it at its mildest, for those with a taste for American vernacular politics, she can be a little stiff: The Queen stands on ceremony and she has a lot of ceremony to stand on. But on Thursday, for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, she ordered the Coldstream Guards to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" — the first time a foreign anthem had been played at the ceremony. The following day something even more unprecedented happened: At Britain's memorial service for the war dead of last Tuesday, the first chords of "The Star-Spangled Banner" rumbled up from the great organ at St Paul's Cathedral, and the Queen did something she's never done before — she sang a foreign national anthem, all the words. She doesn't sing her own obviously ("God Save Me"), but she's never sung "La Marseillaise" or anything else, either; her lips never move.

And at that same service she also sang "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," for the second time in her life — the first was at the funeral of her first prime minister, Winston Churchill. On Friday, she fought back tears. When she ascended the throne, Harry Truman was in the White House. The first president she got to know was Eisenhower, back in the war, when he'd come to the palace to brief her father. She is the head of state of most of the rest of the English-speaking world — Queen of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, etc. But she understands something that few other leaders of the West seem to — that today the ultimate guarantor of the peace and liberty of her realms is the United States. If America falls, or is diminished, or retreats in on itself, there is no "free world." That's the meaning of the Queen's "Ich bin ein Amerikaaner" moment.

Don't ask me who else you can count on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Behind Bluegrass Harmonies, a Trapdoor That Opens to New Beats (BEN RATLIFF, 7/06/10, NY Times)

Their music is full of trapdoors: weird harmony, dynamic shifts, staggered riffs, beats flipped over. This disposition has a lineage in 40 years of progressive bluegrass, and Saturday’s three-band minifestival at Caramoor, “New Shoots,” the first of a projected series, was showing you where the superlearned end of traditional American music has come to. It included Sandra Wong playing string music from around the world; and a Boston nouveau-bluegrass band, Crooked Still, pulled along by Aoife O’Donovan’s Alison Krauss-like singing and the virtuosic cellist Tristan Clarridge, with implicit funk and conservatory training everywhere.

But the Punch Brothers seem determined to move bluegrass furthest. Mr. Thile contains multitudes: he connects the full-hearted yodel of Jimmie Rodgers and the insecure falsetto of Thom Yorke; he looks a bit like Robert Pattinson, and talks in manic raps of hyper self-consciousness. (“I’m having an absurd amount of fun,” he announced, eyeing his audience hungrily.)

Noam Pikelny, the banjoist, played the foil, delivering saturnine jokes behind the beat. It’s in their humor — spoken and musical — where their bluegrass training comes through most.

More than half the concert came from the band’s new record, “Antifogmatic” (Nonesuch), and it was supremely entertaining, with constant diversions: the scraping and brushing of instruments during Mr. Thile’s otherwise unaccompanied solo in “Alex”; the complex intro and outro of “Don’t Need No” that have nothing to do with the meat of the song; the irresolute key and sudden appearance of five-part vocal harmony in “Me and Us.”

The problem is that some of the music seems like a music-school assignment, feels fraught with pride. It’s in the category of gifts that you can’t possibly feel as close to as its giver. Sometimes you wish the Punch Brothers knew less, or left more to chance.

-AUDIO: Bonnaroo 2010: Punch Brothers In Concert (NPR, 6/11/10)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Accentuate the negative (The Economist, Jul 5th 2010)

FOR everyone else it was the glaciers: for the Dutch it was the flooding. Last January errors in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hit the headlines. The chapter on Asia in the report by the IPCC’s second working group, charged with looking at the impact of climate change and adapting to it, mistakenly claimed that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. This contradicted some reasonably basic physics, had not been predicted by the glacier specialists in the first working group (which deals with the natural science of past and future climate change) and was unsupported by any evidence. There was a report from the 1990s which said something similar about all the world’s non-polar glaciers, but it gave the date as 2350. Then there was a crucial typo and some shoddy referencing. Nevertheless the IPCC’s chair, Rajendra Pachauri, had lashed out at people bringing the criticism up, accusing them of “voodoo science”. He then had to eat his words, and set up, with Ban Ki-moon, a panel to look into ways the IPCC might be improved.

Inspired by this to look for other errors, a journalist for a Dutch newspaper spotted that the chapter on Europe gave a figure for the area of the Netherlands below sea level that was much too large. The area at risk of flooding by the sea had been conflated with that at risk of flooding by the Rhine and the Meuse rivers. That the careful Dutch should have provided faulty information and not spotted it in the review process was an embarrassment to the then environment minister, Jacqueline Cramer; following a debate in parliament she called on the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), an independent body, to look at all the regional chapters in the working group II report and make sure they were up to snuff. This the PBL has now done; its report was published on July 5th.

The authors try hard to make clear that their findings do not undermine the IPCC's conclusions on climate change. And there is nothing in their report as egregious as the glaciers or as embarrassing as the Dutch sea level. But they did find a number of things to take issue with, most of which they thought minor but eight of which they classed as major; and their work seems to bring out a systemic tendency to stress negative effects over positive ones. This tendency can be defended. But a reading of the report suggests there may also be broader and potentialy more misleading bias. The PBL report chose as its main focus a table in the “Summary for Policy Makers” of the IPCC’s 2007 “Synthesis Report”, which brings together the results of working groups one, two and three (which deals with responses to climate change). Where did these bullet points actually come from, the PBL team asked, and how well supported were they? [...]

Perhaps the most worrying thing about the PBL report, though, is a rather obvious one about which its authors say little. In all ten of the issues that the PBL categorised as major (the original errors on glaciers and Dutch sea level, and the eight others identified in the report), the impression that the reader gets from the IPCC is more strikingly negative than the impression which would have been received if the underlying evidence base had been reflected as the PBL would have wished, with more precise referencing, more narrow interpretation and less authorial judgment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


Feingold faces unexpectedly tough race (LIZ SIDOTI, 07/06/2010, AP)

Feingold, now in his third term, knows he has a fight on his hands. Never shy about showcasing his independent streak, he reiterated his splits with the White House and fellow Democrats on two key policies last week.

“Regardless of who is in command, the president’s current strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive,” Feingold said as the Senate confirmed Gen. David Petraeus to lead that war.

Feingold also renewed his opposition to the regulatory overhaul that Obama and Democrats wrote for Wall Street. “My test for the financial regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis,” and the measure “fails that test,” he said.

In one of his first campaign ads, Feingold recalls his opposition to the unpopular 2008 rescue of banks and other financial institutions, a measure supported by many Democrats, including Obama. “I said ‘No’ to the bailout,” he says.

His occasional breaks from party orthodoxy could be his key to political survival in a campaign season that’s already claimed five congressional incumbents and several establishment-backed candidates.

But, as Republicans are quick to remind voters, Feingold backed Obama’s economic stimulus plan and health care overhaul.

Four months before November, public and private surveys show a surprisingly tight race — underscoring why the GOP is hopeful and Democrats are anxious about their Senate prospects in the first midterm congressional elections of Obama’s presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


From war woes to Gulf disasters, Obama's presidency mirrors Bush's (Kara Rowland, July 5, 2010, Washington Times)

A difficult war, runaway federal spending, a dilemma over illegal immigration and even the aftermath of an environmental disaster - President Obama's 2010 is looking a lot like President George W. Bush's 2006.

And in many of those cases, Mr. Obama is turning to similar solutions as his predecessor: a surge of troops overseen by the same commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus; a modified line-item veto proposal; and deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to soften opposition before a broad push for an immigration bill.

That the challenges are similar is not surprising. By definition, they are the unfinished business of the Bush administration, and in some cases had been languishing for decades longer. But for a man who ran on being the anti-Bush, Mr. Obama is realizing that breaking with a previous administration's policies is easier said than done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 AM


3 years later, Democrats cast Petraeus in new light (Rowan Scarborough, 7/05/10, Washington Times)

Mr. Obama, as a U.S. senator, lectured Gen. Petraeus in the fall of 2007, when the military commander testified that his Iraq troop surge was working. Mr. Obama said it was not.

"We have now set the bar so low that modest improvement — in what was a completely chaotic situation to the point where now we just have the levels of intolerable violence that existed in June of 2006 — is considered success. And it's not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign-policy mistake," Mr. Obama told Gen. Petraeus.

Last month, the president stood shoulder to shoulder with Gen. Petraeus in the White House Rose Garden as he announced that the general would replace Afghanistan war commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who resigned after making indiscreet remarks to Rolling Stone magazine.

"Gen. Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward," the president said. "I'm extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Dangerous Mysteries of Consciousness: We still need answers. (Ron Rosenbaum, Nov. 30, 2009, Slate)

There's a certain kind of mystery—unsolved and probably insoluble—that has a seductive attraction for me. [...]

I can't get past the idea that they may never be solved. And what's most irritating is when people seem unaware they have not been solved. Or when people who should know better proclaim there are no real mysteries left. Consider, for instance, the problem of the origin and nature of consciousness. The failure to solve it without resorting to religion or quasi-religious "intelligent design"—which offers no real resolution since it doesn't explain what created the consciousness behind the intelligence of intelligent design—strikes many observers as dangerous. Dangerous because it threatens the foundation of scientific rationalism and materialism. Dangerous because it disrupts one's sense of any order in the universe and opens the floodgates of chaos.

So choose order.

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July 5, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


John Kasich Ahead of Ted Strickland in Latest Poll on Ohio Governor Race (Bruce Drake, 7/05/10, Politics Daily)

Kasich still is in the process of making himself better known, with 24 percent of voters saying they don't know enough about him to have a favorable or unfavorably opinion. Of those who do, 50 percent see Kasich favorably while 27 percent don't.

Strickland is viewed unfavorably by 49 percent and favorably by 45 percent with 5 percent not sure. On job approval, 55 percent disapprove of his performance as governor while 43 percent approve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Researchers fear the terror threat from automobiles
: Could your car be an evil force? Or your toaster, for that matter? Researchers aim to reveal all (Marc Abrahams, 7/05/10, guardian.co.uk)

The paper, written by Karl Koscher and a team of 10 other researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California San Diego, was presented at the 2010 IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering) symposium on security and privacy, in Berkeley, California.

Unlike the mindless jalopies of the past, it points out, "Today's automobile is no mere mechanical device, but contains a myriad of computers."

This myriad has powers to do good things for us humans, as well as bad things to us. Already, in some cases, the microchip hordes quietly, beneficently take control from the driver. The Lexus LS460 luxury sedan can automatically parallel-park itself. Many General Motors cars will soon have what the study calls "integration with Twitter".

The team's goal was to look past the goodness and see how hard it would be to cause trouble.

Limiting themselves to the here and now ("we concern ourselves solely with the vulnerabilities in today's commercially available automobiles"), they tell, in professionally dull, let's-remember-we're-engineers fashion, how they conducted an experimental reign of terror...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Should we trust the wisdom of crowds? (Tom de Castella, 7/05/10, BBC)

There are numerous modern examples of how collaboration has transformed businesses, Williams says. One good recent example is that of the Canadian mining company Goldcorp, which was struggling financially and unable to find gold on its land in northern Ontario.
When a new chief executive arrived he put all its geological data online, asked for help on where the gold was located and put up $500,000 in prize money for accurate suggestions.

"They got submissions from people all over the world, including people using 3D computer modelling techniques. They found $3bn worth of gold on the property and Goldcorp became one of Canada's biggest mining companies."

It's just one of a number of examples of how opening a problem out to the public and away from a small pool of workers can lead to huge gains, Williams says.

"These things happen a lot. You're making a problem accessible to a large range of people with a diverse range of skills. And it turns out it's not just for companies it applies to government as well."

The idea is gaining traction in the normally more conservative corridors of the public sector, says Natalie Evans, deputy director of think tank Policy Exchange.

"We now have the technology to reach a huge pool of talent and ideas from the general public in way that simply wasn't possible before. Done properly, this means we can leverage mass collaboration in a way that fosters a sense of 'public buy-in'.

"This can be particularly important where - say in the case of deciding where the axe must fall in terms of cutting public spending - there are difficult decisions to be made."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Assad: US administration is weak (JPOST.COM, 05/07/2010)

The Obama administration’s failure to facilitate change in the Middle East shows that it is weak, Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday during a visit to Latin America amid rising regional tensions over last month’s Gaza flotilla incident and increasing efforts to defuse the Iranian threat.

Assad was quoted Monday in the Argentine daily Clarín as saying that Washington did not “seem to be able to manage a peace process from beginning to end.” He added that while the US was capable of pulling “all its weight” to support a peace process, the current administration has so far proved to be impractical and unable to gain the backing of Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Conservatives plot to curb unions: Conservative ministers are plotting to curb union strike powers to avoid a second winter of discontent. (Holly Watt, 7/05/10, Daily Telegraph)

Ministers have held secret meetings to block nationwide strikes this autumn as departments enforce spending cuts of up to 40 per cent and the loss of up to a million public sector jobs.
The plans would toughen Margaret Thatcher’s union laws and block unions from calling strikes with a simple majority in a union ballot. The Conservatives are believed to be looking at raising the proportion of workers required to vote for a strike before it takes place. [...]

Last month, David Cameron said that the Trade Union Congress needed to accept that the public sector would have to accept cuts in pay, pensions and benefits. "You just think: what planet are they living on?" said Mr Cameron.

The Government is under pressure from senior business figures to change the rules to allow striking workers to be replaced with agency employees. Unions could also be made legally liable for the consequences of strikes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Clay Shirky: 'Paywall will underperform – the numbers don't add up': The internet guru on the death of newspapers, why paywall will fail and how the internet has brought out our creativity – and generosity (Decca Aitkenhead, 7/05/10, The Guardian)

"Everyone's waiting to see what will happen with the paywall – it's the big question. But I think it will underperform. On a purely financial calculation, I don't think the numbers add up." But then, interestingly, he goes on, "Here's what worries me about the paywall. When we talk about newspapers, we talk about them being critical for informing the public; we never say they're critical for informing their customers. We assume that the value of the news ramifies outwards from the readership to society as a whole. OK, I buy that. But what Murdoch is signing up to do is to prevent that value from escaping. He wants to only inform his customers, he doesn't want his stories to be shared and circulated widely. In fact, his ability to charge for the paywall is going to come down to his ability to lock the public out of the conversation convened by the Times."

This criticism echoes the sentiment of Shirky's new book, Cognitive Surplus; Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. The book argues that the popularity of online social media trumps all our old assumptions about the superiority of professional content, and the primacy of financial motivation. It proves, Shirky argues, that people are more creative and generous than we had ever imagined, and would rather use their free time participating in amateur online activities such as Wikipedia – for no financial reward – because they satisfy the primal human urge for creativity and connectedness. Just as the invention of the printing press transformed society, the internet's capacity for "an unlimited amount of zero-cost reproduction of any digital item by anyone who owns a computer" has removed the barrier to universal participation, and revealed that human beings would rather be creating and sharing than passively consuming what a privileged elite think they should watch. Instead of lamenting the silliness of a lot of social online media, we should be thrilled by the spontaneous collective campaigns and social activism also emerging. The potential civic value of all this hitherto untapped energy is nothing less, Shirky concludes, than revolutionary.

Unfortunately, I am precisely the sort of cynic Shirky's new book scorns – a techno-luddite bewildered by the exhibitionism of online social networking (why does anyone feel the need to tweet that they've just had a bath, and might get a kebab later?), troubled by its juvenile vacuity (who joins a Facebook group dedicated to liking toast?), and baffled by the amount of time devoted to posting photos of cats that look amusingly like Hitler. I do, however, recognise that what I like to think of as my opinions are really emotional prejudices. But equally, Shirky's prediction for Murdoch's paywall sounds suspiciously like an emotional objection, rather than a financial calculation. How, then, can he be certain his entire analysis of the internet isn't just as subjective as my kneejerk cynicism?

"I'd say first of all that the notion that any expression of the world can be a value-neutral description of what life is really like is a fantasy, right?" he agrees readily. "We're all postmodern enough to recognise that any writer on any subject is operating within those constraints. And I have the amiably simple-minded view of this stuff you would expect from an American, which is that I think freedom is good, full stop. So therefore I think I'm probably constitutionally incapable of seeing a massive spread in those freedoms as being anything other than salutary for society."

...since Protestantism introduced widespread literacy.

July 4, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


...but this is revealing at any rate

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Obama's immigration speech echoes Bush in policy, rhetoric (Peter Nicholas, July 03, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

Though he is quick to deride former President George W. Bush's performance in office, President Obama seems to think his predecessor gives a pretty good immigration speech.

Obama's widely publicized speech on the controversial topic Thursday closely tracks, in rhetoric and basic policy, a speech Bush gave on the same subject in May 2006.

Speaking at American University, Obama delivered an address intended to rally the nation behind a plan that would strengthen border security while providing a path to legal status for the estimated 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally.

Obama's speech was longer than the one Bush delivered four years ago — 4,100 words compared with 2,600. Bush, speaking from the Oval Office, did not have to expend words thanking people. And Obama used the occasion to recap victories on healthcare and education.

But in fundamental ways, the speeches carry the same message. The parallels show the two presidents — one a Republican, the other a Democrat — have staked out basically the same centrist position on immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM

-July 4th (History Channel)

-Fourth of July is Independence Day (USA.gov)

-Independence Day on the Net (Holidays.net)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Cameron fancies a long stay at No 10: A referendum on the electoral system fits the Tory leader's plan for a permanent, winning coalition (John Rentoul, 4 July 2010, Independent)

The underlying dynamic is that the Liberal Democrats believe that the alternative vote is in their party's interest. It is not their first preference, but it is better than nothing. In the long run, they may be wrong about that, but, at the next election, it will save them some seats. And, as long as they believe it, it is in Cameron's interest to give it to them. If the referendum is lost, the glue that holds the coalition together will weaken.

This is where I think that Cameron is misunderstood. It seems to be generally assumed that, for him, the coalition is flag of convenience, hoisted to help navigate out of the tricky situation produced by the election.

I think not. I think he sees it as a chance for a permanent change in favour of liberal conservatism, a label he has always been happy to apply to himself. The coalition is not merely an expedient to get him through to the next election, when the Tories can try again to win outright. Even if they did, he would, I suspect, want to keep the Liberal Democrats on board. He knows how the alternative vote works in Australia, the only country where it is used. There, the Liberal-National coalition is, in effect, a single party in a two-party system. One that has been in power for 40 of the 65 years since the Second World War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Shrine blast: Pakistan rages against Taliban (Omer Farooq Khan, 7/03/10, TNN)

The Taliban may have overplayed their hand by attacking Lahore's Data Gunj Baksh shrine with thousands of people, including conservative religious groups, taking to Pakistan's streets on Saturday, to denounce terrorist groups for the first time since the near-daily roll call of suicide attacks in the country.

On Saturday, as thousands demanded a new offensive against the Taliban, shops and businesses were shut in major cities. The protest appeared to reflect Pakistan's deep anger against the second major attack in a month on Pakistan's cultural hub, Lahore and on its famous Sufi shrine.

In one of Lahore's important shopping areas, baton-wielding protesters forced bystanders and passers-by to join in and shops to close . Protests also erupted in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Faislabad, Hyderabad and the northwestern Pashtun-dominated town of Peshawar. Emotions ran high in Karachi.

"We will not end our protest until culprits are punished,'' said Sunni Muslim Council leader Raghib Naeemi. The council was one of the groups which had called for a strike on Saturday. Naeemi urged the government to step up its efforts against extremism.

The council's chief Sahibzada Fazal thanked Pakistanis for holding protests. ''Today's successful strike shows that people behind terrorist acts. People have rejected these hired assassins.''

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Tibetans fastest case of evolution? (Nicholas Wade, 7/04/10, NYT News Service)

Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40% less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Special savings accounts can help break cycle of poverty: Programs in every state provide matching funds for the poor who put money away for expenses such as education, a home purchase or starting a business. (Kathy M. Kristof, July 4, 2010, LA Times)

Unfortunately, IDAs like the one Williams discovered may be among the best-kept secrets in finance. These amazing accounts, offered in every state, help low-income workers set aside money for education, a first home or starting a business.

But they're frequently overlooked because the programs are neither standardized nor offered on a national basis. Instead, they're provided through a patchwork of local groups and charities, each of which may have different rules on who can qualify for help and what kind of help they can receive.

What they all have in common is a belief that anyone can break the cycle of poverty, regardless of how little they earn, through savings.

But it's tough to save when you're not good at money management and have little inspiration because your savings seem to grow so slowly. The solution: Link money management classes with the ability to earn a matching amount of savings that can boost the money in your account by as much as $3 for every $1 you set aside. Every program handles the matching differently.

That's exactly what Williams got when she opened accounts with San Francisco-based Earned Assets Resource Network, better known as EARN.

She saved $500; EARN matched her threefold with $1,500. The combination was enough to pay for eight months of tutoring, which was the leg up her daughter needed to put her on a scholarship track.

"We talk a lot about the numbers," said Ben Mangan, president and chief executive of EARN, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization. "But the most important thing that we see is the profound effect this has on individual people's lives and their behavior."

There are two problems with getting low-income workers to save, experts note.

The first is that they simply feel that they can't afford it. The second is that, because they don't have savings, relatively small upsets — a car repair or an illness that keeps them from work for even a few days — can push them into high-cost borrowing and unravel their financial lives.

Williams, for example, was earning about $14,000 annually and felt there was no way she could save because she was spending every dollar on basics: rent, food, car payments and tolls to get across the bridge into San Francisco.

"A week after I got my paycheck, I needed to borrow money," Williams said.

But during the mandatory counseling with the EARN program, Williams discovered an array of government and social assistance programs that could help defray some of her expenses, including her rent. She also got coaching on how to set aside money in advance for regular expenses, like the $50 she spent each month on tolls.

She says she's now using her money so effectively that she's able to donate a small amount each month to her daughter's school in addition to saving for her business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Holy pigs in a gimlet! It's bacon vodka (Lisa Futterman, 7/04/10, Chicago Tribune)

Produced by Black Rock Spirits in Seattle, this potato-based premium vodka was designed to replace the homemade versions that amateur and professional mixologists have been infusing since the bacon craze began.

The difference? It's vegan! And fat free! The difficult thing about extracting the flavor from real bacon is that a greasy film often lingers long after the meat has been strained out. This unpleasant, tongue-coating texture is compounded by the fact that most cocktails are served icy cold, much colder than the point at which fat coagulates. To solve this problem, the gang at Black Rock had a flavor company match their ideal bacon flavor profile and reproduce it chemically.

Get the Chicago Tribune delivered to your home for only $1 a week >>

The result? A clean, meaty-tasting spirit with a hint of smoke. Now, what to swizzle with it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


25 years ago Sunday, New York Mets played an overnight epic with Camp-y ending vs. Braves (Anthony Mccarron, 7/03/10, NY DAILY NEWS)

As the ball soared toward the left-field wall behind him, Danny Heep threw his hands in the air in disbelief and his glove flew off. Perched on a recliner in the visiting clubhouse, Davey Johnson grimaced in the flickering light of a television screen, dreading another inning on what was already a long night.

Moments before, in the Braves' dugout, Dale Murphy had muttered to himself, "Jeez, he's up?" But then Rick Camp took the swing of his life, the ball took off and Murphy thought, "Seriously?"

Camp, a pitcher who took constant ribbing from Atlanta teammates for his dreadful swing, slugged what might be the most improbable home run in baseball history in the bottom of the 18th inning to tie - for the fourth time - a bizarre, rain-delayed game between the Mets and Braves at Atlanta's old Fulton County Stadium.

Sunday is the 25th anniversary of that game, a 16-13 Mets' victory in 19 innings that ended at 3:55 a.m. and lasted six hours and 10 minutes, not including two rain delays. It is remembered perhaps as much for its twists and turns as it is for its post-game fireworks display in honor of Independence Day, even though it was already well into July 5 by the time the pyrotechnics hit the sky and most of the 44,947 souls in attendance had gone home to bed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 AM


Orestes Brownson and the Truth About America (Peter Augustine Lawler, December 2002, First Things)
With Brownson and Murray, we can say that there is an American tradition of Thomistic realism that opposes itself to the dominant American tradition of contractualism and pragmatism, while also resolutely affirming the achievement of American constitutionalism. We might add to the American Thomist tradition the great literary artists Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor. Percy, for example, realistically affirmed the truth and goodness of science while also rejecting scientific claims that do not acknowledge the reality of the distinctive excellence, and destiny, of human beings.

Brownson and Murray teach us the important lesson that the beliefs we hold in common as Americans must really be true if our liberty is to be defensible. Where Brownson goes beyond Murray is in his robust defense of the necessarily national or territorial character of democracy. This was arguably his keenest insight--and one that contemporary Catholics, in America and elsewhere, inclined as they are toward skepticism of national sovereignty and admiration of transpolitical institutions, would do well to ponder.

For Brownson, national solidarity is a natural human potential rooted in necessary human dependence. It also accords with the real but limited human powers of knowing and loving one another. The universality of reason and even religion, given our natural possibilities and limitations, cannot be the model for political order. The proper political form is thus the nation, the modern equivalent of the polis. Brownson thought national solidarity perfectly compatible with the solidarity of the human race through reason and faith, as long as the state was properly oriented toward the truth.

Given our need to flourish as social but limited beings, government deserves our love, loyalty, and obedience. "Loyalty," Brownson writes, "is the highest, noblest, and most generous of human virtues, and is the human element of that sublime love or charity which the inspired Apostle tells us is the fulfillment of the law." Loyalty is more specifically human or particular than the supernatural virtue of charity. And charity cannot replace loyalty as a political or national passion. So Christianity elevates "civic virtues to the rank of religious virtues [by] making loyalty a matter of conscience." Brownson even asserts that "he who dies on the battlefield fighting for his country ranks with him who dies at the stake for his faith." More precisely, "Civic virtues are themselves religious virtues, or at least virtues without which there are no religious virtues, since no man who does not love his brother does or can love God." Human beings approach the universal through the particular, and love of the personal Creator cannot be separated from other particular human beings. Human love is never for human beings in general. All men are brothers, but men come to know brotherly love only when they experience political solidarity with their fellow citizens.

Through the blessing of the Internet: The American Republic: Constitution, Tendencies, and Destiny (1865) (Orestes A. Brownson)
The ancients summed up the whole of human wisdom in the maxim, Know Thyself, and certainly there is for an individual no more important as there is no more difficult knowledge, than knowledge of himself, whence he comes, whither he goes, what he is, what he is for, what he can do, what he ought to do, and what are his means of doing it.

Nations are only individuals on a larger scale. They have a life, an individuality, a reason, a conscience, and instincts of their own, and have the same general laws of development and growth, and, perhaps, of decay, as the individual man. Equally important, and no less difficult than for the individual, is it for a nation to know itself, understand its own existence, its own powers and faculties, rights and duties, constitution, instincts, tendencies, and destiny. A nation has a spiritual as well as a material, a moral as well as a physical existence, and is subjected to internal as well as external conditions of health and virtue, greatness and grandeur, which it must in some measure understand and observe, or become weak and infirm, stunted in its growth, and end in premature decay and death.

Among nations, no one has more need of full knowledge of itself than the United States, and no one has hitherto had less. It has hardly had a distinct consciousness of its own national existence, and has lived the irreflective life of the child, with no severe trial, till the recent rebellion, to throw it back on itself and compel it to reflect on its own constitution, its own separate existence, individuality, tendencies, and end. The defection of the slaveholding States, and the fearful struggle that has followed for national unity and integrity, have brought it at once to a distinct recognition of itself, and forced it to pass from thoughtless, careless, heedless, reckless adolescence to grave and reflecting manhood. The nation has been suddenly compelled to study itself, and henceforth must act from reflection, understanding, science, statesmanship, not from instinct, impulse, passion, or caprice, knowing well what it does, and wherefore it does it. The change which four years of civil war have wrought in the nation is great, and is sure to give it the seriousness, the gravity, the dignity, the manliness it has heretofore lacked.

Though the nation has been brought to a consciousness of its own existence, it has not, even yet, attained to a full and clear understanding of its own national constitution. Its vision is still obscured by the floating mists of its earlier morning, and its judgment rendered indistinct and indecisive by the wild theories and fancies of its childhood. The national mind has been quickened, the national heart has been opened, the national disposition prepared, but there remains the important work of dissipating the mists that still linger, of brushing away these wild theories and fancies, and of enabling it to form a clear and intelligent judgment of itself, and a true and just appreciation of its own constitution tendencies,--and destiny; or, in other words, of enabling the nation to understand its own idea, and the means of its actualization in space and time.

Every living nation has an idea given it by Providence to realize, and whose realization is its special work, mission, or destiny. Every nation is, in some sense, a chosen people of God. The Jews were the chosen people of God, through whom the primitive traditions were to be preserved in their purity and integrity, and the Messiah was to come. The Greeks were the chosen people of God, for the development and realization of the beautiful or the divine splendor in art, and of the true in science and philosophy; and the Romans, for the development of the state, law, and jurisprudence. The great despotic nations of Asia were never properly nations; or if they were nations with a mission, they proved false to it--, and count for nothing in the progressive development of the human race. History has not recorded their mission, and as far as they are known they have contributed only to the abnormal development or corruption of religion and civilization. Despotism is barbaric and abnormal.

The United States, or the American Republic, has a mission, and is chosen of God for the realization of a great idea. It has been chosen not only to continue the work assigned to Greece and Rome, but to accomplish a greater work than was assigned to either. In art, it will prove false to its mission if it do not rival Greece; and in science and philosophy, if it do not surpass it. In the state, in law, in jurisprudence, it must continue and surpass Rome. Its idea is liberty, indeed, but liberty with law, and law with liberty. Yet its mission is not so much the realization of liberty as the realization of the true idea of the state, which secures at once the authority of the public and the freedom of the individual--the sovereignty of the people without social despotism, and individual freedom without anarchy. In other words, its mission is to bring out in its life the dialectic union of authority and liberty, of the natural rights of man and those of society. The Greek and Roman republics asserted the state to the detriment of individual freedom; modern republics either do the same, or assert individual freedom to the detriment of the state. The American republic has been instituted by Providence to realize the freedom of each with advantage to the other.

The real mission of the United States is to introduce and establish a political constitution, which, while it retains all the advantages of the constitutions of states thus far known, is unlike any of them, and secures advantages which none of them did or could possess. The American constitution has no prototype in any prior constitution. The American form of government can be classed throughout with none of the forms of government described by Aristotle, or even by later authorities. Aristotle knew only four forms of government: Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy, and Mixed Governments. The American form is none of these, nor any combination of them. It is original, a new contribution to political science, and seeks to attain the end of all wise and just government by means unknown or forbidden to the ancients, and which have been but imperfectly comprehended even by American political writers themselves. The originality of the American constitution has been overlooked by the great majority even of our own statesmen, who seek to explain it by analogies borrowed from the constitutions of other states rather than by a profound study of its own principles. They have taken too low a view of it, and have rarely, if ever, appreciated its distinctive and peculiar merits.

As the United States have vindicated their national unity and integrity, and are preparing to take a new start in history, nothing is more important than that they should take that new start with a clear and definite view of their national constitution, and with a distinct understanding of their political mission in the future of the world.

The idea that the United States has a mission, that we are in the process of becoming (or of not becoming, as the case may be), is foreign to most people, precisely because we so little understand the the nature of the Constitution and of the Republic that the Founders bequeathed to us. If you get a couple minutes today and want to reflect on America, try reading especially the last two chapters of Brownson's book. Even if you reject them utterly, it would seem useful to ponder what purpose the nation does then serve and whether the ideas that animated the Founding are things we no longer believe in as a people. Because if we don't understand those ideas and/or don't believe in them, then the American Republic will join many other noble experiments in the dustbin of history.

-The Orestes Brownson Society
-ETEXT: New Views of Christianity, Society, and the Church (Orestes A. Brownson)
-ESSAY: Catholicity Necessary To Sustain Popular Liberty (Orestes Brownson,
-ESSAY: Democracy and Liberty (Orestes Brownson)
-Orestes Augustus Brownson Papers (Notre Dame Archives)
-BACKGROUND: Orestes Brownson (Notre Dame Archives)
-Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876) (My Virtual Study: Terrence Berres)
Orestes Augustus Brownson (Catholic Encyclopedia)
-Orestes Brownson (American Transcendentalism Web)
-Orestes Augustus Brownson (Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty)
-Chapter 4: Early Nineteenth Century: Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876) (PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide, Paul P. Reuben)
-ESSAY: Brownson's Quest for Social Justice (Edward Day, C.SS.R., August 1954, The American Ecclesiastical Review)
-ARCHIVES: "Orestes
(Find Articles)
-ARCHIVES: "Orestes Brownson" (Mag Portal)
-ESSAY: Limits and Hope: Christopher Lasch and Political Theory (Jean Bethke Elshtain, Summer 1999, Social Research)
-REVIEW: of Aliens in America: The Strange Truth about Our Souls. By Peter Augustine Lawler (Damon Linker, First Things)
-ESSAY: Christianity and Liberty (George H. Smith, Nov/Dec 1992, Religion & Liberty)
America "last best hope of mankind" (Jay Ambrose, 7/04/03, Manchester Union-Leader)
Today, July 4, we celebrate a declaration, and that in itself is something special among nations. It is wars that nations often celebrate as their most patriotic of days, but our focus is on words about the "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; our focus is on a statement that the American colonies are now independent, not that they will be after armed conflict, but that they are as of the declaration's adoption.

July 4 is a celebration of a people deciding to choose a destiny free from the dictates of others. The decision--an act of mind --is what counts most. And what have we done with that independence? We have become incredibly powerful, of course, but not because we sought power. We are where we are because we afforded common men and women opportunities nowhere else equally available.
[originally posted; 2003-07-04]
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 AM


Americanism—and Its Enemies (David Gelernter, January 2005, Commentary)

That Americanism is a religion is widely agreed. G.K. Chesterton called America “the nation with the soul of a church.” But Americanism is not (contrary to the views of many people who use these terms loosely) a “secular” or a “civil” religion. No mere secular ideology, no mere philosophical belief, could possibly have inspired the intensities of hatred and devotion that Americanism has. Americanism is in fact a Judeo-Christian religion; a millenarian religion; a biblical religion. Unlike England’s “official” religion, embodied in the Anglican church, America’s has been incorporated into all the Judeo-Christian religions in the nation.

Does that make it impossible to believe in a secular Americanism? Can you be an agnostic or atheist or Buddhist or Muslim and a believing American too? In each case the answer is yes. But to accomplish that feat is harder than most people realize. The Bible is not merely the fertile soil that brought Americanism forth. It is the energy source that makes it live and thrive; that makes believing Americans willing to prescribe freedom, equality, and democracy even for a place like Afghanistan, once regarded as perhaps the remotest region on the face of the globe. If you undertake to remove Americanism from its native biblical soil, you had better connect it to some other energy source potent enough to keep its principles alive and blooming.

But is it not true that the Declaration of Independence—one of America’s holiest writings—treats religion in a cool, Enlightenment sort of way? It does. But we ought to keep in mind an observation by the historian Ralph Barton Perry. The Declaration, Perry reminds us, was an ex post facto justification of American beliefs. It was addressed to educated elite opinion, especially abroad; it was designed to win arguments, not to capture the essence of Americanism as Americans themselves understood it. That essence emerges in the less guarded pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and many other leading exponents and prophets of Americanism, from Winthrop and Bradford through John Adams and Jefferson through Lincoln and Wilson, Truman, Reagan.

Few believing Americans can show, nowadays, how Americanism’s principles are derived from the Bible. But many are willing to say that these principles are God-given. Freedom comes from God, George W. Bush has said more than once; and if you pressed him, I suspect you would discover that not only does he say it, he believes it. Many Americans all over the country agree with him. The idea of a “secular” Americanism based on the Declaration of Independence is an optical illusion.

Suppose you were to put together a bookful of pronouncements and predictions about America’s destiny, ranging over four centuries. What title would you give it?

Such an anthology did appear in 1971; it was edited by an associate professor of religious studies and subtitled “Religious Interpretations of American Destiny.” The book’s main title was God’s New Israel. From the 17th century through John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Americans kept talking about their country as if it were the biblical Israel and they were the chosen people.

Where did that view of America come from? It came from Puritanism—Puritanism being not a separate type of Christianity but a certain approach to Protestantism. And here is a strange fact about Puritanism. It originated in 16th-century England; it became one of the most powerful forces in religious if not all human history. It consistently elicited bitter hatred—and was directly responsible for (at least) two world-changing developments. It provoked the British Civil War (in which the Puritans and Parliament asserted their rights against the crown and the established church), and the first settlements by British religious dissenters in the new world.

And then it simply disappeared. In the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, Puritanism dropped out of history. Traces survived in Britain and (even more so) in America, in the form of churches once associated with it. But after the 18th century, we barely hear about Puritanism as a live force; before long everyone agrees that it is dead.

What happened to it? In a narrow sense, Puritan congregations sometimes liberalized and became Unitarian; the Transcendentalists, prominent in American literature from roughly 1820 through 1860, are often described as the spiritual successors of the Puritans. But Puritanism was too potent, too vibrant simply to vanish. Where did all that powerful religious passion go?

Puritanism had two main elements: the Calvinist belief in predestination with associated religious doctrines, and what we might call a “political” doctrine. The “political” goal of Puritanism was to reach back to the pure Christianity of the New Testament—and then even farther back. Puritans spoke of themselves as God’s new chosen people, living in God’s new promised land—in short, as God’s new Israel.

I believe that Puritanism did not drop out of history. It transformed itself into Americanism. This new religion was the end-stage of Puritanism: Puritanism realized among God’s self-proclaimed “new” chosen people—or, in Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable phrase, God’s “almost chosen people.”

Many thinkers have noted that Americanism is inspired by or close to or intertwined with Puritanism. One of the most impressive scholars to say so recently is Samuel Huntington, in his formidable book on American identity, Who Are We? But my thesis is that Puritanism did not merely inspire or influence Americanism; it turned into Americanism. Puritanism and Americanism are not just parallel or related developments; they are two stages of a single phenomenon.

It can be a painful experience to read an Andrew Delbanco, Richard Rorty, Peter Beinart, Michael Tomasky, or other folk of the Left as they wrestle with their need to live Americanism without embracing its Puritanical source. But, as George McKenna points out in his great, Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, they are just experiencing what Cotton Mather defined as "adherent grace":
[T]he stark logic of Protestantism seemed to rule out infant baptism: if sacraments do not give grace, then why baptize a newborn baby, who obviously has not undergone a conversion experience? Cotton's reply was that church membership entails a "double state of grace," adherent grace and inherent grace. Adherent, or "federal," grace is the grace that belongs to all the children of believing parents. [...] Infant baptism does not, of course, give saving grace to the baby, but it admits him or her into the community's collective covenant with God. This covenant thus includes both those who have undergone a faith experience and those...who have not.

For the Decent Left, adherent grace allows for what Rorty refers to as their "freeloading atheism" until they grow up. In the meantime, they are covered by the American covenant even though they don't understand it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:14 AM


A Mix For America (NPR, June 29, 2010)

Whether you're a constitutional scholar, someone who yells "USA! USA! USA!" at sporting events, or both, you'll agree that America — the country, not the soft-rock band behind "A Horse With No Name" — is worth at least one day off a year. From representative democracy and free speech to the ingenuity that gave the world deep-fried cheese and Slankets, America deserves a continuous music mix extolling her virtues.

As Flag Day gives way to July 4 festivities, it's the finest time of the year to hoist a flag, ignite some shoddily manufactured fireworks (imported, of course) and sit at your computer while streaming a whole bunch of music that sings the praises of our great land.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 AM


Samuel Adams - The Declaration Revisited (Mark Alexander, July 3, 2003, townhall.com)
[A]dams would reserve his fieriest denunciations for this week's 11th Circuit Appeals Court conclusion that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore strayed into constitutional impermissibility by placing a monument depicting the Ten Commandments as "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," in his state's Supreme Court rotunda. Of this legal commemoration of our law's foundation, that court declared: "Any notion of high government officials being above the law did not save ... [state's rights proponents] from having to obey federal-court orders, and it will not save ... [Moore] from having to comply with the court order in this case. ... If necessary, the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail."

Adams would note that this decision is most emphatically the opposite of the rule of law. He wrote of that first Independence Day, 227 long years ago, "We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient." He would note that Moore's appeal is going to the Supreme Court, where a relief engraved with the Ten Commandments appropriately appears above the Justices' bench and court sessions begin with the proclamation, "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." He would remind that the First Amendment states plainly: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

On this greatest of threats to our liberty, Adams would recall the words of his fellow Founders: "The Constitution which at any time exists, 'till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon all." (George Washington) "...[T]he danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day." (Joseph Story) "The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." (Thomas Jefferson).

But what would Adams do? [...]

He would advise, "Since private and public Vices, are in reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost pains be taken by the public, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the minds even of children, and the moral sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our ancestors for these great purposes be encouraged by the government. For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when Knowledge is diffus'd and Virtue is preserv'd. On the contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauch'd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders."

He would counsel that religious liberty requires faith-minded (and faithful) defenders, as "...Our enemies have made it an object, to eradicate from the minds of the people in general a sense of true religion and virtue, in hopes thereby the more easily to carry their point of enslaving them." And he would caution remembering which are first principles: "...[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."

The Founders were just Deists though...pretty nearly atheists.... [originally posted: 2003-07-04]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 AM


Lives lost for freedom (William M. Fowler, July 4, 2007, Boston Globe)

For their service, privates were paid less than $7 a month -- that is, if they received it. Chronically impoverished Congress quickly resorted to paying soldiers in Continental script, which rampant inflation devalued until the term "not worth a Continental" became synonymous for worthless.

Disgruntled soldiers complained of their shabby treatment. Washington pleaded with Congress to address the soldiers' grievances. It did not, and on several occasions soldiers mutinied and threatened to march on the government. Despite sympathy for his soldiers, General George Washington remained faithful to the principle of civilian control over the military. He kept command and held the loyalty of the army. At one fateful moment on March 15, 1783, when his officers were planning action against Congress, Washington stood before them and reminded them, "I have been the constant companion and witness of your Distresses." He asked them to be patient. He would personally present their case to Congress.

Washington fulfilled his promise and appealed for justice to the Congress. Politically weak, financially bankrupt, and more interested in ending the war than aiding the army, Congress failed to act. When news of peace arrived, Congress discharged the Continental Army. Since it had no money to pay the veterans, Congress offered them interest-bearing certificates to be redeemed in the future. Many soldiers viewed the certificates as another empty promise. In desperate need of cash, they sold the certificates to speculators for a fraction of their face value. After ratification of the Constitution, the new federal government assumed the obligation of paying off these certificates. To establish the new government's "full faith and credit," Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury, insisted that the certificates be redeemed at their face value plus interest. Unfortunately, the payoffs more often went to greedy speculators than to needy veterans.

Once home, weary veterans found their neighbors were nearly as indifferent to their plight as Congress. According to Harrison Gray Otis, a young lawyer in Boston, they returned "to the bosom of their country, objects of jealousy, victims of neglect." Eight years of war had drained the nation. The "Spirit of 76" was dead.

Folks used to claim that democracies were at a disadvantage when they faced authoritarians in war. Actually, we win the wars rather easily, it's the peaces democracies foul up. It seems to be an attention-deficit disorder.

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 AM


John Adams Survives: His famous last words may be a myth, but the nation he helped found is a triumphant reality. (Paul Beston, 3 July 2008, City Journal)

While Jefferson’s precise last words are not well known, among them was some form of the question: “Is it the Fourth?” Adams’s final words were poetry itself: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Actually, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier, though of course Adams didn’t know that. The statement has echoed throughout the ages, carrying multiple levels of meaning that both men would no doubt have appreciated.

There’s only one problem: the evidence is that Adams didn’t quite get out all three words. According to historian Andrew Burstein, the “Thomas Jefferson survives” message was propagated by Adams memorialists in the weeks and months after the great man’s death, but they took some liberties. There was only one person known to have been with Adams when he died, Burstein tells us: Louisa Smith, the niece and adopted daughter of Adams’s late wife, Abigail. What she heard was “Thomas Jefferson” and then something unintelligible. Given the context, it’s quite possible that Adams was attempting to say “survives,” or something very like it, but we cannot know. Obviously his old comrade was on his mind, and that is remarkable enough. But “Thomas Jefferson survives” seems to be another of those tantalizing historical anecdotes based in truth and embellished by just a measure or two in the interest of creating a more perfect ending.

It seems difficult to avoid this tendency, then and now. We do it in our own lives, with our own stories. Some people so astonish us with their brilliance, courage, or goodness that paradoxically their deeds cannot be fully appreciated just as they are, but instead become absorbed into a broader canvas of composites and half-truths and flat-out tall tales. It’s almost as if we have to tell ourselves stories as a way of understanding the mere facts of their achievements.

Certainly, on top of all that they had already done, for Adams and Jefferson to have died in the way they did leaves mythology begging. As Ellis writes of their twin parting, “No serious novelist would ever dare to make this up. . . . Call it a miracle, an accident, or a case of two powerful personalities willing themselves to expire on schedule and according to script. But it happened.”

What’s continually remarkable about the American Revolution and the lives of the founders is how much is not made up, or even embellished.

[originally posted: 7/05/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


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Posted by Peter Burnet at 12:00 AM


Don't worry, Old Glory can take the heat (Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-times, June 26, 2005)

One of the big lessons of these last four years is that many, many beneficiaries of Western civilization loathe that civilization -- and the media are generally inclined to blur the extent of that loathing. At last year's Democratic Convention, when the Oscar-winning crockumentarian Michael Moore was given the seat of honor in the presidential box next to Jimmy Carter, I wonder how many TV viewers knew that the terrorist ''insurgents'' -- the guys who kidnap and murder aid workers, hack the heads off foreigners, load Down's syndrome youths up with explosives and send them off to detonate in shopping markets -- are regarded by Moore as Iraq's Minutemen. I wonder how many viewers knew that on Sept. 11 itself Moore's only gripe was that the terrorists had targeted New York and Washington instead of Texas or Mississippi: ''They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, D.C. and the plane's destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!"

In other words, if the objection to flag desecration is that it's distasteful, tough. Like those apocryphal Victorian matrons who discreetly covered the curved legs of their pianos, the culture already goes to astonishing lengths to veil the excesses of those who are admirably straightforward in their hostility.

If people feel that way, why protect them with a law that will make it harder for the rest of us to see them as they are? One thing I've learned in the last four years is that it's very difficult to talk honestly about the issues that confront us. A brave and outspoken journalist, Oriana Fallaci, is currently being prosecuted for ''vilification of religion,'' which is a crime in Italy; a Christian pastor has been ordered by an Australian court to apologize for his comments on Islam. In the European Union, ''xenophobia'' is against the law. A flag-burning amendment is the American equivalent of the rest of the West's ever more coercive constraints on free expression. The problem is not that some people burn flags; the problem is that the world view of which flag-burning is a mere ritual is so entrenched at the highest levels of Western culture.

Banning flag desecration flatters the desecrators and suggests that the flag of this great republic is a wee delicate bloom that has to be protected. It's not. It gets burned because it's strong. I'm a Canadian and one day, during the Kosovo war, I switched on the TV and there were some fellows jumping up and down in Belgrade burning the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Big deal, seen it a million times. But then to my astonishment, some of those excitable Serbs produced a Maple Leaf from somewhere and started torching that. Don't ask me why -- we had a small contribution to the Kosovo bombing campaign but evidently it was enough to arouse the ire of Slobo's boys. I've never been so proud to be Canadian in years. I turned the sound up to see if they were yelling ''Death to the Little Satan!'' But you can't have everything.

A proud and happy 4th of July to all who travel here and their families.

[originally posted: 2005-07-04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


We immigrants (San Diego Union-Tribune, July 4, 2008)

Today, on the 232nd anniversary of Jefferson's masterpiece – the Declaration of Independence – we're reminded that patriots come in many shapes and sizes and that not everyone who loves this country was born here. In fact, those who vote with their feet and come here from someplace else to escape economic destitution or political oppression are often in the best position to appreciate the blessings of life in this magnificent nation.

This is, after all, the land of second chances. It's a place that welcomes people from all over the world – as long as they come legally and become productive members of society once they arrive. It was true with the Germans, Italians, Irish, Jews, Greeks and Chinese and now it's true with people from Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Those who come here are often out of options, forced to flee home, family and friends for the promise of a better tomorrow for themselves and their children.

And once they arrive – often uneducated and unskilled but willing to work hard and sacrifice – they will sculpt new lives in this, their new home. In the process, they will begin a lifelong love affair with America. They'll hang Old Glory on the front porch on days such as today and, when called upon, they'll surrender their children to the armed forces. And when they leave us, it'll be with the pride and satisfaction of knowing that they – through their industry, hope and optimism – contributed to the greatest country on Earth.

[originally posted: 7/04/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Myth and Memory in the American Identity (Wilfred M. McClay, October 12, 2005, The Lehrman Lectures - The Heritage Foundation)

[I]t is impossible to rally a nation to fight for its soul if it no longer knows what that soul is. As before in our history, our current challenges have forced us to think more deeply and clearly about such things -- about who and what we are. And it is not entirely a bad thing that we find ourselves at this juncture. Periods of decline and crisis are inevitable even in the healthiest society, precisely because what is good in the past can never be passed along mechanically and effortlessly from one generation to the next. Each generation has to rediscover those things for itself, and relive the truth of Goethe’s dictum: "What you have as heritage, take now as task, for only in that way can you make it your own." This is a more majestic and momentous thing than is covered by the word "reappropriation." And it is not at all the same thing as saying that each generation gets to invent its own Constitution and its own history. In fact, it is the exact opposite. But more about that later….

My point here is that, human nature being what it is -- and human society being, in some sense, the amplification of human nature -- it usually takes a crisis to cause an individual, or a nation, to renew itself. These things aren’t covered under any program of regular maintenance. They are not the product of jet-smooth steady-state development, overseen by planners and bureaucrats. Renewal of a culture is a more jagged and lurching thing. Sometimes it takes a fight for survival to induce it. Arnold Toynbee, a great historian of the last century whom no one except Samuel Huntington bothers to read anymore, was right in seeing the dynamic of challenge-and-response as the chief source of a civilization’s greatness. And he was also right to assert that great civilizations die from suicide rather than murder, which is to say that they die when they lack the will to respond vigorously and creatively to the very challenges that would otherwise make them stronger. [...]

I think it’s clear that the American national identity, like love, is a many-splendored thing. Defining it is also a bit like love, or war -- meaning that it ends up being a much more complicated, even contentious, undertaking than you ever thought it would be at the outset. And doubly so for the task of restoration, the real subject of these lectures. The very question of restoration presumes some measure of agreement, not only about what we are, but what we once were, and what we ought to become. But it is in the very nature of our current woes that we don’t have any such agreement, even among people who call themselves conservatives.

One of the chief points at issue arises out of the tension between creed and culture, to use a shorthand way of putting it, in the ways we think about America and about standards of membership in American society. This is a tension between, on one hand, the idea of the United States as a nation built upon the foundation of self-evident, rational, and universally applicable propositions about human nature and human society; and, on the other hand, the idea of the United States as a very unusual, historically specific and contingent entity, underwritten by a long, intricately evolved, and very particular legacy of English law, language, and customs, Greco-Roman cultural antecedents, and Judeo-Christian sacred texts and theological and moral teachings, without whose presences the nation’s flourishing would not be possible.

This is a very profound tension, with much to be said for both sides. And the side one comes down on -- if one comes down entirely on one side -- will say a lot about one’s stance on an immense number of issues, such as immigration, education, citizenship, cultural assimilation, multiculturalism, pluralism, the role of religion in public life, the prospects for democratizing of the Middle East, and so on. Yet, at the risk of being labeled a straddler, I would contend that any understanding of American identity that excluded either of the two elements would be seriously deficient. Any view of American life that failed to acknowledge its powerful strains of universalism, idealism, and crusading zeal would be describing a different country from the America that, for better or worse, happens to exist. And yet any view of America as simply a bundle of abstract normative ideas about freedom and democracy and self-government that can flourish just as easily in any cultural and historical soil, including a multilingual, post-religious, or post-national one, takes too much for granted, and will be in for a rude awakening.

Clearly, then, the creed v. culture antagonism is better understood not as a statement of alternatives but as an antinomy, one of those perpetual oppositions that can never be resolved. In fact, this may be more of a problem in theory than in practice, since the two halves of the opposition so often serve to support one another. The creed needs the support of the culture -- and the culture, in turn, is imbued with respect for the creed. For the creed to be successful, it must be able to silently presume the presence of all kinds of cultural inducements -- toward civility, restraint, deferred gratification, nonviolence, loyalty, procedural fairness, impersonal neutrality, compassion, respect for elders, and the like. These traits are not magically called into being by the mere invocation of the Declaration of Independence. Nor are they sustainable for long without the support of strong and deeply rooted social and cultural institutions that are devoted to the formation of character, most notably the traditional family and traditional religious institutions.

But by the same token, the American culture is unimaginable apart from the influence of the American creed, from the sense of pride and moral responsibility Americans derive from being, as Walter Berns has argued, a carrier of universal values, a vanguard people. [...]

Republicanism means self-government, and so republican liberty does not mean living without restraint, but rather living in accordance with a law that you have dictated to yourself. Hence the especially strong need of republics to recur to their founding principles and their founding narratives, in a never-ending process of self-adjustment. There should be a constant interplay between founding ideals and current realities, a tennis match bouncing back and forth between the two.

And for that to happen, there need to be two things in place. First, founding principles that are sufficiently fixed to give us genuine guidance, to actually teach us something. That such ideals should be open to amendment is, perhaps, the least important or valuable thing about them -- which is precisely why a living Constitution is not really a Constitution at all. This is why I compare a founding to a promise or a vow, which means nothing if its chief glory is its adaptability. The analogy of a successful marriage, which is also, in a sense, a res publica that must periodically recur to first principles, and learn to distinguish first principles from passing circumstances, is actually a fairly good guide to these things.

Second, there needs to be a ready sense of connection to the past, a reflex for looking backward. And that is no easy matter. Cultivating it ought to be one of the chief uses of the formal study of history. Or so one would think. But the fostering of a vital sense of connection to the past is, alas, not one of the goals of historical study as it’s now taught and practiced in this country. Nietzsche saw a certain kind of abuse of history, along these lines, coming long before it was even a germ of a possibility on these shores. But it has reached a kind of full flower in the present day. This has been particularly true of the study of the American founding, as it has been for a century now, since the early sallies against the Founders by Charles Beard; but it is more generally true of the entire profession of history.

This is a highly ironic development. The meticulous contextualization of past events and ideas, arising out of a sophisticated understanding of the past’s particularities and discontinuities with the present, is one of the great achievements of modern historiography. But that achievement comes at a very high cost, when it emphasizes the pastness of the past so much as to make the past completely unavailable to us, separated from us by a impassable chasm of contextual difference.

There's much else that's great here -- including a brief discussion of how nationalism is understood to have a racial element -- but two points stand out from this excerpt: first, the reason the Left hates our actual history and prefers ignorance of it but will settle for distorting it beyond recognition; second, why the End of History is not necessarily a good thing. As to the second point, while our creed is universal and can be extended everywhere, as it is being and has been, in the absence of a thriving Judeo-Christian culture or its very close approximation, liberal democracy will just afford nations a more comfortable sort of suicide. Our form is easy enough to ape, but unless you can add the content you can't hope to be successful in the long run.

[originally posted: 2005-11-12]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In God We Trust: The history books tell us that the founders of this country were heavily influenced by the principles of the Enlightenment. True enough. But the history books neglect an influence that proved even more important-religious principles. (Michael Novak, Hoover Digest)

[I] want to do something relatively rare these days. I want to give a sense of the religious energy behind the American founding. For a hundred years scholars have stressed the role of the Enlightenment and John Locke in particular. But there are also first principles that come to us from Judaism and Christianity, especially from Judaism. The religious principles in the founding were and are important to many citizens, and they are probably indispensable to the moral health of the Republic, as Washington taught us in his Farewell Address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." Washington said "indispensable." Reason and faith are the two wings by which the American eagle took flight.

When our founders talked religiously about politics they borrowed mostly from the Jewish testament, not the Christian. Scholars often mistakenly refer to the God of the founders as a deist God. But the founders talked about God in terms that are radically Jewish: Creator, Judge, and
Providence. These were the names they most commonly used for him, notably in the Declaration of Independence. For the most part, these are not names that could have come from the Greeks or Romans but only from the Jewish Testament. Perhaps the founders avoided Christian language to avert divisiveness, since different colonies were founded under different Christian inspirations. All found common language in the language of the Jewish Testament.

If I stress the religious elements of the story, it is because for the past century scholars have paid too much attention to Jefferson in these matters and ignored the other top one hundred founders, most of whom were profoundly religious men. The crucial point is that all the Founding Fathers-Jefferson included-shared in common a belief that a people cannot maintain liberty
without religion. They understood the power of religion to their cause yet worried that in the eyes of God they would be found wanting. Here is John Adams in 1776: "I sometimes tremble to think that although we are engaged in the best cause that ever employed the human heart, yet the prospect of success is doubtful, not for want of power or of wisdom but of virtue." [...]

In the first days of September 1774, from every region, members of the First Continental Congress were riding dustily toward Philadelphia, where they hoped to remind King George III of the rights due to them as Englishmen. As these delegates were gathering, news arrived that the king's troops were shelling Charlestown and Boston, and rumors flew that the city was being
sacked, robbery and murder being committed. Those rumors later turned out not to be true, but that's the news they heard. Thus, as they gathered, the delegates were confronted with impending war. No wonder their first act as a Continental Congress was to request a session of prayer.

Mr. Jay of New York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina immediately spoke against this motion because (they said) Americans are so divided in religious sentiments-some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists-that all could not join in the same act of prayer. Sam Adams rose to say that he could hear a prayer from any gentleman of piety and virtue, as long as he was a patriot. Adams moved that a Reverend Duche be asked to read prayers before Congress on the next morning. The motion carried.

Thus it happened that the first act of Congress on September 7, 1774, was an official prayer, pronounced by an Episcopalian clergyman dressed in his pontificals. And what did he read? He read a Jewish prayer, Psalm 35 in The Book of Common Prayer:

Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me. Fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of buckler and shield, and rise up for my help. Say to my soul, "I am your salvation." Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life. Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me.

Before the Reverend Duche knelt Washington, Henry, Randolph, Rutledge, Lee, and Jay. By their side, heads bowed, were the Puritan patriots, who could imagine at that moment their own homes being bombarded by the fleet or overrun by the king's troops. Over these bowed heads the Reverend Duche uttered what all testified was an eloquent prayer for America, for Congress,
for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially for the town of Boston. The emotion in the room was palpable, and John Adams wrote to Abigail that night that he had never heard a better prayer or one so well pronounced: "I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that that Psalm be read on that morning. It was enough to melt a stone. I saw tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave pacific Quakers of Philadelphia."

In this fashion, right at its beginning, this nation formed a covenant with God that is repeated in the Declaration: "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence." The founders pledged their fidelity to the will of God and asked God to protect their liberty. They would continue to enact this covenant in the years to come in many later acts of Congress.

It was the Quaker and supposed deist or athist (whichever is being claimed these days), Benjamin Franklin, who proposed starting a day of the deliberations on the Constitution with a prayer, when they'd gotten themselves stuck on a few points. The proposal was only voted down because it was feared they'd appear panicky. And the first act of the Congress they created with that Constitution was the hiring of official chaplains for the respective legislative bodies..

[originally posted: 2003-09-28]

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July 3, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


Free e-book for July from the University of Chicago Press! (University of Chicago Press)

This month's free e-book: Making Patriots by Walter Berns—a pithy and provocative essay that attempts to answer the question of how patriotism has flourished throughout America's history, despite the culture's veneration of individualism and self-interest. [...]

Download the complete e-book for free during the month of July or try a sample first with this excerpt.

The whole book is worth reading, but one anecdote in particular is sublime:
The following story is told by a foreign diplomat who, as he explains, had occasion to visit the United States Embassy in the capital of his country.

'I arrived at a quarter to six, after official office hours, and was met by the Marine on guard at the entrance of the Chancery. He asked if I would mind waiting while he lowered the two American flags at the Embassy. What I witnessed over the next ten minutes so impressed me that I am now led to make this occurrence a part of my ongoing record of this distressing era.

The Marine was dressed in a uniform which was spotless and neat; he walked with a measured tread from the entrance of the Chancery to the stainless steel flagpole before the Embassy and, almost reverently, lowered the flag to the level of his reach where he began to fold it in military fashion. He then released the flag from the clasps attaching it to the rope, stepped back from the pole, made an about-face, and carried the flag between his hands--one above, one below--and placed it securely on a stand before the Chancery.

He then marched over to a second flagpole and repeated the same lonesome ceremony.... After completing his task, he apologized for the delay--out of pure courtesy, as nothing less than incapacity would have prevented him from fulfilling his goal--and said to me, "Thank you for waiting, Sir. I had to pay honor to my country."

I have had to tell this story because there was something impressive about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a supercarrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest.

One day it is my hope to visit one of our embassies in a faraway place and to see a soldier fold our flag and turn to a stranger and say, "I am sorry for the delay, Sir. I had to honor my country."

-BOOKNOTES: Walter Berns (C-SPAN, August 19, 2001 )

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 PM


Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician by Alyn Brodsky (C-SPAN, July 4, 2004, 8 & 11pm)

The only full biography of Benjamin Rush, an extraordinary Founding Father and America's leading physician of the Colonial era

While Benjamin Rush appears often and meaningfully in biographies about John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, this legendary man is presented as little more than a historical footnote. Yet, he was a propelling force in what culminated in the Declaration of Independence, to which he was a cosigner.

Rush was an early agitator for independence, a member of the First Continental Congress, and one of the leading surgeons of the Continental Army during the early phase of the American Revolution. He was an constant and indefatigable adviser to the foremost figures of the American Revolution, notably George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

Even if he had not played a major role in our country's creation, Rush would have left his mark in history as an eminent physician and a foremost social reformer in such areas as medical teaching, treatment of the mentally ill (he is considered the Father of American Psychiatry), international prevention of yellow fever, establishment of public schools, implementation of improved education for women, and much more.

For readers of well-written biographies, Brodsky has illuminated the life of one of America's great and overlooked revolutionaries.

-Benjamin Rush (Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion)
Benjamin Rush: Signer of the Declaration of Independence
-Colonial Hall: Biography of Benjamin Rush
-Benjamin Rush 1745 - 1813 (Africans in America)
-Founding Fathers: Benjamin Rush (Christian America)

The business of education has acquired a new complexion by the independence of our country. The form of government we have assumed has created a new class of duties to every American. It becomes us, therefore, to examine our former habits upon this subject, and in laying the foundations for nurseries of wise and good men, to adapt our modes of teaching to the peculiar form of our government.

The first remark that I shall make upon this subject is that an education in our own is to be preferred to an education in a foreign country. The principle of patriotism stands in need of the reinforcement of prejudice, and it is well known that our strongest prejudices in favor of our country are formed in the first one and twenty years of our lives. The policy of the Lacedamonians is well worthy of our imitation. When Antipater demanded fifty of their children as hostages for the fulfillment of a distant engagement, those wise republicans refused to comply with his demand but readily offered him double the number of their adult citizens, whose habits and prejudices could not be shaken by residing in a foreign country. Passing by, in this place, the advantages to the community from the early attachment of youth to the laws and constitution of their country, I shall only remark that young men who have trodden the paths of science together, or have joined in the same sports, whether of swimming, skating, fishing, or hunting, generally feel, through life, such ties to each other as add greatly to the obligations of mutual benevolence.

I conceive the education of our youth in this country to be peculiarly necessary in Pennsylvania while our citizens are com posed of the natives of so many different kingdoms in Europe. Our schools of learning, by producing one general and uniform system of education, will render the mass of the people more homogeneous and thereby fit them more easily for uniform and peaceable government.

I proceed, in the next place, to inquire what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth; and here I beg leave to remark that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in RELIGION. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all re publican governments.

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is the religion of JESUS CHRIST.

It is foreign to my purpose to hint at the arguments which establish the truth of the Christian revelation. My only business is to declare that all its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society and the safety and well-being of civil government. A Christian cannot fail of being a republican. The history of the creation of man and of the relation of our species to each other by birth, which is recorded in the Old Testament, is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind. A Christian, I say again, cannot fail of being a re publican, for every precept of the Gospel inculcates those degrees of humility, self-denial, and brotherly kindness which are directly opposed to the pride of monarchy and the pageantry of a court. A Christian cannot fail of being useful to the republic, for his religion teacheth him that no man "liveth to him self." And lastly, a Christian cannot fail of being wholly in offensive, for his religion teacheth him in all things to do to others what he would wish, in like circumstances, they should do to him.

I am aware that I dissent from one of those paradoxical opinions with which modern times abound: that it is improper to fill the minds of youth with religious prejudices of any kind and that they should be left to choose their own principles after they have arrived at an age in which they are capable of judging for themselves. Could we preserve the mind in childhood and youth a perfect blank, this plan of education would have more to recommend it, but this we know to be impossible. The human mind runs as naturally into principles as it does after facts. It submits with difficulty to those restraints or partial discoveries which are imposed upon it in the infancy of reason. Hence the impatience of children to be informed upon all subjects that relate to the invisible world. But I beg leave to ask, Why should we pursue a different plan of education with respect to religion from that which we pursue in teaching the arts and sciences? Do we leave our youth to acquire systems of geography, philosophy, or politics till they have arrived at an age in which they are capable of judging for themselves? We do not. I claim no more, then, for religion than for the other sciences, and I add further that if our youth are disposed after they are of age to think for themselves, a knowledge of one system will be the best means of conducting them in a free inquiry into other systems of religion, just as an acquaintance with one system of philosophy is the best introduction to the study of all the other systems in the world.

I must beg leave upon this subject to go one step further. In order more effectually to secure to our youth the advantages of a religious education, it is necessary to impose upon them the doctrines and discipline of a particular church. Man is naturally an ungovernable animal, and observations on particular societies and countries will teach us that when we add the restraints of ecclesiastical to those of domestic and civil government, we produce in him the highest degrees of order and virtue. That fashionable liberality which refuses to associate with any one sect of Christians is seldom useful to itself or to society and may fitly be compared to the unprofitable bravery of a soldier who wastes his valor in solitary enterprises without the aid or effect of military associations. Far be it from me to recommend the doctrines or modes of worship of any one denomination of Christians. I only recommend to the per sons entrusted with the education of youth to inculcate upon them a strict conformity to that mode of worship which is most agreeable to their consciences or the inclinations of their parents.

Under this head, I must be excused in not agreeing with those modern writers who have opposed the use of the Bible as a schoolbook. The only objection I know to it is its division into chapters and verses and its improper punctuation which render it a more difficult book to read well than many others, but these defects may easily be corrected, and the disadvantages of them are not to be mentioned with the immense advantages of making children early and intimately acquainted with the means of acquiring happiness both here and hereafter. How great is the difference between making young people acquainted with the interesting and entertaining truths contained in the Bible, and the fables of Moore and Croxall, or the doubtful histories of antiquity! I maintain that there is no book of its size in the whole world that contains half so much useful knowledge for the government of states or the direction of the affairs of individuals as the Bible. To object to the practice of having it read in schools because it tends to destroy our veneration for it is an argument that applies with equal force against the frequency of public worship and all other religious exercises.

The first impressions upon the mind are the most durable. They survive the wreck of the memory and exist in old age after the ideas acquired in middle life have been obliterated. Of how much consequence then must it be to the human mind in the evening of life to be able to recall those ideas which are most essential to its happiness, and these are to be found chiefly in the Bible. The great delight which old people take in reading the Bible, I am persuaded, is derived chiefly from its histories and precepts being associated with the events of child hood and youth, the recollection of which forms a material part of their pleasures.

I do not mean to exclude books of history, poetry, or even fables from our schools. They may and should be read frequently by our young people, but if the Bible is made to give way to them altogether, I foresee that it will be read in a short time only in churches and in a few years will probably be found only in the offices of magistrates and in courts of justice.*

Next to the duty which young men owe to their Creator, I wish to see a SUPREME REGARD TO THEIR COUNTRY inculcated upon them. When the Duke of Sully became prime minister to Henry the IVth of France, the first thing he did, he tells us, was to subdue and forget his own heart."" The same duty is incumbent upon every citizen of a republic. Our country includes family, friends, and property, and should be preferred to them all. Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time that he must forsake and even forget them when the welfare of his country requires it.

He must watch for the state as if its liberties depended upon his vigilance alone, but he must do this in such a manner as not to defraud his creditors or neglect his family. He must love private life, but he must decline no station, however public or responsible it may be, when called to it by the suffrages of his fellow citizens. He must love popularity, but he must despise it when set in competition with the dictates of his judgment or the real interest of his country. He must love character and have a due sense of injuries, but he must be taught to appeal only to the laws of the state, to defend the one and punish the other. He must love family honor, but he must be taught that neither the rank nor antiquity of his ancestors can command respect without personal merit. He must avoid neutrality in all questions that divide the state, but he must shun the rage and acrimony of party spirit. He must be taught to love his fellow creatures in every part of the world, but he must cherish with a more intense and peculiar affection the citizens of Pennsylvania and of the United States.

I do not wish to see our youth educated with a single prejudice against any nation or country, but we impose a task upon human nature repugnant alike to reason, revelation, and the ordinary dimensions of the human heart when we require him to embrace with equal affection the whole family of mankind. He must be taught to amass wealth, but it must be only to increase his power of contributing to the wants and demands of the state. He must be indulged occasionally in amusements, but he must be taught that study and business should be his principal pursuits in life. Above all he must love life and endeavor to acquire as many of its conveniences as possible by industry and economy, but he must be taught that this life "is not his own" when the safety of his country requires it. These are practicable lessons, and the history of the commonwealths of Greece and Rome show that human nature, without the aids of Christianity, has attained these degrees of perfection.

While we inculcate these republican duties upon our pupil, we must not neglect at the same time to inspire him with republican principles. He must be taught that there can be no durable liberty but in a republic and that government, like all other sciences, is of a progressive nature. The chains which have bound this science in Europe are happily unloosed in America. Here it is open to investigation and improvement. While philosophy has protected us by its discoveries from a thousand natural evils, government has unhappily followed with an unequal pace. It would be to dishonor human genius only to name the many defects which still exist in the best systems of legislation. We daily see matter of a perishable nature rendered durable by certain chemical operations. In like manner, I conceive that it is possible to analyze and combine power in such a manner as not only to increase the happiness but to promote the duration of republican forms of government far beyond the terms limited for them by history or the common opinions of mankind.

[originally posted; 2004-07-04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 PM


You know you want one, so go ahead. Eat a hot dog (ELIZABETH SIMPSON, July 4, 2006, The Virginian-Pilot)

More Americans will eat one around July Fourth than at any other time of the year. That comes to 150 million franks, one for every two Americans, says the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.

Average bites per dog: 6.1. [...]

Actor Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the ballpark is better than steak at the Ritz.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, wanted to introduce something “truly American” to King George VI of England and his queen in 1939. So they served Nathan’s Coney Island franks at a picnic. The king asked Eleanor Roosevelt for seconds on “this delightful hot-dog sandwich.”

[originally posted: 7/04/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 PM


Red, white and brewed: Nothing could be finer than a cold American brew (Peter M. Gianotti, Newsday)

Beer has been brewed here since the Virginia Colonists made corn ale in the 16th century. The first Manhattan brewery started in 1632.

Some time later came: the "King of Beers," "The Champagne of Beer," "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous" and "The one beer to have when you're having more than one."

Mel Allen would call a Yankee homer a "Ballantine blast." Miss Rheingold would get millions of votes. Bert and Harry would embody Piels.

Now, the nation is awash with beer, not only from the giants, but from hundreds of craft breweries from coast to coast. [...]


Boston Beer Co., Boston

Jim Koch's Boston Beer Co. makes more than 20 brews. You can spend quality time with almost all of them. Boston Ale is right for the summer holidays and beyond: smooth, easygoing, reliably well made. And you can find it everywhere. Some other favorites: the very Germanic Black Lager and the malty, smoky Scotch Ale. And two words about light beer: Sam Adams.


Smuttynose Brewing Co., Portsmouth, N.H.

You could contentedly drink at random from the meticulous choices at Smuttynose Brewing, which takes its name from an island in the Isles of Shoals. Shoals Pale Ale: a crisp, warm-weather refresher that would be fine year-round, too. More stellar Smuttynose brews: the hoppy India Pale Ale, silky Porter, Farmhouse Ale and Scotch Ale.

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[originally posted: 7/04/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


America’s Revolution: The Prequel (ADRIAN TINNISWOOD, 7/04/10, NY Times)

PICTURE the scene: Out of the dawn mist, a fleet of longboats glides across the water, packed full of musket-wielding patriots and weather-beaten Massachusetts militiamen. Standing in the prow of the lead boat, like Washington crossing the Delaware, is a man with long flowing hair and a blood-red banner emblazoned with two words: Vincat veritas. Truth Conquers.

But it’s not Washington, and it’s not the American Revolution. In fact, it’s not even America. This daring amphibious assault by Col. Thomas Rainborowe and his regiment of New Englanders took place 3,000 miles away, in old England, and in 1644, more than 130 years before those famous shots were fired at Lexington to herald what we Brits insist on calling the War of American Independence.

It is a fact rarely discussed on either side of the Atlantic that American colonists played a crucial role in the English Civil War, the bitter struggle between King Charles I and Parliament that tore England apart in the 1640s. The English Revolution — and that is just what it was — can be interpreted in all kinds of ways: as a religious fight between pathologically earnest Puritans and the Catholic-leaning bishops of the Church of England; as an uprising by a nascent merchant class determined to throw off the shackles of medieval feudalism; as right-but-repulsive Roundheads bashing the wrong-but-romantic Cavaliers.

It was all those things. But it was also a battle against the arbitrary tyranny of the crown that prefigured America’s own struggle for independence. And hundreds of American colonists cared enough about that struggle to sail back across the vast Atlantic, to build a city upon a hill — not in the frightening, alien landscape of Massachusetts but in the familiar fields and townships of England.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


A better welcome for our nation's immigrants (Jeb Bush and Robert D. Putnam, July 3, 2010, Washington Post)

Consider what one leader wrote in 1753: "Few of their children in the country learn English. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages. . . . Unless the stream of their importation could be turned . . . they will soon so outnumber us that we will not preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious." Thus Ben Franklin referred to German Americans, still the largest ethnic group in America. A century later, Midwestern cities such as Cincinnati and St. Louis were mostly German-speaking. So worried were their native-born neighbors that Iowa outlawed speaking German in public and even in private conversation.

Proponents and opponents of immigration agree on one thing: Learning English is crucial to success and assimilation. Yet learning a language as an adult is hard, so first-generation immigrants often use their native tongue. Historically, English has dominated by the second or third generation in all immigrant groups. Most recent immigrants recognize that they need to learn English, and about 90 percent of the second generation speak English, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Research by sociologists Claude Fischer and Michael Hout published in 2008 suggests that English acquisition among immigrants today is faster than in previous waves.

Residential integration of immigrants is even more gradual. Half a century ago, sociologist Stanley Lieberson showed that most immigrants lived in segregated enclaves, "Little Italy" or "Chinatown," for several generations. This segregation reflected discrimination by natives and the natural desire of "strangers in a strange land" to live among familiar faces with familiar customs. Only with suburbanization, encouraged by government policy in the 1950s and 1960s, did the children and grandchildren of the immigrants of the 1890s and 1900s exit those enclaves. That many of today's immigrants live in ethnic enclaves is thus entirely normal and reflects no ominous aim to separate themselves from the wider American community.

Immigrant intermarriage, then and now, also demonstrates steady progress over generations. In the 1960s, more than half a century after Italian immigration peaked, about 40 percent of second-generation Italians married non-Italians. This pattern characterizes today's immigrants: 39 percent of U.S.-born Latinos marry non-Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center. Intermarriage among second-generation Asian Americans is even more common. Today's immigrants are, on average, assimilating socially even more rapidly than earlier waves.

One important difference, however, that separates immigration then and now: We native-born Americans are doing less than our great-grandparents did to welcome immigrants.

A century ago, religious, civic and business groups and government provided classes in English and citizenship. Historian Thomas P. Vadasz found that in Bethlehem, Pa., a thriving town of about 20,000, roughly two-thirds of whom were immigrants, the biggest employer, Bethlehem Steel, and the local YMCA offered free English instruction to thousands of immigrants in the early 20th century, even paying them to take classes. Today, immigrants face long waiting lists for English classes, even ones they pay for.

...the current generation of immigrants is better assimilated than prior generations, presumably as a function of media saturation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


Is a housing shortage coming? (Les Christie, June 15, 2010, CNNMoney.com)

The nation is simply not building enough homes to keep up with potential demand. Just 672,000 new homes were started in April, an annualized rate and less than half the long-term run rate needed to meet the nation's natural population growth.

"It is ironic, but there is a growing consensus that there may be a new housing shortage coming," said James Gaines, a real estate economist with Texas A&M.

So far, the shortfall has been masked by a weak economy that has put a damper on home buying. Once the job market rebounds, however, people will look to have their own homes again. This pent-up demand could get unleashed on unprepared markets, causing shortages and rising local prices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Rougher Road for Democrats Without Obama Atop Ticket (JEFF ZELENY, 7/03/10, NY Times)

While all candidates ask voters for support, the pitch from Mr. Driehaus is more pointed than most. He is among the class of Democrats who face the challenge of running in difficult districts without the same enthusiasm and expected voter turnout that helped the party expand its Congressional majorities when Barack Obama led the ticket two years ago.

The race highlights a central question of this election cycle: What chance do Democrats have of defending House districts, like the one here in Cincinnati and a dozen more across the country, where, by narrow margins in 2008, they captured seats held by Republicans?

To hold these seats and to protect others that are vulnerable, Democrats are trying to re-create the Obama campaign machinery and expand turnout beyond a typical midterm election to compete with a particularly motivated Republican base.

The prospects for Democrats holding on to the House, and perhaps even the Senate, could rest with whether legions of first-time or occasional voters who supported Mr. Obama, including a high percentage of African-Americans, return to the polls this year.

The contest in Ohio’s First Congressional District offers one of the best case studies in the country. The campaign is among a dozen rematches in this election cycle: Steve Chabot, who was first elected in the 1994 Republican sweep, lost his seat to Mr. Driehaus by four percentage points — 14,772 votes — and is fighting to win it back.

“I think people are ready for a change from the change,” Mr. Chabot said in an interview at his storefront headquarters, decorated with signs and banners from his previous races. “The change that they’ve seen isn’t what a lot of people had in mind.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM


US, Poland sign missile shield deal during Clinton visit (Mark Hallam, 7/03/10, AFP)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday oversaw the signing of the key missile base agreement as part of a revamped version of the controversial missile defense shield plan. [...]

Poland had agreed with the previous US adminstration led by George Bush to host a permanent US military base and missiles at a disused airstrip near the Baltic Sea coast.

But US President Barack Obama decided last year to abandon the Bush-era plan to set up a major defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 PM


Time to shut down the US Federal Reserve? (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, June 29th, 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Central banks were the ultimate authors of the credit crisis since it is they who set the price of credit too low, throwing the whole incentive structure of the capitalist system out of kilter, and more or less forcing banks to chase yield and engage in destructive behaviour.

They ran ever-lower real interests with each cycle, allowed asset bubbles to run unchecked (Ben Bernanke was the cheerleader of that particular folly), blamed Anglo-Saxon over-consumption on excess Asian savings (half true, but still the silliest cop-out of all time), and believed in the neanderthal doctrine of “inflation targeting”. Have they all forgotten Keynes’s cautionary words on the “tyranny of the general price level” in the early 1930s? Yes they have.

They allowed the M3 money supply to surge at double-digit rates (16pc in the US and 11pc in euroland), and are now allowing it to collapse (minus 5.5pc in the US over the last year). Have they all forgotten the Friedman-Schwartz lessons on the quantity theory of money? Yes, they have. Have they forgotten Irving Fisher’s “Debt Deflation causes of Great Depressions”? Yes, most of them have. And of course, they completely failed to see the 2007-2009 crisis coming, or to respond to it fast enough when it occurred.

The Fed kept rates low as if we were in a deflationary epoch and could expect more deflation and, lo and behold, that's what we got, despite massive stimulus by ever developed economy on the planet. Idiots...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


Lindsey Graham, This Year’s Maverick (ROBERT DRAPER, 6/28/10, NY Times Magazine)

“Everything I’m doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement’s at,” Graham said as Cato drove him to the city of Greenwood, where he was to give a commencement address at Lander University later that morning. On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was “very, very contentious,” he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: “ ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.”

In a previous conversation, Graham told me: “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: “We don’t have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.” Chortling, he added, “Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


G.O.P. Leader Draws Criticism Anew (JEFF ZELENY, 7/03/10, NY Times)

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, drew fierce criticism and a call for his resignation on Friday after declaring at a party fund-raiser that the United States was on the wrong side of history with its conflict in Afghanistan, a military fight he called “a war of Obama’s choosing.”

“This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Mr. Steele said in a speech Thursday night in Connecticut in which he offered a strong critique of President Obama’s military strategy.

“It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be Afghanistan,” Mr. Steele said, according to a video of his remarks that was circulated by Democrats on Friday. “Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?”

In the first instance, it is simply true that all our wars have been wars of our choosing, unlike the existential wars that others have often faced (the Taliban regime, for instance).

But, even more to the point, President Obama has made considerable effort to distance himself from the low intensity police action that W administered and turn Afghanistan into a classic ground war, his war. Indeed, with OBL long dead and his own administration testifying that there are only 50-100 al Qaeda left in Afghanistan, it's not apparent that there is any point to his surge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


The Physics of a Phenom: The Strasburg Machine: When the Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg faces the Mets on Saturday afternoon, his 100-mile-an-hour fastballs and big-breaking curves will crash into the strike zone more through basic mechanics than magic. (ALAN SCHWARZ and SERGIO PEÇANHA, 7/02/10, THE NEW YORK TIMES)

There's your new desktop background.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


America's Battle for Economic Independence: Heavy foreign investment signals a vote of confidence, not a loss of autonomy, as the U.S. celebrates the 4th of July (Chris Farrell, 7/02/10, Business Week)

The long-term budget deficit and debt projections are on an unsustainable path. In that sense, the alarms are a healthy response. But the operative word is "long-term," and they have less relevance when the unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent and only 590,000 private-sector jobs have been created over the past six months. What's more, there's a mountain of difference between dependence on another nation that comes from weakness—a colony, say, that makes a living selling natural resources—and that which comes from strength, where the ties reflect gains from commerce.

At the moment the global capital markets are comfortable making a big bet that America isn't losing economic independence or political resilience—or becoming a colony of China. For instance, as investors flee the debt of such countries as Greece and Spain, which they fear won't be able to meet their obligations, they're flocking to U.S. Treasury notes. That has driven the yield on 10-year Treasuries to a mere 2.9 percent. The rate has come down from the 4 percent level reached in April.

For another, the dollar is reasserting its value as the global economy's main currency. It's the euro that's crumbling instead. As for the Chinese government, it may have some theoretical ability to blackmail the U.S. government, but in reality its room for maneuver is extremely limited. Playing the Treasury card would lead to an enormous loss in wealth and trade. If China dumped its Treasuries in a pique, it would drive down the value of its remaining Treasury holdings, sink the dollar's value, and mostly likely put the U.S. into a recession—hardly a good way to sell Chinese products in America. "I am less concerned that any one particular country holds a disproportionate amount of our debt," says V.V. Chari, economist at the University of Minnesota and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "It's not clear that they really have bargaining power."

It's even more important to realize that debates over economic independence are far from new. We've been here many times before. The most recent telling example is the fear over the rise of Japan in the 1980s. Its export-oriented companies shattered many of their U.S. competitors. Eventually Japan Inc. seemed to dominate everything from steel to computer-memory chips. Japanese titans of industry and finance shook American confidence by snapping up U.S. golf courses and trophy office buildings. The U.S. budget deficit was enormous, too. When author James Fallows shared a beer in a Japanese bar with an English friend in 1986, his friend said, "Why don't you just face the fact that you're second-raters, like us?"

The pressure to embrace an America First policy was enormous. Yet with the benefit of hindsight it's apparent that behind the trauma American companies learned from the competition. They restructured their operations and embraced technological innovations. And on the policy side, the advocates of opening up even more to trade and welcoming immigrants triumphed. It's no coincidence that the economy enjoyed a powerful growth spurt in the 1990s and the federal budget was in surplus by 1998.

It's a story that echoes throughout our history, including a famous fight among the founding fathers that is worth remembering on the Fourth of July weekend. "We were politically independent," says Douglas Irwin, professor at Dartmouth College. "But how economically self-sufficient should we be is a debate that has divided us since the first Washington Administration."

A fierce battle was fought between Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and his Congressional ally James Madison during the Washington Administration. It was an arcane dispute over tariffs. Import tariffs were critical to funding government expenditures and public debt, and Hamilton wanted to keep tariffs modest and nondiscriminatory. Jefferson and Madison were eager to hike tariffs to get rid of the public debt and to commercially discriminate against Britain. They strongly believed that the U.S. had achieved its political independence but that it was too reliant on Britain for capital and trade. Free trade may be the right philosophical stance, but they believed mercantilism was the practical choice in the real world, says Irwin. They wanted greater economic independence, not more interdependence. (You can read about this fascinating chapter in U.S. history in Professor Irwin's section of the book, Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s).

Hamilton won. And although the nominal amount of public debt didn't decline, it did come down from some 30 percent of gross domestic product in the early 1790s to a bit more than 10 percent by 1815. Since the Washington Administration, fights over economic independence have revolved around trade (buy from foreigners or make it ourselves?), finance (rely on foreign borrowing or domestic capital?), and immigration (let people in or keep them out?). But the fact is that America operates in a global economy, and its economic abundance is tied to other nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Being American: Memo to Washington: At its core, this country is about freedom. (Claudia Rosett, 07.02.10, Forbes)

This weekend, on July 4, Americans celebrate the 234th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Over the burgers and sweet corn, that’s always a good day to think about what, exactly, it means to be American. One of the best summaries I’ve heard lately came during a press teleconference Wednesday with someone who is not yet an American citizen. His native tongue is Arabic, thus the slip of syntax: “I think I became an American when I start to fight for liberty and freedom.”

The speaker was a Palestinian émigré, Mosab Hassan Yousef, who grew up as the heir-designate of a founder of the terrorist group Hamas. Having witnessed firsthand the horrors that Hamas, in the name of Islamic purity, inflicted on its own people, Yousef secretly went to work for the Israeli intelligence service, Shin Bet, trying to thwart terrorist attacks. He also quietly converted to Christianity and in 2007 came to the U.S., where he made no secret of his past. Instead, he wrote an informative and damning book about Palestinian terrorism, Son of Hamas. And, out of what Yousef has described as his desire to live in freedom, he asked for asylum in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Friedrich Hayek: Darling of the right is reborn in the USA: The uncompromising anti-statism of Friedrich Hayek has won a new following among Republicans. (Stephen Foley, 3 July 2010, Independent)

Friedrich August von Hayek was born in Vienna in 1899 to a family steeped in academia, and became a polymath whose learning spanned psychology and the law as well as philosophy and economics.

Working at the London School of Economics in the Thirties and Forties, he became the most persuasive of all the "Austrian school" of economists who advocated for limited government, a classical liberalism that is today more commonly described as libertarian.

They passionately opposed central planning of whatever political hue, from Nazism to Communism, and that included opposing the nationalisations and Keynesian demand management that took hold in social democratic Europe after the Second World War. It was a lonely position for much of the post-war period.

"It was the occupational hazard of liberal scholars to show the consequences of political error years ahead of their time," Hayek's disciple Arthur Seldon, founder of the Thatcherite think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, wrote in his obituary of the writer in The Independent in 1992.

"The electorate was not inclined to listen in 1945 before the vast post-war expansion in financial, industrial and welfare nationalisation. It may have wanted to wait for the evidence that liberty would suffer from aggrandisement of the state. By the General Election of 1979 it had had enough. It was Hayek's thinking which largely inspired the 'Thatcherite revolution' in economic policy ... For half a century, Hayek was the leader of world liberal thinking. His influence will extend long into the 21st century."

Seldon's words were prophetic. Glenn Beck's herogram to Hayek did not come out of the blue. His works – and those of other members of the Austrian school of economists, led by Ludwig von Mises – are much discussed in the online forums frequented by the politically savvy young, many of whom have a libertarian bent.

It was this online student following that kept alive the presidential hopes of Ron Paul, a Texan Republican, long after mainstream media had written him off as a candidate for the Grand Old Party's nomination in 2008. The Congressman has hung portraits of the Austrian economists behind the desk of his Washington office, and proudly tells visitors it was their work that inspired his move into politics.

Now his equally libertarian son, Rand Paul, has sensationally won the Republican nomination to fight the Senate seat in Kentucky this November, thanks to Tea Party support. But Rand Paul has got himself in a spot of bother since winning the nomination, having declared he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination against African-Americans. The Act contravenes strict libertarian dogma, since it represents government interference with private business, in this case the right to refuse to serve blacks.

After a decade when US elections have seemingly hinged on the cultural issues that fixate the religious right, the looming clash promises to put the role of government at its very heart. In a vivid way, it mirrors the intellectual clash between Hayek and another dead economist, John Maynard Keynes, who argued for governments to step in with big spending programmes to prevent a recession from spiralling into a depression. It was Keynesian policies, lashings of them in every major country in the world, that pulled the global economy back to growth after the financial crisis.

Keynes declared himself in "deeply moved agreement" with The Road to Serfdom, but he had a sting in the tail of his praise. He declared that the philosophy was of no practical use. A minimalist government, which left people to fend for themselves, was unconscionable, he said, and no matter how seductive it appears on the printed page, no one would support its introduction in the end.

Kevin Logan, chief US economist at the international bank HSBC, said that Hayek's economic insights were powerful but limited. "His political appeal is very high compared to his economic influence," he said. "It is absolutely true that markets create much more efficient dissemination of information and Hayek's is a valid critique of central planning. In a complicated, large, modern economy, a central planner cannot get enough information to make efficient decisions. How many nails should be produced in an economy? How many ham sandwiches? Central planners can't know.

"He was writing at a time when the world was coming out of the Great Depression, when capitalism was widely seen as an inefficient, lousy system that had given us high unemployment. This was when central planning took hold as an alternative, a time of five-year plans and input-output tables and the like. Hayek's critique was that it can't be done. But we are not talking about central planning today. The US government has taken stakes in car companies and banks, but reluctantly. There is no appetite for it, no desire to control or operate enterprises. Even in healthcare, where Americans can choose their doctor and their insurance plan, things are not centrally planned at all."

The thoroughness of Hayek's (and, even moreso, Milton Friedman's) triumph over Keynes was nowhere more evident than in the Democrats' adoption of the Republican plan for mandated private insurance rather than a national health system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Democrats uneasy on US-SKorea deal (FOSTER KLUG, 07/03/2010, AP)

Democratic worries about South Korean restrictions on auto and beef trade sank the agreement after the Bush administration and Seoul signed it three years ago.

It now has Obama’s support, but his party still shows little enthusiasm ahead of November’s congressional elections. Labor unions and other core Democratic supporters say foreign trade agreements steal American jobs.

That puts Obama in the unusual position of relying on help from Republicans, who have opposed in near-perfect unison his biggest initiatives, including his overhauls of health care and financial regulations.

Republicans traditionally favor foreign trade deals more than Democrats do, and they are lining up behind Obama’s push to settle a pact that the White House says could boost exports of American products by $10 billion a year. It would be the largest U.S. trade deal since a 1994 agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The only worthwhile things Bill Clinton did in office were likewise with Republican help: GATT, NAFTA, & Welfare Reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Too Hot to Handle: Stop ogling Republican women. (Julia Baird, July 03, 2010, Newsweek)

Something pretty creepy has been happening to conservative women lately. There seems to be an insistent, increasingly excitable focus on the supposed hotness of Republican women in the public eye, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Michelle Malkin, and Nikki Haley—not to mention veterans like Ann Coulter. The sexual references are pervasive: they come from left, right, and center, and range from gushing to highly offensive. The Atlantic asked, “Is Sarah Palin Porn?” as others quizzed the former governor about whether she had breast implants. Right Wing News compiled a list of the hottest conservative women in new media. Playboy even ran an outrageous piece titled “Ten Conservative Women I’d Like to Hate F--k,” which read like a sick attempt to make rape cool. “We may despise everything these women represent,” wrote the author, “but goddammit they’re hot. Let the healing begin.” Moron.

It’s odd to see how some men insist that when women start to grasp power, we should think of them primarily as playthings and provocateurs. Is this the best way to explain their success?

It is the best way for the Left to explain it. After all, the alternative is that their politics is popular.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Christie took early control on budget (Cynthia Burton, 7/03/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

He began laying the groundwork for the austere budget months ago, and has been using high-profile venues to become the loudest voice in the room in the debate over it.

By the time the Legislature signed off on a state spending plan at 2 a.m. Tuesday, the governor was already scheduled to appear on two cable news networks to tell his version of the story Wednesday morning, according to a 1:21 a.m. Tuesday e-mail from his press secretary.

His quest was to restore what he called "fiscal sanity." Along the way, he cut local aid, skipped a $3 billion pension payment, raised transit fares, and cut back economic-development grants and property-tax rebates.

"We passed a budget that cuts $11 billion from our state's budget, balances it without any new tax increases on the people of the state of New Jersey," he told Joe Kernen on CNBC.

On MSNBC, he told Joe Scarborough: "It's a pretty big accomplishment by everybody who was involved in it, because $11 billion cut out of a budget is pretty significant."

The message was repeated later in the day when Christie signed the budget at the Summit Engine Company in South River. He had been telegraphing the message since taking office in January: Deep cuts to match an $11 billion deficit. No new taxes. Pain for all.

For those having trouble keeping up with his version of events, he issued a handy timetable on Wednesday starting with his inauguration and listing his view of his accomplishments, including vetoing minutes of public authorities, asking for a teacher salary freeze to "protect New Jersey schoolchildren," and getting Super Bowl 2014 to be played in New Jersey.

Each of these events and proclamations reveals a politician who attacks policy like a game of chess, nimbly using cool intellect and well-trained instinct to control the battlefield.

"One of the things past governors have failed to do, particularly Gov. Corzine, was to control the agenda through the media. And the reality is that because of Christie's effective use of the media in shaping public opinion, he got the budget he wanted from a Democratic Legislature," said Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison. "He used the media and he shaped public opinion in such a way that the Democrats felt their hands were truly tied."

July 2, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


How Suárez Was Playing the Numbers (Carl Bialik, 7/02/10, WSJ)

Last Saturday, Luis Suárez scored two goals against South Korea to send Uruguay to the quarterfinals. Today, he helped Uruguay slip through to the semifinals by making a play normally considered on the opposite end of the spectrum from scoring in soccer: a deliberate handball. Suárez swatted away what would have been a certain goal by Dominic Adiyiah at the Uruguay goal line.

...so that the whole thing will have been won by the use of your hands, like a real sport.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) reads the Declaration of Independence (WQXR, July 4, 1957)

Description: Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. In 1957, then-Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was invited by New York City radio station WQXR to read the Declaration of Independence in full, which was broadcast on July 4, 1957 to accompany the New York Time’s printing of a full-page facsimile of the Declaration of Independence that same day. Here is Senator John F. Kennedy reading the declaration of American Independence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


What is the Tea Party? A growing state of mind (Susan Page and Naomi Jagoda, 7/02/10, USA Today)

The Tea Party is less a classic political movement than a frustrated state of mind.

A year and a half after the idea of a Tea Party burst into view, three of 10 Americans describe themselves in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll as Tea Party supporters — equal to the number who call themselves Republicans — though many of them acknowledge they aren’t exactly sure what that allegiance means.

"I don’t really understand it, but I like what they stand for," says Terry Rushing, 63, of Greensburg, La.,. who was among those surveyed.

...and tried to draw up a platform. It would also be hilarious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


Snow Falls On Mount Washington (WMUR, July 1, 2010)

Summer weather is expected this holiday weekend, but at the top of the region's highest peak on Thursday, it felt more like winter.

Snow fell on Mount Washington and temperatures were in the 30s, according to workers at the Mount Washington Observatory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Fourth of July, Fireworks and Film (Masha Savitz, 7/02/10, Epoch Times)

"We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it," said William Faulkner

Independence Day is the annual celebration of our nation’s unique legacy and its paramount principal of freedom. While many are firmly resolute in unquestioning loyalty to our country, others feel that we, as a nation, have fallen short of our original ideals and promises.

Wherever you find yourself on the political spectrum, the following films examine these ever-relevant topics, offering one facet to the complex rare gem that is the U.S. of A. The themes considered on this Independence Day are immigration, the wars we have fought in the name of freedom, and the American experience.

For a few years TNT showed the film version of Killer Angels, which is a tad uneven but unquestionably moving when Chamberlain orders his men to fix bayonets and charge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


Overcoming taboo, Iraq turns to dogs to fight bombs (Reuters, July 02, 2010)

A “dirty dozen” bomb-sniffing dogs whose canine nature makes them taboo in the Arab world is helping to win over Iraqis to the idea dogs are man’s best friend – especially when the animal saves your life.

At Baghdad’s police training college, some of the 12 Alsatians and other breeds now deployed as bomb sniffers in the capital speak to the cultural aversion that has likely cost lives in the fight against a still potent insurgency.

The names of the dogs – Tom, Pieter, Benny and Shirley, all four donated from Europe – are often a mouthful for their Iraqi handlers, but they haven’t been changed.

If they had been altered, “I might get offended if a dog has the same name as me,” laughed a veterinary official at the college, adding: “English names are good.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Neo-Nazis Spurn Germany's Diverse New National Team: Most of the country may be in the grip of football fever but one group of Germans are resolutely not supporting the national team. The far-right scene rejects the new multicultural squad as un-German and says it can't identify. For many, it is consistent with their rejection of the entire democratic state. (Siobhán Dowling, 7/02/10, Der Spiegel)

Germany may be awash with black, red and gold, as the national flag adorns cars, balconies and pubs. But while most of the country is urging the team on as it faces Argentina in Saturday's quarter-final, for neo-Nazis it is next to impossible to back a team that includes players with names like Boateng, Özil or Podolski. This German national team is the most ethnically diverse ever, celebrated widely as finally being representative of the wider German society. But to the far right, a squad where 11 of the 23 have migrant backgrounds is no longer really German.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


VIDEO: How Mariano Rivera Dominates Hitters (GRAHAM ROBERTS, SHAN CARTER and JOE WARD, 6/29/10, NY Times Magazine)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Innovative football coach Don Coryell dies at 85 (BERNIE WILSON, 07/01/2010, AP)

The coach’s Air Coryell offense produced some of the most dynamic passing attacks in NFL history — and affected how defenses play even to this day.

After he went 104-19-2 at San Diego State from 1961-72, he left the Aztecs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. With Jim Hart at quarterback, the Cardinals won division titles in 1974 and ‘75 behind Coryell. [...]

From 1978-86, Air Coryell — led by Fouts — set records and led the NFL in passing almost every season. Coryell guided the Chargers to the AFC championship game after the 1980 and ‘81 seasons, but he never reached the Super Bowl.

The lack of a Super Bowl on his resume may have hurt Coryell last winter in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the first time, but was not selected for induction.

“He revolutionized the game of football, not only in San Diego, but throughout the entire NFL,” Chargers president Dean Spanos said in a statement. “Don Coryell was a legend not only with the Chargers but throughout San Diego. Though unfortunately he did not live long enough to see it, hopefully one day his bust will find its proper place in pro football’s Hall of Fame. He will be missed.”

The big stars of the Air Coryell years — Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner — all ended up in the Hall of Fame. Winslow was used more as a pass catcher than a blocker, and sometimes would be split out wide, as would running backs.

“Don once said, ‘If we’re asking Kellen to block a defensive end and not catch passes, I’m not a very good coach,’ ” Bauer said.

One of the lasting images of the Coryell years was an exhausted Winslow being helped off the field by two teammates after the Chargers’ epic 41-38 overtime victory in the playoffs over the Miami Dolphins on Jan. 2, 1982. Despite cramping up in the heat and humidity, Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown, and also blocked a potential game-winning field goal.

Bauer said Coryell changed the way opponents had to play defense, “And you see it today. “When we started splitting Kellen out, for instance, teams didn’t know what to do. He was a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. So a lot of teams started playing zone against us and we started picking them apart. Some teams tried to put a safety or linebacker out there and play man-to-man, and we licked our chops and went with Kellen.

“Because of Air Coryell, nickel and dime defenses became an every-game proposition,” Bauer said. “He changed the way the game is played today.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Secularists wary of Kagan on Supreme Court (Maggie Hyde, 7/01/10, Religion News Service)

While Kagan, a Democrat, has faced the greatest scrutiny on her views on abortion and homosexuality, some atheist, agnostic and secularist groups aren't convinced she's the best choice for the court.

Part of the reason: she's poised to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the court's strongest voices for a strict separation of church and state.

"From the evidence so far, she has too often sided with religious privilege over civil liberties, civil rights," said Paul Fidalgo, spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America. "She favors free exercise over civil liberties." [...]

Critics point to statements Kagan made while working as an attorney in the Clinton White House about a California Supreme Court ruling that said a landlord could not refuse to rent to an unmarried couple because of the landlord's religious beliefs about premarital sex.

Kagan sided with the rights of the landlord, and called the decision "quite outrageous." [...]

In 2007, the Supreme Court rejected, 5-4, a challenge from Gaylor's group over the White House's faith-based initiatives office. Without deciding the merits of the complaint, the court rejected Gaylor's argument that she had legal standing to sue because she is a taxpayer.
Stevens dissented.

On Wednesday, in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kagan indicated that she agreed with the court's reasoning.

"The injury can't come just by virtue of being a taxpayer, but has to come from something else in addition," she said.

"Such as the individual being actually affected," Feinstein replied.

"Yes, exactly right," Kagan answered.

Memo to Mr. Fidalgo: if you're going to criticuze someone's view of the Constitution it's probably best not to cite their support for a specific provision of same.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


The Other 1776 Freedom Legacy (Ron Ross, 7.2.10, American Prospect)

Our nation will soon celebrate its 234th birthday. Another event of profound and enduring significance also occurred in 1776. It was the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

Our Declaration of Independence and the subsequent Constitution turned out to be enormously important for the cause of freedom not only in this country but what they inspired in other countries around the world. The Wealth of Nations and the lessons it taught have also reverberated far and wide since its publication. Smith's insight and genius are reflected in the book's full title -- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In a systemic way Smith set out to understand and explain the sources of a country's economic health and growth.

The average life expectancy in England at the beginning of the 19th century was 41 years. At the beginning of the 21st century in the U.S. the life expectancy was 78 years. What accounts for that unprecedented improvement in human welfare? There are numerous factors -- better nutrition, sanitation, refrigeration, advances in medical knowledge, for example -- but most of them would not be possible without dramatic improvements in productivity and material wealth.

It took politics and economics a while to catch up to religion, but once they did the question of how to order human affairs was answered, even if the argument had another two hundred years to run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Barack Obama is among best presidents ever - George W. Bush not so much, say scholars in Siena poll (Corky Siemaszko, 7/01/10, NY Daily News)

In office for barely two years, Obama entered the survey in the 15th position - two spots behind Bill Clinton and three spots ahead of Ronald Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Oil Prices: Down and Heading Lower: Weak global demand has more than offset the impact of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history (Mark Shenk, 7/01/10, BW Magazine)

The worst oil spill in U.S. history was not enough to prevent crude oil prices from falling nearly 10 percent over the past three months—the first quarterly drop since 2008—as the sluggish world economy kept a lid on demand. With growth expected to remain weak, prices may keep moving lower through 2010. "Getting out of the worldwide recession was always going to be a long slog," says Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank (DB) in Washington, who predicts oil will average $65 a barrel in the third quarter and $70 in the fourth.

...he's incapable of seizing it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Sinai Bedouins tell Egypt to stop repression (ASHRAF SWEILAM, 07/01/2010, AP)

Bedouin leaders in northern Sinai demanded Thursday that Egyptian authorities stop repression of the nomadic tribes and release tribesmen detained for opposing the government. This followed a government demand to the leaders to turn over suspects.

Clashes between Bedouin tribesmen and Egyptian police have intensified recently in the desert peninsula.

The objective behind reform: Dina Ezzat tries to understand what has prompted Arab leaders to examine the question of reform (Dina Ezzat, 7/01/10, Al-Ahram)
For Egypt, a third term for Moussa is crucial. The headquarters of the Arab League is faced with what some call Arab dissent. Several Arab capitals have been calling for an end to Egypt's de facto monopoly of the top post in the Arab League. For Cairo, this would be an outright political defeat. [...]

By keeping Moussa in office now, Egypt would avoid a showdown over the crucial post at a time when its relations with some key Arab countries are clearly tense.

Relations with Algeria are strained for political reasons that go beyond last year's feud over the qualification for the World Cup. And the symbolic handshake between President Mubarak and his Algerian counterpart on the fringe of the Africa-France summit last month did little to assuage the deep political sensitivities between the two leading North African states.

Relations with Syria are tense over Cairo wanting Damascus to contain its ties with Tehran and its influence over Hamas as well as Damascus hoping that Cairo be more sympathetic to Islamic resistance movements in occupied Palestine and Lebanon. And the initiative made by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to visit President Mubarak in the wake of the return of the latter from a long medical trip was not picked up by Cairo or for that matter re-instated by Damascus.

Relations with Qatar are also uneasy over what Cairo perceives as a negative presentation of Egypt's regional role through the Qatari-owned and widely viewed Al-Jazeera TV channel. And it is not clear whether the hand-shake and subsequent short meeting between President Mubarak and the emir of Qatar in Libya this week would produce something beyond the courtesy of formalities.

Relations with Saudi Arabia, an otherwise close ally, are a bit cool over the flexibility that Egypt believes Riyadh to be showing over the re- establishment of a heavy Syrian influence in Lebanon, as over Saudi dismay with Cairo's reluctance to accept its mediation to ease tension between Egypt and Syria.

July 1, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 PM


Study shows Chile's school voucher program increased graduation rates (PhysOrg, June 29, 2010)

With the effectiveness of school vouchers a hot topic of debate, researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chile have completed a lengthy study on the effects of Chile's school reforms in 1981. Along with other school decentralization efforts, the reforms included making Chile the only nation in the world to have a nationwide school voucher program.

Most notably, the study, which looked at students who began school in the early 1970s all the way up through students who began school in the early '90s, showed that the reforms increased high school graduation rates by 3.6 percent, and increased college-going rates by 3.1 percent. It also increased the rate of those completing at least two years of college by 2.6 percent, and the rate of those completing at least four years of college by 1.8 percent. The voucher program also significantly increased the demand for private subsidized schools and decreased the demand for both public and nonsubsidized private schools.

In addition, although opponents of school voucher programs have long theorized that vouchers would mostly benefit the rich, this study showed that individuals from poor and non-poor backgrounds in Chile, on average, experienced similar educational attainment gains under the voucher program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


1987: Coconut Daiquiris (AMANDA HESSER, 6/28/10, NY Times Magazine)

This recipe appeared in an article in The Times by Marian Burros. The drink came from David Margolis, a friend of Mayor Ed Koch’s.

1/2 very ripe pineapple, cut into chunks

Juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons Coco Lopez cream of coconut

71/2 ounces Bacardi light rum

20 ice cubes.

Combine the ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth. Serve immediately without garnishes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


The Conservative Case For Immigration: Immigration laws make for the worst possible intervention into free labor markets. (Warren Meyer, 07.01.10, Forbes)

What surprises me is how many conservative and free market executives I meet who are supportive of ever more restrictive immigration laws. These are folks who will vociferously oppose the smallest incremental government encroachment on commerce, yet now support perhaps the single most onerous government intervention in the private labor market. It is to these people that I offer the conservative, free market case for immigration:

Like the founders of this country, most conservatives would agree that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existence as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not granted to us by kings or Congress. As Ben Franklin said, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

Conservatives have usually differentiated themselves from the left by counting property and commerce among these natural rights. While the left typically treats commerce and property as artificial frameworks created by the government (in Arizona, our sales tax is called a transaction "privilege" tax), conservatives will usually defend commerce as a fundamental corollary to our freedom of association. But when it comes to immigration, conservatives have far more in common with the left's statist views on commerce than they do with their own views of free exchange.

Under current immigration law, the government is in effect licensing labor, requiring that individuals get the government's permission to work. Today these permits to work are granted in a restrictive and arbitrary manner based place of birth, but who knows tomorrow what new requirements might get stacked on workers before they can obtain a government license to work?

The case against begins with the repudiation of Creation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


China's Immigration Problem: Illegal aliens are streaming across a porous border for low-paying (Gady Epstein, 07.01.10, Forbes Magazine)

Employers have vacancies to fill, the minimum wage is going up, workers are demanding more and the legal burdens of hiring are mounting. So bosses are looking across the border for much cheaper, illegal labor, from a pool of people willing to work for a lot less than the natives.

Arizona? Texas? Try Guangxi and Guangdong. Tens of thousands of illegal aliens from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations are crossing into southern China each year to climb the economic ladder, as Chinese and Vietnamese officials grapple with a growing trafficking business across the porous border between the two nations.

Chinese factories certainly aren't discouraging the trend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Indian Taco (Recipe courtesy Roberta Kesselring, Show: The Best OfEpisode: Places to Take Dad, Food Network)

Seasoned Hamburger:

* 1 pound ground chuck or sirloin
* Taco seasoning
* 1 cup refried beans


* 3 cups flour
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon sugar
* 1 tablespoon powdered milk
* 1 tablespoon lard or margarine
* 1 1/2 cups warm water
* Vegetable oil
* Grated cheese, as an accompaniment
* Chopped tomatoes, as an accompaniment
* Chopped onions, as an accompaniment
* Chopped green chiles, as an accompaniment
* Chopped olives, as an accompaniment
* Salsa, as an accompaniment
* Sour cream, as an accompaniment


Brown the beef in saute pan over medium-high heat. Add taco seasoning, to taste. Add refried beans. Mix well and set aside.

For the Frybread: Mix flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and powdered milk. Add lard or margarine and mix. Add water to make dough soft. Refrigerate until use. Dough will keep several days.

In a heavy skillet, heat 3/4-inch of oil to 375 degrees F.

Pat or roll out dough into about 6 (1/4 to 3/8-inch thick) rounds. Slide into hot oil. Puncture once or twice. Fry until golden brown. Flip the dough over and fry other side to golden brown. Take out and drain on paper towels.

Spoon some meat onto hot bread and top with your choice of the following: cheese, tomatoes, onions, green chiles, olives, salsa, and sour cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Pray for Christopher Hitchens (NY Post, July 1, 2010)

Prayers are being said for Christopher Hitchens -- despite his anti-religious beliefs -- with the news that he has cancer of the esophagus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Mariano Rivera, King of the Closers (JAMES TRAUB, 6/28/10, NY Times Magazine)

Before the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series with the Boston Red Sox, Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees star who is widely considered the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball, said a prayer. Rivera, a deeply religious man, prays with his family before every home game. But this was a special prayer, which he delivered within himself, because the two teams, so evenly matched, had fought their way down to this final contest. Rivera’s prayers remained unanswered until the bottom of the eighth inning, when, in one of the great comebacks in playoff history, the Yankees scored three runs against Boston’s ace, Pedro Martinez, to tie the game. Before heading for the mound, Rivera, the most stoical of athletes, had to leave the bullpen for a little shed nearby, where he proceeded, astonishingly, to weep.

“I feel a tremendous load on my shoulders,” Rivera recalled this past March, sitting in front of his locker at the Yankees’ spring-training camp in Tampa, Fla. Rivera was trying to convey something quite different from what that expression normally means. A closer, who generally comes into a game only in the highly pressurized ninth inning to finish off the opponent, must welcome the kind of burden most of us — and even some otherwise very effective pitchers ­— flee. “I know,” Rivera went on, “I am going to have a good opportunity to pitch.” Closers normally pitch one inning. That night, Rivera navigated his way through a supremely tense ninth inning. And then the 10th. And then, with the score still tied, the 11th. “It was always a battle,” Rivera said. “It was a beautiful game.” In the bottom of the 11th, Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone won the game, and the series, with a home run. And if he hadn’t? “Tell you what,” Rivera said, flashing a most unworshipful grin, “I would have gone out there again.”

In his 16th year with the Yankees, Mariano Rivera, who is 40, has become a kind of living god of baseball. While his regular-season statistics are remarkable, in postseason play, where the pressure is at its highest, he is sui generis. He holds the lowest earned-run average in postseason history (0.74) among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. On 30 occasions he has gone more than one inning to record a save; over the same period, all other pitchers combined have done so only a few more times more than Rivera alone. In 2009, when he was thought to be slowing down and yielding his place to the Red Sox phenom Jonathan Papelbon, he pitched 16 innings in postseason play and gave up one run, while extending his career postseason saves record to 39 as the Yankees won the World Series. (Papelbon gave up a two-run lead in the ninth to end the Red Sox’ season in the divisional round against the Angels.) Rivera, when pressed, attributes his gifts to providence; people of a more secular bent say that he combines one of the single greatest pitches baseball has ever seen — his cutter, or cut fastball — with an inner calm, and a focus, no less unusual and no less inimitable.

The ability to get by with just that one pitch is what's truly remarkable. Perhaps the only other modern baseball deity who was able to get by with only a fastball was Walter Johnson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Most people want online news for free (New Statesman, 01 July 2010)

The survey of 2,160 people on their attitudes to print and online editions revealed that about 60 per cent of them were ready to pay for the print edition of a good newspaper, but only 2 per cent were willing to do so to access news content online.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Keynes vs. Alesina. Alesina Who?: Economist Alberto Alesina argues that austerity triggers growth (Peter Coy, Business Week)

Alberto Alesina is a new favorite of fiscal hawks like former President George W. Bush's chief economic adviser, N. Gregory Mankiw. A professor of economics at Harvard University, the 53-year-old Italian disputes the need for more government spending to prop up growth and advocates spending cuts instead. [...]

Alesina's historical research, though, doesn't shed much light on what might happen if the U.S. adopts an austerity budget, because current circumstances don't resemble most of those in Alesina's database. It's rare for a nation to suffer such a big shortfall in demand that it cuts interest rates to zero, as the U.S. has. It's even rarer for a government in such circumstances to tighten its fiscal belt. Japan's experience is a cautionary tale. Japan attempted to tackle its deficit in the late 1990s during a period of weak demand and near-zero rates. Many economists say the move prolonged the slump that became known as Japan's Lost Decade. To be sure, Japan tried to balance its budget mainly by raising taxes, which is not Alesina's preferred solution.

Economists who describe themselves as Keynesians or neo-Keynesians don't buy Alesina's medicine. Gauti B. Eggertsson, a staff economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, concluded in a paper last November that, with interest rates at zero, the right remedy is to raise government spending, not cut it. Espousing his own views and not those of the Fed, Eggertsson wrote that when extremely loose monetary policy isn't stimulative enough, "the goal of policy should be to increase aggregate demand—the overall level of spending in the economy."

Alesina's own research shows mixed results from deficit-cutting. He identified 26 examples since 1980 of deficit reductions that triggered growth of gross domestic product and 21 that lowered government debt substantially. He found only nine double victories in which government policymakers managed both to expand their economies and reduce debt. (Among them: Ireland in 2000, and the Netherlands and Norway in 2006).

Alesina is unfazed. While acknowledging that experience with zero-rate situations is scant, he says, "I don't see how anyone can argue that we should push even more on the fiscal accelerator." He says the greatest risk to global growth is a financial crisis brought on by fears of government overindebtedness.

What's unique, or at least unusual, about the current era is the complete dependence of the global economy on the debt of the one country that has a demographic future and the extended period of economic growth in a deflationary climate that we've been in for 30 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Is monarchy the answer in the Middle East?: Sholto Byrnes talks to Bernard Lewis, our greatest living expert on Islam, who says that what both Afghanistan and Iraq really need is a king (Sholto Byrnes, 30 June 2010, Spectator)

What about Afghanistan and Iraq: should we stay? ‘Having gone in, I think we have a duty to finish the job, cut and run is not a good policy. In both we should not stay longer than absolutely necessary, we should try to work out methods of handing over. You know,’ he continues, launching into one of the many anecdotes that pepper his conversation, ‘the Afghanistan I went to 40 years ago was known as the Switzerland of Asia. I heard it so many times that when I was on a plane from Kabul and an Afghan said it to me again, I pointed to my wristwatch and said, “when you can make one like that I’ll believe you.” He roared with laughter.’

It is the type of government that Afghanistan enjoyed under its monarchy that he believes could point to a form of democracy compatible with Islam. ‘There was some level of consultation and mutual respect. Democratic ideas, in the sense of limited authority, go back to classical Islam. When a new sultan was enthroned the crowds greeted him by saying, “sultan, do not be proud, God is greater than you.” His subjects, in effect, had rights. Sharia states quite clearly that if the ruler does something against the law he must not be obeyed and disobedience is justified. There wasn’t an electoral system, but there were very elaborate systems of consultation with tribal chiefs, field heads, merchant and craft guilds.’

Lewis contrasts this with the power of European monarchies at the time. He tells the story of the French ambassador to Istanbul in 1786, who had to explain his lack of progress in persuading the Ottomans to enact some military reforms. ‘Things here are not as they are in France, where the king is sole master,’ he wrote home. ‘The sultan has to consult.’

Returning to Iraq, I say it is hard to reconcile the cautious historian who warns against the dangers of premature democratisation with the bellicose neocon we are told urged the White House into battle. ‘I’m perplexed,’ I tell him. ‘I’m perplexed, too!’ he replies. ‘It’s a misrepresentation.’ People talked to him, he says — Cheney in particular — and sometimes they listened, sometimes not. In fact, he claims that invading Iraq was ‘not the idea’ at all. What he and his friend Ahmad Chalabi wanted was a declaration of support for the northern zone, which had operated out of Saddam’s reach since the first Gulf war. ‘It was practically independent and was really a very effective, functioning democracy. On two occasions at least they said they would like to proclaim an Independent Government of Free Iraq. They didn’t need military or financial support.’ Just a declaration from the US. ‘They asked the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, but they never got it. That’s what I and Chalabi were asking for.’

Did he think this could have led to Saddam’s regime unravelling? ‘I’m sure it would. They were doing an excellent job and they had extensive support in the remainder of Iraq. It would have served as an example to other countries.’ One idea, favoured by Lewis, was for Prince Hassan of Jordan (the late King Hussein’s brother) to become Iraq’s king. He was a member of the same Hashemite family as the country’s former monarchs, and ‘a number of people thought the best prospect for democracy would have been a monarchy on British lines. Of the democracies that have been democracies for a long time and continue to be so, most are monarchies.’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Whoopie pies becoming a West Coast sensation (STACY FINZ, SAN FRANSISCO CHRONICLE)

Not too long ago I was eating at Bruno's in San Francisco with a couple of pals. For dessert we ordered whoopie pies. None of us really knew what a whoopie pie was, but the name sounded too fun to pass up.

"I'm pretty sure it's like a moon pie and it's Southern," I said, showing how clearly misinformed I was.

Pretty soon I started seeing them everywhere in the Bay Area: on restaurant menus, in bakery cases and on grocery store shelves. I wondered, "Could this be the new cupcake (for some bizarre reason food writers are always trying to usurp the cupcake)?" Later, I found out that whoopie pies are actually a New England treat - a hamburger-size cookie sandwich, where the cookie is cake-y rather than crisp, and the filling is light and moist. It may or may not have originated from Pennsylvania Amish country. But how had they migrated West, and why now?

My brother lives in New England, so I gave him a call. "What's up with this whole whoopie pie thing?"

"Look, it was bound to happen," he replied. "We already brought you our chowder, our baked beans, our lobster and cod."

I shot back, "Why am I even asking you? You're a television sportscaster who wears makeup and would eat dirt if it was sprinkled with sugar," and hung up. [...]

Lark Creek Steak's Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Makes 15 pies

Lark Creek Steak pastry chef Jodi Bourassa makes a from-scratch marshmallow filling for her Red Velvet Whoopie Pies. Both the filling and the cake batter can be made ahead, but the cakes should be assembled the day they are baked. The filling takes a bit of work; you can substitute the Easy Classic Whoopie Pie Filling, if you like.

Marshmallow filling
# 1 1/2 ounces egg whites (about 1 1/2 large egg whites, or 3 tablespoons)
# 1 cup light corn syrup
# 3 cups powdered sugar
# 12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
# 1 vanilla bean
# 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
# 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Red Velvet cake
# 2 cups all-purpose flour
# 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
# 1 teaspoon baking soda
# 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
# 1 cup buttermilk
# 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
# 2 tablespoons red food coloring
# 1 large egg
# 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
# 1 cup granulated sugar

For the filling: Whisk egg whites and corn syrup in the bowl of a standing mixer until incorporated. Place the bowl over a hot water bath and stir with a spatula, scraping the sides, until the fluff mixture reaches 165°. Remove bowl from the water bath and beat the fluff with whisk attachment at high speed for about 10 minutes, until the mixture looks like melted marshmallows.

Sift the powdered sugar into a separate bowl; add 1 cup of powdered sugar, a spoonful at a time, to the fluff while mixing on low speed with a paddle attachment, until sugar is fully incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into a separate bowl and set aside.

Place the softened butter in the stand mixer bowl. Cut vanilla bean open lengthwise; carefully scrape out the tiny, small black seeds into the butter. Add the vanilla extract and salt, and beat with the paddle attachment until evenly distributed. Paddle in the remaining 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, then the fluff. The filling can be made and refrigerated up to a week ahead. Bring to room temperature before assembling.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine buttermilk, vanilla extract and food coloring; set aside.

Combine the egg, oil and sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat at high speed until light in color, about 1 minute. On low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat, ending with the last third of the flour. When thoroughly mixed, remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape once more with a spatula to ensure everything is evenly distributed. If made ahead, refrigerate; bring to room temperature before baking.

When ready to bake, use a 1-ounce scoop to portion 2 tablespoons batter onto the baking sheet. Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until cake springs back when lightly touched, about 10 minutes. Remove the cakes to a wire rack; cool completely.

To assemble: Once cakes have cooled completely, pipe or spread about 1 tablespoon marshmallow filling onto the bottom side of half the cakes. Top with the remaining cakes (flat side against the filling) to make the sandwiches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


The Roberts Court's Free Speech Problem (David Cole, NY Review of Books)

The material-support law, enacted as part of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and expanded by the 2001 Patriot Act, gives the Secretary of State virtually unchecked authority to place organizations on a list of “foreign terrorist organizations.” The list includes, among others, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party of Turkey. It is a crime to provide “material support” to listed groups, not only in the form of money or weapons, but also in the form of speech; the law specifically prohibits anyone from providing them with “expert advice,” “training,” and “services.” According to the government the law prohibits even speech that advocates only lawful, nonviolent activity, including speech designed to discourage violence by encouraging lawful alternatives.

Under this law, when President Jimmy Carter monitored the June 2009 elections in Lebanon, and met with all of the parties to advise them on fair election practices, he could have been prosecuted for providing “material support,” in the form of “expert advice” to a designated group, because he advised Hezbollah.

...if you offer us the prospect of Jimmy Carter being frog-marched off to prison.