September 30, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


TARP Didn't Bust the Bank: The much-maligned bailout program made money on most Wall Street investments and cost less than expected (Rebecca Christie, October 4, 2010. Business Week)

The Treasury Dept.'s investments in banks through the Troubled Asset Relief Program have done surprisingly well. Lower-than-expected losses on auto and insurance company rescues, as well as the financial markets' return to strength, mean the $700 billion rescue plan launched in October 2008 will cost less than one-tenth its initial price tag. "The TARP may well be the best and most useful federal program that has ever been despised by the public," says Douglas J. Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former JPMorgan Chase (JPM) managing director.

As Treasury gets ready to shut down the spending phase of the TARP program on Oct. 3, it now expects to turn a $16 billion profit on the $250 billion it plowed into banks in 2008 and 2009.

Stupid like a CEO.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 PM


'Major' stem cell development announced: Skin cells can be easily converted, report says (Valerie Richardson, 9/30/10, The Washington Times)

A major breakthrough in stem cell development could help resolve the ongoing debate over the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research.

A team of scientists led by Derrick J. Rossi of the Immune Disease Institute at Children's Hospital Boston published a paper Thursday showing that they can quickly and efficiently transform skin cells into cells with all the properties of embryonic stem cells.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Obama's likely new staff chief was known as '101st senator' (Tom Kizzia, 9/30/10, Anchorage Daily News)

Rouse has deep family roots in Alaska — his mother, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, grew up in Anchorage starting in World War I, when it was a railroad construction town.

But Rouse himself was born on the East Coast and had never been west of Denver until late 1978 when he flew to Alaska to visit a friend, Alaska's newly elected Republican lieutenant governor, Terry Miller.

Rouse ended up working as Miller's chief of staff for the final four years of Gov. Jay Hammond's administration. It was a great experience, Rouse said, a time when Juneau was filled with young idealists eager to grapple with the state's new oil money, infrastructure need and unformed social policies.

"Juneau at the time was 19,000 people, but it was really a town on the move in terms of young, well-educated people excited by these policy issues," he recalled.

The ambitious young staffer returned to Washington, D.C., in 1983 and went to work for for Democrats in the Senate. For a while, he imagined returning to Alaska if Miller ever managed to win a race for governor. The dream faded; Miller died of bone cancer in 1989, at age 46. Rouse's last visit to Juneau was to attend his old friend's memorial.

...and the best he can find is a guy who was chief of staff to a lt. governor thirty years ago? Man, he just sucks at this being president stuff.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Mao-made Famine (MICHAEL BURLEIGH, October 2010, Standpoint)

Forty-five million is a large number to comprehend. It is around five million short of the current population of England. Forty-five million is also the number of Chinese who died in the Mao-made famine otherwise known as the Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962. This is the era that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once wistfully referred to as having "a culture of total state provision" and "something which guaranteed everyone's welfare".

The Archbishop would be well-advised to read Mao's Great Famine (Bloomsbury), a powerful new book by Frank Dikötter, a Swiss-born historian at the University of Hong Kong. Dikötter has calculated the total number of deaths, saying that the real figure may be 55 million. The Great Helmsman claimed that if half the Chinese people starved, the surviving half would eat better. In fact, they ate Szechuan white mud or each other. Dikötter tells me that this implacable mindset was forged by two decades of civil war and party purges, in which the ends of the Chinese Revolution justified any means. [...]

At the end of this fine book, I wondered why the death of 45 million people in four years had made such slight impression on the world's consciousness. The term "genocide" is too specific to be of much use. The word "famine" conceals more than it reveals, as if this was an act of nature. The term "peasant" also distances us from the victims, it being "easier" to empathise with the mainly urban victims of the later Cultural Revolution — killed, Dikötter says, partly to obliterate anyone who had criticised Mao's responsibility for the famine. Similarly, Stalin's 1930s purges of 600,000 party members have eclipsed the earlier terror famine waged against seven million Ukrainian farmers and Kazakh herdsmen. Dikötter tells me: "A strong Orientalist streak implies that loss of life in China matters less than elsewhere."

But as the Archbishop of Canterbury's crass intervention also reveals, a naive, residual belief that the aims were worthy, or the goals progressive, seems to excuse much, too — 45 million or 55 million lives too many in this case.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 PM


For Democrats, Senate Still a Possible Nightmare (Stuart Rothenberg, 9/30/10, Roll Call)

O'Donnell's primary victory notwithstanding, Republicans are still headed for major Senate gains, and a 10-seat gain isn't impossible.

With a month to go until Nov. 2, Republicans have a clear advantage in five seats held by Democrats, with another five seats still in play.

Unless things change, Republicans will likely hold all 18 of their seats up this cycle. [...]

GOP nominees have a solid advantage in three states: North Dakota, Arkansas and Indiana. They have an advantage in the polls -- and a momentum advantage -- in two other states: Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Polling in Illinois has been close for weeks, but with Republican Bill Brady running ahead in the gubernatorial race and Republican Congressional candidates overperforming in a number of parts of the state, Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk seems more likely than not to win the Senate race.

If all of those races fall into place as expected, they add up to a gain of six seats for Republicans, with six other contests still in play.

Two of the six, Colorado and Nevada, look like tossups. But in a year like this, the party with a strong wind at its back normally has a better-than-even chance of winning the jump balls. In Colorado, in particular, Ken Buck (R) appears to have a slight advantage over Sen. Michael Bennet (D). The Nevada race is so tight, and both Sen. Harry Reid (D) and Sharron Angle (R) are so unpopular, that any outcome is possible.

If Democrats lose both tossups, Republicans would have a net gain of eight seats, and they would need two of the remaining four contests -- West Virginia, Washington, California and Connecticut -- to net 10 seats

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Holy Incarnation!: It may be impossible not to "demean God" since he mixed it up with sinners. (Mark Galli, 9/30/2010, Christianity Today)

Why does it bother us to imagine Jesus throwing a few dishes in the kitchen when he overturned tables in the temple? Still, many people have a fixed image of God as high and lifted up, holy and magisterial, and they naturally don't want their image tarnished.

But is it possible to tarnish the image of God any more than he has already tarnished it? To put it another way, if we're anxious to protect the reputation of the holy, infinite, immutable, and all powerful YHWH, we probably should stop talking about the Incarnation.

The Incarnation means that the transcendent God took on mutable flesh; pure Spirit assumed a decaying body; holy divinity trafficked with sinful humanity.

Let's get specific, lest we forget what was really entailed in this ugly business. God was initially wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in birth matter. He had blood coursing through his veins, fecal matter through his intestines, and urine through his urinary tract. God chewed and swallowed food, and sometimes vomited from drinking bad water or eating contaminated food. God sweated; he had body odor. He had dirt caked around his toes and ankles, splinters under his skin, and scabs from cutting himself in the carpentry shop. His hair was probably greasy and matted. He had pimples in his youth. He had wax in his ears. He had sexual thoughts, albeit without lusting. He had a penis and hair in his armpits. His frail human body gave out on him every night. At that point in the day, he had to put acts of love on hold; he was just too tired to keep going.

Ah, yes: He also died. His heart stopped beating. His brain waves ceased to function. His body started to decompose—and smell.

So shocking is this reality that we're quick to clothe it with respectability. We wrap the baby Jesus in a clean blanket and stick him in a bed of fresh straw. Or we paint him as a well-manicured, metrosexual Middle Easterner knocking on a charming 19th-century cottage door.

Early on, though, many people saw the Incarnation (and all it entailed, especially the crucifixion) as foolishness. Or a scandal. Or blasphemy. Some early Christians, called "docetists," couldn't swallow it, and posited a Jesus who only seemed human. Gnostics like Valentinus taught that "Christ" came upon "Jesus" only at his baptism, and then departed from "Jesus" before the crucifixion—can't have "Christ" trafficking in birth matter and blood.

The nervousness about Jesus' humanity is not new, then, but it's hard to understand why we have become more scandalized by Jesus wearing sunglasses or throwing dishes than by God living in and as a human body. And yet: Hasn't the transcendent and holy God "demeaned" himself in taking on human flesh and consorting with sinners? In our wildest imagination, what greater insult to pure divinity could we fabricate?

...even the Big Fella blasphemed Himself on the Cross.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Obama, in Iowa, Hears Barbed Questions in a Subdued Backyard (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 9/29/10, NY Times)

Continuing his tour of American backyards, Mr. Obama received a reception that was polite and friendly, but also pointed, when he visited Sandy Clubb, the athletic director at Drake University, and her husband, Jeff, a middle school social studies teacher, in the upscale, leafy Beaverdale neighborhood here.

About 70 people awaited him in the backyard, where Mr. Obama got an earful. One woman told him that her 24-year-old son had “campaigned furiously for you and was very inspired by your message of hope,” but is now out of college and struggling to find a job.

Another said she had “great concerns about your health care bill.” A priest told of an unemployed parishioner. A small-business owner expressed irritation with the president’s plan to raise taxes for people earning more than $250,000, to which Mr. Obama, showing his own flash of own irritation, replied: “Your taxes haven’t gone up in this administration.”

The questions were so downbeat that at the end of the hour-long session, Mr. Obama tried to pick up the mood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Towards a mixed economy: Economic reform begins in earnest (The Economist, Sep 16th 2010)

This amounts to the biggest shake-up of the economy since Fidel Castro expropriated small businesses in 1968, impressing his Soviet benefactors by bringing almost all workers, from shoeshiners to barmen, under state control. In the mid-1990s, when the Soviet Union and its subsidies to Cuba disappeared, Fidel reluctantly allowed Cubans to use the American dollar as legal currency and to engage in petty trade (such as renting rooms and setting up small restaurants). But many of those businesses folded because of high taxes and the complexity of obtaining licences to operate. When Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez became Cuba’s new benefactor, offering cheap oil, Mr Castro re-centralised the economy.

Raúl Castro has frequently expressed his exasperation at Cuba’s chronic inefficiencies. "We have to erase forever the notion”, he told the National Assembly last month, “that Cuba is the only country in the world where it is not necessary to work”. The country can no longer afford this: the price of nickel, the main export, has fallen. The world recession has cut tourist numbers. The island suffered hurricane damage in 2008. With half of its agricultural land unproductive, Cuba imports 80% of its food. It has struggled to make hard-currency payments.

Earlier this month Fidel Castro himself let slip to a visiting American journalist that the Cuban economic model “doesn’t even work for us any more”.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Obama: 'We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan' (Bob Woodward, 9/29/10, Washington Post)

Fears about Pakistan had been driving President Obama's national security team for more than a year. Obama had said toward the start of his fall 2009 Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review that the more pressing U.S. interests were really in Pakistan, a nuclear power with a fragile civilian government, a dominant military and an intelligence service that sponsored terrorist groups.

Not only did al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban operate from safe havens within Pakistan, but - as U.S. intelligence officials had repeatedly warned Obama - terrorist groups were recruiting Westerners whose passports would allow them to move freely in Europe and North America.

Safe havens would no longer be tolerated, Obama had decided. "We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," he declared during an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009, near the end of the strategy review. The reason to create a secure, self-governing Afghanistan, he said, was "so the cancer doesn't spread there."

Jones and Panetta had gone to Pakistan to tell Zardari that Obama wanted four things to help prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil: full intelligence sharing, more reliable cooperation on counterterrorism, faster approval of visas for U.S. personnel traveling to Pakistan and, despite past refusals, access to airline passenger data.

If, God forbid, the SUV had blown up in Times Square, Jones told Zardari, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Should a future attempt be successful, Obama would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like. "No one will be able to stop the response and consequences," the security adviser said. "This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact."

Jones did not give specifics about what he meant. The Obama administration had a "retribution" plan, one of the most sensitive and secretive of all military contingencies. The plan called for bombing about 150 identified terrorist camps in a brutal, punishing attack inside Pakistan.

Wait a second, Zardari responded. If we have a strategic partnership, why in the face of a crisis like the one you're describing would we not draw closer together rather than have this divide us?

Zardari believed that he had already done a great deal to accommodate his strategic partner, at some political risk. He had allowed CIA drones to strike al-Qaeda and other terrorist camps in parts of Pakistan, prompting a public outcry about violations of Pakistani sovereignty. He had told CIA officials privately in late 2008 that any innocent deaths from the strikes were the cost of doing business against senior al-Qaeda leaders. "Kill the seniors," Zardari had said. "Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me."

As part of the partnership, the Pakistani military was billing the United States more than $2 billion a year to combat extremists operating in the remote areas near the Afghan border. But that money had not prevented elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from backing the two leading Afghan Taliban groups responsible for killing American troops in Afghanistan.

"You can do something that costs you no money," Jones said. "It may be politically difficult, but it's the right thing to do if you really have the future of your country in mind. And that is to reject all forms of terrorism as a viable instrument of national policy inside your borders."

"We rejected it," Zardari responded.

Jones and Panetta had heard such declarations before. But whatever Pakistan was doing with the many terrorist groups operating inside its borders, it wasn't good or effective enough. For the past year, that country's main priority was taking on its homegrown branch of the Taliban, a network known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP.

Panetta pulled out a "link chart," developed from FBI interviews and other intelligence, that showed how TTP had assisted the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad.

"Look, this is it," Panetta told Zardari. "This is the network. Leads back here." He traced it out with his finger. "And we're continuing to pick up intelligence streams that indicate TTP is going to conduct other attacks in the United States."

This was a matter of solid intelligence, Panetta said, not speculation.

Jones and Panetta then turned to the disturbing intelligence about Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group behind the horrific 2008 Mumbai attacks that had killed 175, including six Americans.

Pakistani authorities are holding the commander of the Mumbai attacks, Jones said, but he is not being adequately interrogated and "he continues to direct LeT operations from his detention center." Intelligence shows that Lashkar-e-Taiba is threatening attacks in the United States and that the possibility "is rising each day."

Zardari didn't seem to get it.

"Mr. President," said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was also at the meeting, "This is what they are saying. . . . They're saying that if, in fact, there is a successful attack in the United States, they will take steps to deal with that here, and that we have a responsibility to now cooperate with the United States."

"If something like that happens," Zardari said defensively, "it doesn't mean that somehow we're suddenly bad people or something. We're still partners."

No, both Jones and Panetta said. There might be no way to save the strategic partnership. Underscoring Jones's point, Panetta said, "If that happens, all bets are off."

Is the Administration really determined to wait until after the cancer kills before irradiating it?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Why 'Scientific Consensus' Fails to Persuade (ScienceDaily, Sep. 14, 2010)

Suppose a close friend who is trying to figure out the facts about climate change asks whether you think a scientist who has written a book on the topic is a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert. You see from the dust jacket that the author received a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from a major university, is on the faculty at another one, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Would you advise your friend that the scientist seems like an "expert"?

If you are like most people, the answer is likely to be, "it depends." What it depends on, a recent study found, is not whether the position that scientist takes is consistent with the one endorsed by a National Academy. Instead, it is likely to depend on whether the position the scientist takes is consistent with the one believed by most people who share your cultural values.

This was the finding of a recent study conducted by Yale University law professor Dan Kahan, University of Oklahoma political science professor Hank Jenkins-Smith and George Washington University law professor Donald Braman that sought to understand why members of the public are sharply and persistently divided on matters on which expert scientists largely agree.

...that scientist's opinion was, likewise, determined by what those who share his cultural values believe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Ryder Cup: The hell of the 1st tee: 'I felt absolutely horrendous' – six players describe exactly what it's like to tee off in the Ryder Cup (Lawrence Donegan, 9/30/10, The Guardian)

Darren Clarke, 1997, Valderrama
I was playing alongside Monty. It was Friday morning and we were playing against two of my great friends, Davis Love and Freddie Couples. I was nervous to say the very least: the hands, the legs, the knees were all going – all the stuff you would expect to be still was moving pretty fast. I teed it up lower than usual and just tried to make contact with the thing. I hit driver – something you wouldn't usually dream of off the 1st tee at Valderrama and I hit it pretty well, just pulled it a little bit. There's a little tree up there and a kind of V-shape that I could go through with my second shot. I am standing there seeing the shot and Monty comes over and says: "What are you doing?" So I said that I was going to hit it through the V. Monty just looked at me and said: "It's The Ryder Cup for God's sake – draw it under the tree and get it up to the green." So that was that and off I went. It's a very nervy occasion but the one comfort you have in that situation is that you know your opponents are feeling exactly the same and you have to try and remember that. badly the Americans in particular play in team events.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


TARP’s a bipartisan success (Joshua Green, September 30, 2010, Boston Globe)

BRAINTEASER: NAME the last major law to draw meaningful bipartisan support in Congress. Tough question, isn’t it? The answer is the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as “the Wall Street bailout.’’

Hard to believe now, but before President Bush signed the $700 billion rescue plan into law in October 2008, it passed the House by a 228-205 vote, with 91 Republicans in support, and the Senate by a 74-25 vote, with 32 Republicans. But you won’t hear much bragging. The loudest theme on the fall campaign trail is full-throated outrage at the depravity of the bailouts and those who voted for them. [...]

The Congressional Budget Office recently lowered its estimate of what TARP will cost taxpayers to $66 billion. With interest, dividends, anticipated profits, and the unexpectedly small commitment to housing — not all reflected in the CBO’s conservative estimate — it is possible to envision an outcome in which TARP costs little or nothing.

...everyone deserves some credit, for preventing a Depression, except for the House GOP.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Can the US assassinate an American citizen living in Yemen?: The targeted killing of Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, without due process, would violate the gold standard of international law set by the Nuremberg trials – and defy the US Constitution. (Ronald Sokol, September 29, 2010, CS Monitor)

Last month, civil liberties groups and the family of Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki filed suit to stop the US government from killing Mr. Awlaki – an American citizen living abroad in Yemen. The government, which is trying to have the case dismissed, labels Mr. Awlaki a threat for alleged involvement in terror plots and inspiring anti-American jihadists. Awlaki is believed to be a target for extrajudicial killing.

The suit raises a fundamental question: When, if ever, is it lawful for government to assassinate?

If an American president blows up a terrorist no one is going to arrest nor try him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Meek Goes For Jugular On Crist (Jeremy P. Jacobs, 9/29/10, Hotline)

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) has focused his fire on Gov. Charlie Crist (I) in a hard hitting ad out Wednesday in the Florida Senate race.

The ad, which targets Crist's past comments as a Republican, is a sure sign Meek believes his best shot in the 3-way race is to undercut Crist's standing among Florida Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Sweden’s Quiet Revolution: Without much fanfare, the Scandinavian country has been moving away from socialism. (Duncan Currie, 9/30/10, National Review)

[C]ontemporary Sweden is much less socialist than many Americans realize. Since the early 1990s, when it suffered a painful financial crisis, the Scandinavian country has deregulated key industries (such as airlines, telecommunications, and electricity), lowered its overall tax burden, established universal school vouchers, partially privatized its pension system, abolished certain government monopolies, sold a number of state-owned enterprises (including the parent company of Absolut vodka), and trimmed public spending. Several years ago, it eliminated gift and inheritance taxes. The World Economic Forum now ranks Sweden as the second-most competitive economy on earth, behind only Switzerland. According to the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom (compiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation), Sweden offers greater business freedom, trade freedom, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, freedom from corruption, and property-rights protection than does the United States.

Since taking office in 2006, the center-right administration of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has reduced income and corporate taxes, repealed a longstanding wealth tax, tightened unemployment and sick-leave benefits (which are still exceedingly generous), and privatized various state assets. [...]

Bolstered by prudent economic stewardship and a relatively conservative financial sector, Sweden entered the global recession on a sound footing. While it endured a nasty spike in unemployment, its export-driven recovery has been so vigorous that the central bank is now concerned about inflation risks. In the second quarter of 2010, Sweden posted a 4.6 percent annual growth rate, prompting the Wall Street Journal to hail it as “the biggest success story in post-recession Europe.” It currently has the lowest deficit-to-GDP ratio in the entire European Union. Before the election, Swedish finance minister Anders Borg announced plans to privatize another $14 billion worth of state assets. “If we get a surplus in place,” Reinfeldt told a Reuters interviewer, “we will deliver on tax cuts for 6.1 million workers and pensioners.” (The total Swedish population is roughly 9.4 million.)

To be sure, Sweden won’t look like Hong Kong or Singapore anytime soon. It still has a lavish welfare state, and its aggregate tax burden is still quite heavy. The top marginal income-tax rate is 57 percent in Sweden, compared with 35 percent (for now) in America. On the other hand, a 2008 OECD study found that household taxes are substantially more progressive in the U.S. than they are in Sweden, even after we control for America’s higher level of income inequality. Sweden has a much lower average statutory corporate-tax rate than the U.S., and also a much lower effective corporate-tax rate on new capital investments (according to University of Calgary economists Duanjie Chen and Jack Mintz). Its tax structure is made even more regressive by a 25 percent value-added tax on consumption of most goods and services.

Which brings us to a common misconception about the Swedish system — that it takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Actually, says Lund University economist Andreas Bergh, “the majority of the taxes you pay are given back to you during your life cycle.” Thus, “if you pay more when you work, you will also get more when you retire.” Even upper-class Swedes enjoy bountiful government largesse.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Frugal Innovation: India Plans to Distribute Low-Cost Handheld Computers to Students: The Indian government says its prototype tablet computer will cost only $35, but past attempts at building inexpensive PCs have fallen short (Saswato R. Das September 28, 2010, Scientific American)

The latest example of frugal Indian innovation is a low-cost handheld computer that the government says will cost only 1,500 rupees (about $35). Kapil Sibal, India's minister of human resources development (whose portfolio includes education), unveiled it publicly at the end of July, with government officials subsequently saying it will launch in January. The device has attracted attention—and skepticism—because of its remarkably low price. And some Indian government officials will not be satisfied until the price falls to $10.

Under the Harvard-educated Sibal, who previously headed the Ministry of Science and Technology, the government of India has embarked on a national mission to improve the quality of education in India. It has upgraded the salaries of teachers, quickened the hiring process, and created new centers of engineering education. One of Sibal's goals has been to ensure that more of the 220 million children enrolled in Indian schools go on to college, as he reiterated on a visit to New York City this past week. The low-cost handheld computer is one of his high-profile initiatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


New Jersey Defunds Planned Parenthood (THOMAS L. McDONALD, 9/29/10, National Catholic REGISTER)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood has withstood a challenge from Democrats in the state senate.

The veto deprived the state’s leading abortion provider of money that is essential to its continued operation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Outside money could broaden House battlefield (Alex Isenstadt, 9/30/10, Politico)

Cash-flush conservative groups are stretching the boundaries of the 2010 map, pouring millions into long-shot House races once thought to be out of the GOP’s reach.

The outside organizations — which range from the Iowa-based American Future Fund to the Beltway-based 60 Plus Association — are focused not on the most competitive races but, rather, on just-below-the-radar contests that the National Republican Congressional Committee doesn’t have the resources to compete in. The effect is to enable the NRCC to concentrate its dollars on the most winnable races without forgoing others that could break in the GOP’s favor in the event of a wave election.

“A lot of the third-party groups are not going into what would typically be considered the top 10 or top 30 races,” said Larry McCarthy, a veteran GOP ad man whose firm is working with several outside groups involved in the effort. “They’re going deeper into the list.”

Given that Vermont was a forerunner in the tea party movement, with its Take Back Vermont groups, it would be nice to see someone put some effort into the races here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Turning a Blind Eye to Egypt: Since President Obama’s Cairo speech, his administration has been disturbingly quiet in word and deed about the Egyptian government’s repression of democracy. (Ambassador Richard S. Williamson Thursday, September 30, 2010, The American)
For generations, America has been the world’s shining city on the hill for freedom and human rights. We have provided light, encouragement, and support for voiceless victims of human rights abuse and those seeking to join the march of freedom. Sadly, the light has dimmed, the voice has softened, and the support has shrunk under President Obama. This has not gone unnoticed.

Cyber dissident Ahed Al-Hendi has said, “Previously, in Syria, when a single dissident was arrested … at the very least the White House would condemn it. Under the Obama administration, nothing.”

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of The Voice of Democracy in Malaysia, said, “Our concern is that the Obama administration is perceived to be softening on human rights … once you give a perception that you are softening on human rights, then you are strengthening the hands of autocrats to punish dissidents throughout the world.”

An important example of the dangerous consequences of America’s diminished support for human rights and democracy is in Egypt, an important ally in the Middle East. [...]

Due to a policy shift by the Obama administration, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will not provide assistance to Egyptian and international organizations working in Egypt unless they are registered with and approved by the government of Egypt. This shift undermines democracy and human rights organizations including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, since neither is registered, even though both organizations applied to the Egyptian government to be registered back in 2006. NDI and IRI were established, along with the National Endowment for Democracy, by President Ronald Reagan with the bipartisan support of Congress.

In launching his vision for these democracy promotion institutions, President Reagan had given a seminal speech on freedom at Westminster Hall, London. He said:

That is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace … Democracy is not a fragile flower; still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take action to assist the campaign for democracy … The objective I propose is quite simple to state: To foster the infrastructure of democracy—the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities—which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

And with minimal support the march of freedom advanced.

Under President George Bush all democracy and human rights assistance, including that given by USAID, had been exempted from Egyptian government sign-off. The 2009 Obama policy change is in conflict with the law set forth in Appropriations Act language which states the “provision of assistance for democracy, human rights and governance … shall not be subject to the prior approval by the government of any foreign country.”

While the Obama administration has said the State Department will continue to provide assistance to unregistered groups, the fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 funding levels are significantly lower than under President Bush. As a result, America’s support for freedom in Egypt has been severely diminished.
...that you can't buy peace and quiet by letting dictators oppress their unruly people.

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September 29, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Wagner for a Song (ALEX ROSS, 9/25/10, NY Times)

Yet no matter how much the Met talks up its $20 rush tickets or its movie-theater simulcast series, which reaches millions of people a year, it can’t seem to shake its pince-nez image. Perhaps we’ve seen too many commercials with toffs in penguin suits to accept the fact that operagoers are, in fact, a motley middle-class lot. And the Wagner audience is the motliest of all — emeritus professors sit side by side with “Ring”-loving schoolteachers, fanatic record collectors, neophyte opera mavens and that woman wearing a Valkyrie helmet.

That is how Wagner wanted it. While he had a gift for extracting money from the wealthy, and became notoriously conservative in old age, he rejected the conventional picture of the opera house as a playground for socialites. After he fled Germany for Zurich in the wake of his participation in the 1849 Dresden uprising against the crown, he began to argue that the “artwork of the future” would no longer serve the moneyed classes but instead speak to the masses. He denounced the practice of favoring classics over new work. In a letter to the composer Franz Liszt, he heralded a time when “we shall abandon our habit of clinging firmly to the past, our egotistical concern for permanence and immortality at any price.”

In his essay “Art and Revolution,” he proposed that theaters should be underwritten by the state and that all tickets should be free. In 1876, when he inaugurated a festival and opera house dedicated to staging his works in Bayreuth, Germany, he took pride in the democratic seating plan, which, unlike Madison Square Garden, gives everyone a good view.

The “Ring” itself carries a similar message. The adjective “Wagnerian” has entered popular discourse as a synonym for “grandiose,” but this colossal work is, in fact, a devastating deconstruction of the grand illusions of gods, men and dwarves. George Bernard Shaw, in his 1898 treatise “The Perfect Wagnerite,” influentially argued that the “Ring” is “a drama of today,” the power-seeking characters Wotan and Alberich suggesting the ruinous greed and corruption of a plutocratic society. Likewise, the musical language, with its system of identifying characters and concepts by leitmotifs, rejects operatic artifice in favor of direct communication. “There is not a single bar of ‘classical music’ in the ‘Ring,’” Shaw wrote.

The most potent moments are the most intimate, as when Wotan, chief of the gods, faces his own fallibility and, to quote Wagner’s stage directions, sinks into “the feeling of his powerlessness.” The true test of the Met’s production, directed by Robert Lepage, will come not in the Valhalla spectacle of “Das Rheingold,” but next spring, in that scene from “Die Walküre.” rising above that feeling, as Christ did.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Being Glenn Beck (MARK LEIBOVICH, 10/03/10, NY Times Magazine)

“When I bottomed out, I couldn’t put it back together myself,” Beck told me. “I could do all the hard work. I could do the 12 steps. But I needed like-minded people around me.”

He needed support, just as responsible Americans need it now to reinforce the principles and values that the founders instilled and that, he says, have since decayed. “You need people to be able to reach out and connect and say, ‘Let me help hold you when you’re stumbling, and you hold me when I’m stumbling, because what we’re going through now is a storm of confusion.’ ” Fans approach Beck and give him hugs. Do people feel they can hug Limbaugh?

There is something feminine about Beck — the soft features, the crying on the air, the reflexive vulnerability. It sets him apart from the standard, testosterone-addled rant artists of cable and talk radio. Women tune into Beck’s radio show more heavily than they do to other conservative commentators, says Chris Balfe, the president and chief operating officer of Mercury, which employs more than 40 people. And Beck’s television show is on at 5 p.m. Eastern, traditionally a slot with more women viewers. (On a typical day, Beck’s show is recorded on more DVRs than any other cable-news program.) But Beck also appeals to a more traditionally female sensibility. “He works through things in real time,” Balfe told me. “Maybe he’ll come back tomorrow and say, ‘You know what, I’ve given this some thought, and here’s what I’m thinking now.’ ” Or maybe he’ll come back sooner. Within a few sentences of proposing Obama’s “deep-seated hatred for white people,” he added this caveat: “I’m not saying that he doesn’t like white people.”

Beck’s staff and loyalists love to compare Beck with Oprah Winfrey. Balfe was the first to say it to me, adding the requisite faux apology. As Winfrey does, Beck talks a great deal about himself and subscribes to the pop-recovery ethic. “Part of Oprah’s appeal is that people see her as a real person,” says Joel Cheatwood, the Fox executive who initially brought Beck to CNN’s Headline News and then to Fox. “She has struggled with her weight; she is open about it. Glenn is not a pretty boy. He comes off as a regular guy who has also been open about his struggles.” (Beck dabbled in Pilates recently, he disclosed on radio.)

...the shtick is emotion, not thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


Obama's pitch: Fix Kashmir for UN Security Council seat (Chidanand Rajghatta, 9/29/10, TNN)

Go for a Kashmir solution and help bring stability to the region for a ticket to UN Security Council membership and fulfilling your big power aspirations. That's the broad message President Barack Obama will be bringing to New Delhi during his upcoming November visit to India, preparation for which are in full swing in Washington DC.

The Kashmir settlement-for-seat at high table idea (euphemism for UNSC membership) is being discussed animatedly in the highest levels of the US administration, according to a various sources. President Obama himself has decided to revive the process of a US push in this direction, albeit discreetly, because of New Delhi's sensitivities.

Key administration officials are confirming that the UNSC issue will be on Obama's agenda when he visits New Delhi. The US President is expected to announce an incremental American support to India's candidature during his address to the joint session of India's parliament, depending on New Delhi's receptiveness to resolving the Kashmir tangle. liberating your subsidiary nations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


Friends, Indeed: Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar takes sides—and chooses Israel (Lee Smith, Sep 29, 2010, Tablet)

Three days before Spain’s 2004 general election, a massive bomb attack on the Madrid subway killed 191 people. When then-Prime Minister José María Aznar and his government initially pointed the finger at Basque terrorists, the public believed his government was covering up the fact that Islamist militants had exacted revenge for Spain’s decision to send troops to fight alongside the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Spanish voted against Aznar’s party—in the apparent hope of appeasing Islamic terror.

Given his first-hand experience with how terrorism can shape political reality, Aznar more than any other European official is capable of deep sympathy with Israel. This partly explains why he is now using his name and reputation to found the Friends of Israel Initiative, which includes includes other world leaders, like Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru, and Czech playwright and one-time President Vaclav Havel, as founding members. “My conviction,” Aznar told me in a phone interview this week, “is that the best strategy to defend the West is to defend Israel.”

Israel, Aznar said, is not a Middle Eastern country but a Western country in the Middle East—the West’s first line of defense in the battle with Islamist radicals who seek to destroy Western freedom and terrorize whomever tries to stand in their way. “The harm done to Israel is damage done to the West,” Aznar said. “And delegitimizing Israel is a delegitimization of the West.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Ahmadinejad Returns to Chaos (Reza Aslan, 9/29/10, Daily Beast)

Don’t let the bluster and confidence fool you: Ahmadinejad is returning to a country in political turmoil, an economy on the verge of utter collapse, and a government in total deadlock. The coalition of military, clerical, and political conservatives that had rallied to him in opposition to the Green Movement has completely fallen apart. Now that they no longer have to contend with an unarmed group of college kids demanding their basic rights, Ahmadinejad’s erstwhile allies have begun focusing all their anger upon him.

In the last few weeks, a number of high-profile members of Iran’s parliament—many of them Ahmadinejad’s former supporters—have openly threatened him with impeachment. The president’s relationship with the parliament has always been strained (there are some half-dozen laws passed by the parliament in the last year that Ahmadinejad has either refused to sign or just plain ignored). But lately the antagonism between the two branches of government has boiled over into open attacks in the press.

Ahmad Tavakoli, one of the most hard-line conservative MPs in the parliament, recently wrote a scathing letter to the president outlining three major violations to Iran’s constitution made by his administration—all of them grounds for “censure” and “impeachment” (Tavakoli actually used those words). According to a published version of the letter, Tavakoli says of the main issues he takes umbrage with is Ahmadinejad’s open disregard for Iran’s supreme leader.

Now that Ahmadinejad’s allies no longer have to contend with an unarmed group of college kids demanding their basic rights, they have begun focusing their anger on him.

Tavakoli is referring to a controversial remark made by Ahmadinejad that the executive branch is the most important branch of government in Iran. On the one hand, the remark was just the latest example of Ahmadinejad’s attempts to grab the reins of power in Iran. Yet his comment was widely interpreted as a direct and public rebuke of the country’s revered founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who famously said that the parliament must be the most important branch of the government.

Ahmadinejad’s ties with Ayatollah Khomeini had already been pretty much permanently severed when not one member of Khomeini’s family attended his swearing-in ceremony last year. But after his remarks contradicting the “infallible” father of the nation, a large number of MPs came out strongly against the president, with one conservative member, Ali Mottahari, ominously declaring that the parliament would be “stepping up” its examination of Ahmadinejad’s government. Another MP, Daryoush Qanbari, quipped that the president may not be “fully informed” about how the law in Iran works. But the best retort against Ahmadinejad came from Iran’s fiercely conservative speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, who reminded the president that the purpose of the parliament was to keep the country from turning into a dictatorship, a not-so-veiled accusation that the president may be confusing himself with the shah. “If Imam Khomeini said [Parliament] has full authority, it was to prevent the reemergence of dictatorship in Iran,” Larijani said.

At the same time, Ahmadinejad is in serious trouble with the country’s clerical elite.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Coming Republican Nor’easter: The GOP could make a comeback in the Northeast (Andrew Stiles, 9/29/10, National Review)

To be sure, the extent of the GOP’s recent travails in the Northeast is pretty staggering. With the defeat of Connecticut’s lone Republican Christopher Shays in 2008, Democrats now control all 22 House seats in the six-state New England region. In New York, only two of the state’s 29 seats belong to Republicans. Add in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, and the GOP holds just nine of 73 seats. Throw in Pennsylvania, and it becomes just 16 of 92. [...]

NBC First Read’s “Field of 64” — a list of the 64 seats most likely to change hands in November — includes eight seats in the Northeast (excluding Pennsylvania). Of those eight, pollster Nate Silver gives six of them — Maryland’s 1st, New Hampshire’s 1st and 2nd, and New York’s 19th, 24th, and 29th — a better than 50 percent chance of flipping in the GOP’s favor. (It’s worth noting that of those 64 seats, 58 are Democratic-held).

Control of the House may rest on outcomes in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. “Republicans are probably going to need at least five or six [Northeastern seats] to win the House; anything on top of that is gravy,” Wood said. “Six seems realistic, but it could be as many as 12 depending on how things turn out.”

One Republican strategist said there could be as many as 25 seats in play in the region if the national mood continues its anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic trajectory.

In New York alone, pollsters and strategists see at least seven Democratic House seats up for grabs this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Gov. Forecast Update: Republicans Are Well Positioned (NATE SILVER, 9/29/10, NY Times)

New Hampshire. A poll from American Research Group is the second consecutive one to show the Democratic incumbent, John Lynch, who had seemed a safe bet for re-election, with only a 2 percentage point advantage. American Research Group’s polls have been unreliable in the past, so the model does not give their survey very much weight, but the chances for the Republican, John Stephen, have improved to 11 percent from 7 percent last week. One thing that could be harming Mr. Lynch is that Republicans are favored to win the Senate race in New Hampshire, as well as both of the U.S. House races.

Mind you, Mr. Stephen's name recognition has to be under 40% even after winning the primary.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Now Obama Offends Australia (Hal G.P. Colebatch, 9.28.10, American Spectator)

The Obama administration’s determination to unnecessarily damage America’s relations with its best friends and allies apparently continues unabated.

Britain has been infuriated by America’s “neutrality” over the Falklands or Malvinas, relations with Israel have reached the lowest point in 50 years over new buildings in Jerusalem, many see as a betrayal the cancelling missile bases in Eastern Europe, and there has been the pointless and destructive interference in Honduras.

As well as damaging relations with old friends, there is not the slightest indication that any of this has won a single new friend. It has not resulted in Hugo Chavez or President Ahmadinejad emitting one flake of spittle less when raving against the U.S. Planning permits for new churches or cathedrals in Mecca have remained thin on the ground.

Now Australia looks like being added to the list of insulted allies. President Barack Obama has dropped plans to visit Australia. Twice in the past year, a visit to Australia and Indonesia has been proposed, then canceled. On Friday Obama announced that he will visit Indonesia later this fall, but not Australia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM

Spaghetti With Garlic Bread Crumbs (The Denver Post, 09/29/2010)


8 slices stale ciabatta or French bread
4 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch salt

About 1 tablespoon salt
1 pound dried spaghetti
4 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch chile flakes
3 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated pecorino
1 cup garlic bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Toast the bread on a sheet tray until dry and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool the bread slightly, then transfer to a resealable plastic bag. With a bottom of a small, heavy frying pan, crush the toasted bread until it is coarse but not powdery.

Transfer the bread crumbs to a small mixing bowl and fold in the olive oil, garlic and salt. Place in a sealed container at room temperature until ready to use.

To make spaghetti with bread crumbs: Fill a large pasta pot with water and salt assertively. Bring to a boil covered. Sprinkle in the spaghetti (this will keep it from sticking together), stir well and cover. Bring the water back to a boil and remove the cover.

In a large saute pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until softened, fragrant and lightly colored, about 4 minutes. Add the chile flakes and capers and cook 1 minute. Add the white wine off the heat (to keep it from catching fire). Return to the flame and cook off the alcohol, about 2 minutes.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water. Add the pasta and the pasta water to the pan and toss well. Toss in half the grated pecorino and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Divide the pasta among four bowls and top with the bread crumbs and the rest of the pecorino. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


'I'll work till I die': Older workers say no to retirement (Jessica Dickler, September 28, 2010, CNN Money)

In 1998, 11.9% of workers 65+ remained in the labor force. In 2008, it was 16.8%. This year, 18% say they will continue working. And by 2918, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 22% of older workers will continue to punch a clock.

Even the wealthy are reluctant to retire from the workforce, according to a report released on Sunday by Barclays Wealth. Half of the high net worth respondents over 65 surveyed said they will always being involved in commercial or professional work of some kind.

Dubbed "nevertirees," many wealthy individuals will never stop working, the report said, even if they have little financial need to do so. Like Alper, they want to keep doing what they are doing for as long as possible.
7 secrets to a richer retirement

"There was a general upward trend of labor force activity among older workers before the financial collapse," explained Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "People were getting healthier and living longer."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Mohammad Reza Shajarian: Protest Through Poetry (Steve Inskeep, September 27, 2010, NPR: 50 Great Voices)

Just before they end their fast each day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, many Iranians or people of Iranian descent around the world listen to a prayer sung by Shajarian.

"It has such power, and the power of it has virtually nothing to do with the words," says Iranian-American scholar Abbas Milani. When Milani hears Shajarian's recording of the prayer, it transports him back to his youth in Iran.

"When I still hear it, I get a chill to my bone and think that this is not the voice of a mere mortal — this is the gods speaking to us."

Iranians heard Shajarian's voice on the radio for decades — and then, suddenly, the music stopped. Shajarian, protesting a crackdown on voters after last year's disputed election, asked that the government cease broadcasting his songs.

To understand how he got away with that, it helps to understand just how he became a famous singer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


40 Years of Energy Panic (HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR., 9/28/10, WSJ)

We seem to get all the oil we want at a price we're willing to pay. For three decades, our economy enjoyed one of its greatest boom periods ever—a boom that ended, ironically, not because of oil shortages, but because of overspending on giant houses far from town by people happily conditioned by the ubiquity and affordability of their energy supplies.

And look at countries even more dependent on oil imports than ours. China and India have inaugurated two of the greatest growth stories in history. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, much of Western Europe—states notorious for a paucity of natural resources—have built among the highest sustained living standards on the globe.

Some confused persons still think we invaded Iraq to get its oil, which would have been like spending a dollar to get a penny. Saddam would have sold us all the oil we wanted (and Kuwait's too) if we had just left him alone.

Now whole careers in the public eye are being built on the idea of peak oil—a geological conceit that produces scenarios of global catastrophe only because it omits the price mechanism, which has worked well for a century to adapt the world economy to whatever amount of oil is geologically available at a given time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


A Million Here, a Million There ?: Why federal spending never goes down, and why that's not a problem. (Paul Waldman, September 28, 2010, American Prospect)

[H]istory demonstrates that the ideology of those who are constructing these budgets seems to have only the barest relationship to how big government gets. Spending went up when Ronald Reagan was president, and when Bill Clinton was president, and when George W. Bush was president. It went up when times were good, and it went up when times were bad. In fact, only once in the last 40 years has the federal budget in a given year been lower than what it had been the year before, even after inflation is taken into account.

Of course, conservatives believe this is exactly the problem. But it has been true in both Republican and Democratic administrations and with both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

There are some very good reasons why. First, our population keeps growing, by thousands every day, creating more demands on government. Second, the increasing complexity of modern life brings our society a steady stream of new challenges, some of which have to be met by government. Before the widespread adoption of the automobile, we didn't need an interstate highway system. But when that need became apparent, President Dwight Eisenhower stepped up and spent the money. Those roads then needed to be maintained. That meant more government spending -- spending that virtually no one thinks wasn't a good idea.

Another reason spending keeps increasing is that both parties have types of spending that they would like to see continue to climb. For instance, Republican members of Congress don't think defense spending should ever be reduced; in other words, we should always spend more than we did the year before forever and ever. And we certainly do; according to White House budget documents, we spent $636 billion on the Department of Defense in 2009, we're spending $688 billion in 2010, and we'll spend $718 billion in 2011. That doesn't even include the Homeland Security budget or the military costs spread around other departments like the Department of Energy. [...]

Our government is still much smaller than those of other countries in what we used to call the First World. As these data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show, only a few developed countries spend less than we do on our government (the data combine federal, state, and local government):

Our federal spending has increased by a few points in the last two years (from 20.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2008 to 24.7 percent in 2009), but it is still small compared to that of our friends in Europe. Of course, that doesn't tell us what the optimal level of government is. Perhaps you believe that the French or Swedes or Danes, with a public sector about 50 percent larger than ours, are terribly oppressed by their governments. It's hard, though, to argue seriously that an increase of 4 percentage points of GDP takes us from blessed capitalism to dystopian statist nightmare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 AM


Plan B: Connecticut and W. Virginia Create New Outline for G.O.P. Senate Takeover (NATE SILVER, 9/28/10, NY Times)

When Christine O’Donnell won Delaware’s Republican Senate primary two weeks ago, some headlines screamed that it was a nightmare for the G.O.P. Indeed, unless polling is unusually inaccurate in Delaware, Ms. O’Donnell is unlikely to win in November, and her nomination significantly reduced the likelihood of a Republican takeover of the Senate. Two other races that once looked like tossups — in California and Washington — have also broken in the Democrats’ direction.

But Democrats have a nightmare of their own: What if the Republicans expand the Senate playing field by putting two new states, Connecticut and West Virginia, into play? Were they to win those states, Republicans could lose California, Delaware and Washington and still take claim of the Senate. And new polling suggests they could do just that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Chuck Brown: Tiny Desk Concert (Frannie Kelley, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

No one in D.C. can really explain why go-go hasn't traveled beyond the city's environs — we love it here, it's all over our commercial R&B and hip-hop radio stations and, at least when I was in high school, a go-go in a school's gym was the most packed party of the weekend. Chuck Brown is a local hero. A few days after he played our offices, Brown and his whole band played at the Redskins' stadium for the halftime show.

So to have Brown play a corner of our office — not a 90,000-capacity football stadium — was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers. Sweat started pouring immediately, between the 11 musicians (that's congas and a stripped-down kit; saxophone, trumpet and trombone; two backup singers and a rapper) and all the go-go-heads in our building.

It's not like the band was going to slow down, though. It played "Bustin' Loose," which got everyone singing the refrain: "Gimmethebridgenow, gimmethebridgenow." The song has been a hit in D.C. since 1979, so nobody was standing still. The crowd was yelling out requests, too: "Chuck Baby" and "Run Joe," a go-go cover of the Louis Jordan song. Go-go is based on a syncopated beat and the use of congas in addition to drums. A lot of it is call-and-response, some of which was led by Brown (his web address is in fact

Go-go is mostly about the groove, though, and Chuck Brown just settles in and leans back. He showed up looking like a million bucks in a vest, Dior shades and his signature hat, and then he did what he does best — get the crowd on his side and hand its members something to dance to.

The Godfather of Go-Go (Jim Fusili, 9/29/10, WSJ)

Go-go music's lack of broad appeal seems to boil down to the perception that it can draw a violent crowd: Promoters would rather steer clear of it, and as a result a wide audience hasn't been nurtured. That's a shame, because go-go music, at least when Mr. Brown serves it up, is an undeniably infectious strand of dance music with the potential to draw in fans of old-school R&B, hip-hop and '70s jazz funk. Put Mr. Brown on stage at a festival like Bonnaroo or Glastonbury and he'd come away with thousands of new fans—and so would go-go music.

Mr. Brown built his legacy from the ground up, as an 8-year-old shoeshine boy who worked a self-designed circuit not far from where Ben's Chili sits on U Street—or from Chuck Brown Way, a thoroughfare so designated a few years ago. His base was the Howard Theatre, home to touring jazz titans in the '40s. Mr. Brown recalls shining the shoes of Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan. "I used to say, 'Shine. Five cents, a nickel or half-a-dime,'" he said. "The Trailways bus station was on one corner, Greyhound on the other. The police chased me back and forth. Then I'd go to the Rocket Room where the country-and-western guys played." He remembered shining Hank Williams's shoes. "He gave me a 50-cent tip."

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September 28, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 PM


Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (John Updike, 10/22/1960, The New Yorker)

Williams was third in the batting order, so he came up in the bottom of the first inning, and Steve Barber, a young pitcher who was not yet born when Williams began playing for the Red Sox, offered him four pitches, at all of which he disdained to swing, since none of them were within the strike zone. This demonstrated simultaneously that Williams’ eyes were razor-sharp and that Barber’s control wasn’t. Shortly, the bases were full, with Williams on second. “Oh, I hope he gets held up at third! That would be wonderful,” the girl beside me moaned, and, sure enough, the man at bat walked and Williams was delivered into our foreground. He struck the pose of Donatello’s David, the third-base bag being Goliath’s head. Fiddling with his cap, swapping small talk with the Oriole third baseman (who seemed delighted to have him drop in), swinging his arms with a sort of prancing nervousness, he looked fine—flexible, hard, and not unbecomingly substantial through the middle. The long neck, the small head, the knickers whose cuffs were worn down near his ankles—all these points, often observed by caricaturists, were visible in the flesh.

One of the collegiate voices behind me said, “He looks old, doesn’t he, old; big deep wrinkles in his face . . .”

“Yeah,” the other voice said, “but he looks like an old hawk, doesn’t he?”

With each pitch, Williams danced down the baseline, waving his arms and stirring dust, ponderous but menacing, like an attacking goose. It occurred to about a dozen humorists at once to shout “Steal home! Go, go!” Williams’ speed afoot was never legendary. Lou Clinton, a young Sox outfielder, hit a fairly deep fly to center field. Williams tagged up and ran home. As he slid across the plate, the ball, thrown with unusual heft by Jackie Brandt, the Oriole center fielder, hit him on the back.

“Boy, he was really loafing, wasn’t he?” one of the boys behind me said.

“It’s cold,” the other explained. “He doesn’t play well when it’s cold. He likes heat. He’s a hedonist.”

The run that Williams scored was the second and last of the inning. Gus Triandos, of the Orioles, quickly evened the score by plunking a home run over the handy left-field wall. Williams, who had had this wall at his back for twenty years, played the ball flawlessly. He didn’t budge. He just stood there, in the center of the little patch of grass that his patient footsteps had worn brown, and, limp with lack of interest, watched the ball pass overhead. It was not a very interesting game. Mike Higgins, the Red Sox manager, with nothing to lose, had restricted his major-league players to the left-field line—along with Williams, Frank Malzone, a first-rate third baseman, played the game—and had peopled the rest of the terrain with unpredictable youngsters fresh, or not so fresh, off the farms. Other than Williams’ recurrent appearances at the plate, the maladresse of the Sox infield was the sole focus of suspense; the second baseman turned every grounder into a juggling act, while the shortstop did a breathtaking impersonation of an open window. With this sort of assistance, the Orioles wheedled their way into a 4–2 lead. They had early replaced Barber with another young pitcher, Jack Fisher. Fortunately (as it turned out), Fisher is no cutie; he is willing to burn the ball through the strike zone, and inning after inning this tactic punctured Higgins’ string of test balloons.

Whenever Williams appeared at the plate—pounding the dirt from his cleats, gouging a pit in the batter’s box with his left foot, wringing resin out of the bat handle with his vehement grip, switching the stick at the pitcher with an electric ferocity—it was like having a familiar Leonardo appear in a shuffle of Saturday Evening Post covers. This man, you realized—and here, perhaps, was the difference, greater than the difference in gifts—really intended to hit the ball. In the third inning, he hoisted a high fly to deep center. In the fifth, we thought he had it; he smacked the ball hard and high into the heart of his power zone, but the deep right field in Fenway and the heavy air and a casual east wind defeated him. The ball died. Al Pilarcik leaned his back against the big “380” painted on the right-field wall and caught it. On another day, in another park, it would have been gone. (After the game, Williams said, “I didn’t think I could hit one any harder than that. The conditions weren’t good.”)

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.

Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

Every true story has an anticlimax. The men on the field refused to disappear, as would have seemed decent, in the smoke of Williams’ miracle. Fisher continued to pitch, and escaped further harm. At the end of the inning, Higgins sent Williams out to his leftfield position, then instantly replaced him with Carrol Hardy, so we had a long last look at Williams as he ran out there and then back, his uniform jogging, his eyes steadfast on the ground. It was nice, and we were grateful, but it left a funny taste.

One of the scholasticists behind me said, “Let’s go. We’ve seen everything. I don’t want to spoil it.” This seemed a sound aesthetic decision. Williams’ last word had been so exquisitely chosen, such a perfect fusion of expectation, intention, and execution, that already it felt a little unreal in my head, and I wanted to get out before the castle collapsed. But the game, though played by clumsy midgets under the feeble glow of the arc lights, began to tug at my attention, and I loitered in the runway until it was over. Williams’ homer had, quite incidentally, made the score 4–3. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out, Marlin Coughtry, the second-base juggler, singled. Vic Wertz, pinchhitting, doubled off the left-field wall, Coughtry advancing to third. Pumpsie Green walked, to load the bases. Willie Tasby hit a double-play ball to the third baseman, but in making the pivot throw Billy Klaus, an ex-Red Sox infielder, reverted to form and threw the ball past the first baseman and into the Red Sox dugout. The Sox won, 5–4. On the car radio as I drove home I heard that Williams had decided not to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Poll: Conn. Senate race now too close to call (AP, 9/28/10)

A new poll shows that Democrat Richard Blumenthal's lead in Connecticut's U.S. Senate race over Republican Linda McMahon has evaporated to within the survey's margin of error.

The Quinnipiac (KWIHN'-uh-pee-ak) University poll released Tuesday shows Blumenthal, the state attorney general, with a 49 percent to 46 percent lead over McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Northeast Is the Democrats' Firewall (E.J. Dionne, 9/26/10, RCP)

The emergence of the Northeast as a potential Democratic firewall has been a long time in the making. The steady realignment of the South toward the Republicans, which rendered the party increasingly conservative, called forth a counter-realignment among moderates in the North.

That trend has been accelerating. Since 2006, Democrats have taken 18 Northeastern seats away from the Republicans, and the impact of this change is especially stark in New England. Among the region's 22 House members, not one is Republican. By contrast, nine of the 25 House members elected in that 1966 election were Republicans.

This year, Republicans have plausible chances for both of New Hampshire's House seats, and for an open seat in Massachusetts. They also have realistic prospects in a number of formerly Republican seats in New York and Pennsylvania.

But [Rep. Dan Maffei] believes the Republicans' evermore right-wing image, shaped in part by tea party activists, will impede the GOP's regional comeback efforts.

So the GOP has numerous pick-up opportunities in House districts to go along with a realistic possibility of ending up with every governor's seat in the Northeast except for NH's, which is held by a conservative Democrat, and that's all inside the Democrat's defensive wall?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


President Obama: Fire failing teachers (KENDRA MARR, 9/27/10, Politico)

President Barack Obama took aim at the nation’s failing schools Monday, saying bad teachers should be fired if they’re not cutting it and that students should stay in school longer each year.

Obama also leveled a critique of the Washington, D.C., public schools, saying his daughters wouldn’t get as good an education there as at their private school. "I'll be blunt with you,” Obama answered. “The answer is 'no' right now.” [...]

The comments seem likely to further exacerbate Obama’s already-strained relations with the nation’s teachers unions, which have objected to Obama’s “Race to the Top” reforms and said Obama and his education chief, Arne Duncan, are scapegoating teachers when the problems are more systemic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


As the pipe organ melodies fade away (Beth Finke, September 28, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

My visit to U.S. Cellular Field on Sept. 18 was bittersweet. Not because of the team — it actually did better than I expected this year. It was because of the organist. This is Nancy Faust's last year at the pipe organ, and the Sept. 18 game against the Detroit Tigers was "Faust Fest." You know, in honor of her 41 years entertaining fans at White Sox games.

My relationship with Nancy Faust started on another bittersweet day — the day my eye surgeon told my husband, Mike, and me that none of my surgeries were successful. The year was 1985. I was 26 years old. Going to a ballgame after learning I'd be blind the rest of my life was probably a strange thing to do, but it beat heading home and sitting on our pitiful secondhand couch and wondering where to turn next.

The White Sox were having a bad year. There were maybe 8,000 people in the stands. Floyd Bannister pitched. The Sox lost. But it was strangely pleasant, sitting next to Mike at the game, not giving a thought to eyes or surgery.

We each had a bratwurst and a beer. Between bites and gulps and giving me play-by-play, Mike bantered with other fans, cursing the underachievers on the team. I didn't need to be able to read a scorecard to figure out who was up to bat — Nancy's song selection provided the names for me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Obama without the magic wand (Roger Simon, September 28, 2010, Politico)

In an interview later with Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post, Hart said, “I was operating off expectations he set during the campaign trail. I thought there was something special and secret he knew that would make things operate differently.”

Hart admitted her expectations were unrealistic and that Obama has been in office for only two years.

“But I guess I started to believe, on some small level, that he had a magic wand,” she said.

And that is what millions of people of all races wanted to believe of Obama without really admitting it: He had “special and secret” solutions “that would make things operate differently.” He had “a magic wand.”

By now, we know there are no wands; he has no magic. He is not a wizard, not a superhero. He is not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

He is just a very smart guy with a very smart team faced by very tough problems and very tough opponents willing to undercut him at every opportunity.

Historians will be fascinated by the extent to which his race was nearly the only thing Mr. Obama had going for him in his presidential bid, creating both the idea that he was a magical talisman and that he is especially intelligent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Drones Target Terror Plot (SIOBHAN GORMAN, 9/27/10, WSJ)

In an effort to foil a suspected terrorist plot against European targets, the Central Intelligence Agency has ramped up missile strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal regions, current and former officials say.

The strikes, launched from unmanned drone aircraft, represent a rare use of the CIA's drone campaign to preempt a possible attack on the West.

The terror plot, which officials have been tracking for weeks, is believed to target multiple countries, including the U.K., France, and Germany, these officials said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM

SHAME OF A NATION (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Water Drops for Migrants: Kindness, or Offense? (MARC LACEY, 9/26/10, NY Times)

BUENOS AIRES NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Ariz. — In this remote, semidesert landscape along the United States-Mexico border, water is a precious commodity — and a contentious one, too.

Two years ago, Daniel J. Millis was ticketed for littering after he was caught by a federal Fish and Wildlife officer placing gallon jugs of water for passing immigrants in the brush of this 118,000-acre preserve.

“I do extreme sports, and I know I couldn’t walk as far as they do,” said Mr. Millis, driving through the refuge recently. “It’s no surprise people are dying.”

Mr. Millis, 31, was not the only one to get a ticket. Fourteen other volunteers for Tucson-based organizations that provide aid to immigrants crossing from Mexico to the United States were similarly cited. Most of the cases were later dropped, but Mr. Millis and another volunteer for a religious group called No More Deaths were convicted of defacing the refuge with their water jug drops.

What would Ben-Hur do?

September 27, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Lazio Out; 2 Way Race for NY Governor (AP, September 27, 2010)

Conservative candidate Rick Lazio says he's withdrawing from the race for New York's governor, avoiding a potential three-way race that would have seriously hurt the chances of the tea party Republican who beat Lazio in the primary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Elections a Blow for Chávez? (Joel D. Hirst, I9/27/10, Council on Foreign Relations)

The results of yesterday's Venezuelan National Assembly elections have dramatically altered the country's political landscape, sharply curtailing the power of President Hugo Chávez and inserting into government politicians not openly hostile to the United States. With a voter turnout of 66 percent, the opposition, Table for Democratic Unity (MUD), secured sixty-one seats while the government held onto ninety-four seats (with several still undergoing vote counting). This result has effectively robbed Chávez of the two-thirds majority he needs to pass "organic" laws--sweeping laws requiring an absolute majority. Since the defeat of his constitutional reform in 2007, Chávez has been using these laws, passed through the 100 percent Chavista National Assembly, to advance his Bolivarian Revolution and deepen his socialist project.

Chávez also has lost his ability to modify the constitution or call a constituent assembly. The multi-party assembly will also be able to influence the budgeting process, under which Chávez has been funneling 25 percent of the windfall oil revenue into a presidential discretionary account. This increased oversight will slow the financing he needs to expand twenty-first century Socialism at home and abroad, and will complicate his relationship with ALBA countries that rely heavily on Venezuelan money.

Even more significant is that the MUD collected 52 percent of the popular vote, placing it firmly as the primary political force in the country. This is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Chávez in an election billed by the opposition and the government as a referendum on Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!: The biggest movie star you've probably never heard of. (Grady Hendrix, Sept. 27, 2010, Slate)

Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia, and that makes sense. Besides producing, directing, and starring in his own action movies since 1980, he's earned millions in Hollywood with blockbusters like Rush Hour and The Karate Kid. But the No. 2 spot goes to someone who doesn't make any sense at all. The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


First Read's Field of 64 (Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro, 9/27/10, NBC)

In lieu of our normal weekly First Read Top 10, we’re running our updated Field of 64, the list of the 64 House seats we consider most likely to switch parties in the fall. (No. 1, for instance, is the seat we consider most likely to flip.) For Republicans to take back the House, they need to pick up a NET of 39 seats. [...] There are 58 Democratic-held seats on this list, and six GOP-held ones.

...but isn't that a pick-up of 52?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Taming the wolf: domesticating the dog (Mike Williams, 27 September 2010, Independent)

The first evidence for domesticated dogs has just got earlier with the recent dating of a dog’s skull and teeth from Kesslerloch Cave in Switzerland. That puts the transition from wolf to dog to over 14,000 years ago. Previously, the earliest date was from a single jawbone that was found in a human grave at Oberkassel, in Germany, dating to about 13,000 years-ago. (There are earlier dates claimed for the first definite identification of dogs but these are usually discounted by experts).

The finds from Switzerland were uncovered in 1873 but it was only last year that archaeologists at Tubingen University in Germany recognised that the remains came from a dog rather than a wolf.

Decided, not recognised.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


No Such Thing as Society: a good time to ask what Margaret Thatcher really meant: Charles Moore reviews No Such Thing As Society, a look at Margaret Thatcher Arthur Scargill and the politics of the 1980s. (Charles Moore, 27 Sep 2010, Daily Telegraph)

What Mrs Thatcher said was this: “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand 'I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it’ … and so they are casting their problems upon society, and who is society? There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then after our neighbour … and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.” A little further on, she repeated her point, using the exact words, “There is no such thing as society”.

To her opponents, this phrase captured her heartless individualism and her bourgeois smugness. “She was too blunt,” says McSmith, in the last paragraph of his book, “in telling people that in order to maximise economic efficiency, it was necessary to destroy many of the social ties that kept people in interdependency.”

Yet Mrs Thatcher was saying almost exactly the opposite. If she were a 21st-century person, she would have avoided the misunderstanding by using that gesture of wiggling one’s fingers in the air to indicate quotation marks round the word in question. She was attacking the then-current use of “society”, which was often expressed in the phrase: “Society is to blame.”

She cared passionately about social order and social obligations, and was hostile to the egoistic hedonism of the Sixties. In inspecting the use of the word “society”, she was behaving like the scientist which, by education, she was. “What is this substance made of?” she was asking, and she tried to supply the answer. Once people understood that society was made up of them, rather than having some mysterious independent existence, they would have more sense of their obligations, more care for their neighbour.

Indeed, large parts of the interview were devoted to Mrs Thatcher’s anxiety that too much government had weakened the social institutions which best foster self-respect and respect for others – families, churches, schools, voluntary associations. She was in favour of people being free to make more money because then they would be better able to help themselves and therefore their neighbours. Far from weakening social ties, she believed, successful enterprise strengthened them. Business was not an amoral force, but an important part of what Mr Cameron now invites us to call the Big Society.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


Thousand Dollar Bars (King Arthur Flour)

Shortbread layer

* 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
* 1 cup confectioners' sugar
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Caramel layer

* 2 cups caramel, cut into small chunks
* 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate layer

* 3 cups chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted
* 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)

Shortbread layer

* 8 ounces salted butter, at room temperature
* 4 ounces confectioners' sugar
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 8 1/2 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Caramel layer

* 20 ounces caramel. cut into small chunks
* 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate layer

* 18 ounces milk or dark chocolate, melted
* 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)


1) FOR THE CRUST: Preheat your oven to 300°F. Spray a 9" x 13" pan lightly with cooking spray, or line with parchment, and set aside.

2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed.

3) Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking.

4) Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles.

5) Bake the crust until it's lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the crust. Set it aside to cool completely.

6) FOR THE CARAMEL LAYER: Melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

7) FOR THE CHOCOLATE LAYER: Melt the milk or dark chocolate slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set. Cut into 2" x 2" squares to serve. It's best to store these bars in the refrigerator.

8) These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix ® bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into "fingers". Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to set for several hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


New Study Shows N.Y. to Lose Two Seats, Florida to Gain Two (Kyle Trygstad, September 26, 2010, CQ)

In all, eight states are estimated to gain at least one seat. They include Texas, which would pick up four seats, Florida's two seats, and six states with one each: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

Ten states are slated to lose seats, including two each for Ohio and New York. States losing one seat are: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Coming close to losing seats were Nebraska and Rhode Island, which, if current population trends continue, will lose seats in the 2020 reapportionment, according to the report.

Besides Louisiana, which lost population as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the states losing seats are confined to the Midwest, Rust Belt and Northeast. The states gaining seats are in all in the South and West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Tocqueville's leap of faith: a review of TOCQUEVILLE: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION By Harvey C. Mansfield (Jeremy Lott, 9/27/10, Washington Times)

Lockean liberal assumptions about religion form a part of the shared consensus of modern technocrats. They see religion as something to be managed and mitigated - put up with within its own tightly defined, slowly shrinking sphere.

This "Very Short Introduction" counters with Tocqueville's "new liberalism in which freedom is the friend of religion and infused with pride as well as impelled by self-interest." "For Tocqueville," Mr. Mansfield writes, "despotism can do without religion, but freedom cannot." Indeed, he considered religion to be "the first of [Americans'] political institutions" and asserted that "if [man] has no faith, he must serve, and if he is free, he must believe."

You could argue that what mattered to Tocqueville was not so much the divine truth of religion as its social utility. President Eisenhower was thought to be striking a Tocquevillian note when he said America "is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is."

However, that misses an important nuance in Tocqueville's thinking that our Harvard prof teases out. "Americans believe religion to be useful, but it would appear to be useful only if they believe in it because it is true, rather than a political institution," Mr. Mansfield writes.

But true in what sense? Tocqueville believed that religion enabled the intellect by placing a "salutary yoke" upon our doubts, thus preventing paralysis. "Religion," Mr. Mansfield explains, "reassures us that chance does not rule and confirms that human intentions can succeed, human actions make sense." In Tocqueville's telling, it's this leap of faith that makes democracy possible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Endangered Dem plays up ties to Bush (Michael O'Brien - 09/27/10, The Hill)

A veteran Democratic incumbent facing a tough reelection challenge touted a relationship with President George W. Bush in a new campaign ad.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) released a new campaign ad emphasizing his ties to the former Republican president at a time when most Democrats are pummeling Bush, and warning that GOP wins this fall would mean a return to Bush-era policies.

"When George Bush proposed a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Earl Pomeroy voted yes, putting seniors before party," the ad says, depicting Bush at a signing ceremony for Medicare Part D.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Why Companies Should Insist That Employees Nap: Regular 20-minutes respites in a Barcalounger persuaded Harvard blogger Tony Schwartz that all companies should harvest the power of the nap (Tony Schwartz, 9/20/10, Harvard Business Review)

Good luck, right?

But here's the reality: naps are a powerful source of competitive advantage. The recent evidence is overwhelming: naps are not just physically restorative, but also improve perceptual skills, motor skills, reaction time and alertness. [...]

When Sara Mednick, a former Harvard researcher, gave her subjects a memory challenge, she allowed half of them to take a 60 to 90 minute nap, the nappers dramatically outperformed the non-nappers. In another study, Mednick had subjects practice a visual task at four intervals over the course of a day. Those who took a 30 minute nap after the second session sustained their performance all day long. Those who didn't nap performed increasingly poorly as the day wore on.

When pilots are given a nap of just 30 minutes on long haul flights, they experience a 16 per cent increase in their reaction time. Nonnapping pilots experience a 34 per cent decrease over the course of the flight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Meet The Man Who Sneaked Into Auschwitz (NPR, 9/18/10)

Pilecki was eventually cleared to insert himself into a street round-up of Poles in Warsaw on Sept. 19, 1940. Upon arrival, he learned Auschwitz was far from anything the Resistance had imagined.

"Together with a hundred other people, I at least reached the bathroom," Pilecki's Auschwitz report reads. "Here we gave everything away into bags, to which respective numbers were tied. Here our hair of head and body were cut off, and we were slightly sprinkled by cold water. I got a blow in my jaw with a heavy rod. I spat out my two teeth. Bleeding began. From that moment we became mere numbers — I wore the number 4859."

That was a small and early number for a camp that would — one year later — see numbers in the 15,000s.

Alex Storozynski, president and executive director of the Kosciuszko Foundation, tells NPR's Mike Pesca that one of the early signs of Auschwitz's true purpose to Pilecki was the prisoners' diet. "The food rations were calculated in such a way that people would live for six weeks," Storozynski says.

Here's Pilecki's description of what a German officer told him: " 'Whoever will live longer — it means he steals. You will be placed in a special commando, where you will live short.' This was aimed to cause as quick a mental breakdown as possible."

Pilecki was assigned to backbreaking work — carrying rocks in a wheelbarrow. But he also managed to gather intelligence on the camp and smuggle messages out with prisoners who escaped. SS soldiers assigned Poles to take their laundry into town, and sometimes messages could be smuggled along with the dirty clothes to be passed to the underground Polish army.

"The underground army was completely in disbelief about the horrors," Storozynski explains. "About ovens, about gas chambers, about injections to murder people — people didn't believe him. They thought he was exaggerating."

Pilecki also hoped to organize an attack and mass escape from the camp. But no order could be procured for such a plan from Polish high command.
"We were waiting for an order, as we understood that without such one — although it would be a beautiful firework and unexpected for the world and for Poland — we could not agree to do that," Pilecki wrote.

For the next two and a half years, Pilecki slowly worked to feed his reports up the Polish chain of command to London.

"And in London," Storozynski says, "the Polish government in exile told the British and the Americans, 'You need to do something. You need to bomb the train tracks going to these camps. Or we have all these Polish paratroopers — drop them inside the camp. Let them help these people break out.' But the British and the Americans just wouldn't do anything."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Iraqi women embrace American mothers of war dead (AP, Sep 26, 2010)

Nine American mothers whose children died fighting in Iraq were embraced on Sunday by dozens of Iraqi women who lost their own children during decades of war and violence in a meeting participants said brought them a measure of peace.

The gathering in Iraq's mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields thataccounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 US military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.

Some kissed the ground during their arrival yesterday. [...]

The beginning of the Americans' three-day trip - organized by a Virginia-based women's aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect - was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.

Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group's Baghdad office, said the goal was to "talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it."

"We share the same ordeals and suffering - the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003," said Akhil.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Lead from the centre, Mr President (Clive Crook, September 26 2010, Financial Times)

Again and again, Mr Obama has acted as though the middle of the electorate mattered less to his administration than the Democratic base. This is not to say he insisted on leftist policies. He usually gave way, when he had to, to conservative Democrats in Congress. He went along with a fiscal stimulus that included a lot of tax cuts. He went along with health reform that excluded the so-called public option. These and other compromises disappointed the left. But the message to the electoral centre was consistent: Mr Obama would have let the left have its way if he could.

What he should have done – and what he ought to do from now on – is simple. Instead of blessing leftist solutions, then retreating feebly to more centrist positions under pressure, he should have identified the centrist policies the country could accept and advocated those policies.

...which made 2008 the worst electoral choice offered America in many a moon, but we could have at least gotten the gifted legislator instead of the guy who'd never passed anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Communism’s Nuremberg: The crimes of the Khmer Rouge are inextricable from Marxist/Leninist ideology. (Guy Sorman, 26 September 2010, City Journal)

What the Khmer Rouge brought to Cambodia was in fact real Communism. There was no radical distinction, either conceptually or concretely, between the rule of the Khmer Rouge and that of Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, or the North Korean regime. All Communist regimes follow strangely similar trajectories, barely colored by local traditions. In every case, these regimes seek to make a blank slate of the past and to forge a new humanity. In every case, the “rich,” intellectuals, and skeptics wind up exterminated. The Khmer Rouge rounded up urban and rural populations in agricultural communities based on precedents both Russian (the Kolkhozy) and Chinese (the popular communes), and they acted for the same ideological reasons and with the same result: famine. There is no such thing as real Communism without massacre, torture, concentration camps, gulags, or laogai. And if there has never been any such thing, then we must conclude that there could be no other outcome: Communist ideology leads necessarily to mass violence, because the masses do not want real Communism. This is as true in the rice fields of Cambodia as in the plains of Ukraine or under Cuban palms.

The trial of Duch and the eventual trial of the Band of Four are thus the first trials, on human rights grounds, of responsible Marxist officials from an officially Marxist, Leninist, or Maoist regime. Nazism’s trial took place in Nuremberg beginning in late 1945, and Japanese fascism’s in Tokyo the following year. But until now, we have had no trial for Communism, though real Communism killed or mutilated more victims than Nazism and Fascism combined. Communism’s trial has never taken place, outside the intellectual sphere, for two reasons. First, Communism enjoys a kind of ideological immunity because it claims to be on the side of progress. Second, Communists remain in power in Beijing, Pyongyang, Hanoi, and Havana. And in areas where they’ve lost power—as in the former Soviet Union—the Communists arranged their own immunity by converting themselves into social democrats, businessmen, or nationalist leaders.

The only currently possible and effective trial of Communism must therefore take place in Cambodia.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


Labour has climbed in its coffin and is nailing down the lid (Max Hastings, 27th September 2010, Daily Mail)

[I]t is unnecessary to make up catchphrases, such as 'Red Ed', to convince people that Miliband minor will not be Britain's next prime minister - or, indeed, prime minister at all.

Unless he performs a self-transformation that would make Superman's quick telephone box changes look amateur, he will spend the next few years in a wilderness familiar in times past to Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock - as a party darling with little to say to the British people that they are foolish enough to believe.

Miliband got his job against the wishes of a majority of Labour MPs and party members, because Britain's trade unionists think him the man most likely to fight for their sectional interests - no matter that these priorities are not shared by the nation.

In the crazy, skewed contest contrived by the party's organisers, some voters were able to cast as many as five ballot papers, if they could claim membership of more than one Labour interest.

David Cameron must have raised a glass in celebration over the weekend. Here he is, as Prime Minister, facing the challenge of holding together a coalition government at a time of unprecedented cuts in public spending.

And here is the opposition, choosing as its standard-bearer a man branded from day one as the pawn of his union paymasters.

Miliband cried plaintively yesterday: 'I'm nobody's man. I'm my own man.'

But even in his party, there is anger about the fact he owes his election to the likes of Bob Crow, who deploys London's Tube workers to raise the moth-eaten flag of class war, and a gaggle of other union leaders, who believe the first duty of public services is to serve their employees, not the public.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Latino voters in California still reluctant to embrace GOP candidates, poll shows: A new Times/USC survey shows Latinos backing Democrat Jerry Brown by 19 points over Republican Meg Whitman in the governor's race, and Barbara Boxer by 38 points over Carly Fiorina for the U.S. Senate. (Cathleen Decker, 9/27/10, Los Angeles Times)

Registered voters who identified themselves as Latino backed Democrat Jerry Brown by a 19-point margin over Republican Meg Whitman in the race for governor, despite Whitman's multiple appeals to Latino voters during the general election campaign. Registered voters who identified themselves as white gave Brown a slim 2-point margin.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer held a 38-point lead over Republican Carly Fiorina among registered Latino voters, five times the lead she held among white voters.

Latino views are keenly watched by political candidates and campaigns because of the state's demographic march. A 2009 study by the Field Poll found that white voters had declined from 83% to 65% of the electorate in the previous three decades. At the same time, the percentage of Latino voters had almost tripled, to 21%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Three states may keep us guessing about midterm results after elections (Chris Cillizza, 9/27/10, Washington Post)

Everyone agrees that the House majority will be in play 36 days from now. But what if we don't know who won the House on Nov. 2 - or even Nov. 3 or Nov. 5?

It's a very real possibility, given the heavy use of voting via mail in at least three West Coast states: California, Oregon and Washington.

Oregon conducts its election entirely via mail , and any mail-in votes received before 11 p.m. Eastern time on Election Day will be counted. In California, registered voters have until Oct. 26 to request a mail ballot.

In Washington, a state that votes almost entirely by mail, ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day - making for very long nights (and usually many days) of counting ballots. [...]

Arizona and Colorado also cast a majority of their votes by mail and there are no fewer than half a dozen targeted House seats in the two states.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


U.S. Is Working to Ease Wiretaps on the Internet (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 9/27/10, NY Times)

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

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September 26, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


Fatah and Hamas Close to Reconciling (Ali El-Saleh, 26/09/2010, Asharq Alawsat)

Khaled Mishal, political leader of Hamas, led his party’s delegation at the meeting, which was also attended by his deputy, Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, and other party members including Izzat al-Rishq and Mohammed Nasr. Meanwhile, the Fatah delegation was led by Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and its Commissioner for National Relations. The Fatah delegation also included Sakher Bseiso, a member of the Central Committee, and Samir Rifai, member of the Revolutionary Council and Fatah’s secretary in Syria.

Although the meeting did not conclude with a press conference, as is usual practice, a joint statement was issued, confirming that there had been understanding and agreement upon many points of contention surrounding the Egyptian reconciliation document.

This was followed by a statement issued by Abu Marzouk, stating that “The meeting was held in an amicable, brotherly atmosphere, with a sincere desire from both parties to end the division. Both a path, and steps, were agreed upon to move towards reconciliation”.

The statement said that “The points of contention included in the reconciliation document, prepared by Egypt, have been reviewed, in light of comprehensive Palestinian national dialogue, and bilateral dialogue, between Fatah and Hamas. A lot of these points were understood and agreed upon, and it has also been agreed that a meeting will be held soon to ensure an understanding regarding the rest of the points [of contention], and reach a final version of these ‘Palestinian understandings’, agreed upon by all Palestinian factions and forces”.

The statement clarified that “after that, [the Hamas delegation] will move to Cairo to sign the reconciliation paper. These understandings will be recognized as binding, and an integral part of implementing the reconciliation paper, and ending the state of division”.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


Billions of U.S. dollars later, Colombia gets the upper hand in battle on rebels, drugs (Chris Kraul, 9/26/10, Los Angeles Times)

But for Colombians, the situation is far improved from the late 1990s when a Pentagon study warned that their country could become a narco-state in five years. In the words of one observer, Colombia's armed forces were "playing for a tie and losing."

Colombia's economy now ranks as one of Latin America's most vibrant, according to the World Bank. The government released statistics this month showing that year-to-date foreign investment, airline traffic and car sales have all increased by double-digit percentages.

The power of the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was implicit in the election of President Andres Pastrana, who won office in 1998 promising he would negotiate a political settlement. He handed over control of a demilitarized "clear zone" as an act of good faith, but the rebels used the area to gather strength. Pastrana's successor, Alvaro Uribe, campaigned promising to defeat the rebels.

FARC greeted Uribe on his inauguration day in 2002 with a mortar and rocket attack. But most of Plan Colombia and its progress came during Uribe's eight years in power, which ended last month.

In recent years, Plan Colombia's emphasis has shifted somewhat. Military aid once made up about 80% of the funding; now it's closer to 60%, said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a left-leaning think tank.

Supporters of Plan Colombia say military gains are not irreversible. Hearts and minds remain to be won, especially in the rural areas where poor youths have few alternatives to growing coca or joining an insurgency or drug trafficking gang.

"A pill won't do the job, a long-term treatment is needed," said marine Capt. Cesar Martinez, a base operations officer at Leguizamo.

The FARC now relies more on hit-and-run tactics than brazen assaults. Rebels launched attacks this month in remote areas across the country that killed 37 police officers and soldiers. Eight were police at an outpost not far from Leguizamo. But unlike a decade ago, the Colombian armed forces struck back. They reported killing 22 guerrillas in an airstrike Sunday, including a top regional commander.

The aggressive military response has been accompanied by human rights violations. A study released this year by the New York-based peace group Fellowship of Reconciliation found that the Colombian military may have committed 3,000 extrajudicial killings from 2002 to 2009. Many were so-called false positives that involved the slayings of innocent civilians who were tagged as rebels killed in action.

Many were committed by units that had received U.S. military funding even after "credible evidence" of human rights violations had been presented, said John Lindsay-Poland, the organization's research director.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Baker catches Patrick in new poll: Voters focusing on economy; Cahill’s effect on race unclear (Frank Phillips and Michael Levenson, September 26, 2010 , Boston Globe)

With just five weeks to the election, Republican Charles D. Baker has pulled even with Governor Deval Patrick in a gubernatorial race shaped by anti-incumbent sentiment and unusually high excitement among Republican voters, according to a new Boston Globe poll. [...]

In the Globe poll, taken last week, Patrick, a Democrat, won support from 35 percent of likely voters, compared with 34 percent for Baker, a statistical tie given the poll’s margin of error. Cahill, the state treasurer who left the Democratic Party last year, continued to lag far behind with 11 percent. Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein got 4 percent, and 14 percent said they remain undecided.

Someone has to clean up after Mitt bailed on MA.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Democrats fear Midwestern meltdown (Maggie Haberman, September 26, 2010, Politico)

“There's little doubt that the Midwest is the Democrats' toughest region this year,” Democratic pollster Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling wrote on the firm’s website Friday, adding that the firm is also finding an enthusiasm gap of about 10 points down from what existed in 2008.

“If the election was today the party would almost certainly lose the Governorships it holds in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It's also more than likely at this point to lose the Senate seats it has in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Indiana, miss out on a once promising pick up opportunity in Ohio, and quite possibly lose their seat in Illinois as well. And there are too many House seats the party could lose in the region to count,” Jensen noted.

Top GOP pollster Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies wrote in even harsher terms last week: “The Midwest is going to be a killing field for Democrats this year from western [Pennsylvania] through to the Plains, Republicans are going to sweep a LOT of Democrats right out of office.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Is the 'Pledge to America' a worthy successor to the 'Contract With America'? (Frank I. Luntz, September 26, 2010, Washington Post)

So, how does the Pledge stack up against the Contract -- and might it lead to similar success? Let's break them down, point by point.

First, their names: "A Pledge to America" vs. the "Contract With America." I have to give the edge to the 1994 version, though I have an even better word. Nobody trusts political promises or politicians' pledges, but a "commitment" suggests seriousness and a willingness to put your reputation on the line. I conducted polls on this wording this year, and an overwhelming 81 percent of Americans preferred a "commitment," while just 10 percent chose a "promise" and only 9 percent a "pledge."

The American people in 2010, above all else, want politicians to demonstrate that Washington works for America, not the other way around. The full-page, double-sided, tear-out ad for the Contract With America that ran in TV Guide in October 1994 did just that, featuring two simple but powerful sentences: "A campaign promise is one thing. A signed contract is quite another." The authors of the 2010 document could have done better than "pledge."

Second, let's look at the documents' bipartisan appeal. The words "Clinton" and "Democrat" were missing from the 1994 Contract and the TV Guide ad for a reason. Late at night on Sept. 25, 1994, I sat at a computer at the Republican National Committee and removed the draft Contract's four remaining references to Clinton and the Democrats because voters were crying out for a nonpartisan approach to governing.

The 2010 Pledge is more overtly critical of the Democrats in Congress and the White House, but more important, it is considerably more anti-government in its language. Calling Washington a "red tape factory" conjures a compelling visual, and suggesting that the priorities of the people "have been ignored, even mocked by the powers-that-be in Washington" is just the sort of red-meat rhetoric that fires up the grass roots. But the most passionate descriptor in the document, "an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites," hits exactly what independents think. Independents determine who wins elections, so on that score, the Pledge beats the Contract.

Third, the opening lines. Here, the Pledge wins hands down. "America is more than a country" is a simple but profound statement that says so much in just a few words. By comparison, the Contract began with language that sounded like it was spoken by Sir Lawrence Olivier in some film about Shakespeare: "As Republican Members of the House of Representatives and as citizens seeking to join that body we propose not just to change its policies, but even more important, to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives." Any sentence that has more than 40 words cannot possibly be effective. And frankly, any opening sentence that includes the word "Republican" is spring-loaded for failure. This year, the authors of the Pledge understand that it's not about them, the Republicans; it's about you, the American people. Once again, the Pledge wins.

Fourth, the specifics. The Contract offered a detailed course of action. In fact, it proposed eight major reforms, including the first independent audit of Congress and a cut in the congressional budget and staffing, that House members promised to pass (and did) on their very first day in office. The Pledge has no equivalent -- a glaring omission.

The problem is that these guys know they're going to win, so what they commit to matters. In 1994 they'd have said anything just in hopes of winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Ed Miliband: You thought fighting your brother was tough. That was the easy bit (Andrew Rawnsley, 9/26/10, The Observer)

Congmiserations, Ed Miliband. Given the mix of opportunity and peril that faces you, it seems right to offer both congratulations and commiserations. You have just become the 10th postwar leader of the Labour party. It is a sobering thought that only five of them (Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown) became prime minister; only three (Attlee, Wilson and Blair) won elections; and just one (Blair) managed to secure more than a single term with a decent parliamentary majority. After being removed from office, Labour tends to spend a long time out of power: after 1951, 13 long years; after 1979, 18 even longer years; after 2010… Well, that is now in your hands.

Ed Miliband, radical with a feel for Labour's soul (Agence France-Presse, 9/26/10)

Ed Miliband, the new leader of Britain's opposition Labour, has shot up the ranks to win over the party with his progressive radical prescription for restoring it to power.

Ed Miliband emerged as a serious player since serving as energy and climate change secretary in the former Labour government, becoming a popular figure with the party's grassroots left-wing supporters. [...]

The son of Ralph Miliband, one of the foremost Marxist theorists of the 20th century, the Londoner now faces the challenge of remolding Labour into an election-winning force following its defeat in the May general election. [...]

He is more left-leaning than his brother David and considers himself a progressive, radical modernizer. His campaign was based on reaching out to Labour's core working-class supporters and earned the backing of six trade unions - three times more than any other candidate. "The party needs to rediscover the radicalism that drives our progressive mission as the most powerful transformative force for good in our society," he said during his campaign. He urged Labour to become "the idealists again in British politics."

By choosing Ed Miliband, Labour has handed David Cameron the next election: Labour chose to be soothed by Ed Miliband rather than challenged by David, and it will suffer the consequences (Matthew d'Ancona, 9/25/10, Daily Telegraph)
The last time Labour held an internal election of such consequence and such closeness, it opted for sanity rather than for demotic irrelevance. In 1981, Denis Healey defeated Tony Benn for the deputy leadership – "by the hair of my eyebrow", as he puts it in his memoirs – scraping to victory by 50.426 per cent against 49.574 per cent. That contest marked the beginning of the long, long fightback against the Left that was to lead in turn to Neil Kinnock's reforms, and Tony Blair's aggressive modernisation.

Yesterday, in Manchester, the tide turned once more. Ed Miliband is no Tony Benn (although he was backed by him). But the symmetry is precise in this sense. In September 1981, Labour chose to stay in contention. In September 2010, it chose comfort. In 1981, it remembered – just – that its ultimate responsibility was to the electorate. Yesterday, the party chose to please itself. [...]

Why am I so sure that the new Labour leader is an election loser? Because he was chosen on a false prospectus, or rather one founded on collective delusion. The party somehow convinced itself that it had found its own Obama, a supposed visionary who would draw a line under the Blair-Brown era and build a new progressive coalition of voters. Miliband's genius in the campaign was to make the retro seem new and exciting, to make tribal introspection seem bold and outward-reaching. He spoke of "renewal" and a fresh start. Yet his impulse was always to make Labour feel good about itself and its core instincts, and to blame election defeat on the sort of things Labour activists hate (inequality, the Iraq war, New Labour's cosying up to the financial sector).

He successfully misrepresented his brother as the puppet of the "Labour establishment". But he himself wrote the party's (dire) election manifesto this year, and was before that a key adviser to Gordon Brown and member of his Cabinet. His most vocal supporters include Kinnock and his former deputy, Roy Hattersley, which tells you a lot about where on Labour's ideological spectrum Miliband's heart really lies.

The Thatcher of the Left - or Kinnock Mk2?: Why the unions and the Tories are delighted Ed Miliband has won (James Forsyth, 26th September 2010, Daily Mail)
[I]t is Ed’s willingness to indulge the party that worries many of the Blairite old guard, the people who took Labour from 18 years of Opposition to three consecutive Election victories.

They worry that Ed’s commitment to, as he puts it, ‘never leave the party behind’ means that he’ll never challenge it. That – in the words of Alastair Campbell – he’ll make ‘the party feel OK about losing’.

The attacks on Ed Miliband from the Blairite old guard have been so strident because they fear what he represents – the end of the New Labour project.

They are right. He heralds a distinct move to the Left.

Ed Miliband is not a politician searching for the centre ground. Instead, he is an ideological Left-winger. He wants higher taxes, more spending and more regulation.

As with the Democrats after 8 years of Bill Clinton and the GOP after 8 of W, the trauma of wielding power as a popular Third Way party was just too much for Labour, so they reverted to their Second Way atavism. Inevitably, after a period in the wilderness they'll return to "modernization" or "neo-liberalism" or "Blairism" or "New Labourism" or whatever they feel they need to call it, if/when the Tories turn on David Cameron and his Thatcherism/Blairism in their turn.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Back in Black: A Country Outsider (JON CARAMANICA, 9/26/10, NY Times)

Long before Mr. Johnson was an outlaw of any sort, or even a sometimes surly resident of the country-music charts, he was a careful student of country songwriting. He learned guitar at his father’s knee as a child growing up poor in Alabama. He earned a music scholarship to Jacksonville State University — “I whizzed through music theory,” he said — but left school after finding it too restrictive.

After moving to Nashville in 2000, he owned a construction company while singing demos for local songwriters. When his own career wasn’t taking off, he made a name for himself as a songwriter and had a hand in Trace Adkins’s hit tribute to the female anatomy, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” He also won song of the year awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music for “Give It Away,” a wry breakup song that was a No. 1 Billboard country hit for George Strait. Mr. Johnson may be dark, but he’s funny.

His first major-label album, “The Dollar” (BNA), from 2006, was a mildly tougher variation on Nashville norms; the title track was his first and only hit before he was dropped. In the downtime that followed, he made brief, cryptic appearances on “Nashville,” an ill-fated 2007 Fox reality show about country music. Asked about it in an interview last year, he was succinct: “Never ask me about that show again.” It was the inspiration for “Playing the Part” on the new album, in which Mr. Johnson skewers himself for his skewed ambition: “It’s so complicated, I really hate it/Why’d I ever wanna go so far/Taking depression pills in the Hollywood Hills.”

In recent years, the idea of outlaw country has become a stand-in for a ragged, pugnacious sound that flies in the face of mainstream Nashville’s polish. But while Mr. Johnson is a clear student of the outlaw movement of the 1960s and ’70s, he’s not interested in replicating it.

“That Lonesome Song” was a deeply distilled take on outlaw country, stripping bare its hyperactivity and posturing, leaving only bubbling resentment behind that played well with Mr. Johnson’s stoicism. But Mr. Johnson is also a naturally smooth singer — there’s barely a rasp to be heard in his voice, which sounds stern but is deceptively supple — and for all its melancholy, “The Guitar Song” is a mellow album. It doesn’t repudiate its predecessor so much as cast it in a different light.

He took a catholic approach to assembling it, mixing his own material with covers of tunes by Mel Tillis and Vern Gosdin among others, blurring and rewriting the tradition he’s meant to be upholding. Mr. Johnson has earned the right to his idiosyncrasies, even if they’re not musical. “I’m nobody’s slave,” he said indignantly. “I’m nobody’s property at all, of any kind.” But like many rebels, he’s not a loose cannon; he’s just adhering to a different set of values than the ones expected of him. His cover of Mr. Gosdin’s “Set ’Em Up Joe,” recorded the morning after Mr. Gosdin died last year, is lighthearted and faithful, and his take on Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times” is downright tender. (His toughest number, the savage “Mental Revenge,” is a Tillis cover.)

Much of the album is given over to gentle, elegantly written heartbreak numbers like “That’s How I Don’t Love You” and “Thankful for the Rain” (“I guess I should be thankful for/All the nights of straight downpours/And soaking up every drop I get.”). “Even the Skies Are Blue,” one of the finest moments, is a beautiful, plangent piece of modern country-soul:

These are hard days

Heavy old heart days

Dead string guitar days

The Devil is picking his tune

That Mr. Johnson would like to be left alone to tend to his craft is most clear on “That’s Why I Write Songs,” recorded after hours at the Ryman Auditorium, the onetime home of the Grand Ole Opry and one of Nashville’s most hallowed spaces. As he alternates between plainspoken talk and soft crooning — “I remember how it blew my mind/When I played a song and watched a grown man cry” — the space in the room is palpable, as if you’re listening to him from high up in an empty mezzanine. He sounds alone, and happy about it.

Needless to say, an artist so invested in mood is bound to have an agonized relationship with country radio, generally the primary engine of industry success. On this subject, too, Mr. Johnson is firm: “There’s no answer I want to give on that.”

But when left to his own devices, he can be expansive, speaking at length about producing a coming album for the Blind Boys of Alabama. A week of recording sessions in Nashville included appearances by George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill, Bobby Bare, the Oak Ridge Boys and more. Mr. Johnson also flew in his father, who sang on one song. “There wasn’t one person who didn’t bawl like a baby or bust their heart open at least once,” he said. Mr. Johnson spent a handful of days in New York this month, feeling the tug of obligation. He played at Joe’s Pub as part of the Country Music Association’s Songwriters Series, where he briefly nodded off onstage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Kashmir separatists reject Indian peace package (AIJAZ HUSSAIN, 09/26/2010, AP)

The mountainous region is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian rule and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

India offered Saturday to urge authorities to release detainees and review deployment of security forces, and to hold talks with all stake-holders in the part of Kashmir it holds. The steps “should address the concerns of different sections of people, including protesters,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

New Delhi’s proposal follows a visit to Kashmir by about 40 lawmakers from major Indian political parties to seek ways to end the turmoil. India has also offered compensation of 500,000 rupees ($10,800) to each of the families of those killed since June 11.

The separatists, however, rejected the Indian government’s proposals.

“The so-called political package by New Delhi is a time-gaining exercise, unrealistic and mere eyewash,” said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a top separatist leader who is spearheading the “Quit Kashmir” campaign against Indian rule.

“India is wrongly mistaken if it thinks it can buy peace in Kashmir by releasing a few students and paying ex-gratia relief to the families of martyrs,” Geelani said, referring to those killed by Indian security forces.

'Kashmiris speak of azadi passionately even in hospitals' (Rakhi Chakrabarty, 9/25/10, Times of India)
On Saturday, the government unveiled a package of measures for Kashmir. This was almost a direct response to the suggestions made earlier this week by an all-party delegation to the state. The delegation included CPM politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury, who was one of five parliamentarians to meet separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar. Fluent in five languages besides his mother tongue Telugu, Yechury spoke to Geelani in "chaste Hyderabadi Urdu"

What is your assessment of the ground reality in Kashmir?

The gravity and depth of alienation is much deeper than we thought. People speak of azadi passionately even in hospitals. Any discussion begins with immediate problems. At the hospital, for instance, relatives told us to ensure chemists remain open during curfew. And, then suddenly the azadi element comes to the fore.

The Centre and the state government didn't recognize the build-up. The deep alienation is due to three reasons: governance deficit (providing civic amenities, hospitals etc), trust deficit , both at local and national levels, and almost no employment generation.

Wherever we went, people said they faced bullets when they went out to fetch rations, or they couldn't take a patient to hospital. The youth feel their prospects are bleak. No private capital is entering the state. The public sector is also in bad shape. For instance, 200 employees of Srinagar's Centaur Hotel have been thrown out after the government decided to privatize it.

Agroup of Indian Airlines employees met us. When militancy was its peak in 1993 and many employees left, Kashmiri youths were employed as ad hoc workers. They say, "When nobody wanted to work, we kept the airlines running. Even after 17 years, we remain casual workers. Where are your labour laws? Why don't they apply to us in Kashmir?"

All the so-called packages for development... where is the money going? Both governments have to answer these questions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Little mosque on the tundra (Nicki Thomas, 9/24/10, Toronto Star)

The 1500-square foot building left Winnipeg by semi-trailer September 1. On secondary highways and back roads, the mosque made its way across the prairies. But restrictions on holiday travel kept the wide load stalled in Edmonton over the Labour Day weekend.

Then, across the border into the Northwest Territories, the bridge across Reindeer Creek proved too narrow for the semi-trailer. The driver removed the back wheels and a second truck was brought in to balance the back of the flatbed as the mosque was pulled precariously across the bridge.

By then they were running out of time. The last barge from Hay River to Inuvik was supposed to leave September 30. With the Mackenzie River receding after a summer of little rain, the date was pushed up to September 10.

Guisti successfully pleaded with the shipping company to hold the barge for two days. Bad weather kept them for another four.

Now the mosque is on a plot of land on the edge of town. It’s expected to be ready for worshippers by the end of October.

“They are elated. They’re excited,” said Guisti. “They feel a sense of pride that history is being made here.”

Guisti calls it the world’s northernmost mosque, though towns in Norway and Siberia make the same claim. He also said it was the longest journey of a building over land.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Janelle Monae performs live in The Current studio (Steve Seel, 9/23/10, Minnesota Public Radio: The Current)

Mixing every genre imaginable, from soul to full-fledged hip-hop and dream-pop to funk, Janelle Monae has become a modern day musical prodigy.

Born in Kansas City she has come a long way in just 25 years, having already won a Grammy, been featured on a few songs on Outkast's movie soundtrack "Idlewild," created the Wondaland Arts Society and collaborated with musicians like Of Montreal, Big Boi and Saul Williams. Her new album, "The ArchAndroid," is the highest-rated album of the year so far, and for good reason.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Rove Returns, With Team, Planning G.O.P. Offensive (JIM RUTENBERG, 9/25/10, NY Times)

Already a prominent presence as an analyst on Fox News Channel and a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rove is also playing a leading role in building what amounts to a shadow Republican Party, a network of donors and operatives that is among the most aggressive in the Republican effort to capture control of the House and the Senate.

He has had a major hand in helping to summon the old coalition of millionaires and billionaires who supported Mr. Bush and have huge financial stakes in regulatory and tax policy, like Harold C. Simmons, a Texas billionaire whose holdings include a major waste management company that handles some radioactive materials; Carl H. Lindner Jr., a Cincinnati businessman whose American Financial Group includes several property and casualty insurance concerns; and Robert B. Rowling, whose TRT Holdings owns Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym.

Their personal and corporate money — as well as that of other donors who have not been identified — has gone to a collection of outside groups Mr. Rove helped form with Mr. Gillespie, including American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which in turn are loosely affiliated with similar groups staffed or backed by other operatives and donors with ties to Mr. Rove. With $32 million and counting, they are now filling the void created by the diminished condition of the Republican National Committee, which has faced fund-raising difficulties under its embattled chairman, Michael Steele.

“A lot of what we’re doing would normally be done with the R.N.C.,” said Ms. Cheney, who is part of a group, the Alliance for America’s Future, that is working with the organizations Mr. Rove helped start on encouraging early voting in House races this fall. “There’s no money there.”

Crossroads officials say they are seeking to supplement party activities, not replace them.

In a brief interview, Mr. Rove said he was trying to help build something that would remain in place beyond November. “We want this to be durable,” he said.

Which is why he opposed the archetypically one-and-done Ms O'Donnell.

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September 25, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Identity Crisis: Democrats facing the prospect of steep losses in the midterms wonder where the inspirational Obama has gone (Eleanor Clift, September 24, 2010, Newsweek)

Democrats are going through some serious soul-searching. They won their majorities and the White House thanks to Bush and an unpopular war, but without Bush as a foil, maybe they would still be wandering in the political wilderness. There’s a loss of confidence. If Obama has lost his touch, so have they. Can they win elections and gain ground without Bush on the scene? Obama was a prodigy in ’08, mastering the Internet to connect with people and inspiring millions of new voters with his intellect and his personal narrative. But then he came to Washington and joined the government and became legislator in chief.

On the one hand, that's so historically amnesiac that it's priceless, on the other, Mr. Obama ran as precisely such a void that she can be forgiven not realizing that he was a Washingtonian legislator when he was running.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


India's relationship with the Anglosphere will define the twenty-first century (Daniel Hannan, September 25th, 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The Anglosphere, for anyone who still doesn’t know, is the community of free, English-speaking nations linked, not by governmental decree, but by shared values. Which nations, exactly? Good question. The UK and Ireland, obviously, the US and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, plus what’s left of the Britain’s extended archipelago (the Falkland Islands, Bermuda and so on). Who else? I’d say Malta, Singapore and perhaps Hong Kong. I hope these territories won’t take it amiss, though, if I point out that, relatively speaking, they’re tiddlers. The elephant – for once the metaphor seems apposite – is India.

The Indian Question dominated a fascinating conference on the Anglosphere in Winchester yesterday, co-hosted by two of the greatest conservative editors on the planet: Daniel Johnson of Prospect, and Roger Kimball of The New Criterion. Some of the cleverest and most contrarian men in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India were present.

Mark Steyn – the Anglosphere’s one-man news-service – made the depressing observation that some Caribbean states, with their Hansards and maces, their horsehair wigs and stiff blue passports, seemed more British than the EU-oppressed mother country. West Indians, like Indians, appeared to value parliamentary democracy more than the country which had developed and exported the concept.

James Bennett, who more or less invented the Anglosphere, saw India as the key.

Forgot Israel though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Dems' dismal, detached design: I thought Team Obama knew branding (Rick Perlstein, September 24th 2010, NY Daily News)

It looks like the insignia you'd expect to see on the side of a Danish police boat. Or the letter in the alphabet that comes after ©.

Or the logo for a service station chain where you can microwave a burrito or grab a giant bag of beef jerky any day of the year. Or a near-failing grade stamped by the FDA on a piece of chuck roast.

Or a "big 'D' for Dopey, Disappointing, Dismal, Discontinued, Disjointed, Dilapidated, Disintegrated, Destroyed, Damned, Depressing."

So say my Facebook friends about the new logo of the Democratic Party. [...]

Remember that glorious day on the Mall in January? The new Pepsi cans were everywhere, its new logo ripping off the red, white and blue "O" sunrise glyph. For the next year, it seemed like everything coming out of a design shop mimicked the graceful font of an Obama campaign sign.

Now this. Deflated, dyspeptic. One more false dawn, promised, then snatched away. Obama used to be big. Maybe he can be so again. Maybe it's just the branding that got small. Let's hope.

...that the main takeaway from that January day was that, no matter the logo, the actual speech was a disaster--maybe the only widely criticized Inaugural Address of our lifetimes. It's not the brand that's the problem but the essential emptiness it represents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


AP Poll: Repeal? Many wish health law went further (JENNIFER AGIESTA and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 9/25/10, Associated Press).

A new AP poll finds that Americans who think the law should have done more outnumber those who think the government should stay out of health care by 2-to-1.

"I was disappointed that it didn't provide universal coverage," said Bronwyn Bleakley, 35, a biology professor from Easton, Mass.

More than 30 million people would gain coverage in 2019 when the law is fully phased in, but another 20 million or so would remain uninsured. Bleakley, who was uninsured early in her career, views the overhaul as a work in progress.

The poll found that about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral. On the other side, about one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all.

...they'll make it truly universal but more market driven, by favoring HSAs over other private options and making them virtually the only option for those who don't purchase their own insurance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Inside the Republican Money Machine: This year GOP backers have come close to matching spending by independent Democratic groups, thus leveling the playing field. (FRED BARNES, 9/24/10, WSJ)

Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove were appalled last winter as they searched out well-funded conservative groups that were preparing to support GOP congressional candidates in the 2010 midterm. They sensed there were too few of them and that a once-in-a-generation opportunity might be lost. Short of money and grass-roots activism, GOP candidates would be easy prey for lavishly funded Democratic opponents—not to mention liberal groups committed to spending hundreds of millions on attack ads.

This scenario has been averted. Conservatives and Republicans have organized an army of independent groups in a shrewd, collaborative and well-financed effort. While old standbys—the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—are involved, they now have reinforcements. They've come close to matching overall spending by Democratic groups, thus leveling the campaign playing field and enhancing Republican chances of capturing the House, Senate, and more governorships and state legislatures in 2010. [...]

The Democratic lead in fund-raising is itself a relatively recent phenomenon. Republicans spent more in 2006, but Democrats surged ahead in 2008, spending $956 million to the Republicans' $792 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

After their performance beginning in 2005, it's amazing anyone gave the Congressional GOP any money.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Obama attacks GOP in weekly radio address (ERICA WERNER 9/25/10, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama says Republicans' plan to slash taxes and cut spending if the GOP retakes the House in November is no more than "an echo of a disastrous decade we can't afford to relive."

Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to skewer House Republicans over the "Pledge to America" they unveiled this week. It also promised to cut down on government regulation, repeal Obama's health care law and end his stimulus program.

Who in the White House thinks it's a good idea to turn him into just another partisan hack?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


In Defense of the West—and the Third Way: 'In today's world, a progressive party that stands essentially for big government is not going to succeed.' (BRET STEPHENS , 9/25/10, WSJ)

"People forget this, but the closest I came to losing my job in a [parliamentary] vote was actually over tuition fees [for university students], and not over Iraq. The most difficult things were . . . introducing private-sector [reforms] into the health-care system, introducing academy schools, the equivalent of charter schools, and law and order."

It's a useful reminder. When Mr. Blair and Gordon Brown first came to office, the New Labour moniker was widely suspected of being a kind of political marketing device rather than representing a real change of heart by a party that had once been a de facto subsidiary of Britain's trade unions. But if Mr. Blair's memoir is anything to go by, he for one was a sincere convert to the New Labour faith. Among other things, it explains his current opposition to high rates of marginal taxation.

"The most important thing is to encourage strong growth, for the economy to create wealth. And I just think this is a very basic point . . . you need tax rates that are competitive with the world in which we live and in which people's hard work and enterprise is rewarded." As for the notion that the purpose of progressive governance is to tax the wealthy and redistribute it to the rest, Mr. Blair urges caution: "The people you end up hitting are not the very wealthy, because in my experience the very wealthy can make their own arrangements."

Mr. Blair is similarly worried about the perils of excessive regulation. While he believes that governments were right to respond to the financial crisis as they initially did, he worries that the recovery runs the risk of regulatory strangulation. "How you stabilize the economy is not the same as how you then get it let out of the crisis and back to strong growth, where you will need the private sector to be enterprising, innovative and able to compete." Nor does he have any patience with the demonization of the financial sector as "the bad guys" in the crisis.

The question arises of how Mr. Blair—a prep school boy and Oxford graduate who came to the Labour Party more from its intellectually Fabian wing than from the trade union movement—came by his views. Partly it's to do with his own father's rise from working-class roots, and partly by the pre-political years he spent as a commercial and industrial-relations lawyer, where he learned that "most people aspire to do better and most people actually want their kids to do better than them—and these are actually great engines of growth and progress."

But he also says his views are informed by traveling to emerging economies such as China. "These are all places where, if we're not careful, they are going to learn the lessons of our development and, funnily enough, they're not going to replicate all those lessons. . . . They will learn from our successes as well as our mistakes. And if we're not careful, they are going to leave us behind."

So much of what Mr. Blair says is so consonant with the political right-of-center that I ask him if he doesn't feel closer to John McCain politically than to Barack Obama. He laughs it off, calling himself a straight "Democrat-Labour" kind of guy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Liberal Blogger Accuses White House of "Hippie Punching" (Stephanie Condon, 9/24/10, CBS News)

White House senior adviser David Axelrod told liberal bloggers on a conference call yesterday, "You play a great role in informing people about the stakes of elections," the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports.

Blogger Susan Madrak of the website Crooks and Liars reportedly retorted, "Have you ever heard of hippie punching?" Madrak was referencing a phrase thrown around by bloggers who think the Obama administration has treated its liberal base with disdain.

"You want us to help you, the first thing I would suggest is enough of the hippie punching," she said. "We're the girl you'll take under the bleachers but you won't be seen with in the light of day."

The UR would go up 5% in the polls if he literally punched the hippies. It would connect him with voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Touch and Go: India is losing Kashmir. This much is clear (Basharat Peer, 9/25/10, Open)

If one had to think of a singular image that has widened the gulf between Kashmir and New Delhi, it is the killing of eight-year-old Sameer Rah in Srinagar’s Batamaloo area on 1 August. On that afternoon, Sameer asked his father, a fruit vendor who was home because of the curfew, for Rs 5 to buy sweets at a corner shop in an inner lane that was open. Fayaz, his father, gave him Rs 2, and the class 2 student rushed out of the house. Sameer, carrying a cricket bat in his hand, had raised some slogans in the street without realising that a group of CRPF men was around. According to eyewitnesses, the men in uniform caught hold of the eight-year-old, beat him up, trampled upon him till he fainted, and then threw him on the road. Of course, the CRPF claims the boy was killed in a stampede. The crowd that gathered to pick up the eight-year-old’s body was tear-gassed. The doctors at SMHS hospital in Srinagar couldn’t save Sameer.

How does one process that? What effect does that have on a people?

To make things worse, J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s callous government has continued a relentless curfew, which has not even made exceptions for pharmacies and medical laboratories. Hospitals have been facing a serious shortage of medicines and the impossibility of conducting various medical tests that depend on private pharmacies and medical facilities. In the intensive care unit of SMHS hospital, where the eight-year-old Sameer Rah died, Dr Mustafa Kamal and his colleagues spoke of the desperate need for medicines and certain foods. Over the weekend, I spoke to one of Kashmir’s foremost eye surgeons, Dr Bashir Chapoo, who runs a hospital in central Srinagar. Troops hadn’t let him travel to his hospital for more than a week. “I have patients with eye injuries who might lose their sight if I don’t reach them soonest,” Dr Chapoo told me. Seventeen of his patients had pellets fired by the police and troops stuck in their eyes. I called him a few days later. “I am still stuck at home despite two curfew passes. Most of my patients have left the hospital now, and I have no idea where they are and in what condition,” Dr Chapoo told me Tuesday afternoon. “I couldn’t help. I couldn’t reach there. Two have already lost their eyes in my hospital, and that is one small hospital.”

The curfew continues with a few hour breaks once a week. The bustle of Kashmiri mornings has been replaced by an eerie silence. Stray dogs stroll leisurely on our street and the sound of chirping birds dominates the day. The publication of morning papers stopped after the troops beat up the newsagents. Internet and Facebook updates by young Kashmiris, giving details of what they witnessed in their areas, are chilling.

I had a glimpse of the sorrow and anger that is swelling in Kashmir on Friday, 17 September, when Yasir Sheikh’s body was flown back from Delhi for burial. Hundreds of men and women stood in grieving circles outside his house. The men raised loud slogans for freedom from India, but it was the women and girls, dressed mostly in floral printed suits, who articulated the loss. As Sheikh’s body was brought out in a wooden coffin, the women sang the songs they traditionally sing for a groom when he leaves to get his bride. The lyrics, sung in Kashmiri, praised the slain boy’s beauty and youth. “Raju morukh begunaah!” (An innocent Raju was murdered!) went the refrain. Raju was Yasir Sheikh’s nickname. As the pallbearers moved past the spot where he had played his last game of carom, a thousand tears dropped. His distraught old father followed, showering him with almonds and confectionery.

Kashmir has seen this moment thousands of times earlier. I walked away wondering: how much sorrow can a people bear? How many more deaths will it take for Delhi to come up with a significant political response?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


A Hike in the Price of Booze Could Make Us All Healthier (Rachael Rettner, 9/24/10, MyHealthNewsDaily)

hen the alcohol taxes in Finland were lowered by one-third in 2004, there was a 10 percent increase in alcohol consumption, according to a 2009 study in the journal Addiction. And other research by Wagenaar, which analyzed the results of 112 previous studies, found that on average, a 10 percent increase in the cost of alcohol leads to about a 5 percent decrease in the amount of drinking.

The new study suggests these changes in drinking habits impact other alcohol-related problems.

Wagenaar and his colleagues identified 50 papers published over the last 40 years that looked at how changes in alcohol prices affect health outcomes. These studies were mainly conducted in the United States, Canada and Scandinavia.

Their analysis showed that, on average, a doubling of the alcohol tax was associated with a 35 percent decrease in alcohol-related mortality (such as death from liver disease), an 11 percent decrease in deaths from traffic accidents, a 6 percent decrease in sexually transmitted diseases, a 2 percent decrease in violence and a 1.4 percent reduction in crime.

The dirty secret about Prohibition is that it worked. But alcohol is too central to our society, traditions and customs to be uprooted entirely. Making liquor more expensive is an excellent alternative. It essentially imposes moderation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Progressivism: The Snobbery of Chronology: Though snobbery was once quite popular and even socially acceptable in Europe, it was never popular in America. But one form of it still is, in both continents: chronological snobbery. (PETER KREEFT, Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind)

A clever debater once accused William F. Buckley of having "one of the finest minds of the thirteenth century." Buckley replied, "I don't deserve that compliment." Buckley was not a progressivist; his debate partner was.

That debater was the kind of person who uses the term "medieval" to mean not only "the millennium between about 500 and 1500 A.D." but also "primitive, superstitious, and unenlightened." Indeed, the very term "Middle Ages" was coined by the progressivists of the so-called "Enlightenment" as a term of insult: the "Middle" Ages were in the middle between the two ages that were enlightened, namely pre-Christian paganism, especially the Greeks and Romans, and the new paganism of the post-Christian "Enlightenment." (Of course, from the Christian point of view, that period was in fact was the great Endarkenment.) One polemicist called the Middle Ages "a thousand years without a bath."

The fallacy of Progressivism is peculiarly modern. In fact, as we have just seen, the typically modern use of that very word "modern" to carry a (positive) value judgment is part of the fallacy. But the fallacy goes back to the Book of Job, who detected it in his three "friends" and repelled it with the famous bit of sarcasm: "No doubt you are the people and wisdom began with you!" It has also been called "the Whig theory of history," "The Idea of Automatic Progress," "Americanism" (by a papal encyclical, no less – see Ch. 12), and "Presentism." The term "chronological snobbery" comes from C.S. Lewis (to my mind the clearest and most useful Christian writer since Thomas Aquinas) in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, where he gives his friend Owen Barfield credit for inventing it.

Lewis defines and refutes it at once as

the uncritical assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,' and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them (Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-208).

Thus chronological snobbery is the identification, or confusion, of "change" with "progress." "Progress" is a value-laden term: it means not just change but change in a certain direction, change for the better. It is like a graph in geometry that charts the movement of some entity (a business, a body's growth, a football player's "forward progress") not only horizontally, from past to future, but also vertically, from worse to better.

But the very notion of a "better" assumes a "best," a standard, a goal. And that standard has to be unchanging, for if the goal line itself changes, it is impossible to make progress toward it. Imagine a runner on first base trying to make progress toward second base while the second baseman is carrying second base with him into the outfield.

The typically modern mind is 1) skeptical of absolute, unchanging standards and 2) in love with the idea of progress. But this is a logical impossibility, a self-contradiction. Without an unchanging standard, there can be no progress, only change. To such people, "progress" means no more than "change," and therefore "change" means the same as "progress."

Only a people both jaded and bored by the past and the present, and also skeptical of any "vertical dimension," any absolute and unchanging standard, could possibly be so moved by the single word "change" that a presidential candidate could win an election by using that single word as his campaign slogan. Why not instead "Rutabagas"?

The opposite of Progressivism is conservatism or traditionalism. A conservative, by definition, is a happy person, one who is happy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to conserve it. A progressivist, on the other hand, is by definition an unhappy person, one who is unhappy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to change it. A conservative is someone who thinks happiness consists first of all in enjoying the good things we already have. A progressive is one who sees happiness first of all in hoping to enjoy the things we do not yet have. Adam and Eve were conservatives until the Devil made them into progressives. For the Devil himself was the first progressivist. The other angels were happy with God and His will, but the Devil wanted to progress to something better.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


GOP Takes Bill Clinton's Advice For Dems (John R. Parkinson, 9/24/10, ABC News)

“I think that the Democrats ought to put on one card no more than five and no fewer than three things that will be their priorities,” Clinton said Thursday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “We've still got a chance here. We've got 30 days to have an honest debate. We ought to do it.”

Today, House Republicans, however, are capitalizing on Clinton’s proposition, printing massive amounts of “Pledge Pocket Cards” for GOP candidates and incumbent lawmakers to distribute at campaign events this fall.

The content on the double-sided hand bills touts five legislative areas that Republicans are pledging to prioritize as part of their new governing agenda, “A Pledge to America,” which was announced Thursday morning in Sterling, Virginia.

The GOP card explains the party’s proposals on creating jobs, gaining control of spending, repealing the new health care law, reforming Congress and keeping the country secure at home and abroad. Each topic is supported by a few bullet points that summarize the party’s new governing agenda should the GOP win back the House majority in the Nov. 2 elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Peter Robinson on DCI Banks's TV debut: As DCI Banks reaches TV, crime writer Peter Robinson explains his hero’s origins and why he cast Stephen Tompkinson. (Peter Robinson, 21 Sep 2010, Daily Telegraph)

‘So what is different about Banks?’ prospective producers always asked me. It was a hard question to answer. He’s very much an ‘everyman’ type of character, which is why so many readers can identify with him. He’s no super sleuth or hard man, simply a flawed, passionate, occasionally naïve and sometimes deeply insightful man. He is divorced, and had a brief romance with his co-worker, DI Annie Cabbot. Women like him, but he’s no Brad Pitt or Daniel Craig.

When I started writing the DCI Banks novels in the early Eighties, it was partly from a passion for crime fiction and partly a way of staving off the homesickness I was feeling. I was at York University, in Toronto, writing my PhD dissertation on ‘the sense of place in contemporary British poetry’. Stealing a few midnight hours to write a crime novel after a day of dry academic prose seemed a deliciously sinful indulgence. And though I was thousands of miles away from home, in my study in the dark, through the words I wrote, I could imagine myself back in Yorkshire.

At last a publisher called me in to talk. I was broke, and the bus only went as far as the edge of the city, while the publisher’s offices were in a new commercial development a mile or so beyond. It was a bitterly cold January day, with winds direct from the North Pole, and I had to walk the rest. I remember ducking into shop or office doorways to escape the cold for a few moments as my legs became more and numb, until I couldn’t feel them at all. Somehow I made it to the nice warm office, and I began to feel much better when they gave me strong coffee, a taxi chit home and a two-book contract.

Twenty-five years later, when Left Bank, who had the most recent TV option, told me things were starting to move in a positive direction, my first inclination was to steer well clear. It seemed most sensible to leave the whole thing to the professionals. I did, however, read Robert Murphy’s script, and thought it read like an excellent TV police drama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Equality -- or Freedom? (Pat Buchanan, 9/24/10, RCP)

Whence comes this egalitarian fanaticism?

Not from our Declaration of Independence, which spoke of all men being equal in their Creator-endowed rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Nor from the America Revolution, which was about liberty not equality, not this alien ideology of egalitarianism.

Equality is not even mentioned in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, and the 14th Amendment's "equal protection" clause did not even make an appearance until after the Civil War. And that was about equal justice under law, not the socioeconomic equality of all Americans.

No, this egalitarian ideology is traceable to the French Revolution, where the royalty and aristocracy went to the guillotine in the name of "egalite."

September 24, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM


Delaware Source: 50-50 Chance for Mike Castle Write-In Bid (Jim Geraghty, 9/24/10, NRO)

One of my Delaware guys — very plugged into state Republican circles, closer to the Mike Castle fans than the Christine O’Donnell fans — sends me a bombshell:

I am hearing from a credible source that Castle’s odds of mounting a write-in campaign are as high as 50-50. They believe they can win, and lots of anecdotal evidence that I can share tells me this: most independents and even many Democrats are very unhappy with the choice between O’Donnell and Coons.

That would be a huge service to the Party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Famed Obama 'Hope' poster artist losing hope
(Aamer Madhani, 9/24/10, National Journal)

The artist whose poster of Barack Obama became a rallying image during the hope-and-change election of 2008 says he understands why so many people have lost faith.

In an exclusive interview with National Journal on Thursday, Shepard Fairey expressed his disappointment with the president -- a malaise that seems representative of many Democrats who had great expectations for Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Israeli navy kills Gaza fisherman, Palestinians say (Reuters, 9/24/10)

The Israeli navy fired on a Palestinian boat off the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, killing a fisherman, the territory's Hamas administration said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed that naval vessels shot at a fishing boat after it approached the limits of waters where Israel, which keeps Gaza under blockade, permits Palestinian maritime traffic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Colbert tells Congress farm work 'really hard' (Suzanne Gamboa, 9/24/10, Associated Press)

Taking his blowhard comedy act to Congress, Stephen Colbert told lawmakers that a day picking beans alongside illegal immigrants convinced him that farm work is "really, really hard."

"It turns out — and I did not know this — most soil is at ground level," Colbert testified Friday. Also, "It was hotter than I like to be."

Still, Colbert expressed befuddlement that more Americans aren't clamoring to "begin an exciting career" in the fields and instead are leaving the low-paid work to illegal immigrants.

Staying in character as a Comedy Central news commentator, Colbert offered a House hearing his "vast" knowledge, drawn from spending a single day on a New York farm as a guest of the United Farm Workers. [...]

Colbert pleaded with lawmakers to do something about the farm labor issue because "I am not going back out there." [...]

"I'm not a fan of the government doing anything," Colbert insisted. "But I've got to ask, Why isn't the government doing anything?"

Colbert's humor drew guffaws from the audience and several Democrats on the subcommittee. But most of the Republicans sat stone-faced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


The Founding Fathers Versus the Tea Party (Ron Chernow, 9/24/10, NY Times)

The Constitution’s framers dedicated Article I to the legislature in the hope that, as the branch nearest the people, it would prove pre-eminent. But Washington, as our first president, quickly despaired of a large, diffuse Congress ever exercising coherent leadership. The first time he visited the Senate to heed its “advice and consent,” about a treaty with the Creek Indians, he was appalled by the disorder. “This defeats every purpose of my coming here,” he grumbled, then departed with what one senator branded an air of “sullen dignity.” Washington went back one more time before dispensing with the Senate’s advice altogether, henceforth seeking only its consent.

President Washington’s Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, wasted no time in testing constitutional limits as he launched a burst of government activism. In December 1790, he issued a state paper calling for the first central bank in the country’s history, the forerunner of the Federal Reserve System.

Because the Constitution didn’t include a syllable about such an institution, Hamilton, with his agile legal mind, pounced on Article I, Section 8, which endowed Congress with all powers “necessary and proper” to perform tasks assigned to it in the national charter. Because the Constitution empowered the government to collect taxes and borrow money, Hamilton argued, a central bank might usefully discharge such functions. In this way, he devised a legal doctrine of powers “implied” as well as enumerated in the Constitution.

Aghast at the bank bill, James Madison, then a congressman from Virginia, pored over the Constitution and could not “discover in it the power to incorporate a bank.” Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was no less horrified by Hamilton’s legal legerdemain. He thought that only measures indispensable to the discharge of enumerated powers should be allowed, not merely those that might prove convenient. He spied how many programs the assertive Hamilton was prepared to drive through the glaring loophole of the “necessary and proper” clause. And he prophesied that for the federal government “to take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn ... is to take possession of a boundless field of power.”

After reviewing cogent legal arguments presented by Hamilton and Jefferson, President Washington came down squarely on Hamilton’s side, approving the first central bank.

John Marshall, the famed chief justice, traced the rise of the two-party system to that blistering episode, and American politics soon took on a nastily partisan tone. That the outstanding figures of the two main factions, Hamilton and Jefferson, both belonged to Washington’s cabinet attests to the fundamental disagreements within the country. Hamilton and his Federalist Party espoused a strong federal government, led by a powerful executive branch, and endorsed a liberal reading of the Constitution; although he resisted the label at first, Washington clearly belonged to this camp.

Jefferson and his Republicans (not related to today’s Republicans) advocated states’ rights, a weak federal government and strict construction of the Constitution. The Tea Party can claim legitimate descent from Jefferson and Madison, even though they founded what became the Democratic Party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Congress Punts on Taxes: Democrats Put Off Showdown on Bush Cuts Until After November Election (MARTIN VAUGHAN And JOHN D. MCKINNON, 9/23/10, WSJ)

Democrats abandoned plans to vote before Election Day on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class while eliminating them for better-off Americans, spooked by protests from vulnerable incumbents and bleak prospects for passage.

With time running out to plan for 2011, the delay raises uncertainty for small businesses and individual taxpayers over their future liabilities. It also sets up a titanic battle over taxes after the election.

Just another example of letting their Bush Derangement Syndrome get in the way of governing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


‘Best Game Ever’ Broadcast Found in Bing Crosby’s Wine Cellar (RICHARD SANDOMIR, September 23, 2010, NY Times)

How a near pristine, black-and-white reel of the entire television broadcast of the deciding game of the 1960 World Series — long believed to be lost forever — came to rest in the dry and cool wine cellar of Bing Crosby’s home near San Francisco is not a mystery to those who knew him.

Crosby loved baseball, but as a part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates he was too nervous to watch the Series against the Yankees, so he and his wife went to Paris, where they listened by radio.

“He said, ‘I can’t stay in the country,’ ” his widow, Kathryn Crosby, said. “ ‘I’ll jinx everybody.’ ”

He knew he would want to watch the game later — if his Pirates won — so he hired a company to record Game 7 by kinescope, an early relative of the DVR, filming off a television monitor. The five-reel set, found in December in Crosby’s home, is the only known complete copy of the game, in which Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a game-ending home run to beat the Yankees, 10-9. It is considered one of the greatest games ever played.

Crosby, the singer and movie and TV star, had more foresight than the television networks and stations, which erased or discarded nearly all of the Major League Baseball games they carried until the 1970s.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Congress Saves Vermont Apple Harvest (Conan Milner, 9/23/10, Epoch Times)

A congressional delegation has ensured a successful apple harvest in Vermont. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and others helped expedite permits for temporary foreign workers to harvest state apple crops.

Warm spring weather prompted early blooms in Vermont orchards, so growers knew they would have to prepare for an early harvest. The problem was making sure that there were enough seasonal workers to pick the crop.

For nearly 30 years, apple growers have relied on the H-2A program, which permits U.S. employers to bring temporary foreign workers into the country to perform seasonal agricultural work

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Schools Run by Newark May Yet Reflect Christie’s Vision (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 9/24/10, NY Times)

Handed new power to reinvigorate the Newark school system, Mayor Cory A. Booker is likely to push for politically charged ideas like more charter schools, aid for private-school tuition and linking teacher pay to student performance, according to people who have worked with the mayor and followed his career and comments on education.

But as people around the city absorbed the news that the school system, which has been under state control since 1995, would soon receive a $100 million gift from a founder of Facebook, and that Gov. Chris Christie would ask Mr. Booker to devise an agenda for the troubled school system, there were more questions on Thursday than answers about what it all meant, and what political and legal obstacles were ahead.

Mr. Christie and Mr. Booker will publicly discuss the plan for the first time on Friday, on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” along with Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. Like the schools overhaul, Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift — by far the largest in the city’s history and his first significant charitable venture — raises a host of unanswered questions, including what form it will take and how the money will be used.

People briefed on the plan said the governor, a Republican, would give Mr. Booker, a Democrat, the task of coming up with a school reform plan but retain legal authority over the system. While the mayor may be the public face of change, nothing could be done without the governor’s approval.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


Stem Cells That Save Big Pharma a Bundle: Researchers hope they can use human tissue created from stem cells to help identify potentially dangerous side-effects from drugs under development before human trials (Rob Waters, 9/24/10, Business Week)

For more than a decade, stem cells (master cells that form all other cells in the body) have been hailed as potential treatments for Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, and diabetes. While those advances are years away, Big Pharma has begun using the cells to help identify potentially dangerous side effects from drugs under development before they undergo expensive human trials. [...]

The savings can be substantial. A drug study in mice alone can cost about $3 million, says Michael C. Venuti, chief executive officer at iPierian, which is developing drugs using stem cells. A drug that's found to cause cardiac damage only after it has advanced to large, late-stage human studies might cost a company $1 billion or more, says Jason Gardner, a Glaxo vice-president who heads its stem cell drug performance unit. "There is a real need to more accurately model human physiology," he says.

The stem cells being employed by drugmakers don't come from embryos, thereby avoiding an ethical and political controversy that's dogged the technology. Instead they were created using a method that allows scientists to transform ordinary skin cells into another type of stem cell (known as induced pluripotent stem, or IPS, cells) as versatile as embryonic cells.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Pelosi and Hoyer split on holding tax vote before November elections (Russell Berman, 09/22/10, The Hill)

The disagreement between the two party leaders reflects a broader divide in the Democratic Caucus. Centrist and vulnerable Democrats want to push a vote on the tax cuts until after the election, and many want a temporary extension on rates for the wealthy in addition to a permanent extension of the current rates for the middle class. Liberal Democrats want an immediate vote on extending the middle-class cuts, arguing that the move would give incumbents an act to tout on the campaign trail and would force Republicans into a political corner.

Democrats face the real possibility of losing the House in November, which could shake up the party’s leadership and shift roles for Hoyer and Pelosi, who have worked together closely during the four years the Democrats have led the lower chamber since 2006. Hoyer has long been a voice for centrist Democrats, while Pelosi’s base of support is with the party’s liberal wing.

There is speculation that Hoyer could become minority leader if Republicans win back the House. It is unclear whether Pelosi would stay on as a leader if Democrats lose their majority.

...when there will hardly be any left?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 AM


Liberals at war again . . . with each other (Lanny Davis, 9/23/10, Daily Caller)

The recent critical reaction by former President Clinton to the characterization of his policies by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow as reflecting “probably the best Republican president the country ever had” reminds us that the crucial debate within the Democratic Party, between “pragmatic” and “purist” liberals, continues — and is similar to the division between traditional Republican conservatives and the more extreme Tea Partiers.

The real struggle in the Democratic Party won't come until the next Third Way nominee comes along to try and position them to challenge the next Third Way GOP administration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 AM


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole' review: Soaring 3-D animation eclipses so-so script (Elizabeth Weitzman, September 24th 2010, NY Daily News)

Why shouldn't family films boast the same sort of pomp as adult adventures? As the director of "300" and "Watchmen," Zack Snyder certainly knows how to stage spectacles. And in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," he proves he can child-size an epic without losing its intensity.

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September 23, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Real Americans (William Hogeland, Boston Review)

Then as now, the hottest blast of populist rhetoric was directed less at specific policies than at elites’ dismissal of ordinary people’s judgments, determinations, and desires; at what populists saw as the undemocratic, un-American claim to superior expertise; at forestalling decisive action through discussion and debate. With Bryan and his allies having ascertained the wishes of ordinary people, discussion and debate must cease. His plain people do not live in the East:

Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast; but those hardy pioneers who braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose—those pioneers away out there, rearing their children near to nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds—out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their children and churches where they praise their Creator, and the cemeteries where sleep the ashes of their dead—are as deserving of the consideration of this party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak.

Bryan discerned in the frontier and small-town experience something fundamentally more American than anything in the centers of elite policy—“real America,” as Palin has put it. And Bryan’s pioneers appear to have modest demands. They ask only for their rightful place at the big table. Yet the modesty justifies an unconditional confrontation. Straight from the poetry of prairie birdsong and schoolhouses and cemeteries, Bryan makes an outright declaration of war:

We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

By the time Bryan brought the speech to its final figure, with labor and mankind a single holy body on the crucifix, the delegates were so overcome that they whipped off their coats and threw them high in the air, made silver a key position in the Democratic Party platform, and nominated Bryan, at only 36, their candidate for president. The liberal mode of seeking compromises between labor and capital—represented by Bryan’s nearest competitor in Chicago, Richard Bland—was out.

Bryan lost to William McKinley and spent the rest of his long career as perhaps the most powerful divider in American political history. He began the tradition of consolidating strength by losing elections and threatening breakaways, a tradition that has inspired Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and, possibly, Palin. He lost in 1896 by running against gold, in 1900 by running against imperialism, and in 1908 by running against trusts. He used Midwestern populist clout to build an insurgent coalition that, for a time, was a force in the Democratic Party. His constituency was so big and fervent that his endorsement became priceless, and he used it to influence platforms even while he became a well-paid superstar on the lecture circuit. Palin may be hoping to play a similar role in today’s Republican Party, and some party strategists no doubt worry that she will induce them to recreate Bryan’s losses for his Democrats. In exchange for one of his endorsements, Bryan served nominally as Secretary of State for a reluctant Wilson, but, like Palin, he could not have accomplished his ends in elected office. His main occupation was rallying, not policymaking. On whistle-stop tours, in tents, and at gatherings of every kind he made speeches, long ones, hundreds of them. Palin accomplishes similar goals with books, social media, and occasional appearances.

Both Bryan’s words and his tone express uncompromising defiance of the deliberative, intellectually sophisticated liberalism of White, Wilson, and their ilk. All he saw in their privileged expertise was dismissal, mockery, and disdain, an assumption of superiority not found even in pro-business conservatism. When today’s right-wing populists make threatening remarks like “lock and load” and talk about taking the country back, they’re applying the method that Bryan perfected. The war he kept declaring was a moral one for transcendent virtue and self-evident good, beyond debate and petition, beyond the win-some, lose-some, art-of-the-possible quotidian. Ultimately his themes were spiritual. On the circuit many of his best-loved speeches were not political at all, but purely religious, true evangelical sermons. While his political targets often were conservative corporate interests, the evangelical mood in which he expressed himself involved a fundamental rejection of liberal ways of thought and rhetoric.

The historian Richard Hofstadter, in his seminal books Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and The American Political Tradition, rates Bryan’s intellectual fluency so low that the chapter on Bryan in Political Tradition is at times laugh-out-loud funny. Hofstadter joins White in viewing Bryan’s populism as a clever expression of dangerous idiocy. It’s not clear how fair that assessment is. Hofstadter’s was a unique sensibility, influenced in one way by serious Marxist scrutiny and in another by the refinements of high culture. He was brilliantly skeptical of everybody from Andrew Jackson to FDR, but almost intemperately hostile to all forms of evangelicalism, which he detailed with enormous distaste, in many books, as a defining streak in American cultural and political life.

The anti-intellectual evangelicalism that Hofstadter saw as inherent in populism and that so upsets liberals today may be witnessed in Bryan’s opposition to teaching Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species, a conservative position that brought Bryan’s career to a dramatic end in the famous Scopes “monkey” trial. Bryan’s antipathy toward teaching evolution—really toward evolution itself—might seem to foreshadow populism’s fateful shift from left to right, when populists began promoting cultural conservatism instead of economic fairness. That is the shift lamented by writers such as Frank and traced by Michael Kazin in The Populist Persuasion, Rick Perlstein in Nixonland and Before the Storm, and Joseph Lowndes in From the New Deal to the New Right.

For Bryan, however, there was no shift. His anger at corruption in entrenched capital was identical to his anger at blasphemy in Darwin’s theory. In Bryan’s populism, the plain people are by definition the last arbiters of truth. On monetary policy, the people rendered their judgment against gold and in favor of silver, and Bryan delivered that judgment to the establishment. On the nature of creation, the people judged against evolution and in favor of the literal truth of the Bible; Bryan delivered that judgment, too. His argument against Darwin’s theory also had an economic element. It outraged his sense of justice to imagine humanity ascending by the survival of the fittest and the destruction of the least fit, the strong forever preying on the weak, the endless quest for dominance he associated with human hatred, greed, and corruption. He saw scientific Darwinism and social Darwinism as one and the same, and he called for a society and a conception of creation based on love, not hate.

That position was complicated by the angrily uncompromising tone, anything but loving, that he took and encouraged his supporters to take. The line between prairie birdsong and explosion was always a thin one for Bryan; that thinness may have made his career as a speaker and a leader. His politics of a non-political populism, advancing itself on religious and social grounds, stands for self-declared, self-defined goodness. It equates that goodness with the ordinary, working-class, democratic values that it declares fundamentally American. In protecting those values, it announces itself ready, at a moment’s notice, to fight to the death the arrogant social superiority that it views as institutionalized in liberal thought.

...of how Bryan's appearance at the Scopes Trial was part and parcel of his populism, you can't beat Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods.

Summer for the Gods: How conservative Christians coalesced against the teaching of Darwin (Edward J. Larson)

The First World War played a pivotal role. American intervention in that gruesome conflict, as part of a progressive effort to defeat German militarism and make the world safe for democracy, was supported by many of the modernists who revered the nation's wartime leader, Woodrow Wilson, who was himself a second-generation modernist academic. As a passionate champion of peace, William Jennings Bryan opposed this position and, in 1915, resigned his post as Wilson's Secretary of State in protest over the drift toward war. He spent the next two years criss-crossing the country campaigning against intervention.

Many leading premillennial Christians shared Bryan's open hostility toward American intervention in World War One--seeing that conflict as both a product of natural human depravity and the possible fulfillment of prophesy regarding the global catastrophes that must precede the coming of heaven on earth. With Shailer Mathews, a liberal theologian from the University of Chicago, leading the charge, some modernists took this opportunity to attack premillennialism as an otherworldly threat to national security in wartime. Premillennialists responded in kind by stressing the German roots of higher academic criticism, attributing an evolutionary "survival-of-the-fittest" mentality to German militarism, and accusing modernism of undermining traditional American faith in biblical values. "The new theology has led Germany into barbarism," the premillennialist journal Our Hope declared in a 1918 editorial, "and it will lead any nation into the same demoralization." The trauma of war stirred passions on both sides, and spurred a bitter, decade-long battle among American Christians.

Fundamentalists came to view modernism, together with its twin supports of biblical higher criticism and an evolutionary world view, as the source of much that troubled Western culture. When a horribly brutal war led to an unjust and uneasy peace, the rise of international communism, worldwide labor unrest, and an apparent breakdown of traditional values--the cultural crisis worsened for conservative Christians in the United States. "One indication that many premillennialists were shifting their emphasis--away from just evangelizing, praying, and waiting for the end time, toward more intense concern with retarding [social] degenerative trends--was the role they played in the formation of the first explicitly fundamentalist organization," one historian noted. "In the summer of 1918, under the guidance of William B. Riley, a number of leaders in the Bible school and prophetic conference movement conceived of the idea of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association [WCFA]."

In 1919, Riley welcomed some 6,000 conservative Christians to the WCFA's inaugural conference with the warning that their Protestant denominations were "rapidly coming under the leadership of the new infidelity, known as 'modernism.'" One by one, seventeen prominent ministers from across the country took the podium to denounce modernism as, in the words of one speaker, "the product of Satan's lie" and to call for a return to biblical fundamentals in church and culture.

Although these early developments laid the foundation for the anti-evolution crusade and the ensuing Scopes trial, they did not predestine it. Fundamentalism began as a response to theological developments within the Protestant church rather than to political or educational developments within American society. Even the name of the WCFA's journal, Christian Fundamentals in Schools and Churches, originally referred to support for teaching biblical fundamentals in divinity schools and churches rather than opposition to evolutionary instruction in public schools--though it neatly fit the organization's later emphasis. "When the Fundamentals movement was originally formed, it was supposed that our particular foe was the so-called 'higher criticism,'" Riley later recalled, "but in the onward going affairs, we discovered that basic to the many forms of modern infidelity is the philosophy of evolution." Riley was predisposed to make this connection, but it took the much better known William Jennings Bryan to turn the fundamentalist movement into a popular crusade against evolutionary teaching that led directly to Dayton.

Bryan was not a dispensational premillennialist: he did not agree with their view that the Bible prophesied the imminent degeneration of the world in preparation for Christ's second coming. Quite to the contrary, he thoroughly enjoyed many things of this world--particularly politics, oratory, travel, and food--and believed in the power of reform to make life better. Reform took two forms for Bryan--personal reform through individual religious faith and public reform through majoritarian governmental action. He maintained a deep faith in both throughout his life, and each contributed to his final political campaign against evolutionary teaching. "My father taught me to believe in Democracy as well as Christianity," Bryan observed late in his life.

Bryan's crusade against evolutionary teaching capped a remarkable 35-year-long career in the public eye. He entered Congress in 1890 as a 30-year-old populist Democratic politician committed to roll back the Republican tariff for the dirt farmers of his native Nebraska. His charismatic speaking ability and youthful enthusiasm quickly earned him the nickname "The Boy Orator of the Platte." Bryan's greatest speech occurred at the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where he defied his party's conservative incumbent president, Grover Cleveland, and the Eastern establishment that then dominated both political parties by demanding an alternative silver-based currency to help debtors cope with the crippling deflation caused by exclusive reliance on limited gold-backed money. A potent mixture of radical majoritarian arguments and traditional religious oratory--defiantly demanding, "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold"--the speech electrified the convention and secured the party's presidential nomination for Bryan. For many, he now became known as "The Great Commoner"; for some, "The Peerless Leader."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Mexican New Yorkers a Steady Force in Workplace (KIRK SEMPLE, 9/23/10, NY Times)

Night and day, the heavy front door rarely stops swinging. Men and women pass one another at the entrance of a four-story building on 21st Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, on their way out to work, or back in for a few hours of sleep between shifts. They are line cooks, construction laborers, delivery men, deli workers, housecleaners and gardeners.

A dozen of the building’s 16 apartments are occupied by Mexicans, and most of those have two families per unit, sometimes more. Except for a few women caring for small children, all the adults — about 50 — are employed. Most work long hours, six days a week, for minimum wage or less. Some have two jobs.

The building is a microcosm of Mexican industriousness in New York City. And there are hundreds of others like it, bastions of low-wage work, crowding and hope.

In a time of widespread joblessness, Mexicans in New York have proved unusually adept at finding and keeping work. Of the city’s 10 largest immigrant groups, they have the highest rate of employment and are more likely to hold a job than New York’s native-born population, according to an analysis of the most recently available census data. They are even employed at a greater rate than Mexicans nationwide.

And as they have filled the city’s restaurant kitchens and building sites, they have acquired a reputation for an extraordinary work ethic.

“They put their heads down and work,” said John Delgado, business manager of Local 79, a general building laborers’ union in New York. “They’re very, very humble. They’re dedicated, whether they work half a day or a day and a half.”

Freeloading gangsters....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Mammogram benefits more modest than doctors thought (Liz Szabo, 9/23/10, USA TODAY)

Nearly one year after the publication of controversial breast cancer screening guidelines by a government-appointed expert panel, a new study suggests benefits of mammograms may be more modest than previously estimated.

In a nationwide study in Norway, women in their 50s and 60s who got a mammogram every other year reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by 10%, compared with those who didn't get the exams, according to a study in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

That's a much smaller benefit than estimated by even the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which says mammograms reduce breast cancer mortality by 15% to 23%. The task force's recommendations — advising that women may not need to begin screening until age 50 — ignited a fierce debate last November, in the midst of deliberations over health care reform. [...]

For 50-year-old women, mammograms may cut the 10-year risk of dying from breast cancer from 4.4 in 1,000 to 4 in 1,000, says H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth Medical School, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

Welch notes that most people are unaware of the risk of mammograms: They sometimes detect slow-growing tumors that don't pose a threat. Because doctors can't reliably tell which are life-threatening, however, they tend to treat all of them. Studies suggest that for every life saved by mammograms, five to 15 women may go through unnecessary treatment, he says.

CANCERING: Listening In On The Body's Proteomic Conversation: We make a mistake when we think of cancer as a noun. It is not something you have, it is something you do. Your body is probably cancering all the time. What keeps it under control is a conversation that is happening between your cells, and the language of that conversation is proteins. Proteomics will allow us to listen in on that conversation, and that will lead to much better way to treat cancer. (W. Daniel Hillis, Edge)

Hillis continues..."We misunderstand cancer by making it a noun. Instead of saying, "My house has water", we say, "My plumbing is leaking." Instead of saying, "I have cancer", we should say, "I am cancering." The truth of the matter is we're probably cancering all the time, and our body is checking it in various ways, so we're not cancering out of control. Probably every house has a few leaky faucets, but it doesn't matter much because there are processes that are mitigating that by draining the leaks. Cancer is probably something like that.

"In order to understand what's actually going on, we have to look at the level of the things that are actually happening, and that level is proteomics. Now that we can actually measure that conversation between the parts, we're going to start building up a model that's a cause-and-effect model: This signal causes this to happen, that causes that to happen. Maybe we will not understand to the level of the molecular mechanism but we can have a kind of cause-and-effect picture of the process. More like we do in sociology or economics."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


E J Dionne on The appeal of conservatism: The columnist for the Washington Post and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute questions what has happened to the intellectual humility that led to the growth of American Conservatism. (Jonathan Rauch, 9/05/10, Five Books)

You have two books on your list that are more obscure and both are about the interaction between business and conservatism. The first is from 1951, by Robert Green McCloskey, American Conservatism in the Age of Enterprise 1865-1910. What do we have to learn from a book about the Age of Enterprise?

I put these books on this list partly as a provocation because I realise that most of the folks picking conservative books are inside the conservative movement. Since I’m not, I thought I would pick two provocative books.

And the provocation is what?

The provocation is that conservatives often like to paint themselves as populists – when in fact much of their strongest support, financially certainly, comes from business people, often big business people, often business people resisting social reform, resisting trade union organisation. I think both these books make that clear. I found McCloskey very enlightening when I read him back in the 1990s because he offers real insight into two areas that I think are very important in understanding conservatism. One is the rise of social Darwinism. He talks a lot about William Graham Sumner. I always like to argue to my liberal friends that they ought to have a lot more sympathy for William Jennings Bryan than they do from simply watching Inherit the Wind about the Scopes trial – the reasons why Bryan resisted Darwin that went beyond a fundamentalist critique of science. Social Darwinism was, and still remains, in my view, a pernicious doctrine that saw the competition among classes as leading to the rise to the top of the worthiest people. It’s essentially a doctrine that preaches the futility of social reform – far better to let this often vicious struggle be carried out because, in the end, it strengthens societies. I never like to toss around the word fascist because it is over-used but I think that fascists did make use of some of these ideas later on to rationalise systems that democratic conservatives themselves would reject. I think that social Darwinism is important in our history and McCloskey gets at that. The other important area is the role of a very conservative Supreme Court in our history. He talks about Judge Stephen Field and I think in the debates we are about to have over what I see as increasingly activist courts, it is very useful, again – whatever side you are going to be on in these debates – to revisit the conservative activism in the courts in the Gilded Age.

Stephen J Field was on the Supreme Court 1863 to 1897 and was a results-oriented champion of laissez-faire policies and property rights against all-comers, which is much more than social Darwinism.

I agree. In fact, I think the religious right is helpful to us collectively because I think the religious right does resist social Darwinism. I mean, I disagree with them in their view of evolution and the science curriculum but I think that their very Christian sense of compassion turns them off to any idea of social Darwinism and I think that’s a positive good.

...Christians don't reject it because it happens to be anti-social but because it's bad science. Accept the latter and there's no basis to criticize the former, which is why he envies them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Did Somebody Say "Fringe"?: Not so long ago, Rand Paul—son of Ron, "modern-day revolutionary," and practicing ophthalmologist—would have been written off as a harmless political extremist. For believing that the Federal Reserve should be gutted. Or that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. Or that the Department of Education is un-American. But with the help of his dad and a legion of devoted Tea Partiers, chances are good he will soon be the most radical member of the U.S. Senate (Jason Zengerle, October 2010, GQ)

Back in Kentucky on a Tuesday night in the middle of the summer, a state-rep candidate named Frank Haynes is holding a rally at a National Guard armory on the outskirts of Frankfort. Republicans happen to be in the minority in this part of Kentucky ("Being a Republican here is like being in the desert," the local GOP chair tells me), so the crowd of fifty people sitting in metal folding chairs is a pretty respectable turnout. But rather than talk about the state issues that might have an actual bearing on his race, Haynes stands before them and compares Nancy Pelosi to Nikita Khrushchev and Mao. "If you've been watching what's going on the last eighteen months, you see the ultimate goal that the progressives have," he says. "The hippies of the '60s are now the ones that are in control of Congress, and their goal is to make this a totalitarian government where they control every aspect of your life."

Paul has driven two-plus hours from Bowling Green, where he spent the morning doing eye surgery, to make an appearance on Haynes's behalf. He delivers the closest thing he has to a standard stump speech—the only new part, to my ears, is a quote from T. S. Eliot—and after he's done, I and a few other reporters sidle up to him.

One asks Paul about his now familiar contention that the press is out to get the Tea Party. "I don't ever call somebody a Muslim or do any of that kind of stuff," he replies, "but if there's a picture of President Obama as a Muslim, everybody says that's what the Tea Party is about." He adds, "I was at Bush's first inauguration with my two small children, and people came up to us and would yell stuff, like—" he pauses and mouths the word fuck—"you to my kids and stuff, you know? But does that represent all Democrats?"

Just fifteen minutes earlier the candidate whom Paul came out to support was likening the current Speaker of the House to a former Soviet dictator, so I ask if he thinks that's what the press might be referring to when they say the Tea Party is extreme. He leans forward and smiles. "Well, I think whether or not your analogies are over the top, whether you might extend an analogy farther than others might, is not something to be reviled. It's just an opinion, you know?"

He pauses for a moment, as if wondering whether he should say more, then gives in to the urge. "But I don't hear that and say, 'Oh, he's absolutely wrong.' I hear him and say that our country is slipping towards that, and there could be a time when we slip and lose a lot of our freedoms. I'll say things like that Ben Franklin statement: 'Those who give up their liberty for security will have neither.' I worry about a time when we would have chaos in our country and then a strong national leader would come along and say, 'Give me your liberty and I'll give you security.' Not that it's imminent or happening tomorrow or applies to any particular players on the stage, but there are historical examples."

Paul pauses again, although this time it's not out of any hesitation on his part; he's just making sure we're still with him. "In 1923, when they destroyed the currency, they elected Hitler. And so they elected somebody who vilified one group of people, but he promised them, 'I will give you security if you give me your liberty,' and they voted him in. And that's not to mean that anybody around is Hitler, but it's to mean that you don't want chaos in your country. And we could have chaos, not just because of the Democrats, but because the Democrats and the Republicans have all been spending us into oblivion. And having a massive debt runs the risk of chaos at some point. Not tomorrow, maybe not next week—I mean, I can't even predict the stock market six months from now. But I think that a country is in danger that spends beyond its means and lives beyond its means. And I don't ever say it started with President Obama. I think it started long ago."

It's an incredible performance, one that begins with a gentle distancing from a loony analogy before reframing the analogy to make it seem less loony, then introducing a new analogy that isn't just loony, it's repugnant, but that also, as the analogy gets fleshed out in greater detail, begins to reveal itself as conforming to a certain logic that might be worthy of debate—all before ending on a bipartisan, pox-on-both-their-houses note that makes it clear that no, he was not comparing Obama to Hitler. that the votes in reaction to the Obama presidency may elect Hitler. He's basically analogized his own movement to the Nazis..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Why science can't hold sway: Our biases are overpowering. (Faye Flam, 9/22/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Why do so many Americans disagree with scientific consensus on issues such as global climate change and the safety of burying nuclear waste? Is it our poor education? Science illiteracy? Innumeracy?

None of the above, according to a new study published in Journal of Risk Research. People's positions on these issues and their willingness to believe or discount scientists depends mostly on ideology, or what the study's authors call "cultural cognition."

After surveying 1,500 people, the researchers found that those who were "egalitarian and resentful of economic inequality" were more likely to assume that there was scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change, but not that it's safe to dispose of nuclear waste underground. Those who were more "hierarchical, individualistic and connected to industry and commerce" were more likely to make the opposite assumptions.

The problem, of course, is that we bring these same biases to the practice of science, and they produce the results we wish.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM

Dante's Blueberry Bread (King Arthur Flour)

* 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 cup sour cream
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
* 1 1/2 cups small wild blueberries or 1 cup large blueberries

* 8 1/2 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 1/4 ounces butter
* 5 1/4 ounces sugar
* 1 large egg
* 8 ounces sour cream
* 4 ounces milk
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
* 5 to 6 ounces blueberries, use more if they are small wild blueberries


1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a 9" x 5" loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2) Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low for 1 minute to aerate and blend dry ingredients.

3) Mix in the butter and sugar until only small lumps remain.

4) Beat in the egg, sour cream, and milk. Add the honey and Fiori. Beat on medium speed about 1 minute, until fairly well incorporated. A few streaks of flour left is fine.

5) Fold in the blueberries by hand. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

6) Bake the loaf for 55 to 65 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 9" x 5" loaf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Flat-screen TV prices to plunge for holiday season (David Goldman, September 23, 2010,

By the end of this month, LCD TV prices will be about 5% lower than they were at the same time last year, according research firm DisplaySearch. But a tailspin will start in October: In the last three months of the year, the firm forecasts that prices will keep falling until they bottom out at 12% below 2009 levels.

In some blowout sales, the price slash could be even more dramatic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Swedish conservatives bucked the recession by lowering taxes – and won re-election (Fraser Nelson, 25 September 2010, Fraser Nelson)

When elected four years ago, leading a four-party coalition, Reinfeldt had a striking slogan. 'We are the new workers' party,' he said, meaning he would cut taxes for those in employment, but not for those on benefits. When faced with protests about how the poorest would be paying a higher marginal tax rate, he appealed to voters' innate sense of fairness - and resentment at the high level of welfare dependency. At every stage, his ministers would explain the basics of low-tax economics. Cut tax on wages, and you increase the incentive to work. 'This will increase employment,' Reinfeldt said. 'Permanently.'

Not that he was believed - at first, anyway. The party fell 20 points behind in the polls, and braced itself for the ritualistic electoral ejection. It carried on regardless, with tax cuts for cleaners and baby-sitters (most home helpers were paid 'black', as the Swedes say, because the tax was so high). Tax on low-paid jobs fell sharpest. Nursing assistants, for example, saw their tax bill drop by a fifth. The aim was to make work compete more aggressively with Sweden's famously generous welfare state.

Taxes for the rich also came down. Reinfeldt abolished the notorious wealth tax, which took 1.5 per cent a year from any Swede worth over about Skr1.5 million (£125,000). Anders Borg, the finance minister, faced predictable protests about a Bush-style tax cut for the rich. He replied: 'The big winners are, in the long term, all Swedes, because we must create conditions for companies to match global competition.' So while the Tories were endorsing Gordon Brown's plan to increase the tax on the rich, the Swedes were cutting the tax rate - in order to collect more from the well-paid. [...]

The Social Democrats' main economic argument - that tax cuts mean vicious spending cuts - was exposed as false by the Reinfeldt recovery. Ms Sahlin did not dare to propose reversing what had been the sharpest tax cuts in Swedish history. In this way, Reinfeldt has changed the political dynamic. He persuaded voters that it is possible to cut taxes, while protecting spending on schools and healthcare. The talking point in Sweden this week was that the far-right Swedish Democrats had managed to win a seat in parliament. It seemed relatively unremarkable that the Conservatives have been re-elected, and on the largest vote since universal suffrage.

Things may have come to a pretty pass when the Swedes are teaching the Brits about supply-side economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Democrats Fear Blowout Effect in Battlegrounds (Kyle Trygstad and Steve Peoples, 9/23/10, CQ-Roll Call)

With polls showing Republicans well-positioned to win the Senate and gubernatorial contests in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, House Democratic strategists are increasingly worried about the downballot drag the top of the ticket could have in the two battleground states. [...]

“There’s no question it’s a problem. When the top of the ticket is hurting, it absolutely makes it more difficult for a Democrat in a swing district to win,” said a Democratic strategist who has worked in both states. “Voters will be looking at the gubernatorial race and going, ‘If [Ohio Gov. Ted] Strickland is down 10 points, why the heck am I going to go out and vote?’”

As the party campaign committees decide where to spend and move their money over the next six weeks, their competing interests at different levels — House, Senate, governor — are likely to be highlighted. Spending at one level could have a big effect on candidates at another.

Between the two states, there are about 12 Democratic-held House seats that are considered highly competitive.

“I think Pennsylvania and Ohio are probably the most brutal states for Democrats this year because they have so much to lose,” said Tom Jensen, director of the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. “Republicans may win as many as half the seats they need to pick up the majority in Big Ten states.”

September 22, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Bob Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war (Steve Luxenberg, 9/21/10, Washington Post)

Obama campaigned on a promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he described as the greater threat to American security. At McConnell's top-secret briefing for Obama, the intelligence chief told the president-elect that Pakistan is a dishonest partner, unwilling or unable to stop elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban, Woodward writes.

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan's remote tribal regions.

"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, "so the cancer doesn't spread" there.

If we accept that diagnosis, which is quite sound, then shouldn't he be dealing with Pakistan?

MORE (via Steve Jacobson):
Book unearths divisions over Obama war plan (ANNE GEARAN, 9/22/10, AP)

President Barack Obama's early attempts to seize control of a neglected Afghanistan war yielded a strategy that pleased almost no one and hasn't turned the tide of a conflict near its 10th year.

Just how contentious that plan has been, inside the Obama White House as well as outside, is captured in Bob Woodward's new book. The account exposes the roots of an Afghanistan exit plan driven more by politics than national security and shows the president worried about losing the support of the public and his party.

"I have two years with the public on this," Obama is quoted as saying at one point, referring to what the administration still considers a finite well of public patience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Karl Rove vindicated? (Mark Murray, 9/21/10, NMC First Read)

Here's the reason why Karl Rove and many establishment Republicans did not want Christine O'Donnell to win last week's GOP Senate primary in Delaware.

A new CNN/Time poll finds Chris Coons (D) leading Christine O'Donnell (R) by 16 points among likely voters in Delaware's Senate race, 55%-39%.

But if Mike Castle, whom O'Donnell beat in last week's primary, were the GOP nominee, he would have an 18-point lead over Coons, 55%-37%.

That's a 34-point swing.

...when every site I allow myself to read loves her?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Paladino Trails Cuomo By 6 Points In New York Gov Race (Quinnipiac University, 9/22/10)

Republican Carl Paladino, aided by a 4 -1 margin among Tea Partiers, trails New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for Governor, 49 - 43 percent among likely voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. [...]

Cuomo leads 87 - 8 percent among Democrats while Paladino leads 83 - 13 percent among Republicans and 49 - 43 percent among independent voters, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey, conducted by live interviewers, finds. This first likely voter general election survey in New York in this election cycle can not be compared with earlier surveys of registered voters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Good FL ad analysis here, Crist Crucifies Himself (Adam Hanft on September 21, 2010, SpinSeason)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


On the Role of Government, Parties' Ratings Look Like 1994: Americans more likely to see Republicans than Democrats representing their views and values (Lydia Saad, 9/21/10, Gallup)

[A]ccording to the Aug. 27-30 USA Today/Gallup survey, fewer than half of Americans, 44%, now say the Democratic Party represents their views on the role of government either very or moderately well, while 54% say it does this not very or not at all well. Americans are more evenly divided in their views of the Republican Party in this arena, with 52% generally saying it is doing well and 47% not well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Pakistani identified as al Qaeda top brass (Eli Lake, 9/20/10, The Washington Times)

A former Pakistani special forces officer has emerged as al Qaeda's most dangerous field commander in charge of a network of deep-cover agents in Europe who has had contact with an American terror suspect, Western intelligence officials say. [...]

"Ilyas Kashmiri is clearly in the tradition of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, he is the heir to the position of global operational commander for al Qaeda," said Frances Townsend, White House director of homeland security during President George W. Bush's administration.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA officer, said: "He certainly has to be regarded today as one of the top operational commanders of al Qaeda. Because of his connections in Pakistan, he brings capabilities that probably no one else has. Paramilitary experience, connections to the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence service, he knows where the bodies are."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


The Best Show You're Not Watching (Jace Lacob, 9/21/10, Daily Beast)

Community’s freshman season—and in particular high-concept episodes like “Modern Warfare” and “Contemporary American Poultry”—became a critical darling this past year, delivering a hysterical and adroit season that stretched the elasticity of the American sitcom form and recalled such beloved experimental British comedies as Spaced and The Mighty Boosh. Unfortunately, only an average of 5 million viewers a week tuned in—a paltry audience for a network series.

The show’s cast says that it’s the limitless possibilities that Community kicks up that they love most about their jobs. “It’s like living my boyhood fantasies out,” said Joel McHale (The Soup), who plays ex-lawyer Jeff Winger. “I got to be an action star for 22 minutes in ‘Modern Warfare,’ I got to be in a Scorsese movie… I can’t wait to do more of those. Last night, I was punching zombies out and being thrown through a glass window. It’s just awesome.”

Alternating between character-based explorations of identity and adulthood and mind-blowing out-there adventures (such as a campus-wide paintball war and a Goodfellas-inspired chicken fingers scheme), the freshman season of Community offered a window into a place unlike any other, where earnestness and heart were at home as much as snarkiness and pop culture references.

Find the paintball episode on your On Demand dial. It ranks with the Cheers where Sam and Woody were tricked into kissing, the Alf where he was addicted to cotton, and the WKRP where they drop the turkeys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


God² - how science and religion rub along (Dr Thomas Dixon, BBC Magazine)

Common sense, science, and the Church had all supported the view that the Earth was stationary at the centre of the cosmos. But Galileo used observations made with his telescope to argue that the Earth was moving around the Sun.

According to some versions of the legend, Galileo was imprisoned and even tortured by the Catholic church. Neither of these things happened, but he was condemned for heresy, kept under house arrest, and forced to declare that he cursed and detested the "errors and heresies" of his scientific work.

The church repented of this scientific misjudgement at its leisure, removing works by Galileo from the index of banned books only in the 19th Century.

Then there was the famous rumpus over Moses and monkeys in Victorian Britain, when some Christians attacked Charles Darwin's theory of evolution on the grounds that it contradicted the Bible.

In Oxford in 1860, less than a year after the publication of On The Origin of Species, the tome which laid the groundwork for the theory, there was a famous spat between the Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, and the biologist Thomas Huxley.

Legend has it that Wilberforce, in front of a packed auditorium, asked Huxley whether he claimed descent from a monkey on the side of his grandfather or his grandmother.

It was a Victorian bishop's idea of a joke. But Huxley didn't see the funny side and, white with rage, rose to reply, rather piously, that he would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop, especially one who used his intellectual powers to introduce levity into a serious discussion. turned out that the Universe is indeed geocentric and no one is a Darwinist any longer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Why losing the House would be good for Obama: Republicans have had it easy for the last two years, but they'd look a lot different if they actually had power (Mark Greenbaum, 9/21/10, Salon)

Divided government would give Obama an avenue to establish clear and sharper divisions between his ideas and the Republicans', since the GOP would have to offer concrete legislation and solutions and not simply opposition talking points. More important, it would provide the president with a credible foil he can use to go on the offensive.

In fact, what Democrats now see as their best-case scenario in November's elections -- holding the House by perhaps a handful of seats -- might actually be the worst thing for them. They would maintain ownership of the economy with limited ability to split up any blame, while Republicans in the Senate, boosted by significant gains, would prevent them from achieving anything significant over the next two years. The investigations House Republicans would presumably rev up would be infuriating, but a slim majority combined with a nearly 50-50 Senate would be a politically worthless alternative.

* Okay, it's really the responsibility they don't want, because governing requires compromise and defiles their perfect ideological purity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM

Name Your Link

September 21, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


CREW files criminal complaint about Christine O’Donnell’s campaign fund usage (Ginger Gibson, 9/20/10, Delaware Online)

The News Journal reported on O’Donnell’s use of campaign funds in March to pay most of the rent on her Greenville town home. Melanie Sloan, CREW executive director, said FEC and legal precedent prohibit a candidate from using funds for rent.

Sloan also pointed to payments made by O’Donnell to former campaign lawyer and boyfriend Brent Vasher. While the payments are listed as “reimbursements,” Sloan said they were for rent for the home where she was living.

...what matters is what it reveals about her and what apologizing for her reveals about her supporters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Neglecting the Base (BOB HERBERT, 9/21/10, NY Times)

It’s no secret that the president is in trouble politically, and that Democrats in Congress are fighting desperately to hold on to their majorities. But much less attention has been given to the level of disenchantment among black voters, who have been hammered disproportionately by the recession and largely taken for granted by the Democratic Party. That disenchantment is likely to translate into lower turnout among blacks this fall.

The idea that we had moved into some kind of postracial era was always a ridiculous notion. Attitudes have undoubtedly changed for the better over the past half-century, and young people as a whole are less hung up on race than their elders. But race is still a very big deal in the United States, which is precisely why black leaders like Mr. Fenty and Mr. Obama try so hard to behave as though they are governing in some sort of pristine civic environment in which the very idea of race has been erased.

These allegedly postracial politicians can end up being so worried about losing the support of whites that they distance themselves from their own African-American base.

While it is certainly the case that Mr. Obama was able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries because black voters served as his base there, and it is likewise true that no Republican nominee for president has a shot at any more than low double digits support from black voters, it is nonetheless also true that with a black electorate that hovers in the 10% vicinity, any winning Democrat needs one heck of a lot more white votes than black.

So, if black voters are really going to punish leaders like Mayor Fenty because they somehow aren't black enough, it seems fair to say that they are the main inhibitor on the transition to post-racial politics, no?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


Witchcraft? Rent money? Christine O'Donnell's big problem: she's behind. (Peter Grier, September 21, 2010, CS Monitor)

Fully 60 percent of respondents said they did not believe O’Donnell is qualified to be a US Senator, while 60 percent said that opponent Coons is qualified.

And here’s the real burn: Mike Castle, the guy O’Donnell sent packing in the primary, appears to be the person the Delaware electorate as a whole actually wants. He’s 15 points ahead of Coons in the Fox poll, at 48 percent to 33 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


The new atheism: “crusades and Galileo 101”: A socialist thinker comes to the rescue of believers. (Andrew Lynch, 21 September 2010, MercatorNet)

In Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God debate -- the published and expanded version of his lectures -- Eagleton argues that the description of religion, and mainly Christian religion, offered by Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, largely consists of a 101 course on the Crusades, the persecution of Galileo, and the case of Pius XII during the Holocaust. For good measure they throw in the consequences of 9/11 -- just to show that they have some idea of the religion outside of the Christian context. Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, and Onfray’s The Atheist Manifesto, draw on some well worn clichés and straw men to show why we should shun religion.

Eagleton points out that such a view of religion is biased and unfair. The importance of religion for a great many people today and throughout history is excised in a view that narrows down to the controversies in its history. These atheist writers make little or no mention of the contributions made by religion to education, health, civil planning, and to the development of such institutions as the university where Dawkins himself is gainfully employed. Eagleton is right to pull these authors up on their unsophisticated analysis of what religion actually is, and he will have struck a chord with any informed religious person who has read the work of the new atheists and grimaced at their simplistic notions of religion, faith and churches.

Ironically, these writers have risen from obscurity only because of the contemporary resurgence of interest in religion. As Eagleton points out, even Marxists and cultural theorists are again pondering issues of faith and ritual. Predictions that religion would fade away before the forces of secularisation have proved to be hubristic. The secularisation thesis proposed that advances in technology and industrialisation, along with the prevalence of rationality, would awaken humanity from its religious slumber to realise that God was redundant in a world of instant coffee and microwave ovens. The thesis was itself based on an atheistic and agnostic outlook, transferring faith to the mechanisms of social change and Progress (yes, with a capital P). As Eagleton makes clear, the new atheists place a great deal of faith in science. But science alone cannot provide all of the answers to life and its meaning; it may tell us what a quark is, but it cannot tell us how it impacts upon our daily lives. Likewise, secularisation suffered from a misplaced trust in the powers of social science, and that social progress would benefit humanity more than would belief.

What Eagleton also brings back into focus is the importance of the Christian scriptures for modern social life. The gospels, according to Eagleton, are revolutionary texts and a wake-up call to all of us living in the complex times of modernity and globalisation. One might be tempted to think that Eagleton is in the same camp as the liberation theologians who drew similar conclusions from the gospels as they did from Marx’s call to arms in The Communist Manifesto. Where Eagleton departs from such a reading is in his insistence that the gospels are essentially about how we live each day, regardless of the social situation we find ourselves in. The gospels call us to help our neighbour, thus they are a call to action, immediately and always. Eagleton shows us a view of the gospels that are revolutionary, but in a different way than they were interpreted by the liberation theologians; not reducible to political texts, but a call to lead a better life, through the love of others, in the here and now.

This brings us to one of the essential points about the gospels and religion generally that the new atheists completely miss: that faith is not about proving the existence of things, but is rather about what makes us truly human in the first place. Dawkins, Hitchens and Onfray attempt to capture the mantle of reason for themselves, arguing that religion is irrational, a “delusion” in Dawkins’ words. In doing so, they sound increasingly unreasonable. Says Eagleton: “Hitchens fails to distinguish between reasonable beliefs and unreasonable ones. His belief that one should distrust anything that outrages reason is one example of a reasonable belief, while his belief that all belief is blind is an example of an unreasonable one.” (p 125). Reason, it seems, has it limits.

...let us grant the rationalist/atheist case that there is no rational basis for loving one another in the here and now, that the decision to do so can only be a function of faith. Who then would choose reason instead?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


WSAZ INVESTIGATION: Multi-Million Dollar Road Part of Federal Probe; State Remains Silent on Subpoenas: A multi-million dollar road construction project through a major target of a federal probe into Gov. Joe Manchin's administration and the Department of Highways (Kallie Cart, 9/20/10, WSAZ)

We now know a major target of the federal probe into Gov. Joe Manchin's administration and the Department of Highways is a multi-million dollar road that runs through Fairmont. [...]

The $150 million road has been under construction for several years and connects I-79 to Fairmont, which is Manchin's hometown.

Larry Puccio, Manchin's former chief of staff and current chair of the Democratic Party in West Virginia, also runs a real estate business in Fairmont. Sources believe Puccio could be part of the probe.

The governor says he cannot comment on the investigation and says he doesn't know if Puccio is a target.

"It's a process," Manchin says, referring to the investigation. "That's all I can tell you; it's a process."

A process by which one gives up a theoretically safe Senate seat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


True Size of GOP Wave Still Developing (CQ-Roll Call, 9/20/10)

This round of race rating changes is major in that it marks the first time this cycle that we are moving Democratic incumbents into the Leans Republican category — meaning the odds are greater that they will be defeated, rather than re-elected, in November. With two notable exceptions, the bulk of changes to our ratings are positive for Republicans.

The re-election races of seven Democratic incumbents have been moved to the Leans Republican category. Six of the incumbents were first elected in 2008. Three were elected in districts that supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but President George W. Bush in 2004: Reps. Debbie Halvorson in eastern Illinois, Steve Driehaus in southwestern Ohio and Mary Jo Kilroy in central Ohio.

Without a doubt, the most difficult rating change to make was our decision to move veteran Texas Rep. Chet Edwards , a Blue Dog first elected in 1990, into the Leans Republican category. Edwards is a tough, smart and seasoned campaigner who has been targeted by the GOP cycle after cycle, but who always held on to win another term. He now represents the district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried by the largest margin in 2008, a testament to his campaigning skills in previous cycles. While we find it hard to bet against Edwards, the mood of the electorate in his staunchly conservative district, combined with the strength of his Republican opponent, businessman Bill Flores, make him more likely to lose than to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits (CARL ZIMMER, 9/20/10, NY Times)

“I love his ideas,” said Christof Koch, an expert on consciousness at Caltech. “It’s the only really promising fundamental theory of consciousness.”

Dr. Tononi’s obsession with consciousness started in his teens. He was initially interested in ethics, but he decided that questions of personal responsibility depended on our consciousness of our own actions. So he would have to figure out consciousness first. “I’ve been stuck with this thing for most of my life,” he said.

Eventually he decided to study consciousness by becoming a psychiatrist. An early encounter with a patient in a vegetative state convinced Dr. Tononi that understanding consciousness was not just a matter of philosophy.

“There are very practical things involved,” Dr. Tononi said. “Are these patients feeling pain or not? You look at science, and basically science is telling you nothing.” [...]

While in medical school, Dr. Tononi began to think of consciousness in a different way, as a particularly rich form of information. He took his inspiration from the American engineer Claude Shannon, who built a scientific theory of information in the mid-1900s. Mr. Shannon measured information in a signal by how much uncertainty it reduced. There is very little information in a photodiode that switches on when it detects light, because it reduces only a little uncertainty. It can distinguish between light and dark, but it cannot distinguish between different kinds of light. It cannot tell the differences between a television screen showing a Charlie Chaplin movie or an ad for potato chips. The question that the photodiode can answer, in other words, is about as simple as a question can get.

Our neurons are basically fancy photodiodes, producing electric bursts in response to incoming signals. But the conscious experiences they produce contain far more information than in a single diode. In other words, they reduce much more uncertainty. While a photodiode can be in one of two states, our brains can be in one of trillions of states. Not only can we tell the difference between a Chaplin movie and a potato chip, but our brains can go into a different state from one frame of the movie to the next.

“One out of two isn’t a lot of information, but if it’s one out of trillions, then there’s a lot,” Dr. Tononi said.

Consciousness is not simply about quantity of information, he says. Simply combining a lot of photodiodes is not enough to create human consciousness. In our brains, neurons talk to one another, merging information into a unified whole. A grid made up of a million photodiodes in a camera can take a picture, but the information in each diode is independent from all the others. You could cut the grid into two pieces and they would still take the same picture.

Consciousness, Dr. Tononi says, is nothing more than integrated information. Information theorists measure the amount of information in a computer file or a cellphone call in bits, and Dr. Tononi argues that we could, in theory, measure consciousness in bits as well. When we are wide awake, our consciousness contains more bits than when we are asleep.

For the past decade, Dr. Tononi and his colleagues have been expanding traditional information theory in order to analyze integrated information. It is possible, they have shown, to calculate how much integrated information there is in a network. Dr. Tononi has dubbed this quantity phi, and he has studied it in simple networks made up of just a few interconnected parts. How the parts of a network are wired together has a big effect on phi. If a network is made up of isolated parts, phi is low, because the parts cannot share information.

But simply linking all the parts in every possible way does not raise phi much. “It’s either all on, or all off,” Dr. Tononi said. In effect, the network becomes one giant photodiode.

Networks gain the highest phi possible if their parts are organized into separate clusters, which are then joined. “What you need are specialists who talk to each other, so they can behave as a whole,” Dr. Tononi said. He does not think it is a coincidence that the brain’s organization obeys this phi-raising principle.

Dr. Tononi argues that his Integrated Information Theory sidesteps a lot of the problems that previous models of consciousness have faced. It neatly explains, for example, why epileptic seizures cause unconsciousness. A seizure forces many neurons to turn on and off together. Their synchrony reduces the number of possible states the brain can be in, lowering its phi.

Dr. Koch considers Dr. Tononi’s theory to be still in its infancy. It is impossible, for example, to calculate phi for the human brain because its billions of neurons and trillions of connections can be arranged in so many ways. Dr. Koch and Dr. Tononi recently started a collaboration to determine phi for a much more modest nervous system, that of a worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. Despite the fact that it has only 302 neurons in its entire body, Dr. Koch and Dr. Tononi will be able make only a rough approximation of phi, rather than a precise calculation.

“The lifetime of the universe isn’t long enough for that,” Dr. Koch said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:46 PM


WI-Sen/WI-Gov: Dems hurting with six weeks to go (Steve Singiser, Sep 21, 2010, Daily Kos))

Ron Johnson (R) 52 (43)
Sen. Russ Feingold (D) 41 (45)

An enormous enthusiasm gap, coupled with a Republican nominee fresh from a decisive primary win and unsullied by the primary process, has catapulted Republican nominee Ron Johnson to a double-digit advantage over incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold, according to PPP's poll of the state on behalf of Daily Kos. [...]

Meanwhile, in the battle to replace Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, the results are only incrementally better:

Public Policy Polling for Daily Kos. Governor. 9/18-9/19. Likely Voters. MoE 3.8% (6/27 results)

Scott Walker (R) 50 (45)
Tom Barrett (D) 41 (38)

...has to be considered risky for the Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Southern California's summer to end with a chill: It was the coldest in decades (LA Times, September 21, 2010)

The last day of summer is Wednesday, but meteorologists say the season barely bothered to show up in the region this year. So cooler fall will make an almost noiseless entrance Thursday, hardly indistinguishable from the summer Southern Californians just experienced.

“Summer played hooky on us. It never really showed up,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. “We leaped from spring to fall.”

Patzert said a low-pressure trough that stalled along the West Coast from Alaska to southern Baja California kept the summer cooler than usual, with many overcast days. Monthly temperatures in downtown Los Angeles from April to now have averaged between one to three degrees cooler than normal.

Patzert said it’s one of the coolest summers in decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Social democracy is dying - even in Sweden: The Swedish elections confirm that even in every leftist’s idea of political paradise, labourism is on its last legs. (Nathalie Rothschild , 9/21/10, spiked)

The problem in Sweden is not an irrational attachment to old-style politics, either amongst the apparently over-nostalgic Social Democrats or the allegedly fascistic Sweden Democrats. No, the problem is the broader abandonment of politics itself, as evidenced by the uniform movement towards the evermore crowded centre of the political spectrum and the forming of alliances, which has helped soften the edges around the parties and even out any final remaining differences between them; after all, coalition-building necessitates compromise and the presentation of a unified front. The New Moderates, the Centrist Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats formed an alliance ahead of the previous election in 2006, and this year the left followed suit, with the Social Democrats teaming up with the Left Party and the Green Party. Clearly, the Social Democrats realised that the days of getting more than 40 per cent of the vote are long gone, so they called the smaller parties for help.

In 2006, the New Moderates’ strategy was to assure the Swedish people that they were not the conservatives they used to be. Their promise has been to deliver a better welfare state, not to slash it. As The Economist pointed out, ‘even on the right, voters and politicians favour consensus, equality and expansive public services’. Sweden remains a big-state society, even if the centre-right coalition is slightly more keen on privatisation of public services and tax cuts than the Social Democrats.

On the big issues – jobs, welfare, education, the environment, immigration and integration – the arguments have been around how to achieve the same, already decided-upon goals, rather than kickstarting a serious battle over what goals Sweden should aspire to.

While the election results show a more even distribution of votes than ever, the first re-election of a conservative prime minister, and a surge in support for previously marginal parties – the greens and the Sweden Democrats – the Social Democrats’ leader Mona Sahlin was also right to say that there were no winners. She might have added that the biggest loser was Politics with a capital P.

Sure, there are still enough First and Second Way diehards left to lose elections for their respective parties, but the consensus in favor of a comprehensive social welfare net (the Second), funded to the greatest extent practicable by free market mechanisms (the First) is so powerfully entrenched in the vast middle of the electorate that there really isn't a debate anymore. Thus has Politics been replaced by mere politics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Democracy Still Matters (ROGER COHEN, 9/20/10, NY Times)

One mystery of the first decade of the 21st century is the decline of democracy. It’s not that nations with democratic systems have dwindled in number but that democracy has lost its luster. It’s an idea without a glow. And that’s worrying.

I said “mystery.” Those who saw something of the blood expended through the 20th century to secure liberal societies must inevitably find democracy’s diminished appeal puzzling. But there are reasons.

The lingering wars waged partly in democracy’s name in Iraq and Afghanistan hurt its reputation, however moving images of inky-fingered voters gripped by the revolutionary notion that they could decide who governs them. Given the bloody mayhem, it was easy to portray “democracy” as a fig leaf for the West’s bellicose designs and casual hypocrisies.

...once we'd democratized the entire West. The bloody mayhem of the 20th Century was primarily aimed at securing democracy for people just like us, those of the 21st must be about liberating "others." Ambivalence is to be expected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


The liberal threat to the Liberal Democrats (Philip Stephens, September 20 2010, Financial Times)

The prime minister is happy for the country to warm to Mr Clegg’s brand of liberalism. To the extent that he has an attachment to political ideology, Mr Cameron is something of a liberal himself.

What interests him is power. The partnership with Mr Clegg allows him to pull the Tories towards the centre. He calculates that a Britain that has grown content with coalition liberalism may well conclude it has not much need of the Lib Dems. [...]

Many of the party’s supporters have already deserted, charging Mr Clegg as a collaborator in the Tory assault on the state. Others worry the party’s identity is being smothered. More are likely to flee when the spending cuts begin to bite. If the squeeze pushes the economy back towards recession, the flight could become a flood.

Many Lib Dems do not accept their leader’s definition of liberalism. Mr Clegg draws inspiration from John Stuart Mill, marrying social liberalism to limited interference in the economic lives of citizens. Many in his party prefer the party’s 20th century icons John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge – champions of active government as an architect of progress.

Mill would have applauded Mr Clegg’s strategy of lifting those on low incomes out of the tax net. Keynes would have cautioned against rapid fiscal retrenchment, and Beveridge would have noticed that the poorest gain least from income tax cuts.

In his own terms, Mr Clegg’s legacy may be a more liberal Britain. Whether the Lib Dems survive to enjoy it is another question.

The danger for the Lib-Dems isn't that the reforms will fail, but that they'll succeed, repudiating the case for a Keynesian party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Down with fun: The depressing vogue for having fun at work (Schumpeter, Sep 16th 2010, The Economist)

These days many companies are obsessed with fun. Software firms in Silicon Valley have installed rock-climbing walls in their reception areas and put inflatable animals in their offices. Wal-Mart orders its cashiers to smile at all and sundry. The cult of fun has spread like some disgusting haemorrhagic disease. Acclaris, an American IT company, has a “chief fun officer”. TD Bank, the American arm of Canada’s Toronto Dominion, has a “Wow!” department that dispatches costume-clad teams to “surprise and delight” successful workers. Red Bull, a drinks firm, has installed a slide in its London office.

Fun at work is becoming a business in its own right. Madan Kataria, an Indian who styles himself the “guru of giggling”, sells “laughter yoga” to corporate clients. Fun at Work, a British company, offers you “more hilarity than you can handle”, including replacing your receptionists with “Ab Fab” lookalikes. Chiswick Park, an office development in London, brands itself with the slogan “enjoy-work”, and hosts lunchtime events such as sheep-shearing and geese-herding.

The cult of fun is deepening as well as widening. Google is the acknowledged champion: its offices are blessed with volleyball courts, bicycle paths, a yellow brick road, a model dinosaur, regular games of roller hockey and several professional masseuses. But now two other companies have challenged Google for the jester’s crown—Twitter, a microblogging service, and Zappos, an online shoe-shop. [...]

This cult of fun is driven by three of the most popular management fads of the moment: empowerment, engagement and creativity. Many companies pride themselves on devolving power to front-line workers. But surveys show that only 20% of workers are “fully engaged with their job”. Even fewer are creative. Managers hope that “fun” will magically make workers more engaged and creative. But the problem is that as soon as fun becomes part of a corporate strategy it ceases to be fun and becomes its opposite—at best an empty shell and at worst a tiresome imposition.

The most unpleasant thing about the fashion for fun is that it is mixed with a large dose of coercion. Companies such as Zappos don’t merely celebrate wackiness. They more or less require it. Compulsory fun is nearly always cringe-making. Twitter calls its office a “Twoffice”. Boston Pizza encourages workers to send “golden bananas” to colleagues who are “having fun while being the best”. Behind the “fun” façade there often lurks some crude management thinking: a desire to brand the company as better than its rivals, or a plan to boost productivity through team-building. Twitter even boasts that it has “worked hard to create an environment that spawns productivity and happiness”.

You know what would make work fun? Making management do real work, like in that Undercover Boss show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


...just consider they thought this dog and pony show was a good idea:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


In One City, an Islamic Center Unifies: California Town's Muslims, Plunging Into Civic Life, Provide Home for Movement to Oust Officials Amid Salary Scandal (TAMMY AUDI, 9/20/10, WSJ)

For most Bell residents, the community meetings that started at the Islamic center in early August are the first real contact they've had with a Muslim community that has been in the city for at least four decades.

"Since I was a little girl, I remember going to school with the Muslim children and they really kept to themselves," said Cynthia Rodriguez, a 29-year-old mother and lifelong resident of Bell.

She was nervous the first day she walked into the El-Hussein Center, unsettled by the unfamiliar images and Arabic writing. But "disgust and fury" at city officials outweighed her fear.

Then someone offered her a chair. Now, she attends every meeting and is getting to know some of her Muslim neighbors for the first time.

Bell's Muslims, numbering between 1,000 and 2,000, are Lebanese immigrants who fled civil war in their country in the 1970s and began arriving from the same village, called Yaroun.

They took jobs in the garment industry, bought homes, and built the mosque and community center. Some Lebanese immigrants opened clothing shops in the area and picked up Spanish to communicate with their largely Latino customer base.

Bell's Muslims said they felt an affinity with their Latino neighbors, if not a closeness. Both groups are immigrants who worked at low-wage jobs or opened small businesses, and both groups sent money to family in their home countries. Even soccer connected them "They work hard, we work hard. Everybody is just working and taking care of their kids" said Mr. Saleh. Bell's Muslims didn't get involved with local politics because "we just concentrated on our families and work," Mr. Saleh said.

But some began to feel it was time for a change in Bell. Last year, another local Muslim named Ali Saleh ran for city council. Then anonymous fliers appeared with images of the candidate's head on the body of a radical Muslim cleric, with New York's burning Twin Towers and a message: "Vote NO Muslims." Mr. Saleh lost.

At a recent city council meeting, the 35-year-old Mr. Saleh, who was born and raised in Bell, stood in front of the city council and a packed house of rowdy Bell residents.

"You told me you were running to protect your people from people like me," Mr. Saleh said, addressing Luis Artiga, a former opponent in the city council race who won the seat. "Let me tell you, these are all my people!" Mr. Saleh shouted to sustained cheering and applause. "Whether they're Arab, whether they're Mexican, whether they Salvadoran, Guatamalan, we are all one." He then repeated his words in Spanish.

After attending the most recent meeting at the El-Hussein Center, Mr. Artiga, a local pastor of a Southern Baptist church, said he regretted what he said during the campaign and that he had nothing to do with the fliers portraying Mr. Saleh as a terrorist. He and Mr. Saleh shook hands.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Putting Colombia back on the agenda (David Bass, 9/20/10, Daily Caller)

Few nations can boast such an impressive comeback in as little time as Colombia. As Secretary Clinton noted, “nearly 40 percent of the country…was controlled by insurgents.” As recently as 1999, 70 percent of the countryside was in control of drug traffickers and criminal guerilla groups. FARC forces and paramilitaries were spread throughout the nation, making daily life for Colombians a risk in itself. Throughout the 1990s, the country teetered on the brink of civil war, with insurgents openly engaging the army, using guerilla warfare, and dominating a lucrative drug trade. Perhaps Secretary Clinton should have used the more appropriate comparison of Colombia twenty years ago to Afghanistan today.

Contrast this picture with the immense progress that’s been made in the past decade. Homicides have been halved, kidnappings have been reduced by 88 percent and terrorist attacks by 84 percent, and there is no longer a single municipality in the country that is ungoverned. The improvements in security have been followed by impressive economic growth. Foreign direct investment reached a historic high of $10 billion in 2008. Despite the fact that the 2008 global recession has had its own negative effects on the economy, Colombia was named one of the top ten reformers in the 2010 Doing Business report. The country has held this distinction for four of the past seven years. Compared to the economic climate of neighboring Venezuela, which was ranked 177 out of 183 countries in the same index, Colombia is a huge success story.

Furthermore, the election of Juan Manuel Santos this past June was a victory for conservative leaders not only in Colombia but also throughout the hemisphere. Santos, a former defense minister who oversaw several devastating blows to the remaining FARC militias, represents a long-overdue rebuke to the leftist ideology espoused by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Throughout his extended presidency, Chávez has exported his radical ideology to other countries in Latin America, funded FARC operations, and initiated a massive military buildup of his own. Santos is joining the ranks of recently elected conservative presidents in Peru and Mexico, Alan García and Felipe Calderon, in fighting back against Chávez’s offensive.

Despite Colombia’s progress and increased reliability as an ally, Congress is dragging its feet on giving the country the free trade agreement it deserves.

Even besides what our ally deserves, haven't Democrats figured out yet that stopping the growth of free trade has been counterproductive?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


In Sicily, Defying the Mafia: Fed up with extortion and violent crime, ordinary citizens are rising up against organized crime (Joshua Hammer, October 2010, Smithsonian magazine)

This sun-drenched island at the foot of the Italian peninsula has always been a place of conflicting identities. There is the romantic Sicily, celebrated for its fragrant citrus groves, stark granite mountains and glorious ruins left by a succession of conquerors. The vast acropolis of Selinunte, built around 630 B.C., and the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento—described by the Greek poet Pindar as “the most beautiful city of the mortals”—are considered among the finest vestiges of classical Greece, which ruled Sicily from the eighth to the third centuries B.C. In the ninth century A.D., Arab conquerors built frescoed palaces in Palermo and Catania; few churches are more magnificent than Palermo’s Palantine Chapel, erected from 1130 to 1140 by Sicily’s King Roger II during a period of Norman domination. Natural splendors abound as well: at the eastern end of the island rises Mount Etna, an 11,000-foot-high active volcano, beneath which, according to Greek mythology, lies the serpentine monster Typhon, trapped and entombed for eternity by Zeus.

But Sicily is also known as the birthplace of the Mafia, arguably the most powerful and organized crime syndicate in the world. The term, which may derive from the adjective mafiusu—roughly “swaggering” or “bold”—gained currency in the 1860s, around the time of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s unification of Italy. It refers to the organized crime entrenched in Sicily’s then-isolated, largely rural society. When Allied forces invaded Sicily during World War II, they sought help from Italian-American mobsters with Sicilian ties, such as Vito Genovese, to secure control of the island. The Allies even allowed Mafia figures to become mayors there. Over the next few decades, the Cosa Nostra built relationships with Italian politicians—including Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (who served seven terms between 1972 and 1992)—and raked in billions through heroin trafficking, extortion, rigged construction contracts and other illegal enterprises. Those who dared speak out were usually silenced with a car bomb or a hail of bullets. Some of the most violent and consequential Mafia figures came from Corleone, the mountain town south of Palermo and the name novelist Mario Puzo conferred on the American Mafia family central to his 1969 novel, The Godfather.

Then, in the 1980s, two courageous prosecutors (known in Italy as investigating magistrates), Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, using wiretapping and other means, persuaded several high-ranking mobsters to break the oath of silence, or omerta. Their efforts culminated in the “maxi- trial” of 1986-87, which exposed hidden links between mobsters and government officials, and sent more than 300 Cosa Nostra figures to prison. The Mafia struck back. On May 23, 1992, along the Palermo airport highway, hit men blew up an armored limousine carrying Falcone, 53, and his magistrate-wife Francesca Morvillo, 46, killing them and three police escorts. Borsellino, 52, was killed by another bomb, along with his five bodyguards, as he walked to his mother’s Palermo doorway less than two months later.

But rather than crippling the anti-Mafia movement, the assassinations—as well as subsequent Mafia car bombings in Milan, Florence and Rome that killed a dozen people—galvanized the opposition. In January 1993, Salvatore (“The Beast”) Riina, the Cosa Nostra’s capo di tutti i capi, or boss of all bosses, from Corleone, who had masterminded the assassinations, was captured near his Palermo villa after two decades on the run. He was tried and sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms. Riina was succeeded by Bernardo (“The Tractor”) Provenzano, who shifted to a low-key approach, eliminating most violence while continuing to rake in cash through protection rackets and the procurement of public building contracts. In April 2006, police finally tracked down Provenzano and arrested him in a crude cottage in the hills above Corleone; he had been a fugitive for 43 years. Provenzano went to prison to serve several consecutive life sentences. His likely successor, Matteo Messina Denaro, has also been on the run since 1993.

Even before Provenzano’s arrest, a quiet revolution had begun to take hold in Sicilian society. Hundreds of businesspeople and shopkeepers in Palermo and other Sicilian towns and cities began refusing to pay the pizzo. Mayors, journalists and other public figures who once looked the other way started speaking out against the Mafia’s activities. A law passed by the Italian parliament in 1996 allowed the government to confiscate the possessions of convicted Mafia figures and turn them over, gratis, to socially responsible organizations. In the past few years, agricultural cooperatives and other groups have taken over mobsters’ villas and fields, converting them into community centers, inns and organic farms. “We’ve helped local people change their views about the Mafia,” says Francesco Galante, communications director of Libera Terra, an umbrella organization led by an Italian priest that today controls nearly 2,000 acres of confiscated farmland, mainly around Corleone. The group has created jobs for 100 local workers, some of whom once depended on the Cosa Nostra; replanted long-abandoned fields with grapes, tomatoes, chickpeas and other crops; and sells its own brands of wine, olive oil and pasta throughout Italy. “The locals don’t see the Mafia anymore as the only institution they can trust,” Galante says.

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September 20, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM



ZAKARIA: In the year 2000 Noman Benotman was a top-ranking commander of a successful terrorist organization, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, or LIFG. It was an ally of Al Qaeda. That's how Benotman says he found himself at Osama bin Laden's mud house in Kandahar, that same year, having breakfast with bin Laden, watching bin Laden's children play.

He was attending a meeting Osama bin Laden had called, a kind of Davos for Islamic terrorists. At the meeting bin Laden told him of the plan for the September 11th attacks. And amazingly, Benotman says he dared to disagree with bin Laden, to tell him he shouldn't attack the United States. He'll explain why.

More recently, Benotman has renounced terror altogether. And last weekend, on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, he published an open letter to bin Laden, calling for the world's best- known terrorist to recognize that his strategy had failed, and to call it quits.

What was the meeting with bin Laden like? And what caused Benotman's change of heart? You're about to find out in a "GPS" exclusive. I was in London this week and spoke to Noman Benotman in our studios there.


ZAKARIA: Just this week you have put out an open letter to Osama bin Laden in which you ask him and Ayman al Zawahiri, his number two person, to renounce terror altogether. What made you write this letter now? Because you have been working against terrorism for some time. Why did you feel it was worth sending a personal message to your former associate, bin laden?

NOMAN BENOTMAN, FORMER TERRORIST: I think from my assessment it's really the right time because I believe now we are -- if you take it from a Muslim perspective and Muslim countries and societies, we are in a state of crisis. And enough is enough. From a Muslim perspective Al Qaeda really now start to -- messing around with the DNA of Islam itself. So I think it's the right time to say stop, enough, we don't need you. It's as simple as that. We don't need you.

ZAKARIA: Take us back. 2000, there was a kind of grand conference, if you will --


ZAKARIA: -- of terrorism, right? And you were brought in as the most important person heading the Libyan movement. There were others there. But bin Laden throws a dinner for you. Describe, first of all, the scene. This is now in Kandahar, right? This is taking place in Kandahar.

BENOTMAN: Yeah. Because I told him and my colleagues, you need to stop the war against the U.S. because you're provoking the United States of America and the Afghan people, they will pay the consequences.

ZAKARIA: Your basic point to him was this will backfire, if you go after the West --

BENOTMAN: And before that I told them, gentlemen, my assessment, the outcomes of the jihadi movement, after like 30 years, or maybe 20 years, of fighting and struggling, it's a total failure. It was a shock for all of them.

ZAKARIA: You said 30 years we've been doing this, it isn't working.

BENOTMAN: Total failure. But at the time they believed I was wrong. And I'm so sorry to say, but history proves me right. You know?

ZAKARIA: And you said there will be a strong response, there will be an overwhelming response.

BENOTMAN: Yes. ZAKARIA: And you won't be able to -- you will find it more and more difficult to --

BENOTMAN: I told him it's going to be the entire region if you escalate. Because I know that they talk about something big. I told them if you escalate the level of the conflict against the U.S. and you insist to attack the homeland, you know. It's going to be really, really tough retaliation. But bin Laden, when he run out of ideas, or arguments, he told me directly, OK, I've got one operation, it's already there. And I cannot like cancel it because it's going to demoralize my organization. I cannot do this. But he doesn't --

ZAKARIA: This was the September 11th operation?

BENOTMAN: Yeah. After that I recognized. But at the time he -- like he didn't tell me exactly it's going to be the 11th of September, because I know a lot of people even from the level -- the leadership level, they've never been told about exactly what's the plan.

ZAKARIA: Until then they viewed the American responses as quite feeble. They said to you, the last time when we bombed the embassies in East Africa they launched 75 cruise missiles at us, and they killed maybe 15 people. So what was that -- what were they predicting the American response to 9/11 would be?

BENOTMAN: Yeah, what they mentioned at the time, they said this is going to be, OK, because of the -- if we escalate the level of the conflict it's going to be 200 cruise missiles. And we can manage that as Al Qaeda organization, you know, because they can deploy the group and the personnel in rural areas, in the mountains and caves. So it's not going to be problem for them. They never, ever imagined they're going to fight against the U.S. soldiers or even the NATO soldiers like in very direct or close contact. They believed they are paper tigers. [...]

ZAKARIA: And why did you renounce it all?

BENOTMAN: That's it. Because it's the political agenda. Always I believe it's just a political agenda. It's manmade. It's not Islam. Because Islam, it was there more than 1,500 years ago. I've never, ever subscribed to this idea of like fighting against the world. I am politician. I understand exactly what's the meaning of politics. It's a very crazy idea. It's extremely nonsense idea to just -- to commit your life to fight against the entire world, you know.

To believe like your duty is to force every single human being to be a Muslim by force. This is exactly the bottom line of Al Qaeda understanding of Islam, you know, which is a crazy idea. That's why I'm strongly believe, 100 percent committed to complete disarmament of all Islamic groups, complete, without a doubt about this.

ZAKARIA: What kind of person agrees to become a suicide bomber?

BENOTMAN: I see a lot of people, they said OK, Al Qaeda giving me meaning. I live here in this X country but have no hope, I have no meaning. I'm not associated to my country. So Al Qaeda here comes and tell them, OK, you are Muslim. I will tell you exactly who you are. You are a Muslim. And -- which is Islamist. I will give you the meaning. I can make you make good use of your life and then you'll be in paradise. If you see how the way they've been recruited, then they carry on their operations, it's a very, very limited time. Usually, at all days --

ZAKARIA: A limited time meaning?

BENOTMAN: It means like some of them just within two months, three months. Usually, to be a real fighter you need to go through like many years of training.

ZAKARIA: So it's almost -- are you saying that they've been brainwashed and you can't --


ZAKARIA: -- that the spell won't last too long? You push them out the door pretty fast.

BENOTMAN: I'll tell you something, Al Qaeda comes via the Internet, which is strategically they located them in very good and strategic position in the virtual, or the Cyber world. And explaining to people, OK, what you see and -- this is our position as a Muslim, and this is because we are Muslim. The whole world against us and we can help you to do something to sort out the problem. This is the solution. ZAKARIA: So Al Qaeda today. You said something when we were talking earlier, you said -- I talked about Osama bin Laden being in a cave in Kandahar, and you smiled and said he's not in Kandahar. You think he's in Pakistan?

BENOTMAN: Yeah, it's -- it's a very sensitive issue. But I don't believe he's back in Afghanistan. I don't believe that. Here's my assessment. I don't believe that.

ZAKARIA: There's only one other country he could be in.

BENOTMAN: Some people, they believe he's in Washington, D.C., you know. Crazy people.

ZAKARIA: But what is your sense of how many people are left in Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan?

BENOTMAN: I think a few hundreds. It's an insignificant number. Al Qaeda presence now, I think there's a shift, if I might say, in terms of like the -- at the operational level from-now they call it Al Qaeda, the headquarter there in Pakistan, Afghanistan, they call it the general command, which means like the leadership of Al Qaeda. That's the official name.

I think there's a shift from the general Al Qaeda, general command to Yemen, towards Yemen. Now, I think if you assess the situation there, the number has been increased recently. We talk here about a few hundreds, maybe 200, 400 personnel there, mainly in Shabua (ph) and Abiyan (ph), southern part of Yemen. But they're very active.

ZAKARIA: Do you think the United States is fighting this battle correctly?

BENOTMAN: I think the United States, it's very important. You cannot ignore the U.S., whether you like it or not. This is politics. But the problem, I think we have failure of communication between the Muslims, including governments and officials, with the Americans.

So we need to improve the level of communication so the American efforts to control extremism and terrorism doesn't appear-as if Al Qaeda would like to market it, you know, to the Muslims-like America fighting against Islam itself.

That's why I really appreciate many American officials recently, the issue about burning the Koran where President Obama, he was very clear about his like position against this issue. And he said we are not in a war against Islam, we fight against Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda harm us, not the Islam. Secretary of State Clinton, when she said like she was against the burning of Koran. Even secretary of Defense, you know, Gates, he phoned the guy himself. He spoke with him. I really appreciate this. And we should admire this. This is exactly the kind of cooperation we need.

ZAKARIA: So you wrote this letter. And the end of it, you say "I believe I am expressing the views of the vast majority of Muslims, who wish to see their religion regain the respect it has lost, and who long to carry the name of Muslim with pride." And you give a lot of details in this letter to convince bin Laden of your credibility. Do you think he will read this letter? And do you think it will make an impact?

BENOTMAN: Yeah. I am 100 percent sure he will read it and the people around him. So I'm thinking about the young Muslims, which they still at the age, maybe they will, as I told you, want to be a terrorist, want to be Al Qaeda. It will give them like a second thought about it. I'm giving them, because terrorism, I believe it's a circle. It used to have just one gate, which allows you to get in. The problem is we need to open gates to help you to get out of that circle.

This is my work. I believe it will help a lot of people, you know, our youth or young Muslims. To think about other choices, other opinions from someone like me. I know exactly this business, you know, the field of jihad, or terrorism, or organizations. So I'm giving them my experience. Please don't do it. Al Qaeda, it's a human being organization. Bin Laden, he's just a human being. He's not a prophet. And he's capable of doing a lot of deadly mistakes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


The Loneliness of Nicolas Sarkozy: Roma Campaign Isolates Leader in Europe and France (Britta Sandberg and Stefan Simons, 9/20/10, Der Spiegel)

These kinds of histrionics have up to now been the sole preserve of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who for years has been conducting politics as a kind of reality TV show. Berlusconi, who has had a face-lift and is said to use makeup, is provocative, revels in bizarre announcements, and even makes risqué comments at international summits. Does Europe now have a second diva in Paris?

Yes, say Parisian newspapers, which have already dubbed him "Sarkosconi." Yes, says political scientist Olivier Duhamel, one of the signatories of the "We are all French" petition, an initiative that rejects Sarkozy's plans to strip foreign-born French nationals of their citizenship if they fall foul of the law. Duhamel believes Sarkozy is as hopelessly narcissistic as Berlusconi, similarly obsessed by the idea of controlling the media, and driven by the desire to keep tabs on everything and everyone.

Just like the Italian premier, Sarkozy has long been appointing friends to key positions in both the political establishment and the media. Now he is engaging in xenophobic populism. All that is missing, Duhamel says, is "an open alliance with the far-right." It was no surprise, then, that Berlusconi was the only European leader who backed Sarkozy last week.

Nicolas Sarkozy's expulsion of the Roma is born of frustration that his popularity is at an all-time low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Poverty rate: Are Americans really poorer than in 1960?: Poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent in 2009, but government figures don't capture very well the long-term rise in living standards. (Laurent Belsie, September 19, 2010, CS Monitor)

[B]y focusing on consumption patterns, Dr. Sullivan says, researchers can at least get a more realistic handle on what's happening with people's living standards. And there are signs of progress since 1959 (or 1960, when the census came out), he adds.

For examples, back in 1960:

* A 21-inch black-and-white Philco tabletop TV cost about $1,800 in today's dollars and could receive only a handful of channels;
* A refrigerator with freezer cost the equivalent of $1,510 in today’s dollars;
* A two-speed automatic washing machine, primitive by today's standards, cost the equivalent of $1,100;
* Only 12 percent of homes had air-conditioning (versus 84 percent last year);
* Only 8 percent of the population had completed four years of college (versus 27 percent today).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Did France cause the Great Depression? (Douglas Irwin, 20 September 2010, Vox)

To explain the disaster, economic historians have pointed to the policies followed by central banks. The standard explanation for the onset of the Great Depression is the tightening of US monetary policy in early 1928 (Friedman and Schwartz 1963, Hamilton 1987). The increase in US interest rates attracted gold from the rest of the world, but the gold inflows were sterilised by the Federal Reserve so that they did not affect the monetary base. This forced other countries to tighten their monetary policies as well, without the benefit of a monetary expansion in the US. From this initial deflationary impulse came currency crises and banking panics that merely reinforced the downward spiral of prices.
… and the not-so-standard

Yet what is often overlooked is the fact that France was doing almost exactly the same thing. In fact, France was accumulating and sterilising gold reserves at a much more rapid rate than the US (see Johnson 1997 and Mouré 2002).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Internal memo accuses Sheriff Arpaio's department of wrongdoing (Nicholas Riccardi, 9/17/10, Los Angeles Times)

Top officials in the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio used its anti-corruption unit to conduct politically motivated investigations, misled the public about a campaign fund that helped Arpaio win reelection and surveilled the Arizona lawman's campaign rivals, according to an internal memo from a high-ranking officer.

The 63-page memo, first reported Thursday by the Arizona Republic, blames Arpaio's longtime No. 2 man, Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, for the alleged criminal wrongdoing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Israelis Float Settlement Deal Involving Spy (ISABEL KERSHNER, 9/21/10, NY Times)

Israeli officials have tried to float a trade-off in which they would extend the temporary moratorium on settlement construction in exchange for the release by the United States of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel and is serving a life term in an American jail, Israel’s Army Radio reported Monday.

...but get more than three months for him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 PM


A Tea Party Patriots overhaul (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 9/20/10, Politico)

A leading tea party group that is emblematic of the movement’s scrappy grassroots sensibilities – and its problems raising money and building infrastructure – has received a major infusion of cash and added some big conservative names to its board.

The Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of more than 2,500 local tea party groups, is set to announce at a Tuesday morning press conference at the National Press Club that it secured “significant new funding” of a yet-to-be disclosed amount from a yet-to-be named donor, said spokesman Randy Lewis.

...when the Astrodome was first built it had a grass field and glass panels in the roof to allow sunlight in. Of course, it turned out that ballplayers couldn't pick up fly balls against the glass panes, so they had to be painted black. The grass promptly died and thus was born the first synthetic field.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Nita Lowey rival wrote anti-integration, racially charged essay (Maggie Haberman, 9/20/10, Politico)

Longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Nita Lowey's Republican challenger this fall is a Christian conservative author and activist whose writings have frowned on inter-racial marriage and movies like "Save the Last Dance," touted the benefits of studies linking race to IQ and said parents need to teach their kids "appropriate ethnic boundaries" for marriage and socializing.

Jim Russell, who's challenging Lowey in a repeat after trying to take her on in 2008, made the statements in an essay called "The Western Contribution to World History," which was published in a 2001 - 2002 edition of the Occidental Quarterly, and had also been featured on infamous former politician and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's website. It's since been taken down from there. [...]

In the essay, Russell also praised T.S. Eliot and psychology professor Kevin MacDonald for looking to limit the proliferation of Jews.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders: By embracing radical decentralization, tea party activists intend to rewrite the rule book for political organizing. (Jonathan Rauch, Sept. 11, 2010, National Journal)

The tea party began as a network, not an organization, and that is what it mostly remains. Disillusioned with President Bush's Republicans and disheartened by President Obama's election, in late 2008 several dozen conservatives began chattering on social-networking sites such as Top Conservatives on Twitter and Smart Girl Politics. Using those resources and frequent conference calls (the movement probably could not have arisen before the advent of free conference calling), they began to talk about doing something. What they didn't realize was that they were already doing something. In the very act of networking, they were printing the circuitry for a national jolt of electricity.

The spark came on February 19, 2009, when a CNBC journalist named Rick Santelli aired a diatribe against the bank bailout. "That," Meckler says, "was our source code." The next day, the networkers held a conference call and decided to stage protests in a few cities just a week later. No one was more astonished than the organizers when the network produced rallies in about 50 cities, organized virtually overnight by amateurs. Realizing that they had opened a vein, they launched a second round of rallies that April, this time turning out perhaps 600,000 people at more than 600 events.

Experienced political operatives were blown away. "It was inconceivable in the past" to stage so many rallies so quickly, in so many places, without big budgets for organizers and entertainment, says Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a longtime political organizer. Without a hook such as a musical show, he says, "I can't think of anything on the right or the left that mimics those numbers on a local level."

By the summer of 2009, tea parties were springing up all over. Multitudes of activists, operatives, and groups were claiming the tea party mantle, many of them at odds with or suspicious of each other. Believing that coordination was needed, an ad hoc committee emerged from among the core group and, by August of last year, had opened a bank account under the spontaneously chosen name of the Tea Party Patriots.

Today, the Tea Party Patriots is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group. It has seven national coordinators, five or so of whom draw salaries, which they decline to disclose but say are modest. Three other people get paychecks, according to Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder and national coordinator.

The organization has no offices, dwelling instead in activists' homes and laptops. Martin says it has raised just over $1 million in the past year, a trivial amount by the standards of national political organizers. About 75 percent of the group's funding comes from small donations, $20 or less, she says.

By conventional measures such as staff and budget, then, the Tea Party Patriots is minuscule. Viewed another way, however, it is, to use Martin's expression, "gi-normous." Lacking dues or bylaws, the network's closest thing to a membership roll is the list of groups that have registered with its website, now approaching 3,000 and spanning the country. The website,, lists almost 200 tea parties in California alone.

GOP insider’s Tea Party role raises some questions (Janie Lorber and Eric Lipton, 9/19/10, New York Times)
In the days leading up to the Delaware primary, Sal Russo hosted a radio fund-raiser, organized a rally, and pressed the case with reporters that Christine O’Donnell was the Tea Party’s choice for the US Senate. He also set off what he calls a “money bomb,’’ pouring at least $250,000 into TV and other advertisements promoting the little-known candidate.

With O’Donnell’s upset victory in the Republican primary on Tuesday, Russo, the chief strategist behind an upstart group called the Tea Party Express, had racked up another win.

But in becoming one of the movement’s most successful players by helping Tea Party favorites oust incumbents or trounce rivals in four states, Russo is also fast becoming among the most divisive.

Unlike many of the newly energized outsiders who have embraced Tea Party ideals, Russo, 63, is a longtime Republican operative who got his start as an aide to Ronald Reagan and later raised money for a string of other politicians, including George E. Pataki, a former governor of New York. His history and spending practices have prompted some former employees and other Tea Party activists to question whether he is committed to, or merely exploiting, their cause.

Russo’s group, based in California, is now the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates, raising more than $5.2 million in donations since January 2009, according to federal records. But at least $3 million of that total has since been paid to Russo’s political consulting firm or to one controlled by his wife, according to federal records.

Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama. (Jane Mayer, 8/30/10, The New Yorker)
Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”

Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

In April, 2009, Melissa Cohlmia, a company spokesperson, denied that the Kochs had direct links to the Tea Party, saying that Americans for Prosperity is “an independent organization and Koch companies do not in any way direct their activities.” Later, she issued a statement: “No funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundations, or Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties.” David Koch told New York, “I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No one representing the tea party has ever even approached me.”

At the lectern in Austin, however, Venable—a longtime political operative who draws a salary from Americans for Prosperity, and who has worked for Koch-funded political groups since 1994—spoke less warily. “We love what the Tea Parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” she declared, as the crowd cheered. In a subsequent interview, she described herself as an early member of the movement, joking, “I was part of the Tea Party before it was cool!” She explained that the role of Americans for Prosperity was to help “educate” Tea Party activists on policy details, and to give them “next-step training” after their rallies, so that their political energy could be channelled “more effectively.” And she noted that Americans for Prosperity had provided Tea Party activists with lists of elected officials to target. She said of the Kochs, “They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.”

Venable honored several Tea Party “citizen leaders” at the summit. The Texas branch of Americans for Prosperity gave its Blogger of the Year Award to a young woman named Sibyl West. On June 14th, West, writing on her site, described Obama as the “cokehead in chief.” In an online thread, West speculated that the President was exhibiting symptoms of “demonic possession (aka schizophrenia, etc.).” The summit featured several paid speakers, including Janine Turner, the actress best known for her role on the television series “Northern Exposure.” She declared, “They don’t want our children to know about their rights. They don’t want our children to know about a God!”

During a catered lunch, Venable introduced Ted Cruz, a former solicitor general of Texas, who told the crowd that Obama was “the most radical President ever to occupy the Oval Office,” and had hidden from voters a secret agenda—“the government taking over our economy and our lives.” Countering Obama, Cruz proclaimed, was “the epic fight of our generation!” As the crowd rose to its feet and cheered, he quoted the defiant words of a Texan at the Alamo: “Victory, or death!”

Americans for Prosperity has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception. In the weeks before the first Tax Day protests, in April, 2009, Americans for Prosperity hosted a Web site offering supporters “Tea Party Talking Points.” The Arizona branch urged people to send tea bags to Obama; the Missouri branch urged members to sign up for “Taxpayer Tea Party Registration” and provided directions to nine protests. The group continues to stoke the rebellion. The North Carolina branch recently launched a “Tea Party Finder” Web site, advertised as “a hub for all the Tea Parties in North Carolina.”

The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”

A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!”

Tea partiers air doubts about Dick Armey (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 3/25/10, Politico)
It seemed a strange fit to begin with — a former House Republican leader turned $750,000-a-year Washington lobbyist who resurfaced as perhaps the single most identifiable leader of a populist, anti-Washington movement.

And in recent weeks, Dick Armey has found himself targeted by a quiet, but concerted campaign from fellow conservatives challenging — and seeking to undermine — his status as a leader of the tea party movement.

Critics ranging from prominent conservatives to bloggers to grass-roots tea party activists have called into question whether Armey’s stances on illegal immigration and social issues, his candidate endorsements and his past lobbying work are fundamentally inconsistent with the tea party movement. They also have suggested he raised the white flag too early in the fight over the Democratic health care overhaul and is beholden to corporate benefactors, and have accused him of trying to hijack the tea parties to serve those benefactors or his own personal political ambitions.

To be sure, some of the resentment seems to stem from jealousy over adept positioning by Armey that has put him and the small-government nonprofit group he co-chairs, FreedomWorks, at the vanguard of tea party activism, which everyone on the right — from the Republican Party and its elected officials to the groups that emerged from the 1960s restructuring of the conservative movement — has jockeyed to harness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Manuel Ayau: Champion of Liberty: He opened Latin America's eyes to the true source of prosperity. (MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 9/19/10, WSJ)

In the midst of this turmoil came Ayau, with six like-minded Guatemalans, armed only with the desire to discover the ideas that might transform their country into a just and prosperous nation. They formed the Center of Economic and Social Studies, CEES by its Spanish initials, in November 1958. The goal, Muso wrote in a 1992 memoir about the founding of Francisco Marroquín University, "was to study and disseminate the ethical, economic and legal principles of a free society."

Ayau and his colleagues read voraciously and debated vociferously. "All of us were self-taught in these subjects, which would come to absorb much of our time," he recalled. Over the next half century CEES would publish over 900 pamphlets in defense of the market. Ayau's many contributions (98) had titles like "On the Morality of Government," "Planning: Rational or Absurd," and "Robinson and Friday Invent the Common Market." In October 1978 he wrote an essay in a CEES pamphlet called "Price Controls," while Milton Friedman penned "In Defense of Dumping" in the same publication.

Those pamphlets went all over the region. Peruvian Enrique Ghersi, one of the co-authors of the 1986 best-seller "The Other Path," says that one called "Ten Lessons for Underdevelopment" was "key to awakening in me the vocation and commitment to defend liberty." CEES brought to Guatemala such intellectual giants as Ludwig von Mises (1964), Friedrich Hayek (1965) and Ludwig Erhard (1968).

In promoting these ideas Ayau was going up against communists, mercantilists, public-sector unions and the central planners at powerful institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. But he was only warming up.

By the 1960s it was clear that the left, with all its intolerance, had captured Guatemala's academia. So in 1971 Ayau and his fellow advocates of freedom founded UFM in a rented house with contributions from a handful of Guatemalans totaling $40,000. There were eight students in the first graduating class. Last year there were 509.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


arbara Boxer (D., Armenia): The Democrat trashes an Obama nominee. (WSJ, 9/19/10)

Spare a thought for Matthew Bryza, a Presidential appointee who is a victim of election-year politics and parochial ethnic lobbies on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Bryza is a highly accomplished career diplomat who has spent two decades working on the Caucasus and Central Asia. In May, President Obama nominated Mr. Bryza, a deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs in the Bush years, to be U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. [...]

The most vocal opposition to Mr. Bryza comes from the Armenian National Committee of America, or ANCA. The influential lobby alleges that Mr. Bryza is biased toward Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia's regional nemeses. [...]

Lucky for them, the three-term Senator Boxer is in danger of losing her seat to Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. The Golden State is home to a large Armenian community, a potential swing bloc this November, and Ms. Boxer is pandering for their votes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Newsweek’s Howard Fineman to Join The Huffington Post (JEREMY W. PETERS AND BRIAN STELTER, 9/19/10, NY Times)

Howard Fineman, one of the more recognizable pundits on cable television and a correspondent for Newsweek for 30 years, is leaving the magazine to become a senior editor at The Huffington Post.

...for him not to pretend to impartiality for those 30 years when he's a partisan Democrat? There's nothing wrong with media members being political creatures--indeed it would be odd if they weren't--just be open about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Toward the Second Turkish Republic (MUSTAFA AKYOL, September 17, 2010, Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review)
Despite the challenges, Turkey is heading toward the abolition of the semi-democracy that the military and its allies in the judiciary have imposed since 1960

This political system, these intellectuals argued, aimed at “modernizing” Turkey, but did this with very authoritarian methods. Besides, certain segments of society, such as conservative Muslims, Kurds and non-Muslims, were excluded by the state, and even defined as threats. The county needs a new political system, they argued, with a social contract based on liberty and equality.

And people just laughed at those liberals. Such a colossal transformation looked like a silly dream then. In the early 90s, only Turgut Özal, the most liberal-minded leader the country has seen in the 20th century, was pushing for change. When he died in 1993, the Second Republicanists, as they had become known, lost their political hopes. Some of them founded a party called the New Democracy Movement in 1994, which got only 0.5 percent of the votes in the next year’s elections. Liberal ideas, some concluded, would never triumph in this country.

But that disappointment was based on a miscalculation: the naïve hope that liberalism as such, as an idealist intellectual vision, would find millions of followers. That is hardly the case in most countries, for most people care about their own problems rather than abstract political principles. The real question, therefore, was whether there were enough people in Turkey who would need liberal ideas for their own good.

The answer came in the new century: It was religious conservatives, who made at least one-third of society, that needed change, and thus supported the liberal agenda. This is what lies beneath the interesting story of the AKP, the incumbent Justice and Development Party. This “Islamic” party proved to be more dedicated to the EU cause than its secular rivals, because its Muslim base had suffered a lot under the status quo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Back To The Seventies (Jane Mayer September 27, 2010, The New Yorker)

Mondale recalled that President Carter, as his standing in the polls slid, “began to lose confidence in his ability to move the public.” The President, he said, should have “got out front earlier with the bad news and addressed the people more.” He sees a similar problem with Obama: “I think he needs to get rid of those teleprompters, and connect. He’s smart as hell. He can do it. Look right into those cameras and tell people he’s hurting right along with them.” Carter, on the other hand, he said, might not have been able to. “At heart, he was an engineer,” Mondale said. “He wanted to sit down and come up with the right answers, and then explain it. He didn’t like to do a lot of emotional public speaking.” [...]

As for Obama, Mondale said, “He’s doing a good job,” adding, however, that when the President first took office he was “a bit green.” Also, he said, “In my opinion, Obama had a few false presumptions. One was the idea that we were in a post-partisan era.” The other was “the idea of turning things over to Congress—that doesn’t work even when you own Congress. You have to ride ’em.” Further, he suggested that Obama should stop thinking about what he can get from the Republican opposition: “You should explain clearly what you want, and, if they oppose you, attack them for it.”

September 19, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Powell: Illegals Work on My House (AP, September 19, 2010)

In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," he said a path to legal status should be offered to illegal immigrants in the U.S. because they "are doing things we need done in this country."

He added: "They're all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at your house. We've got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status."

Nativism stops at the edge of the housework.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


GOP House would help Obama, Clinton says (Jake Sherman, 9/19/10, Politico)

A Republican House would help Barack Obama get reelected in 2012, former President Bill Clinton said Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Episode Two: The Agony of Reform: Chapter 7: Chicago Boys and Pinochet (The Commanding Heights, PBS)

NARRATOR: The Chicago Boys were a group of economists at Chile's Catholic University who had been sent to the University of Chicago as exchange students. There, they absorbed the ideas of the "Chicago School" of economics, with its almost revolutionary belief in free markets.

MILTON FRIEDMAN, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago: What characterized the Chicago School was a strong belief in minimal government and an emphasis on free market as a way to control the economy.

NARRATOR: Professors like Arnold Harberger and Milton Friedman taught their students to distrust state planning and government control. When the Chicago Boys returned to Chile, they brought with them ideas that were a direct challenge to the dependency theory.

ARNOLD HARBERGER: This small group stayed together through the Allende years. And they used to meet I think every Tuesday for lunch. And they would keep a kind of running document which said how they would reform this economy, how this economy has to be reformed, what is to be done to get out of the swamp that they were putting themselves in.

SERGIO DE CASTRO, Finance Minister, Chile, 1974-1982: Unfortunately, due to the idiosyncrasies of the military mind, the generals preferred a controlled economy; that is, an economy that would obey orders.

NARRATOR: Javier Vial, an influential businessman sympathetic to the junta, was trying to push the military in the direction of the free market.

JAVIER VIAL: So I called Milton Friedman and invited him to come to Chile.

NARRATOR: So Milton Friedman, the most famous free-market economist in the world, came to lecture in Chile.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: I went down to Chile and spent five days giving a series of lectures on the Chilean problem, particularly the problem of inflation and how they should proceed to do something about it.

NARRATOR: Friedman's first talk was at the Catholic University. His theme: the inescapable link between free markets and freedom.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: The emphasis of that talk was that free markets would undermine political centralization and political control.

ARNOLD HARBERGER: He said that that you cannot have a repressive government for long within a genuinely free economic system.

NARRATOR: But Friedman was also persuaded to visit the grim conference center from which Pinochet ruled Chile. Friedman told Pinochet that he needed to take decisive and immediate action to defeat inflation.

JAVIER VIAL: Friedman says: "Well, I'm going to give you an example. If you cut the tail to a dog in pieces, step by step you will kill the dog. This is the same as inflation. You have to cut it at once, and then the country will start moving."

ARNOLD HARBERGER: Milton's presence probably helped to stiffen the spine of people who were trying to insist on better economic policies. That's the period when the takeoff of the Chilean economy really began and major reforms were made.

NARRATOR: In Santiago, the junta called on the Chicago Boys to rescue the economy. Five hundred state-owned businesses were privatized. Government budgets were cut. Import tariffs were swept away. The markets were given free rein.

SERGIO DE CASTRO: The basic thrust was to increase exports and abolish artificial price controls.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: Here was the first case in which you had a movement toward communism which was replaced by a movement toward free markets.

NARRATOR: There was much pain for the poorest. The cost of living went through the roof. The gap between rich and poor got wider, and stayed that way.

ALEJANDRO FOXLEY, Finance Minister, Chile, 1990-1994: They were starting a very big process of transformation of the economy without any regard of what happened to people. And we ended up at one point in time with 30 percent unemployment rate.

NARRATOR: According to the Chicago Boys, the gain was worth the pain. Chile became the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

ALEJANDRO FOXLEY: They were able to start a process of deregulating the markets, opening up the economy, so that's their contribution. They were able to anticipate a global trend, and Chile has benefited from that.

INTERVIEWER: But at a price?

ALEJANDRO FOXLEY: At a very high price, believe me. At a very high human price.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: The Chilean economy did very well, but more important, in the end, the Chilean military junta was replaced by a democratic society. Free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society.

NARRATOR: This is the monument to the 2,400 who died or disappeared during the dictatorship. The brutality of Pinochet's regime left little enthusiasm for change in the rest of Latin America.

CLIVE CROOK, Deputy Editor, The Economist: The fact that the Pinochet regime was politically unsavory allowed the left to make an association between market reforms on the one hand and repressive authoritarian governments on the other, and that was a terribly damaging connection.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: The intellectual elite, as it were, were on the side of Allende, not on the side of Pinochet. They regarded me as a traitor for having been willing to talk in Chile.

ARNOLD HARBERGER: Friedman then became a figure of hate, and they organized demonstrations against him wherever he went, and this went on for a period of years.

NARRATOR: The protests reached their climax when Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976.

MILTON FRIEDMAN: At the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm, I was subject to abuse in the sense that there were large demonstrations against me. There was a concerted effort to tar and feather me.

CLIVE CROOK: In the minds of many people, the reforms in Chile were tainted by the political caste of the regime that did set back the cause of liberal economics. It made other countries more resistant to the idea of market reforms than they otherwise would have been.

It is a peculiar irony that when the libertarian Right complains that the Thatcher/Clinton/Blair/Bush Third Way is fascist they are correct, but it was developed by the libertarian Right back when it was more sensible.


The main goal and consequence of the pension reform is to improve the lot of workers during their old age. As I will explain, the reform has a lot of side effects: savings, growth, capital markets. But we should never forget that the reform was enacted to assure workers decent pensions so that they can enjoy their old age in tranquility. That goal has been met already. After 14 years and because of compound interest, the system is paying old-age pensions that are 40 to 50 percent higher than those paid under the old system. (In the case of disability and survivor pensions, another privatized insurance, pensions are 70 to 100 percent higher than under the old system.) We are extremely happy.

But there have been other enormous effects. A second--and, to me, extremely important--one is that the new system reduces what can be called the payroll tax on labor. The social security contribution was seen by workers and employers as basically a tax on the use of labor; and a tax on the use of labor reduces employment. But a contribution to an individual's pension account is not seen as a tax on the use of labor. Unemployment in Chile is less than 5 percent. And that is without disguised unemployment in the federal government. We are approaching what could be called full employment in Chile. That's very different from a country like Spain, with a socialist government for the last 12 years, that has an unemployment rate of 24 percent and a youth unemployment rate of 40 percent.

Chile's private pension system has been the main factor in increasing the savings rate to the level of an Asian tiger. Our rate is 26 percent of GNP, compared to about 15 percent in Latin America. The Asian tigers are at 30 percent. The dramatic increase in the savings rate is the main reason that Chile is not suffering from the so-called tequila effect that plagues Mexico. We do not depend on short-run capital flows because we have an enormous pool of internal savings to finance our investment strategies. Chile will grow by about 6 percent of GNP this year, the year of the "tequila effect." The stock exchange has gone down by only 1 or 2 percent and will be higher at the end of the year. Chile has been isolated from short-run capital movement because its development is basically rooted in a high savings rate.

Pension reform has contributed strongly to an increase in the rate of economic growth. Before the 1970s Chile had a real growth rate of 3.5 percent. For the last 10 years we have been growing at the rate of 7 percent, double our historic rate. That is the most powerful means of eliminating poverty because growth increases employment and wages. Several experts have attributed the doubling of the growth rate to the private pension system.

Finally, the private pension system has had a very important political and cultural consequence. Ninety percent of Chile's workers chose to move into the new system. They moved faster than Germans going from East to West after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those workers freely decided to abandon the state system, even though some of the trade-union leaders and the old political class advised against it. But workers are able to make wise decisions on matters close to their lives, such as pensions, education, and health. That's why I believe so much in their freedom to choose.

Every Chilean worker knows that he is the owner of an individual pension account. We have calculated that the typical Chilean worker's main asset is not his small house or his used car but the capital in his pension account. The Chilean worker is an owner, a capitalist. There is no more powerful way to stabilize a free-market economy and to get the support of the workers than to link them directly to the benefits of the market economy. When Chile grows at 7 percent or when the stock market doubles--as it has done in the last three years--Chilean workers benefit directly, not only through higher wages, not only through more employment, but through additional capital in their individual pension accounts.

Incentive effects of unemployment insurance savings accounts: Evidence from Chile (Gonzalo Reyes Jan van Ours Milan Vodopivec, 9 February 2010, Vox)
In 2002, Chile introduced a new unemployment insurance programme that combines social insurance with self-insurance. Unemployment contributions, paid by both workers and employers, are split between individual-level insurance savings accounts and a common, solidarity fund, the latter being cofinanced by the government. To stimulate reemployment, benefit recipients first draw resources from their savings accounts and, upon depletion, from the solidarity fund. The potential benefit duration is five months.

Withdrawals from individual accounts are triggered by separation from the employer, regardless of the reason. Insufficient resources on individual accounts trigger withdrawals from the common fund, if the claimant satisfies the usual conditions of continuing eligibility under typical unemployment insurance. Only those who, prior to unemployment, have worked under permanent contracts and were laid off for reasons attributable to the employer, can access solidarity funding. But, even if they do qualify, workers may opt not to choose the option of using solitary funding – presumably to avoid additional conditions on the benefit receipt.

By the end of 2008, the programme had about three million active contributors, representing almost 80% of private sector wage and salary workers, and distributed benefits to more than 100,000 members, approximately one quarter of the unemployed.

New evidence on the incentive effects of the Chilean programme

What kind of work incentives can one expect from the Chilean system? Theoretical modelling of Orszag and Snower (2002) shows that workers who rely on unemployment insurance savings accounts internalise the costs of their unemployment and thus they have the incentive to search harder for jobs than workers not relying on the savings accounts. Applying this logic to the Chilean programme and realising that the Chilean programme is of a “hybrid” nature, we derive the following predictions:

* For persons eligible to savings accounts only, the amount accumulated on their accounts will not affect their job-finding rate.
* In contrast, for workers using solidarity funding, we can expect that their job-finding rate will increase in proportion to the share of potential benefits that can be financed by their own savings accounts.
* Moreover, as the benefit expiration date approaches, we can expect that workers who use the solidarity fund will increase the intensity of their job search or reduce their reservation wage, thereby increasing the rate of job-finding (see Mortensen 1977), and no such effect will be detected for workers not using the solidarity funding.

We investigated the validity of these predictions using administrative records of the Chilean unemployment benefit programme, both the contribution histories and paid benefits, for a sample of prime age men and women who lost a permanent job by 2007 (about 50,000 men and 25,000 women). In Reyes et al. (2010) we analyse the labour market position of men and women separately. Here, for brevity, we only report results for prime age men.

The empirical results provide strong support to the above predictions.

Stabilisation and growth under dictatorships: Lessons from Franco’s Spain: Is democracy essential for economic growth? This column presents new evidence from General Franco’s 1959 Spanish Stabilisation Plan showing that a dictatorship can successfully implement major policy reforms. This also sheds light on the effectiveness of structural adjustment policies. Without the reforms, Spanish GDP per head in 1975 would have been lower by as much as one third. (Leandro Prados-de-la-Escosura Joan R. Rosés Isabel Sanz Villarroya, 22 March 2010, Vox)
From 1950 to 1975 Spain evolved from a closed and isolated economy to integrating with the rest of European economies, albeit remaining as a dictatorship. After the Civil War (1936-39), the new autocratic regime introduced anti-market policies that dramatically altered the previous economic policy. Effective possession of legislative and judicial powers gave General Franco’s dictatorship the ability to alter economic and political rights without restraint. These new measures resulted in high inflation rates, the development of black markets, and a severe contraction of international trade.

In the early 1950s, some of these regulations were relaxed and a cautious liberalisation process began. The new international context dominated by the Cold War helped decisively to rehabilitate the regime of General Franco in the international community. Growth accelerated during the 1950s on the basis of capital accumulation and efficiency gains. The US-Spain cooperation agreements in 1953 helped to further the growth in economic confidence (Calvo-González 2007).

In July 1959, an inward-looking growth crisis, triggered by a dramatic shortage of foreign reserves, led a new technocratic cabinet to introduce a simultaneous liberalisation of domestic markets and international economic relations. Following advice from the IMF and the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, a conventional stabilisation programme was enforced.

* First, a stabilisation operation was executed to reduce inflation, mainly due to a lack of monetary discipline. Public spending was controlled, the issue of new public debt limited, and the Bank of Spain’s rate of discount increased.
* Second, domestic markets were partly liberalised by suppressing regulations and simplifying administrative procedures.
* Third, authorities partly liberalised foreign trade and the Peseta was integrated into the Bretton Woods system, accompanied by the introduction of a more realistic exchange rate, while restrictions on foreign direct investment were relaxed.

All major contingency measures were successful. Inflation declined, the budget deficit disappeared, and foreign capital began to flow into the country. By implementing the new policy, Franco’s regime showed its commitment to orthodox macroeconomic policies and offered a precedent of responsible behaviour to domestic and foreign investors.

The Mystery of Fascism: Mussolini - as he would like to have been remembered (David Ramsay Steele, Liberty)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


The Economic Blame Game: Both the right and the left are wrong. (Robert Samuelson, 9/19/10, Newsweek)

True, many recovery policies came from the Federal Reserve, and others—notably the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—began under the Bush administration. Obama’s contributions included the “stimulus program,” a rescue of the auto industry, and a “stress test” for 19 large banks. The “stress test” explored whether banks needed big infusions of capital. Most didn’t.

The process was messy, and although many details can be questioned, the overall impact was huge. Without government’s aggressive response, gross domestic product would have dropped 12 percent instead of 4 percent, and 16.6 million jobs would have been lost instead of 8.4 million, estimate economists Alan Blinder of Princeton and Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. Unemployment would have hit 16 percent. These numbers, too, can be disputed (they seem high to me), but the direction is certainly correct. [...]

The right’s sweeping indictment of Obama is wildly exaggerated. However, it’s not entirely misplaced.

Confidence is crucial to stimulating consumer spending and business investment, and Obama constantly subverts confidence.

...and why the House GOP almost caused one. It is the UR's performance in the absence of W's leadership that has been blameworthy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew (George F. Will, September 19, 2010, Washington Post)

As everyone attuned to the Zeitgeist then was -- college students who owned black turtlenecks; aficionados of foreign films (not "movies," heaven forfend) -- Sartre was an existentialist. A critic called existentialism the belief that because life is absurd, philosophy should be, too. But Sartre's pilgrimage took him, with Castro, into Cuba's countryside. There they stopped at a roadside stand for lemonade and an epiphany.

The lemonade was warm, so Castro got hot, telling the waitress that the inferior drink "reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness." She said the refrigerator was broken. Castro "growled" (Sartre's approving description) that she should "tell your people in charge that if they don't take care of their problems, they will have problems with me." Instantly Sartre understood "what I called 'direct democracy' ":

"Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate, secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, by her smiles, by a shrug of the shoulders, that she was without illusion."

Half a century later, Castro seems to be catching up with her. He who proclaimed at his 1953 trial that "History will absolve me" may at last have lost the most destructive illusion of modern politics, the idea that History is a proper noun.

The idea was that History is an autonomous thing with an unfolding logic that, if served by a vanguard of a discerning few who understand its workings, ends in a planned paradise. Hence, as Czeslaw Milosz wrote in "The Captive Mind" in 1953, communists believed that the job of intellectuals was not to think but only to understand.

The End of History? (Francis Fukuyama, Summer 1989, The National Interest)
The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world's two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants' markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

Islamicism is just the final coda and the unlucky Arab World the last cafe of the deluded intellectuals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Delaware's O'Donnell seeks to recast herself in Senate campaign (Lisa Mascaro, 9/19/10, Chicago Tribune)

Facing her opponent at a traditional campaign kickoff forum, Christine O'Donnell fielded the opening question, on Middle East peace, without her usual off-the-cuff patriotic zeal.

Instead, she responded with a more studied technique: She glanced down at the stack of papers before her, and noticeably read from her notes.

The danger is that she'll deviate from the script written for her, so best to just keep her silent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Why isn’t India a pariah state? (ROB BROWN , 09/19/2010, Jerusalem Post)

An “intifada-style popular revolt” is how The New York Times has portrayed the latest popular uprising against Indian occupation which has swept through this predominantly Muslim province this summer, making the breathtakingly beautiful Kashmir Valley appear even more of a paradise lost. Although not clad in keffiyehs, young Kashmiri teenagers can sometimes resemble their Palestinian peers as they throw stones at army patrols and dodge tear-gas canisters on the streets of the state capital, Srinagar.

But what the world is never told by The New York Times, nor by most other supposedly liberal organs, is that New Delhi’s response to such civil disobedience has been far more savage and brutal than anything authorized in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, leading in the past to serious armed insurrection (often incited by Pakistan).

The Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra justly observed recently: “The killing fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley’s 4 million Muslims are exposed to extrajudicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into the penis.”

A LEADING local NGO, the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir, has reported that extrajudicial killings and torture are commonplace there. It claims that the Indian military occupation of that state between 1989-2009 has resulted in more than 70,00 deaths, and many of these killings were deemed “acts of service” by India’s feared Central Reserve Police Force, leading to promotion and financial reward (bounty is paid after claims made by officers are verified, apparently).

Still, there are no serious moves afoot in editorial corridors or academic campuses anywhere in the Western world to transform India into an international pariah. No calls for boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions against the world’s largest democracy.'s a war they can't win and their occupied territories will likewise evolve into a fellow nation. And, just as with Israel, we're betraying shared values when we don't force our ally to realize this.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Smaller Than Life: Jonathan Franzen’s juvenile prose creates a world in which nothing important can happen. (B. R. Myers, October 2010, The Atlantic)

One opens a new novel and is promptly introduced to some dull minor characters. Tiring of them, one skims ahead to meet the leads, only to realize: those minor characters are the leads. A common experience for even the occasional reader of contemporary fiction, it never fails to make the heart sink. The problem is not only one of craft or execution. Characters are now conceived as if the whole point of literature were to create plausible likenesses of the folks next door. They have their little worries, but so what? Do writers really believe that every unhappy family is special? If so, Tolstoy has a lot to answer for—including Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s latest. A suburban comedy-drama about the relationship between cookie-baking Patty, who describes herself as “relatively dumber” than her siblings; red-faced husband Walter, “whose most salient quality … was his niceness”; and Walter’s womanizing college friend, Richard, who plays in an indie band called Walnut Surprise, the novel is a 576-page monument to insignificance. [...]

Why was Freedom written? The prologue raises expectations for a socially engaged, or at least social, narrative that are left unmet. Too much of it takes place in high school, college, or suburbia; how odd that a kind of fiction allegedly made necessary by America’s unique vitality always returns to the places that change the least. Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.) Of the four main characters, only Walter has a real job, about which we learn nothing until it becomes a matter of traveling around with an admiring young assistant. (American novelists never tire of the student-don romance; they just dress it up in different clothes.) Walter is constantly holding forth on issues he has researched, but not dramatically experienced. They are entertaining tirades, but this is not what fiction is for.

Franzen uses facile tricks to tart up the story as a total account of American life: the main news events of the past quarter century each get a nod in the appropriate chapter. Brands are identified whenever possible; we go from Parliament butts in the first chapter to Glad-wrapped cookies in the last. Countless pop-cultural artifacts are name-checked, in the most minimal sense of the term. When Joey and a girl fly to Argentina, Pirates of the Caribbean is playing on the seat backs in front of them. Facile, yes, but Franzen knows his market. Many people who eschew great books for the latest novels do so because they want precisely this kind of thing. (Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread.) These readers want a world that is recognizably their own in every trivial particular, right down to Twitter, even if the book says less of real relevance to their lives than one written a century ago. The critics do their bit by acting as though name-checks constituted themes and issues. I can hear the prize laudation for Freedom now: “It is a novel about commercialism, about the war in Iraq, about the pervasiveness of Hollywood culture …”

Perhaps the only character who holds the reader’s interest is Walter, if only because he is less obviously unpleasant than his wife, son, and college friend. But whenever we come close to caring about him, a silly joke comes along to set us straight. The ethical choices on his steak-house menu are so few and unappealing that after a little deliberation he says, “F*** it … I’m going to have the rib-eye.” (A fellow environmentalist cheers the selection as if welcoming a wallflower onto the dance floor.) The book pays dearly for this sitcom gag; Walter’s interest in saving wild birds suddenly looks like a manifestation not of real conviction, but of the same uptight goody-goodiness that bores his wife. Even when he finally loses his temper, the book shows him no respect: the chapter in question is called “The Nice Man’s Anger.” Would he have turned out less of a clown had Freedom been written after the BP spill? I doubt it; Franzen must riff and smirk for our age, the Age of Unseriousness. No sooner does Walter declare his love for his assistant than we are forced to follow him to the bathroom, where, unable to pee, he wastes water in “an unnecessary flush.” How tiresome all of this is; literary fiction has drawn man smaller than life for much, much longer than it ever did the opposite.

...the redeeming features of Mr. Franzen's last one were accidental.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Inflation rate flat amid price confusion (Annalyn Censky, September 17, 2010,

[T]hose modest price increases don't offer companies enough of a revenue boost to hire workers, at time when high unemployment is the major factor stalling the recovery, said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities.

He puts the odds of deflation happening -- meaning CPI dips below zero -- at 25%.

"We don't have a whole lot of inflation right now, and the economy seems to be losing momentum. But when you look at the numbers, what we see is low rates of inflation, no actual deflation," he said.

Rising energy and food prices are the biggest drivers keeping the overall index above water, with gasoline rising 4.1% over the last year and food rising 1%. The entire energy index -- which includes fuel, electricity and gas utilities -- rose 3.8%.

Stripping out the volatile food and energy component though, the so-called core CPI remained unchanged, showing prices rose 0.9% over the last year.

That low number means that prices excluding energy and food are also rising, but at a snail's pace -- a trend that mimics the economy at large, which has also grown lately but at a much slower rate than economists' had previously hoped. can't actually find anything the price of which has increased.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Deconstructing Detroit: Instead of demolition, city is urged to recycle (NAOMI R. PATTON, 9/19/10, Detroit FREE PRESS)

It was big news this spring when Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced that the city would demolish 3,000 vacant properties by the end of this year.

As of this month, officials say 1,575 city-owned properties have been either demolished or are under contract for demolition.

With far less fanfare, five city-owned abandoned houses in the Brightmoor neighborhood also came down this summer. They were not demolished, however, but rather deconstructed.

The houses have been taken apart -- mostly by hand -- by the Motor City Blight Busters with cooperation from the city. The plan is to salvage the materials to be reused, repurposed or recycled.

Dismantling a house is a slow, more expensive process compared with demolishing one, but it is a process that cities across the country are starting to embrace. [...]

Much of the material Blight Busters recovers, such as wood flooring and trim, cabinets, doors and repurposed 2-by-4s, end up in its Artist Village and in its soon-to-open Motor City Java House.

"You actually save money. You get more for less," George said.

Bob Falk, president of the Building Materials Reuse Association and research engineer at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., said most people don't realize that municipalities spend millions annually on landfill disposal.

"Deconstruction can keep the money in the community when you hire people from the community. ... Millions of pounds of materials can be used in that community," said Falk, who has spent nearly 20 years working on recycling waste wood. "Deconstruction can be part of a community rebuilding effort."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Illegal immigrants pour across border seeking work: Sound familiar? It's happening in China, where rapid growth has led to a shortage of workers to fill low-skill jobs. But the Chinese don't seem to be concerned. (David Pierson, 9/19/10, Los Angeles Times)

The illegal immigrants come seeking higher wages, steady employment and a chance at better lives for their families. They cross the border in remote stretches where there are no fences or they pay traffickers to sneak them past border guards.

Then they work as maids, harvest crops or toil hunched in sweatshops.

Get a daily snapshot of market numbers and trends, delivered right to your mobile phone. Text BUSINESS to 52669.

As familiar as this sounds, this is not the United States or Europe, but China, which is attracting an increasing number of undocumented workers to fill the bottom rungs of its booming economy. Tens of thousands of foreigners from Southeast Asia, North Korea and even faraway Africa are believed to be working here illegally.

Among the most active areas for the furtive crossings is China's 800-mile southern borders with Vietnam, whose people are drawn by jobs in China that may pay twice as much as they do at home.

"People are struggling for money in Vietnam. They look at China and think it's rich," said Anh Bang, a 23-year-old Vietnamese clothing merchant who travels legally to China several times a month but empathizes with those who enter without documents. "In China they can find a job easily and earn so much more."

Labor shortages in China's export-heavy eastern coastal regions are driving demand for foreign workers. So are Chinese workers' calls for higher wages, which are cutting into employers' profits.

"This is an economic phenomenon," said Zhang Wenshan, a professor of law at Guangxi University who has studied the rise of illegal workers. "It's globalization. Labor costs are increasing in China. This is hard on employers who don't necessarily need sophisticated laborers. So a lot of foreigners are motivated to come here.… It's like how many Chinese have gone to the U.S. to seek better lives."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Inouye gets Hawaii Democratic nod for Senate (AP, 9/19/10)

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, has been nominated by Hawaii Democrats to seek a ninth term. [...]

Inouye will face Cam Cavasso, who won the Republican primary, in November’s election. Cavasso defeated two opponents with 69 percent of the vote in early returns.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Foreign minister wants to eject Israeli Arabs (Amy Teibel, 9/19/10, Associated Press)

Israel's foreign minister on Sunday called for redrawing the country's borders to exclude some Arab citizens, raising the explosive proposal just as new peace talks with the Palestinians struggle to get under way.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also rejected the foundation on which years of negotiation with the Palestinians have been based: Trading captured land for peace.

The principle guiding peace talks "must not be land for peace, but an exchange of land and people," Lieberman told reporters before the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Ethnic cleansing is okay when our allies advocate it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Lib Dems: They love the power, but they're not sure about the responsibility: As some Lib Dems suffer from buyers' remorse, Nick Clegg will have to remind his party why they chose coalition (Andrew Rawnsley, 9/19/10, The Observer)

It was with considerable audacity and skill – and measures of desperation and duplicity too – that he negotiated them into the coalition with the Conservatives. They didn't achieve the Lib Dem cabinet that he imagined 12 months ago. That was a fantasy too far. But Liberal bottoms occupy seats around the top table for the first time since the 1940s. They have at least one minister in nearly every department. The third party has not wielded such power for generations.

There is tangible evidence in Liverpool that they have been transformed from hecklers on the touchline of politics to players at the centre of it. There will be living, breathing, swanking Lib Dem secretaries of state boasting that they are implementing the party's manifesto – well, some of it anyway. These ministers will have announcements to make on behalf of the government – "sweeties" as they have been dubbed in Downing Street. The media will be there in greater numbers than before and so will the lobbyists, the exhibitors and all the other lifeforms that cluster around power. Mr Clegg will leave his conference early because he has a speaking date at the United Nations. This time last year, he could walk the length of a crowded railway station and was lucky if anyone recognised him. Now the Lib Dems have a leader who is invited to address the world.

They will applaud him, they will congratulate themselves, but there will also be a deep undercurrent of unease at this conference. It is not hard to find Lib Dems who are already wondering whether they made a terrible mistake when they hitched themselves to the Tories. The optimists such as Mr Clegg view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to legitimise the Lib Dems as a party of power and make Britain much more comfortable about choosing coalition government in future. The pessimists fear that the third party will end up split, swallowed or smashed. History is on the side of the gloomy: evisceration has been the terrible fate of the Liberals every time they have gone into coalition with the Tories in the past.

It's remarkable how uniformly the rules hold true across the Anglosphere: the electorate wants Third Way policies but the ideologues within the parties can't stand the compromises they have to make to deliver them, so parties in power implode themselves in order to return to the wilderness and restore their useless purity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Horizontally Launched Aircraft Could Revolutionize Space Travel (Conan Milner, 9/19/10, Epoch Times)

Ways to push existing technologies for a new system of space travel are being examined by engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. An early proposal suggests using a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets that would be horizontally launched from a track.

While the Advanced Space Launch System is still in the preliminary stages, engineers believe that a working system could be created within the next 10 years.

The proposal describes a craft that would launch from a two-mile-long, electrified or gas-powered track, and fly into the upper atmosphere up to a speed of Mach 10. A small capsule would then shoot the vehicle into orbit, similar to a second stage from a conventional rocket. On the return trip, the craft would land on a runway as would an airplane.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Increasingly literate India fuels newspaper boom (AFP, 9/19/10)

“What we have is education levels and purchasing power improving — there’s a hunger among Indians to know,” Bhaskar Rao, director of New Delhi’s Centre for Media Studies, told AFP.

Even with 125 million households owning a television, “TV only seems to serve as an appetiser — after watching the evening news they want to read more about the stories the next day,” Rao said.

Indian newspapers are also incredibly cheap, with revenue driven by advertising rather than sales.

Most have a cover price of less than four rupees (25 sen), allowing many households to subscribe to more than one daily.

The market liberalisation of the early 1990s triggered the rapid expansion of an Indian middle class that was hungry for information and represented a boom in potential consumers as well as newspaper readers.

“A race began to reach this audience,” said Robin Jeffrey, author of “India’s Newspaper Revolution.”

“Advertising avenues were the prizes and these would come largely to newspapers that could convince advertisers that they had more readers than their rivals,” Jeffrey said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


US-born panda gives birth to her 8th cub in China (AP, 9/19/10)

An American-born panda gave birth to her eighth cub in southwest China, a rare accomplishment for the endangered species known for being poor breeders.

That's showing them how it's done.

September 18, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


The childish political thought of the Tea Party (Michael Gerson, 9/18/10, Washington Post)

With his recent criticisms of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on Fox News, Karl Rove kicked up a controversy. His critique of O'Donnell was granular and well-informed. Having worked with Karl for a number of years, I know that he is nothing if not detail-oriented. Rove has taken O'Donnell to task for her checkered financial past, her history of litigiousness and paranoia, her misleading statements about her educational background. These facts may not be disqualifying for office, but they indicate a flawed, inexperienced, perennial candidate on the model of Alan Keyes.

While Rove's critique was tough, the reaction in parts of the conservative blogosphere has been unhinged. Michelle Malkin wrote that it "might as well have been Olbermann on MSNBC." Mark Levin pronounced Rove at "war against the Tea Party movement and conservatives." "In terms of the conservative movement," wrote Dan Riehl, "we should not simply ignore him, but proactively work to undermine Rove in whatever ways we can, given his obvious willingness to undermine us."

This reaction is revealing -- and disturbing -- for a number of reasons.

First, it shows how some conservatives view the business of political commentary. Rove obviously has strong views on O'Donnell, based on personal experience with the candidate. But deviations from the party line are not permitted.

...they just want their own feelings validated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Christine O'Donnell cancels TV appearances (Associated Press, 9/18/10)

Christine O'Donnell, the tea party darling whose Republican primary win in Delaware's Senate race shocked the GOP, has canceled her appearances on two national news shows.

O'Donnell had been set to appear on "Face the Nation" on CBS and "Fox News Sunday."

The entire campaign should be reduced to making her nothing more than the name next to (R) on the ballot.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Do ‘Liberal’ Novelists Always Write ‘Liberal’ Novels?: Why did America's conservative press ignore a novel which combines a full-blown send-up of New York’s left-wing intelligentsia with a serious exploration of religious faith? (Brendan Bernhard , 9/17/10, PJM)

“Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.” Thus spake D.H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature. What did he mean? He meant that how a novelist represents himself to the world doesn’t always equate to what his work is about. [...]

In The Believers, Heller plays a neat trick. The Litvinoff clan is so radical they were able to satisfy themselves that 9/11 was the product of legitimate Arab “rage” within hours of the attacks, despite living only a couple of miles from the smoking ruins. Thus the stream of jabs and witticisms at the expense of New York’s bien-pensant set comes not from the right, but mostly from the hard left, and so Heller absolves herself of any charges of having written a “reactionary” novel. This may be true, but whatever else it may be, The Believers is definitely not a “liberal” novel.

Heller then adds another layer to her strategy by revealing that these radical leftists are themselves prey to snobbery, judgmentalism, reactionary views, occasional flashes of racism and homophobia, etc., as well as “insensitivity” of frequently hilarious proportions. Most of all — and here one could argue they join hands with segments of the right — they detest non-judgmental liberal mush, for whose many spoken registers Heller has a platinum ear.

That her ear is so good is a gift, but that she puts it to the use she does shouldn’t surprise us. Since liberal novelists tend to move in liberal circles, they hear nothing but liberal conversation and often end up critiquing the milieus they inhabit, which are 90% liberal. Unless they write science fiction or historical novels, what else do they have to write about? And those milieus, like all others everywhere, are chock-full of evasion, hypocrisy, status envy, and obfuscation: catnip to a novelist. Do we really expect all of them to resist taking a bite?

Despite this, Heller’s book went unmentioned and unreviewed in conservative publications such as The Weekly Standard, The American Conservative, National Review, the American Spectator, the Wall Street Journal, the New Criterion, the Washington Times, Commentary, and City Journal. (It was picked up by D. G. Meyer’s excellent right-leaning literary blog [2].) Nor was this an obscure novel from a small publisher. On the contrary, the pre-publication “buzz” around it was impressive. Heller’s previous novel, Notes on a Scandal, had already been made into a successful film which starred Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench and won four Oscars. [...]

Even more impressive than the novel’s social comedy, of which Evelyn Waugh would have approved, is Heller’s attempt — she is a professed atheist with an M.A. in Marxist theory — to grapple seriously with the question of religion. Rosa, one of the Litvinoff daughters, who has spent four years in Cuba trying to out-radical her father, returns to New York disillusioned with communism. One day she walks into a synagogue out of mild curiosity, and there begins a tortuous and torturous path toward Orthodox Judaism. Although Heller does not bury her satirical radar when tackling religion, her depiction of the Orthodox, and of Rosa’s felt need for some sort of transcendent religious faith, constitutes an impressive feat of imaginative empathy.

In a scene that brilliantly combines spiritual desolation and bedroom farce, Rosa temporarily rebels against the strictures of her growing religiosity by having a joyless one-night stand with the trendy narcissist (a fool, but not a bad person, in Rosa’s estimation) mentioned earlier. Afterward, she retreats to his bathroom, vomits, gazes at a cockroach “perched on the sink faucet, waving its antennae good-naturedly at her,” while her oblivious paramour (who has a voice like “tinnitus”) calls out from the next room: “Hey. … Do you want to hear some really amazing Ghanaian hip-hop?… These guys are meant to be really amazing live….” Overwhelmed by the emptiness of it all, she prays to God (while on the toilet) to give me a sign: tell me what I should do. Moments later, she stands up, “disgusted with her own childish egotism”:

The God she believed in — or wanted to believe in — did not sit about in his cloudy house, waiting to help out drunken doubters with proof of his existence. He was not some whimsical dispenser of signs and special favors. He was God, for God’s sake.

If that last sentence isn’t both witty and profound, I don’t know what is. The Believers is a breezy read, but this is due to the author’s skill as a writer, not to a lack of complexity. Like all good novels, it asks more questions than it answers. But from the point of view of this article, the main question is: Why did every major conservative outlet in America fail to even note its existence?

Zoë Heller: Metamorphosis (Sam Leith, 13 Sep 2008, Daily Telegraph)
Heller's starting point was a magazine article about scientists trying to locate the 'belief gene', evidence of a genetic predisposition 'to credulity, to faith in religion, politics, love, whatever'. And 'faith in religion, politics and love' is exactly what The Believers is about.

Belief is hard to illustrate; and The Believers is hard to precis. It is peculiarly shaped. Its central character, a grizzled silverback of a New York human rights lawyer called Joel Litvinoff, spends almost all of the story in a coma after suffering a stroke. His younger English-born wife, Audrey, a fearsome grande dame among Greenwich Village radicals, finds herself suddenly crowded with uncertainty. Her dignity as the wife of the great man - her faith, in a sense, in Joel - is under threat from a woman who comes forward to claim that Joel fathered her child. And her dogmatic leftist secularism is affronted as her elder daughter, Rosa, finds herself drawn, albeit falteringly, towards Orthodox Judaism.

For Heller, who has never been a believer - except, she laughingly recounts, for a week-long burst of pre-teen devotion inspired by a religious painting - 'the challenge with Rosa was to write sympathetically and not sneeringly about somebody's road-to-Damascus experience'. Heller struggled mightily with the architecture of the book, not least because this is her first attempt at third-person narrative.

'You always hear writers saying, "After the second chapter Jenny just came alive and dictated where it all went." And I'm always thinking, "Really?" I was reading an old Paris Review interview where someone quoted Nabokov, who was asked: "Are you a writer like EM Forster, whose characters leap from the page and sort of tell him where to go?" And he said: [she adopts a hammy Russian accent] "Who is zis EM Forster? Augh! He can't be a very good writer. No. All my characters are galley slaves." And I thought, "Right on!"'

The standout character in her last novel, Notes on a Scandal, was its angry, obsessive, loneliness-crazed narrator, Barbara. In The Believers it is Audrey, with her vile temper, self-righteousness and patrician hauteur. Heller has a strong line in unsympathetic female characters, I suggest.

'Well,' she says, sounding a little crestfallen. 'They're not meant to be extremely unsympathetic."

The phenomenon of "liberal" authors accidentally writing novels that endorse the views of their political/philosophical opposites is as old as the form itself.

Zoë Heller, The Believers (DG Myers, A Commonplace Blog)

Except for Rosa, her family enjoys Audrey’s “ugly view of the world,” even if they do not share it. And though Rosa is probably correct that what raises a laugh in her audience is “not the truth of her observations” but rather “their unfairness, their surreal cruelty,” the fact is that her verbal ugliness and relentless cruelty is shamefully delightful. Audrey belongs to the regiment of acid-tongued women that includes Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy, and it is to Heller’s credit that she recognizes the cruelty of wit as an accomplishment, almost a life’s work. Other than that Audrey has had no life’s work:
[S]he had often spoken of the accomplishments that might have been hers had she not dedicated her life to Joel. But she had never really believed what she was saying. Deep down, she had always known these aggrieved remarks for what they were—self-flattering delusions, face-saving fantasies. The truth was, Joel had held her back from nothing. He had saved her.
This is one of the few times Heller refers directly to her title, and the reference is significant. For though Audrey replies to a friend’s encouragement by saying that she is “done,” the truth is that Joel’s “physical catastrophe” has freed her to begin again—by abandoning the false belief of independent self-fulfillment and deciding to become the keeper of her husband’s flame.

That the public occasion on which she unveils her decision is a pathetic imitation of a socialist rally—that her announcement is melodramatic, that Joel’s flame has been dimmed by exposure of his secret life—are finally irrelevant. The pattern is set. Each of the Litvinoff women becomes a “believer” by turning away from self-flattering delusion toward the embarrassing truth.

on The Believers, a novel by Zoë Heller (Ron Slate, On the Seawall)
The center-of-consciousness here hovers near, if not often through, the perspective of Audrey Litvinoff, imported from England at nineteen, a lower-middle class child of Jewish immigrants, to marry Joel. But with Joel in a coma and her marriage shaken, Audrey is stripped down. Her friend Jean suggests “reinventing herself and moving on,” but it’s no use:

“Audrey shook her head forlornly. It was true: she had often spoken of the accomplishments that might have been hers had she not dedicated her life to Joel. But she had never really believed what she was saying. Deep down, she had always known these aggrieved remarks for what they were – self-flattering delusions, face-saving fantasies. The truth was, Joel had held her back from nothing. He had saved her. Without Joel, she would still be typing in Camden Town, or living in some hellish suburb, married to a man like her sister’s husband, Colin.
She looked down at the brochures splayed on the floor. ‘No, Jean,’ she murmured. ‘It’s no good. I’m done.’"

But not so fast. Heller is at her nimble best when shifting her characters between their own caustic or self-critical insights and driven natures. After the scene above, Audrey and Rosa meet at a political rally. Rosa announces that she has quit her job and is going to practice Orthodox Judaism:

“Audrey turned to her. ‘You want to know what I’d do if the truth revealed itself to me and it wasn’t the truth I wanted to find?'


Audrey smiled. 'I’d reject it.'"

In this way, she rejects the truth discovered about the “self-flattering delusions” and Berenice’s child, and pays tribute to her husband instead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The GOP's Fat Elvis: Newt Gingrich is back, lecturing the timid Republican leadership on how to win the fall. (John Batchelor, 9/17/10, Daily Beast)

Newt Gingrich spoke to a closed-door breakfast of the Republicans of the House the other day after the last primaries, and the irony you need to know is that the only members who showed up were the clueless Boehner crew, who are not in on the joke that in the GOP cloakroom they call Newt "Fat Elvis."

The young House members have spent the last four years living under siege from the Democratic battalions while their ranks thinned and their cash dwindled, and all the while Newt Gingrich was in the pulpit of Fox News castigating them for their gutlessness. The young remember the scoldings and the sermons, and, much like a child who grew up to be a star athlete, they resent having been kicked by Grandpa Gingrich when they were helpless—and yet they are not yet ready to belt back at him now that he comes preening to show how much he loves them.

"The young people who have no ties to him," an observer explains of Gingrich, "they think, what an a**hole." today's GOP, Chris Christie is Fit Elvis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Still beatable
DioGuardi can best Gillibrand
(DICK MORRIS & EILEEN MCGANN, September 16, 2010, NY Post)

Bottom line: New Yorkers don't yet really know Gillibrand as "their" senator -- and they ought to know her as a chameleon who's shown no principle in her pursuit of profit.

Polls show her only barely above 50 percent before the Republican primary. Now, she is probably under 50 percent.

Joe DioGuardi, a committed conservative with a fine record in Congress, offers an alternative that voters will find attractive. He's hampered by limited name recognition, likely still in the mid 30s.

But once an incumbent is under 50 percent, she is very vulnerable, particularly with Gillibrand's record of support for every Obama big-spending scheme. And she stands for nothing in a year when voters are looking for sincerity.

This is the rare state where Democrats could build a firewall, but they have to do it mostly by making sure the win the other Senate seat and the governor's race by big margins.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


A Poverty of Statistics (Nicholas Eberstadt, September 17, 2010 , The American)

Consider this: by official numbers, America’s lowest-ever poverty rate was in 1973 (at 11.1 percent). According to official data, in other words, the prevalence of absolute poverty in America has been consistently worse in America than it was back in 1973—for 37 straight years. Yet the notion that the year 1973 was America’s golden age for progress against poverty is patently absurd, especially to anyone who remembers those recession-wracked Watergate days firsthand. [...]

Closer examination of the poverty rate demonstrates that this measure is increasingly at odds with other, arguably more common-sensical, indicators of want and well-being in America. Indeed, statistical analysis can demonstrate that the poverty rate has been strangely out of sync with such fundamental determinants of absolute deprivation as per capita income, unemployment, educational attainment, and antipoverty spending since at least the early 1970s.

So what is wrong with the official poverty rate? A host of well-founded technical criticisms have been leveled at it over the years, most focusing on its definition and measurement of family income. The real problem, however, is much simpler—and more profound. Our official poverty measure is measuring the wrong thing.

At the end of the day, poverty is about living standards, and living standards reflect consumption levels. If we really want to know about plenty and poverty in America, we should be monitoring consumption (spending patterns and the like). Our official poverty rate, by contrast, simply assumes that income and consumption levels will be identical for less well-off Americans.

Yet in reality, income does not predict consumption for poorer Americans with any accuracy these days. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2008 Consumer Expenditure Survey, for example, reported that expenditures for the lowest quintile of American households were over twice as high as reported pretax income.

In any given year, Americans can spend more than they earn—and a great many do so. (An important new study soon to be released by AEI Press methodically demonstrates just how different income- and expenditure-based estimates of living standards for modern America turn out to be.1) The complex and often critical interplay between income and consumption, however, is completely missed by our official poverty measure. In fact, the measure ignores this by its very design.

...but officially I'm impoverished...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Turkey: a democratic superpower in the Middle East (Reza Aslan, Sep 17, 2010, CS Monitor)

Last week, 30 years after a military coup overturned the democratically elected government of Suleyman Demirel, Turks voted overwhelmingly for constitutional changes pushed through by the moderate Islamists of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials AKP).

The reforms strengthen the rights of women, children, and the handicapped, provide greater freedoms for Turkey’s Christian and Kurdish minorities (both of whom have been repeatedly persecuted and marginalized by previous governments), relax Turkey’s restrictive labor laws, curtail the role of the military in political affairs, and allow for the creation of more democratic institutions throughout the country. More crucially, the reforms reorganize the structure of the court system, providing greater legal protections for ordinary citizens while stripping the military of its immunity against prosecution in civilian courts.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


My Take: Imam Rauf is Not a Moderate (Stephen Prothero, 9/09/11, CNN)

In terms of news, the bottom line is that Imam Feisal seems to be searching for a compromise that will turn down the temperature of the controversy while not giving the upper hand to bigots at home and radicals in the Muslim world. [...]

The most revealing moment in this revealing interview came during a discussion about whether the neighborhood in question is sacred ground. This topic has of course been well covered: it is sacred because the ashes of the dead that drifted over its streets have and never will be recovered; yet it is not so sacred because there are strip clubs and sex shops there.

As O’Brien pressed him to admit the sacredness of the site, Imam Rauf spoke up forcefully, more forcefully than he did in the rest of the interview. And this time he spoke not of peace but of justice. And while he addressed O'Brien personally, he also challenged his viewers:

We've got to be fair. You can't say a place that has strip joints is sacred ground. We've got to be just. We've got to speak the truth. We've got to have justice for everybody. We're a country of justice for all, not justice for non-Muslims only or some groups and not for others. This is what America's all about, Soledad.

If you are looking for the face of moderate Islam, this is it. And if you cannot see moderate Islam in his face, you are not looking.

That said, I would not describe Imam Feisal as a moderate.

In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Muslims are divided into three camps: a large group of moderates and much smaller groups of fundamentalists and progressives. Moderates and progressives distinguish themselves from fundamentalists by favoring the separation of mosque and state, and by enthusiastically affirming democracy. Progressives distinguish themselves from moderates by speaking out more forcefully for religious pluralism and by drawing more generously on the thinking of intellectuals from Europe and the United States.

On this score, at least, Imam Feisal is a progressive. Repeatedly he spoke of building bridges across religious divides, and he closed the interview not by quoting the Quran or invoking Shariah but by invoking the Sermon on the Mount: “Jesus Christ said blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

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September 17, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


What the Earth Knows: Understanding the concept of geologic time and some basic science can give a new perspective on climate change and the energy future (Robert B. Laughlin, Summer 2010, American Scholar)

Any serious conversation about the planet’s climate and our energy future must begin, paradoxically, with a backward look at geologic time. The reason for this is that the way forward is fogged by misunderstandings about the earth. Experts are little help in the constant struggle in this conversation to separate myth from reality, because they have the same difficulty, and routinely demonstrate it by talking past each other. Respected scientists warn of imminent energy shortages as geologic fuel supplies run out. Wall Street executives dismiss their predictions as myths and call for more drilling. Environmentalists describe the destruction to the earth from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Economists ignore them and describe the danger to the earth of failing to burn coal, oil, and natural gas. Geology researchers report fresh findings about what the earth was like millions of years ago. Creationist researchers report fresh findings that the earth didn’t exist millions of years ago. The only way not to get lost in this awful swamp is to review the basics and decide for yourself what you believe and what you don’t.

Geologic time is such a vast concept that it’s helpful to convert it to something more pedestrian just to get oriented. I like rainfall.

* The total precipitation that falls on the world in one year is about one meter of rain, the height of a golden retriever.
* The total amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the industrial revolution began is about 200 meters, the height of Hoover Dam.
* The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the time of Moses is enough to fill up all the oceans.
* The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the Ice Age ended is enough to fill up all the oceans four times.
* The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since the dinosaurs died is enough to fill up all the oceans 20,000 times—or the entire volume of the earth three times.
* The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since coal formed is enough to fill up the earth 15 times.
* The amount of rain that has fallen on the world since oxygen formed is enough to fill the earth 100 times.

Common sense tells us that damaging a thing this old is somewhat easier to imagine than it is to accomplish—like invading Russia. The earth has suffered mass volcanic explosions, floods, meteor impacts, mountain formation, and all manner of other abuses greater than anything people could inflict, and it’s still here. It’s a survivor. We don’t know exactly how the earth recovered from these devastations, because the rocks don’t say very much about that, but we do know that it did recover—the proof of it being that we are here.

Nonetheless, damaging the earth is precisely what’s concerning a lot of responsible people at the moment. Carbon dioxide from the human burning of fossil fuel is building up in the atmosphere at a frightening pace, enough to double the present concentration in a century. This buildup has the potential to raise average temperatures on the earth several degrees centigrade, enough to modify the weather and accelerate melting of the polar ice sheets. Governments around the world have become so alarmed at this prospect that they’ve taken significant, although ineffective, steps to slow the warming. These actions include legislating carbon caps, funding carbon sequestration research, subsidizing alternate energy technologies, and initiating at least one serious international treaty process to balance the necessary economic sacrifices across borders.

Unfortunately, this concern isn’t reciprocated. On the scales of time relevant to itself, the earth doesn’t care about any of these governments or their legislation. It doesn’t care whether you turn off your air conditioner, refrigerator, and television set. It doesn’t notice when you turn down your thermostat and drive a hybrid car. These actions simply spread the pain over a few centuries, the bat of an eyelash as far as the earth is concerned, and leave the end result exactly the same: all the fossil fuel that used to be in the ground is now in the air, and none is left to burn. The earth plans to dissolve the bulk of this carbon dioxide into its oceans in about a millennium, leaving the concentration in the atmosphere slightly higher than today’s. Over tens of millennia after that, or perhaps hundreds, it will then slowly transfer the excess carbon dioxide into its rocks, eventually returning levels in the sea and air to what they were before humans arrived on the scene. The process will take an eternity from the human perspective, but it will be only a brief instant of geologic time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


A Not-So-Brief History of Pitching Injuries, Starring Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers (Jonah Keri, 9/17/10)

Ryan’s own ironman history would seem to make him the perfect spokesman for pushing pitchers to go deeper into games. His 235-pitch slog back in ’74 marked the third time in three years he’d pitched 12 innings or more in a game. These weren’t what you’d call efficient efforts either. Ryan threw 332.2 innings, struck out 367 batters, and walked 202 in ’74, the season that produced his biggest workload. He threw harder than anyone, trained harder than anyone, struck out more batters than anyone and walked more batters than anyone in the game’s history, started in the big leagues as a teenager, and finished as a 46-year-old.

But Ryan also acknowledges that he was the biggest of outliers. Though he owed much of his success to hard work, he also knows he won a genetic lottery that helped make him one of the most successful and most durable pitchers of all-time. Having Nolan Ryan preach about the value of pitching deep into games is a little like listening to Yao Ming encouraging people to get taller. Easy for you to say, buddy.

Still, there’s no denying the massive changes that have washed over the game in the past 36 years. When a pitcher closes in on 100 pitches today, an alarm goes off in the ballpark, one that alerts managers, pitching coaches, broadcasters and opposing hitters that the guy on the mound is getting tired and won’t last much longer. Pitchers who last into the 7th inning give their team a big edge, allowing their managers to keep their bullpen fresh and use higher-quality relievers to close out the game. Complete games have mostly gone the way of the bullpen cart (despite a slight rebound in the past two years). Catfish Hunter holds the mark for most complete games in a season since 1974, with 30. When CC Sabathia completed one-third that many in 2008, he was celebrated like the reincarnation of Iron Man McGinnity. This shouldn’t be too surprising: Sabathia was the only pitcher to crack double-digit complete games in a season over the last decade.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ treatment of Sabathia’s teammate Joba Chamberlain has spawned howls of protest from New York media and fans. The Joba Rules, the Yankees’ conservative usage plan for their 24-year-old prodigy, was enacted to protect a pitcher the team views as a cornerstone of its future. The team’s pledge to cap Chamberlain’s innings total at 160 last season after limiting him to just over 100 in 2008 further fanned the flames of protest. Facing the Red Sox one night last May, Chamberlain energized Yankee Stadium by following a four-run blow-up to start the game with 5 2/3 dominant innings, including 12 strikeouts. Rather than let his pitcher keep going, though, Joe Girardi popped out of the dugout to take the ball from Chamberlain. The Yankees skipper had actually pushed Chamberlain a little longer then he’d originally intended – all the way to 108 pitches. Still, there was nothing subtle about the crowd’s reaction: a symphony of boos that rang out throughout the ballpark. The Yankees’ kid glove treatment did keep Chamberlain healthy; for their trouble, they got a mediocre pitcher with lousy command, fueling a 4.75 ERA, 76 walks in just 157.1 IP, and a league-leading 12 hit batsmen.

Ryan wants no part of any pitching program with the word “Rules” in it. Led by Maddux, bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez at the major league level, and director of player development Scott Servais and pitching coordinator Danny Clark at the minor league level, the Rangers have implemented some system-wide programs. But, says Maddux, they’ve also remained flexible, responding to specific pitchers’ needs. That’s a big departure from the military tendencies of many teams, which treat everyone the same, regardless of ability or body type.

Starting last spring, Vazquez prescribed a rigorous running program, designed to build up pitchers’ stamina. Bucking baseball’s status quo, Vazquez pushed pitchers to run sprints lasting 30 to 200 yards, in lieu of the usual distance running-only program. Baseball is often behind the curve in skill-specific training, Vazquez said, lacking the kind of specially-tailored drills and exercise regimens that help power forwards snatch rebounds and cornerbacks defend fly patterns. By running sprints and doing heavy weightlifting with their legs, Vazquez said pitchers are getting the kind of intensive workout they need to mimic the action of pitching.

“If you break down pitching, it’s really a series of sprints,” Vazquez explained. “You take the ball, throw it as hard as you can, then take a break. Pitching is stop-and-go, not a continuous activity. You want to promote that explosiveness, where you can give your all in this one sprint, or this one pitch.”

Intensive training methods like those Vazquez now recommends can cause greater lactic acid buildup, which can cause more soreness than a pitcher might be used to handling. But pitchers experience the same physical sensations when straining through a 30-pitch inning against a tough lineup in searing August heat. By acclimating themselves to those sensations, Vazquez said, pitchers become better able to handle heavier workloads, increasing their effectiveness and lowering their chance of injury.

Now in his eighth year in the same role with the Rangers, Vazquez said he’d long wanted to implement this kind of program for the team’s pitchers. The sport is steeped in tradition and conventional thinking, he said, making the game’s decision makers reluctant to make big changes and take risks. The order to change the way a team trains usually has to come from the top. That’s what’s made Ryan’s hands-on approach as team president so helpful.

“Because Nolan did that kind of training as a player and was successful with it, he was the perfect person to sell it,” Vazquez said. “He was able to say, ‘Hey guys, I did it this way, there’s nothing to be afraid of.’ Nolan came in and said the pitchers need to be pushed more, they need to work harder and turn up their intensity – and that there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The Rangers’ biggest break from conventional wisdom may be their decision to use big league pitchers to throw batting practice between starts. While most other teams have spare coaches lob lollipop pitches in for hitters to launch into the bleachers, the Rangers use BP as a way for pitchers to test their complete repertoire between starts, facing live hitters.

“It’s important to see how hitters react to your pitches in certain locations,” said Ryan, who credited throwing BP with keeping him sharp between starts throughout his career. “By pitching off a mound to hitters, instead of throwing side sessions on a bullpen mound, you’re also put into a situation that’s a lot closer to being in a game. It’s another good way to help build your stamina.”

The pitchers have bought into the idea of throwing extra BP.

“It gives you a little bit more intensity level, more than what you would get out of a bullpen,” said Colby Lewis, a five-year major league veteran who returned to the Rangers this off-season after spending two years in Japan. “It’s new to me, but I like it.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM

THE SPIRIT OF NENA (profanity alert):

Track by track: Maximum Balloon – Dave Sitek: The TV On the Radio man talks us through his solo debut, which features enough collaborations to rival Gorillaz's Plastic Beach (Sam Richards, 9/15/10,

TV On the Radio guitarist and Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer Dave Sitek never intended to make a solo record. However, once he started playing his elastic electro-funk workouts to enthused buddies during parties at his new LA studio, Sitek soon found himself with a sassy ensemble pop album to rival Gorillaz's Plastic Beach. Maximum Balloon also contains David Byrne's finest vocal performance in years. Here's how it all came about, track by track.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


GOP's Ron Johnson Takes 7-Point Lead in Senate Race Against Russ Feingold (Bruce Drake, 9/17/10, Politics Daily)

Republican Ron Johnson, a plastics manufacturer new to politics, has followed up his capture of the GOP Senate nomination by moving out to a 51 percent to 44 percent lead over three-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Sept. 15. One percent prefer some other candidate and 4 percent are undecided. The margin of error is 4 points.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:14 PM


D.C. Mayor Fenty Wins GOP Nomination (Louise Radnofsky, 9/17/10, WSJ)

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, who lost the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary, won the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate, the District board of elections said. [...]

The Washington Post had reported before the primary that some GOP members were planning to try to nominate Fenty as their candidate. Asked whether he would accept a GOP nomination, Fenty had said “I’m a Democrat, that is why I wouldn’t run as a Republican.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


Syria's Muslim Brothers: Where to next? (Najib Ghadbian, September 17, 2010, Daily Star)

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s recent selection of a new general guide is generating speculation about the group’s trajectory after a period in which it gave up most opposition activities. Mohammad Riyadh al-Shaqfih, elected in July after former guide Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni’s third term, served as a Muslim Brotherhood military leader in the 1980s and was unknown outside its ranks. [...]

After his election in 1996, Bayanouni succeeded in pulling the Brotherhood out of the isolation in which the group existed after its massive defeat in the Hama Massacre of 1982. He shifted the Brotherhood from engaging in armed struggle to political and media efforts against the regime. Bayanouni emphasized peaceful resistance to the regime and expressed a willingness to engage its leadership.

Brotherhood leaders voiced reservations concerning the transfer of power to Bashar Assad in 2000, but also said they were willing to reconcile with the regime in a climate of pluralism. Under Bayanouni’s leadership, the Brotherhood signed on to principles of democratic opposition as expressed in the 2000 Declaration of the 1999”and the 2001 Declaration of the 1,000 Petitions signed by intellectuals, artists, and activists during the liberalizing period known as the “Damascus Spring.” The signatories called for gradual reform including the release of political prisoners, allowing political exiles to return, lifting emergency laws, and abolishing exceptional laws and courts.

The Brotherhood under Bayanouni also published a political program in 2004 that called for the creation of a “modern civilian state” in Syria characterized by the rule of law, pluralism, civil society, and the peaceful alternation of political power.

These efforts led to widespread acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood by other opposition forces. The Muslim Brothers were among the drafters of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change in October 2005, and went on to join former Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam in forming the National Salvation Front, which aimed to create a viable democratic alternative to Assad’s regime. But in 2009, Bayanouni decided to suspend opposition activities and withdraw from the National Salvation Front in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

With the exception of the controversial decision to suspend opposition activities, Shaqfih is likely to continue in the same direction as Bayanouni and differences may be more in style rather than in strategy. Shaqfih, like the new Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood elected in January 2010, Mohammad al-Badiah, was not a public figure before being voted into office. This may reflect the narrowing political horizons in Egypt and Syria, and suggests that both organizations might prioritize educational and charitable tasks over political ones. Shaqfih’s military background certainly does not mean a return to military confrontation; he said in his first interview with the Saudi daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat on August 8 that the Brotherhood renounced violence and would transform itself into a political party if the Syrian regime would guarantee political freedoms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


The Buckley rule (Charles Krauthammer, September 17, 2010, Washington Post)

Bill Buckley -- no Mike Castle he -- had a rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable.

A timeless rule of sober politics, and particularly timely now. This is no ordinary time. And this is no ordinary Democratic administration. It is highly ideological and ambitious. It is determined to use whatever historical window it is granted to change the country structurally, irreversibly. It has already done so with Obamacare and has equally lofty ambitions for energy, education, immigration, taxation, industrial policy and the composition of the Supreme Court.

Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me (William F. Buckley, Jr., March 2008, Commentary)
Goldwater was in Palm Beach visiting, incognito, with a sister-in-law who was resident there. He arrived at our hotel suite at about 11:00 in extravagantly informal garb, cowboy hat and dark glasses, a workman’s blue shirt, and denim jeans, together with his beloved Western boots. He did bring along a weather-beaten briefcase, though I never noticed his opening it the whole day.

What followed was an hour of general discussion on the policies of President Kennedy and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Baroody noted Kennedy’s surprising drop in the polls: 61 percent of the public thought he spent money too freely, a third thought him unduly weak in opposing Soviet challenges in Berlin and elsewhere.

Moving on, Baroody brought up the John Birch Society. It was quickly obvious that this was the subject Goldwater wished counsel on.

Kirk, unimpeded by his little professorial stutter, greeted the subject with fervor. It was his opinion, he said emphatically, that Robert Welch was a man disconnected from reality. How could anyone reason, as Welch had done in The Politician, that President Eisenhower had been a secret agent of the Communists? This mischievous unreality was a great weight on the back of responsible conservative political thinking. The John Birch Society should be renounced by Goldwater and by everyone else—Kirk turned his eyes on me—with any influence on the conservative movement.

But that, Goldwater said, is the problem. Consider this, he exaggerated: “Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society. Russell, I’m not talking about Commie-haunted apple pickers or cactus drunks, I’m talking about the highest cast of men of affairs. Any of you know who Frank Cullen Brophy is?”

I raised my hand. “I spent a lot of time with him. He was going to contribute capital to help found National Review. He didn’t.” Brophy was a prominent Arizona banker.

Goldwater said he knew nothing about that, but added that Brophy certainly was aware of Goldwater’s personal enthusiasm for the magazine and especially for its Washington editor, Brent Bozell. “Why isn’t Brent here?” he turned to Baroody.

“He’s in Spain.”

“Well, our—my—Conscience of a Conservative continues to sell.” Bozell, who was also my brother-in-law, had ghostwritten the book, which had given Goldwater a national profile.

Kirk said he could not imagine Bozell disagreeing on the need to excommunicate the John Birch Society from the conservative movement.

But this brought another groan from Goldwater. “You just can’t do that kind of thing in Arizona. For instance, who on earth can dismiss Frank Brophy from anything?”

Time was given to the John Birch Society lasting through lunch, and the subject came up again the next morning. We resolved that conservative leaders should do something about the John Birch Society. An allocation of responsibilities crystallized.

Goldwater would seek out an opportunity to dissociate himself from the “findings” of the Society’s leader, without, however, casting any aspersions on the Society itself. I, in National Review and in my other writing, would continue to expose Welch and his thinking to scorn and derision. “You know how to do that,” said Jay Hall.

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

“How would you define the Birch fallacy?” Jay Hall asked.

“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”

“I like that,” Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”

“Put away in Alaska?” I asked, mock-seriously.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM

We Read the Constitution

U.S. Constitution (National Archives: Charters of Freedom)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


10 Reasons To Buy a Home: Enough with the doom and gloom about homeownership. (Brett Arends, 9/17/10, WSJ)

6. It offers some inflation protection. No, it's not perfect. But studies by Professor Karl "Chip" Case (of Case-Shiller), and others, suggest that over the long-term housing has tended to beat inflation by a couple of percentage points a year. That's valuable inflation insurance, especially if you're young and raising a family and thinking about the next 30 or 40 years. In the recent past, inflation-protected government bonds, or TIPS, offered an easier form of inflation insurance. But yields there have plummeted of late. That also makes homeownership look a little better by contrast.

7. It's risk capital. No, your home isn't the stock market and you shouldn't view it as the way to get rich. But if the economy does surprise us all and start booming, sooner or later real estate prices will head up again, too. One lesson from the last few years is that stocks are incredibly hard for most normal people to own in large quantities–for practical as well as psychological reasons. Equity in a home is another way of linking part of your portfolio to the long-term growth of the economy–if it happens–and still managing to sleep at night.

8. It's forced savings. If you can rent an apartment for $2,000 month instead of buying one for $2,400 a month, renting may make sense. But will you save that $400 for your future? A lot of people won't. Most, I dare say. Once again, you have to do your math, but the part of your mortgage payment that goes to principal repayment isn't a cost. You're just paying yourself by building equity. As a forced monthly saving, it's a good discipline.

Low rates make 15-year mortgages feasible for many refinancers: Monthly payments are higher but those who can afford it welcome the peace of mind of knowing that their home will be paid off in half the time of a standard, 30-year loan. (E. Scott Reckard, 9/17/10, Los Angeles Times)
As homeowners rush to refinance their mortgages, an increasing number are opting for a 15-year term. They're not only moving up the date on which they'll own their property free and clear, but also benefiting from a lower rate than those available on 30-year loans.

This week the rates offered by lenders on 15-year fixed-rate loans averaged 3.82%, Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That was down slightly from 3.83% last week and the lowest in the 19 years that the mortgage finance giant has tracked such loans.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate loans was 4.37%, up a bit from its record low of 4.32% two weeks ago, according to Freddie Mac's weekly survey.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


No winning in economy blame game (Mark Z. Barabak, 9/17/10, Los Angeles Times)

Democrats have a strategy as they battle history and a partisan headwind to keep control of Congress: Remind voters of the financial mess Obama inherited and convince them that putting Republicans in charge would mean returning to the policies that helped crater the economy.

While Fisher speaks of holes and shovels, Obama refers to cars and ditches, saying Republicans ran the country off the road and now want the keys again. The choice in November, the president said last week in Cleveland, is "between sliding backward and moving forward."

The strategy, however, doesn't seem to be working so well here in Ohio -- where Fisher trails Portman -- or elsewhere across the country.

Though most Americans remain critical of Bush's record on the economy -- 71% in a recent USA Today-Gallup poll said he deserved a great deal or moderate amount of blame for the slow growth and high jobless rate --more than half of those polled were unhappy with Obama's performance. More to the point, they hold him responsible for fixing the problem, regardless of who caused it.

Faulting Bush, some said in Ohio, sounds like the typical Washington sniping that Obama promised to end when he ran for president in 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


They Had Great Character (STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY, 9/15/10, NY Times)

There is one thing that [Kevin McCarthy, Carl Gordon, Maury Chaykin, James Gammon, Harold Gould] and I have in common: we have all played parts that didn’t have names.

When you are Harrison Ford you play Richard Kimble or Han Solo. You have a first and last name, and the writer has thought enough about you to give you a life. Harrison Ford’s characters eat, sleep, drink coffee, shave, shower (from the back only, waist up), read the newspaper, get dressed, drive to work, run for their lives, shoot guns, deliver stirring oratory to alien warlords and possibly kiss Renée Zellweger — all because they have been named.

Compare that with James Gammon, who assayed the roles of “Texan,” “Paps” and “Double D.” Or Carl Gordon, whose characters were sometimes identified only by a job description like “Foreman” or “Luther the Pimp,” or simply age and location like “Older Man on Train.” Harold Gould was stuck with his location on the family tree when he played “Grandpa” in “Freaky Friday.”

I personally have felt the bite of having no name. In my time, I have played “Ranger Bob,” “Ringmaster Bob,” “Dr. Bob,” “Father Jon” and “Father Joe.” For the TV movie “Last Flight Out,” my name was “Tim” in the first half of the script and “Jim” in the last half. One of our stars was Richard Crenna, the funniest man who ever lived; he would always call me “Tim Jim” with a straight face during our scenes and in serious discussions with the director. No one noticed.

The career of Kevin McCarthy, who was somewhat of an icon for his performance in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” proves this rule. When he was younger, he was a leading man; he had his hair and his good looks and almost always played parts that had first and last names. He became a character actor only after he outlived all the leading ladies he could have plausibly kissed. When that happened, Kevin’s characters began to lose their names, though he was so respected that they were almost always given a higher education: “Dr. Jones,” “Professor Ragnar,” “Professor Weaver,” “Bishop Ryder,” “Pastor Waltz” and “the Monk.”

Do not be deceived, however: the onscreen life of Paps or the Monk or Older Man on Train had to be just as full and vibrant as that of, say, Capt. Jack Sparrow or Don Corleone.

The only difference is that the parts with no names have been somewhat abandoned by the screenwriters, so it is the job of the character actor to bring substance to the role. That may take imagination, research or just plain prayer. But it has to be done. The character actor has to bring the complete person to the set, ready to roll with the punches.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


For failed candidates, tea party's the ticket (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 9/16/10 , Politico)

[O]’Donnell, the upset winner over Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary, is hardly the only Republican with a losing record who has found success in the anti-establishment tea party. Across the country, many of this year’s tea party candidates are outsiders only because they have failed in previous attempts over the years to become insiders. In fact, some lost multiple Republican primary or general election campaigns before recasting themselves as tea party champions.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of shifting their focus from social or national security issues to the fiscal concerns that have been the tea party’s foundation. But other re-brandings have involved more sweeping stylistic - if not substantive – overhauls by veterans of the political process anxious to portray themselves as apart from it.

In several cases, they’ve been met with open arms by tea party activists, many of whom are new to politics – and this troubles some tea party leaders.

“They haven’t really looked into some of these candidates – it’s enough that they say they believe in freedom,” said Andrew Ian Dodge, the Maine state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, which does not make endorsements.

“There are candidates in some states who are kind of gadflies who suddenly jumped on the band-wagon,” Dodge said, adding that separating them from true outsiders motivated by tea party principles is “something that the tea party movement is very much learning.”

Here in NH, they opposed a woman who'd never run for office to back our failed '96 gubernatorial nominee. Not that there's anything wrong with their decision to run professional politicians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Germany Denies Plans to Clear Roma Settlements: French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday that Chancellor Merkel told him Germany was preparing to clear Roma camps in the coming weeks. The denial from Berlin was unmistakable. The remarks come after a tense European Union summit in Brussels that saw many leaders fall out with Sarkozy over France's treatment of the Roma minority. (Der Spiegel, 9/17/10)

"Madame Merkel indicated to me her desire to proceed with the evacuation of camps in the coming weeks," Sarkozy told reporters at a press conference after a tense European Union summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

But Merkel's spokesman denied the statement. "Chancellor Merkel spoke neither during the (EU summit) nor during talks with French President Sarkozy on the sidelines of the (summit) about supposed Roma encampments in Germany, not to mention their clearance," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


President George Washington completes 'Farewell Address,' September 17, 1796 (ANDREW GLASS | 9/17/10, Politico)

On this day in 1796, President George Washington completed the final draft of his farewell address, in which he said that he would step down after his second term. In doing so, he set a precedent for incumbents that held until 1940, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a third term.

Two days later, the 6,084-word document, addressed to “friends and citizens,” ran in David Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser. It was titled: “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States.”

Washington's Farewell Address 1796
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured ? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. [...]

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

Geo. Washington.

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September 16, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


'Rubicon' makes idiot box a lot smarter: Subtle, grown-up spy drama has characters, viewers thinking (John Kass, September 17, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

"Rubicon" isn't about characters with big muscles and big guns and cool gadgets. The stars of this show are troubled, emotionally flawed intelligence analysts working in a Manhattan think tank. They're quirky, brilliant, neurotic, intrigued by codes.

One keeps a brass owl on his desk. Another demands special pastries at the morning meeting and pouts if he doesn't get them. One is a drug addict. Another's soul was broken after losing his wife and child in the Sept. 11 attacks.

And they even write on paper. Yes, paper.

They're academics, or failed academics, searching for patterns, connections and the meaning of that four-leafclover clue that appeared in the crossword puzzles of several major newspapers, the clue that prompted the first suicide.

There's plenty of treachery and a desperate urge to learn about the guys behind the guys. So in this, it's much like covering politics.

"We've got to talk about Kale," said a friend at work, about the ruthless openly gay supervisor character, Kale Ingram.

Kale may be evil or he may be patriotic and virtuous, but either way his is a fantastic role, subtly and malevolently played by the wonderful actor Arliss Howard.

Kale leaves clues for his subordinate Will Travers to follow, leading the emotionally shattered Will into a world of paranoia. He lures Will — and viewers — right down the rabbit hole.

The pace is positively glacial and they producers give us no confidence that they've genuinely thought through the arc of the series, but the Truxton Spangler character--ostensibly the bad guy, at this point--has had a few of the best scenes in recent television. Here's one where he's trying to convince a military/intelligence panel that the agency he runs has particular value to them because of its independence:
SPANGLER: One final thought, if I might.

When you left the house this morning wearing that tie, perhaps your wife stopped you in the doorway, perhaps she told you how good you look in that tie, how handsome it was.

Now, while I’m sure you love your wife, might I suggest, you have many reasons to distrust her judgment about that tie. Maybe she has a fond memory of another time you wore it, a sentimental attachment.

Or perhaps, she knows your tie collection and she’s simply glad you didn’t choose one of the ties she dislike. Perhaps she just sensed you were feeling a little fragile — she felt like bucking you up a bit.

Now, imagine for a minute, you sit down here with us, and I say to you how much I admire that tie. Instantly, you have another opinion, but you don’t know me. There’s nothing personal between us. We have no sartorial history, no emotional attachment.

Who’s judgment are you going to trust? Mine or your wife’s?

The gentleman to my right is a remarkable intelligence analyst. He is skilled in pattern recognition systems analysis, emergence theories.

But, in truth, his greatest asset for you, is that you don’t know him and he doesn’t know you. He’s doesn’t care about you or your feelings. He just knows what your tie looks like.

You can trust him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 PM


America's wealthiest (and poorest) states (Les Christie, September 16, 2010, CNN Money)

New Hampshire is the state with the highest median income in the nation, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.[...]

None of these statistics reflect regional or local cost differences, which can be immense. A $50,000 salary in Manchester N.H., for instance, is roughly equivalent to one of $38,000 in Tupelo, Miss.

A Mississippian earning $38,000 can live about as well as a New Yorker in pricey Manhattan with a salary of more than $93,000.

...we do have to put up with perfect weather and staggering natural beauty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


An American face of Islam: As the spotlight continues to be thrown on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, one group is trying hard at myth-busting. (Jane O'Brien, 9/16/10, BBC News)

"It is one of the most dangerous myths circulating in American society - that Muslim Americans and Muslims in general do not condemn terrorism and that we do not take a stand on this. It's absolutely false," says Mr Beutel.

"We have been extremely vocal in condemning terrorism, which is evident if you look at the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism. Al-Qaeda's home-grown terrorists have a near perfect track record of failing in almost every single terrorist attack - because the only people they're able to recruit now are idiots."

A lack of resources is part of the problem for groups trying to promote understanding, says ISNA's Sarah Thompson, 27, and a recent convert to Islam.

"When we have so many different community needs - such as helping children who face discrimination at school - our resources are often overwhelmed," she says. "But we are now trying to work with different organisations to co-ordinate our message."
Group of Muslims The group blames the media for some of the negative ideas about Muslims

Mr Saleh Williams says individual Muslim Americans also have a responsibility to make their voices heard.

"Those who have a positive perception of Muslims and Islam are those who actually know a Muslim. So it puts the imperative on individual Muslims to get out and be more pro-active in their community," he says.

Mr Hijji believes much of the opposition to Muslims in America has been exacerbated by ongoing tensions over immigration.

"There is always a cultural barrier when you have immigrant parents and I think that has more to do with race than faith," he says.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Making history (Peter Hoskin, 9/18/10, Spectator)

No one who has seen The World at War will ever forget it. Thirty-six years on from its original broadcast, it still stands atop a glittering mound of British documentary television. But the great is about to be made better with a new restoration of the series, available on DVD and Blu-ray. The promotional material informs us that every single frame has been individually tweaked and upgraded – and it shows. Even those who own previous DVD versions should consider stumping up for this set.

The genius of The World at War was always in how it allowed the second world war and its participants to speak for themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


An Unlikely Trio: Can Iran, Turkey, and the United States Become Allies?: In Reset, Stephen Kinzer argues that the United States should partner with Iran and Turkey to promote democracy and combat extremism in the Middle East. Although it is hard to imagine Iran as a friend of Washington, Turkey is ready to play that role. (Mustafa Akyol, September/October 2010, Foreign Affairs)

[K]inzer's U.S.-Iranian-Turkish alliance is a long-term project, and the idea has ample grounding in the modern history of the region. Unlike other Muslim countries there, Kinzer shows, Iran and Turkey have at least a century's worth of experience struggling for political freedom, during which they "developed an understanding of democracy, and a longing for it." This means that they share some fundamental values with the United States. Moreover, Iran and Turkey have educated middle classes -- bases for strong civil societies. The two countries even share strategic goals with the United States: a desire to see Iraq and Afghanistan stabilized and radical Sunni movements such as al Qaeda suppressed.

There are, of course, two other democratic allies of the US in the region who are already allied with one or the other of the Islamic democracies. And Iran tried coming in out of the Cold after 9-11, though W mistakenly refused their overtures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


O'Donnell: Evil Scientists Are Creating Mouse-Human Hybrids (Charles Johnson, Sep 16, 2010, LGF)

In a stunningly moronic discussion about cloning on the Bill O’Reilly show in 2007, GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell warned of the dangers of mice with fully functioning human brains.

O’DONNELL: Bill, if we — if we approach this complicated bioethic issue with our heads in the sand, the other end is in the air.

O’REILLY: My head isn’t in the sand, Christine. I have the biggest head in the world. There isn’t enough sand on the beach in Hawaii for my head to be in there.

O’DONNELL: My point is, we’re approaching this issue with the other end in the air.

O’REILLY: No, no, no. Hold it.

O’DONNELL: By their own admission…


O’DONNELL: … these groups admitted that the report that said, “Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we’re using this to start cloning humans.” We have to keep…

O’REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won’t do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O’DONNELL: They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they’re already into this experiment.

On the other hand, she perfectly represents what the tea parties are all about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


The Most Generous Nations in the World: Where does your country rank? (Heather Wax, September 16, 2010, Big Questions)

The cool thing about The World Giving Index is that it's based on three factors—giving money to an organization, volunteering for an organization, and helping a stranger—and the researchers point out that when "giving is thought of as more than just money, a new order of global generosity emerges." According to the index, here are the 10 most "giving" countries:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM

THE DEMOCRATS' NEW LOGO (via Bradley Schwartze):

From Blog Stuff

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


Republican report increases number of state houses up for grabs: The latest to join the list is the Illinois House. Both the GOP and Democratic Party are monitoring such races because states will redraw congressional district boundaries. (Tom Hamburger, September 16, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

A bullish report from the Republican State Leadership Committee released Thursday adds Illinois to the list of Democrat-controlled state houses in play this election season.

The report increases the number of expected Republican pick-ups to six legislative chambers — adding the North Carolina and Michigan houses, with at least 11 other Democrat-controlled chambers solidly in play.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Rethinking George Bush?: The American people are warming to Bush and cooling to his successor. (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/16/10, National Review)

Iraq seems to be on the road to success, with a growing economy and a stabilizing government. Don’t take my word on that; ask Vice President Biden. He recently claimed that the way Iraq is going, it could become one of the Obama administration’s “greatest achievements.” Obama himself seconded that when the former war critic called the American effort in Iraq “a remarkable chapter” in the history of the two countries.

Then there are the growing comparisons with Bush’s supposed past transgressions. Compared with Obama’s, they’re starting to look like traffic tickets. Take the economy and the War on Terror. Americans were angry about the Bush-era deficits. But they look small now, after Obama trumped them in less than two years.

For six years of the Bush administration, Americans enjoyed a strong economy. So far, there hasn’t been a similar month under Obama. Bush had a one-time Wall Street meltdown, but Obama’s permanent big-government medicine for it seems far worse than the original disease.

If Hurricane Katrina showed government ineptness, so did the recent BP oil spill. Maybe such problems in the Gulf were neither Bush’s nor Obama’s fault alone, but are better attributed to the inept federal bureaucracy itself — or to freak weather and human laxity.

On the War on Terror, Obama has dropped all the old campaign venom. Bush’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility, renditions, tribunals, intercepts, wiretaps, predator-drone attacks, and policies in Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer dubbed a shredding of the Constitution. All are now seen as national-security tools that must be kept, if not expanded, under Obama.

...W's consistent moral compass would have had him out in front of the nativism and Islamophobia that are currently disfiguring American society, whereas Mr. Obama is too afraid to try and lead on issues of race and religion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:53 PM


Could Christine O’Donnell actually win in November?: Democrats dismiss 'tea party' favorite Christine O’Donnell, now the GOP Senate nominee, at their peril, say Delaware political observers. (Linda Feldmann, September 16, 2010, CS Monitor)

“There’s an assumption that [O’Donnell’s] no more viable as a candidate than she was in the primary contest with Castle, and look where that ended up,” writes Joseph Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware in Newark, in an e-mail. “By all conventional political measures, she should not win, but this is not a conventional political year. Several conditions had to break her way to win the primary and I, among others, did not think they would all break her way – but they did.”

“Democrats could be overconfident,” he continues. “Democrats could be overaggressive – she could quickly become a more sympathetic candidate if everyone seems to pile on. If Democrats seem to practice politics as usual – be seen as committing character assassination, for example – they could confirm the basic appeal she has of challenging the establishment and ‘politics as usual.’ ”

Put her in the political equivalent of a witness protection program and she's totally viable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


How Pensions Can Get Out of the Red (RICHARD RIORDAN and ALEXANDER RUBALCAVA, 9/15/10, NY Times)

[G]iven how poorly pension funds have managed themselves, the federal government can’t simply hand out checks. Instead, borrowing a page from the Education Department’s Race for the Top initiative, which provides money to states that propose significant reforms for their public school systems, it should strike a grand bargain with city and state pension funds: in exchange for capping their liabilities and adopting better management practices, they could cover their costs through tax-free, federally guaranteed securities.

Here’s how it would work. A city, county or state facing insurmountable pension costs would appeal to the Department of Treasury for relief. As a first step, it would have to adopt standard accounting practices to accurately portray its current and expected financial health, including realistic projections of its investment returns and the discount rates on its debt.

Second, the applicant would have to take action to assure it can meet the debt service on its bonds, including placing a permanent cap on its pension liabilities. This means raising the retirement age, increasing employee contributions and preventing employees from manipulating their salaries in the last years before retirement to increase their pensions; it would also mean restructuring the fund’s health-care spending, which has been a significant drain.

Finally, the fund would have to move all new employees to 401(k) retirement plans, which have fixed employer contributions and therefore reduce future taxpayer liabilities.

In exchange, the Treasury would authorize the fund to issue tax-free “pension protection” bonds which, for a fee, would be guaranteed by the federal government. Proceeds from the bond sales would cover its liabilities, providing a quick resolution to the underfunding crisis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


The Place of Tolerance in Islam:
On reading the Qur’an—and misreading it. (Khaled Abou El Fadl, DECEMBER/JANUARY 2001/2002, Boston Review)

The puritans construct their exclusionary and intolerant theology by reading Qur’anic verses in isolation, as if the meaning of the verses were transparent—as if moral ideas and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation. In fact, however, it is impossible to analyze these and other verses except in light of the overall moral thrust of the Qur’anic message.

The Qur’an itself refers to general moral imperatives such as mercy, justice, kindness, or goodness. The Qur’an does not clearly define any of these categories, but presumes a certain amount of moral probity on part of the reader. For instance, the Qur’an persistently commands Muslims to enjoin the good. The word used for “the good” is ma’ruf, which means that which is commonly known to be good. Goodness, in the Qur’anic discourse, is part of what one may call a lived reality—it is the product of human experience and constructed normative understandings. Similarly, the Qur’anic term for kindness is ihsan, which literally means to beautify and improve upon. But beautification or improving upon can have meaning only in the context of a certain sociological understanding and practice.

In a further example, as to justice, the Qur’an states: “O you who believe, stand firmly for justice, as witnesses for God, even if it means testifying against yourselves, or your parents, or you kin, and whether it is against the rich or poor, for God prevails upon all. Follow not the lusts of your hearts, lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily God knows what you do.” 6 The idea that Muslims must stand up for justice even against their own self-interests is predicated on the notion that human beings are capable of achieving a high level of moral agency. As agents, Muslims are expected to achieve a level of moral conscientiousness, which they will bring to their relationship with God. In regards to every ethical obligation, the Qur’anic text assumes that readers will bring a pre-existing, innate moral sense to the text. Hence, the text will morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the text. The meaning of the religious text is not fixed simply by the literal meaning of its words, but depends, too, on the moral construction given to it by the reader. So if the reader approaches the text without moral commitments, it will almost inevitably yield nothing but discrete, legalistic, technical insights.

Similarly, it is imperative to analyze the historical circumstances in which specific Qur’anic ethical norms were negotiated. Many of the institutions referenced in the Qur’an—such as the poll tax or the formation of alliances with non-Muslims—can be understood only if the reader is aware of the historical practices surrounding the revelation of the text. By emptying the Qur’an both of its historical and moral context, the puritan trend ends up transforming the text into a long list of morally non-committal legal commands.

The Qur’anic discourse, for instance, can readily support an ethic of diversity and tolerance. The Qur’an not only expects, but even accepts the reality of difference and diversity within human society: “O humankind, God has created you from male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous.” 7 Elsewhere, the Qur’an asserts that diversity is part of the Divine intent and purpose in creation: “If thy Lord had willed, He would have made humankind into a single nation, but they will not cease to be diverse. . . And, for this God created them [humankind].” The classical commentators on the Qur’an did not fully explore the implications of this sanctioning of diversity, or the role of peaceful conflict resolution in perpetuating the type of social interaction that would result in people “knowing each other.” Nor does the Qur’an provide specific rules or instructions about how “diverse nations and tribes” are to acquire such knowledge. In fact, the existence of diversity as a primary purpose of creation, as suggested by the verse above, remained underdeveloped in Islamic theology. Pre-modern Muslim scholars did not have a strong incentive to explore the meaning and implications of the Qur’anic endorsement of diversity and cross-cultural intercourse. This is partly because of the political dominance and superiority of the Islamic Civilization, which left Muslim scholars with a sense of self-sufficient confidence. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the Islamic civilization was pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations. Working out the implications of a commitment to human diversity and mutual knowledge under contemporary conditions requires moral reflection and attention to historical circumstance: precisely what is missing from puritan theology and doctrine.

Other than a general endorsement of human diversity, the Qur’an also accepted the more specific notion of a plurality of religious beliefs and laws. Although the Qur’an clearly claims that Islam is the Divine Truth, and demands belief in Muhammad as the final messenger in a long line of Abrahamic prophets, it does not completely exclude the possibility that there might be other paths to salvation. The Qur’an insists on God’s unfettered discretion to accept in His mercy whomever He wishes. In a rather remarkable set of passages that, again, have not been adequately theorized by Muslim theologians, the Qur’an recognizes the legitimate multiplicity of religious convictions and laws. In one such passage, for example, the Qur’an asserts: “To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what he has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God [in the Hereafter], and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.” On this and other occasions the Qur’an goes on to state that it is possible for non-Muslims to attain the blessing of salvation: “Those who believe, those who follow Jewish scriptures, the Christians, the Sabians, and any who believe in God and the Final Day, and do good, all shall have their reward with their Lord and they will not come to fear or grief.” Significantly, this passage occurs in the same chapter that instructs Muslims not to take the Jews and Christians as allies. How can these different verses be reconciled?

If we read the text with moral and historical guidance, we can see the different passages as part of a complex and layered discourse about reciprocity and its implications in the historical situation in Mohammed’s Medina. In part, the chapter exhorts Muslims to support the newly established Muslim community in Medina. But its point is not to issue a blanket condemnation against Jews and Christians (who “shall have their reward with their Lord”). Instead, it accepts the distinctiveness of the Jewish and Christian communities and their laws, while also insisting that Muslims are entitled to the same treatment as those other communities. Thus it sets out an expectation of reciprocity for Muslims: while calling upon Muslims to support the Prophet of Islam against his Jewish and Christian detractors, it also recognizes the moral worth and rights of the non-Muslim “other.”

The challenge most often invoked against an argument for tolerance in Islam is the issue of jihad. Jihad, especially as portrayed in the Western media, is often associated with the idea of a holy war that is propagated in the name of God against the unbelievers. Therefore, jihad is often equated with the most vulgar images of religious intolerance.

At the most rudimentary level, the Qur’an itself is explicit in prohibiting any form of coerced conversions to Islam. It contends that truth and falsity are clear and distinct, and so whomever wishes to believe may do so, but no duress is permitted in religion: “There is no compulsion in matter of faith.” Of course, this response is incomplete—even if forced conversions to Islam are prohibited, aggressive warfare to spread Islamic power over non-believers might still be allowed. Does the Qur’an condone such expansionist wars?

Interestingly, Islamic tradition does not have a notion of holy war. “Jihad” simply means to strive hard or struggle in pursuit of a just cause, and according to the Prophet of Islam, the highest form of jihad is the struggle waged to cleanse oneself from the vices of the heart. Holy war (in Arabic al-harb al-muqaddasah) is not an expression used by the Qur’anic text or Muslim theologians. In Islamic theology, war is never holy; it is either justified or not, and if it is justified, those killed in battle are considered martyrs. The Qur’anic text does not recognize the idea of unlimited warfare, and does not consider the simple fact of the belligerent’s Muslim identity to be sufficient to establish the justness of his cause. In other words, the Qur’an entertains the possibility that the Muslim combatant might be the unjust party in a conflict.

Moreover, while the Qur’an emphasizes that Muslims may fight those who fight them, it also insists that Muslims may not transgress. 12 Transgression is an ambiguous term, but on several occasions the Qur’an intimates that in order not to transgress, Muslims must be constrained by a requirement of proportionality, even when the cause is just. For instance, it states, “Mandated is the law of equality, so that who transgresses against you, respond in kind, and fear God, and know that God is with those who exercise restraint.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Amid mosque dispute, Muslims can look to Irish-Catholics for hope: The planned Park51 Islamic center near ground zero is stirring up anger at Muslims. But reason and decency will prevail, and Muslims – like Irish-Catholics before – will overcome bigotry and be accepted into the American family. (Hamza Yusuf Hanson, September 16, 2010, CS Monitor)

My great, great grandfather, Michael O’Hanson, fled the impending potato famine of Ireland and arrived in America in the early 1840s with his bride, Bridget. They headed for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and a mecca for Irish-Catholic immigrants then.

They didn’t get a warm welcome to America, and instead found themselves smack in the middle of the Nativist anti-Irish-Catholic riots of 1844, which left scores of people dead and two beautiful Catholic churches destroyed. The riots were prompted by false rumors that the Irish-Catholics wanted the Bible removed from public schools to ensure Protestant doctrine would not be taught to their children.

Ordinary Americans were appalled by the viciousness of the attacks, and their good sense prevailed. It eventually led to the famous consolidation of the city in 1854. But Irish-Catholics had still not arrived, and my great grandfather, Michael Hanson Jr., dropped the “O” from his Gaelic name and blended into Philadelphia society, going into partnership with the enlightened Jewish newspaper giant, Paul Block. And while he practiced his Catholicism openly, he hid his Irish ancestry even from his own children, to spare them the perceived shame of being Irish in upper class society.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Lib Dems need to show distinction to avoid extinction (New Statesman, 16 September 2010)

Before the general election, we were attracted by the idea of a "progressive alliance" between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. With Labour badly beaten under Gordon Brown, however, Mr Clegg opted for coalition with a Conservative Party that is ideologically committed to rolling back the enabling state. The Lib Dems' national poll ratings have fallen from 23 per cent on election day to just over half that - 12 per cent - according to a YouGov poll published on 15 September. One in five people who voted Lib Dem in May say that they will vote Labour next time, according to another recent poll.

The third party's fortunes have long depended on a sense of distinctiveness - what Mr Clegg, before the general election, called its "equidistance" from Labour and the Conservatives. The challenge for the Lib Dem leader is how to make coalition politics work and ensure that this parliament lasts the full five years, while at the same time demonstrating that his party remains an independent force. He will be well aware that the Liberals failed to do so in previous coalitions and were instead subsumed, on more than one occasion, by their Tory partners.

...when a major party is always Third Way.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Is This an Anti-Incumbent Year? Not So Far (Nathan L. Gonzales, 9/16/10, Roll Call)

“Plenty of commentators have misunderstood the electorate’s anger,” said GOP media consultant Brad Todd of OnMessage Inc., which works closely with the National Republican Congressional Committee. “They’re angry at the direction of the country and not the nature of incumbency.”

Through Tuesday’s primaries, more than 98 percent of House and Senate incumbents seeking re-election won their primaries. Still, it’s worth noting that the number of incumbents who failed to win renomination — seven — is more than in recent cycles.

But while there is widespread frustration with Washington, incumbency was not the driving force in this year’s Congressional casualties, Todd said.

“Most of the anger is driven at Democrats because they’re in power,” he added. “Some is driven at Republicans when voters conclude that a particular candidate is too close to Democrats.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


GOP's John Kasich Opens Big Lead Over Ted Strickland in Ohio Governor Race (Bruce Drake, 9/16/10, Politics Daily)

Former Republican Rep. John Kasich now leads Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland by 17 points in Ohio's gubernatorial race, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Sept. 9-14.

Kasich is running ahead of Strickland by 54 percent to 37 percent among likely voters with 7 percent undecided. While there's not a big difference in the level of support each gets from his own party, Kasich leads among independents by 55 percent to 32 percent with 10 percent undecided.

Poll: Snyder keeps lead on Bernero, with few undecided (Karen Bouffard, 9/15/10, Detroit News)
Republican Rick Snyder has maintained the lead he built after the August primaries with a 20.3 percentage point cushion over Democratic opponent Virg Bernero and a shrinking pool of undecided voters.

Snyder is ahead of the Lansing mayor 56.2 percent to 35.9 percent among likely November general election voters, according to a Detroit News/Local 4 WDIV poll released Thursday.

Democrats want to individualize congressional races where they're staying competitive, but if those races are close in isolation and the top of your ticket is about to lose by 20%, you've already lost.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Best country for entrepreneurs? Hint: Not the US.: A survey of 71 nations placed the US third in entrepreneurial performance, after Denmark and Canada. (Brian Anthony Hernandez, September 15, 2010 , CS Monitor)

The slowdown in entrepreneurship can be traced back to several events, according to the report.

- The bursting of the technology sector bubble of the 1990s decreased the number of software companies and startups.

- The recent recession stalled business growth.

- Other countries are improving.

- Tighter immigration policies adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks control the stream of skilled workers into the U.S. and create disenchantment, particularly among immigrants.

“In this respect, countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have all been more pragmatic by giving strong incentives to attract educated, skilled workers to their shores – whether doctors, engineers, or academic researchers – and to keep them there with offers of residency and citizenships,” Acs and Szerb wrote.

...especially an isolated nation of 5 million Lutherans.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Get ready for Bush III (Patrick Allitt, 18 September 2010, The Spectator)

There’s much to be said for Jeb (born 1953). He is the only Republican in history to win two consecutive terms as governor of Florida (in 1998 and 2002). He would have won again in 2006 but the state constitution limits governors to a maximum of two four-year terms. If he runs for president he can compete strongly for votes that don’t come easily to most Republicans. His wife Columba was born and raised in Mexico, he favours a liberal immigration policy, and he speaks fluent Spanish. That gives him a boost with the ever-growing Hispanic population, much of which normally votes Democrat. He opposed drilling off the Florida coast, which makes him seem wise and environmentally sensitive to Floridians suffering from the terrible BP spill in the Gulf. His education initiatives are admired across the spectrum and have drawn sympathetic notice in the black community, which is usually another hard sell for the GOP. He was popular in Florida right to the end of his term. [...]

As Jeb thinks about these various people and problems, the temptation to run for president, and the temptation not to run, must be racing in his imagination just about neck and neck. He is tough enough to say no but smart enough, at the same time, to recognise that he’s still probably the Republican with the best chance to win. If he does, he will be the first person in history to be the third person from a single family in America’s top job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


A Shot That Captured the Bigger Meaning in Sports (ROB HUGHES, September 14, 2010, NY Times)

[T]his photograph captured the respect that two great players had for each another. As they exchanged jerseys, touches and looks, the sportsmanship between them is all in the image.

No gloating, no fist-pumping from Pelé.

No despair, no defeatism from Bobby Moore.

Moore, in many eyes the most accomplished English defender ever, died of cancer in 1993. He regarded this photograph as his favorite in a career during which he captained his country 90 times, including the day England won the World Cup.

Pelé, a three-time winner of the World Cup and the most complete player in history, still considers this picture a defining moment in his life.

“Bobby Moore was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against,” Pelé said after Moore’s death. “The world has lost one of its greatest football players and an honorable gentleman.”

Last week, the world lost the third man for whom this photograph meant so much.

John Varley, the photographer, died in his home county, Yorkshire, in northern England. Varley, who was 76, was a news photographer with a sensitive eye for moments beyond the news.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM

IRAN 180:

Iran 180

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will speak at the UN General Assembly on September 23. He has perpetrated human rights violations against his own people and made known his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

We demand a 180 by Ahmadinejad. Yes to Human Rights, No to Nuclear Rights.

Iran180 is a movement of people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a 180 by the Iranian government on their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the treatment of their citizens.

Join Iran180 by “liking” our Declaration on Facebook or by subscribing to our updates.

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September 15, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 PM

Alisa Weilerstein: Tiny Desk Concert ( Tom Huizenga, September 15, 2010, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)

Alisa Weilerstein's cello career began with chicken pox. At about age 3, frustrated and itchy, little Alisa became mesmerized by a new toy. It was a miniature cello, crafted by hand by her grandmother. The body of the instrument was made from Rice Krispies boxes, and the endpin was an old toothbrush.

Something major must have clicked that day. Because now, some 25 years later, Weilerstein is one of today's top cellists, enjoying a globe-spanning career of performances with orchestras, chamber music concerts and recitals. [...]

For this Tiny Desk Concert, Weilerstein chose to juxtapose the old with the new — beginning with a pair of movements from J.S. Bach's Suite No. 3 for solo cello. [...]

In contrast to Bach, the new piece, Omaramor by Osvaldo Golijov, also has a story. Essentially, it's a wide-ranging, cinematic homage to the late, great Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel.

Weilerstein's performance couldn't be more visceral and gripping. Her cello takes us through the back streets of Buenos Aires — sometimes violent, but always suffused with the soulful, restless spirit of Argentina's beloved tango.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Get a Real Degree: a review of The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl (Elif Batuman, London Review of Books)

The central claims of The Programme Era are beyond dispute: the creative writing programme has exercised the single most determining influence on postwar American literary production, and any convincing interpretation of the literary works themselves has to take its role into account. (In a series of inspired readings, McGurl demonstrates that the plantation in Beloved, the mental ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the bus in Robert Olen Butler’s Mr Spaceman all function as metaphors for the creative writing workshop.) McGurl also provides a smart and useful typology of ‘programme’ fiction (defined as the prose work of MFA graduates and/or instructors), divided into three main groups: ‘technomodernism’ (John Barth, Thomas Pynchon), ‘high cultural pluralism’ (Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros) and ‘lower-middle-class modernism’ (Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates), with Venn diagrams illustrating the overlap between these groups, and their polarisation by aesthetic sub-tendencies such as maximalism and minimalism. Despite his professed indifference to the pro-con debate, however, McGurl also sets out to defend the creative writing programme from its detractors, assuming the rhetorical burden of proving that (a) postwar American fiction is at least as ‘creative’ as any other literature, and (b) that its most ‘creative’ features are specifically the product of the programme.

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun. Moreover, if I wanted to read literature from the developing world, I would go ahead and read literature from the developing world. At least that way I’d learn something about some less privileged culture – about a less privileged culture that some people were actually born into, as opposed to one that they opted into by enrolling in an MFA programme.

Like many aspiring writers in America, I enrolled in graduate school after college, but I went for a PhD rather than an MFA. I had high hopes that McGurl, who made the same choice, might explain to me the value of contemporary American fiction in a way I could understand, but was disappointed to find in The Programme Era traces of the quality I find most exasperating about programme writing itself: oversophistication combined with an air of autodidacticism, creating the impression of some hyperliterate author who has been tragically and systematically deprived of access to the masterpieces of Western literature, or any other sustained literary tradition. [...]

The brilliant insight in McGurl’s chapter on Oates and Carver is the determining role played in their work by shame. Shame engenders both Carver’s taciturnity and Oates’s graphomania, which is really a compulsion to restage the outcasts contest, doing everyone justice, and constituting a proof that writing, too, is real work. I disagree with McGurl, however, that the shame shared by Oates and Carver is produced by the writing programme in particular, or school in general. ‘Shame and pride are the affective fuel of the school, the motive force of its everyday machinations,’ McGurl observes, plausibly enough – except that people were going to school for hundreds of years before the Iowa workshop. In his fascination with the GI Bill, McGurl occasionally conveys the impression that writers didn’t go to college before 1945, as when he draws our attention to

the seemingly banal fact that virtually all contemporary American fiction writers … have attended college … In previous generations this would not likely have been the case, both because fewer individuals of any kind went to college before the postwar advent of mass higher education and because a college education was not yet perceived as an obvious … starting point for a career as a novelist. Rather, as the uncredentialled, or rather press-credentialled, example of the high school graduate Hemingway makes clear, the key supplementary institution for the novel until mid-century was journalism.

The GI Bill dramatically increased the percentage of college-educated Americans, but did it really affect the percentage of college-educated American writers? According to the internet, writers have, in fact, been going to college for hundreds of years.[*] The claim that the GI Bill produced a generation of unprecedentedly shameful young people, meanwhile, is weakened by the fact that outsiders, from Balzac’s parvenus to Proletkult, have been joining the intelligentsia for nearly as long as there has been an intelligentsia to join.

To my mind, the real cause of shame here is the profession of writing, and it affects McGurl just as much as it does Carver and Oates. Literary writing is inherently elitist and impractical. It doesn’t directly cure disease, combat injustice, or make enough money, usually, to support philanthropic aims. Because writing is suspected to be narcissistic and wasteful, it must be ‘disciplined’ by the programme – as McGurl documents with a 1941 promotional photo of Paul Engle, then director of the Iowa workshop, seated at a desk with a typewriter and a large whip. (Engle’s only novel, McGurl observes, features a bedridden Iowan patriarch ‘surrounded by his collection of “whips of every kind”, including “racing whips”, “stiff buggy whips”, “cattle whips”, “riding crops” and one “endless bullwhip”’.) The workshop’s most famous mantras – ‘Murder your darlings,’ ‘Omit needless words,’ ‘Show, don’t tell’ – also betray a view of writing as self-indulgence, an excess to be painfully curbed in AA-type group sessions. Shame also explains the fetish of ‘craft’: an ostensibly legitimising technique, designed to recast writing as a workmanlike, perhaps even working-class skill, as opposed to something every no-good dilettante already knows how to do. Shame explains the cult of persecutedness, a strategy designed to legitimise literary production as social advocacy, and make White People feel better (Stuff White People Like #21: ‘Writers’ Workshops’).

As long as it views writing as shameful, the programme will not generate good books, except by accident. The Chief never escapes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Just got a NEWSALERT from the Times with this header: Poll Suggests Big Opening for G.O.P. Going Into Midterms

But if you go the homepage they have it posted as follows:

Poll Suggests Opportunities for Both Parties in Midterms (JEFF ZELENY and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN, September 15, 2010, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 PM


Obama's Mystifying Strategy (KARL ROVE, 9/15/10, WSJ)

I don't often expect to find myself supportive of President Barack Obama. But I didn't think I'd be as mystified by his actions over the past few months as I have been.

Mr. Obama and his team won a well-deserved reputation during the 2008 campaign for message discipline and a keen appreciation for how Americans would receive his words and actions.

That's why it's so surprising that, in just 20 months, Mr. Obama has lost control of his presidency's narrative. He has done things that are inexplicable, creating the impression of a White House that is clueless, rudderless and arrogant.

For example, what was to be gained by the president attacking the largely unknown House minority leader, John Boehner, last week? Set aside the unfairness of the charges and focus only on the efficacy of the president lowering himself that way.

...Laura Miller accidentally explained what the White House is up to today in Salon, The paranoid style in American punditry (Laura Miller, 9/15/10, Salon)
I spent most of August more or less disconnected from TV, the Internet and print news outlets, so when I caught up with a friend on the phone, I asked him to brief me on which stories had captured the nation's attention. He tried to explain the controversy over the Park51 Islamic culture center, but it wasn't easy. "So, why is this anti-Muslim panic coming up now?" I asked. "What triggered it?" "I keep going back to Richard Hofstadter's 'The Paranoid Style in American Politics,'" he replied. "It's not necessarily about Islam. These people need an enemy."

Of course, given the UR's messianic view of himself, any political opponent is a de facto enemy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


In Georgia, English replaces retreating Russian (Reuters, September 15, 2010)

[Natela Chokhonelidze, the 70-year-old Professor Emeritus at the university’s Institute of Russian Studies,] is on the losing side of a deliberate shift in the former Soviet republic as its pro-Western leadership tries to supplant Russian with English as the default second language of 21st century Georgia.

Today, hundreds of native English speakers joined the first day of school as teaching assistants under an ambitious programme to have every child aged five to 16 speak English. English is now compulsory, and Russian optional.

The aim appears pragmatic in a globalised world where English dominates and Georgia’s investment-driven economy is seeking partners in Turkey and the European Union.

It dovetails too, however, with President Mikheil Saakashvili’s policy of dragging the Caucasus country of 4.5 million people out from Russia’s orbit, two years after war shattered already fragile ties between the neighbours.

“We’re a free and independent country and our people are free and independent. It’s their choice which language to learn,” Education Minister Dmitry Shashkin, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters, in English.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Turkey’s referendum: a democratic dynamic: The popular endorsement of constitutional amendments is a small but positive step towards Turkey’s democratisation (Gunes Murat Tezcur, 9/15/10, OpenDemocracy)

Turkey has been an electoral democracy since 1950, though its political system has suffered from three structural deficiencies.

First, the army has long remained beyond the control of elected politicians. At regular intervals - 1960, 1971, 1980 - it intervened in the political arena; the military coups of 1971 and 1980 were in particular followed by periods of emergency rule characterised by gross human-rights violations and restrictions on civil liberties.

The outbreak of the Kurdish insurgency in 1984 and its mobilisation of mass support in 1990 found the civilian authorities unable to establish order and curb the appeal of the militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). This reinforced the continuing political autonomy of the army. A series of European Union-induced reforms managed to decrease the institutional prerogatives of the armed forces, but failed to establish undisputed civilian control over them.

It is only since 2007 that the army’s position as the hegemonic institution of Turkish politics has started to erode, as a result of the exposure of several coup attempts against the AKP government (first elected in 2002) and growing public criticism of its performance against the Kurdish insurgents.

Amid this military-political history, Turkey’s high judiciary with its extensive powers of judicial review has lacked strong commitment to the expansion civil liberties and political rights. The constitutional court has since its establishment in 1961 dissolved twenty-four political parties. The supervisory judicial organ often sided with the army and disciplined judges and prosecutors who were pursuing human-rights violations committed by the security forces.

In this context, the argument that the current amendments - which, after all, increase the the army and high judiciary’s accountability - threaten liberal-democratic gains in Turkey looks hollow, if not indeed hypocritical.

Second, Turkey’s political system discriminates - legally, symbolically and economically - against citizens who refuse to subscribe to the predominant ethos that promotes Turkish ethnicity and Sunni Islamic beliefs over other cultural identities. The Alevis, a “heterodox” Muslim sect with millions of followers in Turkey, are refused official recognition and deprived of state aid; they also face various forms of unfair treatment.

The Kurds, who are concentrated in the eastern provinces, have been subjected to period waves of repression; these intensified during the fight between the Turkish security forces and the insurgents in the early 1990s. Many Kurds have been assimilated (voluntarily or forcefully) into the officially sanctioned Turkish culture, and the channels of Kurdish political expression are restricted: since 1982, a parliamentary threshold of 10% effectively disenfranchises millions of Kurds by hindering their parliamentary representation and depressing turnout. Kurdish nationalist parties, who command around 6% of the national vote, continue to demand constitutional recognition of education in the Kurdish language and autonomy for Kurdish-inhabited regions.

The current amendments do not address issues that are of primary concern to the Alevi and Kurdish communities. The Alevi groups, not surprisingly, have tended to oppose the amendments out of fear that the AKP’s increasing control over the judiciary would aggravate their grievances. The Kurdish groups adopt a more ambivalent position. Many Kurds have supported the amendments as they empower popular forces at the expense of bureaucratic institutions that oppose any concessions to Kurdish identity; but the main Kurdish nationalist party also called for a boycott of the referendum on the grounds that the amendments do not directly address Kurdish demands.

The result of this complex of attitudes is that heavy majorities in Kurdish provinces approved the amendments, though most citizens of voting age in six Kurdish-majority provinces in the east heeded the boycott call (such that turnout there was under 50%); and turnout in Kurdish areas overall remained well below the national average.

The third structural deficiency is that Turkey’s electoral democracy has been dominated by political parties that cultivate extensive and corrupt patronage networks. The AKP itself is built around the personage of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; he alone makes the final decisions on a wide range of issues, ranging from the selection of the country’s president and the speaker of the parliament to judicial investigations (the so-called Ergenekon) into military-led conspiracies. His absolute control over a party that hardly tolerates any dissent allows him to command parliament - and much more.

In addition, the AKP’s growing control over the media fuels fears that the reduction in the power of bureaucratic institutions that historically countervailed civilian government would result in an illiberal democracy. The merit in this view is to highlight the fact that a reform of Turkey’s political-parties and elections law to make party leaders more accountable and increase parliament’s representativeness is necessary to advance Turkish democracy; but in general, these fears often say less about actual political trends than about the opposition’s inability to develop effective electoral strategies.

After all, the amendments empower the president and parliament - not the AKP as such - over the high judiciary. If opposition parties win the national elections in 2011, it is they who will decide on judicial appointments. More generally, a number of vigorous developments in modern Turkey - the proliferation of civil-society organisations, increasing diversity in media sources, and consolidation of the market economy in a way that continually erodes the state’s power to shape society - cast empirical doubt on the case that the country is marching towards illiberal democracy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


The Meaning of the Koran (ROBERT WRIGHT, 9/14/10, NY Times)

[T]here are liberals who say that “jihad” refers to a person’s internal struggle to do what is right. And that’s true. There are conservatives who say “jihad” refers to military struggle. That’s true, too. But few people get the whole picture, which, actually, can be summarized pretty concisely:

The Koran’s exhortations to jihad in the military sense are sometimes brutal in tone but are so hedged by qualifiers that Muhammad clearly doesn’t espouse perpetual war against unbelievers, and is open to peace with them. (Here, for example, is my exegesis of the “sword verse,” the most famous jihadist passage in the Koran.) The formal doctrine of military jihad — which isn’t found in the Koran, and evolved only after Muhammad’s death — does seem to have initially been about endless conquest, but was then subject to so much amendment and re-interpretation as to render it compatible with world peace. Meanwhile, in the hadith — the non-Koranic sayings of the Prophet — the tradition arose that Muhammad had called holy war the “lesser jihad” and said that the “greater jihad” was the struggle against animal impulses within each Muslim’s soul.

Why do people tend to hear only one side of the story? A common explanation is that the digital age makes it easy to wall yourself off from inconvenient data, to spend your time in ideological “cocoons,” to hang out at blogs where you are part of a choir that gets preached to.

Makes sense to me. But, however big a role the Internet plays, it’s just amplifying something human: a tendency to latch onto evidence consistent with your worldview and ignore or downplay contrary evidence.

...because being confronted with evidence to the contrary just conforms people in their own obviously inaccurate views as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Ex-aide: Christine O'Donnell a 'complete fraud' (DAVID CATANESE, 9/14/10, Politico)

"I got into politics because I believe in conservative values and wanted to make a difference. But I was shocked to learn that O’Donnell is no conservative," says [Kristin Murray, who ran O'Donnell's 2008 Senate campaign against then-Sen. Joe Biden], according to a script obtained by POLITICO.

"This is her third Senate race in five years. As O’Donnell’s manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt," she says.

Perhaps the most biting line in the call delivered by Murray: "She wasn't concerned about conservative causes. O’Donnell just wanted to make a buck."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


Democrats fret over John Dingell race (JONATHAN ALLEN, 9/15/10, Politico)

Michigan Democrats are expressing concern about the political security of Rep. John D. Dingell, who has been elected to the House a record 28 times since first winning office in a 1955 special election. [...]

On Tuesday, the state party launched a Web site attacking his little-known GOP opponent, Rob Steele.

That effort—against a GOP challenger who has not been heralded by the national party—comes on the heels of Dingell ramping up his fundraising and warning donors that he needs their help to make sure he can define Steele and win a seat that only he and his father have held since 1933.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:29 PM


Ayotte defeats Lamontagne in U.S. Senate primary (JOHN DISTASO, 9/15/10, Union Leader)

1:18 p.m. The Secretary of State's office has just announced that Kelly Ayotte has won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate with 53,044 votes. Ovide Lamontagne received 51,377 votes. More to follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Arkansas, long-time Democratic fortress of the South, to raise Republican flag (Jonathan Strong, 9/15/10 The Daily Caller)

Of the state’s four House districts, the GOP is poised to take two from Democrats to form a three-to-one majority.

That includes Arkansas’s first district — a district that has not voted in a Republican since reconstruction – where Republican candidate Rick Crawford was leading by 16 points in a mid-August poll.

Though former President Bill Clinton recently returned to Arkansas to help her ailing candidacy, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a dead woman walking. Polls show Republican Rep. John Boozman leading by almost 30 points on average.

The GOP is also poised to make significant gains in the state legislature, too, Arkansas sources say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM

FISH VS FUNCTION (implied profanity alert):

Moderate Bass hangs on in N.H. (Tom Curry, 9/15/10, MSNBC)

In New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, progressive activists claimed victory Tuesday in the Democratic primary as their candidate Ann McLane Kuster won in a landslide over Katrina Swett, who had run for the seat in 2002. Progressives shunned Swett partly because she’d served as co-chair of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s presidential campaign in 2004.

In the Republican contest, the GOP establishment candidate, former six-term congressman Charlie Bass, defeated anti-abortion conservative Jennifer Horn.

Horn was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, a pro-life political action committee, and by New Hampshire’s right-leaning newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader, which said “If any candidate can claim the Tea Party mantle this year, it is Jennifer Horn…. We would love to see her in Washington giving grief not only to the Obama administration, but also to her own party's leadership.”

The Democratic primary was particularly enjoyable--in a juvenile kind of way--for the lawn signs of "SWETT" and "KUSTER." Katrina is, of course, the wife of the worst-named politician of recent memory: Dick Swett. And the mind is tempted to add an L to make KLUSTER...which can really only be followed by one word...not "BOMB"....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Clinton: New-look GOP makes Bush look liberal (ASSOCIATED PRESS, September 14, 2010)

Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that the Republican Party is embracing "ideology over evidence" and pushing out pragmatic voices that would make even his White House successor seem like a liberal.

Clinton, speaking at a DFL Party fundraiser in Minneapolis, said there was no mistaking that Republicans have tacked hard right and questioned whether former President George W. Bush would fit in among the party's candidates this year.

"A lot of their candidates today, they make him look like a liberal," Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd at a downtown Minneapolis hotel.

...Mr. Clinton appears not to have paid any attention the last ten years. W was always at war with these guys, not the Democrats Bush Renews Attack on Republican Party's Image (Terry M. Neal, 10/07/09, Washington Post)
Texas Gov. George W. Bush criticized his party on Tuesday for espousing negative rhetoric, failing to portray a message of inclusiveness and forgetting that conservative policies should benefit those left behind in an affluent society.

Bush's remarks, during a speech on education, marked the second time in a week that the Republican front-runner has challenged the GOP to rise above the perception of it as a repository of uncaring and mean-spirited ideology. Last week, he stunned many of his supporters on Capitol Hill when he denounced a congressional GOP budget plan that would save money by deferring tax credits for the working poor.
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"Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah," Bush told his audience at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. "Too often, my party has focused on the national economy, to the exclusion of all else, speaking a sterile language of rates and numbers, of CBO and GNP. Too often my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself."

He then declared: "This is not an option for conservatives. . . . Our founders rejected cynicism, and cultivated a noble love of country."

Which is why they turned on him--and blew up his presidency, the congressional majorities he'd won them, and the McCain campaign--as soon as he was a lame duck..

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Delaware Senate race moved to Lean Democrat (Stuart Rothenberg, September 14, 2010, Rothenburg Political Report)

Christine O’Donnell’s upset over Cong Mike Castle in the GOP primary dramatically alters Republican prospects for November in Delaware. Castle had broad appeal, including to independents and even Democratic voters, while O’Donnell’s appeal is limited to tea party conservatives. Lacking an impressive resume and unlikely to garner significant national Republican support, O’Donnell clearly looks like an underdog against New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D), who is suddenly transformed to the favorite in the general election.

Get her into the cone of silence with Rand Paul and she can just ride the wave.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Germany goes global: farewell, Europe: The great engine both of Europe’s economic strength and its political unity is falling out of love with its creation. The challenge to the continent is profound (Ulrike Guérot, 9/14/10, OpenDemocracy)

The huge gap between what other countries expect Germany to do and what Germany is ready to do has left its mark. But it looks now as if the real autumn scenario will be different from the anticipated one. There are three reasons for this.

The first is a change in the economic weather. Germany at least is in full recovery mode. The annualised growth-rate is back to 3%, in comparison to 2.2% in the first quarter of 2010 (and Deutsche Bank even forecasts 3.5% for the year); this would be the highest rate since German reunification in 1990, and is already enough for some local hyberbole (the press entitled the moment the “up-turn XL” [Aufschwung XL], and economy minister Rainer Brüderle referred to “a second German economic miracle”.

The job-creation and unemployment figures are also hopeful: the number of unemployed people is predicted to remain below 3 million for the rest of the year, which would be the lowest figure for a decade. Germany’s famous exports are strong, especially of the automobile industry (Volkswagen alone sold 4 million in May 2010). The overall figures for June 2010, at €86.5 billion ($110bn), were an increase of 28.8% over June 2009; and exports for the first half of 2010 are 11%-12% up. German-Chinese and German-Russian trade and export figures are as good as ever.

These figures have dissipated the fear of another financial meltdown. The mood in Germany is already post-crisis - to the extent that people take pride in German economic instruments such as Kurzarbeit, and even wonder if the crisis ever really shook the country.

The second reason is a change in the political weather. The economic recovery has ended the speculations about the end of Angela Merkel’s government. The defeat of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU)-Free Democrat Party (FDP) coalition in the North-Rhine-Westphalia regional elections on 9 May 2010, and its poor performance over the election of a successor to Horst Köhler as the country’s new president (with Merkel’s favoured candidate, Christian Wulff, needing three election-rounds finally to be elected on 30 June), created widespread doubts over the government’s ability to lead and even survive. The criticism of Angela Merkel herself also increased. That moment too has passed.

The third reason is a new clarity about German national ambitions or at least the perception that they exist. At best, it became a little clearer that Germany has no ambitions at all to lead the European Union any longer; but that, as much as any other state, it seeks to benefit from its international links without caring overmuch about European politics. The New York Times has even characterised Germany’s real aim as to become a great Switzerland: wealthy and not politically responsible for Europe.

This combination of economic revival and international clarity confirms that there is indeed, no German national “masterplan” - but there is a definite tendency towards what might be called “going global alone”. This leaves other European countries with a key choice - which is no longer a German problem, as many in Germany think that ultimately Germany can do its own business in the world. To be sure, this is more a policy by default than a strategic vision; and if it is probably good for Germany, it is not necessarily so for Europe. In short: Germany is outgrowing Europe!

The implication of this shift is that Germany is replacing foreign policy - including European - by trade policy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Mitch Daniels makes White House moves (JONATHAN MARTIN, 9/14/10, Politico)

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has been holding a series of private dinners with top Republican business leaders, policy hands and donors from around the country since this spring, an indication that he’s thinking more seriously about a presidential bid than he publicly lets on.

The dinners, which take place at the governor’s mansion in Indianapolis, are meant to introduce Daniels to a class of GOP heavy-hitters who could both finance and advise a White House campaign.

In a normal political cycle a diminutive wonk might have trouble, but the time seems right for him.

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September 14, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


3-D girl a reminder for B.C. drivers in school zone (Petti Fong, 9/09/10, Toronto Star)

Driving to work Wednesday Bamshad Rahimi was ready when the pigtailed girl chasing her ball appeared again in front of his vehicle.

“This time I knew she was there,” said Rahimi. “I guess it’s working because it made me slow down. The first time I went through, it did look real. Real enough.”

Earlier in the week, along that same road on 22nd Street in West Vancouver, in front of École Pauline Johnson Elementary, Rahimi and other drivers encountered the little girl for the first time.

She’s not real but drawn in an elongated way on the road in a heat-plastered decal to look like a 3D illusion. It convinced Rahimi and other drivers like Brigitta Bonn to pay attention and drive carefully.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM

THAT GUY! (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Harold Gould, Character Actor, Dies at 86 (BRUCE WEBER, 9/13/10, NY Times)

Mr. Gould appeared in theater productions on and Off Broadway in New York and in regional theaters around the country, including “King Lear” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 1992. He played dozens of character roles in movies, including the dapper grifter Kid Twist in “The Sting” (1973), the Oscar-winning buddy picture that starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford as con men; a Russian count in Woody Allen’s send-up of epic literature, “Love and Death” (1975); and a greedy corporate executive named Engulf in Mel Brooks’s 1976 slapstick comedy, “Silent Movie.”

But Mr. Gould was most of all a fixture on television with a familiar face, with or without what came to be his signature mustache. In the 1960s he appeared on “Dennis the Menace,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Hazel,” “National Velvet,” “Perry Mason,” “Mister Ed,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Virginian,” “12 O’Clock High,” “The Fugitive,” “Judd for the Defense” and “Hogan’s Heroes,” among other shows. In 1965, he played Marlo Thomas’s father in the pilot episode of “That Girl.” (Lew Parker played the part in the series.)

In the 1970s, in addition to his stints on “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda,” he was seen on “Cannon,” “Mannix,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Medical Story,” “Police Story,” “Family,” “Soap” and “The Love Boat.” In a 1972 episode of “Love, American Style” that was the progenitor of the hit series “Happy Days,” he played Howard Cunningham, the Middle American father of the Middle American son played by Ron Howard; in the series the father was played by Tom Bosley.

In the 1980s Mr. Gould appeared on “St. Elsewhere,” “Webster,” “Trapper John, M.D.,” “L.A. Law” and “Night Court”; in the 1990s, on “Dallas,” “Lois and Clark,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Felicity”; and in this century on “The King of Queens,” “Judging Amy” and “Cold Case.”

Friend Foos sends a link to this great site, That Guy, featuring classic character actors.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Tax Cuts vs. 'Stimulus': The Evidence Is In: A review of over 200 fiscal adjustments in 21 countries shows that spending discipline and tax cuts are the best ways to spur economic growth. (ALBERTO ALESINA , 9/15/10, WSJ)

My colleague Silvia Ardagna and I recently co-authored a paper examining this pattern, as have many studies over the past 20 years. Our paper looks at the 107 large fiscal adjustments—defined as a cyclically adjusted deficit reduction of at least 1.5% in one year—that took place in 21 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries between 1970 and 2007.

According to our model, a country experienced an expansionary fiscal adjustment when its rate of GDP growth in the year of the adjustment and the next year was in the top 25% of the OECD. A recessionary period, then, was when a country's growth rate was in the bottom 75% of the OECD.

Our results were striking: Over nearly 40 years, expansionary adjustments were based mostly on spending cuts, while recessionary adjustments were based mostly on tax increases. And these results would have been even stronger had our definition of an expansionary period been more lenient (extending, for example, to the top 50% of the OECD). In addition, adjustments based on spending cuts were accompanied by longer-lasting reductions in ratios of debt to GDP.

In the same paper we also examined years of large fiscal expansions, defined as increases in the cyclically adjusted deficit by at least 1.5% of GDP. Over 91 such cases, we found that tax cuts were much more expansionary than spending increases.

How can spending cuts be expansionary? First, they signal that tax increases will not occur in the future, or that if they do they will be smaller. A credible plan to reduce government outlays significantly changes expectations of future tax liabilities. This, in turn, shifts people's behavior. Consumers and especially investors are more willing to spend if they expect that spending and taxes will remain limited over a sustained period of time.

On the other hand, fiscal adjustments based on tax increases reduce consumers' disposable income and reduce incentives for productivity.

Act like grownups and the voters might believe you are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


'2010 is gone for Democrats' (ROGER SIMON, 9/14/10, Politico)

“He cannot save 2010,” the big-time Democrat is saying of Barack Obama. “It is gone. He must now concentrate on saving 2012. But the biggest fear of some of those close to him is that he might not really want to go on in 2012, that he might not really care.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Divided Democrats battle each other over extending tax cuts for rich (Jay Heflin - 09/13/10, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Republicans for holding up tax cuts for the middle class to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy, while other Democrats in the House and Senate warned ending any tax cuts could hurt the struggling economy.

Senate Democrats are expected to move to tax legislation soon, possibly as early as this week, but have not decided how to handle the tax rates for wealthier individuals and families, a Senate leadership aide said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Delaware and NH General Election Number Preview (Tom Jensen, 9/13/10, PPP)

Just finished the general election numbers in Delaware and New Hampshire. Not going to release them until Wednesday when we have nominees but in one case the conventional wisdom about who's more electable was confirmed and in the other it was not:

-In Delaware Chris Coons polls 26 points better against Christine O'Donnell than Mike Castle. Castle's net favorability is 25 points higher than O'Donnell's. That electability gap is even wider than what we saw a month ago when Castle did 20 points better against Coons than O'Donnell.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Cuba to cut 500,000 gov't workers, reform salaries (WILL WEISSERT and PAUL HAVEN, 9/13/10, AP)

Cuba announced Monday it will cast off at least half a million state workers by early next year and reduce restrictions on private enterprise to help them find new jobs — the most dramatic step yet in President Raul Castro's push to radically remake employment on the communist-run island.

Castro suggested during a nationally televised address on Easter Sunday that as many as 1 million Cuban workers — about one in five — may be redundant.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Fla. woman rides ’shotbun’ in the weinermobile (AP, 9/13/10)

A central Florida woman caught the eye of neighbors as she tooled around in a most unusual vehicle — the Weinermobile. Barbara Gilbert won a trip to ride “shotbun” in Oscar Mayer’s eccentric car which resembles a giant hot dog.

...but this has to be the second best prize ever.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Bush was right: We're not at war with Islam (Julian E. Zelizer, 9/13/10, CNN)

Speaking at an emotionally charged moment, just six days after the attacks, Bush told the audience that it was vital for Americans to understand that the terrorists did not represent the Muslim tradition.

"Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America; they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior," Bush said.

The president reiterated his firm commitment to protecting the constitutional rights and honoring the important role of the Muslim community in the United States.

In no uncertain terms, Bush said: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."

America, he said, "counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads."

Many Muslim leaders were impressed by the president's speech as well as by how most Americans were responding to the trauma.

"Americans have shown great maturity," Sayyid Syeed, the secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, told the media. He reported the calls he was receiving expressing support for his community greatly outweighed the hate crimes.

Over the coming years, Bush stuck with the argument that he made on September 17. While Bush would come under criticism for many aspects of his war on terrorism -- including policies such as the use of interrogation tactics that critics called torture -- he continued to be very clear in his defense of Muslims.

The president returned to the Islamic Center on June 2007, reminding his audience of his earlier speech: "We gather, with friendship and respect, to reaffirm that pledge -- and to renew our determination to stand together in the pursuit of freedom and peace. We come to express our appreciation for a faith that has enriched civilization for centuries."

Bush's philosophy is now under fire.

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September 13, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


Gillerman 'ashamed' of deportation plan (Yael Branovsky, 09.07.10, Israel News)

Some 400 people demonstrated on Tuesday against the deportation of 400 foreign workers' kids following reports that the procedure will commence directly after the holiday period.

The protestors carried signs reading, "Deport Eli Yishai" and "Each one is like family to me."

Israel's former ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, attended the protest and told Ynet that the deportation could cause enormous damage to Israel. "Even if it happens, and I hope it doesn't, I will be thanking God that I am not the one representing Israel at this time," he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:11 PM


A Master Class in Going the Distance, With No Compromises (NATE CHINEN, 9/13/10, NY Times)

Any concert by Sonny Rollins, the great unflagging sovereign of the tenor saxophone, bears the promise of a momentous occasion. His sold-out show at the Beacon Theater on Friday night delivered rapturously on that promise, with something else besides.[...]

The concert’s culminating moment, the one that flagged the evening as historic, involved a pair of unannounced guests, starting with the drummer Roy Haynes, who is 85 and seems maybe half that age. As he did for a concert at Carnegie Hall a few years ago, Mr. Haynes joined Mr. Rollins in a trio with the bassist Christian McBride, 38, whose nimble style and enveloping sound make the absence of a chordal instrument seem negligible. They assayed “Solitude” at a gentlemanly tempo, Mr. Rollins and Mr. McBride swapping improvised asides. Eventually Mr. Haynes took over, with a solo of quick and startling intensity, a Florida thunderstorm hijacking a midsummer afternoon.

Next up was a blues, “Sonnymoon for Two,” on which Mr. Rollins seemed distracted at first, bleating tentative phrases rather than hitting a stride. He then stepped to the microphone and, in a hopeful tone, implored his next mystery guest onto the stage. It was the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, the patriarch of free jazz, who also turned 80 this year. Given that no one can seem to recall a public collaboration by Mr. Rollins and Mr. Coleman — mutual admirers and reciprocal influences — this was worth the wait.

Bending at one knee as he approached his host, Mr. Coleman was soon weaving through the tune, in his own enigmatic dialect, a waft of bright, interrogatory phrases. And what followed was extraordinary: Mr. Rollins, obviously inspired, picked up the thread, foraging outside the established key, with a frontier intrepidness that was nevertheless true to his own voice. Both saxophonists committed without compromise, and while the results were jangling and imperfect, it was a brave imperfection, a meaningful one.

Sonny Meets Ornette: A Roundup (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 9/13/10, NPR)

Perhaps you have heard that Sonny Rollins played an 80th birthday concert on Friday night. He played with his newly-retooled working band. And Roy Hargrove. And Christian McBride. And Jim Hall. And Roy Haynes. And Ornette Coleman. Yes, Ornette Coleman.


Seemingly everybody and their mother — at least with respect to jazz writing — was in attendance. (Even the @jazzfamoose!) Here are some recaps from journalists and fans...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:05 PM


Prostate Cancer Screening No Benefit to Older Men With Low PSA Levels: Further testing, early cancer detection strategies more likely to do harm than good, researchers say (Steven Reinberg, 9/13/10, HealthDay)

Although many men are concerned about prostate cancer, a new study finds that in men aged 55 to 74 with low levels of baseline prostate-specific antigen (PSA), further screening and early detection of prostate cancer offer virtually no benefit.

Prostate cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths among men in Western countries, but most men with the disease won't die from it. In the United States, a man has about a 15.8 percent chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, but the risk of dying from it is only about 2.8 percent, the researchers said.

In recent years, large-scale studies have cast doubt on the value on routine PSA screening for most men and raised questions about whether such testing resulted in unnecessary, potentially harmful treatment -- an issue expanded on by the current investigation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


A Conversation with Feisal Abdul Rauf (Video) Speaker: Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations

September 13, 2010
General Meeting: A Conversation with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Imam Feisal speaks about the need for interreligious dialogue and cooperation while addressing the debate surrounding the community center near the World Trade Center. that the Islamophobes have accidentally made Imam Rauf the best known spokesman for Islam on the planet.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Taxes: What people forget about Reagan (Jeanne Sahadi, September 12, 2010,

After Reagan's first year in office, the annual deficit was 2.6% of gross domestic product. But it hit a high of 6% in 1983, stayed in the 5% range for the next three years, and fell to 3.1% by 1988. (By comparison, this year it's projected to be 9% but is expected to drop considerably thereafter.)

So, despite his public opposition to higher taxes, Reagan ended up signing off on several measures intended to raise more revenue.

"Reagan was certainly a tax cutter legislatively, emotionally and ideologically. But for a variety of political reasons, it was hard for him to ignore the cost of his tax cuts," said tax historian Joseph Thorndike.

Two bills passed in 1982 and 1984 together "constituted the biggest tax increase ever enacted during peacetime," Thorndike said.

...they worship the one who exists only in their own minds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Daley and Bush: Parallel lives (Clarence Page, September 12, 2010, Chicago Tribune)

[M]ayor Richard M. Daley's surprise announcement that he's not going to run again completes a narrative that has striking and occasionally instructive parallels with that of former President George W. Bush.

Both were heirs to political dynasties that might have dueled, but usually didn't. A notable exception came in 2000. Daley's brother, William, ran Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign while Bush's brother, Jeb, was governor of Florida, the state that decided Dubya's election.

But a few months later, the new president and the mayor, who has served since 1989, were all smiles after a private lunch in Chicago, where Bush was promoting his proposed tax cuts.

Their surprising successes offer a lesson in the often-underestimated importance of what we call "people skills." Like his father, Richard the Second conveyed a heartfelt devotion to his city, a love that Chicagoans find to be a lot more important in "da Mare" than his or her fluency with English.

Bush benefited from a similar populist earnestness when pitted against Gore and Sen. John Kerry. Their backgrounds were no more patrician than his, but they made the mistake of letting that "elitist" rap stick. Voters may not know how they're going to vote, but they always know how a politician makes them feel.

...but their Third Way substance that made them soulmates.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Is There an Upset in the Making in New York? (John Fund, 9/12/10, WSJ)

New York's Kirsten Gillibrand doesn't appear on lists of endangered Democratic Senate incumbents. But as an appointed Senator who has never faced a statewide electorate, she still has reason to look over her shoulder. Despite having held office for 18 months, the latest Quinnipiac Poll gives her no more than 45% of the vote against any of three possible GOP opponents. She holds a comfortable lead only because many New Yorkers have heard little or nothing about the GOP candidates.

Nonetheless, a full 39% of New York voters haven't heard enough about Ms. Gillibrand to form an opinion about her either. In a volatile, anti-liberal incumbent year, anything can happen. In 1994, the last such year, even the respected and well-known Daniel Patrick Moynihan won only 55% of the vote against an unknown Republican in what would prove Moynihan's last re-election campaign for the Senate in New York.

There only seem to be four genuine black swans: Inouye, Mikulski, Schumer and Leahy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


CSIS would use torture-tainted info, internal notes say (Jim Bronskill, 9/12/10, The Canadian Press)

CSIS will share information received from an international partner with the police and other authorities “even in the rare and extreme circumstance that we have some doubt as to the manner in which the foreign agency acquired it,” say the notes prepared for use by CSIS director Dick Fadden.

The notes say that although such information would never be admissible in court to prosecute someone posing an imminent threat, “the government must nevertheless make use of the information to attempt to disrupt that threat before it materializes.”

The CSIS position is “alarming” and contravenes a federal government directive to the spy agency to shun brutal methods, said NDP public safety critic Don Davies. “CSIS appears to be trying to open the door to be able to rely on information derived from torture, and that’s in violation of the policy.” the torture of the terrorist undone? That's the problem with the whole concept of the "fruit of the poisonous tree." Even noxious seeds can yield healthy fruit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Orszag Takes Another Swipe at Obama (Josh Mitchell, 9/12/10, WSJ)

For the second time in a week, Peter Orszag has zinged his former boss.

Orszag, who just left his job as President Barack Obama’s budget chief, said Sunday that the president’s policy of making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for middle-income families would jeopardize the nation’s finances. Last week, he made the same argument in a New York Times column that took the White House by surprise. [...]

Orszag called for extending all of the Bush-era cuts for two more years and then letting all of them expire. He emphasized that the temporary extension should apply to all income earners, even the wealthy – another point on which the White House disagrees. Obama has said he wants the tax cuts to lapse for families with incomes above $250,000.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Hundreds of Kashmir Protesters Defy Curfew (Jasper Fakkert, 9/12/10, Epoch Times)

Indian security forces clashed with hundreds of protesters in the Kashmir Valley Sunday leaving 24 people injured, including eight policemen.

The clashes came in spite of a curfew imposed on major towns in the valley. [...]

Demonstrators are protesting Indian rule of the predominantly Muslim region, which has been under contention since it was freed from British rule in 1947.

...aren't likely to change their mind because of nightfall.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Hayek's true political persuasion (William Church, 9 September 2010, Online Opinion)

What is Hayek's true political persuasion? I’ve often pondered this question and consider it important for those in right-wing politics for three reasons. First, I believe that Hayek is a conservative thinker. Second, considerable confusion persists as to the philosophical heritage of the Liberal Party. Many insist it’s “a progressive party” and conservatives are imposters. These people tend to locate Hayek within the liberal political tradition, perhaps not realising the obvious philosophical similarities between Hayek and conservatives like Burke and Oakeshott. Third, while I accept that people can never agree, disagreement might be partially mitigated by an appreciation of how aspects of classical-liberalism and conservatism philosophically cohere.

In locating Hayek within the conservative tradition I find the following decisive:

1. a scepticism about rationality and human affairs;
2. a reverence toward grown or evolved social institutions;
3. flowing from (2) a preference for inherited and established traditions and institutions; and
4. a view of rights or freedom as rooted in social convention, as distinct from the usual liberal insistence on inherent, universal or divine rights.

I also feel it incumbent upon me to respond to the view (even by Hayek himself) that he’s simply an “old Whig”; liberalism untainted by the 20th century collectivist epoch.
The limits of rationality

The litmus test for conservatism is the belief that reason plays a limited role in the co-ordination of society. Societies are not the products of human thinking but an unintended outcome of “suprarational” factors: values, beliefs, institutions and languages are all tied up in a complex matrix of spontaneity. Further, to the conservative it is past human experience and the accumulated wisdom of established institutions that one turns to in deciding what provides a “workable” framework for civil social order. We arrive at the solution to our problems through trial and error over years, not through the genius of any one person or school. There’s an obvious logic to this. Just as it would be impossible to construct without reference to some other authority an aeroplane or computer we can’t, from inside a philosophical vacuum, think up the ideal society. The conservative is never surprised that radical and revolutionary political systems fail so miserably - radicalism is inspired by ideology and contempt for inherited wisdom.

Hayek was influenced by the sceptical empiricist tradition of David Hume and Adam Smith who refuted that the human mind can understand the totality of human activities. Hayek’s philosophy and economic theory stressed “evolved reason” as distinct from the “constructivist rationalist” mindset that derived from Descartes and Bacon. This “constructivist rationalist” thinking links in with Kant and the Enlightenment idea that society can be re-organised rationally. Congruent with Hayek is the critique offered by Michael Oakeshott in Rationalism and Politics, that the rationalists with their causally mechanistic mindset fail to comprehend the value of inherited wisdom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


Get Ready for the GM IPO (PAUL INGRASSIA , 9/13/10, WSJ)

[M]aybe a hefty market valuation for GM, though probably south of $70 billion, isn't so implausible. The company had $8.2 billion debt on its books at the end of the first half, compared to $27 billion for Ford. Tens of billions of the old GM's debt were wiped away in the bankruptcy. Chapter 11 is great . . . if you're not a creditor.

Besides, if you're a potential investor in the new GM, it doesn't matter if the company's market cap is higher than Ford's. All that matters is that GM's stock appreciates from the IPO price, which hasn't yet been set.

General Motors is now profitable in a lousy economy in which U.S. car sales, though better than last year's, remain at multidecade lows. Car sales need only recover halfway toward their previous peak for GM (and Ford and Chrysler) to start coining serious money, assuming the company keeps its cost discipline intact. That bodes well for the stock, if the IPO price is reasonable.

But buyers might want a long-term warranty on the stock, like the warranties on some cars nowadays. One major threat to GM is its long-toxic relationship with the United Auto Workers union, for which both sides bear the blame. Abolished in last year's bailout were the worst abuses: the Jobs Bank that paid workers not to work, ridiculous medical benefits that no other Americans have, and many feather-bedding work rules.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


International backing given to Turkish reform vote (BBC, 9/12/10)

The changes are aimed at bringing Turkey in line with the European Union, which the government wants to join.

With nearly all votes in the referendum counted, about 58% had voted "Yes" to amending the constitution.

Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the result meant the country had "crossed a historic threshold toward advanced democracy and the supremacy of law".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

Prosciutto and onion frittata (LA Times, September 9, 2010)

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup thinly sliced onions

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 thin slices prosciutto (about 1 1/2 ounces), cut crosswise in 1/4-inch slivers

6 eggs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

1. Heat the broiler. Melt the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt, then cover the pan and cook until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the prosciutto and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with a fork in a mixing bowl just until the yolks and the white are thoroughly mixed, but don't overbeat, which can make the frittata dry. Beat in the parsley and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.

3. Add the egg mixture to the pan with the onions and prosciutto and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook, without stirring, until the eggs have set, leaving only a top layer uncooked, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano and place under the broiler until the top is browned and puffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. To unmold the frittata, let it cool slightly in the pan. Use a spatula to loosen it along the sides, and then bang it firmly on a cutting board to release the underside. Slide it out onto a serving plate. Serve either hot or at room temperature. If you're going to refrigerate the frittata, let it warm to room temperature before serving.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


8 must-have kitchen gadgets you'll actually use: Each of these useful items saves time and doesn't waste space. (Natalie Ermann Russell • 9/12/2010, USA Weekend)

Giant spatula. It's great for bakers, who can use it to lift cake layers or rolled-out pie dough, but it's also a lifesaver for those who are baking-averse, Moulton says. “I use it for savory, not sweet,” she says. “I can pick up a half-pound of meat in cubes with this tool and move it from cutting board to pan.”, $12.95.

September 12, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Revolutionary War town in revolt over synagogue: A Hasidic group alleging discrimination over its plans in the historic district will get its day in court. (Rinker Buck, September 11, 2010 LA Times).

In December 2007, the borough's historic district commission, after contentious hearings, denied an application by Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County to extensively renovate a historic house just below the green. The group's plans included a synagogue, living space for Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach and his large family and a swimming pool for the Chabad group's popular summer camp.

Among other objections, the commission cited plans to replace a single front door with double doors and said that the addition would dwarf the existing historic home and others in the neighborhood.

But it was the tone of the commission meetings that now forms the core of Chabad's federal suit. [...]

Historic district commission members did not return calls requesting interviews. But in depositions, the commission cited evidence supporting its claim that Eisenbach has few local followers, that his Sabbath services are poorly attended and that his plans for a personal residence and a swimming pool are too grandiose for the site.

"This case is not about the construction of a synagogue," Stedronsky said recently. "It's about the construction of a personal palace for Rabbi Eisenbach, complete with a 4,500-square-foot apartment and an indoor swimming pool big enough to serve a summer camp."

All that's missing is the accusation that shadowy figures are financing the project.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


We'll host the Brothers Judd NFL pool again this year. You just pick the winners each week and we give away books as they play towards the Pats/Packers rematch.

Our Pool password is: ericjulia

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


Untangling the Bizarre CIA Links to the Ground Zero Mosque (Mark Ames, September 10, 2010, NY Observer)

[O]ne of the earliest backers of the nonprofit group, the Cordoba Initiative, that is spearheading the Ground Zero mosque, is a 52-year-old Scarsdale, New York, native named R. Leslie Deak. In addition to serving on the group's board of advisors since its founding in 2004 by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Deak was its principal funder, donating $98,000 to the nonprofit between 2006 and 2008. This figure appears to represent organization's total operating budget—though, oddly, the group reported receipts of just a third of that total during the same time period.

Deak describes himself as a "Practicing Muslim with background in Christianity and Judaism, [with] in-depth personal and business experiences in the Middle East, living and working six months per year in Egypt." Born into a Christian home, Deak became an Orthodox Jew and married a Jewish woman before converting to Islam when he married his current wife, Moshira Soliman, with whom he now lives in Rye.

Leslie Deak's resume also notes his role as "business consultant" for Patriot Defense Group, LLC, a private defense contractor with offices in Winter Park, Florida, and in Tucson. The only names listed on the firm's website are those of its three "strategic advisers." These include retired four-star General Bryan "Doug" Brown, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command until 2007, where he headed "all special operations forces, both active duty and reserve, leading the Global War On Terrorism," and James Pavitt, former deputy director for operations at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he "managed the CIA's globally deployed personnel and nearly half of its multi-billion dollar budget" and "served as head of America's Clandestine Service, the CIA's operational response to the attacks of September 11, 2001."

Besides Pavitt, Brown and a third advisor, banker Alexander Cappello, the Patriot Defense Group is so secretive it doesn't even name its management team, instead describing its anonymous CEO as a former Special Forces and State Department veteran, the group's managing director as a former CIA officer experienced in counter-terrorism in hostile environments and the group's corporate intelligence head as a "23-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service who worked on the personal security details of former Presidents Bush and Clinton."

Patriot Defense Group's primary business involves leveraging its government connections and know-how. The firm is divided into two divisions: one that "focuses exclusively on the needs of the U.S. military and law enforcement communities as well as the requirements of friendly foreign governments," and a corporate division, which "provides business intelligence and specialized security services to corporate clients and high net-worth family enterprises."

So, to recap: From 2006 to 2008, R. Leslie Deak worked as a "business consultant" to this super-secretive security contractor with ties to the CIA and counterterrorism forces, and in those same three years he also donated nearly $100,000 in seed money to the foundation now advocating the construction of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.

Interestingly, during the same three-year period during which the Deak Family Foundation was financing the Cordoba Initiative, Deak also donated a total of $101,247 to something called the National Defense University Foundation. The National Defense University is a network of war and strategy colleges and research centers (including the National War College) funded by the Pentagon, designed to train specialists in military strategy. The organization recently announced a November 5 dinner gala in honor of Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Robert Gates. Sponsors include Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and...the Patriot Defense Group.

It's not an Islamicist front, it's an anti-Islamicist front.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits (BENEDICT CAREY, 9/07/10, NY Times)

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, say, calculating the number of prism faces when given the number of sides at the base, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples of all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.

A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.

“When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem,” said Dr. Rohrer. “That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” With mixed practice, he added, “each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.”

These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.

The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study. “What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it’s picking up what’s similar and what’s different about them,” often subconsciously.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.” recall the knowledge we're trying to impart to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


The Presidency, Chained to the World (MATT BAI, 9/12/10, NY Times)

[U]ntil the end of the Soviet Union, America’s economic and national security were largely self-determined, thanks to its manufacturing might and its ability to negotiate treaties with other states. But the advent of truly global markets, along with threats from non-state forces like Al Qaeda, changed all that. Now we live in an integrated world where American jobs rely on the economic policies of governments in Asia or Latin America, while our security is subject to the whims of a cleric living in a cave.

In “Futurecast,” his book about this new age, the economist Robert J. Shapiro notes that the percentage of the world’s combined gross domestic product that is traded across borders rose to just under 30 percent by 2005, from 18 percent in 1990.

The Stanford historian, David M. Kennedy, points out that for most of the 20th century, foreign trade accounted for roughly 10 percent of America’s G.D.P. That number started rising in the 1970s and now hovers at above 25 percent of G.D.P.

Mr. Kennedy said he suspected that his future fellow historians would classify our most recent presidencies as encapsulating an “era of globalization” in which “the whole concept of sovereignty is less meaningful than it once was.”

John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale historian and pre-eminent scholar of the cold war period, calls the last decade or so an “age of regression,” meaning that the popular notion of a “unipolar” world — one in which the United States was supposed to have no serious economic or military competitors — gave way to the realization that the best America could aspire to was a stable balance of power.

All of this has significant ramifications for Mr. Obama and our concept of the presidency generally. The presidents whose statues ring the National Mall are those who were deemed not just wise and just, but also masters of our national destiny. We celebrate them as decisive men who, by making the right choices, seemed to define and control the events of their times.

What the historians are suggesting, however, is that the modern president may simply not be able to exercise that same firm grasp — or at least not most of the time.

That whole "America is ungovernable" meme hasn't been trotted out since Presidents Ford and Carter showed they were incapable of governing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


What Went Wrong: A ‘pre-mortem’ for the Democrats. (Howard Fineman, 9/11/10, Newsweek)

Election Day is still seven weeks away—but it’s not too early for a “pre-mortem”:

Obama misread his mandate. “Obama’s 2008 victory was a personal one,” says Bill Galston, an adviser to President Clinton. “It wasn’t a vote for a more expansive view of the role and reach of government.” The stimulus, on its own, wasn’t the problem. It was the thousands of easy-to-caricature pages of new legislation that came on top of it, all of which revived the Republicans’ “big government” narrative.

Obama—an overachiever, the guy who fills up a second blue book on the extra-credit question—tried to do it all. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, eager to please the new boss, declared before Inauguration Day: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste. There are opportunities to do big things.” But in doing big things, they failed to fully attend to (and be seen attending to) the immediate economic needs of the middle class. “There hasn’t been the laserlike focus on the economy there could have, and should have, been,” says a top Democratic strategist who declined to be named criticizing the White House.

Take health-care reform. Ten years hence, perhaps, it will be seen as the signal achievement of the Obama years. But for now, it’s an unpopular law that took a divisive year to enact, that liberals and conservatives loathe, that is full of bureaucratic and fiscal IEDs, and that drained attention from dealing with the economy. If you disagree, look at Obama’s speech last week in Cleveland. In 47 minutes, he mentioned health care for about 25 seconds.

...he'd need a persona. Instead, it was a vote against the scorched earth politics of the House GOP. Any empty suit would have sufficed. The genius of his campaign was not to fill the clothes with substance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Lost in Translation (Alex Rose, SEPTEMBER 9, 2010 , Obit)

Over 400 million people currently speak English as a first language, while 300 million others speak it as a second — in fact, there are now more students of English in China than there are people in the United States. It has proven the most miscegenated language of all time, having been cobbled together from dialects as disparate as fifth century Germanic tribal tongues, Old Norse from the Vikings, early French from the Normans, then retrofit with elements of Latin and Greek, all the while dropping great swaths of its vocabulary and grammar and patching the gaps with little flourishes of Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, or whatever it happens to come into contact with.

But everything changed in the 20th century. With the rise of consumer culture, a global information network and an international marketplace, a universal language was needed, and it wasn’t going to be Esperanto. In a few short decades, English became the lingua franca of international trade, as well of science, medicine, air travel, and over 80 percent of the World Wide Web, taking along with it the values and perspectives of late capitalism. “Anglo-American culture and its language,” writes McCrum, “have become as much a part of global consciousness as MS-DOS or the combustion engine.”

Compelling though it may be, the bulk of McCrum’s argument rests upon a conviction that English qua English offers a unique way of viewing and classifying the world, a theory I imagine most linguists would dismiss as unscientific. “The cultural revolution of Christianity both enriched Old English with scores of new words,” he writes, “and just as importantly, also introduced the capacity to articulate abstract thought.” Does he really mean to suggest that no intellectual life had existed in Europe before the Church of England?

The real problem, though, is that for all his enthusiasm for the English language and its myriad idiosyncrasies, McCrum sees no downside to its unprecedented spread. The correlation between the rate at which the world’s languages are vanishing — on average, one every 10 days — and the rate at which English is infiltrating the globe, is lost on him. In this way, McCrum can come off less like a popular historian than a missionary, touting the influence of English as proof of its superiority, while failing to acknowledge what is lost as a result.

It's a simple Darwinian process and the superior is slaughtering the inferior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


When Peggy Left Barry (MAUREEN DOWD, 9/12/10, NY Times)

One of the independent voters Obama will be trying to charm over the next two years is my sister, Peggy, a formerly ardent Obamican (a Republican who changed spots to vote for Obama).

Disillusioned with her beloved W. over Iraq and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and the disdain for bipartisanship, she gave her affections — and small cash infusions — to Barack Obama in 2008.

Despite being a Washington native, Peggy believed that the dazzling young newcomer could change Washington.

But she has lost a lot of faith now, saying she might vote for Mitt Romney over Obama if Romney is the Republican nominee in 2012. (Sarah Palin shouldn’t count on her vote though. In Peggy’s words, “Are you nuts?”)

Peggy thinks the president has done fine managing W.’s messes in Iraq and Afghanistan. And she lights up at the mention of his vice president, Joe Biden. But she thinks Obama has to get “a backbone” if he wants to lure her back to the fold. “He promised us everything, saying he would turn the country around, and he did nothing the first year,” Peggy says. “He piddled around when he had 60 votes. He could have pushed through the health care bill but spent months haggling on it because he wanted to bring some Republicans on board. He was trying too hard to compromise when he didn’t need the Republicans and they were never going to like him. Any idiot could see that.

“He could have gotten it through while Teddy Kennedy was still alive — he owed the Kennedys something — and then the bill was watered down.

“He hasn’t saved the economy, and now he’s admitting he’s made very little progress. You can’t for four years blame the person who used to be president. Obama tries to compromise too much, and he doesn’t look like a strong leader. I don’t watch him anymore. I’m turned off by him. I think he’s an elitist. He went down to the gulf, telling everyone to take a vacation down there, and then he goes to Martha’s Vineyard. He does what he wants but then he tells us to do other things. "

Now it's using her sister to express her own disdain for the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


My Nine Years as a Middle-Eastern American (POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR, 9/11/10, NY Times)

A deep dark admission: lately — and by lately I mean this era I worked so hard for, when a liberal person of color, a man who resembles my own father, would be our president — I’ve found myself thinking secretly, were certain things better in the George W. Bush era? Was it easier to be Middle Eastern then?

Just six days after 9/11, at the Islamic Center of Washington, President Bush said, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind.” He added: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Did that assurance mean more to white Americans coming from someone who looked like them? [...]

My brother, who lives in Brooklyn, recently discovered that many of his Muslim friends in New York felt that the Islamic cultural center was a bad idea to begin with, for this sole reason: it was going to put them in danger. He and his friends feel a fear that they haven’t in ages, or ever.

It's easy to understand why W believed that God's plan made him president on 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Swedish vote could end love story with left (KARL RITTER, 09/12/2010, AP)

Most recent polls suggest Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, 45, can capitalize on the Swedish economy’s strong revival after the global slump to pull off what no center-right leader has done before: winning re-election after serving a full term.

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats have not enjoyed their habitual rebound after a 35-percent showing in the previous election four years ago, their worst result since universal suffrage was adopted in 1919. Only a last-hour surge can avert an even lower result next Sunday, and for the first time the Social Democrats have had to join up with environmentalists and former communists in a Red-Green alliance to have any chance of regaining power.

“I think we have shown, and we have won the confidence among the Swedish people, that we are able to govern,” Reinfeldt told foreign reporters on Sept. 7.

Boosting his case are statistics showing Sweden’s economy is one of Europe’s strongest — it’s expected to grow by more than 4 percent this year — while the 2010 budget deficit is on track to be the smallest in the 27-nation EU. His program of trimming taxes in a nation long accustomed to some of the highest tax rates in the world appears to have caught on with the public.

...that it has produced the first permanently and determinedly Third Way party. The US was somewhat unfortunate in that the first conservative leader when our political tectonics shifted back to the Right was the rhetorically First Way -- though governmentally a New Dealer -- Ronald Reagan. This fooled the Right into thinking a return to the First Way was plausible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


THE LIMITS OF SCIENCE : Plenty of today’s scientific theories will one day be discredited. So should we be sceptical of science itself? (Anthony Gottlieb, Autumn 2010, INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine)

No group of believers has more reason to be sure of its own good sense than today’s professional scientists. There is, or should be, no mystery about why it is always more rational to believe in science than in anything else, because this is true merely by definition. What makes a method of enquiry count as scientific is not that it employs microscopes, rats, computers or people in stained white coats, but that it seeks to test itself at every turn. If a method is as rigorous and cautious as it can be, it counts as good science; if it isn’t, it doesn’t. Yet this fact sets a puzzle. If science is careful scepticism writ large, shouldn’t a scientific cast of mind require one to be sceptical of science itself?

There is no full-blown logical paradox here. If a claim is ambitious, people should indeed tread warily around it, even if it comes from scientists; it does not follow that they should be sceptical of the scientific method itself. But there is an awkward public-relations challenge for any champion of hard-nosed science. When scientists confront the deniers of evolution, or the devotees of homeopathic medicine, or people who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism—all of whom are as demonstrably mistaken as anyone can be—they understandably fight shy of revealing just how riddled with error and misleading information the everyday business of science actually is. When you paint yourself as a defender of the truth, it helps to keep quiet about how often you are wrong.

That fact partly explains why some influential climate scientists today, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are having a hard time. Wary of yielding any ground to those who think that global warming is some sort of hoax, they have sometimes been mightily unwilling to be open about exaggerations, mistakes and confusions in influential reports about climate change—such as the flawed “Hockey Stick” paper, published in Nature in 1998, which estimated global temperatures over the past 600 years, and has become one of the most cited publications on the topic. This defensiveness has backfired, and the credibility of climatologists has suffered.

At the end of her book “Science: A Four Thousand Year History” (2009), Patricia Fara of Cambridge University wrote that “there can be no cast-iron guarantee that the cutting-edge science of today will not represent the discredited alchemy of tomorrow”. This is surely an understatement. If the past is any guide—and what else could be?—plenty of today’s science will be discredited in future. There is no reason to think that today’s practitioners are uniquely immune to the misconceptions, hasty generalisations, fads and hubris that marked most of their predecessors. the "sciences" that claim they're uniquely unsuited to the scientific method.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Obama's electoral coalition is crumbling: The swing voters who turned out in droves to support the president aren't likely to back his party in November. Even core supporters express unhappiness with Democrats. (James Oliphant and Kathleen Hennessey, September 11, 2010, LA Times)

Obama voters evince little interest in the midterm election. When they express goodwill toward the president, it rarely extends to his allies in Congress. Many do not consider themselves Democrats.

Pew's survey experts routinely ask respondents to characterize the president in a single word. In their most recent poll, conducted this summer, more respondents than ever answered with the word "disappointing."

Some who threw their lot in with Obama expressed a sense of being let down by the man who promised change and pledged to transform the country. Some attributed that to their own lofty expectations and, perhaps, their naivete. Others pointed to what they saw as his lack of focus on the still-faltering economy.

And some suggested they were simply hoodwinked by a smooth-talking politician.

"What I've come to the realization is that the president was an absolutely fantastic campaigner. He was a perfect preacher-slash-minister-slash-professor," said Peter Gallo, a concert promoter in Raleigh, N.C. "He doesn't have the skill to legislate, to build coalitions. He does not have the skill to bring people in and say, 'Come on and let's get this done.'"

Gallo's words — in various ways — were echoed in Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington; in northern Nevada; in greater Philadelphia; in the suburbs of Ohio; and in a college town in southern Virginia.

All are regions crucial to Democrats. The president will need these voters in two years. His party needs them now.

...that an unaccomplished legislator would make a lousy executive?

September 11, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Deadly stupid: No way to remember 9/11 (Manchester Union Leader, 9/11/10)

One of the reasons we are still fighting Islamic terrorists in far-off parts of the world, and at home, nine years after the 9/11 attacks is because al-Qaida and like-minded groups have been able to convince a steady stream of young Muslim men that the United States is a nation of crusaders intent on crushing Islam. A pastor burning hundreds of Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 wouldn't have helped America dispel that myth. And it just might have gotten more Americans killed. too is the argument that burning the Koran is a bad idea because it could get people killed. A Muslim community center modeled on the 92nd St Y is a good or a bad idea in its own right, and folks ought to justify or oppose it on that basis. Likewise, burning another religion's holy text is a good or a bad idea and ought to be justified or opposed on that basis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM


Former jihad leader to bin Laden: Step back from fighting (JONNY PAUL, 09/12/2010, Jerusalem Post)

Noman Benotman, a former senior leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who in the 1990s spent several years with bin Laden in Afghanistan and Sudan, published the letter through the London-based anti-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation. [...]

“I recommend that al-Qaida announce a unilateral halt to its military operations for a period of six months to take a step back from fighting to study and consider the organization’s vision, approach and strategy; to explore public opinion in Muslim communities around the world and seek the guidance of those Islamic scholars who have rejected his approach and concept of Jihad,” Benotman said.

“Your actions have harmed millions of innocent Muslims and non- Muslims alike. How is this Islam or jihad? For how much longer will al- Qaida continue to bring shame on Islam, disrupt ordinary Muslims’ lives, and be the cause of global unrest? “What has the September 11 brought to the world except mass killings, occupations, destruction, hatred of Muslims, humiliation of Islam, and a tighter grip on the lives of ordinary Muslims by the authoritarian regimes that control Arab and Muslim states?” he asked.

The open letter will be circulated on jihadist Web forums and through the Arabic-language media.

Don't forget, it did liberate the "apostate" Shi'a of Iraq.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


This documentary was made by a couple of friends of mine, combat marines (and still active-duty !) with film degrees Brian and Anton, funded by their families and friends and by maxing out their credit cards. I've seen the film and it's really fantastic -- it brings to mind the documentary HBO made to accompany Band of Brothers, with very moving interviews with the vets of the (unbelievably desperate) battle of Chosin in the Korean war, fought for days in below-freezing weather. The historical footage is jaw-dropping -- all combat footage taken during the actual battle itself, and so up close and personal that at first I thought they were outtakes from some war movie. Interesting note: the Korean War is the "forgotten war," and most of the footage hasn't been seen since it was dropped into the can in 1950 -- Brian and Anton found it in the National Archives and no one has looked at it since the original cameraman sent it there.

The film taught me something I didn't know -- that the Marines were followed on their fighting retreat by some 90,000 Korean civilians fleeing the atrocities being perpetrated by the advancing Chinese Communists. They evacuated all of them on the ships along with the US soldiers, and there is historical footage of the US ships, packed stem to stern with civilian refugees, who were all taken to safety in the South.

The film is currently under submission to various channels to be shown on TV (with a bit of an assist by me), but this is the theatrical release to qualify for Academy consideration. Please consider attending or buying a DVD - part of the proceeds go to Wounded Warriors and the Semper Fi Fund.

“CHOSIN”, winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2010 GI Film Festival opens in theaters this week! CHOSIN was produced by combat decorated Marines Brian Iglesias and Anton Sattler. This Academy Qualifying theatrical screening is sponsored by Pepsi Co. Q & A with filmmakers at all Fri, Sat, & Sun shows. For more info, reviews, and news coverage, check out our website at and on facebook at .

In New York at The Village East (Manhattan), 10-16 September, show times are 12 noon & 9:50 PM.
In LA at the Laemmle Sunset 5 (West Hollywood), 17-23 September. Show times posted next week!

* DVD’s are available online and on military bases beginning Sept 10! A portion of the proceeds support the Wounded Warrior Program and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Florida pastor says his church will never burn the Koran (Associated Press, September 11, 2010)

[Pastor Terry Jones] said his Gainesville, Fla., church's goal was "to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical."

He told NBC that "we have definitely accomplished that mission."

Try explaining that to the folks who oppose Cordoba House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


9/11, Islam and War (Walter Russell Mead, 9/11/10, American Interest)

Enraged by defeat, occupation and mistreatment, many Iraqi Sunnis took Al-Qaeda at its word — and the insurgency took off. Hopes ran high in the inner circles of Al-Qaeda. Fighting a stubborn guerrilla war, the Americans were caught in another Vietnam. Politicians at home were deserting a war they once supported as public opinion shifted. Al-Qaeda was a legend in its own mind: having defeated the Soviet superpower in Afghanistan it was now defeating the American superpower in Iraq. The momentum seemed unstoppable: angry young men all over the world were flocking to Al-Qaeda’s recruiting offices and training centers. Terrified governments were temporizing with it; America’s enemies around the world were reckoning with the emergence of a new and perhaps unstoppable force.

But then something happened.

Sunni Iraqis took a long hard look at Al-Qaeda. They watched bombs go off in marketplaces and mosques. They watched reprisal killings of respected tribal elders and innocents. They watched undisciplined groups of fighters, freed from all moral and social restraint, innocent for the most part of any serious religious knowledge, imposed narrow and poorly conceived ideas on society by force in the name of an Islam Al-Qaeda neither understood nor respected.

And the Sunni Arabs of Iraq made a choice.

They saw Al-Qaeda at its best — volunteer freedom fighters come from around the world to fight for them — and they saw America at its worst, incompetent, insensitive, vacillating and violent.

And they chose the United States.

They decided that the future of their families, their children and their values was better served by aligning with the United States against the terrorists and against the fanatics.

What those Sunni Arabs in Iraq came to understand is the basic truth of this conflict. The war unleashed nine years ago is not a clash of civilizations between Islam and the west. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism, and in that clash the Americans and true Muslims are on the same side.

I have met many Muslims in the last nine years, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, on the West Bank, Italy, France, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Syria, Lebanon and in many other countries who have reached the same conclusion.

Many — most — of these Muslims do not approve of many of the features in western and American life. Many — most — of these Muslims have profound differences with certain aspects of American foreign policy. I have engaged in some bitter and tough discussions during the last nine years, and like to think that maybe I have learned a few things.

But as we look back on the nine years since 9/11, one thing needs to kept clearly in view. The more the world’s Muslims see of Al-Qaeda and its agenda of indiscriminate murder, the less they like it.

And there is something more. Over the years I’ve also had the good fortune to meet many of the Americans who have served on the front lines of this conflict. I hear the same message from them. When General Petraeus and Secretary Gates denounced the Qu’ran-burning loons in Florida, they weren’t just speaking as PC commanders at the top. They were speaking out of the experience of American warfighters who have learned in the last nine years that at the end of the day the Muslim majority isn’t our enemy in the war on terror. That majority is our best and our most important ally in winning it.

Over and over in Iraq, American soldiers turned near-defeat into victory as they built relationships with Arab Muslims. American commanders staked the lives of the men under their command on the word of the sheikhs, the tribal elders, the village notables — and that word proved true. They gave good information, provided honest help, and thanks to their wisdom, their courage and their integrity Al-Qaeda in Iraq was pushed back.

This means many things, but here’s one of the most important. For the next generation, the American military is going to be led by people whose formative experience was the establishment of relations of trust and respect with angry, frustrated and suspicious Muslims under combat conditions in the Middle East. The American military knows deep in its guts that working with Muslims is the key to beating the bad guys.

...after all, the Sunni of Iraq rejected extremism in the face of elections that showed just how large the Shi'a majority was--they'd been led to believe the Shi'a were even a minority--and reprisals by Moqtada al-Sadr and other armed Shi'ite groups. The combination made Sunni resistance to the new Iraq an existential matter in which the odds did not favor continued existence. Thus it was effectively the liberation of Iraq that made the Sunni decide to come down on the side of civilization rather than barbarity. The rest of the essay seems pretty much right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Has 9/11 Changed Saudi Arabia for the Better?: The terrorist attacks of September 11th changed America forever, but Robert Lacey argues they had a big impact on Saudi Arabia too, by emboldening reformers to push back against religious extremists. (Robert Lacey, 9/11/10, Daily Beast)

Nine years on, the 9/11 attacks can only evoke bitter memories for America. But it is already clear that 9/11 was a very good thing for Saudi Arabia. [...]

The Saudis are never going to say “sorry” for 9/11. But their change of behavior may be taken as some sign of remorse.

These were some of the challenges facing Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as the news of the September 11th attacks reached Riyadh. That very day the crown prince issued a statement of sympathy expressing Saudi horror at these actions “in conflict with our religious and civilized values.” But it soon became clear that most of the men whom Abdullah was denouncing were his own subjects, and that they had picked up their uncivilized values inside his kingdom.

It was to Abdullah’s credit that he realized this—almost alone and certainly ahead of many members of his family.

“We must study what has happened,” he declared in a series of televised gatherings to which he summoned the religious sheikhs, the tribal leaders, the media, and the business community. “Something serious has gone wrong here, and we must try to put it right.” 9/11 gave Abdullah the chance to introduce the reforms that he had long wished to implement, and reform has been his theme ever since—in four years as crown prince, and the last five years as king. At 85 years old, this gruff, no-nonsense man knows that his time is running out and he is willing to take risks. To combat the core issue of religious fanaticism, he has not been afraid to sack retrograde clerics—his Chief Justice Saleh Al-Lahedan, for example, who called for the producers of “corrupting” TV soap operas to be killed—and he has initiated programs of national and interfaith dialogue. The last time I saw Abdullah, he was shaking hands with rabbis—albeit in Madrid: It will be some time before non-Islamic priests of any faith can be openly admitted to the land of Mecca and Medina. is the Wibberley Lesson: only attack us if you wish to make your own country more closely resemble ours.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


French horror at 'Anglo-Saxon' welfare reforms (Christian Fraser, 9/11/10, BBC News)

In France, I have come to realise, the term "Anglo-Saxon" is rarely one of endearment.

It is a useful umbrella description that seems to cover any number of perceived national weaknesses the other side of the Channel.

Last week, French scorn was reserved for the British retirement age, now set to rise to 67.

"Incroyable!", cried a population that jealously guards its savoir vivre.

Last Tuesday, I was by the statue of Marianne, who personifies the values of the French republic, when I encountered one particularly vehement demonstrator at a central Paris rally.

"We should not be imitating our neighbours," she barked, perhaps noting my English tweed.

The French have always expected the state to provide - not only for their short working week, their excellent free schools and hospitals - but also their retirement

"We must defend what we have. Ours is not the Anglo-Saxon way."

The entire Long War, including the current Anglosphere vs Islamicism coda, is nothing but a contest between the English and French models.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Catholics in England suffered long repression (ROBERT BARR, Associated Press)

STONOR, England – For nearly three centuries after the Reformation, Catholics in England were outlaws.

But in the turmoil and persecution that followed the break between King Henry VIII and Rome, noble families such as the Stonors clung to their faith, "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword," as the Victorian hymn "Faith of our Fathers" put it. [...]

The heavy fines and confiscation of Catholic lands depleted the wealth of the Stonors, who by the 14th century had owned 22 manors in eight counties plus 60 acres (24 hectares) of land in the center of London.

Various post-Reformation laws barred Catholics from entering London, traveling more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from home or owning horses worth more than 10 pounds, but the Stonor family continued to live in some comfort in their grand house, nestled between hills in the countryside 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of London.

Camoys pointed out a painting from the more relaxed time of King James II, a Catholic who reigned from 1685 to 1688. The painting shows a large number of horses — clearly worth more than allowed — outside the house, along with a fine carriage.

Persecution ran both ways. Queen Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, vigorously sought to uproot the Church of England; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer, and Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were among scores burned at the stake during her reign from 1553 to 1558. Mary also bestowed a knighthood on Francis Stonor.

Pope Pius V fueled official paranoia in 1570 by publishing a bull pronouncing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth to be excommunicated and deposed. Nonetheless, Elizabeth knighted the second Francis Stonor as a gesture of reconciliation.

Pope Sixtus V supported the Spanish Armada and promised financial support for the invasion which never came, because the English navy repulsed the Spanish fleet in 1588.

And then we grew up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


FACT CHECK: Obama's tone shifts on health care (Erica Werner And Calvin Woodward, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama told voters repeatedly during the health care debate that the overhaul legislation would bring down fast-rising health care costs and save them money. Now, he's hemming and hawing on that.

So far, the law he signed earlier this year hasn't had the desired effect. An analysis from Medicare's Office of the Actuary this week said that the nation's health care tab will go up — not down — through 2019 as a result of Obama's sweeping law, though the increase is modest.

Obama offered some caveats when asked in his news conference Friday about the apparent discrepancy between what he promised and what's actually happening so far. On several other topics, too, his rhetoric fell short of a full accounting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Voters' Choice, in Sharp Relief (GERALD F. SEIB, 9/11/10, WSJ)

[T]hese bright young men—Mr. Obama is 49, Mr. Ryan 40—have become the opposite poles of economic debate in the current congressional campaign.

Mr. Obama describes an America where the middle class has been squeezed by tax cuts for the wealthy that have left education, research and infrastructure investments under-funded, undermining job creation even as unfettered market forces helped push wealth away from Middle America and toward the top.

Mr. Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, describes an America where the middle class finds its aspirations snuffed out by job-killing tax rates and the massive burden of health and Social Security programs that need to be transformed with market forces and eased into the private sector.

Republicans caricature the Obama view as a nanny-state philosophy that strangles growth. Democrats caricature the Ryan view as a Darwinian philosophy in which the social safety net is shredded.

Either way, the words of these two refute the notion that elections don't offer real choices.

America the Progressive: The U.S. Social Security program is already among the most progressive in the world. Both liberal and conservative reformers would make it more so. (Andrew G. Biggs, September 11, 2010, The American)
Prospective Social Security reformers on both the Left and the Right commonly argue that a reformed Social Security program should be more progressive than the current system. The two sides differ, of course, on how to accomplish this. Yet it is an open question whether it should happen at all.

Most on the Left argue for increasing the cap on wages subject to payroll taxes, which is currently $106,800. Some argue for simply raising the cap, often to around $170,000, while others argue for eliminating it outright. Either option would increase marginal tax rates for affected individuals by over 10 percentage points. President Obama has his own plan for taxing high earners: he would apply a payroll surtax of 2 percent to 4 percent on earnings above $250,000, with no additional benefits paid in return. While less economically harmful than plans to lift the “tax max,” Obama’s proposal would fix only around 15 percent of the long-term deficit, meaning more pain in the future.

The Right would also make high earners pay most reform costs, only through lower benefits rather than higher taxes. President Bush’s plans for “progressive indexing” of future retirement benefits protected the bottom third of earners from any benefit changes but made significant reductions versus scheduled benefits for high earners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, 9/10/11, NY Times)

“It was so freeing and so calm,” Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. “It had the feel of a real mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism — New York City, the World Trade Center — and you had this island of spiritualism. I don’t think you could have that combination anywhere in the world.” [...]

Moreover, the prayer room was not the only example of Muslim religious practice in or near the trade center. About three dozen Muslim staff members of Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floors for their daily prayers.

Without enough time to walk to the closest mosque — Masjid Manhattan on Warren Street, about four blocks away — the waiters, chefs, banquet managers and others would lay a tablecloth atop the concrete landing in the stairwell and flatten cardboard boxes from food deliveries to serve as prayer mats.

During Ramadan, the Muslim employees brought their favorite foods from home, and at the end of the daylight fast shared their iftar meal in the restaurant’s employee cafeteria.

“Iftar was my best memory,” said Sekou Siby, 45, a chef originally from the Ivory Coast. “It was really special.”

Such memories have been overtaken, though, by others. Mr. Siby’s cousin and roommate, a chef named Abdoul-Karim Traoré, died at Windows on the World on Sept. 11, as did at least one other Muslim staff member, a banquet server named Shabir Ahmed from Bangladesh.

Fekkak Mamdouh, an immigrant from Morocco who was head waiter, attended a worship service just weeks after the attacks that honored the estimated 60 Muslims who died. Far from being viewed as objectionable, the service was conducted with formal support from city, state and federal authorities, who arranged for buses to transport imams and mourners to Warren Street.

There, within sight of the ruins, they chanted salat al-Ghaib, the funeral prayer when there is not an intact corpse.

“It is a shame, shame, shame,” Mr. Mamdouh, 49, said of the Park51 dispute. “Sometimes I wake up and think, this is not what I came to America for. I came here to build this country together. People are using this issue for their own agenda. It’s designed to keep the hate going.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


-REVIEW: of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006) by Lawrence Wright (BrothersJudd)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM



You ever had an epiphany--one of those moments where the scales fall from your eyes, the light dawns, the voices speak, and in one blinding insight that which was obscure becomes crystal clear? I had one this morning and am very angry with myself for not realizing this before. David Gregory, NBC's White House Correspondent, was on Imus in the Morning today and he was asked about George W. Bush's U.N. appearance tomorrow. He revealed that--with half the nation and most of the world expecting the President, like a dutiful and chastened schoolboy to present a kind of book report about Saddam trying to develop nuclear weapons, and then grovel for a UN mandate to do something about it--Mr. Bush is instead going to confront the member nations and the institution itself and ask: What more do you need? He'll discuss the many UN resolutions that Saddam has violated and ask what the purpose of the body is if they're unwilling to enforce their own diktats. He'll demand, though one assumes politely, that either the UN act immediately in accordance with its own previous decisions, or we'll act for them.

And with that, like Jake Blues entranced by The Reverend Cleophus James, I saw the light: this is High Noon.

Remarks by the President in Address to the United Nations General Assembly (President George W. Bush, New York, New York, September 11 2002)
Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, and ladies and gentlemen: We meet one year and one day after a terrorist attack brought grief to my country, and brought grief to many citizens of our world. Yesterday, we remembered the innocent lives taken that terrible morning. Today, we turn to the urgent duty of protecting other lives, without illusion and without fear.

We've accomplished much in the last year — in Afghanistan and beyond. We have much yet to do — in Afghanistan and beyond. Many nations represented here have joined in the fight against global terror, and the people of the United States are grateful.

The United Nations was born in the hope that survived a world war — the hope of a world moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear. The founding members resolved that the peace of the world must never again be destroyed by the will and wickedness of any man. We created the United Nations Security Council, so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes. After generations of deceitful dictators and broken treaties and squandered lives, we dedicated ourselves to standards of human dignity shared by all, and to a system of security defended by all.

Today, these standards, and this security, are challenged.

Our commitment to human dignity is challenged by persistent poverty and raging disease. The suffering is great, and our responsibilities are clear. The United States is joining with the world to supply aid where it reaches people and lifts up lives, to extend trade and the prosperity it brings, and to bring medical care where it is desperately needed.

As a symbol of our commitment to human dignity, the United States will return to UNESCO. (Applause.) This organization has been reformed and America will participate fully in its mission to advance human rights and tolerance and learning.

Our common security is challenged by regional conflicts — ethnic and religious strife that is ancient, but not inevitable. In the Middle East, there can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Like all other people, Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to their voices. My nation will continue to encourage all parties to step up to their responsibilities as we seek a just and comprehensive settlement to the conflict.

Above all, our principles and our security are challenged today by outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit to their violent ambitions. In the attacks on America a year ago, we saw the destructive intentions of our enemies. This threat hides within many nations, including my own. In cells and camps, terrorists are plotting further destruction, and building new bases for their war against civilization. And our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale.

In one place — in one regime — we find all these dangers, in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped — by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations.

He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge — by his deceptions, and by his cruelties — Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities — which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime's repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents — and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke its promise. Last year the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwait, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unaccounted for — more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolution 687, demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism, and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise. In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder. In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and a former American President. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September the 11th. And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks. U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War. We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program — weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of Scud-type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long-range missiles that it can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council resolutions. In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself, and to buy arms for his country. By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens.

In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading, and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely. Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations. The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations; and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspectors set foot in Iraq, four years for the Iraqi regime to plan, and to build, and to test behind the cloak of secrecy.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a — nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with the international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis — a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

We can harbor no illusions — and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians, and 40 Iraqi villages.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable — the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom, and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.

Thank you very much.

[originally posted: September 11, 2002 1:11 PM ]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:51 AM


Massoud’s Last Conquest: Afghanistan’s master guerrilla commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was assassinated by suspected al-Qaeda suicide bombers just two days before September 11. But his Northern Alliance coalition became the U.S.’s most important weapon against the Taliban in a war that combined 19th-century slaughter and 21st-century technology. As alliance soldiers marched on Kabul—with a massed-infantry assault amid the deadly shadows of B-52 bombers—the author saw Massoud’s legacy revealed, in the Afghans’ hatred of foreigners fighting for the Taliban, in their readiness to die for freedom, and even, poignantly, in one man’s act of mercy. (Sebastian Junger, February 2002, Vanity Fair)

Last April, a delegation of Afghans arrived in Paris to plead their case with the French government and the European Parliament. At their head was Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Tajik guerrilla fighter who almost single-handedly was holding together the fractious Northern Alliance against the Taliban. With him were commanders—some would call them warlords—from the Uzbek, Hazara, and Pashtun populations. Massoud had often been accused of seeking a regime dominated by Tajiks; his decision to bring along other commanders seemed to be a message to the world that the time was right for a multi-ethnic Afghan government.

These men had grown up in villages where rice was still winnowed by hand and houses were made of wattle and mud. They had fought the Russians for 10 years, and the Taliban for another 5. With the exception of quick trips to Pakistan or Tajikistan, none of them had ever been out of their beautiful, war-ruined country. They landed at Le Bourget, the military airport outside Paris, were greeted on the tarmac by a woman in a short skirt, and then were taken by full diplomatic escort to the Hotel Plaza Athénée.

Massoud wore his customary safari jacket and pakul cap and was addressed as “commandant” by the awestruck hotel staff. The rich French food didn’t agree with him, and he asked the embassy to hire a cook from a local Afghan restaurant. He was lodged in a beautiful suite with 18th-century furniture and a television. Word quickly rippled through the Afghan delegation not to turn the television on, because there were “dangerous”—i.e., pornographic—channels they might stumble onto. In some interpretations of Islam, even thinking about a woman other than your wife qualifies as a sin, and one bearded commander was observed gripping his armchair and praying, eyes closed, as a young French woman walked by.

While his commanders struggled and prayed, Massoud worked. He worked 18 hours a day, five days straight, meeting with journalists, with top-level ministers, with Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Médecins sans Frontières and former head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, and with the entire European Parliament. His message was simple: Force Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban regime and the war will end within the year. In addition, he asked for humanitarian help with the refugees and military help for the Northern Alliance, but that was secondary. Mainly, he warned that if Pakistan was not ostracized for its support of the Taliban, Afghanistan would continue to be a haven for terrorism and extremism. Ultimately, he said, the West would pay a terrible price.

“If I could say one thing to President Bush,” Massoud said at a press conference, “it would be that if he doesn’t take care of what is happening in Afghanistan the problem will not only hurt the Afghan people but the American people as well.”

[originally posted: 2/27/02]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


The Last Full Measure (Steven Malanga, Summer 2006, City Journal)

From Lookout Point at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey, you see some of the most spectacular views in the New York metropolitan area. No wonder that early settlers used it as a surveying station and that in the Revolutionary War, Washington’s army set up a post there to chart British movements. Today, the point reveals an unobstructed view of New York’s skyline 15 miles away—which is why Essex County officials chose it as the site for a September 11 memorial. Opened barely a year after 9/11, the $1.2 million, privately financed memorial features a bronze sculpture of an American eagle in flight, inscriptions of the names of all those who died on 9/11, and individual tributes to rescue workers. In its first year, the site attracted some 75,000 visitors, and it continues to draw thousands seeking to remember the dead, to contemplate the heroic acts and sacrifices of that day, and to recall the Manhattan skyline back when the Twin Towers graced it.

The impressive Eagle Rock memorial is one of dozens that have gone up in and around the New York metropolitan area since 9/11, even as controversy and fecklessness have paralyzed efforts to create a memorial on the grounds of the former World Trade Center itself. At Ground Zero, the projected cost of the proposed memorial ballooned to a staggering $1 billion, even though no construction ever began. The commission formed to build the memorial, in utter disarray, has fallen far short of fund-raising goals, prompting the recent resignation of its head and the sharp downsizing of its plans. The monument’s proposed design—dubbed by its creators Reflecting Absence—has faced intense criticism for its vacuity, fastidiously rejecting any tribute to the heroism of the day or the rock-solid American values that the terrorists attacked.

No such paralysis seems to have encumbered the dozens of commissions that local governments and ordinary citizens set up around the tristate area to honor the dead and remember the day. Though the terrorist attacks were a tragedy for the entire nation, they hit home most acutely in the scores of commuter towns within 100 miles of New York City, where many World Trade Center workers lived. Those communities have responded with a wide array of memorials.

Most are modest in scope and cost, but they are often inspired and poignant. Some serve as gravestones for local victims who have no known resting place. Others commemorate the valor that Americans exhibited on 9/11, especially New York’s rescue workers. By contrast, the World Trade Center site will have no unique memorial to the sacrifices of the city’s firefighters and police. In an age when many memorials, like Reflecting Absence, are abstract gestures that avoid invoking anything except loss—and not even directly but in a glass darkly—some of these local monuments are throwbacks, robust statements of American ideals, rendered in an unapologetically realistic style that might dismay postmodern critics but that successfully translates our common feelings about September 11 into concrete form. Deeply moving, a tour of these memorials also reminds us of the gigantic failure that has left Ground Zero little more than an opening in the earth.

One thing that comes through in visiting these memorials is just how much people miss the Twin Towers.

We moved to NJ in the mid/late '60s and lived in East and West Orange, so Eagle Rock was a frequent haunt. The view of the NY skyline is amazing and the Towers were always a blight upon it. I always wondered how we'd manage to tear them down, so felt weirdly guilty watching them fall.

[originally posted: 7/25/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


9/11: Debunking The Myths: PM examines the evidence and consults the experts to refute the most persistent conspiracy theories of September 11. (Popular Mechanics, March 2005)

From the moment the first airplane crashed into the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, the world has asked one simple and compelling question: How could it happen?

Three and a half years later, not everyone is convinced we know the truth. Go to, type in the search phrase "World Trade Center conspiracy" and you'll get links to an estimated 628,000 Web sites. More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published; many of them reject the official consensus that hijackers associated with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda flew passenger planes into U.S. landmarks.

Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia. Wild conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and in other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy eyewitness accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The Pentagon was struck by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by demolition-style bombs; Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white jet. As outlandish as these claims may sound, they are increasingly accepted abroad and among extremists here in the United States.

To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists, POPULAR MECHANICS assembled a team of nine researchers and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation, engineering and the military.

In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.--THE EDITORS

The theories would be funnier if folks didn't actually believe them and if we didn't have the examples of Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination to show that even the majority of people will eventually believe the most asinine conspiracy theories.

[originally posted: 2/13/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Al-Qaeda's long march to war (Michael Scheuer, 5/31/06, Asia Times)

Al-Qaeda believes that it and its allies can only defeat the United States in a "long war", one that allows the Islamists to capitalize on their extraordinary patience, as well as on their enemies' lack thereof. Before his death in a firefight with Saudi security forces, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Abu Hajar Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, wrote extensively about how al-Qaeda believed the military fight against the US and its allies would unfold. He envisioned a point at which the mujahideen would have to develop semi-conventional forces. He identified this period as the "Decisive Stage".

Muqrin told his insurgent readers that the power of the US precluded any expectation of a quick victory. He wrote that the war would progress slowly through such phases as initial manpower mobilization, political work among the populace to establish trust and support, the accumulation of weaponry and other supplies, the establishment of bases around the country and especially in the mountains, the initiation of attacks on individuals and then a gradual intensification of the latter until a countrywide insurgency was under way.

Each of these steps was essential and none could be skipped, Muqrin maintained; the steps would prolong the war, thereby allowing the mujahideen to grow in numbers, experience and combat power. "We should warn against rushing from one stage to the next," he wrote.

Instead, because of impetuous and strategically inept attacks on the US, Jordan, Egypt, the Shi'ites, etc., they brought America into the war at least a century too early, making it so they can't ever gather even semi-conventional forces in any significant number anywhere in the world, while destroying what little public support they ever had in the Islamic world.

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[originally posted: 5/30/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


The New Bolsheviks: Understanding Al Qaeda : Victory in war, and particularly in counterinsurgency wars, requires knowing one’s enemy. This simple truth, first stated by Sun Tsu more than two millennia ago, is no less important in the war on terrorism today. It has become almost common wisdom, however, that America today faces an enemy of a new kind, using unprecedented techniques and pursuing incomprehensible goals. But this enemy is not novel. Once the peculiar rhetoric is stripped away, the enemy America faces is a familiar one indeed. The revolutionary vision that undergirds al Qaeda’s ideology, the strategy it is pursuing, and the strategic debates occurring within that organization are similar to those of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism at various periods. What’s more, the methods that led to the defeat of that ideology can be adapted and successfully used against this religious revival of it. (Frederick W. Kagan, November 16, 2005, NATIONAL SECURITY OUTLOOK)

Certain strands of Islamist ideology are so similar in structure to basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism that the comparison is unavoidable. The similarities are most apparent in the writings of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood executed in 1966. Qutb, who produced a pamphlet called Milestones that summarized much of his work, has powerfully influenced the modern jihadist movement, especially Ayman al-Zawahiri--Osama bin Laden’s deputy and the ideologue of al Qaeda--and Abdul Musab al-Zarqawi, “emir” of the al Qaeda organization in Iraq.

The Influence of Marx and Lenin

Milestones--like Vladimir Lenin’s famous pamphlet What Is to Be Done?--sums up not merely the ideological foundations of the movement, but also the strategy and tactics that must be pursued to achieve success. Before considering Qutb’s program, however, it is worthwhile to recall the essential tenets of Marxism-Leninism to which Qutb’s jihadism bears such noteworthy resemblance.

Briefly put, Karl Marx argued that the world of his day was corrupt, riddled with oppression, and spawning endless violence and war because of fundamental flaws in the human structures and within human beings themselves. One manifestation of this oppression was the nation-state, which the exploitative capitalist classes had falsely erected in order to suppress proletarians and lower orders. Marx claimed to have applied scientific principles to the study of history and to have discovered its secrets: all history consisted of class struggle, and that struggle moved inevitably to the ultimate triumph of the proletariat.

That triumph once achieved, Marx argued, a period of “socialism” would begin in which human nature would be transformed. People would live in harmony according to the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” All of the false encrustations of oppressive capitalist society, such as money, mass production, police, religion, private property, would vanish. The state would “wither away,” whereupon the period of true communism would begin, stateless and utterly and eternally peaceful. [...]

Qutb’s Vision

Qutb also viewed the world of his day as decadent, violent, oppressive, and riddled with contradictions. Writing in the 1950s, he condemned Western capitalism, Western socialism, Eastern despotism, and Marxism itself as “unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind.” Like Marx, Qutb was familiar with the society he was condemning, for he had spent two years in the United States and had been profoundly impressed by its godlessness and hedonism. It was not necessary, he argued, for Islam to vie with West or East in the matter of material prosperity and inventiveness, although he did not despise such capabilities. The role of Islam, rather, was to provide the moral and spiritual leadership the world so badly needed, to fulfill “the basic human needs on the same level of excellence as technology has fulfilled them in the sphere of material comfort.”

Qutb argued that the basic problem afflicting the human race was the subordination of human beings to one another. Only God, he wrote, could exercise just sovereignty, and only God’s laws are truly laws. For many centuries, however, man had established his own laws and governments, with individuals usurping God’s sovereignty and thereby elevating themselves as false idols and dictators. Even within the Muslim world, the Umma, he noted, state structures had been established and the leaders of those structures legislated and established laws of their own, distinct from the laws of sharia, which were of God.

This argument was central to Qutb’s thought, for it justified his claim that the world of his day, including most of the so-called Muslim world of that time, existed in a state of jahiliyya, or ignorance of God. Traditionally, this term is applied to the period before Mohammed, but Qutb applied it to most of history following Mohammed’s revelations on the ground that people to whom the words of the Prophet had been presented, but who had rejected those words and were living by their own codes, were no less ignorant than those who lived before the Prophet arrived on earth. Worse still, by “worshipping” other human beings in the process of according them the honors due to the sovereignty they had usurped from God, these people were guilty of polytheism, just as the early Arabs were whom Mohammed chastened, defeated, and then converted.

Qutb was arguing that all human state structures are inherently evil and should be destroyed. He recognized that most of the non-Muslim world, and even most of the Umma, was not yet ready to live in accord with the only true and just laws, the sharia, and so he proposed a period of careful education and training to transform humanity so that it would reject the false teachings and turn toward the true. He described in great detail the manner in which the Koran was to be transmitted, verse by verse over thirteen years, according to Qutb, so that those who received it would be educated gradually and transformed. The clear implication was that once humanity has been reformed and reeducated as Qutb describes, state structures will collapse and vanish, and people will live in peace and harmony under the laws of God and not under their own, as he claimed the first generation of Muslims did.

Like Lenin, Qutb knew that his view was not shared by the majority of the people on whose behalf he proposed to operate. He was untroubled by this difficulty, since he adopted the same solution Lenin had proposed: “How is it possible to start the task of reviving Islam?” he asked. “It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path.” Milestones would serve as the guide for the vanguard in this fight.

Qutb also considered the problem aired during the Stalin-Trotsky dispute following the Bolshevik victory--should the vanguard aim to win throughout the world all at once or in one place first? He chose the Stalinist approach, arguing that the vanguard should work first to seize power in a single state: “The beauty of this new system cannot be appreciated unless it takes a concrete form. Hence it is essential that a community arrange its affairs according to it and show it to the world. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country. Only such a revivalist movement will eventually attain to the status of world leadership.”

Here, then, in a nutshell is the basic structure of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism reproduced in a religious context: the corruption and illegitimacy of current state structures; the inadmissibility of any state structures in a justly ordered world; the need to transform humanity before entering into that world; the need to begin by seizing power in a single state, but with the aim of ultimately destroying all states; the error of having any human or group of humans holding sovereignty over any other; and the critical role of a vanguard revolutionary group in the process. Qutb was in no way a Marxist, but the basic structure of his argument certainly was akin to that of Marx and his disciples.

Note that both are fundamentally French, assuming that man in the state of nature is a perfect creature and that only the corruption of malign social institutions can have caused the injustices in the world. The triumph of Judeo-Christianity/Anglo-Americanism lies in the correct understanding that men are not angels.

[originally posted: 11/17/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM

Hunting Bin Laden (PBS Frontline)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


9/11 Major Speeches and Interviews (Learn Out Loud)

Listen to speeches and interviews following 9/11. Included are addresses to the nation by President Bush and Congress, news conferences, reports from Ground Zero and the Pentagon, and the National Memorial Service in Washington.

-George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani and more.

These speeches were delivered in 2001.

Here's the link to the Brothers Judd collection of links from 9-11 and the days that followed. Some will inevitably be inactive by now, but you can probably find the original by entering the URL in the Wayback Machine. This still seems the best moment from the aftermath--President's Remarks at National Day of Prayer and Remembrance (The National Cathedral, 9/14/01, Washington, D.C.)--this the best instant essay, The Queen’s Tears (Mark Steyn, September 17, 2001, National Review)--and this the most evocative follow-up, The Falling Man (Tom Junod, September 2003, Esquire).

As you try to assess where we are today--six years after the event--it's helpful, though painful, to recall where we were that day. We had a 25 or 30 person Brothers Judd mailing list in those pre-blog days and I was more skeptical than most about the likelihood that we'd remain engaged as a nation for as long as it would take to Reform the Middle East. Obviously we were going to rout the Taliban and finally finish the Gulf War, but I thought--unfortunately accurately--that we'd not remove the Assad regime in Syria nor push putative allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize with as much rigor as required nor do much about Western Pakistan/Eastern Afghanistan. On the other hand, there are generally more hopeful signs of rapid transformation throughout the region than I personally would have expected, though we've not always been terribly willing to accept them as progress:

Turkey: the fact that Islamist democratic victories have moved the nation closer to the West is certainly the most important development in the region, though Turkey is outside the Arab world.

Likewise, knitting non-Arab Indonesia into the Axis of Good has been a stroke of genius, and along with adding India, among the most underrated achievements of the Administration.

Morocco: Recent elections that saw conservatives win and Islamists post a strong challenge are another healthy step on this country's way towards normal liberal democracy.

Libya: Undoubtedly, the most surprising post-911 success story is the revolution (or counter-revolution) Seif al-Islam is leading from within his father's formerly rogue regime. From giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions to freeing the Bulgarian nurses to bringing in the Berbers from the Cold to selling off state-wned enterprises, reform has been rapid and relentless.

Algeria: Though still confonted by radical violence they did manage to hold peaceful elections, even if they've a ways to go before the results of such influence the course of the nation much.

The Sudan: A successful settlement of the war in the South affords hope for quieting down Darfur, though rebels there have failed to take advantage of the opportunity.

Somalia; This one is, for the moment, a squander. The Islamic Courts had restored some semblance of order to Mogadishu but they're just one of a number of popular Islamist governments that we haven't yet learned to accept, so we gave Ethiopia the green light to attack and restore chaos. It's worked out poorly for all concerned and damaged our relationships with Eritrea and Djibouti, which have been useful allies in the WoT, but there's still time to correct this foul-up.

Egypt: Hopes that Gamal Mubarak might be a reformer in the mold of Seif al-Islam, with similar influence on his father, proved fleeting, so the 2005 elections, which might have been used as an opportunity to bring the Muslim Brotherhood into the governing process were instead followed by a clampdown and the coming transition is likely to be violent rather than peaceful.

Yemen: Yemenis themselves refer to their state as a fledgling democracy and they've quite a way to go before they're a mature one, with the combination of a fragmentary society and extreme poverty making it questionable whether they'll get there in their current iteration.

The Lebanon: The failure to regime change Syria has had the most deleterious effects on its neighbors--Iraq, Palestine, Israel and the Lebanon--as the Ba'athists are left free to launch, fund, and support terrorist attacks. The more quickly Hezbollah and the Shi'a are granted their own state in the South the sooner we can split them off from Syria, with whose interests they are in natural conflict.

Palestine: The marginalization of Yassir Arafat and the PLO preceding his death and the holding of reasonably free and fair elections, won by Hamas, were a singular victory for Reformation policies, but we butchered the victory pretty badly. Still, the acceptance by Ariel Sharon and Hamas of the inevitability of the two-state solution means that this is all just the messy prelude to a peace that won't be particularly difficult to achieve once everyone stops muscle-flexing.

Saudi Arabia: Given its support for Wahhabism and its historical importance as the birthplace of Islam, Arabia is obviously the big enchilada. Given the regime's ties to America and the oil it sits on, it is also a place where we've been reluctant to push too hard. Holding the country's first ever elections was a helpful step. Cracking down on their domestic al Qaeda problem has been useful. And internal calls for reform offer reason to hope. But recent steps to form a kind of Arab/American alliance against Iran and the Shia generally are profoundly ill-considered, not least because they encourage Washington to oppose reform in the Kingdom in favor of the same "stability" trap that we swore after 9-11 we'd not fall into again.

The U.A.E.: The Administration had this one right, but the wahoo Right and the reactionary Left combined for an own goal when they raged against the ports deal. In the longer term though that was a rather minor kerfuffle and Dubai and company are roaring ahead with the sort of economic development--not related to oil production-- that the Arab world so desperately needs.

Kuwait: They even let women stand for election and vote last time around.

Iran: Here we find the Administration's biggest squander, in the rejection of Iran's 2003 offer of a big deal to bring them in from the Cold. This was followed by the President urging Iranians to boycott their presidential elections, which, together with Ayatollah Khamenei's catastrophic miscalculation of the degree of alienation from the political process by the Reform movement, brought Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to power. On the bright side, the Ayatollah took immediate steps to rein in the 12ers, continuing with the recent elevation of Hashemi Rafsanjani, who promptly called for talks with the West. While it would have been better to avoid this mess altogether, the likelihood that Iranian voters will turn out to repudiate Ahmedinejad may provide exactly the sort of opening that's needed for Iran and America to get past their thirty year playground spat and start acting like the allies they naturally are. The need to work together in Iraq and the intercession of mutual ally India may serve to grease those skids.

Pakistan If Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism are the intellectual center of Islamic extremism, the tribal regions of Western Pakistan are the physical refuge. This is where the war ends but it remains to be determined who will do the required killing. We'd have preferred that General Musharraf and the Pakistani military take care of it, but they proved unwilling or incapable. Now we're trying to give the regime at least a democratic patina, by forcing a shotgun marriage with Benazir Bhutto. But just as we're reluctant to attack territory that is, theoretically, part of an allied state, so too are the governing elites of Pakistan hesitant to fight a civil war. The best solution may well be to create an independent Waziristan and require its government to either put down the militants itself or face war with the U.S., which is more easily countenanced once we'd be waging it against a sovereign enemy.

On balance, you'd have to say that if someone had told you on 9-11 that the Islamic world would evolve this quickly, that we'd not have experienced any subsequent terrorist attacks on our soil, and that our military casualties in the various wars of the WoT would be so minimal and the economic and social costs at home so trivial you'd have thought them deluded. An awful lot remains to be done -- and nearly all of it has to be done by the people of the region themselves -- before we can say of the Middle East, as we can of the rest of the world, that it has universally accepted the End of History and is uniformly and voluntarily reforming in the direction of democracy/protestantism/capitalism, but it seems not inappropriate to be optimistic that the End is nigh.

Perhaps we could draw a comparison between the Middle East now and Eastern Europe circa the late 80s/early 90s, at various stages of revolution, but with little doubt how things were headed. Just as George Bush senior made some dodgy decisions about how to manage the collapse of the communist superstructure, so too will his son and his successor likely make some dubious ones as they try to navigate the collapse of the dictatorships. But that we've reached this point in a mere six years of War -- where it took us fifty years, hundreds of millions of lives, trillions of wasted dollars and irreparable social harm throughout the West to bring the Cold War to the same point -- suggests that we've accomplished something quite significant the past few years. If self-congratulations are not yet appropriate, self-flagellation is entirely uncalled for. We're doing better than would have been expected and giving real meaning to the loss of life on that awful day. The victims of 9-11 did not die for nothing if out of their deaths came a better Middle East, as will be the case.

So How Goes Bin Laden's War on the U.S. Economy? (James Pethokoukis, 9/11/07, US News)

Since September 11, the economy hasn't suffered a single down quarter. In fact, it has notched 23 straight quarters of economic growth. (And despite the subprime mortgage crisis, this is likely to be the 24th straight quarter of growth.) Those numbers are especially amazing when you consider that when the terrorist attacks happened, the Internet stock bubble was in full implosion mode. The economy dipped in the third quarter of 2001 and was slightly negative in two of the previous four quarters. But it's been nothing but growth since then. Overall, the American economy is, adjusting for inflation, $1.65 trillion bigger than it was six years ago. To put that gigantic number in some perspective, the U.S. economy has added the equivalent of five Saudi Arabias, eight Irans, 13 Pakistans, or 15 Egypts, depending on your preference. And while 9/11 did cause the stock market to plunge, the Dow is 37 percent higher than it was on Sept. 10, 2001, creating trillions of dollars of new wealth for Americans. What's more, the unemployment rate is 4.6 percent today vs. 5.7 percent back then. Not bad at all.

'Afghanistan Will Be a Better Place in 20 Years': Weak government, poor infrastructure, a wretched security situation: The highest-ranking German officer at ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Major Gen. Bruno Kasdorf, told SPIEGEL ONLINE he wants to see more troops, more reconstruction workers and a lot more patience in Afghanistan. (Der Spiegel, 9/11/07)

Letter from Timbuktu
: The Pentagon has allotted $500 million to the fight against terrorism in the Sahara Desert, using American Special Forces teams to train African armies and befriend locals. Vanity Fair was invited to join the U.S. military on a recent mission to Timbuktu, Mali, to get an up-close look at one of the lesser-known fronts in the battle against al-Qaeda. (Austin Merrill, September 10, 2007, Vanity Fair)
The Return of Rafsanjani (Sayyed Wild Abah, 09/09/2007, Asharq Alawsat)
[M]any quiet reforms began in the era of Rafsanjani. At that time, it became clear that Rafsanjani had approached the growing reformist trend from a realistic and pragmatic perspective. Although he did not support the dynamism of openness and renovation that was established by his successor reformist Mohammad Khatami, he did not stand against this dynamism and was keen to crystallize a third option that replaces the two conflicting reformist and conservative approaches. Thus he had prepared himself for the 2005 elections, which he thought had been settled for him in advance. Yet the surprise to come caught the sophisticated, shrewd Rafsanjani unawares. The desperate uprising amongst the youth took the adverse picture of Rafsanjani to the seat of power; the rebellious popular face that is reminiscent of the early stage, innocence and spontaneous activity of the revolution. Meanwhile the quarrelsome Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not the man of transition as conceived by the Iranian people. The country has become immersed in a grinding economic crisis.

Oil production is in decline and fuel has become subject to rationing. Meanwhile, experts have predicted that Iran will have to import oil in approximately ten years if the present situation prevails. The diplomatic blockade is intensifying, international sanctions are in succession and the crisis of the nuclear issue may lead to a new war in the region.

Rafsanjani has returned to the decision-making process in these gloomy circumstances by presiding over the Assembly of Experts, after passing through all the other gates, namely the leadership of parliament and the Expediency Discernment Council. Rafsanjani has not become a leading imam; rather he has gotten closer to the supreme post of the Iranian regime. As Tehran’s sources report that Khamenei's health is in decline and he is increasingly unable to carry out his responsibilities, it seems that Rafsanjani's influence will be bolstered and his presence in the decision-making pyramid will be consolidated especially in the two biggest issues: the nuclear issue and Iraq. Recently, he has made several moderate statements that heed in the direction of appeasing the situation with the West and demonstrating readiness to contribute to putting an end to the Iraqi turmoil.

Internally, he is known for his pragmatic sense and tendency to cooperate with the bazaar in an attempt to activate the Iranian economy through openness to external markets and attracting foreign investments in the vital areas of production.

It is believed that Rafsanjani is adopting a similar model to that of the Chinese with its three pillars: economic openness, political centralization and pragmatism in international relations. Rafsanjani may become the man of center stage for the surrounding reformists and moderate clerics who have become aware of the need to let go gradually of the concept of Waliyat al Faqih [Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists] that was determined according to the standards of Imam Khomeini and is no longer suitable for the transformations of the Iranian experience.

Olmert, Abbas agree to divide up talks (Richard Boudreaux, September 11, 2007, LA Times)
Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed Monday to set up negotiating teams on the core issues standing in the way of Palestinian statehood, bringing the two sides a step closer to full-fledged peace talks.

Among Arab nations, an atmosphere on edge: Recent squabbles between Syria and Saudi Arabia highlight increased differences, while Iran's behavior unnerves many. (Jeffrey Fleishman, September 11, 2007, LA Times)
"The idea that there is a coherent Arab or Muslim voice has always been a bit of a myth," said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, an Iranian political analyst at the University of London.

It seemed at times over the last year that Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, was emerging as the regional leader. It grew more engaged in Iraq, helped broker a deal between Palestinian enemies Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government, and supported Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's besieged government, criticizing Hezbollah for the 2006 war with Israel. It was that condemnation of Hezbollah that prompted Syria to refer to Arab leaders as "half-men."

But the Palestinian pact didn't hold and Saudi Arabia's actions in Beirut angered Syria, which has felt marginalized since its troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A United Nations investigation has tentatively linked Syrian officials to the killing, but Damascus denies any role.

Syria's animosity with Saudi Arabia, along with its determination to manipulate Lebanese affairs, has pushed it closer to Iran. Damascus went against its Arab neighbors by siding with Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, but the current ill will helps Iran undercut U.S. efforts to stabilize Lebanon and end sectarian fighting in Iraq, according to analysts.

"Syria has reached a decisive moment in its regional politics," said Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center of Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "As it becomes clear that the U.S. must begin withdrawing from Iraq . . . Syria must decide what policy it will pursue toward a post-American Iraq. Will it side with Iran in supporting a Shiite government or will it side with Saudi Arabia in supporting the Sunni opposition?"

Syria's more immediate concern, however, is Lebanon and how Saudi and Iranian influences will affect Beirut politics.

"If Iran and Saudi Arabia reach an agreement, Syria will have very few options for sabotaging peace in Lebanon," said Hilal Khashan, chairman of political science at the American University in Beirut. "As long as the next Lebanese president is not anti-Syrian, Syria will have to heed Iranian requests for self-control in Lebanon."

There has long been "conflict between Saudi and Syrian interests, especially as far as Lebanon is concerned," said Turki Hamad, a Saudi columnist and political analyst. "However, as we are getting closer to the Lebanese presidential elections, this conflict has reached its peak."

What Syria lacks, according to many analysts, is savvy leadership in precarious times. President Bashar Assad is widely regarded as a less skilled diplomat than his late father, Hafez, who mastered regional dynamics. In addition, leaders of other Arab nations, such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, have grown less influential, especially since the rise in terrorism and the Iraq conflict have jolted the Middle East.

"Hafez Assad succeeded in navigating the turbulence of inter-Arab relations. Bashar does not have the wit and intellect of his father," Khashan said. "To be honest, the challenges are graver now, and the quality of leadership is inferior."

Is Bin Laden Dead? (Jack Kelly, 9/11/07, Real Clear Politics)
There was something odd about the Osama bin Laden video made public last week, noticed Web logger George Maschke (Booman Tribune).

"The video freezes at about 1 minute and 58 seconds, and motion only resumes again at 12:30," Mr. Maschke said. "The video then freezes at 14:02 and remains frozen until the end. All references to current events occur when the video is frozen."

Could the current events references have been added to an older tape? Osama is dressed just as he was in his last video, released in 2004. But that may be simply because there isn't much of a selection at the mall near his cave.

Bin Laden sounds more like Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's nutty talk show host, than like an Islamic terrorist leader.

On 9/11 anniversary, looking inward to explain terrorist attacks (Jane Perlez, September 10, 2007, NY Times)
[E]uropeans for the most part are looking inward to explain why Islamic extremists have made the Continent a favored target, while the United States has been spared - despite its leadership and the anger it has stirred waging wars in two Muslim countries.

In that setting, questions about how minority populations of Muslims are integrated into the mainstream are coming to the fore, along with basic questions about Islam itself. Less attention is being focused on finger pointing at the United States, analysts say.

Gaddafi goes green in effort to rid Libya of 'rogue' reputation (Claire Soares, 11 September 2007, Independent)
Colonel Gaddafi's son has launched an ambitious eco-tourism venture in an effort to take Libya away from its past "rogue state" reputation by hauling it on to the environmental bandwagon. [...]

[L]ibya has escaped the mass tourism invasion of neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia, and this blank canvas for green tourism has architects salivating as they sketch visions for high-end hotels that blend into the rocky landscape, with solar panels on the roof to make them energy self-sufficient.

Mr al-Islam, who studied architecture at Tripoli's Al-Fateh University, has more recently been studying for a doctorate at the London School of Economics. He approached Norman Foster's architecture firm with his plans for the Green Mountains three years ago, not long after Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction, the key to its international rehabilitation.

Only time will tell whether the plans, to which the climate change expert Professor Nicholas Stern has also given his backing, will translate from the drawing board to the ground.

9/11 demolition theory challenged: An analysis of the World Trade Center collapse has challenged a conspiracy theory surrounding the 9/11 attacks. (BBC, 9/11/07)
Ireland: A Historic Handshake (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9/11/07)
Ian Paisley, the leader of Northern Ireland, and President Mary McAleese of the Irish Republic shook hands for the first time — another symbolic milestone on Ireland’s road to reconciliation. Mr. Paisley, 81, for decades rejected any role for the Irish Republic in Northern Ireland, a predominantly Protestant part of the United Kingdom.

Wiretaps 'foiled terror attacks' (BBC, 9/11/07)
The US director of intelligence has said wiretaps played a significant role in stopping bomb attacks by suspected Islamists in Germany last week.

Michael McConnell told a Senate committee eavesdropping had revealed that the suspects had obtained explosive liquids.

He said Congress should not restrict the programme.

September 11—Six Years On: Six years after the attacks of September 11, FP looks back at some of the critical essays and arguments that shaped the international debate on the war on terror. (Foreign Policy, September 2007)

[originally posted: 9/11/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


EXCLUSIVE: REVEALED THE FALLING MAN OF 9/11 (David Edwards, 3/15/06, The Daily Mirror)

Five years after the horror of September 9, 2001, the falling man has finally been identified as Jonathan Briley, a 43-year-old who worked in a restaurant at the top of the north tower.

Over the years, his family has always assumed he perished in the building. Now, learning he had jumped is almost too much to bear.

His father, Alexander, a Baptist minister, has still not come to terms with the manner of his son's dying. "I can't talk about it," he says. "My life's work is telling people that they have to go on after tragedy, but I can't do it for myself."

Jonathan's elder sister, Gwendolyn, says: "When I first looked at the picture... and I saw it was a man - tall, slim - I said, 'If I didn't know any better, that could be Jonathan'.

"I never thought of the Falling Man as Jonathan. I thought of him as a man that just took his life in his hands for just one second.

"Did that person have so much faith that he knew that God would catch him - or was he so afraid to experience the end?"

On the day he died, Jonathan had kissed his wife Hillary goodbye before making the 20-mile journey from his home in Mount Vernon to Manhattan where he worked in the Windows On The World restaurant as a sound engineer.

The image inspired one of the most moving essays about 9-11.

[originally posted: 3/15/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Inside America's Mosques: From tie-dyed hippies to hard-line radicals, they're not all the same -- and they're not what you think. (AKBAR AHMED | SEPTEMBER 9, 2010, Foreign Policy)

5. Masjid Al-Farah

New York, N.Y.

In New York City, we spent an evening at Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in the mystic tradition where Feisal Abdul Rauf is currently imam. The mosque is situated in an unassuming building sandwiched between two bars 12 blocks from Ground Zero -- but it leapt into the spotlight recently because of Abdul Rauf's part in the plans to build the Park51 Muslim community center a few blocks away from the 9/11 site. Currently, overflow congregants from Al-Farah pray in the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory where the proposed new mosque would be built.

Although some media outlets have attempted to portray Abdul Rauf as an extremist with links to terrorists, he is, in fact, very much a mystic imam. Mystics have a unifying view of faith and believe that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all pray to the same God. Modernists and literalists frequently complain that mystics "innovate," or place human figures between man and God, which they say challenges monotheism. The mystic reverence of saints, as well as their use of music and dance to connect with the divine, causes conflicts with other Muslims.

It is a safe bet that opponents of Park51 would be surprised by the scene at Masjid Al-Farah's weekly dhikr, or recitation of the names of God. Every Thursday night, some 40 people gather, men and women, including some visiting Zen Buddhists, Jews, and Christians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


How Washington Missed 9/11 (Robert Baer, 8/24/07, TIME)

In January 2000 a CIA field station in East Asia found out that two known Qaeda terrorists, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were on their way to the United States — and they weren't coming on vacation. But it wouldn't be until August 2001 that CIA headquarters finally would tell the FBI, too late for the agency to track the two down.

During the eighteen months between January 2000 and August 2001 50-60 people at the CIA were aware of al-Hazmi and al-Midhar traveling to the U.S. But no one did anything because the assumption was that someone else had told the FBI. And presumably the FBI was covering the two.

One problem was that communications between FBI and CIA headquarters is ad hoc — usually by telephone, sometimes by a classified telex. An FBI agent assigned to the CIA wrote a telex to the FBI about al-Hazmi and al-Midhar but for reasons that are still unclear it was never sent. There was no mechanism to register the lapse, or that the FBI in fact did not have al-Midhar and al-Hazmi under coverage. The ball was dropped.

The problems were easily correctible. For instance, had the CIA field station in East Asia been able to send a telex directly to FBI headquarters in Washington or FBI field offices in California, where al-Hazmi and al-Midhar ended up, the FBI no doubt would have launched a full field investigation and almost certainly found out about the other 17 hijackers. The chances are the FBI would have stopped 9/11.

The CIA IG's report says there was no "silver bullet" that would have prevented 9/11. I disagree; this was it.

Al-Hazmi and al-Midhar falling between the cracks is not the stuff of conspiracies or simple incompetence. The CIA and the FBI are Cold War institutions that have never shared databases. Their communications systems were never designed to interface. FBI and CIA cultures have never meshed. The FBI collects evidence for trial, the CIA collects information to analyze it. No wonder leads are dropped.

And that is not the only Achilles heel in the system. The CIA IG's report cites the National Security Agency's unwillingness to share raw intercepts with the CIA. Who knows what is in the NSA's raw data bases on al-Midhar and al-Hazmi?

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[originally posted: 8/24/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Uncle Bill sent this link to a site that will enrage you and make you cry all over again but is an important reminder of what we're responding to and defending against. It takes a while to load but that will give you time to get a box of Kleenex.

[originally posted: 9/11/04]

September 10, 2010

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


Signs of our enduring faith spirit (RICHARD ROEPER, September 6, 2002, Chicago Sun-Times)
"The Rising" is the first major work by a big-time artist to directly address the tragedies of 9/11, with Springsteen narrating his songs from various points of view--a grieving spouse; lovers in a politically charged interethnic romance; a rescue worker overwhelmed with survivor's guilt. There are numerous references to praying and to a higher being and to some kind of life after death, even when the narrator is a suicide bomber, as in "Paradise."

On the title track, Springsteen takes on the persona of a firefighter trapped in the World Trade Center.

Can't see nothin' in front of me
Can't see nothin' coming up behind . . .
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed
On my back's a 60-pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line . . .

Knowing he will not survive, the firefighter becomes aware of "spirits above and behind" and says, "Lord . . . I stand before your fiery light." He sees visions of his wife, Mary, and speaks of "holy pictures" of their children and reaches for a "sky of fullness, sky of blessed life." And, of course, there is the refrain about "The Rising," which seems to be the dawn of a second life for the fallen firefighter.

Some rock critics have said that, despite the efforts of Paul McCartney and Neil Young and Toby Keith and John Hiatt and many others, we have yet to hear the definitive Sept. 11th anthem. I invite them to play the title tune from "The Rising" again, to drop the professional cynicism and just let the music and the words and the message wash over them.

"The Rising" is that anthem.

Here's the song in its entirety:
The Rising

Can't see nothin' in front of me
Can't see nothin' coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I've gone
How far I've gone, how high I've climbed
On my back's a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin' the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin' down here

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li

There's spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

Li,li, li,li,li,li, li,li,li

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There's holy pictures of our children
Dancin' in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin' on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

It may not be definitive but it's damn fine. [originally posted: 9/07/02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 PM


'Rising' to the Occasion : Bruce Springsteen on Sept. 11. (JIM FUSILLI, July 30, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
Rare is the work of art that can articulate for us the human experience born of tragedy writ large, and rarer still is the rock album that does so. On his new, flawed disc, "The Rising" (Sony), Bruce Springsteen sets out to explore the impact and consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks on the victims, their families and friends. At times, he does so with startling clarity. [...]

In Mr. Springsteen's view, the dead are with us, observing us, as we struggle to regain our footing. They describe the moment of their passing: "There's spirits above and behind me / Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright / May their precious blood bind me, Lord / As I stand before your fiery light," he writes in the title track. In "The Fuse," they narrate their funerals: "Down at the courthouse they're ringin' the flag down / Long black line of cars snakin' slow through town." And, in "Paradise," they speak to us from their new surroundings: "I sink 'neath the water cool and clear / Drifting down, I disappear / I see you on the other side/ I search for peace in your eyes."

No less powerful are the sentiments of the survivors. In "You're Missing," Mr. Springsteen captures the details of an ordinary life torn asunder: "Coffee cup's on the counter / Jacket's on the chair / Paper's on the doorstep / But you're not there." Or, in "Empty Sky": "Just an empty impression / In the bed where you used to be."

"The sky was falling and streaked with blood / I heard you calling me / Then you disappeared into the dust," he writes in "Into the Fire," which builds to a prayer of hope in its chorus: "May your strength give us strength / May your faith give us faith."

Sounds soulful, though Bernard McGuirk was saying on Imus in the Morning that this one too has a song from a bomber's viewpoint.
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[originally posted: 7/30/02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


Pentagon papers offer insight into al-Qa'eda's hidden world of terror (Anton La Guardia, 22/02/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The contract is one of thousands of documents captured by US forces, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past four years of the "global war on terror", and stored on a Pentagon database known as Harmony.

An initial sample of 28 have been declassified and published by the Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), part of the US Military Academy at West Point, with the promise of many more to come.

They provide a fascinating glimpse into the workings of Osama bin Laden's organisation. For example, according to the CTC, the material "provides several tools for identifying and exacerbating existing fissures" within al-Qa'eda.

The declassified Harmony papers include documents that set out the internal structure of al-Qa'eda and illuminate disputes over tactics. They also analyse past failures such as the crushing of an Islamist uprising in Syria in 1982, speculate on new regions for jihad and discuss the use of the internet.

Many were clearly written before the September 2001 attacks and the fall of the Taliban. However, some reveal dismay over the loss of al-Qa'eda's bastion in Afghanistan.

One hitherto unknown writer, Abdel-Halim Adl, wrote to a man identified only as "Mukhtar" in June 2002 complaining of Osama bin Laden's stubbornness and "the capture of a large number of brothers". He said: "We will become the laughing stock of the world."

He urges al-Qa'eda to "stop rushing into action and take time out to consider all the fatal and successive disasters that have afflicted us during a period of no more than six months". All too often little is known about the documents - such as when they were written, who read them and how they were obtained. [...]

The job descriptions and qualities of al-Qa'eda members are set out in detail.

To qualify as "emir", the leader (presumably bin Laden) should not be "too anxious to be an emir", must have "adequate knowledge to qualify him to carry out the responsibilities" and must have "comprehension of jihad".

The chairman of the military committee must be, among other things, older than 40 and "a university graduate, preferably from a military academy". The head of the personal guards "must not be one from one of the Gulf countries or from Yemen", perhaps reflecting a fear of penetration by intelligence services.

One bundle of documents includes a long series of questions submitted by recruits to bin Laden, usually referred to as Sheikh Abu Abdallah. They range from appeals for news about jihadi action to requests for religious rulings.

It is unclear how much of this formal structure reflects the reality of al-Qa'eda in its heyday and whether any of it has survived the dispersal from Afghanistan.

If al-Qa'eda was once regarded by western intelligence agencies as a "holding company" for Islamic extremist groups, the leadership hiding along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is now seen merely as a "franchise". The "core" al-Qa'eda no longer directs operations, but splinters, associates and newly-formed groups adopt the "brand".

Al-Qa'eda, meaning "The Base", has recreated its home in cyberspace, from where propagandists motivate recruits and commanders share tactics.

Mr Brachman said he "strongly" believed that some extremist groups, such as al-Qa'eda's branch in Saudi Arabia or Jemaah Islamiya in south-east Asia, still used formal contracts.

Al-Qa'eda's attention to publicity and the potential of the internet are apparent from an early date.

A memo to bin Laden penned by "Abu Huthayfa" in Kandahar in June 2000 stresses the importance of a better propaganda effort. He praises bin Laden as a "star", but complains that al-Qa'eda suffers from "a political vacuum".

He bemoans the lack of information about al-Qa'eda's role in driving the US out of Somalia, the failure to launch the "World Islamic Front against the Jews and Crusaders" and ignorance as to who was behind the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He says al-Qa'eda should copy the tactics of Hamas in recording a video testament before suicide bombings.

Abu Huthayfa highlights a recurring obsession of the jihadi movement: its failure to win popular support and overthrow any Arab regime.

He notes the "failure of the experiment" in holy war in Libya.

Failure is the central theme of Abu Musab al-Suri, the nom-de-guerre of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, particularly his detailed analysis of the Islamist uprising in Syria that was crushed by the late Hafez al-Assad in 1982.

One of the President's great failures in the WoT is to not be as dismissive of Islamicism as Reagan was of Bolshevism. In particular, it would be helpful if he gave a speech detailing just how central the United States was to driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, thereby destroying one of the most cherished myths of the jihadis.

[originally posted: 2/22/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Iranian Grand Ayatollah Grants Women More Marital Rights (RFERL, September 10, 2010)

An Iranian grand ayatollah has ruled that it is not always necessary for a young woman to get a father or grandfather's permission to be married, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports. [...]

This new take on a traditional Shari'a law regarding marriage by Shirazi -- who is one of Iran's few grand ayatollahs and sources of emulation -- indicates an easing of views by Iranian ayatollahs on some Shari'a laws.

Shirazi's opinion on this issue during a lecture gives it the force of a fatwa.

London-based Iranian Islamic philosophy lecturer Abbas Mohajerani told Radio Farda on September 9 that the issue has been discussed by other sources of emulation as well.

"This is not a brand new fatwa, it has been mentioned in other resalehs" -- a reference to a guide on daily Islamic rituals -- "but what is new in this order is the increased rights given to the woman," he said. [...]

Mohajerani added that grand ayatollahs have taken more "modern" stances on "many issues" recently. He cited the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian woman, something that was banned before but under new fatwas is now allowed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


The president's awkward friend: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pictured right, is at risk of falling out with Iran’s clergy because of the rise of the controversial confidant who stands behind him (The Economist, Sep 9th 2010)

As the president’s closest adviser, the slim, handsome, self-confident [Esfandiar Rahim Masha] has come to represent all that traditionalists in Shia Iran find odious about Mr Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The Islamic Republic was founded on the idea that the Muslim community awaits the reappearance of the hidden “12th imam”, a messianic leader who was “occulted”—hidden by God—in the ninth century; in the meantime it is up to the clergy to run human affairs, under an arrangement known as the Guardianship of the Jurist. Mr Mashai, it is strongly rumoured, believes himself to have a direct link to the hidden imam, and hence regards the intercession of Iran’s clergy as superfluous. He is also said to have encouraged the president’s well-known millenarian tendencies.

For long, Mr Mashai’s critics have expressed their fears sotto voce. Over the course of the summer, however, several conservatives openly raised fears of a campaign among Mr Ahmadinejad’s closest allies to drive the clergy from public life. Last month, a conservative parliamentarian, Hamid Rasai, revealed that the country’s current “guardian-jurist”, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had spoken to him and a few other deputies about a “new plot” carrying even greater danger than last year’s protests. Mr Rasai hinted that Mr Mashai and the Green Movement, albeit now much diminished, may be working in sinister concert; after all, he pointed out, both are “uncommitted to the Guardianship of the Jurist”.

Reverence for the hidden imam has long been an accepted part of Shia Islam, but millenarian zeal has produced schismatics in the past—the Bahais, for instance, who are now banned and persecuted. From a position of ostentatious piety, Mr Mashai clearly feels he has the licence to behave provocatively. He has renounced hostility for the people of Israel (for which he received a dressing down from Mr Khamenei), suggested that Iran is incapable of dealing with modern challenges, and flirted impiously with a famous actress. Were he a reformist, it is likely that he would have been silenced months ago.

In August Mr Mashai caused perhaps his biggest rumpus to date, when he urged hundreds of expatriate Iranians, who had been invited to Tehran at government expense, to act as propagandists for a national ideology, as opposed to an Islamic one. Lacing his address with references to Iran’s pre-Islamic history and claiming that Iran had saved Islam from Arab parochialism, Mr Mashai’s patriotic theme provoked a storm of recrimination from members of the religious establishment. “If someone turns away from Islam,” warned Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, a longtime leading government supporter, “we warn him, and then, if that does not work, we beat him.” [...]

Ayatollah Khamenei has tried his best to end the infighting, but his authority is limited by his record of support for Mr Ahmadinejad, which may be all that stops parliament from impeaching him. However according to Mr Mashai, it is only a matter of time before “certain people are calling Ahmadinejad an apostate.”

The Ayatollah understands his country as poorly as we do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Could Panic Of '08 Have Been Averted? (ROBERT J. SAMUELSON, 9/10/10, IBD)

Lehman's failure had dire consequences because it suggested government had lost control of events. No one knew which financial institutions would be protected and which wouldn't; AIG soon got a massive loan. Uncertainty rose; panic followed.

Worried they'd lose normal credit, companies hoarded cash by cutting jobs, investment and inventories. Disappearing work and wealth (stock losses from September 2008 to March 2009 totaled $3.9 trillion, reports Wilshire Associates) caused consumers to postpone discretionary purchases: cars, homes, appliances.

The explanations of why Lehman was allowed to fail have subtly shifted in two years. Over that weekend of Sept. 13-14, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy Geithner desperately tried to organize a private-sector rescue. They almost succeeded.

They persuaded a consortium of other banks to assume $30 billion worth of Lehman's weakest investments. It seemed that Barclays, a major English bank, would buy Lehman, but British regulators raised last-minute objections.

At that point, only the U.S. government could have saved Lehman, which faced a self-fulfilling crisis of confidence. Its customers and lenders were fleeing because they feared they might not be paid. Someone with deep pockets had to stand behind Lehman to assuage these anxieties.

The standard explanation now from Paulson and Bernanke of why they refused is that legally they couldn't do otherwise. The Treasury said it lacked authority to make an investment; the Fed could lend but only if Lehman had adequate collateral, which was allegedly missing. That's the story now, but after Lehman's bankruptcy, the emphasis was different.

"I never once considered that it was appropriate to put taxpayer money on the line in resolving Lehman Brothers," Paulson said. Indeed, his position initially drew praise as standing up to Wall Street.

Bernanke gave similar justifications. Testifying to Congress Sept. 23, he said that "the troubles at Lehman had been well-known . .. (and) we judged that investors ... had had time to take precautionary measures."

In truth, an informal consensus had formed against using government funds to save Lehman. Harsh criticism of the earlier rescue of Bear Stearns — done with Bush administration support and Fed money — had left a deep scar. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission has published e-mails reflecting the mood.

On Sept. 9, Treasury chief of staff Jim Wilkinson wrote that he couldn't "stomach us bailing out lehman (sic). Will be horrible in the press." Given this bias, there was no Plan B once Barclays withdrew its offer.

Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner later performed commendably in preventing a wider financial collapse and restoring confidence that, arguably, averted a second Great Depression. Though their measures (TARP, government loan guarantees and Fed lending facilities) were unpopular, they ultimately calmed markets.

But the lingering question is whether Paulson & Co. were cleaning up a mess they helped create.

Doctrinally, we free market conservatives almost had to let Lehman fail, but to their credit, as soon as they saw the actual results, rather than the theoretical ones, W and his team stepped in immediately to save the economy. To their eternal shame, the House GOP remained wedded to ideology despite reality. Had they had their way we could have had a Depression.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Christianity needed to fill Europe’s empty cradles, missionary priest says (CNA, 9/10/10)

Responding to Lybian leader Muammar Gaddafi’s call for an Islamic Europe, a missionary priest has warned that this future is possible if the continent continues its denial of its Christian roots and its demographic decline. Returning to Christianity would also solve “the problem of empty cradles,” he added.

"The fact is that, as a people, we are becoming ever more pagan and the religious vacuum is inevitably filled by other proposals and religious forces,” commented Fr. Piero Gheddo of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, according to Zenit. [...]

"The challenge must be taken seriously,” continued Fr. Gheddo, who also founded the missionary news agency Asia News. “Certainly from a demographic point of view, as it is clear to everyone that Italians are decreasing by 120,000 or 130,000 persons a year because of abortion and broken families; while among the more than 200,000 legal immigrants a year in Italy, more than half are Muslims and Muslim families, which have a much higher level of growth.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Subway Trains to Generate Power for the Grid (Kevin Bullis, September 10, 2010, Technology Review)

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which runs the transit system in Philadelphia, is piloting a smart electrical grid technology that could cut its electricity bills by up to 40 percent and generate millions of dollars a year.
Powering down: A new project will harness energy from subway trains like this one on Philadelphia’s Market-Frankford Line.
Credit: SEPTA

A massive battery installed at one of the authority's substations will store electricity generated by the braking systems on trains (as the trains slow down the wheels drive generators). The battery will help trains accelerate, cutting power consumption, and will also provide extra power that can be sold back to the regional power grid. The pilot project, which involves one of 38 substations in the transit system, is expected to bring in $500,000 a year. This figure would multiply if the batteries are installed at other substations.

The project shows how cash-strapped public transit agencies that operate major subways and electric rail systems could find a new source of income by tapping into the smart grid. It also highlights one way that the smart grid could save energy, avoid blackouts, and incorporate more renewable power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


New College Teaches Young American Muslims (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, 9/08/10, NPR)

Catholics have Notre Dame, Jews have Yeshiva University and Evangelicals have Wheaton College — but until now, Muslim Americans didn't have their own liberal arts college. And then there's the appeal of the two founders, Imam Shakir and Sheik Hamza Yusuf, who are celebrities by preaching an Islam that resonates with young Americans.

"They're better than rock stars," Knight says, laughing, "because they're real people with real morals that you should actually look up to and admire. They're like the best of us."

Knight says that "thousands, maybe millions" of teenagers around the world follow Shakir and Yusuf on YouTube, and their live speeches fill college auditoriums. Her age group relates to these two men — who were born in the U.S. and converted to Islam — much more than to, say, a cleric from Saudi Arabia.

"We want our American Muslim scholars because we're Americans and we're Muslims, and that's how we identify ourselves," she says. "We want to learn from people who look like us, talk like us, think like us, eat like us. It's only natural — it's just human."

And increasingly, American Islam looks and sounds, well, American. A third of all Muslims in the U.S. were born here, and half a million of them are converts like Jamye Ford. Ford says that as he thought about changing religions, he realized he needed to overcome a philosophical hurdle, especially challenging right now.

"So often, the way the idea is portrayed is there's a dichotomy: There's being American and there's being Muslim, and these two must necessarily be at odds with one another," he says. "And it was clear to me that these two things don't have to exist separately."

The idea that their faith can be woven into an American lifestyle rather than skew it plays out in several ways at Zaytuna. Yes, most of the women wear headscarves, but that's a choice; there is no dress code. Men and women sit next to each other in class, they chat easily and share meals when they break their fast — things that would never happen in an Islamic school overseas.

Yusuf says Zaytuna has a deeper motive than just making the students feel at home. He wants to tease apart the religion of Islam from the customs and ideas of the Middle East. He's learned this from personal experience. He says that during his 10 years studying abroad, he imbibed ideas that had nothing to do with Islam, such as anger at U.S. foreign policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


All the signs point to a Daniels bid for president (Matthew Tully, September 10, 2010, Indianapolis Star)

Daniels is running for president.

Let me make clear that I am not basing this statement on inside information from his political advisers. Rather, I'm relying on the old "if-it-quacks-like-a-duck-it's-a-duck" theory. Or, if you prefer, the classic "I know it when I see it" lesson the Supreme Court taught us about obscenity. Same goes for presidential wannabes.

Daniels, of course, insists he has only cracked open the door to a run, and that he's done that only to appease his supporters. Time and again, he has said he is not running.

But he is.

He's running for president on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal and in the studios of Fox News. He's running for president during political appearances from Mississippi to Ohio. And he's running for president every time he inserts himself into the national political debate.

At this point, the only things missing are a book detailing his "vision for America" and those trips to Iowa and New Hampshire we know will eventually come.

This isn't to say Daniels will be on the primary ballot come early 2012. Instead, it means he is doing what people who want to be president do: putting himself and his ideas out there to see whether he strikes a chord with a sizable chunk of Republican voters, thinkers, donors and power players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


The Mirror of the Cosmos: Is cosmology a form of theology for a secular age? (Mark Vernon, September 9, 2010, Big Questions)

[H]ere’s a possibility. Cosmology is so popular, not just because of the science, but because it allows us to ask the big questions — where we come from, who we are, where we’re going. It’s metaphysics by other means. If the Scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages liked to speculate about the number of angels on the heads of pins, we today like to speculate about the number of dimensions wrapped up in string theory. The activities are similar insofar as they feed the delight we find in awe-inspiring wonder.

The most obvious example of “theophysics” concerns the so-called God particle. This is the Higgs boson, required by the standard model in particle physics to account for the observation that many particles have mass. But why should an esoteric entity to do with mass gain such a weighty theological ascription?

It was named by Leon Lederman, a former director of Fermilab. He thought the divine reference was suitable because the particle is so crucial to contemporary physics, and yet simultaneously so elusive. And is that not a bit like God? If God does exist, then God would be the ground of everything, and also never quite seen — only detected in the after effects of the divine wake, like traces in a particle collider. Ponder the Higgs boson and you ponder something of the concept of God.

Physicists profess to hate the title. But the media love it. And that surely reflects a wider public consciousness, sparked by physicists like Stephen Hawking, who are in search of a “theory of everything.” Again, there’s metaphysics in that dream, because a theory of everything would have many divine properties. It would be a unity — one entity from which flows the diversity of all that exists. It would be flawless — a complete and beautiful truth that could not be added to in any way. It would be necessary, which is to say it could not be otherwise and is entirely self-sufficient. God, if God is, is like that.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Interview with Pastor Jones' Daughter: 'Papa, Don't Do It' (Der Spiegel, 9/10/10)

It remains unclear whether Pastor Terry Jones will go ahead with his plan to burn Korans in Florida on Saturday. His daughter Emma has begged him not to go through with it. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, she describes a man who became a victim of his own delusions. [...]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why do you think your father sees Islam in such a hostile way?

Jones: It is relatively new. For years he led a church in Cologne that was, at first, merely Bible oriented, but later it began to have sect-like elements. Just before he left Cologne in 2008 and returned to the US, he began saying that Islam is getting the upper hand and that we can't allow it. But I didn't grow up with this radicalism.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you grow up?

Jones: We were raised in a very Christian household, and it was very strict. But also very social. We received visits from people from all over the world and were open to everything.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Former members of his church have spoken of psychological cruelty, forced work, financial irregularities and calls to beat ones own children.

Jones: My mother, Lisa Jones, died in 1996 of a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, my father remarried and I left the church at age 17. In 2005, he offered me a job as a bookkeeper in a company belonging to the church, which sold donated furniture on eBay. I gained a new insight, and realized that my father preached things and did things that I didn't find to be in accordance with the Bible at all. He demanded that people completely obey him and his second wife, Sylvia. Both are extremely obsessed with power. I saw genuine religious delusion. A typical indication of a sect. Both of them wanted to control everything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The secret of Osborne’s popularity (Samuel Brittan, September 9 2010, Financial Times)

According to the pollsters Ipsos Mori, George Osborne is the most popular Conservative chancellor since its records began in 1976. The knee-jerk media reaction is to say: “You wait until the public spending cuts bite.” But I want to dig a little deeper.

The obvious reason is that the Con-Lib coalition is still popular and some of this popularity rubs off on Mr Osborne. The British public has long had the sentimental desire to see politicians forget their petty squabbles and get together for the good of the country. I would guess that a grand coalition involving Labour too would be even more popular. Unfortunately, the public fails to see the analogy between political and commercial competition, and why the former can make for good government even if the parties are not always miles apart.

But I would suggest that there is something more specific to the chancellor’s popularity. Many people have got it into their heads that the government is spending £4 for every £3 it is receiving in revenue – or some such ratio. They think that if they were in such a situation they would be heading straight for bankruptcy. Such simple arguments strike a chord in the way that earlier Budget presentations in terms of inflationary or deflationary pressure, or even the balance of payments, never did.

Mitch Daniels ought to actually wear a green eyeshade to the debates.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM

A New Country Masterpiece (BARRY MAZOR, 9/09/10, WSJ)

This is supposed to be, recording-industry watchers regularly remind us, the post-album era, the day of the easily downloadable, easily digestible, easily disposable single. And that sort of commodity is, in fact, just what we can expect from country music, as from all the other sorts of pop, most of the time. But those who've had the opportunity to spend time with "The Guitar Song"—a new two-CD album from the rising, much-lauded songwriter, singer and bandleader Jamey Johnson, set for release on Tuesday on Mercury Records—have encountered something else again.

Jamey Johnson's 'The Guitar Song' is as ambitious and well executed as anything country music has seen in decades.

It's a stunning, varied and far-reaching set of 25 hardcore country songs, sonically and thematically integrated into a musical journey designed to be experienced, optimally, in sequence, from the first, generally darker "Black" disc on through the more upbeat sounds of hard-won redemption in the second "White" disc. It's a country album, and one as ambitious in its intentions and successful in its execution as country music has seen in decades, able to hold its own with albums conceived as such by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. [...]

At 35, Mr. Johnson is a leathery but supple, knowing vocalist who first found success in Nashville as a demo singer, and he integrates into this set fresh takes on such country classics of the late 1960s to '80s as Mel Tillis's "Mental Revenge,"