February 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 PM


Bernard Nathanson: A Life Transformed by Truth: A man who made a career of death and lies became a hero for life and truth. (Robert P. George, February 27, 2011, Witherspoon Institute)

Few people, if any, did more than Bernard Nathanson to undermine the right to life of unborn children by turning abortion from an unspeakable crime into a constitutionally protected liberty. Someday, when our law is reformed to honor the dignity and protect the right to life of every member of the human family, including children in the womb, historians will observe that few people did more than Bernard Nathanson to achieve that reversal. [...]

He co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), which later became the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and is now NARAL Pro-Choice America. Its goal was to remove the cultural stigma on abortion, eliminate all meaningful legal restraints on it, and make it as widely available as possible across the nation and, indeed, the globe.

To achieve these goals, Nathanson would later reveal, he and fellow abortion crusaders pursued dubious and in some cases straightforwardly dishonest strategies.

First, they promoted the idea that abortion is a medical issue, not a moral one. This required persuading people of the rather obvious falsehood that a normal pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition if the mother wants her baby, and a disease if she does not. The point of medicine, to maintain and restore health, had to be recast as giving health care consumers what they happen to want; and the Hippocratic Oath’s explicit prohibition of abortion had to be removed. In the end, Nathanson and his collaborators succeeded in selling this propaganda to a small but extraordinarily powerful group of men: in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, seven Supreme Court justices led by Harry Blackmun, former counsel to the American Medical Association, invalidated virtually all state laws providing meaningful protection for unborn children on the ground that abortion is a “private choice” to be made by women and their doctors.

Second, Nathanson and his friends lied—relentlessly and spectacularly—about the number of women who died each year from illegal abortions. Their pitch to voters, lawmakers, and judges was that women are going to seek abortion in roughly equal numbers whether it is lawful or not. The only effect of outlawing it, they claimed, is to limit pregnant women to unqualified and often uncaring practitioners, “back alley butchers.” So, Nathanson and others insisted, laws against abortion are worse than futile: they do not save fetal lives; they only cost women’s lives.

Now some women did die from unlawful abortions, though factors other than legalization, especially the development of antibiotics such as penicillin, are mainly responsible for reducing the rate and number of maternal deaths. And of course, the number of unborn babies whose lives were taken shot up dramatically after Nathanson and his colleagues achieved their goals; and they achieved them, in part, by claiming that the number of illegal abortions was more than ten times higher than it actually was.

Third, the early advocates of abortion deliberately exploited anti-Catholic animus among liberal elites and (in those days) many ordinary Protestants to depict opposition to abortion as a “religious dogma” that the Catholic hierarchy sought to impose on others in violation of their freedom and the separation of church and state. Nathanson and his friends recognized that their movement needed an enemy—a widely suspected institution that they could make the public face of their opposition; a minority, but one large and potent enough for its detractors to fear.

Despite the undeniable historical fact that prohibitions of abortion were rooted in English common law and reinforced and expanded by statutes enacted across the United States by overwhelmingly Protestant majorities in the 19th century, Nathanson and other abortion movement leaders decided that the Catholic Church was perfect for the role of freedom-smothering oppressor. Its male priesthood and authority structure would make it easy for them to depict the Church’s opposition to abortion as misogyny, for which concern to protect unborn babies was a mere pretext. The Church’s real motive, they insisted, was to restrict women’s freedom in order to hold them in positions of subservience.

Fourth, the abortion movement sought to appeal to conservatives and liberals alike by promoting feticide as a way of fighting poverty. Why are so many people poor? It’s because they have more children than they can afford to care for. What’s the solution? Abortion. Why do we have to spend so much money on welfare? It’s because poor, mainly minority, women are burdening the taxpayer with too many babies. The solution? Abortion. Initially, Nathanson himself believed that legal abortion and its public funding would reduce out-of-wedlock childbearing and poverty, though (as he later admitted) he continued to promote this falsehood after the sheer weight of evidence forced him to disbelieve it.

Within a year after Roe v. Wade, however, Nathanson began to have moral doubts about the cause to which he had been so single-mindedly devoted. In a widely noticed 1974 essay in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, he revealed his growing doubts about the “pro-choice” dogma that abortion was merely the removal of an “undifferentiated mass of cells,” and not the killing of a developing human being. Referring to abortions that he had supervised or performed, he confessed to an “increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”

Still, he was not ready to abandon support for legal abortion. It was, he continued to insist, necessary to prevent the bad consequences of illegal abortions. But he was moving from viewing abortion itself as a legitimate solution to a woman’s personal problem, to seeing it as an evil that should be discouraged, even if for practical reasons it had to be tolerated. Over the next several years, while continuing to perform abortions for what he regarded as legitimate “health” reasons, Nathanson would be moved still further toward the pro-life position by the emergence of new technologies, especially fetoscopy and ultrasound, that made it increasingly difficult, and finally impossible, to deny that abortion is the deliberate killing of a unique human being—a child in the womb.

By 1980, the weight of evidence in favor of the pro-life position had overwhelmed Nathanson and driven him out of the practice of abortion. He had come to regard the procedure as unjustified homicide and refused to perform it. Soon he was dedicating himself to the fight against abortion and revealing to the world the lies he and his abortion movement colleagues had told to break down public opposition.

In 1985, Nathanson employed the new fetal imaging technology to produce a documentary film, “The Silent Scream,” which energized the pro-life movement and threw the pro-choice side onto the defensive by showing in graphic detail the killing of a twelve-week-old fetus in a suction abortion. Nathanson used the footage to describe the facts of fetal development and to make the case for the humanity and dignity of the child in the womb. At one point, viewers see the child draw back from the surgical instrument and open his mouth: “This,” Nathanson says in the narration, “is the silent scream of a child threatened imminently with extinction.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Billions in Bloat Uncovered in Beltway (DAMIAN PALETTA, 2/28/11, WSJ)

The U.S. government has 15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws, 20 separate programs to help the homeless and 80 programs for economic development.

These are a few of the findings in a massive study of overlapping and duplicative programs that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year, according to a new Government Accountability Office report to be released Tuesday.

The report from the nonpartisan GAO compiles a list of redundant and potentially ineffective federal programs, and it could serve as a template for lawmakers in both parties as they move to cut federal spending and consolidate programs to reduce the deficit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 PM


Rich Americans flock to fast food (Jessica Dickler, February 28, 2011, CNN)

In the fourth quarter of 2010, spending on fast food increased 4% among American Express' most affluent customers, or the top 10% of spenders, the AmEx data said. Meanwhile, spending on casual dining decreased by 4%.

"As the economy continues to recover, affluent consumers are showing restraint in spending in some areas, but not others," explained Ed Jay, senior vice president of American Express Business Insights.

Jay says that affluent consumers exhibited a "return to value" during the recession and are still demonstrating frugal behaviors where possible, like spending more at fast-food restaurants.

"As wealthy consumers scaled back on consumption overall they started to go to more value or price oriented restaurants, and frankly chains," added Milton Pedraza, the CEO of the Luxury Institute, which tracks spending among wealthy consumers with a minimum annual income of $150,000.

"No one will do without their iPhone or iPad, and very few people want to forgo travel, but there are other categories that are not priorities," he said. Particularly when it comes to dining, "people have been making trade offs."

Meanwhile, popular economical chains like McDonald's are lovin' it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Missing senators rely heavily on union campaign dollars (Daniel Bice and Ben Poston, 2/28/11, Journal Sentinel)

The 14 Wisconsin Democratic senators who fled to Illinois share more than just political sympathy with the public employees and unions targeted by Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill.

The Senate Democrats count on those in the public sector as a key funding source for their campaigns.

In fact, one out of every five dollars raised by those Democratic senators in the past two election cycles came from public employees, such as teachers and firefighters, and their unions, a Journal Sentinel analysis of campaign records shows.

You're basically laundering taxpayer dollars into the coffers of the Democratic Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The descent of man? (Olly Bootle, 28 February 2011, Independent)

Ever since Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection 150 years ago, scientists have wondered whether the process still applies to humans. Evolution may have made us, but at some point, did we stop evolving?

There's no question that we're unique in the animal world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Libyan Uprising: Lessons From Iraq: The Security Council's immediate first step is to authorize a no-fly zone to prevent further butchery. (AHMAD CHALABI, 2/27/11, WSJ)

In 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, the Iraqi people heeded President George H.W. Bush's call to rid themselves of the regime of Saddam Hussein. The regular Iraqi army had either disappeared or was in open mutiny, and Saddam's loyalist forces were in disarray. Within days, 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces were out of the regime's control, and more than half of Iraq's population had their first taste of freedom in a generation.

The noose was closing around Saddam's neck when a fateful decision was made in Washington. Prompted by foreign policy "realists" in his administration—such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and National Security Council Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs Richard Haass—Mr. Bush allowed Saddam to fly military aircraft to put down the uprising.

What followed was a massacre. Up to 330,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by Saddam's brutal tactics, which included using helicopter gunships to strafe neighborhoods and tanks to blast schools, hospitals and places of worship. While thousands of U.S. troops were still on Iraqi soil and in some cases were close enough to watch, the tyrant unleashed the power of modern weaponry against men, women and children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Economists' biggest worry: Federal budget deficit (Chris Isidore, February 28, 2011, CNNMoney)

The survey results come as fierce debates are raging in Congress and in statehouses across the nation about how to address gaping budget gaps. There is a chance the federal government could even shut down without a budget deal, and public employee unions across the country are protesting proposed cuts at the state and local level.

Some leading economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have argued that while deficits must be addressed, the economic recovery is still too weak to implement deep spending cuts or tax increases.

Despite the budget worries, the economists are more optimistic about growth than they were three months ago. They expect economic growth of 3.3% in 2011, up significantly from the 2.6% growth rate forecast in November.

And economists are less concerned about a double-dip recession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM

WORKING ON HIS CHANGE (via The Mother Judd):

In Africa, Lessons on Passion and Perspective for Kershaw (KAREN CROUSE, 2/27/11, NY Times)

The Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw held the audience in his sway from the first pitch. A world removed from the grandeur of Dodger Stadium, the barefoot children stood in awe as they watched Kershaw’s curveball spin and dip.

Kershaw’s trip to Africa last month was well outside his strike zone, which is why he is eager to go back.

“It changes you,” he said after a recent workout at the Dodgers’ Arizona complex, “and that’s good.” [...]

His dedication to baseball is matched by the commitment his wife, Ellen, has made to helping children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. She embraced the cause after her first visit to Zambia as a college student.

“I’ve gotten to live out his passion with him,” Ellen Kershaw said in a telephone interview. “He knew how important it was to go to Zambia with me. Clayton had heard me talk about it so much that it was to the point he kind of couldn’t go any longer without seeing what lights a fire under me.”

She and Kershaw, childhood sweethearts in Dallas, married in December. Within days, they were on a plane bound for Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, on a mission with Arise Africa.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Game changers: Today, getting a high-powered job in sports is increasingly about working with the data, and a growing group of Hub-based number crunchers is making inroads -- and waves -- in the business (Shira Springer, February 27, 2011 , Boston Globe Magazine)

Boston provides an ideal mix – lots of universities, championship-winning franchises, team owners with big-business backgrounds – for smart, young mathematicians and entrepreneurs who’d like to come up with clever new answers to the professor’s question. In recent years, the city and its suburbs have launched sports-related companies and front-office careers that owe their success to the growing importance of number crunchers.

And some of those involved aren’t that far away from being kids. Harvard sophomore John Ezekowitz, who is 20, works for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns from his Cambridge dorm room, looking beyond traditional basketball statistics like points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage to better quantify player performance. He is enjoying the kind of early exposure to professional sports once reserved for athletic phenoms and once rare at institutions like Harvard and MIT. “If I do a good job, I can have some new insight into how this team plays, what works and what doesn’t,” says Ezekowitz. “To think that I might have some measure of influence, however small, over how a team plays is a thrill.” It’s not a bad job, either. While he doesn’t want to reveal how much he earns as a consultant, he says that not only does he eat better than most college students, the extra cash also allows him to feed his golf-club-buying habit.

Ezekowitz is majoring in economics with a minor in statistics and is taking courses in applied math, econometrics, and a class called Art and Thought in the Cold War. He’s also co-president of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, a campus club that comes up with new statistical measures and then publishes them in a blog as well as research papers in academic journals (a few of its members have recently begun blogging for the Globe). In a recent post, Ezekowitz introduced a new basketball statistic to better calculate the added benefit of teams reaching the free-throw line (see Page 35, “A Stat Is Born”). Ezekowitz found the standard box score stat, the free-throw percentage, inadequate. His school doesn’t offer any undergraduate courses devoted entirely to sports analytics, but Tufts University has Sabermetrics 101, a course on baseball analytics that has launched students into Major League jobs with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. And the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association have also recently taken an interest in recruiting at Sloan.

Some team executives consider Boston the Silicon Valley of sports analytics. Celtics co-owner and venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca calls it a new Florence, a place of trendsetting creativity influencing teams around the world. Either way, Boston’s geeks are having a field day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Rumsfeld’s Rebuttal: The demonized defense secretary answers his critics in his new memoir.: a review of Known and Unknown: A Memoir, by Donald Rumsfeld (Victor Davis Hanson, 27 February 2011, City Journal)

As both a former CEO who had turned around the pharmaceutical giant G. D. Searle and a veteran government infighter, Rumsfeld wanted to reinvent the Pentagon to run more like a cost-efficient enterprise whose capabilities matched its obligations. He was dubious about the status-quo military commitments of the United States but willing to use overwhelming force if need be—but only in areas of vital interest. Without careful deference, then, Rumsfeld’s tight-fisted cost-cutting and questioning of American defense obligations was bound to alienate entrenched interests at both the Pentagon and the State Department. He quickly alienated both, often finding himself at odds with senior generals and admirals, Powell, and Rice. CEOs, after all, make and execute policy in ways that single cabinet officers usually do not.

Several themes are interwoven throughout this massive, exhaustively documented memoir: Rumsfeld’s devout loyalty to and admiration for George W. Bush, unchanged to this day; his four-decade-long friendship and alliance with Dick Cheney; the way the attacks of September 11 radically and unexpectedly altered Rumsfeld’s second Pentagon tenure; his bewilderment over the media’s tarnishing of a sterling, nearly half-century-long record of public service over the Iraq War; and his intimacy with most of the leading American politicians and statesmen—and national crises—of our era.

Why did Rumsfeld so admire the younger Bush, given the family tensions and Rumsfeld’s far more substantial political and executive experience? Bush, Rumsfeld felt, was plain-speaking, decisive, often humble to the point of self-caricature, and unambiguous about the need to further American interests. He was “decidedly down-to-earth, with no inclination to formality; his demeanor was different from his father’s somewhat patrician manner.” Rumsfeld’s Bush appears in part a throwback to a decent Jerry Ford, in part an upbeat Ronald Reagan devoted to American exceptionalism. His chief fault, in Rumsfeld’s view, was perhaps not responding to an unprecedented level of vitriol in his second term, which would eventually overwhelm his cabinet.

W's cabinet was the most qualified ever, but particularly shines by comparison to the UR's.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Bailouts are shaping up to be cheaper than expected: The U.S. expects to recoup most of its bailout money. (Jim Puzzanghera, 2/28/11, Los Angeles Times)

"It's turning out to cost one heck of a lot less than what we all thought at the beginning," said Ted Kaufman, a former U.S. senator from Delaware who heads the congressionally appointed panel overseeing TARP.

Get the monthly that has L.A. talking. Subscribe to Los Angeles Times Magazine at a special introductory rate.

In mid-2009, the program was projected to lose as much as $341 billion. That's been reduced to $25 billion — partly because of the controversial decision to pump much of the TARP money into banks instead of launching a large-scale purchase of securities backed by toxic subprime mortgages.

There is now broad agreement that the bailouts worked, stabilizing the financial system and preventing an even deeper crisis.

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February 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee stand up for Michelle Obama in food fight (Thomas M. Defrank, 2/27/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

The plain-talking New Jersey governor and the former Arkansas governor, both of whom have fought personal poundage problems, took a dim view Sunday of the rhetorical food fight that Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) have launched against the First Lady.

Huckabee told "Fox News Sunday" that he isn't "in a war" with the trio, who have blasted Michelle Obama's eat-better campaign as an intrusion on individual freedom.

"I'm just simply saying that what Michelle Obama is proposing is not that the government tells you that you can't eat dessert," added Huckabee, who lost more than 100 pounds before his 2008 presidential campaign--though he recently confessed to gaining some of the weight back.

"What Michelle Obama has proposed is that we recognize that we have a serious obesity crisis - which we do," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the military-eligible kids going into the Army can't qualify for the physical because they're either overweight or obese and can't meet the minimum Army standards. That's serious.

"This is no longer just a health issue, an economic issue - it is becoming an issue of national security."

Without singling out Obama's detractors by name, Christie called their brickbats "unnecessary" on "Face the Nation."

"I think it's a really good goal to encourage kids to eat better," he said. "I've struggled with my weight for 30 years and it's a struggle. If a kid can avoid that in his adult years or her adult years, more power to them."

Christie added that "I don't want the government deciding what you can eat and what you can't eat," but said " I think Mrs. Obama being out there encouraging people in a positive way to eat well and to exercise and to be healthy - I don't have a problem with that."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Dodgers lose legend in 'Duke of Flatbush' (Ken Gurnick, 2/27/11, MLB.com)

Snider, who hit 407 home runs as the Dodgers' everyday center fielder, led the league with 43 in 1956 and was the National League Most Valuable Player runner-up in 1955, when the Dodgers won their first World Series. The eight-time all-Star played on six pennant-winning teams and hit 11 World Series home runs. [...]

He remains the Dodgers franchise leader with 389 home runs and 1,271 RBIs.

"He was an extremely gifted talent and his defensive abilities were often overlooked because of playing in a small ballpark, Ebbets Field," said Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. "When he had a chance to run and move defensively, he had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. Although it's ironic to say it, we have lost a giant. He's joining a great Dodger team that has moved on and I extend my sympathies to his entire family, especially to Bev."

Snider played his first 11 Dodgers seasons in Brooklyn and the final five in Los Angeles. He played one season each with the Mets and Giants, retiring after the 1964 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980 on his 11th ballot. His uniform No. 4 was retired by the Dodgers that year.

Duke Snider, Brooklyn Dodger Great, Dies at 84 (RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, February 27, 2011, NY Times)
In the 1950s, the golden age of New York baseball, the World Series almost always meant red, white and blue bunting at Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds. October afternoons provided a national showcase for baseball’s premier center fielders — Snider of the Dodgers, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Willie Mays of the Giants.

“They used to run a box in the New York papers comparing me to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays,” Snider recalled on the eve of his 1980 induction into the Hall of Fame. “It was a great time for baseball.” [...]

Edwin Donald Snider was born on Sept. 19, 1926, in Los Angeles and was brought up in nearby Compton. His father, Ward, seeing him return proudly from his first day at school, at age 5, called him the Duke.

Snider signed with the Dodgers’ minor league system out of Compton Junior College in 1944 for a $750 bonus and debuted in Brooklyn on opening day 1947 with a pinch-hit single against the Boston Braves. But his arrival was hardly noticed. That was the day Robinson broke the major league color barrier.

Snider was envisioned as the successor in center field to Pete Reiser, but he was overanxious at the plate and frustrated by the curveball. Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ general manager, and his aide George Sisler, once a great hitter with the St. Louis Browns, worked with Snider in spring training in 1948 to teach him the strike zone. Snider credited Rickey’s guidance for making him a Hall of Famer.

Snider flourished in 1949, his first full season with the Dodgers, when he batted .292 with 23 home runs and 92 R.B.I. The following year, a Duke Snider Fan Club was born.

But Snider’s moodiness affected his relationship with the fans. When he was booed by Dodgers fans in midsummer 1955 after a prolonged slump, he fumed. As he recalled in “The Duke of Flatbush” (Zebra Books, 1988), written with Bill Gilbert, he told the sportswriters: “The Brooklyn fans are the worst in the league. They don’t deserve a pennant.” The complaint made headlines.

Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ captain and Hall of Fame shortstop, teased Snider over his outbursts, and Snider later reflected how “Pee Wee taught me to control my emotions more.”

Hall of Fame Center Fielder Duke Snider Dies at 84 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, February 27, 2011)
For a team that kept preaching "Wait till next year" after World Series losses to the Yankees in 1953, '52, '49, '47 and '41, it was indeed next year. A generation later, long after they'd all grown old, those Dodgers were lauded as the "Boys of Summer" in Roger Kahn's book.

Born Edwin Donald Snider, he got his nickname at an early age. Noticing his son return home from a game with somewhat of a strut, Snider's dad said, "Here comes the Duke."

The name stuck. So did Snider, once he played his first game in the majors in 1947, two days after Jackie Robinson's historic debut.

A durable slugger with a strong arm, good instincts on the bases and a regal style, Snider hit the last home run at Ebbets Field in 1957.

Snider's swing gave the Dodgers a lefty presence on a team of mostly righties. He often launched shots over the short right-field wall at the Brooklyn bandbox, rewarding a waiting throng that gathered on Bedford Avenue.

"The Duke's up," fans in the upper deck would shout to those on the street.

A wild swinger, Snider was harnessed by Branch Rickey, who made him practice standing at home plate with a bat on his shoulder calling balls and strikes but forbidden to swing.

-ESSAY: Duke Or Willie? A Vote For Snider: Brooklyn's most artful Dodger is hitting better than Mays and many baseball men consider him at least Willie's equal as an outfielder (Sports Illustrated, June 27, 1955)
Twilight Of The Bums: The great Brooklyn Dodgers are in their declining years. As an era ends, a clown is hired and strong hints are dropped about leaving Ebbets Field. The faithful may be about to give their last hurrah (Robert Creamer, 4/01/1957, Sports Illustrated)

Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke) @ Yahoo! Video

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


Viewing the NFL labor situation through a 1987 lens (SAM MELLINGER, 2/26/11, The Kansas City Star)

The games were a blur. An earthquake hit the night before the first game against the Raiders. Ken Lacy fumbled twice at the goal line — “I couldn’t believe he was our tailback,” Stevens says — and the Chiefs lost.

The next week, the Chiefs played the Dolphins in the first-ever game at Joe Robbie Stadium. Stevens suffered a separated (non-throwing) shoulder in the first quarter and the Chiefs lost 42-0.

A few real NFL players showed up for the last game during the strike, most notably Joe Montana nationally and Kevin Ross locally with the Chiefs. [...]

Stevens is one of hundreds of replacement players whose life experience says the union will cave. This has been said so much it is taken as fact in some circles, almost like a character flaw of NFL players. The assumption of many is that if the players miss any games — or, more to the point, miss any money — they will come sprinting back to the sport and its paychecks.

Maybe this time will be different. Union leader DeMaurice Smith is talking that way, and for now the players behind him say the right things.

But they said the right things 24 years ago, too, and put up such a strong and dramatic front with the shotguns and pickup trucks and then just a few weeks later gave up the fight.

If you ever get the chance to talk to one of those old players about the strike, they will probably talk about the impossibly small feeling of watching games go on without them, of watching inferior players make money. The players lost about $80 million during the three replacement games, but the owners’ profits didn’t change much.

Football players are entirely fungible, which is smart teams trade high picks for low.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


The Un-Victim: Amitava Kumar interviews Arundhati Roy (Amitava Kumar, February 2011, Guenica)

Arundhati Roy: Each of these pieces I have written over the last ten years are pieces I never wanted to write. And each time I wrote one, I thought it would be my last… Each time I write something I promise myself I’ll never do it again...

...we would appreciate it if you kept your promise.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Wisconsin labor battle pivotal for unions, workers (Harley Shaiken, February 27, 2011, SF Chronicle)

If unions lose in Wisconsin, other states are poised to jump on the bandwagon from Ohio to New Jersey. Public workers are now the demographic heart of the labor movement. Unions represent 7.6 million workers at all levels of government, 52 percent of the total organized workers in the country. A defeat in Wisconsin would lead to a much larger implosion.

Taxpayers are taking back power from tax eaters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


The Man Who Wouldn't Die: Olympic hero Rulon Gardner has fallen off trucks, tumbled off tractors, and gotten stuck in a baler. He has been impaled on an arrow, broken his neck, and gashed his knee clean to the bone. He has survived several catastrophic high-speed accidents, endured a frostbitten night in subzero temperatures, and most recently, swam away (barely) from a plane crash in Lake Powell. In between, he pulled off one of the great upsets in sports history and became an American legend. Meet Rulon Gardner, the luckiest man on earth (Michael Paterniti, August 2007, GQ)

To find the real Rulon, the Ru of "fire and fury," you had to go back to a time before Sydney, before Karelin. You had to go back to junior year in high school and all those wrestling practices in the Star Valley High School gym, where it was Rulon, fueled by his feelings of isolation and bitterness, versus Reynold, in all his superiority. Day in and day out, a lifetime of rivalry coming to a climax, every day, one trying to finally gain the upper hand, the other trying to maintain it. They were two big boys, teeming with testosterone, teeing off: the clash of titans. Rulon might beat him in a practice, but when it came time for the real wrestle-off to see who would represent the team's varsity in the next meet, Reynold would get in Ru's head and win. Back and forth like this for a season, and a few weeks before they were to wrestle-off one last time to see who would represent the team at regionals and states—with Rulon convinced there was no way he could lose this time—Rulon gashed his leg on a tractor while working in the fields as Reynold sat inside, watching the Super Bowl. Ignoring the injury, Rulon landed in the hospital with an infection, a leg swollen with pus. According to the doctor, the worst-case scenario was amputation.

But Rulon didn't really care about that. He still thought he could wrestle. The biggest letdown came when Coach arrived at Ru's hospital bed on the Sunday before the Monday wrestle-off and said, "It's Reynold's senior year, and you need to get all healed up." Until that moment, Rulon actually thought they were still on—and he was ready to go. Even more amazing, Coach knew he had to show up at the hospital in order to call Ru off, otherwise the kid would have been there, hobbling around in his singlet, frothing to have at it. Reynold won the state championship that year. And something switched inside of Ru. He was sick of being the snot-nosed runty brother, the perennial also-ran. He was sick of being overshadowed and made invisible. With few believers behind him, his belief in himself became fully formed. And so he entered the visible world. Someone might beat him on the mat again, but never would he lose because of self-doubt or fear.

Olympic wrestlers usually come with a cred sheet: NCAA and national championships, few matches ever lost, years of international experience, and intense training. By the time Ru graduated from Nebraska, he was regarded as a good wrestler but not great, though steadily improving. He had no college championship, no aura that surrounded him. And he'd only wrestled folkstyle, which is a particular American quirk in the sport. It wasn't until 1993 that Rulon first wrestled Greco-Roman, in which one is not permitted to score a takedown by attacking below the waist, and with some early successes, kept at it. By the 1996 Olympic Trials, he was a threat, but with a staph infection in his leg again, he missed weigh-ins. He got to watch Karelin—known as "the Madman" for, among other things, once having carried a refrigerator on his back up eight flights of stairs—win his third Olympic gold on television.

Four years later, Rulon won the Olympic Trials. Rather, he'd won it day by day, over the intervening years, slowly grinding, teaching himself as he went, recording the weaknesses of his training partners, gathering slights in his mind to unleash on the mat, surpassing his teammates one by one. Every practice, every second of every practice, he went all the way. Ru remembered Brian "No Neck" Keck laughing at "the little fat kid" training so hard. Oh, he was laughable all right—with his fifty-four-inch barrel chest, unchiseled body, and Teletubby ears—but he wasn't going home.

There was a drill known as "shark bait," in which a wrestler takes the center of a circle and the other wrestlers ring the perimeter, jumping into the pit in tag-team fashion, over time breaking down the "shark." After a point, most sharks just try to hold on, but Ru's attitude was the opposite. He kept repeating to himself: "I'm going to beat all of your asses—and you're going to be damn happy when it's over." And that's exactly what he did. He had the strange capacity to get stronger as he went, his huge oxygenating lungs, the product of a life of hard work lived at altitude, giving him more stamina. And there came a time when few of his national teammates wanted to wrestle him anymore. They were worried for their safety.

"Your worst nightmare as a wrestler," said Grant, "was to give Ru a reason to go psycho." When forced to wrestle him, they did everything they could not to anger him, because when Ru got angry he got that faraway look in his eye and started attacking, surging, muscling his opponent to the mat. "I just tried to get ahead of them, move by move," Ru said.

Even "No Neck" Keck later confessed: The little fat kid had outtrained and outwrestled everyone. He deserved his rich reward. What set Ru apart was that he could tap into some ancient fear—some fear of being left behind, forced to the outside of the circle, or forgotten, some fear of dying—and convert it to the kind of controlled rage, the kind of transcendence one needed to win on the mat. Fear, then, became ferocity.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


In Indiana, Clues to Future of Wisconsin Labor (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 2/26/11, NY Times)

The experience of a nearby state, Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels eliminated bargaining for state employees six years ago, shows just how much is at stake, both for the government and for workers. His 2005 executive order has had a sweeping impact: no raises for state employees in some years, a weakening of seniority preferences and a far greater freedom to consolidate state operations or outsource them to private companies.

Evaluating the success of the policy depends on where you sit.

“It’s helped us in a thousand ways. It was absolutely central to our turnaround here,” Mr. Daniels said in an interview. Without union contracts to slow him down, he said, it has been easy for him to merge the procurement operations of numerous state agencies, saving millions of dollars. One move alone — outsourcing and consolidating food service operations for Indiana’s 28 prisons — has saved the state $100 million since 2005, he said. Such moves led to hundreds losing their jobs.

For state workers in Indiana, the end of collective bargaining also meant a pay freeze in 2009 and 2010 and higher health insurance payments. Several state employees said they now paid $5,200 a year in premiums, $3,400 more than when Mr. Daniels took office, though there are cheaper plans available.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Vermont gov: I can see N.H. from my house! (Politico, 2/26/11)

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat with a unified legislature, is rejecting calls from within his party to raise taxes. And he has a Sarah Palin joke to explain why.

“My problem is, on the eastern side of me, I’ve got the state of New Hampshire,” he told POLITICO. “Sarah Palin said that she could do foreign policy because she could see Russia from her house. Well, I’m the first governor in 40 years that can see New Hampshire from my house. So I can do tax policy. And I can tell you, we’ve got no more capacity. They’re killing us.”

New Hampshire has no sales tax and no income tax.

Vermont has a 6 percent sales tax and, at the top tier, a 9 percent income tax. The result has been a long period of stagnation for the Green Mountain State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


How the Arabs Turned Shame Into Liberty (FOUAD AJAMI, 2/26/11, NY Times)

By the 1980s, give or take a few years, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen, a new political creature had taken hold: repressive “national security states” with awesome means of control and terror. The new men were pitiless, they re-ordered the political world, they killed with abandon; a world of cruelty had settled upon the Arabs.

Average men and women made their accommodation with things, retreating into the privacy of their homes. In the public space, there was now the cult of the rulers, the unbounded power of Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi and Hafez al-Assad in Syria and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. The traditional restraints on power had been swept away, and no new social contract between ruler and ruled had emerged.

Fear was now the glue of politics, and in the more prosperous states (the ones with oil income) the ruler’s purse did its share in the consolidation of state terror. A huge Arab prison had been constructed, and a once-proud people had been reduced to submission. The prisoners hated their wardens and feared the guards, and on the surface of things, the autocracies were there to stay.

Yet, as they aged, the coup-makers and political plotters of yesteryear sprouted rapacious dynasties; they became “country owners,” as a distinguished liberal Egyptian scholar and diplomat once put it to me. These were Oriental courts without protocol and charm, the wives and the children of the rulers devouring all that could be had by way of riches and vanity.

Shame — a great, disciplining force in Arab life of old — quit Arab lands. In Tunisia, a hairdresser-turned-despot’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, now pronounced on all public matters; in Egypt the despot’s son, Gamal Mubarak, brazenly staked a claim to power over 80 million people; in Syria, Hafez al-Assad had pulled off a stunning feat, turning a once-rebellious republic into a monarchy in all but name and bequeathing it to one of his sons.

These rulers hadn’t descended from the sky. They had emerged out of the Arab world’s sins of omission and commission. Today’s rebellions are animated, above all, by a desire to be cleansed of the stain and the guilt of having given in to the despots for so long. Elias Canetti gave this phenomenon its timeless treatment in his 1960 book “Crowds and Power.” A crowd comes together, he reminded us, to expiate its guilt, to be done, in the presence of others, with old sins and failures.

There is no marker, no dividing line, that establishes with a precision when and why the Arab people grew weary of the dictators. To the extent that such tremendous ruptures can be pinned down, this rebellion was an inevitable response to the stagnation of the Arab economies. The so-called youth bulge made for a combustible background; a new generation with knowledge of the world beyond came into its own.

Then, too, the legends of Arab nationalism that had sustained two generations had expired. Younger men and women had wearied of the old obsession with Palestine. The revolution was waiting to happen, and one deed of despair in Tunisia, a street vendor who out of frustration set himself on fire, pushed the old order over the brink.

And so, in those big, public spaces in Tunis, Cairo and Manama, Bahrain, in the Libyan cities of Benghazi and Tobruk, millions of Arabs came together to bid farewell to an age of quiescence. They were done with the politics of fear and silence.

And the question Arabs had to ask themselves was simple, why do only the lowly Shi'a have purple fingers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Sing Out Mr. President: George W. Bush's Populist Simplicity
(Tom Huizenga and Ashalen Sims, February 25, 2011, NPR)

Bush's image was not lost on composer Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, who set his inaugural phrase to music for the Mr. President project. Her song is titled "A Simple Oath."

Kroll-Rosenbaum says the words that popped out at her "were 'simple,' mostly because of the way Bush kind of positioned himself as being a simple, old-fashioned president. And then his vision of 'new beginnings' — and the irony and the heartache of looking at that text after the fact, knowing now what we know about what happened in history, made this text that was seemingly simple all the more complicated."

"Simple" is a theme that also resonates for choral conductor Judith Clurman, who commissioned the music.

"Think about how many words are in the presidential oath," Clurman says. "It's simple, right? I asked a former student of mine, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum, to write something on George W. Bush and it's beautiful, very simple and elegant and quiet. Quiet is an important word. Sometimes, less is more in making music, an elegance. And I love these words."

I've been listening to an audio version of his book lately and what stands out is not just the perspicacity with which he comprehends the events of his presidency but the simplicity and clarity of his words. It's the rare memoir which will not be bettered by historians of the era, who will either be professional liberals trying to tear him down or conservatives trying to rehabilitate him, as has happened to poor Ronald Reagan.

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February 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


The Next Impasse: a review of THE WRONG WAR: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan By Bing West (DEXTER FILKINS, 2/26/11, NY Times Book Review)

West shows in the most granular, detailed way how and why America’s counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is failing. And, in the places where the effort is showing promise, he demonstrates why we don’t have the resources to duplicate that success on a wider scale. Mind you, West is no antiwar lefty: he’s a former infantry officer who fought in Vietnam. An assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, he admires — nay, adores — America’s fighting men and women, and he wants the United States to succeed. But the facts on the ground, it appears, lead him to darker truths.

West joined American troops in Garmsir, Marja and Nawa in Helmand Province; Barge Matal in Nuristan; and the Korengal Valley in Kunar — all in the heart of the fight. His basic argument can be summed up like this: American soldiers and Marines are very good at counterinsurgency, and they are breaking their hearts, and losing their lives, doing it so hard. But the central premise of counterinsurgency doctrine holds that if the Americans sacrifice on behalf of the Afghan government, then the Afghan people will risk their lives for that same government in return. They will fight the Taliban, finger the informants hiding among them and transform themselves into authentic leaders who spurn death and temptation.

This isn’t happening. What we have created instead, West shows, is a vast culture of dependency: Americans are fighting and dying, while the Afghans by and large stand by and do nothing to help them. Afghanistan’s leaders, from the presidential palace in Kabul to the river valleys in the Pashtun heartland, are enriching themselves, often criminally, on America’s largesse. The Taliban, whatever else they do, fight hard and for very little reward. American soldiers, handcuffed by strict rules of engagement, have surrendered the initiative to their enemies. Most important, the Afghan people, though almost certainly opposed to a Taliban redux, are equally wary of both the Americans and their Afghan “leaders.” They will happily take the riches lavished on them by the Americans, but they will not risk their lives for either the Americans or their own government. The Afghans are waiting to see who prevails, but prevailing is impossible without their help.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Most 'Locked-In Syndrome' Patients Happy, Survey Finds: 'Subjective well-being' may help those with inability to move or speak, researchers suggest ((HealthDay News, 2/24/11)

Most "locked-in syndrome" patients -- a condition caused by brain stem injury -- claim to be happy, according to a new study.

People with locked-in syndrome are fully conscious but can't move or communicate, except through eye movements or blinking. Patients with the condition can live for decades.

In the new study, researchers surveyed 91 locked-in syndrome patients in France about their medical history, emotional state, and their views on end-of-life issues. About two-thirds of the patients had a partner and lived at home and 70 percent had religious beliefs, the investigators found.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Rapid Rise in PSA Levels a Poor Predictor of Prostate Cancer: Study: Measuring changes over time leads to unnecessary biopsies, researchers say (Jenifer Goodwin, 2/26/11, HealthDay News)

Blood tests that indicate prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels are rising rapidly over time are of little use in detecting aggressive prostate cancer and should not be done, a new study indicates.

Current screening guidelines that recommend biopsies for men who have high PSA velocity but no other signs of prostate cancer -- such as a suspected abnormality during a digital rectal exam or high PSA level during a single test -- are leading to many unnecessary biopsies, the researchers said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Paying for Old Age (HENRY T. C. HU and TERRANCE ODEAN, 2/25/11, NY Times)

The insurance industry sells an inflation-adjusted annuity that goes part of the way toward helping people cope with the possibility of outliving their savings. During your working years or at the time of retirement, you can pay a premium to an insurance company in exchange for the promise that the company will pay you a fixed annual income, adjusted for inflation, until you die.

But in a world in which A.I.G. had an excellent rating only days before it became a ward of the state, how can someone — particularly a young person — know for sure which insurance companies will be solvent half a century from now? Annuities aren’t federally guaranteed. The only backstops are state-based systems, and the current protection ceilings are sometimes modest. If an insurance company goes under, the retiree may end up with nothing close to what was promised.

The federal government can offer a product that solves that problem. Individuals would face no more risk of default than that associated with Treasury bills and other obligations backed by the United States.

Here’s how it would work. Initially, people who wanted to buy this insurance would enroll through one of the qualified retirement savings plans already offered to the public, like a 401(k) plan, and could choose this annuity option instead of, or in addition to, investments in stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

How much the payouts would be could be based on a variety of factors, including interest rates on government bonds; mortality tables that, among other things, take into account that healthier people are more likely to buy annuities; and administrative costs. This new product wouldn’t cost the government a penny. In fact, the Treasury would benefit. It is only an incremental move beyond issuing inflation-adjusted bonds, which the Treasury already does. By allowing the government to tap a new class of investors, the cost of government borrowing over all would probably drop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


The Governor Who Cut His State Down to Size (NEIL KING JR. , 2/26/11, WSJ)

If the time is indeed right for Mr. Daniels's get-tough message, the angry budget standoffs in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey are also shining a new light on his credentials as a messenger. Mr. Daniels rescinded collective-bargaining rights for state employees six years ago—long before Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker caused a firestorm by putting the same issue on the table.

Mr. Daniels also cut spending, trimmed the state work force to its smallest in decades, and turned a yawning deficit into a surplus, with only scattered outbursts of popular anger along the way.

He has emerged from all this with high marks from voters, and a profile that sets him apart from the other Republicans mulling a possible 2012 run. An array of conservatives, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would like to see him enter the 2012 race.

He's the only potential candidate "who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals," Mr. Bush said last week in praising Mr. Daniels before a Florida business group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM

PUTTING THE FORK IN (via Steve Jacobson)

Inouye doubts he can help Akaka as much with 2012 fundraising (Derrick DePledge, Feb 25, 2011, Honolulu Star Advertiser)

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he would continue to support U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka if Akaka runs for re-election in 2012, but Inouye warned that he may not be able to help Akaka as much as he has in the past with fundraising and questioned his fellow Democrat's fundraising pace.

In an interview Thursday night on Insights on PBS Hawaii, Inouye said any doubts about Akaka's age should apply to him as well, since they both are 86-years-old. He also defended Akaka's record and understated style. But he said that circumstances have changed since he and other Democrats rallied to Akaka's side when he was challenged in the primary by former congressman Ed Case in 2006.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Can Al Qaeda Survive the Revolts?: Dictators weren’t the only ones caught offguard by the sweep of revolts across the Middle East—so was Al Qaeda. Bruce Riedel on how the revolutions will affect the future of global jihad. (Bruce Riedel, 2/25/11, Daily Beast)

Al Qaeda had nothing to do with the Jasmine revolution in Tunis that began the winter of Arab revolutions, nor did it have anything to do with the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. In both cases its various media mouthpieces were remarkably slow to catch up with events. Osama bin Laden has yet to utter one word about the changes in his native Arab world. But time will give it a chance to recover. Egypt especially matters enormously to al Qaeda as the center of the Arab world—its historic, demographic and cultural heart. How events play out in Egypt will directly impact al Qaeda’s ideology and narrative profoundly.

Ayman Zawahiri, the Egyptian number two in al Qaeda, was silent about the revolution that removed his nemesis until last week. He released the first of what promises to be several messages on the revolution through Sahab media (which literally means ‘in the clouds”). In this first commentary Zawahiri only repeated well-worn al Qaeda propaganda. Mubarak was a stooge of the American embassy. The Egyptian state is a creation of western imperialism. The great villain of Egypt is Napoleon Bonaparte! His 1798 invasion was the first plot “to call for the Jews to settle in Palestine,” Zawahiri claims, prefiguring Israel by a century and a half. Al Qaeda urges the complete overthrow of the corrupt Egyptian state, imposition of Islamic Sharia law, and Egypt’s merger into a new caliphate.

All of this is old stuff from Ayman (even the charge that Napoleon was a closet Zionist). This probably reflects the fact that what happened in Egypt is a total contradiction of al Qaeda’s ideology and he is playing catch up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM

I,I,I, ME, ME, ME....:

All stations but America: why the US can't fall in love with rail (Shilpa Kameswaran, 23 February 2011, OpenDemocracy)

Determined to explore the North American rail networks and to understand why there never are sighs of the slightest enthusiasm to partake in train journeys in the United States, I set off for a whole week on Amtrak’s historic and most admired long train routes – The California Zephyr and the Coast Starlight.

The tapering trapezium of the John Hancock tower diminished on the Chicagoan skyline this January as my train pulled out of the Union Station in downtown Chicago.

Making a journey from Chicago, Illinois across North-America to Emeryville, California covering 3,924 kilometers in 52hours on the ‘California Zephyr’ was for me the most hassle-free mode of continent exploration.

Originating in the mid-western city of Chicago the Zephyr passes westwards through the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. The passenger train route of the ‘California Zephyr’ started in 1949 is the eighth longest train route in the world and one of America’s most scenic, second only to Amtrak’s ‘Coast Starlight’ which sprints 2,216 kilometers along the Pacific ocean from Southern California to Oregon and Washington State covering the west coast's entire length.

Yet, shockingly three-quarters of my Superliner train all through both journeys was unoccupied, more shockingly, the sleeper-roomette and dining car services were first-class plush and fantastic and most shockingly an overwhelming thirty-six of the forty American peers I spoke with at the University of Chicago had never before heard of Amtrak’s ‘California Zephyr’ or ‘Coast Starlight’ all along while growing up in sub-urban America. What they had heard of were the shorter train routes and the dilapidated Amtrak stations at the little towns on these interior routes.

Why might a locomotive that lustfully loops around the upper Colorado River valley in the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch Mountains, the Pequop Mountains and the Sierra Nevada mountains through forty odd tunnels be so insignificant and infamous?

As an economist I’ve often pondered if the general state of public transport and the specific state of passenger trains in the United States tells us a story about the priorities of the populace. Is the American love affair with trains over with altogether? Or did it never exist in the first place?

A brilliant piece of journalistic writing in the New American titled ‘Amtrak and the Railroads’ goes on to summarizes the frustration an average American feels towards the Amtrak passenger trains – “Amtrak and its lobbyists at the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) at the recent commemoration of the third annual National Train Day are supposedly celebrating “America’s love for trains,” the day could not boast a more ironic host than the railroad nobody rides. Worse, Amtrak’s sponsorship was as shameless as Dracula’s funding a fashion show concentrating on décolletage: The government that owns Amtrak has sabotaged, subsidized, and sucked the life from American railroads since the industry’s inception.”

In more common conversation it is often argued that the federally subsidized monopolistic Amtrak passenger trains charge its commuters an exorbitant price to be able to pay their unionized staff inflated salaries. An individual return ticket on the California Zephyr costs $550 which is exactly twice the cost of a return ticket on a domestic airline from Chicago to San Francisco. Also, the Amtrak passenger trains aren’t exactly the fastest trains in the world and can take almost five to ten times the duration to reach a destination compared to an airline. While the operating speed of the Eurostar trains between London and Brussels or London and Paris is an overwhelming 186mph, the average operating speed of Amtrak’s Superliner trains is a mere 47mph. And most obviously an American would argue that it is more economical to rent or own a car and drive across the continent’s gloriously connected convenient six lane expressways from coast to coast than make an expensive yet, rigid slow train journey in which you are merely a passive observer with no control at all.

Yet, the disastrous economic and political consequences that the nationalized Amtrak passenger trains pose to it’s customers might not have everything to do with why their Superliner trains lack complete luster in the minds of the Americans. The real reasons may go beyond how much time it takes to reach LA from Seattle on the Coast Starlight or how much currency it would cost to buy a seat on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville.

The real reasons may have to do with the real overriding philosophy of ‘individualism’ and the ‘indestructible importance of the individual’ on which the entire nation has been built brick by brick for generations. The real notions of the individual against nature, the individual’s conquest, the individual’s adventure, the individual’s unstoppable power of exploration, the individual’s immeasurable power to define leisure at her/his will, the individual’s pride in his/her personal exclusivity which have been reiterated and reconfirmed in recurring frequency by the media, the arts, the entertainment and most significantly by science and technology in North America surely and stably add up to why the idea of scuttling and scampering in a nine compartment passenger train with hundreds of other fellow passengers is unbearable to the average American who wants his holiday to be solely exclusive and not shared.

The highway is a solvent, rail a cohesive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Dropkick Murphys remain Boston's most treasured punk success: The tightest ship in the business (BARRY THOMPSON, February 23, 2011, Boston Phoenix)

Thanks to big honkin' crossover hits "Tessie" and "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," fans of Major League Baseball and/or Martin Scorsese will forever associate the modern-day monarchs of Celtic punk with the miraculous 2004 Red Sox and the nefarious shenanigans of The Departed's Frank "Whitey" Costello. Consequently, people who've never been here sometimes assume that Boston as a whole resembles Southie as depicted in Dropkick songs — which isn't even the whole story for Southie. Worse, they're not all opposed to writing the Dropkicks and their fans off as sadistic baseball hooligans with crappy shamrock tattoos who hate pronouncing the letter "r." Even if the Dropkicks themselves helped propagate the caricature by liking local sports and Irish music, it's a stupendously reductionist perception. The Dropkicks paid about a decade's worth of dues in the punk-rock salt mines before hitting it big, but despite (or because of) their high profile, their influence isn't always acknowledged. How many kids in lesser-known Irish folk/punk combo bands get all puffy and punker-than-thou when they tell people they were listening to the Pogues and the Dubliners before they'd ever heard of the Dropkicks? A lot. Most of them are lying.

These outcomes would've been impossible to plan even if Ken Casey and his drinking buddies did harbor grandiose ambitions back when they were [****]ing around with songs that started to sound like "Clancy Brothers meets the Ramones" (as Casey puts it) in a barber-shop basement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


A Spokesman With Little to Say (Dana Milbank, 2/25/11, Washington Post)

[P]resident Obama has put his new spokesman in an unenviable position: He is the mouthpiece of an administration that has painfully little to say.

The Middle East and North Africa are erupting in violence. A shutdown of the federal government looms. State governments have been disrupted by noisy protests. And, yet, the White House has been inexplicably passive.

It's fascinating the way that the myth of Obama prevents intelligent analysis. If Mr.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Wisconsin and the Fundamental Threat to the Democratic Party (Reid Wilson, February 23, 2011, National Journal)

The millions of dollars that Republican-friendly outside organizations are pouring into television advertising has a positive impact, but it’s not enough to overcome Democrats’ superior turnout operations. Once the polls open on Election Day, once the persuadable voters have been persuaded, Democrats in swing districts can build a large, sometimes insurmountable, lead.

To build that lead, Democrats depend on a key portion of their coalition: unions. Instead of spending their millions on television advertising, unions frequently focus on turnout operations. That’s why Republican-led initiatives to attack union funding erupting in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and in other states are smart moves for the GOP—and dangerous for Democrats.

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip some collective-bargaining rights from unions is the most organized attack on union rights in a generation. Not since President Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers have unions faced a starker threat. And, thanks to Republican gains in state legislative contests—an often-overlooked and yet stunningly widespread victory in 2010—Walker’s crusade is likely to succeed, either this year or next. That could set off dominos where Republicans control both state legislatures and governors' mansions.

“The strategy for Democrats has been public union growth. If we’re able to put any restraint on public union growth, it will put a significant restraint on their political clout,” said Saul Anuzis, chairman of UnionRefund.org, a group that works to inhibit unions’ political spending.

“The debate has come to a head. We’re out of money. All these states are running into deficit situations, and this is the perfect time to address these issues.”

Consider how crucial unions are to the Democratic coalition. As Republican-allied groups like American Crossroads and the American Action Network poured millions into television advertising, the single-largest outside actor in the 2010 elections was the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME spent $87.5 million on the 2010 elections, an amount the Wall Street Journal calculated as about 30 percent of all spending for Democrats by outside groups. The Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association combined to spend another $84 million for Democrats, more than even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent during the midterms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM

Jason And The Scorchers On World Cafe (David Dye, 2/23/11, NPR: World Cafe)

Jason and The Scorchers — whose new album, Halcyon Times, is their first in 14 years — is known for laying the groundwork for cowpunk, a genre that combines country, honky tonk and punk.

Hear Jason and his crew perform live and chat with World Cafe host David Dye about getting the band back together.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


*Biden: 'When a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty' (Josh Rogin, February 25, 2011, Foreign Policy)

"I got in trouble when I said, during the Bosnia crisis, coming back from meeting Milosevic... that when a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty," Biden told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he was speaking at an event honoring the late Congressman Tom Lantos.

"And it was viewed at the time as somehow being contrary to the notions of the principles of the United Nations Charter that you forfeit your sovereignty," Biden said. "I remember the first person to call me as I was being roundly criticized was Tom Lantos, [who said,] ‘Keep it up, Joe.'"

Which was just part of the case against Saddam.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM

The Low Anthem In Concert (Robin Hilton, 2/24/11, NPR)

The Low Anthem makes music that's perfect for reflective spaces. The band recorded the rustic mix of blues, folk and hymns on its previous album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, in an empty cabin. The group's follow-up, Smart Flesh, was recorded in a dilapidated pasta-sauce factory in Rhode Island. So it's no surprise that The Low Anthem chose a 100-year-old synagogue in Washington, D.C., as the site for a live performance. This concert was recorded live at the historic 6th and I Synagogue.

The Low Anthem formed in Rhode Island in 2006 and now features Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson. The group self-released its debut, What the Crow Brings, in 2007, and followed it with Oh My God, Charlie Darwin less than a year later.

Low Anthem Store

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February 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Flashback Gives Glimpse of Daniels Political Skills (Erin McPike, 2/25/11, Real Clear Politics)

In the same way, Daniels came out swinging in his Jan. 4, 1987, appearance on CNN's "Evans and Novak," to such an extent that Evans sought out Anthony Dolan, who served President Reagan as chief speechwriter for his entire presidency, and urged him to view Daniels's appearance.

The reason, Dolan said, was what Evans told him: "It was one of the finest performances by a political operative they had ever seen, particularly one that he and Bob Novak were deliberately trying to trap or embarrass."

In introducing Daniels on the program, Novak mentioned the scandal and the GOP's heavy losses and said, "Nobody has been closer to the situation than Mitch Daniels, an architect of President Reagan's activist campaign to try to save the Senate last year."

A calm and unflinching Daniels handled the pair's questions about the GOP's positioning ahead of the 1988 election by noting that the Republican Party had a built-in advantage with an Electoral College that tilted in favor of the party.

"I don't see a Democrat, an individual potential nominee, who I find all that frightening for next time. They've got big problems of their own to solve, as we do," he continued.

And in a line that his potential campaign is almost certain to trot out again, he defended President Reagan when Novak asked him if Reagan's presidency was on the skids as his administration barreled into its final two years.

"I think the point there is that conservatives who owe their entire political existence to Ronald Reagan may have lost heart and lost gumption, but he hasn't," he said. "There's a big agenda yet to be completed. And just because maybe you folks are tired of writing about SDI [the Strategic Defense Initiative], or the Central America freedom fighter issue, does not mean that those agenda items have been completed. On the contrary, there are some big-ticket items yet to be addressed and defended."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


America Primed (Robert D. Kaplan, Stephen S. Kaplan, February 23, 2011, National Interest)

AMERICA’S MACROSTRATEGIC environment is chockablock with assets unavailable to any other country. If nothing else, the United States has an often-overlooked and oft-neglected bulwark of allies: the Anglosphere. This is Washington’s inner circle of defense ties, and it finds no equivalent in its competitor nations’ strategic arsenals. The Anglosphere is perennially—and incorrectly—declared dead or in decline by the media and politicians. Nevertheless, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States remain extremely close in their military and intelligence relations and exchange vast volumes of sensitive information daily, as they have for decades. On terrorism, virtually anything and everything is shared. The National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters have been nearly inextricable since World War II. The same is largely true of the CIA and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The various English-speaking nations, in practical terms, even assign individual parts of the world to each other, and each worries about the others’ security equities.

The linguistic and other cultural links between the United States and these other English-speaking countries are so deep that the sharing of sensitive information 24-7 is practically an afterthought, even as the media and politicians highlight the narcissism of comparatively small differences. Of course, the values and national purposes of the individual countries are unique, owing to different geographies and historical experiences; yet that is something America can quietly manage. Given how close the United States is to the Anglosphere in most ways, when these allies resist what America is attempting to do, that should constitute a warning that perhaps the policy coming out of Washington is either outright wrong or needs adjustment. (Canada’s balking in the face of U.S. bullying to hop on board the Iraq War train is an obvious case in point.) The Anglosphere, in addition to everything else it provides, is a reality check that can facilitate American policy making.

With a combined population of 420 million, with strategic locations off the continent of Europe (Great Britain), near the intersection of the Indian Ocean and western Pacific sea-lanes (Australia), and in the Arctic and adjacent to Greenland’s oil and gas (Canada), the Anglosphere, if not abused or ignored, will be a substantial hard-power asset for the United States deep into the twenty-first century. China and Russia enjoy nothing comparable.

OF COURSE even this set of assets is not enough to ensure American primacy—nor its sway over the West. And not all alliances are created equal. For example, Washington can less and less rely on NATO to serve as its linchpin in Europe. NATO is of limited help in Afghanistan, was irrelevant in Iraq and simply does not matter in the larger Middle East. The defense budgets of member states in Western Europe are generally below the NATO standard of 2 percent of GDP, even as these same countries now brace for the steepest cuts in military spending since the end of the Cold War. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as prudent and low-key a public speaker as one can imagine, has publicly chided Europeans for being too reluctant to use military force. Nor does NATO, whatever the fine print of its documents, really guarantee the territorial integrity of its new member states in Eastern Europe against potential Russian aggression. The United States does that, and the Balts, Poles, Romanians and others know it. Plainly, the Poles and Romanians sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan (and any number of various African countries where the United States has had military missions) not because they necessarily approved of these deployments or were enthusiastic about them, but as a quid pro quo for this implicit security guarantee.

Yet, American supremacy in the twenty-first century will require a strong position in Europe, and that means getting along well with the Europeans.

Which is like saying that Apple's future depends on being strong in Detroit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Hezbollah: a state above the state (Nima Khorrami Assl, 22 February 2011, OpenDemocracy)

Although state support has been crucial to Hezbollah, the organization has also felt limited by it. In other words, Hezbollah’s power also relies on its standing at home and regional image both of which have suffered from appearing to be a proxy. As a ‘conventional political party’, Hezbollah has to work with a number of other political parties and organizations. As a ‘welfare agency’, it has to deal with other Lebanese sects, while, as a militia, it has to ‘consider the regional balance of power’ when engaging in resistance. Anthony Cordesman reported from Israel in August 2006 that no serving Israeli official, intelligence officer, or other military officers with whom he had spoken felt that Hezbollah had acted under the direction of Iran or Syria.

In fact, to achieve a level of autonomy from state sponsorship the Party has sought out aid and support from other sources so it can detach itself from any external sources that would limit the decisions and activities of the organization.

Hezbollah has entered into large-scale business operations by opening co-operative supermarkets in the suburbs of Beirut and other parts of Lebanon. It has revenue coming in from school fees, bookshops, farms, fisheries, factories, and bakeries. It manufactures Islamic clothing which it exports to the expatriate Lebanese Shiite community around the globe. The group has also entered the booming property market in Lebanon and the UAE. Furthermore, many sympathetic individuals in the west have created venture companies that invested Hezbollah money in stocks and shares of commodities. It also uses its faction in the Lebanese Parliament to persuade and/or pressure the government to finance its projects in Shiite population centres.

Early in the life of Hezbollah, the organization was amorphous and decision-making was decentralized. Nevertheless, with time and with the increasing need to better coordinate and control the decisions and the actions of the organization, Hezbollah has matured into a more hierarchical and more effective institution. This evolution reflects Hezbollah’s growing strength and stature on the Lebanese scene, and its determination not to limit its activities to resistance only. This is clearly evident in its heavy reliance on the use of widespread media networks in order to propagate its doctrine and its vision to all of its followers in Lebanon and the wider Muslim world. Currently, it operates a number of powerful means of communications the most prominent of which are al-Manar Television and Radio al-Nour.

Historically, tistorically he Lebanese state has never served the Lebanese Shi‘a well. The Shi‘a have been an ignored and deprived underclass that has never received an equal share of the Lebanese infrastructure, political representation, or economic benefits. Consequently, Shi‘a have little confidence that the state can or will meet their needs and thus place greater confidence in Hezbollah as their political instruments.

Hezbollah's ability, unprecedented in Arab history, to stand up to a superior Israeli military machine and force it to a truce is electrifying. Its character is mainstream Shiite, but its rhetoric focuses on Arab unity, the illegitimacy of the Israeli state, and the need for change in Arab leadership. It represents a powerful regional current and thus cannot be easily suppressed or disarmed. It is a highly credited organisation among the Arab public, a powerful voice for the Shiites in Lebanese affairs, and their link to the larger Shiite community in the region, especially Iran.

What this observation implies, therefore, is that Hezbollah will willingly seek to remain above the state rather than to be the state.

As the Bush and Obama administrations helpfully remind us, our own Right and Left likewise despise the realities of having to govern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


A Saudi Prince’s Plea for Reform (ALWALEED BIN TALAL BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD, 2/25/11, NY Times)

The majority of the Arab population is under 25, and the unemployment rate for young adults is in most countries 20 percent or more. Unemployment is even higher among women, who are economically and socially marginalized. The middle classes are being pushed down by inflation, which makes a stable standard of living seem an unattainable hope. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. The basic needs for housing, health care and education are not being met for millions.

Moreover, Arab countries have been burdened by political systems that have become outmoded and brittle. Their leaderships are tied to patterns of governance that have become irrelevant and ineffective. Decision-making is invariably confined to small circles, with the outcomes largely intended to serve special and self-serving interests. Political participation is often denied, truncated and manipulated to ensure elections that perpetuate one-party rule.

Disheartening as this Arab condition may be, reforming it is neither impossible nor too late. Other societies that were afflicted with similar maladies have managed to restore themselves to health. But we can succeed only if we open our systems to greater political participation, accountability, increased transparency and the empowerment of women as well as youth. The pressing issues of poverty, illiteracy, education and unemployment have to be fully addressed. Initiatives just announced in my country, Saudi Arabia, by King Abdullah are a step in the right direction, but they are only the beginning of a longer journey to broader participation, especially by the younger generation.

The lesson to be learned from the Tunisian, Egyptian and other upheavals — which, it is important to note, were not animated by anti-American fervor or by extremist Islamic zeal — is that Arab governments can no longer afford to take their populations for granted, or to assume that they will remain static and subdued. Nor can the soothing instruments of yesteryear, which were meant to appease, serve any longer as substitutes for meaningful reform. The winds of change are blowing across our region with force, and it would be folly to suppose that they will soon dissipate.

For any reform to be effective, however, it has to be the result of meaningful interaction and dialogue among the different components of a society, most particularly between the rulers and the ruled. It also has to encompass the younger generation, which in this technologically advanced age has become increasingly intertwined with its counterparts in other parts of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Run Mitch, Run (DAVID BROOKS, 2/24/11, NY Times)

The man who would be the party’s strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running. The country could use a serious, competent manager, which Governor Daniels has been, and still he’s thinking about not running. The historic moment calls for someone who can restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties. Daniels has spent his whole career preparing for this kind of moment, and still he’s thinking about not running.

The country also needs a substantive debate about the role of government. That’s exactly what an Obama-Daniels contest would provide. Yet because Daniels is a normal person who doesn’t have an insatiable desire for higher office, he’s thinking about not running.

...would be Jeb, Christie and Jindal. But the strongest who might run is Mitch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Gov. Jerry Brown tells legislators he will push for a $25-billion cut in California's budget unless voters OK tax extension (Anthony York and Shane Goldmacher, February 25, 2011, Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown said Thursday that he would hold out for a budget that cuts more than $25 billion from state services if voters and lawmakers do not approve more taxes.

Brown made his comments to a panel of lawmakers who are working on a spending plan — the first time in nearly 50 years that a sitting governor has testified before the Legislature.

"I want to make one thing clear," Brown said. "... If we don't get the tax extensions, I am not going to sign a budget [unless it is] an all-cuts budget."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Bush's Middle East 'March of Freedom' (Paul Kengor on 2.25.11 , American Spectator)

Bush noted that the world had witnessed, in little over a generation, "the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy." And while future historians would debate the reasons for that surge, Bush had his own, one that was also a motivation: "It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy." That was George W. Bush's way of saying that America, at least America under his administration, would do its best to advance that freedom.

The 43rd president, likewise dismissed by critics, then shared his theoretical -- even theological -- understanding of how this could happen, including in places like the Middle East, pockmarked by military dictatorships:

Over time, free nations grow stronger and dictatorships grow weaker…. Liberty is both the plan of Heaven for humanity, and the best hope for progress here on Earth.

As the colonial era passed away, the Middle East saw the establishment of many military dictatorships. Some rulers adopted the dogmas of socialism, seized total control of political parties and the media and universities. They allied themselves with the Soviet bloc and with international terrorism….

Other men, and groups of men, have gained influence in the Middle East and beyond through an ideology of theocratic terror….

Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere…. Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems…. Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change.

Now that's "change" you can believe in. In this section of the speech, Bush called out, by name, Iraq, Syria, the Taliban, but clearly was also referring to the likes of Gaddafi.

Then came these statements, directed explicitly at Iran and Egypt:

As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it? In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad…. The regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people…. The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

Next, George W. Bush made a statement that every liberal ought to love. He pointed the finger at America and the West for "sixty years" of "excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East," which "did nothing to make us safe" and came "at the expense of liberty."

So, what should America do? Here, Bush applied Reagan's words at Westminster, as well as a similar phrase Reagan used elsewhere: a "forward strategy of freedom." Stated Bush: "Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace."

Bush said that this advance of freedom was nothing short of "the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country."

Brace yourselves, liberals and conservatives alike: Bush then echoed Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Reagan: "From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle." What principle was that? Bush wrapped up with the signature statement of his presidency: "We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history…. And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind."

Upon close reflection, it is self-evident that this was a profound speech with major application to current events, even as the vast majority of pundits and journalists don't even know about it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Al-Qaida's Embarrassment: Revolutions Mark Setback for Terror Group (Yassin Musharbash, 2/25/11, Der Spiegel)

Ben Ali has fled, Mubarak has been overthrown and Gadhafi is faltering, but al-Qaida is frustrated, because jihadists have played no role whatsoever in the great revolution in the Arab world. The terrorist organization has repeatedly tried to use propaganda to take credit for the revolts, but no one is listening.

One of the side effects of the Arab revolt is that the jihad bubble has burst, at least for now. The popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have impressively demonstrated how little jihadists have to say in Arab societies. Contrary to the propaganda they have been spreading for decades, their mobilization potential is virtually nonexistent.

Their original goal -- the overthrow of the secular regimes in the Arab world -- has been achieved by others, including groups that are among the declared enemies of al-Qaida and its allies: secularists, students with a Western orientation, politically active women, people who support democracy and moderate Islamists. It isn't al-Qaida that has proven to be a vanguard, but the secular, Internet-savvy youth of the Arab world. And no one on the squares and streets, from Tunis to Benghazi, has called for a Taliban-esque theocracy, al-Qaida's vision for the Islamic world.

What an embarrassing revelation!

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February 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Upheaval Jolts Israel and Raises New Worry (STEVEN ERLANGER,. 2/23/11, NY Times)

Israelis worry that Arab democracy movements will ultimately be dominated by extremists, as happened in Iran after the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah. They worry about the chaotic transition between revolt and democratic stability, if it ever comes. They see Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, even if it remains a minority of Egyptian opinion, as pressing for more solidarity with the Palestinians and Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. And they fear that Israel’s regional partners in checking Iran are under threat or falling.

Arab analysts counter that new Arab realities and democracies should be welcomed by Israel, because the new Arab generation shares many of the same values as Israel and the West. They argue that there is no support among Egypt’s leaders for the abrogation of the 1979 peace treaty, though it is unpopular with the public, and that the Egyptian Army will not disrupt foreign policy.

“There is no regime that is going to be against or hostile toward Israel in the near term,” said Mohamed Darif, a political scientist at Morocco’s King Hassan II University. “There has been an evolution in the Arab world, among political elites and in civil society. Israel is a fact.”

But new governments are more likely to increase their support for the Palestinian cause, with Egypt already reopening the crossing with Hamas-run Gaza.

The best thing that could happen to Israel is to have a Palestinian nation forced upon them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


Why was President Obama last to speak up on Libya? (Washington Post, February 23, 2011)

By late Wednesday only one major Western leader had failed to speak up on Libya: Barack Obama. Before then, the president's only comment during five days of mounting atrocities was a statement issued in his name by his press secretary late last Friday, which deplored violence that day in three countries: Yemen, Libya and Bahrain. For four subsequent days, the administration's response to the rapidly escalating bloodshed in Libya consisted of measured and relatively mild statements by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. [...]

Mr. Obama appeared eager to make the point that the United States was not taking the lead in opposing Mr. Gaddafi's crimes. "It is imperative that the nations and the peoples of the world speak with one voice," he said. "That has been our focus." Shouldn't the president of the United States be first to oppose the depravities of a tyrant such as Mr. Gaddafi? Apparently this one doesn't think so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Vincent Cianci isn’t ruling out run for office (Dave Wedge, February 24, 2011, Boston Herald)

Former Providence mayor-turned-ex-con Vincent “Buddy” Cianci yesterday left open the door to another run for public office on the heels of a new poll showing he remains one of the most popular politicians in Rhode Island.

“There’s always a possibility of running for office,” he said. “But I have no intention right now of running for anything.”

Cianci is barred from running for office in Rhode Island until 2012 but could seek federal office, a prospect that gained steam yesterday when a Providence TV station released a poll showing him within striking distance of freshman Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

He ought to go for governor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


White House meets lobbyists off campus (CHRIS FRATES, 2/24/11, Politico)

Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Movie review: Of Gods and Men is a Moving Meditation on Faith (Una LaMarche, February 24, 2011, NY Observer)

The plot, which is sparse but riveting, centers on the monks' deliberations over whether they should stay in Algeria despite the threat of violence, or flee to France, where they will be safe. Each man struggles in his own way, both within himself and with God, to find an answer—an answer that we already know ends in death. And yet somehow, Of Gods and Men doesn't end on a note of wrist-slitting darkness. On the contrary, Beauvois creates an uplifting meditation on faith and courage.

The monks, led by Brother Christian (the excellent Lambert Wilson, whom US audiences may recognize as The Merovingian from The Matrix movies), live an austere life of faith and service at a picturesque monastery up the hill from a poverty-stricken village. The townspeople depend on the monks for medical care—which is doled out by Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale), an asthmatic Santa Claus doppelganger—as well as for religious guidance. But when a group of local Croatian construction workers are killed by an armed fundamentalist group, the monks find themselves both targets and potential saviors. "We feel like birds on a branch," one of the monks says to the community's governing board, explaining their concern for their safety. "We are the birds," a local woman corrects him. "You are the branch."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


How Chris Christie Did His Homework (MATT BAI, 2/24/11, NY Times Magazine)

While Christie has flatly ruled out a presidential run in 2012, there is enough conjecture about the possibility that I felt moved to ask him a few weeks ago if he found it exhausting to have to constantly answer the same question. “Listen, if you’re going to say you’re exhausted by that, you’re really taking yourself too seriously,” Christie told me, then broke into his imitation of a politician who is taking himself too seriously. “ ‘Oh, Matt, please, stop asking me about whether I should be president of the United States! The leader of the free world! Please stop! I’m exhausted by the question!’ I mean, come on. If I get to that point, just slap me around, because that’s really presumptuous. What it is to me is astonishing, not exhausting.”

There is, in fact, something astonishing about the ascent of Chris Christie, who is about as slick as sandpaper and who now admits that even he didn’t think he would beat Jon Corzine, the Democrat he unseated in 2009. Some critics have posited that Christie’s success in office represents merely the triumph of self-certainty over complexity, the yearning among voters for leaders who talk bluntly and with conviction. Yet it’s hard to see Christie getting so much traction if he were out there castigating, say, immigrants or Wall Street bankers. What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.

It may just be that Christie has stumbled onto the public-policy issue of our time, which is how to bring the exploding costs of the public workforce in line with reality. (According to a report issued last year by the Pew Center on the States, as of 2008 there was a $1 trillion gap, conservatively speaking, between what the states have promised in pensions and benefits for their retirees and what they have on hand to pay for them.) [...]

What the union’s leadership seems not to have considered is that public sentiment around budgets and public employees has shifted in a fundamental way. For decades, as Keshishian and Giordano were rising up through the union, it probably made sense to adopt a strategy of “no surrender,” to dig in and outlast the occasional politician who might dare to threaten the union’s hard-earned gains. But over the last 10 years or so, most American workers have come to expect less by way of benefits and security from their employers. And with political consensus building toward some kind of public-school reform, teachers’ unions in particular have lost credibility with the public. Forty-­six percent of voters in a poll conducted by Stanford and the Associated Press last September said teachers’ unions deserved either “a great deal” or “a lot” of blame for the problems of public schools.

And so, when the union draws a hard line against changes to its pay and benefit structure, you can see why it might strike some sizable segment of voters as being a little anachronistic, like mimeographing homework assignments or sharpening a pencil by hand. In a Pew Research Center poll this month, 47 percent of respondents said their states should cut pension plans for government employees, which made it the most popular option on the table.

Some unions are more attuned than others to this gradual changing of the climate. The American Federation of Teachers, for example, which is by far the smaller of the two major teachers’ unions nationally, has consciously tried to position itself as a more pragmatic union and has proposed a lot of its own classroom reforms in a campaign to get out in front of public opinion. In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, A.F.T. organizers have signaled that they will work with Christie on changes to the pension and health care system, in addition to negotiating on issues like merit pay. “Better to be seated at the table than to be on the menu” is how Joseph Del Grosso, the union’s leader in Newark, explained the strategy to me.

But the larger and mightier N.J.E.A. has made the decision to hunker down and fight all comers. And because of that, its leaders run the risk of confirming the public’s darkest suspicions about them, whether they have salient points to make or not. “They may have dug themselves a hole that will be very difficult to dig themselves out of,” Del Grosso says of his competitor. “They are on the menu.”

And so this is why Christie has gone out of his way to anoint the teachers’ union as the most sinister force in the galaxy — not because he has some long-buried torment with a teacher to work through, but because the union does a very capable job of representing for him everything about the public sector that voters don’t like.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Neocons and the Revolution: How the Arab revolt is rocking the neoconservative world. (JACOB HEILBRUNN, FEBRUARY 23, 2011, Foreign Policy)

For Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative thinker who leans toward realism, the answer is not so clear. Krauthammer has landed in the same camp as many in Israel, who fear instability in the region more than they welcome change. He noted in a Feb. 4 column, "Yes, the Egyptian revolution is broad-based. But so were the French and the Russian and the Iranian revolutions. Indeed in Iran, the revolution only succeeded -- the shah was long opposed by the mullahs -- when the merchants, the housewives, the students and the secularists joined to bring him down. And who ended up in control? The most disciplined, ruthless and ideologically committed -- the radical Islamists. This is why our paramount moral and strategic interest in Egypt is real democracy in which power does not devolve to those who believe in one man, one vote, one time." For good measure, he announced that having former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei in power would be a "disaster." (How would he know?) Meanwhile, neocon patron and former Vice President Dick Cheney declared that Hosni Mubarak was "a good man."

For fellow neocon travelers William Kristol, Elliott Abrams, and Paul Wolfowitz, by contrast, the Middle East tumult is cause for bliss and a new dawn, nothing less than the vindication of the Reagan (and George W. Bush) doctrines of spreading freedom whenever and wherever possible. Writing in the Weekly Standard in a Feb. 14 editorial titled "Stand for Freedom," Kristol thus denounced the conservative doomsayers who see an inevitable rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. The ouster of Mubarak is not a replay of Iran in 1979, Kristol concluded: "The Egyptian people want to exercise their capacity for self-government. American conservatives, heirs to our own bold and far-sighted revolutionaries, should help them." In the Washington Post, Kristol decried Obama for his "passivity." And in the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has advocated bombing Libyan airfields, Wolfowitz declared, "The U.S. should come down on the side of the Libyan people -- and of our principles and values. The longer the current bloodshed continues, the worse the aftermath will be."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


U.S. Fears Tripoli May Deploy Gas As Chaos Mounts (JAY SOLOMON, 2/23/11, WSJ)

The government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi hasn't destroyed significant stockpiles of mustard gas and other chemical-weapons agents, raising fears in Washington about what could happen to them—and whether they may be used—as Libya slides further into chaos.

Tripoli also maintains control of aging Scud B missiles, U.S. officials said, as well as 1,000 metric tons of uranium yellowcake and vast amounts of conventional weapons that Col. Gadhafi has channeled in the past to militants operating in countries like Sudan and Chad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


For Berra and Guidry, It Happens Every Spring (HARVEY ARATON, 2/24/11, NY Times)

With all the yearly changes made by the Yankees, Yogi Berra’s arrival at their spring training base adds a timeless quality to baseball’s most historic franchise.

Berra, the catching legend and pop culture icon, slips back into the uniform with the famous and familiar No. 8. He checks into the same hotel in the vicinity of George M. Steinbrenner Field and requests the same room. He plans his days methodically — wake up at 6 a.m., breakfast at 6:30, depart for the complex by 7 — and steps outside to be greeted by the same driver he has had for the past dozen years.

The driver has a rather famous name, and nickname, as well.

“It’s like I’m the valet,” said Ron Guidry, the former star pitcher known around the Yankees as Gator for his Louisiana roots. “Actually, I am the valet.”

When Berra arrived on Tuesday afternoon from New Jersey for his three- to four-week stay, Guidry, as always, was waiting for him at Tampa International Airport. Since Berra forgave George Steinbrenner in 1999 for firing him as the manager in 1985 through a subordinate and ended a 14-year boycott of the team, Guidry has been his faithful friend and loyal shepherd.

Guidry had a custom-made cap to certify his proud standing. The inscription reads, “Driving Mr. Yogi.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Six songs from The Baseball Project's 'Volume 2: High and Inside' (ESPN, 2/23/11)

The Baseball Project's second album, "Volume 2: High and Inside" (Yep Roc Records) isn't available in stores yet, but you can listen to an exclusive free stream of six of the 13 songs here in ESPN.com's Music in The Life through March 1.

Baseball Project

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


In the Middle East protests, a seismic shift (Fareed Zakaria, February 24, 2011, Washington Post)

For the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs. Since the 11th century, after conquests by Mongol, Persian and Turkish armies, Arab lands have been controlled by foreign powers. Most of these lands were ruled by the Ottoman Empire for centuries. By the late 18th century, as Ottoman power waned, the era of European expansion began, and for the next 150 years the Middle East fell under its sway. In the aftermath of World War I, Britain and France carved up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, creating most of the modern Middle Eastern states.

After World War II, as Europe's empires collapsed, the Middle East became a region of intense superpower rivalry. Moscow and Washington lined up a set of allies, to which they each promised military protection and aid. Then the Soviet empire crumbled, and the United States became the sole outside power. Most Arab countries had to make their peace with Washington - Libya's renunciation of its nuclear program being a vivid example. Iran has tried to set itself up as the alternative power balancing American hegemony, but it has had limited success outside of Lebanon.

Throughout this almost 1,000 years of foreign domination, the Arabs always had local rulers. But these sheiks, kings and generals were appointed or supported by the outside imperial powers. Most of the Middle East's monarchies were created out of whole cloth by the British - Saudi Arabia being the important exception. These local rulers were more skilled at negotiating up, to the imperial authorities, than they were at negotiating down, to their people. They ruled their people not through negotiations but by force and bribery (once the oil money began to flow). [...]

Bush put the problem of the Middle East's politics at the center of American foreign policy. His articulation of a "freedom agenda" for the Middle East was a powerful and essential shift in American foreign policy (as I wrote at the time). But because so many of Bush's policies were unpopular in the region, and seen by many Arabs as "anti-Arab," it became easy to discredit democracy as an imperial plot.

....the transition from dictatorship to democracy wouldn't be nearing completion ten years after W demanded it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Monopoly, Milton Friedman’s Way (DAMON DARLIN, 2/19/11, NY Times)

The precise details of our classic game are blurred by the alcohol consumed that night and the years that have passed since then, but this much is recalled. We decided that Monopoly was hostile to a free market because it restricted the number of houses or hotels one could buy. We voted that a player could buy as many hotels as a property could physically bear and rents would be raised proportionally.

But the bank soon began to run out of money. So we did what any government would do. We began printing more of it, by scribbling $500 on scraps of paper. We printed a lot of money.

Prices shot up, which we all knew, even in that inebriated state, was the consequence of expanding the money supply. (After all, the great economist told us, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”)

The inflation became so extreme that we eventually voted to alter the rules again: we’d cut the money supply. Any money we printed that came back to the bank would be taken out of circulation.

A severe depression kicked in, of course. Prices plummeted and it was a race to liquidate assets. One by one the players quickly went bankrupt, and sometime around 4 that morning the game was over.

Who won has long been forgotten, but it was one of the greatest games of Monopoly ever played because we got to change the rules.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Obama sits out budget brawl: Mum on cuts as shutdown looms (Kara Rowland, 2/23/11, The Washington Times)

As prospects for a government shutdown grow, the Obama White House has been largely absent from the political debate, issuing a veto threat to try on the Republicans’ spending-cuts bill but declining to offer publicly a counteroffer on what President Obama would be willing to accept.

Obama Sits Out State Fights (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 2/23/11, WSJ)
President Barack Obama, after initially lending his support to organized labor, has stepped back from the fights spreading in state capitals from Wisconsin to Tennessee, leaving union officials divided about his tactics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Motorola's Xoom: The iPad Gets Some Serious Competition (Harry McCracken, Feb. 23, 2011, TIME)

Then there's Motorola's Xoom, which goes on sale at Verizon retail locations this Thursday. (I've been testing a pre-release unit provided by Motorola and Verizon for the past few days.) It's the first honest-to-goodness, no-qualifications-necessary iPad rival from a major manufacturer to hit stores. That's in large part because it's also the first to pack Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the operating system that Google designed specifically with tablets in mind. The Xoom has its fair share of raw edges, but it's a great leap beyond earlier Android-based tablets such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab, which took the unsatisfying shortcut of using earlier versions of Android that were meant for smartphones.

Verizon will sell the Xoom for $799.99, a hefty $300.99 premium over the current iPad's starting price of $499; you can get a $200 discount if you commit to two years' worth of data service.

...not to own an Apple? And do you have to have a data plan or can you just connect to WiFi?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


'Fatah-Hamas unity gov't will be led by Salam Fayyad' (JPOST.COM, 02/24/2011)
Palestinian sources familiar with the details of a unity government deal being discussed by

Hamas and Fatah representatives, said that the proposed government would be headed by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and will include members from both factions and independents, Al-Hayat reported Thursday.

According to the report, the sources say that the plan has already been accepted by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and a number of Hamas leaders. The unity deal allows Hamas to continue ruling in the Gaza Strip as long as it refrains from violence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


We are all Neocons Now (Daniel Johnson, March 2011, Stanpoint)

It was in 1888, under an earlier Conservative-Liberal coalition government, that Sir William Harcourt is supposed to have said: "We are all socialists now." Well, we are all neocons now, if one is to judge by the general euphoria at the prospect of democracy in Egypt. The arbiters of liberal opinion had hitherto treated the "Bush Doctrine", which promoted the spread of democracy in the Middle East, as the abomination of desolation. An unholy alliance of the "Realists", the Islamists and the Left had consigned neoconservatism to the dustbin of history. They had watched with indifference as the gains of the years immediately after 2001 were reversed across the Muslim world, symbolised by the failure to offer even moral support to the Green Movement that was brutally suppressed in Iran two years ago. Yet suddenly the bien pensants were all for the overthrow of Mubarak, regardless of the consequences — which in practice meant (at least temporarily) the Muslim world's usual fallback: military rule. Even before Mubarak had packed his bags, the Obama Administration was putting out feelers to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the BBC insists is now "moderate". Egypt may indeed evolve into a genuine democracy, rather than a greater Gaza. But if it does, the credit should belong not to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but to George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and the neoconservatives.

The neocons are the ones fretting about how these Islamic revolutions are a threat to Israel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


401(k) savings hit record high (Jessica Dickler, February 23, 2011, (CNNMoney)

The average 401(k) balance hit a 10-year high at the end of last year as the recession waned and more Americans bulked up their retirement savings.

At the end of 2010, the average 401(k) balance had risen to $71,500 -- up 11.5% from $64,200 a year earlier, according to a report released Wednesday by Fidelity Investments.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


D.C., Hawaii Still Most Approving of Obama; All States Decline: Approval is higher than average in 12 states plus D.C., lower than average in 18 states (Frank Newport, 2/23/11, Gallup)

President Obama's average job approval rating fell from 58% to 47% between 2009 and 2010. This nationwide average obscures significant differences across the 50 states of the Union. Obama's average job approval in 2010 ranged from about two-thirds approval in one state (Hawaii) to well under one-third approval in another (Wyoming). More broadly, the president enjoyed 50% or higher approval in a group of 12 traditionally Democratic states, plus the District of Columbia. At the same time, he suffered average approval rates of 43% or less in 18 other states, most of which are traditionally "red" states.

A look at the 20 states in which Obama's approval rating is within three points of the national average may well provide a preview of where the most intense campaigning will occur in the coming 2012 presidential election. Most presidential elections are fought over the so-called swing states, whose voters can tilt enough in one political direction or the other to make their state competitive. Obama's 2010 presidential approval ratings would suggest that states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada -- all of which have average Obama approval ratings within one point of the national average -- may once again be the battlegrounds of the coming election.

...the UR might not even contest NH.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Sale of the Century: The deficit debate remains fixed on tax hikes and spending cuts, but there is another option. (Niall Ferguson, 2/20/11, Newsweek)

[T]here is another fiscal option that neither party seems to be considering. The U.S. needs to do exactly what it would if it were a severely indebted company: sell off assets to balance its books.

There are three different arguments against such asset sales. The first concerns national security. When Dubai Ports World bought the shipping company P&O in 2006—which would have given it control of facilities in a number of U.S. ports—the deal was killed in Congress in a fit of post-9/11 paranoia. The second argument is usually made by unions: private or foreign owners will be tougher on American workers than good old Uncle Sam. Finally, there’s the chauvinism that surfaced back in the 1980s when the Japanese were snapping up properties like Pebble Beach. How could the United States let its national treasures—the family silver—fall into the hands of inscrutable Asian rivals?

Such arguments were never very strong. Now, in the midst of the biggest crisis of American public finance since the Civil War, they simply collapse. First, standards of public safety and security are unlikely to be compromised by a change of ownership unless military technology is involved (and the U.S. has already sold a startling amount of that to foreigners, by the way). Second, the goal of public policy should not be to protect public-sector workers from market discipline that will raise their productivity. Finally, why is selling assets to Asians worse than paying them an annual rent called interest on the national debt?

The mystery is why freedom-loving Americans are so averse to privatization—a policy that has been a huge success nearly everywhere it’s been tried. From Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, where the word “privatization” was coined, to present-day China, selling off government-owned industries has not only improved the fiscal position of governments; it has usually enhanced the efficiency with which the sold assets are managed.

The figures are impressive. Since the 1990s, about 75,000 medium-to-large firms have been privatized all around the world, from Argentina to Zambia, as have hundreds of thousands of smaller enterprises. The total proceeds: $735 billion. The United States accounts for only a tiny fraction of that number. Other countries are miles ahead. On a visit to Beijing in November last year, I even heard a leading Chinese economist half-seriously recommend the privatization of the Great Hall of the People. Yet American fiscal reformers—including the boldest of them, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan—tend to steer clear of the P word.

So let’s get down to business. What can the U.S. federal government and the various bankrupt states put up for sale? No, not Yellowstone or Yosemite. Those natural wonders should always belong to the nation. And no, not Alaska, much as many moderate Republicans would love to sell Sarah Palin to the Chinese.

In fact, the U.S. government currently has about $233 billion worth of nondefense “property, plant, and equipment,” according to the Treasury’s Financial Management Service. That is almost certainly an understatement. The government owns somewhere between 600 million and 700 million acres of land, or about 30 percent of the country’s land surface, much of it in the Western states, where as much as half the land is federally owned.

Washington could also sell its stakes in the Southeastern Power Administration and related assets as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electric-power assets. There’s Amtrak (which runs at a loss) and the extensive hydroelectric empire of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And then there are the assets that have the potential to be among the most lucrative of all: America’s highways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


How unions think they're in charge (Patrick McIlheran, 2/22/11, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

If it were just about money, they say, Walker would have declared victory when unions finally said state workers would pay something toward their own retirements, as state law requires, and that they'd pay more than approximately $80 a month for top-notch health coverage. Walker's got all he needs now to balance the budget, Senate Democrats said from their hideout in Illinois, yet the governor insists that unions lose their ability to bargain over benefits.

So, ah-ha, it's about more than concessions!

Well, yes. Walker had already said as much.

If state workers pay 5.8% of their wages toward pensions and cover 12.6% of their health premiums, it saves the state about $300 million in the next budget. That budget is $3.6 billion in deficit. Obviously, Walker needs more. About 57% of the state's budget is aid to cities, counties and school districts, and Walker already has warned that he'll cut such aid significantly. He says he'll give local governments "the tools" to cope without having to slash services.

The tool is the ability to change benefits without having to bargain it, something he says could save local governments about $1.44 billion in the next budget. Yes, this is about more than money: It's about who is in charge of local budgets.

February 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Capuano now says he regrets urging union protesters to get 'bloody' (Michael Levenson, 2/23/11, Boston Globe)

US Representative Michael E. Capuano, who decried violent political rhetoric after last month’s fatal shooting rampage in Tucson, said today he regrets urging union workers at a rally in Boston on Tuesday to “get a little bloody.”

“I strongly believe in standing up for worker rights and my passion for preserving those rights may have gotten the best of me yesterday in an unscripted speech,” the Somerville Democrat said in a statement released this afternoon. “I wish I had used different language to express my passion and I regret my choice of words."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Why Are Americans So Ill-Informed on the Topic of Climate Change?: Scientists and journalists debate why Americans still resist the consensus among research organizations that humans are warming the globe (Robin Lloyd, February 23, 2011, Scientific American)

The frustration revealed itself during a handful of sessions at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., this past weekend, and it came to a peak during a Friday session, “Science without borders and media unbounded.”

Near the session’s conclusion, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel asked a panel of journalists why the media continues to cover anthropogenic climate change as a controversy or debate, when in fact it is a consensus among such organizations as the American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Association, National Research Council and the national academies of more than two dozen countries.

"You haven't persuaded the public," replied Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio. Emanuel immediately countered, smiling and pointing at Shogren, "No, YOU haven't." Scattered applause followed in the audience of mostly scientists, with one heckler saying aloud, "That's right. Kerry said it."

They never managed to convince us unwashed masses of the undeniable truth of their other theories either--like Darwinism, Marxism and Freudianism. We thereby avoided much damage to our society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Reform jobless insurance (Christopher Anderson and Jim Stergios, February 22, 2011 , Boston Globe)

[B]y reforming one program, Massachusetts could reap 10,000 new jobs, add $3.8 billion in wages, increase economic output by $7.5 billion, and take in $30 million of additional tax revenue over the next decade, according to the economic consulting firm IHS Global Insight. That program is unemployment insurance, and the Commonwealth’s current version is the costliest in the nation. Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance program is funded entirely by a tax on employers, who are willing to pay a premium to gain access to the Commonwealth’s skilled workforce, its world-class universities, and innovative culture.

But employers need a stable, predictable cost structure to create jobs. When it comes to unemployment insurance, the Tax Foundation’s 2011 study of state business tax climates ranks Massachusetts 49th. At $638 per job, the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance tax burden is twice the national average.

Make it self-insurance.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


With Thune out, Senate contenders for White House seem unlikely in 2012 (Paul Kane, February 23, 2011, Washington Post)

It's one of the oldest adages in Washington: Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. But at the moment it appears that what every single senator sees in the mirror is, oddly, a senator.

The most-talked-about potential presidential candidate from the Senate, John Thune (R-S.D.), announced Tuesday that he would not seek the presidency in 2012, leaving not a single member of the world's greatest deliberative body deliberating a White House bid.

If that holds, 2012 will be the first presidential campaign without a sitting senator since the modern history of White House campaigns began more than half a century ago.

....how much more evidence do we require that legislators aren't fit to govern?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Islamic entity set to dominate: a review of THE NEW MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST By Lorenzo Vidino (Joshua Sinai, Washington Times)

With the organization’s violent activities leading in 1948 to its official banning and al-Banna‘s assassination by government operatives, many of its ideologues and activists found refuge in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states in the 1950s and 1960s. There they became “teachers, lawyers, administrators, and bankers, taking intellectual jobs that the cash-rich but educationally underdeveloped Gulf countries had to fill in great numbers.”

This is how 84-year-old Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a teenager and graduated from Cairo’s prestigious al Azhar Faculty of Theology, landed in Qatar in the early 1960s, where, as described by Mr. Vidino, he proceeded over the years to establish an elaborate network of radical Islamic institutions that comprised religious schools, think tanks, publications and websites that disseminated his extremist theological views to millions of Muslims around the world.

After a 50-year exile, last week Sheik al-Qaradawi, whom Mr. Vidino describes as the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Pope,” returned to a hero’s welcome in Cairo, where he is likely to play an important religious role in the new regime.

It was also during this period that Muslim Brotherhood members began establishing the infrastructural seeds for what would become their dominant role in the life of Muslim communities in Western Europe and the United States.

It is among these communities, where, Mr. Vidino writes “there is no other Muslim movement that has the means to organize events even remotely on such a large scale. If a young Muslim or a potential convert wants to know more about Islam, he or she is more likely to have easy access to Brotherhood publications than to those of any other Islamic group.”

He adds, “Although their membership has remained fairly small, the Brothers have shown an enormous ability to monopolize the Islamic discourse, making their interpretations of Islam perhaps not yet mainstream but at least the most readily available, and putting their ideological stamp on any Islam-related issue, be it strictly religious or more properly political.”

The Muslim Brotherhood also succeeded in gaining access to Western government officials, Mr. Vidino observes, using them as a supposed “firewall” in some of their counterradicalization programs to counter the spread of pro-al Qaeda sympathies among Muslim communities in those countries. Such cooperation is problematic, Mr. Vidino explains, because it hasn’t reconciled its public condemnation of terrorism in general with its support for the Palestinian Hamas‘ use of such tactics against Israel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Overdue end to the old world order: The Arab uprisings shocked us all – but perhaps the even bigger surprise is that these empty regimes have taken so long to crumble. (Mick Hume, February 23, 2011, Spiked)

The political earthquake now bringing down shaky and rotting regimes across the Arab world has already done more than to remove some long-entrenched dictators such as Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia or even Gaddafi in Libya. More significantly it has removed one of the last remaining props from the old world order. In so doing, it has torn aside the veil that hid the weakness of both ‘strongman’ regimes in the region and of the Western powers – while revealing at the same time the gap where a radical political opposition ought to be.

UK prime minister David Cameron’s trip to the Middle East this week confirmed how far things have changed in the region. First, Cameron flew unannounced into Egypt, a former colony where British governments once organised coups and invasions, looking less like a powerful world statesman than a third-rate celebrity in search of a photo opportunity, an irrelevance to the historic events unfolding around him.

Then Cameron went on to Kuwait for what was supposed to be a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the victory of the US-led alliance over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the first Gulf War. In the event, it served more as an inadvertent advert for just how badly the Western alliance has lost its grip on events over the past two decades. Didn’t President George HW Bush declare that the 1990-91 war would found his ‘new world order’ of global peace and prosperity under American leadership? Twenty years on, some of the last vestiges of the old world order appear to be falling apart in the Middle East, and few seem prepared to take their orders from the West.

That first Gulf War was, lest we forget, an attempt to assert US and Western authority in the Middle East and the wider world, in the wake of the instability unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War.

...to assert the authority of the Muslim citizenry over themselves. The former was little different than the dictatorships. The latter is little different than how we govern ourselves. It makes the Middle East Western, which is what Wilson should have done after WWI, instead of trading decolonization for the League.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Benefits bubble has burst for Wisconsin unions (Dennis Byrne, February 22, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

Labor compensation is the largest component of busted local, state and federal budgets, and those costs are the horrific results of government employees' "right" to bargain collectively and, in some cases, to strike. Government employees have had the upper hand for decades thanks to collective bargaining practices, rules and laws. For example, to resolve deadlocked talks, they can require binding arbitration, which takes the decision-making out of the hands of the taxpayers' representatives and gives it to an outside arbitrator who often "splits the difference."

Public employees who regard the taxpayers' munificence as an entitlement have reason to worry. Walker's bill would limit collective bargaining to wage issues alone, cap wage increases at rises in the cost of living (unless approved in a local referendum), limit contracts to one year and freeze any wage increases until a new contract is negotiated. Union members would have to vote every year whether to retain the union as its collective bargaining agent, state agencies would be barred from collecting union dues and individual employees could refuse to pay those dues.

The bill excludes from collective bargaining home health care workers in Medicaid programs, family child-care workers and University of Wisconsin faculty, academic staff, hospital and clinic employees. It empowers the governor to declare a state of emergency and fire workers who take unauthorized absences of three days to participate in "an organized action to stop or slow work."

The bill contains more, much of which should serve as a template for the even more financially crippled state of Illinois. If the bill is an overreaction, it should have been expected.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Sanctuary Denied (Roman Goergen, 2/20/11, In These Times)

Once celebrated as a sanctuary for American soldiers unwilling to fight in Vietnam, present-day Canada, led by a conservative minority government, has turned its back on Iraq War deserters. The ones who have crossed the border since the 2003 invasion live in fear of deportation and imprisonment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Christian Number-Crunching reveals impressive growth: The annual "Status of Global Mission" report is unfailingly interesting, sometimes jarring, and occasionally provocative. This year it's all three. (GEORGE WEIGEL, 2/09/11, The Catholic Difference)

According to the report, there will be, by mid-2011, 2,306,609,000 Christians of all kinds in the world, representing 33 percent of world population – a slight percentage rise from mid-2000 (32.7 percent), but a slight percentage drop since 1900 (34.5 percent). Of those 2.3 billion Christians, some 1.5 billion are regular church attenders, who worship in 5,171,000 congregations or "worship centers," up from 400,000 in 1900 and 3.5 million in 2000.

These 2.3 billion Christians can be divided into six "ecclesiastical megablocks": 1,160,880,000 Catholics; 426,450,000 Protestants; 271,316,000 Orthodox; 87,520,000 Anglicans; 378,281,000 "Independents" (i.e., those separated from or unaffiliated with historic denominational Christianity); and 35,539,000 "marginal Christians" (i.e., those professing off-brand Trinitarian theology, dubious Christology, or a supplementary written revelation beyond the Bible).

Compared to the world's 2.3 billion Christians, there are 1.6 billion Muslims, 951 million Hindus, 468 million Buddhists, 458 million Chinese folk-religionists, and 137 million atheists, whose numbers have actually dropped over the past decade, despite the caterwauling of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Co. One cluster of comparative growth statistics is striking: As of mid-2011, there will be an average of 80,000 new Christians per day (of whom 31,000 will be Catholics) and 79,000 new Muslims per day, but 300 fewer atheists every 24 hours.

February 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 PM


Judge Upholds Health Law's Coverage Requirement (BRENT KENDALL, 2/22/11, WSJ)

In the latest ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said Congress was within its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce when it chose to penalize people who forgo health insurance.

"Congress had a rational basis for its conclusion that the aggregate of individual decisions not to purchase health insurance substantially affects the national health insurance market," Judge Kessler wrote in a 64-page opinion. "Consequently, Congress was acting within the bounds of its Commerce Clause power."

Judge Kessler said those who don't purchase insurance "will ultimately get a 'free ride' on the backs of those Americans who have made responsible choices to provide for the illness we all must face at some point in our lives."

...Social Security is still constitutional too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


God and Gettysburg: Nothing is sacred, as it were – not even the facts of American history, not even the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at the most solemn ceremony of our nation's history. (ROBERT P. GEORGE, August/September, 2010, First Things)

The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution of the United States of America – those were the three texts in the blue pamphlet I found on the table in front of me as I took my seat at a conference at Princeton.

On the cover was the logo of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, an influential organization whose boardmembers include former New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, controversial Obama judicial nominee Goodwin Liu, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, former solicitors general Drew Days and Walter Dellinger, and former attorney general Janet Reno. The new Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was a speaker at the society's annual conventions in 2005, 2007, and 2008. And inside the pamphlet was a page saying, "The printing of this copy of the U.S. Constitution and of the nation's two other founding texts, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, was made possible through the generosity of Laurence and Carolyn Tribe."

How nice, I thought. Here is a convenient, pocket-sized version of our fundamental documents, including Lincoln's great oration at Gettysburg on republican government. Although some might question the idea that a speech given more than eighty years after the Declaration qualifies as a founding text, its inclusion seemed to me entirely appropriate. By preserving the Union, albeit at a nearly incalculable cost in lives and suffering, Lincoln completed, in a sense, the American founding. Victory at Gettysburg really did ensure that government "by the people" and "for the people" – republican government – would not "perish from the earth."

I recalled that in sixth grade I was required to memorize the address, and as I held the American Constitution Society's pamphlet in my hands, I wondered whether I could still recite it from memory. So I began, silently reciting: "Four score and seven years ago . . . ," until I reached "the world will little note nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here." Then I drew a blank. So I opened the pamphlet and read the final paragraph:

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Deeply moving – but, I thought, something isn't right. Did you notice what had been omitted? What's missing is Lincoln's description of the United States as a nation under God. What Lincoln actually said at Gettysburg was: "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." The American Constitution Society had omitted Lincoln's reference to the United States as a nation under God from the address he gave at the dedication of the burial ground at Gettysburg.

...who took a Con Law course taught by an ACLU board member who kept a copy of the Bill of Rights on the wall...with all 9 Amendments. They'd simply dropped the inconvenient 2nd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Our Kind of Guy: A review of The Promise: President Obama, Year One, by Jonathan Alter. (Matthew Continetti, February 21, 2011, Claremont Review of Books)

"He's our kind of guy," Barack Obama said of Timothy Geithner, according to Jonathan Alter's new book, The Promise. What kind of guy is that? The answer says a lot about our president and his administration.

According to Alter, a senior editor at Newsweek magazine, Obama and his future Treasury Secretary bonded immediately. Beyond being born weeks apart in the summer of 1961, "both prided themselves on their unpretentiousness." Both grew up abroad—Obama in Indonesia, Geithner in "Zimbabwe, Zambia, India, and Thailand." Their families also shared a professional connection. "During the 1980s, Geithner's father, Peter Geithner, oversaw the Ford Foundation's micro-credit program and had even once met with one of its Indonesian program officers, S. Ann Dunham-Soetoro, Obama's mother."

Obama liked Geithner because they came from the same place: the world of elite universities, nonprofits, and government activism. This is the world in which Obama is most comfortable. He and Geithner are both products of a meritocracy that emphasizes brain power over the pursuit of profit, and global consciousness rather than American exceptionalism. Membership in this club was enough to form a strong bond between Geithner, a child of privilege, and Obama, a biracial kid from Hawaii who was partly raised by his grandparents. And so Obama has stood by Geithner through scandal and a disappointing economic recovery. To do otherwise, in some sense, would be a betrayal of his class.

The Obama Administration is filled with "our kind of guys." Alter calculates that a full quarter of Obama's political appointees have some connection to Harvard; the six other Ivy League schools are well represented, too. All told, Alter writes, "[m]ore than 90 percent of early appointees had advanced degrees, and only one (whose identity was never released) lacked at least a college degree." Yet, as well schooled as this group may be, it is removed from large tranches of American life. It is heavy on theory and light on practical knowledge. The tradesman and the businessman are nowhere to be seen. At this writing, not a single person "inside the councils of government" has run a publicly traded company.

Which is why they've been inept at running the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Sarah Palin using a secret Facebook account 'Lou Sarah' to boost public profile: Wonkette (Aliyah Shahid, 2/22/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

It looks like Sarah Palin is a really big fan of…herself.

The ex-Alaska governor appears to have a secret, personal Facebook account that she uses to publicly praise her widely-trafficked and much-analyzed Facebook page.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Could Obama decide a deficit deal is in his interest? (Fred Hiatt, February 20, 2011, Washington Post)

Mocked for the timidity of his proposed 2012 budget, President Obama appeared before reporters last week to insist that he is open to serious deficit reduction beyond what's laid out in his plan. People in Washington are so impatient, he complained. Why would anyone think that his 2,403-page fiscal prescription, released the day before, was his last word on the subject?

The co-chairmen of his fiscal commission, whose bipartisan success Obama had ignored in his proposal, welcomed the rhetorical opening. "Sadly, the president does punt on the larger issues," they wrote in a Sunday op-ed for The Post.

"And yet, he's right: A bipartisan process is where this must start," Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson added. "The real test is whether he follows through on these good intentions."

What are the odds of that? If Obama were serious about Social Security reform but believed that going first with a proposal would hurt its chances, he presumably would be laying the groundwork by speaking honestly about the challenge.

Instead, so far, we have the opposite.

Of course, the GOP's supposed deficit hawk, Paul Ryan, was so timid he voted against the commission plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Yemen's president compares protests to 'influenza' (Mohammed Jamjoom and Christine Theodorou, 2/21/11, CNN)

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh rejected demands Monday that he step aside, comparing the anti-government protests in his country to a virus sweeping through the region.

"This is a virus and is not part of our heritage or the culture of the Yemeni people," he told reporters. "It's a virus that came from Tunisia to Egypt. And to some regions, the scent of the fever is like influenza. As soon as you sit with someone who is infected, you'll be infected."

And the disease is the End of History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM

There are only limited street views for the Brothers' old neighborhood (Renshaw Avenue, East Orange, NJ) but this is a very cool site.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Union Bonds in Wisconsin Begin to Fray (A. G. SULZBERGER and MONICA DAVEY, 2/22/11, NY Times)

Rich Hahan worked at the General Motors plant here until it closed about two years ago. He moved to Detroit to take another G.M. job while his wife and children stayed here, but then the automaker cut more jobs. So Mr. Hahan, 50, found himself back in Janesville, collecting unemployment for a time, and watching as the city’s industrial base seemed to crumble away.

Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.

“Something needs to be done,” he said, “and quickly.” [...]

“Everyone else needs to pinch pennies and give more money to health insurance companies and pay for their own retirement,” said Cindy Kuehn as she left Jim and Judy’s Food Market in Palmyra. “It’s about time the buck stops.”

In Madison, the capital, which has become the focus of protests, many state workers and students at the University of Wisconsin predictably oppose the proposed cuts.

But away from Madison, many people said that public workers needed to share in the sacrifice that their own families have been forced to make.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Lady Mary, Downton Abbey, and the Conflicted Will (Jessica Brown, 2/22/11, Image)

A final example can be seen in the way she treats Matthew after they are engaged. As Lady Mary’s conversations with her aunt and grandmother reveal, she is not cavalier in breaking their engagement.

But is she as distraught with the act of dumping him as she is by the fact that this is what she must do? In questioning if she loves Matthew enough to stay with him even if he is not Downton’s heir, to answer ‘yes’ is unthinkable.

The sincere connection she made with Matthew is not enough to trump the desire to be the Lady Mary she has always been.

In many ways she is like literature’s most spirited, and trapped, heroines—Thackeray’s Rebecca Sharp, James’ Isabel Archer, and Wharton’s Lily Bart—whose ill desires, and self-knowledge of those ill desires, cause distress, but not alteration.

Is this just pride? Perhaps—but it could also be that these desires have become so defining that to alter them is to forfeit too much.

We have little reason to give Mary sympathy—but we do have reason for empathy. She shows us the tragedy of being caught in a certain version of ourselves, a version that we may not even like.

Given the choice to change, we prefer to preserve the desires that we imagine give us a place, a standing, in the world. These desires set us apart (make us feel special) and help us fit in, just as we’d like to.

Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, King David, and Dallas Willard have helped us understand the conflicting will. But to see it fleshed out so minutely, even glamorously, in Downton Abbey, has yielded an unusual opportunity for self-examination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Make this call in the wild: Should Oregon shoot barred owls to save spotted owls? (Eric Mortenson, 2/05/11, The Oregonian)

Come summer, federal wildlife officials expect to finish a draft environmental impact statement that most likely recommends taking to the woods with shotguns. Over the next year, in three or more study areas from Washington to northern California, they might kill 1,200 to 1,500 barred owls -- the larger, more aggressive competitor that has routed spotted owls from much of their territory and become, along with habitat loss, the biggest threat to their survival.

Honestly, they don't do this stuff just to amuse the rest of us.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


How we will release the grip of state control: A new White Paper will decentralise public services and replace targets with common sense. (David Cameron, 2/20/11, The Telegraph)

A week ago, I made clear that while the urgent priority of this Government is clearing up the mess Labour made of our economy, my mission in politics is to repair the breakdown in our society: the family breakdown and community breakdown that has done so much damage to people's lives – not to mention the costs that our deep social problems load on to the state.

The idea at the heart of this – the Big Society – is about rebuilding responsibility and giving people more control over their lives. But that doesn't just apply in areas like volunteering. It's as relevant when it comes to public services and the decentralisation of power. Indeed, I would argue that our plans to devolve power from Whitehall, and to modernise public services, are more significant aspects of our Big Society agenda than the work we're doing to boost social action.

We will soon publish a White Paper setting out our approach to public service reform. It will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you're-given model of public services. And it is a vital part of our mission to dismantle Big Government and build the Big Society in its place.

This change is long overdue. We all know the damage caused by centrally controlled public services. As a backbench MP, I campaigned vigorously against the arbitrary closure of special schools, which deprived so many parents of the choice they wanted. During the election, I lost count of the number of parents who complained to me about their inability to find a decent state school for their child. And though I was always so grateful for the tremendous care my eldest son received, I never understood why local authorities had more control over the budget for his care than Samantha and I did.

In the past decade, stories about bureaucracy over-ruling common sense, targets and regulations over-ruling professional discretion, and the producers of public services over-ruling the people who use (and pay for) them – became the norm, not the exception. This might have been worth it had it led to dramatic improvements, but the evidence shows otherwise. Whether it's cancer survival rates, school results or crime, for too long we've been slipping against comparable countries.

That's why we need a complete change, and that's what our White Paper will bring. The grip of state control will be released and power will be placed in people's hands.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The Showdown Over Public Union Power: At last, politicians and voters are fighting back against the most potent lobby for government spending and ever-higher taxes. (STEVEN MALANGA, 2/21/11, WSJ)

Government workers have taken to the streets in Madison, Wis., to battle a series of reforms proposed by Gov. Scott Walker that include allowing workers to opt out of paying dues to unions. Everywhere that this "opt out" idea has been proposed, unions have battled it vigorously because the money they collect from dues is at the heart of their power.

Unions use that money not only to run their daily operations but to wage political campaigns in state capitals and city halls. Indeed, public-sector unions especially have become the nation's most aggressive advocates for higher taxes and spending. They sponsor tax-raising ballot initiatives and pay for advertising and lobbying campaigns to pressure politicians into voting for them. And they mount multimillion dollar campaigns to defeat efforts by governors and taxpayer groups to roll back taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Special report: The Brotherhood’s role in Egypt's revolution (Charles M. Sennott, February 21, 2011, Global Post)

On Friday, Feb. 4, as the protests picked up in size and intensity, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were streaming into the square from all directions.

To avoid violent clashes brought on by Mubarak supporters spoiling for a fight, the Muslim Brotherhood established a series of checkpoints designed to keep everything under control.

The movement developed a quietly assertive role in organizing security inside the square. And it provided the muscle on the frontlines in case there were any clashes with Mubarak supporters.

Mohamed Abbas, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement and a leader in the square who worked with secular counterparts in the early planning before Jan. 25, saw a young man flashing his pocket Koran with the Muslim Brotherhood symbol of two crossed swords before a FRONTLINE camera.

Abbas gently pushed the young man’s arm down and said, “For God’s sake, don’t hold up your Koran. Hold up an Egyptian flag. For God’s sake. That’s not for the media.”

Later Abbas explained the confrontation, saying in halting English, “Egyptians don’t want to make this revolution into a Muslim Brotherhood show.”

He explained that he told the young brother, “Don’t show the ideology to the press because this is so bad for this revolution.”

Even at this point more than half way into the revolution, the brothers saw no gain – for the country or their own movement – in allowing Mubarak to paint the surging protests as inspired by the Brotherhood.

Their self-stated goal was to avoid confrontation and to execute a plan to keep the square occupied. They brought food in across the barbed wire. They strung plastic sheeting for tents. They printed huge banners depicting the martyrs who’d been killed by the police and loyal thugs of the Mubarak regime. They distributed wool blankets and set up a first aid clinic. Significantly, they also set up the first microphone and speaker tower, thus controlling the message in the square. They were doing all this without any public display that it was the Muslim Brotherhood.

"They're taking over"

But to some of the young protesters, their pervasive role was changing the revolution.

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a 21-year-old law student, who answered the first Jan. 25 call from Facebook to come to Tahrir Square, felt the Brotherhood was “taking over.”

He is from an affluent and Westernized part of Cairo. His tie-dye shirt and expensive jeans made him stand apart from the young Muslim Brotherhood crowd, who wore the cheap knock-offs of 1980s Western styles sold in street bazaars in poorer Cairo neighborhoods such as Imbaba and Shobra, from where many of them hail.

Mohamed Abbas, 26, the young Muslim Brotherhood leader who had shown us around the square and offered a glimpse of how they controlled it, was an example of this more working class crowd. [...]

Mohammed Abbas emerged as a young leader of the Muslim Brotherhood through the 18 days of the revolution. And we asked him about Abdel-Rahmans' concerns that the Brotherhood was “taking over.”

He explained that a lot of the youth inside Tahrir Square were getting to know each other for the first time and that misunderstandings were common.

“You know the regime kept us apart. This is one of the best things of these demonstrations is that we have a chance to come together. I will talk with him at some point. He shouldn’t feel that way,” Abbas said, referring to Abdel-Rahman who was sitting nearby and sharing some orange soda with a group of young friends who’d stopped by his tent.

“We do not want to take over. Just the opposite. We only want to be a part of this, not control it,” said Abbas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Farewell, My Lovely: How public pensions killed progressive California (Tim Cavanaugh, March 2011, Reason)

The Democratic Party has folded Sacramento into one of the tightest one-party grips in contemporary American politics. In November, bucking the national trend, Democrats in California won not just the governorship but 51 Assembly seats to Republicans’ 29, 24 state Senate seats to Republicans’ 14, and every statewide office. With the passage of a referendum lowering the number of legislative votes required to approve a state budget (from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority), California is that rarest of land masses for the 2011 Democratic Party: conquered territory. State Democrats have freedom to rule virtually unchallenged by the scattered, rusticated Republicans.

As 72-year-old Jerry Brown enters his second governorship, he has an agenda to match that power, with visions even greater than those that haunted his two-term administration of the 1970s and ’80s: building 20,000 megawatts of renewable power, laying a new high-speed rail network that will connect the state’s major cities, forging a statewide infrastructure for alternative energy, hiring thousands of green employees. The new governor’s environmental agenda is ambitious, untenably expensive, and indelibly popular with voters and lawmakers.

Yet when Brown looks out on Democrat-controlled California, he seems less like Caesar at the Rubicon than Wojciech Jaruzelski at the Gdansk Shipyard. Brown is champion of a workers’ party with monopoly control, yet all his plans are being derailed by a labor movement nobody can harness.

At press time, California was being governed under a state of economic “emergency” declared by Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in light of a staggering $28 billion budget shortfall expected in the next 18 months.

It gets worse. Medium-term unfunded liabilities for government employee pensions are pegged by the Legislative Analyst’s Office at $136 billion—and that’s a lowball figure. Legislative analyst Mac Taylor acknowledges in his current fiscal outlook report that the estimate leaves out billions in funding shortfalls at the pension funds for public school teachers and University of California employees. In the next 10 years, taxpayers will most likely be on the hook for somewhere between $325 billion and $500 billion. (Over the past five years, state revenues averaged $94.5 billion per year.)

...for transferring tax dollars to the civil service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


The dawning of Arab democracy: Most Jordanians don't want a revolution of the French kind; they just want a king who reigns rather than rules (Mary Ann Sieghart, 2/21/11, Independent)

Few Jordanians believe that any of this would have happened under Abdullah's father, King Hussein. Hussein was charismatic and wily in equal measure. Abdullah has little charisma and not enough cunning to placate the supporters he needs to keep on side. Hussein was widely seen as the father of the nation; his posters are still all over Jordan, 12 years after his death. Abdullah, by contrast, is turning into a Wizard of Oz figure: a patriarchal symbol the country wants to believe in, but who is underwhelming in the flesh.

It was in the home of Fares Fayez, a member of the Bani Sakher tribe, that this controversial letter was drafted. A grizzled, kindly-looking man, he received me in resplendent Bedouin dress, on kilim cushions, but took care to tell me that he also had a PhD in Political Science. "We want to go back to the 1952 constitution – it's our Magna Carta," he explained. That constitution gave the King many fewer powers than he has now.

"The absence of democracy has led to big problems of corruption," claims Fayez. "There are two classes in Jordan: 5 per cent of the people control 90 per cent of the riches of the country, and 95 per cent of the public control only 10 per cent. This has made poverty a big problem. Now, because of rising food prices, there is a lot of hunger and not just poverty."

And these are the words of a candid friend. "We're not his enemies; we're his advisers. We advise him better than the hypocrites who clap next to him." Is he worried he will be punished? He shakes with laughter. "For my country, for my land, we should sacrifice! I am like Oliver Cromwell."

This is why King Abdullah should be worried. I wasn't surprised to hear open criticism of him or his regime from youth leaders or from the Muslim Brotherhood. But when his traditional supporters are turning on him, that bodes ill.

So the next few weeks will be critical for a regime that is strategically important for the West. Most Jordanians now want a King who reigns but does not rule. They want a new election law that ensures the party with the most parliamentary seats will form a Government. They want corruption rooted out and they want to earn enough money to feed and clothe their families properly.

For the King to survive, he needs to enact all these reforms now, to get ahead of the curve of public opinion rather than being dragged reluctantly behind it. Most Jordanians don't want a revolution of the French kind; they just want a peaceful transition to democracy.

And if Abdullah's promises of greater democracy don't deliver? Then things could turn ugly. As the political analyst Labib Kamhawi told me: "The King has to initiate reforms or we force these reforms on him. It's simple." The Middle East always used to be complex. But now it's getting simpler by the day.

States like Jordan have a rare opportunity to avoid the error of our ways, keeping the monarchy as a final check on power in a democratic republic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


The U.S. Can Help Libyans Defeat Gadhafi (PAUL WOLFOWITZ, 2/21/11, WSJ)

Moammar Gadhafi is one of the world's most despicable despots. For 42 years he has held his subjects in a prison of fear that makes Hosni Mubarak's Egypt look free by comparison. He has trained and supported killers like Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, fueling horrific wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other African countries that have killed hundreds of thousands of Africans—an estimated 200,000 in Liberia alone, 5% of the population. And it is he—not his agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was welcomed back to Libya as a hero last year—who bears ultimate responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 and the deaths of 270 innocent civilians.

It is difficult to understand why the U.S. is equivocating when it should be expressing clear support for the amazingly brave Libyans whom Gadhafi is slaughtering. There is no way of knowing what may follow the Libyan dictator's demise, as Gadhafi has made sure that no alternative leadership could even show its face, that no civil-society groups could organize, and that foreign mercenaries are empowered in place of the kinds of professional militaries which have acted with distinction in Tunisia and Egypt. The danger that Islamist groups—the ones most able to organize under these conditions of extreme repression—may exploit a Libyan power vacuum is real. But that is no reason to hope for a continuation of Gadhafi's brutal buffoonery.

The U.S. should come down on the side of the Libyan people—and of our principles and values.

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February 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Libya defectors: Pilots told to bomb protesters flee to Malta: As Muammar Gadaffi's ambassadors and most of Libya's UN mission resign, two air force pilots escape rather than obey orders (John Hooper in Rome and Ian Black, 2/21/11, guardian.co.uk)

Two high-ranking Libyan air force pilots have who fled to Malta in their aircraft are reported to have told officials they escaped rather than carry out orders to bomb civilians.

The officers defected as Libyan diplomats in several countries and international organisations resigned in protest at the regime's violent response to the deepening crisis. They included Muammar Gaddafi's ambassadors to China, India, Indonesia and Poland, as well as Libya's representative to the Arab League and most, if not all, of its mission at the United Nations.

(Ex)Libyan Ambassador calls for stronger Obama statement (Ben Smith, 2/21/11, Politico)
Now here's a situation pretty much without precedent: The Libyan Ambassador to the U.S. just called on the Untied States to denounce his country's leaders -- and his employers -- more forcefully.

"I want the U.S. to tell the world and to work with the countries who love peace...they have to stop this," Ambassador Ali Ojli said, suggesting that he had resigned his post, in an interview with Al Jazeera English.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Poll: Fewer states are solidly blue (JENNIFER EPSTEIN, 2/21/11, Politico)

More than a dozen blue states turned purple between 2008 and 2010, Gallup found in its analysis of party affiliations in daily tracking polls.

Based on the party affiliations that people provided to pollsters, 14 states were considered solidly Democratic in 2010, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents outweighing Republicans by at least 10 percentage points. In 2009, that number was 24, and in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected, 30 states were solidly Democratic by Gallup’s measure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


The Tea Party Is Winning (E.J. Dionne, Jr., 2/21/11, TruthDig)

[W]e are acting here as if the only real problem the United States confronts is the budget deficit, the only test of leadership is whether a president is willing to make big cuts in programs that protect the elderly, and the largest threat to our prosperity comes from public employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Does Mike Huckabee still want to be president? (Karen Tumulty, 2/21/11, Washington Post)

It would indeed be tough for Huckabee to return to that budget-motel existence in Dubuque and Ottumwa, now that he is a bona fide media star. Thanks in large part to the celebrity he built in that losing presidential campaign, the former Baptist preacher is making serious money. Huckabee's various gigs include a weekly television show on Fox News, Paul Harvey-style commentaries on some 600 radio stations and a packed schedule of speaking engagements. In June, he'll be headlining a week-long cruise to Alaska.

When Huckabee and his wife, Janet, picked out the lot for the house they are building on a Florida beach, "We just looked at each other and started laughing. We thought, can you believe we can do this?" he said. "Our first apartment was $40 a month. Our closet in this house will probably be as large as that tiny little apartment."

And how much will such a palace cost? "Hadn't finished it yet. I honestly don't know," he said, dodging the question with practiced amiability. He did note, however, that the supposed pictures of it that a blogger posted on the Internet are actually of a house under construction down the street.

"It could be that I've found my niche," he said. "I may be doing what I need to be doing, which is very fulfilling."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM

CITIES WERE AN EXPERIMENT THAT FAILED (via Bryan Francoeur)[profanity alert]::

6 Things That Annoy You Every Day (Explained by Science) (C. Coville, Feb 20, 2011, Cracked)

Most of us are familiar with the bystander effect, an unfortunate phenomenon in which people in crowds ignore others in danger because they think that someone else in the vicinity will go to their rescue. But what about the generally dickish way people in cities act even when you're not being mugged? When you're in a small town, chances are that people will be friendly and happy to talk to you, and all you'll really have to worry about is being attacked by mutants while having sex in the forest.

In the city, however, everything from ordering food to passing people on the street will probably be accompanied by intense surliness. This is not because rural folk are inherently kinder, either: People from nonurban backgrounds tend to start acting the same way once they've been in the city for a while.

What The Hell Is Going On Here?

It's because of "urban overload," the incredibly large amount of information that those in urban environments must process. In one experiment testing the theory, a man wearing a cast pretended to drop some boxes of books while hidden observers counted how many strangers would offer to help. What determined the number of people who stopped to help wasn't whether passersby were wearing business suits or Stetsons, but whether a noisy piece of machinery was audible in the background. More than five times as many people stopped to help in a quiet environment than in a noisy one.

According to science, it works like this: Modern city dwellers must wade through thousands of potential social interactions every day. In order to deal with this, they must be selective about what they focus on. This leads them to unconsciously ignore "unimportant" information, whether it's a flashing strip club advertisement or an injured kitten.

The theory was first proposed in 1970 by Stanley Milgram, who observed that city dwellers try to cope by using "filtering devices." He meant it metaphorically back then, but the fact that we started stuffing real filtering devices into our ears as soon as they were invented means that his theory is holding up pretty well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Gov. Cuomo speech drowned out with Charles Barron-led yells of 'Tax the rich!' (Glenn Blain, 2/21/11. NY DAILY NEWS )

Gov. Cuomo's speech on Sunday night to the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators was interrupted with chants of "Tax the rich!" led by City Councilman Charles Barron.

Cuomo received a warm welcome as he began to address the group, but within moments Barron (D-Brooklyn) did a Kanye West and stole the spotlight.

...that said, "Eat the poor," but he's a conservative and has a sense of humor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


...it had to be better than this one, which consumed countless hours of our youth:

On the other hand, this one was actually fun.

And, of course, baseball, being better in all things, had Strat-O-Matic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Egypt, Tunisia . . . and Iran (Shibley Telhami, 2/15/11, National Interest)

While the immediate focus will inevitably be on the start of a new era with all its unknowns and complexities, we need to think deeply about the meaning of the Egyptian uprising and its implications for American foreign policy. A good place to start is to reflect on three powerful conclusions of one of the key young organizers of the uprising, Wael Ghonim, as he was interviewed on Egyptian Dream TV and elsewhere since.

First, this uprising is less about food and more about dignity. Sure, poverty, especially in the extreme, can add to people’s sense of humiliation and powerlessness, particularly where the gap between rich and poor is growing. But neither Ghonim nor his fellow organizers were poor or underprivileged—even if the revolution ultimately became far broader in its scope and more varied in its makeup.

Second, Ghonim, weeping, pronounced to his audience repeatedly, “We are not traitors, we are not traitors,” without any prodding from his interviewer. It is hard to overestimate the deep fear of foreign control that is prevalent in the political culture, not only in Egypt, but elsewhere in the Arab world, and which is cultivated by governments in the region to rally the public behind them. Egyptians and Arabs want liberty and freedom from repressive regimes, but many fear imperialism and outside domination even more.

Third, empowerment—the knowledge of what others outside one’s borders have, the connectedness to the rest of the world, being plugged into global communications—was the principle reason for the drive and the success of the initial organizers of the uprising. Certainly, the information revolution and openness to the outside world were not the cause of the uprising. For many years we have observed a seemingly untenable and widening gap between governments and publics but one without obvious and observable consequences—in part because everyone assumed that mobilizing millions of angry people and empowering them requires substantial political and social organizations the likes of which governments prevented from ever emerging. But, that the information revolution provided a new vehicle of both empowerment and mobilization can no longer be doubted. That this revolution is expanding rapidly we have been measuring every year. The genie is out of the bottle.

It is imperialism, but it's universal and benign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Governor to Hospitals: End Building Boom Now (Elaine Grant, February 17, 2011, NHPR)

Governor Lynch: “Instead of using that excess cash to reduce health care costs, hospitals spend it on advertising, trying to attract market share from each other; on buying physician and laboratory practices across the state and increasing overhead charges to patients.”

Calling for a halt to expansion, Lynch said hospitals spent half a billion dollars in the last five years building new facilities and buying equipment.

And they have at least $70 million dollars more in projects on the drawing board.

Governor Lynch:“…And these facilities are driving up utilization and driving up health care costs. Those are costs that we all see in our ever-increasing health insurance premiums. To that, I say enough.”

Health care insiders and policy makers for years have been worried about what they say is runaway building by the state’s hospitals

Paul Spiess chairs a legislative study committee on hospital cost containment.

He says hospitals have spent close to a billion dollars in the last decade on new facilities and amenities – from fancy lobbies to color MRIs

Paul Spiess, former chair, Citizens Health Initiative and chair, SB 505 Hospital Cost Containment Commission:“It’s sort of developed into an arms race.”

An arms race to attract patients.

Paul Spiess:“There’s not a lot of evidence that it’s particularly improving care or that there is a rising need for the additional facilities.”

What does better health care have to do with anything?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The Moral Crusade Against Foodies: Gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony. (B. R. Myers, March 2011, The Atlantic)

We have all dined with him in restaurants: the host who insists on calling his special friend out of the kitchen for some awkward small talk.

...is that you get to avoid the sorts of people who eat and cook at restaurants.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Postcolonial Time Disorder: Egypt and the Middle East, Stuck in the Past (James D. Le Sueur, 2/14/11, Foreign Affairs)

Mubarak was just 24 years old when Nasser took power. He was part of a generation of leaders in the developing world who, like Nasser, came to view hegemonic nationalism as necessary and used the military to secure national unity at the expense of civic freedoms. When Mubarak took office after Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated, he rolled back Sadat's interior political reforms and repressed his political opponents, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is safe to say that most of the protesters who filled Tahrir Square had an altogether different view of nationalism, the military, technology, ideology, and most important, time. Mubarak, however, subscribed to an outdated nationalist ideology that did not tolerate democratic discussion and was trapped in a view of the world that refused to account for change. For Mubarak, time stood still, so protesters clamoring for change made no sense historically to him.

Likewise, xenophobic Egyptian state propaganda presented the protesters as part of a foreign, almost neocolonial, conspiracy meant to undo the nation. As a result, the military -- which has been the beneficiary of autocracy and generous foreign aid packages from the United States and elsewhere -- found itself straddling the past and the future as it faced its first true crossroads since 1952. It had to make a decision about its place in time.

Many leaders within and outside the Middle East suffer from the same type of historical jetlag as Mubarak. As a result, they are similarly unable to keep pace with younger populations demanding political reform. Last month, activists in Tunisia chased 74-year-old Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali into exile, which emboldened Egyptians to get rid of Mubarak. With both men out of power, leaders from Algeria and Libya to Yemen have been put on notice.

Like Mubarak, other "presidents for life" see popular challenges to state authority as inauthentic and conspiracy-driven -- an understandable worldview, since many of them cut their teeth during decolonization. They suffer from what can be called postcolonial time disorder, or PTD, meaning that they still subscribe to an out-of-date philosophy of governance, according to which authoritarianism is the only cure for external or internal political challenges. They have a Manichean inability to think outside the logic of totalizing state power.

PTD originated in countries' efforts to jump-start history during the anticolonial national liberation movements before and after World War II, when the great European empires ran the show and stamped out democratic movements. Decolonization and the postcolonial periods were so hard fought that states could claim that only their uncontested authority would prevent a return to the past.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


From Tunis to Cairo to Riyadh?: The Saudi royal family is corrupt, infirm, increasingly criticized in social media—and about to face a delicate, perhaps divisive succession process. (KAREN ELLIOTT HOUSE, 2/15/11, WSJ)

Thirty years of visiting Saudi Arabia, including intensive reporting over the past four years, convinces me that unless the regime rapidly and radically reforms itself—or is pushed to do so by the U.S.—it will remain vulnerable to upheaval. Despite the conventional wisdom that Saudi Arabia is unique, and that billions in oil revenue and an omnipresent intelligence system allow the regime to maintain power by buying loyalty or intimidating its passive populace, it can happen here.

The many risks to the al Saud family's rule can be summed up in one sentence: The gap between aged rulers and youthful subjects grows dramatically as the information gap between rulers and ruled shrinks. The average age of the kingdom's trio of ruling princes is 83, yet 60% of Saudis are under 18 years of age. Thanks to satellite television, the Internet and social media, the young now are well aware of government corruption—and that 40% of Saudis live in poverty and nearly 70% can't afford a home. These Saudis are living Third World lives, suffering from poor education and unable to find jobs in a private sector where 90% of all employees are imported non-Saudis. Through new media the young compare their circumstances unfavorably with those in nearby Gulf sheikhdoms and the West.

As Cairo was erupting in revolution in recent weeks, Saudis were treated to a glaring example of government incompetence as the kingdom's second largest city, Jeddah, flooded with sewage and rainwater for the second time in 14 months. This, despite promises from King Abdullah after the first flood to punish those responsible for leaving most of Jeddah without proper sewage or drainage. The combination of revolution in Cairo and government ineptitude in Jeddah produced widespread Saudi cynicism and anger on the Internet. [...]

The traditional sources of stability in Saudi Arabia have been the royal family and the Wahhabi religious establishment with which it is closely intertwined. These twin pillars were losing credibility and legitimacy even before events in Egypt.

Al Saud legitimacy rests largely on personifying, promoting and protecting Islam—indeed, the Saudi monarch refers to himself not as king but as "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques." Yet the royal family increasingly is seen by its subjects as profligate, corrupt and unable to deliver efficient government.

The religious establishment, even as it enforces its uniquely austere brand of Islam, is increasingly seen as prostituting itself by using religion to support whatever the ruling family wants. "We are hypocrites tricking each other, lying to each other as the government has taught us to do," one deeply devout imam tells me. "We are not Islamic."

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February 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


The Day the Movies Died: No, Hollywood films aren't going to get better anytime soon. Mark Harris on the (potential) death of the great American art form (Mark Harris, February 2011, GQ.com)

You want to understand how bad things are in Hollywood right now—how stifling and airless and cautious the atmosphere is, how little nourishment or encouragement a good new idea receives, and how devoid of ambition the horizon currently appears—it helps to start with a success story.

Consider: Years ago, an ace filmmaker, the man who happened to direct the third-highest-grossing movie in U.S. history, The Dark Knight, came up with an idea for a big summer movie. It's a story he loved—in fact, he wrote it himself—and it belonged to a genre, the sci-fi action thriller, that zipped right down the center lane of American popular taste. He cast as his leading man a handsome actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who happened to star in the second-highest-grossing movie in history. Finally, to cover his bet even more, he hired half a dozen Oscar nominees and winners for supporting roles.

Sounds like a sure thing, right? Exactly the kind of movie that a studio would die to have and an audience would kill to see? Well, it was. That film, Christopher Nolan's Inception, received admiring reviews, became last summer's most discussed movie, and has grossed, as of this writing, more than three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide.

And now the twist: The studios are trying very hard not to notice its success, or to care. Before anybody saw the movie, the buzz within the industry was: It's just a favor Warner Bros. is doing for Nolan because the studio needs him to make Batman 3. After it started to screen, the party line changed: It's too smart for the room, too smart for the summer, too smart for the audience. Just before it opened, it shifted again: Nolan is only a brand-name director to Web geeks, and his drawing power is being wildly overestimated. After it grossed $62 million on its first weekend, the word was: Yeah, that's pretty good, but it just means all the Nolan groupies came out early—now watch it drop like a stone.

And here was the buzz three months later, after Inception became the only release of 2010 to log eleven consecutive weeks in the top ten: Huh. Well, you never know.

"Huh. Well, you never know" is an admission that, put simply, things have never been worse.

It has always been disheartening when good movies flop; it gives endless comfort to those who would rather not have to try to make them and can happily take cover behind a shield labeled "The people have spoken." But it's really bad news when the industry essentially rejects a success, when a movie that should have spawned two dozen taste-based gambles on passion projects is instead greeted as an unanswerable anomaly. That kind of thinking is why Hollywood studio filmmaking, as 2010 came to its end, was at an all-time low—by which I don't mean that there are fewer really good movies than ever before (last year had its share, and so will 2011) but that it has never been harder for an intelligent, moderately budgeted, original movie aimed at adults to get onto movie screens nationwide. "It's true at every studio," says producer Dan Jinks, whose credits include the Oscar winners American Beauty and Milk. "Everyone has cut back on not just 'Oscar-worthy' movies, but on dramas, period. Caution has made them pull away. It's infected the entire business."

...without the special effects budget and DiCaprio?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Bingaman Exit Gives GOP an Opening in a Toss-Up Race: Given the numbers, a GOP Senate majority looks "inevitable." (Jennifer Duffy, February 18, 2011, National Journal)

Until the 2010 midterm elections, Democrats had had a fairly good run in New Mexico. Then-Vice President Al Gore carried the state by just over 300 votes in the 2000 presidential contest. Although President George W. Bush won here in 2004, it was by a single percentage point and by less than 6,000 votes. President Obama avoided a nail-biter of a race in 2008, soundly defeating GOP presidential nominee John McCain, 57 percent to 42 percent.

Democrats also held the governorship for eight years, and they now have both U.S. Senate seats, although they didn’t win the second until 2008. Also that year, the party won all three seats in the congressional delegation. Democrats held majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature with margins of 45 seats to 25 seats for Republicans in the House and 27 seats to 15 seats in the Senate.

Republicans, though, made real gains in 2010. Then-Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez won the governorship, defeating then-Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, 53 percent to 47 percent, to become the nation’s first Hispanic female governor.

Republicans picked up one of the two House seats they lost in 2008, and they made gains in the state House (the Senate was not on the ballot), although they remain in the minority. Democrats now hold 37 seats to 33 for Republicans. In short, New Mexico is a more competitive state than many people believe, and Bingaman’s retirement is welcome news to Republicans.

Republicans were hoping to give Bingaman a race this cycle, particularly since he has gotten just nominal challenges in recent years. He won reelection in 2006 with 71 percent of the vote. Former Rep. Heather Wilson is high on the GOP’s recruiting list.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


How We Know: a review of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
by James Gleick (Freeman Dyson, 3/10/11, NY Review of Books)

The explosive growth of information in our human society is a part of the slower growth of ordered structures in the evolution of life as a whole. Life has for billions of years been evolving with organisms and ecosystems embodying increasing amounts of information. The evolution of life is a part of the evolution of the universe, which also evolves with increasing amounts of information embodied in ordered structures, galaxies and stars and planetary systems. In the living and in the nonliving world, we see a growth of order, starting from the featureless and uniform gas of the early universe and producing the magnificent diversity of weird objects that we see in the sky and in the rain forest. Everywhere around us, wherever we look, we see evidence of increasing order and increasing information. The technology arising from Shannon’s discoveries is only a local acceleration of the natural growth of information.

The visible growth of ordered structures in the universe seemed paradoxical to nineteenth-century scientists and philosophers, who believed in a dismal doctrine called the heat death. Lord Kelvin, one of the leading physicists of that time, promoted the heat death dogma, predicting that the flow of heat from warmer to cooler objects will result in a decrease of temperature differences everywhere, until all temperatures ultimately become equal. Life needs temperature differences, to avoid being stifled by its waste heat. So life will disappear.

This dismal view of the future was in startling contrast to the ebullient growth of life that we see around us. Thanks to the discoveries of astronomers in the twentieth century, we now know that the heat death is a myth. The heat death can never happen, and there is no paradox.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Quite a double-act: Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett's stormy partnership equals any onstage drama (Lesley McDowell, 14 January 2011, Independent)

When Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, "every word she says is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'", a certain attitude was fostered. Not only to the celebrated playwright's experiences in war-torn Spain during the 1930s or before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s, but also to her personal life. Hellmann, this attitude said, was a myth-maker of the worst kind. She couldn't be trusted to tell the truth, not even about those she loved. So what if she wrote in her memoirs that crime writer Dashiell Hammett, with whom she lived on-and-off for 30 years, was the most important person in her life? "Did anyone ever see them together?" queried Gore Vidal. [...]

After 1930, he wrote only one major novel, The Thin Man, a semi-autobiographical account of his relationship with Hellman. His depressive moods, his reliance on alcohol and his promiscuous ways (he was felled by gonorrhoea several times) damaged his ability to write. The fire had gone out of his own literary ambitions, but that didn't mean he couldn't take an interest in another's writing. After his death, Hellman wrote, "in time I came to learn that he was good to all writers who needed help, and that the generosity had less to do with the writer than to do with the writing and the pains of writing."

Hellman's experience of the "pains of writing" were always assuaged by Hammett's presence, his advice and criticism, even though theirs was the stormiest of liaisons. At one party, during an argument, he punched her on the jaw. On the opening night in New York of The Children's Hour, a play that Hammett had suggested to Hellman after reading about a 19th-century court case where two headmistresses of a girls' school in Scotland were accused by a pupil of having a lesbian affair, she called him in LA to tell him how well it had gone. A woman answered, saying that she was his secretary. When Hellman realised it was 3am, and Hammett had no secretary, she jumped on a plane and trashed his house.

In response to his affairs, she would have affairs, desperate to make him jealous. That they infuriated each other often was clear: on one occasion, she found him grinding a lit cigarette stub into his cheek. "I said, 'What are you doing?' 'Keeping myself from doing it to you,' he said."

But always there was the writing. Hellman's instant success with The Children's Hour meant she wasn't afraid of controversy (the play was initially banned in the UK) and its follow-up, Days To Come, was an angry, political work about factory strikes. It failed, however, and many have blamed Hammett's influence: the Communist sympathiser who had once worked as a Pinkerton's agent was politically active and encouraged Hellman to be so.

It's a tragedy that he wasted his later years writing her melodramas instead of his own books, but what choice did he have after betraying Sam Spade's principles (and, thereby, his country)?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Denmark’s answer to The Wire: A recipient of whispered and tweeted praise, marvellous new cop drama The Killing deserves to be more than cult viewing. (David Bowden, 2/18/11, spiked)

[A] shabby and clinically depressed Swedish detective made it on to Sunday night primetime in the shape of an unshaven Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander, which was seamlessly supplanted by the stylish, Italian-set Zen in the past few weeks. There’s evidently a bit of a trend for foreign detectives at the minute and, particularly in publishing, the more Scandinavian the better.

Even so, The Killing hardly looked like an obvious addition to this fashionable set. Unlike BBC1’s Wallander, it’s the original version with subtitles, which is a not-inconsiderable concentration test for our cult-hungry, cosmopolitan sophisticates. Furthermore, its pace is glacial: the first series is not yet even halfway through its 20-hour run, and so far we’ve only just about established that someone has been killed. And it’s set in Copenhagen. Forget Cyril Connelly’s line about the pram in the hallway being the enemy of good art: social democracy and zero-carbon energy provision don’t sound like a promising backdrop for bleak crime drama.

Yet, for all that, The Killing effortlessly achieves the skill of great drama: packing a lot in while seeming to do very little. While The Wire spent several series slowly building its way through the intertwining networks of police, civic institutions, politics and the media to build its Dickensian portrait of American society in decline, The Killing throws you right into it. In fact, while the comparisons to that critical darling have already become something of a cliché, The Killing resembles something closer to Paul Abbott’s 2003 political thriller State of Play on a grander scale, or what the similarly slow-burning US legal drama Damages could have been if it had left its environmentalist, anti-corporate prejudices at the door.

In fact, lest anyone get carried away with the slightly snooty Europhilia (ie, they wouldn’t make this in the US or the UK), which has thus far underpinned some of its rave reviews, The Killing‘s series-long focus on a single investigation of a crime pulling back to reveal the inner workings of society was pioneered on Steven Bochco’s marvellously underrated courtroom drama Murder One back in the mid-1990s. The Killing’s brilliance is that, given an unusual amount of room to breathe and to develop its story, it is able to incorporate all of the best storytelling techniques which would normally serve as individual USPs for other dramas: strong female detective (Prime Suspect), competing attitudes towards policing styles (The Shield), the impact on victims’ families (Murder), psychological realism (Cracker) and the political-social issues behind it all (everyone good, from Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon onwards). It may be the new The Wire, but only because all great crime genres feed off the same rich tradition.

Of course, I am in the unusual position of reviewing something before it’s even close to over, so the whole thing may turn out to be a crushing bore or disappointment by the end of next week. But don’t put off watching it because it looks difficult and bleak; and don’t watch it because it’s foreign and bleak and therefore so European. Just watch it.

Nor should one leave out a comparison to Canada's lamentably unknown DaVinci's Inquest.

But why is AMC adapting it instead of just broadcasting the original? The results for Life of Mars were disastrous.

-The Killing: BBC4's new Scandinavian import: It's Prime Suspect meets State Of Play via Wallander and every bit as good as that sounds. Meet Inspector Sarah Lund, star of Danish cult hit Forbrydelsen (The Killing) (Michael Hogan Friday 21 January 2011, The Guardian)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


Egypt officially recognizes moderate Islamic party (AP, 2/20/11)

A moderate Islamic party outlawed for 15 years was granted official recognition Saturday by an Egyptian court in a sign of increasing political openness after the fall of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

Al-Wasat Al-Jadid, or the New Center, was founded in 1996 by activists who split off from the conservative Muslim Brotherhood and sought to create a political movement promoting a tolerant version of Islam with liberal tendencies. Its attempts to register as an official party were rejected four times since then, most recently in 2009.

In 2007, Human Rights Watch accused Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party of using the law that governs the formation of political parties to maintain a virtual monopoly over political power in Egypt by denying opponents the right to form parties.

The founder of the newly recognized party, Abu al-Ila Madi, said Saturday's ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court was "a positive fruit of the Jan. 25 revolution of the freedom generation."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Republican governors strike at heart of Democratic Party (JONATHAN MARTIN & BEN SMITH, 2/20/11, Politico)

These showdowns in the states — expressed most spectacularly this week in Wisconsin’s capital — have brought to life a longstanding cliché of government: The most consequential political action and the most serious policy debates are not taking place in Washington, which appears unlikely to tackle any big-ticket items, but rather beyond the Beltway, in the state capitols, which Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously labeled the “laboratories of democracy.”

With a budget-cutting and reform zeal unseen since the mid-1990s, a group of Republican chief executives are using difficult economic times to press an ambitious policy agenda that makes their GOP counterparts in Washington seem like timid incrementalists.

Their goal: to shatter a bipartisan consensus on public labor that’s shaped politics in the West, the Northeast and the Upper Midwest since the 1960s.

Welfare reform was the centerpiece legislation at issue for the new GOP governors in the 90s. Today, public employee rights and benefits are on the firing line. Between the two, there is an important distinction: the political stakes are much greater now.

Aside from social justice advocates and traditional liberals, welfare recipients had little political clout. To take on the well-organized and politically connected teachers and state workers, however, is to strike at the heart of the Democratic Party in many states.

Fairly or not--and I'd obviously argue it's entirely fair--the candidacies of Bob Dole and John McCain and the presidencies of Barack Obama, LBJ, and JFK--make it extremely difficult for a congressman to argue he's qualified for the presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


US and Iran could become strategic allies – with India's help: Tighter sanctions and military threats haven't swayed Iran over its nuclear program. What the West really needs is genuine rapprochement – the kind that India is especially suited to facilitate. (Neil Padukone, February 20, 2011, CS Monitor)

ran’s geography, petro-power, and Islamist credentials inevitably empower Tehran. America would only benefit if this influence aligned with its own interests. Engaging Iran also opens up its 77-million-strong population to foreign trade and contact after decades of sanctions, strengthening civil society. A lack of engagement, however, leaves the field open for competitors like China to fill the gap. [...]

[I]ndia and Iran share cultural ties that go back millennia, and strategic interests and economics remain strong points of confluence. Both seek an alternative to the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as a new transport line to Central Asia. In 2008, India-Iran trade reached $30 billion, considering third-country intermediaries. In 2009, Iran became the second-largest supplier of crude oil to India, while Indian firms seek to develop Iran’s gas fields, with investments of more than $11 billion over the coming years.

America and Iran are de facto allies already, though neither can admit it politically for now. After all, the first half of the WoT was little more than a matter of liberating the Shi'a from the Sunni.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


The Human Dignity Conspiracy (Peter Augustine Lawler, 04/17/09, First Principles)

The thoughtful evolutionary scientist Daniel Dennett, in his very positive contribution to the Council volume, says that human beings are different enough from the other animals to need morality, and he adds, contrary to Pinker, that we even need confidence in our equal dignity. He agrees with Pinker that claims for dignity have been basically Christian, and that these claims have been refuted by the scientific discovery that everything we think and do has a material cause. Our beliefs in dignity and the soul have the same status as the discredited belief in mermaids. It is no sillier to believe in a half-woman/half-fish that no one has seen than to believe in a half-body/half-soul that no one has seen.[15]

Dennett, however, has a scientific explanation for why we need the scientifically discredited belief in dignity. We are social animals who have brains big enough to conceive of projects that will enable us to live purposeful lives, but there is no scientific basis for the freedom at the foundation of human conceptions of purpose. So we cannot live well without useful illusions—free will, love, dignity, etc. Even the idea that any particular human life matters at all is merely a fiction—but a fiction worth maintaining. We have seen that nihilism has all sorts of undesirable social consequences; therefore, we need to sustain these illusions in the face of what we know about our accidental, material, and evolutionary existences.

Dennett’s ingenious solution to the incompatibility between scientific truth and our need for dignified belief is that we should justify our allegiance to the useful fiction of equal dignity by acknowledging the good life it makes possible. It is indispensable for the habits and trust needed to perpetuate social and political institutions. We can stop all this pointless obsessing over whether the belief is actually true by just admitting that it is not, but science can still explain why we need to believe it anyway.

Dennett’s pragmatic hope that we can stop caring about whether our belief in dignity is actually true is not shared by any other author in the Council’s book. In fact, the pragmatic philosopher Richard Rorty had a simpler idea: let’s call true whatever belief makes us happy. Rorty, of course, never called his approach dignified. Dennett himself is too dignified to deny the truth of what he thinks he knows, and there is some dignity, too, in his humane intention to spare us the consequences of a dignity-free world. It seems he denies the reality of the dignity he himself displays only because to do otherwise would require admitting that human beings are mysteriously free from nature or materialistic causation. Yet in Dennett’s well-­intentioned confusion, he remains stuck with acknowledging that, in some way, we are the only species that can be held responsible for perpetuating both human nature and the very conditions of life on our planet. Is there really no dignity in that?

The eloquent and profound Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender agrees with Dennett in his contribution that any adequate defense of equal dignity would have to be Christian. For Dennett, this means that there is nothing you can really do to make yourself dignified. For Meilaender, there is nothing you can do to make yourself undignified, because your dignity comes from God.[16]

Meilaender acknowledges that the limited truth of the classical view of dignity is reflected in the ways we rank people according to their excellence in life. That is why the reconciliation of equality and dignity cannot be achieved through our relationships with each other, only in our common relation to God. We are all loved by and equally distant from Him. Christianity, Meilaender claims, “caused a great rupture in Western culture...that gradually reshaped the classical notion of dignity.” We cannot see our equal dignity without Christian eyes—which is not quite the same as saying “without Christian belief.” There is a dim perception of the truth about the mystery of our being in anyone who reflects compassionately about our common weaknesses and limitations, especially “our common subjection to mortality.” Every attempt to speak of dignity or equality in a wholly secular way leaves us disoriented, angry, and sputtering.

Meilaender means to distance himself from Kass’s view that dignity depends on human agency—and thus, necessarily, on unequal human accomplishments. Kass is wrong, he claims, to say that patients who lack agency lack the capacity to display their dignity. He gives the example of the patient who patiently endures his increasingly (but always) dependent condition. Such patients can be more dignified than Aristotle’s magnanimous man—who takes pleasure in his greatness, in part, by forgetting about his natural contingency.

Kass responds that a dignified patient remains dependent on his capacity to engage in thought and action appropriate to his human situation; he is always partly patient and partly not. A pure patient—say, someone in the last stage of ­Alzheimer’s—would be perfectly passive and so incapable of displaying his dignity. It is not so clear that, for Kass, pure ­patients are dignified, and that explains why he does not defend human embryos on the basis of equal dignity and equal rights. It is finally Meilaender’s faith that gives him confidence that every human life has equally irreplaceable significance, so he never has to engage in deliberation about the dignity of any particular patient. But to what extent should anyone’s religious faith be the basis of public policy? Part of Meilaender’s response is that even our Declaration’s defense of equality depends upon Christian premises.

The Roman Catholic, Augustinian political theorist Robert Kraynak agrees with Meilaender that in the genuinely Biblical view what we call our dignity is ultimately based not on our natural “essential attributes” but on God’s “mysterious love” for each of us. Kraynak adds that “God’s mysterious election” of each of us is what gives us an irreplaceable worth. Nothing is as important for understanding our dignity as “God’s creation of each of us for special care,” and that care is the basis of our loving duty to care equally and specially for each other.[17]

For Kraynak, neither philosophy nor science is capable of comprehending our full dignity. Science is bound to understand us impersonally or materially—as nothing more than “physio-chemical” reactions. Philosophy understands our dignity in terms of minds alone or of minds united to bodies. So philosophy, too, is incapable of seeing each of us in our irreplaceable uniqueness. The philosophic view of the world as primarily hospitable to the human mind is, in its own way, just as opposed to the mystery of personal uniqueness as is materialistic science. Both philosophy and science reduce the “who” each of us really is to some kind of “what.” As dignified “whos,” we know that we are mysteriously more than we can describe, and it is that elusive dignity that should temper the pride of the scientists and philosophers in any biotechnological effort to change who we are.

Dennett’s response to Kraynak is that any perception of mystery is only temporary. We will, soon enough, have a wholly materialistic explanation for all we think and do. That’s good news, however, because we will then be able to perfect our use of the fiction of dignity.[18] It seems to me that if dignity really is nothing more than a useful fiction, then what could protect our dignity better than a fictional theology based on a personal God who promises each unique and irreplaceable human being eternal life? Lots of people these days think that nothing matters because there is no support from God or nature for their personal experiences. Their anxious feelings of being so precariously contingent overwhelm any confidence they might have about their personal significance. The scientific hypothesis that our need for personal dignity is best served by a lie about personal theology is one that deserves more attention.

Moral philosophers Robert P. George and Patrick Lee[19] seem to say in their contribution that Dennett makes dignity dependent on seeing ourselves as less than we really are; we can see with our own eyes that our dignity is no illusion. Kraynak, meanwhile, insists on making dignity dependent on what we can see only with the eyes of faith. George and Lee, as good Catholics, surely believe in personal immortality and God’s personal love for each of us, but they do not think that each person’s unique dignity really depends on such beliefs.

For George, human dignity is a natural human excellence we all share. It is our “rational nature” (and not, as Kant says, our denatured reason) that elevates us, making each of us a person, not a thing, with the natural capabilities for conceptual thought, deliberation, and free choice. Each of us has what it takes to shape our lives as persons. That capacity to give moral self-­direction to one’s own life is worthy of “intrinsic ­respect”—whether or not a particular person has accomplished anything along those lines. We have dignity—and with it, absolute rights—the whole duration of our existence, because we are unique beings from the moment of our conception to our biological death. So we can never be viewed as expendable with someone else’s purposes in mind. The standard of nature allows George and Lee to include Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Locke, the Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln among those who share their view.

Diana Schaub, who takes her bearings from the American Founders and Lincoln and not at all from the Bible, wonders whether there is any need to speak of dignity at all to make George and Lee’s case. Our free and rational awareness of our irreplaceability and precariousness—and our natural desire to preserve ourselves—is what should condition our relationships with other human beings. We refuse to be fodder for anyone else, and the contractual relationships we form are based on the reciprocal recognition of the justice of our refusals. The latest advances in science have shown that George and Lee are right to say that I am “there” from conception to natural death. Our Framers did not know enough to be able to say whether or not embryos have rights, but, Schaub reminds us, they did tell us to follow the light of science.[20]

For Schaub, it is science—and not some Stoic or Kantian or Christian conception of dignity—that has led us to a truer understanding of what is required to protect the rights of human beings. Her objection to dignity is that it introduces questionable, meritocratic, and completely unnecessary considerations into our political discourse. So Schaub sides with Pinker on dignity but with George and Lee on the reality of natural rights.

George and Lee do concede that, according to reason, there is only a very strong case for free will, while somehow remaining scientifically certain about human dignity and human rights. Schaub is less than fully scientific when she contends that, for public policy, it is better to rely on the authority of our Framers and Lincoln than on any theoretical or religious ­certainty about human rights. Less than fully certain is different, of course, from basically uncertain, and the preponderance of evidence about human freedom and dignity is clearly more with Schaub and George and Lee than with Pinker and Dennett.

Meilaender and Kraynak still have reason to believe George and Lee cannot give an adequate account of who we are without accounting for the mystery of love or personal logos, for that which animates our rationality. Even Kass, in thinking about our obvious dignity as begetting and belonging animals—in thinking about how we are godlike in some ways but not in others—turns from the scientists and philosophers to the superior psychology of Genesis.

Thinking about Dignity

This sketch of only part of the argument that animates the authors in the Council’s volume on human dignity has not resolved anything for certain. The defense of liberty in our time might well depend on knowing who we really are and why we are dignified beings; it is also possible that we can get by without talking truthfully about our dignity at all. Dignity, as Dennett claims, might only be a useful fiction or, as Schaub claims, a private concern. What should be obvious is that Steven Pinker is simply wrong to claim only tyrants and fanatics believe it is time to think carefully about dignity.

It also seems clear that understanding dignity purely in terms of autonomy and productivity will render it practically impossible to choose against productivity-oriented biological enhancement.

Sure, the aesthetic case for faith is less satisfying in some ways than the "personal experience of God" case, but it is still perplexing that even after they mount the former such thinkers as Rorty and Dennett still can't make the leap to accepting it as true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism, By Eric Hobsbawm: A career-spanning collection of essays by our most eminent Marxist historian is cause for celebration. But it has its blind spots (Amol Rajan, 20 February 2011, Independent)

If Marxism is the answer, what is the question?

When I worked at the Foreign Office many moons ago, one of the more venerated research analysts explained to me why his job was impossible. "It is not the job of political science to predict the future," he said. "The job of political science is to explain, once the future has become the past, why it was inevitable that History should have transpired thus." This is one half of Karl Marx's interminable beef with the march of civilisation. Too many people read him as a political scientist, and in its fullest form, his Forecast for Man shows no sign of materialising. Once his utopian vision has become an everyday reality for a vast number of people, perhaps he will be supremely right. Until then, he's mainly just usefully wrong.

The other half of Marx's beef with civilisation is the 20th century. Though he doesn't admit it, Eric Hobsbawm, the most eminent Marxist historian writing in English today, must be at least a little annoyed that a chunky portion of the horrors of modernity were perpetrated in his hero's name. Of course, the likes of Stalin and Mao were Stalinist and Maoist long before they were Marxist, but Hobsbawm's ongoing refusal to confront this basic truth depletes his contribution to political thought.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Civil rights, deep roots: Nineteenth-century American history is rich with the names of black leaders who fought hard and achieved much. (Murray Dubin and Daniel R. Biddle, 2/20/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

[A]long with commemorating the courage of Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson, should we not learn as well about the courage of Caroline Le Count and Octavius Catto?


All of 21 years of age, Carrie Le Count was Philadelphia's second female school principal of color in 1867 when she boldly tested a new state law desegregating the city's horse-drawn streetcars. A white conductor shouted America's favorite racial epithet at her, ignored the new law, and drove off. But the young woman was not to be denied. She went to court with a copy of the law. The streetcar company and its conductor were fined $100.

Catto and his allies had drafted the new law in 1866, agitated for it, had it introduced in the legislature, and saw it passed. It was the first legislation in Pennsylvania written by black men. All the more impressive was that their bill became law at a time when black men could not vote in Pennsylvania. The Fifteenth Amendment did not extend that right to them until 1870.

That was not Catto's only feat of historic importance. The second baseman and captain of the Pythians, Philadelphia's best black baseball club, Catto and his team sought to break the color line in the infancy of major league baseball - in 1867, eight decades before Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Organized baseball turned the Pythians away, but the team and its captain persisted, and on Sept. 3, 1869, played an exhibition game in Philadelphia against the white Olympics. The Pythians lost - but a front-page story in the New York Times pronounced it the first game played between black and white teams. Two weeks later, the Pythians beat another white team.

The leaders of that 19th-century civil-rights movement resided across the North:

Henry Highland Garnet, the first black clergyman to address Congress, lived in New York City.

Martin Delany, a physician, explorer, journalist, and author, hailed from Pittsburgh.

John Rock, New Jersey-born, lived in Boston and became the first African American lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court.

The abolitionist brothers Langston, Charles, and John Mercer came from Ohio. John was dean of Howard Law School, U.S. minister to Haiti, and the first black person elected to Congress from Virginia.

Like the modern heroes of Birmingham and Selma, they endured beatings and burnings and went back for more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Niall Ferguson: 'Westerners don't understand how vulnerable freedom is': Niall Ferguson is one of the world's leading historians, but his pro-colonial views have been heavily criticised. Here, he explains why he's now targeting a younger audience (William Skidelsky, 2/20/11, The Observer)

Ferguson's latest book, published next month, is called Civilization: The West and the Rest (the accompanying six-part Channel 4 series starts on 6 March). Coming just eight months after the Warburg biography, it's a book that belongs at the more populist end of the Ferguson oeuvre. In fact, he says, he wrote it largely with his children in mind. (He has three, two sons and a daughter, ranging from 11 to 17.) "The book is partly designed so a 17-year-old boy or girl will get a lot of history in a very digestible way, and be able to relate to it," says Ferguson, who, along with the many other irons he has in the fire, is advising his friend Michael Gove, Britain's education secretary, on how to redraft the history curriculum. "I have a sense that my son and daughter's generation is not well served by the way they are taught history. They don't have the big picture. They get given these chunks, usually about Adolf Hitler, so I wanted to write a book that would be really accessible to them."

Civilization sets out to answer a question that Ferguson identifies as the "most interesting" facing historians of the modern era: "Why, beginning around 1500, did a few small polities on the western end of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world?" In other words, the book attempts to explain the roots of something – western power – that has long fascinated its author. Although Ferguson's background is as a financial historian – his research at Oxford and then Cambridge in the late 80s and early 90s was into German hyperinflation and the history of bond markets – he has, over the past decade or so, drifted increasingly into writing about empire. In two consecutive books, Empire and Colossus – published, not by accident, around the time of the Iraq invasion – he charted the respective imperial histories of Britain and America, concluding not only that Britain should be prouder of its colonial past, but that the world would be a better place if America imitated Victorian Britain and became a fully fledged liberal empire. Though both books were bestsellers and won Ferguson scores of new admirers, especially in the US, they also, not surprisingly, drew heavy criticism from the left.

Civilization, too, starts from the premise that western dominance has been a good thing. In order to explain how it came about, Ferguson deploys an unexpectedly cutting-edge metaphor. The west's ascendancy, he argues, is based on six attributes that he labels its "killer apps": competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic. Each chapter of the book (and each episode of the TV series) sets out to explore how it was that western nations possessed one of these "apps", while other nations failed to acquire it. So, in the chapter on competition, he shows how the political structure of western Europe in the early modern era encouraged rivalry both between and within states, while the monolithic rule of the Ming dynasty led China to rest on its laurels. Likewise, in the medicine chapter, he argues that the civilising goals of western European empires produced pioneering medical advances that ultimately benefited the whole world.

Ferguson is clearly more than a little in love with his "killer apps" conceit, as well as his "west versus the rest" dichotomy, which he slips into conversation at every available opportunity. (In the TV series, he even starts talking at one point about "westerners" and "resterners".) Doesn't he worry that this kind of thing detracts from his standing as a serious historian? "No," he says. "Apart from anything else, this terminology is absolutely ubiquitous. And I think it captures something quite important. We actually had a good argument when I first came up with the killer apps concept. Not everyone at Channel 4 liked it. But I just thought it was an absolutely great idea. You explain this book to any group of people and what usually happens is there's a competition to see if I've missed something out. People love it. It's like a game: play Civilization Killer App! It's designed to be slightly annoying, so that you talk about it."

Ferguson is not, it seems, a man given to self-doubt. When I suggest that his views have changed somewhat in the past decade – one moment he was calling on America to establish an empire, now he talks in terms of the west's "civilisational software" being "downloaded" by other countries – he replies: "I'm not sure my position has changed so much as the circumstances."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Taming the Wild: Only a handful of wild animal species have been successfully bred to get along with humans. The reason, scientists say, is found in their genes. (Evan Ratliff, March 2011, National Geographic)

[M]avrik, as it happens, is not a dog at all. He's a fox. Hidden away on this overgrown property, flanked by birch forests and barred by a rusty metal gate, he and several hundred of his relatives are the only population of domesticated silver foxes in the world. (Most of them are, indeed, silver or dark gray; Mavrik is rare in his chestnut fur.) And by "domesticated" I don't mean captured and tamed, or raised by humans and conditioned by food to tolerate the occasional petting. I mean bred for domestication, as tame as your tabby cat or your Labrador. In fact, says Anna Kukekova, a Cornell researcher who studies the foxes, "they remind me a lot of golden retrievers, who are basically not aware that there are good people, bad people, people that they have met before, and those they haven't." These foxes treat any human as a potential companion, a behavior that is the product of arguably the most extraordinary breeding experiment ever conducted.

It started more than a half century ago, when Trut was still a graduate student. Led by a biologist named Dmitry Belyaev, researchers at the nearby Institute of Cytology and Genetics gathered up 130 foxes from fur farms. They then began breeding them with the goal of re-creating the evolution of wolves into dogs, a transformation that began more than 15,000 years ago.

With each generation of fox kits, Belyaev and his colleagues tested their reactions to human contact, selecting those most approachable to breed for the next generation. By the mid-1960s the experiment was working beyond what he could've imagined. They were producing foxes like Mavrik, not just unafraid of humans but actively seeking to bond with them. His team even repeated the experiment in two other species, mink and rats. "One huge thing that Belyaev showed was the timescale," says Gordon Lark, a University of Utah biologist who studies dog genetics. "If you told me the animal would now come sniff you at the front of the cage, I would say it's what I expect. But that they would become that friendly toward humans that quickly… wow."

Miraculously, Belyaev had compressed thousands of years of domestication into a few years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


Do cameras stop crime?: What has been learned in Chicago (Steve Chapman, February 20, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

This is one of Mayor Richard M. Daley's proudest achievements, but the estimated 10,000 devices now in operation are not enough for him. He once expressed his intention to keep adding cameras until there is one "on every street corner in Chicago." [...]

Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, has directed a study of the impact of cameras in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Her preliminary findings, due to be finalized and published this year, are that they can indeed curb crime — and at a bargain price.

Her team of researchers looked at two high-crime neighborhoods on Chicago's West Side, Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park. In Humboldt Park, she told me, they found "a significant decrease in total monthly crime numbers," including property crime and violent crime. They found no evidence that the cameras merely pushed crime into other areas. In West Garfield Park, on the other hand, they saw "no impact," possibly because there were fewer cameras.

On the cost-effectiveness test, though, La Vigne says the cameras were a solid success. For every $1 of costs, they yielded $4 of societal benefits (reduced crime, savings in courts and corrections, less suffering for victims), despite their failure in West Garfield Park.

In Baltimore, where cameras are concentrated in downtown and monitored actively 24 hours a day (as distinct from the more passive approach in Chicago), La Vigne found the impact on violent crime was even greater — and the benefits exceeded the costs by 50 percent. (In Washington, which deployed only a small number of cameras, they found no effect.)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Yusuf al-Qaradawi – a ‘man for all seasons’ (OREN KESSLER, 02/20/2011, Jerusalem Post)

“Don’t fight history,” he urged the assembled crowd, and the millions more watching the televised address live. “You can’t delay the day when it starts. The Arab world has changed.”

As often in the past, Qaradawi spoke of democracy and pluralism. He urged the army officers temporarily ruling Egypt to deliver on their promises of handing power to a civil government founded on principles of pluralism and freedom, and cleanse the cabinet of former Mubarak cronies.

“Don’t let anyone steal this revolution from you – those hypocrites who will put on a new face that suits them,” he said. “The revolution isn’t over. It has just started to build Egypt… guard your revolution.” [...]

His professed embrace of progressive values has earned the cleric a reputation as a moderate.

“Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society. He’s in the religious mainstream, he’s not offering something that’s particularly distinctive or radical in the context of Egypt,” Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center in Qatar, told the Christian Science Monitor on Friday.

“He’s an Islamist and he’s part of the Brotherhood school of thought, but his appeal goes beyond the Islamist spectrum, and in that sense he’s not just an Islamist figure, he’s an Egyptian figure with a national profile.” [...]

Today he is best known in the Arab world for his program Shari’a and Life, broadcast on Al-Jazeera to an estimated audience of 40 million. A 2008 Foreign Policy magazine poll put Qaradawi third on its worldwide list of public intellectuals.

In his 2001 article for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Al- Qaradawi: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Reuven Paz noted the contradictory nature of the cleric’s statements.

He was one of the first Islamic scholars to have condemned the September 11 attacks – but has supported attacks on US forces in Iraq and suicide bombings against Israelis.

“There is no enmity between Muslims and Jews,” he told rabbis from the radical anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta visiting Qatar in 2008. “Jews who believe the authentic Torah are very close to Muslims,” he said, adding that “Muslims are against the expansive, oppressive Zionist movement, not the Jews.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Ultra-Darwinists and the pious gene: Richard Dawkins won't like it, but he and creationists are singing from similar hymn sheets, according to a new book (Mark Vernon, 2/18/11, guardian.co.uk)

Strongly adaptationist explanations are common in ultra-Darwinism and the work of the acid. But as Cunningham repeatedly – actually, obsessively – points out, when they are rehearsed as gospel, they exact a terrible price. They describe such humanly invaluable features as mind, ethics and free will as delusions – akin to what Nietzsche called "true lies". The resulting nihilism is one of Cunningham's prime objections to the paradigm.

Of course, the ultra-Darwinists don't live as if mind, ethics and free will are delusions. They cut the grass but not their dogs; they eat lettuce but not their neighbour's children. So, Cunningham suggests, scratch an ultra-Darwinist and watch a hypocrite bleed. Or, in a less gory aside, he notes that an excellent title for an ultra-Darwinist book would be The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Person. You get the point: ultra-Darwinism is empty because it doesn't explain, it explains away.

Even they who proclaim themselves Darwinists live as Christianists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


10 Years Later: How Dale Earnhardt's Death at Daytona 500 Changed NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tries to Create His Own Legacy, Move on From Tragedy (KAREN TRAVERS, MARK FLAMINI and JESSICA SMALL, Feb. 19, 2010, ABC News)

The death of Earnhardt, a stock-car legend, brought sweeping safety changes to the dangerous sport.

"I believe it required us to study longer, work harder and understand what the limitations of the human body are and really study the impacts, not only on the car but residual effects on the body," said Ricky Craven, a former NASCAR driver and a racing analyst for ESPN. "NASCAR has implemented some great changes. They have built a safer race car. They have mandated devices that have helped to keep drivers protected."

Tracks now have softer crash-walls, cars have better seat-belt systems and roll-cages and NASCAR drivers are now required to wear a head-and-neck safety device.

Earnhardt refused to wear one and many experts believe it would have saved his life.

"[Drivers] don't want something new to come into their environment, something that can distract them or slow them down," Craven said. "Any change that they would perceive to be a negative, they resist it.

"And they think that they are resilient and could survive anything and give little consideration to being hurt until someone, a member of your family, is injured or fatally injured and then get's everybody's attention."

He was the last driver with the sort of mystique that made racing potentially popular. It's no coincidence it has been in decline the past ten years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Revolution U (TINA ROSENBERG | FEBRUARY 16, 2011, Foreign Policy)

The Serbian capital is home to the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic. After ousting him, they embarked on the ambitious project of figuring out how to translate their success to other countries. To the world's autocrats, they are sworn enemies -- both Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Belarus's Aleksandr Lukashenko have condemned them by name. ("They think we are bringing a revolution in our suitcase," one of CANVAS's leaders told me.) But to a young generation of democracy activists from Harare to Rangoon to Minsk to Tehran, the young Serbs are heroes. They have worked with democracy advocates from more than 50 countries. They have advised groups of young people on how to take on some of the worst governments in the world -- and in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria-occupied Lebanon, the Maldives, and now Egypt, those young people won.

In Belgrade, Adel took a week-long course in the strategies of nonviolent revolution. He learned how to organize people -- not on a computer, but in the streets. And most importantly, he learned how to train others. He went back to Egypt and began to teach. The April 6 Youth Movement, along with a similar group called Kefaya, became the most important organizers of the 18-day peaceful uprising that culminated in President Hosni Mubarak's departure on Feb. 11. "The April 6 Movement and Kifaya are the groups that have led the charge in actually getting protesters organized and onto the streets," a Feb. 3 report from the geopolitical analysis group Stratfor said. The tactics were straight out of CANVAS's training curriculum. "I got trained in how to conduct peaceful demonstrations, how to avoid violence, and how to face violence from the security forces … and also how to organize to get people on the streets," Adel said of his experience with the Serbs, in an interview with Al Jazeera English on Feb. 9. "We were quite amazed they did so much with so little," Srdja Popovic, one of CANVAS's leaders, told me.

As nonviolent revolutions have swept long-ruling regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt and threaten the rulers of nearby Algeria, Bahrain, and Yemen, the world's attention has been drawn to the causes -- generations of repressive rule -- and tools -- social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter -- animating the wave of revolt. But as the members of the April 6 movement learned, these elements alone do not a revolution make. What does? In the past, the discontented availed themselves of the sweeping forces of geopolitics: the fall of regimes in Latin America and the former Soviet bloc was largely a product of the withdrawal of superpower support for dictatorships and the consolidation of liberal democracy as a global ideal. But the global clash of ideologies is over, and plenty of dictators remain -- so what do we do?

The answer, for democratic activists in an ever-growing list of countries, is to turn to CANVAS. Better than other democracy groups, CANVAS has built a durable blueprint for nonviolent revolution: what to do to grow from a vanload of people into a mass movement and then use those masses to topple a dictator. CANVAS has figured out how to turn a cynical, passive, and fearful public into activists. It stresses unity, discipline, and planning -- tactics that are basic to any military campaign, but are usually ignored by nonviolent revolutionaries. There will be many moments during a dictatorship that galvanize public anger: a hike in the price of oil, the assassination of an opposition leader, corrupt indifference to a natural disaster, or simply the confiscation by the police of a produce cart. In most cases, anger is not enough -- it simply flares out. Only a prepared opponent will be able to use such moments to bring down a government.

"Revolutions are often seen as spontaneous," Ivan Marovic, a former CANVAS trainer, told me in Washington a few years ago. "It looks like people just went into the street. But it's the result of months or years of preparation. It is very boring until you reach a certain point, where you can organize mass demonstrations or strikes. If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Egypt crisis leaves Obama diminished (Rex Murphy February 19, 2011, National Post)

No one who succeeds to the office of the American presidency can hope to escape a moment of great and defining crisis. It is the conduct of a presidents during such times, in the face of such events — as, for example, Kennedy in the showdown with the Soviet Union in the Cuban missile crisis, or Bush after 9/11 — how quickly they discern the patterns at play, and above all how they project a sense of command and confidence during a crisis, that gives the measure of their stature as leaders.

Egypt was Barack Obama’s prism moment. Does he stand taller now after those hisitorical three weeks of suspensful and anxious street revolution? Did he sense, in the manner of all first-rate leaders, from the beginning what was at play, what motions either of nuance or power he could exert to guide events to their best end? Did he accuratelly appreciate America’s interest in these unfolding drama? And could he read the flow of events in a foreign land, sense their potential contagion — which we are now seeing — for other countries in the region?

Crucially, was Mr. Obama, with all the powers and prestige of the American presidency, seen to be an actor in these events or their most illustrious spectator? Did he articulate a coherent reading of the Egyptian crisis in a manner that made him, at least in some part, an overseer and a guide to those events as they unfolded? Did he project from the great pulpit of the White House onto the Egyptian streets some sense of America’s real empathy of what the citizens in those streets were calling for?

Quite the contrary, interviews on the spot revealed how little respect some in Cairo’s square had for him, and their disapppointment that this “new” politician had so little that was really new about him at all.

From the first stirrings in Egypt almost to the very present minute, the President’s response has been an ambiguous shuffle, veering from hypercaution over offending the regime, to soap-bubble platitudes meant to tease approval from, but actually ignored or despised by, the protesting crowds. Obama won no new worshippers in Tahrir Square. What we saw was a President as bystander and occasional chorus, waiting upon events, and clearly without a conceptual or even an instinctive feel for what was unfolding,

It's startling how much he resembles George H. W. Bush, who inherited the fruits of Reagan's labor and didn't know how to deal with it, as Mr. Obama has been baffled by the liberating environment that W left him. On the other hand, can a void be diminished?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The Madison Blues (Walter Russell Mead, 2/18/11, American Interest)

The Battle of Madison is part of a national struggle over the future of American society. The public sector unions and their allies believe in what I’ve called liberalism 4.0, the twentieth century’s dominant set of progressive ideas. It was the ideology of a society made up of big unions, big corporations and big government. The Big Three car companies, Big Three networks and the Big One phone company (back when AT&T had a legal monopoly on providing telephone service) were held in check by government regulation and union power rather than by free competition.

Technological change, global competition, and the rise of a more dynamic economy have wrecked the old social model, but old institutions, old habits of mind and old interest groups don’t disappear overnight. In many ways, public sector unions and government employees are the last great citadel of the Blue Social Model and what we see in Madison (as well as Ohio and Tennessee) is a way of life fighting for survival in the last ditch. We should not be surprised that the battle is fierce, the tactics ruthless, the polarization intense: this is not just a struggle between interest groups, it is a conflict over basic ideas about how the world does or should work.

Regardless of what happens in Madison this week, it is a hopeless battle. 4.0 liberalism and the Blue Social Model aren’t immoral and they helped many Americans enjoy roughly two generations of unprecedented prosperity — but they are unworkable in the contemporary world. States that don’t make the kind of changes that Wisconsin seeks will face the problems that loyally blue Illinois does now: staggering pension bills that undermine the state’s credit and cripple its ability to attract and hold business. An article in the New York Times, that bastion of blue thinking, mocks Illinois’ latest plan to pay its current pension bill with a $3.7 billion bond issue. Note reporters Mary Williams Walsh and Michael Cooper, Illinois “is essentially paying a single year’s bill by adding to its already heavy debt load. That short-term thinking is not unlike Americans taking out home equity loans to pay for cars and vacations before the housing bust.”

However much money the public sector unions fling into the maw of Democratic party politics, the old system is going down. Workers will actually do better in states that act quickly; the longer the day of reckoning is postponed, the higher the bill will be, and the more savage and draconian the cuts will have to become.

But if the blue social model and 4.0 liberalism are losing, what will take their place?

The de-unionization of a civil service that never should have been allowed to organize in the first place and defined contributions instead of defined benefits.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Mitch Daniels could use debt focus as niche in 2012 caucuses (THOMAS BEAUMONT, 2/19/11, Des Moines Register)

Some influential Iowa Republicans say Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' call for a singular focus on reducing the federal debt would have an attentive audience in the leadoff caucuses, should he decide to run for president.

Daniels' speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last week won favorable reviews among some leading economic conservatives in Iowa, where Daniels has been absent while the 2012 campaign has developed.

Daniels, who has said all other issues pale, would likely face extra scrutiny in Iowa, where Republicans who stress social issues are vocal and well-organized. Questions persist about whether a strict economic conservative can compete in Iowa, where evangelical conservative Mike Huckabee won in 2008.

But in a crowded field, Daniels could exploit a niche as a fiscal hawk, the type of candidate polls have shown Iowa GOP caucusgoers prefer, some prominent Iowa fiscal conservatives say.

...Mitch is the social conservative candidate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Mario Traverso (The Telegraph, 18 Feb 2011)

Mario Traverso, who died on January 4 aged 94, was a leading officer in what is generally considered to be the last successful battlefield cavalry charge, on the Russian front at Isbuschenskij on August 24 1942; after the war he created a highly successful knitwear company.

Traverso was a young lieutenant in the Savoy Cavalry which, in June 1942, was shielding the southern flank of the German summer offensive. The fighting intensified as, approaching the River Don approximately 125 miles north of Stalingrad, the 600 men of the Savoy Cavalry arrived at Isbuschenskij.

There, on the evening of August 23, an Italian patrol encountered a Soviet rearguard of 2,000 men supported by mortars and machine-guns. The regiment’s monocled commanding officer, Count Alessandro Bettoni, winner of two Olympic golds in equestrianism, ordered his men to take defensive positions before settling down to dine off the regimental silver.

The following morning, after breakfast, Bettoni gave the order to attack across a plain thick with sunflowers. Officers, wearing red neck ties, slipped on white gloves for the occasion. They wielded captured Cossack swords, which were heavier, and thus more destructive, than Italian sabres.

Such was the thirst to take part in what was – even then – recognised as an unusual event, that Traverso’s commander rode off to join the four cavalry squadrons, each of 150 men, which formed the main thrust of the attack.

Traverso was left in charge of the fifth (machine-gun) squadron, which was the first to advance, laying a thick field of fire from the front and centre of the Italian position directly into two lines of the 812th Siberian Infantry Regiment. Around Traverso, the other Italian squadrons formed up at a walk, before breaking into a trot, canter and finally an all-out gallop. As they set off the battle cry went up: “Sabres. To hand. Charge!”

What followed proved to be a textbook mounted attack.

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February 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


A Watershed Moment for Public-Sector Unions (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 2/18/11, NY Times)

Also embedded in the Wisconsin debate — and reaching well beyond that state — is a more fundamental dispute over the role, even the legitimacy, of public-sector unions. Like Mr. Walker, Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, and Indiana’s second-term governor, Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, see public-sector bargaining as something to be banned or severely restricted because of its effect on taxpayers and government budgets.

Some Republicans quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, who bridled at public-sector unionism and once said, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted in the public service.”

Republicans say the Democrats have embraced the government employees’ cause because weaker unions would reduce crucial political support for Democratic candidates. Republicans have often denounced what they say is a squalid deal in which public-sector unions spend generously to elect allies to office and then those allies lavish generous wages and benefits on union members.

It's the GOP's moment and they've seized it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


House approves dramatic cuts in federal spending in 235-189 vote (Paul Kane, 2/19/11, Washington Post)

In a rare early morning weekend vote, the House approved an aggressive plan Saturday to eliminate dozens of federal programs and offices while slashing agency budgets by as much as 40 percent, drawing out more than $60 billion in deficit savings.

Setting up a showdown early next month with President Obama and Senate Democrats, House Republicans pushed the legislation through after a marathon debate capped off by an all-night session Friday that spilled into Saturday morning. During the bleary-eyed final roll call at 4:35 a.m., 235 Republicans were joined by no Democrats in support of dramatic spending reductions that they said were needed to address a soaring annual deficit of $1.6 trillion; 189 Democrats -- as well as three Republicans -- opposed it, accusing Republicans of writing the bill with a "double meat ax."

The American people would prefer a triple to none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


U.S.-Taliban Talks (Steve Coll, February 28, 2011, The New Yorker)

Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation. That may take some time: the first secret talks between the United States and representatives of North Vietnam took place in 1968; the Paris Peace Accords, intended to end direct U.S. military involvement in the war, were not agreed on until 1973.

When asked for comment on the talks, a White House spokesman said that the remarks that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made last Friday at the Asia Society offered a “thorough representation of the U.S. position.” Clinton had tough words for the Taliban, saying that they were confronted with a choice between political compromise and ostracism as “an enemy of the international community.” She added, “I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face to face with Milosevic and ended a war.”

Mullah Omar is not a participant in the preliminary talks. He does not attend even secret meetings of underground Taliban leadership councils in Pakistani safe houses. When he does speak, he does so obliquely, via cassette tapes. One purpose of the talks initiated by the Obama Administration, therefore, is to assess which figures in the Taliban’s leadership, if any, might be willing to engage in formal Afghan peace negotiations, and under what conditions.

Obama’s war advisers previously made it clear that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, must lead any high-level peace or “reconciliation” process involving Taliban leaders, and, since 2008, Karzai has carried out sporadic talks with current and former Taliban, occasionally aided by Saudi Arabia, but to no end. Last summer, the Afghan government’s attempts produced a farcical con, when a man posed as a senior Taliban leader and fleeced his handlers for cash. The recent American talks are intended to prime more successful and durable negotiations led by Karzai. The United States would play a supporting role in these negotiations, and might join them to discuss the status of Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody or the future of international forces in Afghanistan. For the United States, the overarching goal of such negotiations would be to persuade at least some important Taliban leaders to break with Al Qaeda, leave the battlefield, and participate in Afghan electoral politics, without touching off violence by anti-Taliban groups or gutting the rights enjoyed by minorities and women.

Forcing the Taliban into the open is basically just a means of target acquisition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


The Strategy Behind Mitch Daniels' Truce (Robert Heiler, 2/18/11, RealClearPolitics)

Here are the principles being missed, and their implications:

• Word Choice: The key word in attacks on Daniels has been "surrender." He has supposedly dealt a blow to his own ability to win the nomination by alienating social conservatives, who will not tolerate surrender on social issues. As Mark Twain once said, the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

A truce is not a surrender, and the pivotal difference between them is that the former is temporary and the latter permanent. In this case, the truce for which Daniels calls is meant to last until November 2012. The reason for the truce is to better contend for the votes of the independents that ultimately tip the scales in any presidential election, many of whom are put off by culture wars.

• Position: "Only Nixon could go to China" is enough of a cliché for screenwriters to have put it in the mouth of Leonard Nimoy, claiming it as an ancient Vulcan proverb. But like most clichés, it represents a very real truth. As David Kuhn of Real Clear Politics recently observed, Mitch Daniels is a bona fide and verifiable social conservative. If Rudy Giuliani called for a truce, critics might be justified in suggesting that he really meant surrender. There is little in Daniels' background to suggest that he is a Giuliani-style conservative. [...]

Daniels' fundamental strategic calculation, largely revealed in his recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, is this: in 2012, beating Barack Obama will require, as he put it, "a coalition of a dimension no one has recently assembled." That will require attracting many independents, who agree that our government is overgrown and profligate, but are often put off by a focus on conservative social positions. That is the whole point of his call for a truce. He has further calculated that his record, the time available, and his current relative freedom to speak to discrete groups will allow him to shore up the social conservative base. His surrogates will be reminding those voters that George W. Bush had the reputation of being one of them, but that only their full-on revolt stopped him from putting Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court.

That last bit is the point--the Right doesn't trust actions, only rants. Fortunately for Governor Daniels, the base picks the nominee; the Beltway doesn't.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Rep. David Wu's staff confronted him over concerns about his mental health (The Oregonian, 2/18/11)

Three days before the Nov. 2 election, U.S. Rep. David Wu’s most loyal and senior staffers were so alarmed by his erratic behavior that they demanded he enter a hospital for psychiatric treatment.

Their concern had been spiking for weeks in tandem with the Oregon Democrat's increasingly unpredictable performance on the campaign trail and in private. He was loud and sometimes angry, some of them told The Oregonian. He said kooky things to staff and -- more worrisome with a tough election fast approaching -- around potential voters and donors.

Most of all, they were worried for Wu, a 55-year-old single father of two children.

Earlier and gentler efforts had failed, so the tight-knit group of high-level staff took other steps, including quiet inquiries about the availability of beds in hospitals in Portland and Washington, D.C., multiple sources familiar with the effort told The Oregonian.

Several staff members confronted Wu for the final time on Oct. 30. Wu’s psychiatrist was brought into that meeting as well, joining the group at the Portland campaign headquarters by speaker phone. The meeting was held after four consecutive days of troubling behavior that led the staff to agree that Wu needed a higher level of medical care, according to people intimately familiar with the events of that period.

Wu's past
Read earlier news stories from The Oregonian about David Wu.
"This is way beyond acceptable levels and the charade needs to end NOW," wrote Lisa Grove, a senior and long-serving campaign pollster, in an e-mail to colleagues that day. "No enabling by any potential enablers, he needs help and you need to be protected. Nothing else matters right now. Nothing else."

Wu, however, remained defiant, sources said. He left the meeting and said he was going to a movie.

Faced with a stalemate, the campaign essentially shut down at the very time when most other candidates were at their most frenzied. No public announcement was made, but campaign staff withdrew and Wu did not hold another formal campaign event until he emerged on Tuesday night after winning a seventh term.

Weren't voters entitled to know the candidate was nuts?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


BACKWARD GLANCES: Japan spent more than two centuries shut off from the rest of the world—and it still shows. Henry Tricks, The Economist's Tokyo bureau chief, finds the Edo period still shimmering just under the surface ... (Henry Tricks, Winter 2010, INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine)

I have been mesmerised by life here since I arrived a year ago, floating on a wave of adoration of most things Japanese, yet getting in everyone’s way and doing everything wrong. I would jog around the Imperial Palace in a clockwise direction, only to find everyone else running anti-clockwise, bearing down on me as if I didn’t exist. I wore short sleeves in early autumn, and couldn’t work out why, when it was still blazing hot outside, everyone had put on their jackets and ties again. After swimming with dolphins on the island of Mikurajima this summer, my family and I went to a café to have lunch, still in our damp bathing costumes. Our hostess was so livid that at first I thought we must have set the place alight, not left a few damp seats where our bottoms had been. Living as a foreigner in Japan, for all its attractions, has many such small humiliations. You may be on a noble quest to plumb the depths of the Japanese soul, but you will take so many wrong turns you end up wondering whether you are indeed too brutish to make sense of it.

You may also be struck by how few of the locals have a matching interest in you and your culture. That is because it increasingly seems as if the outside world—with its sharper elbows, fattier food and shoddy dress sense—is kept at arm’s length. Fewer young Japanese are travelling abroad, fewer are studying English (this year, the main English-language school went bust), and fewer are taking places at leading academic institutions overseas such as Harvard Business School. Bosses at Japan’s legendary export businesses complain they cannot find youngsters who are prepared to work abroad. Two clever young Japanese friends, just posted to excellent jobs in America, told me that Japan is so comfortable they find it hard to leave.

Yet as those friends are the first to admit, it is a cotton-wool comfort that keeps out alien germs–like the surgical facemasks that many Japanese wear, so at odds with the rest of their perfect attire. To the outsider, it can lend the society an air of feeble vulnerability. At times it is downright maddening. Foreign ATM cards don’t work in most Japanese banks, Japanese movies—even the classics—rented at the ubiquitous Tsutaya video store don’t offer the option of foreign-language subtitles. Japanese mobile-phone technology is so idiosyncratic that analysts talk of “the Galapagos effect”, because it has grown up in a unique eco-system that makes it unsuitable for use anywhere else.

At times it feels as if the outside world does not exist. That can be liberating for an affluent expatriate—outsiders are not held to the same standards of conduct as their Japanese counterparts. Japan is so safe that my children can walk to school alone, and if I lose my wallet I know someone will find it and give it back. Life can be chillingly harsh, though, at the bottom of the social pile. Many Chinese immigrants, known euphemistically as interns, toil in sweatshop conditions in factories. Some have died through overwork. Illegal immigrants, including those with Japanese families, are regularly locked up in jail and deported.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


God and Gossip: a review of The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life by Jesse Bering (Damon Linker, 2/14/11, New Republic)

Who will save science from the scientists? I often ponder that question when I peruse the writings of evolutionary psychologists—and did so once again as I read Jesse Bering’s new book, which is at once marvelously informative and endlessly infuriating. [...]

But why did human beings begin to feel in the first place that they and their actions matter to a divine mind? Here is how Bering explains its evolutionary origins: millions of years ago, proto-humans were unselfconsciously “impulsive, hedonistic, and uninhibited.” But then their theory of mind kicked in, enabling them to start judging one another’s actions. We began to realize that we were being watched and judged by other people. And as our species developed language, we came to understand that we were being watched and judged not only by those who directly observed our behavior, but also by those who heard about it through the medium of gossip. Before long, the “reproductive success” of those who failed to restrain their behavior began to suffer, which in turn reproductively privileged individuals with a reputation for self-control. And the most self-controlled—those who lived as if they were being watched and judged at all times by a supernatural entity—were privileged above all others. In this way, our theory of mind and our linguistically based capacity for gossip, when combined with the genetically based imperative to reproduce, conspired to make the human species uniquely predisposed toward moralistic religious beliefs.

The first thing to be said about this account is that it is an example of evolutionary psychology at its very worst: shifting abruptly between experimental data about modern civilized human beings and groundless speculation about our evolutionary ancestors; and reducing all human motivation to the desire to get laid; and presupposing what it seeks to prove. (Why did proto-humans begin to condemn “impulsive, hedonistic, and uninhibited” behavior if they did not already possess the capacity for moral judgment and self-restraint that supposedly developed only later, with the advent of gossip?)

But let’s leave this aside and presume that Bering is right—that belief in God and the moral behavior that flows from the sense that others are watching and judging us are mere adaptive illusions. What makes Bering’s book so insufferable is his utter indifference to the likely psychological and social consequences of the truths that he understands himself to be revealing. One possible consequence is that we will take his arguments to heart and seek to live truthfully, without illusions—which in this case is to say, without shame. Bering helpfully provides us with a vivid description of the behavior of chimpanzees who, unlike humans, thoroughly “lack the capacity to care” about what others think of them:

All in plain view of each other, not to mention in plain view of your slack-jawed children, chimps will comfortably pass gas after copulating; cavalierly impose themselves onto screaming, hysterical partners; nonchalantly defecate into cupped hands; casually probe each others’ orifices with all manner of objects, organs, and appendages; and unhesitatingly avail themselves of their own manual pleasures. They will rob their elderly of covetous treats, happily ignore the plaintive cries of their sickly group members, and, when the situation calls for it, aggress against one another with a ravenous, loud, and unbridled rage.

Noting that humans typically “recoil” from such displays, Bering also mocks the reaction as “nonsense of papal proportions” that flows from a misplaced belief that humanity resides at the “pinnacle of Creation.” The truth is that chimps live their lives without the “crippling, inhibiting psychological sense of others watching, observing, and critically evaluating them.” But “humans, unfortunately, are not so lucky.”

Conservative and reactionary critics of science have often accused it of dehumanizing us. They will be delighted to learn that Bering, who clearly implies that we would be better off if we were to follow the lead of our evolutionary cousins and begin shamelessly shitting on ourselves in public, has made their case for them.

The dehumanization is the point of the philosophy. If you wanted us to be human you'd choose religious faith instead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The Great Delusion: I am God! (Monsignor Dennis Clark, Ph.D., 2/18/11, Catholic Exchange)

The first eleven chapters of Genesis develop a grand theme, namely, our need for God which is hidden under our illusion that we ourselves can be God. That was the issue in the story of Adam and Eve’s fall, it was the issue in the tower of Babel story, and it’s the issue that keeps resurfacing in our own lives: Pretending and even believing that we can be God.

It’s the ultimate delusion, bordering on madness, but it recurs reliably in every generation in every human being. For some reason, ego irrationally whispers to each of us, just as the snake did to Adam and Eve, ‘You can be god.’ And fools that we are, we believe it.

...that God shares the belief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Without Mubarak, U.S. Struggles to Shield Israel from Diplomatic Pressure (Tony Karon, 2/18/11, TIME)

A few weeks ago, the U.S. had a reliable ally in Cairo when it came to strong-arming President Mahmoud Abbas to jump through diplomatic hoops against his better judgement. Time and again it had been Mubarak that provided the pressure and then, ostensibly, the political cover -- as well as the mandate he was unable to get from his own people -- for Abbas to participate in various rounds of photo-opportunity diplomacy with the Israelis in order to help the Obama Administration sustain the impression that it was making progress toward a two-state solution to the Middle East's most enduring crisis. But Hosni Mubarak's era ended decisively a week ago when he was turfed out of office by a citizenry no longer willing to tolerate a leader more attentive to the geopolitical demands of his foreign patrons than to the needs of his own people. And the new demand for sovereignty, accountability and dignity firing up the Arab world bodes ill for Washington's ability to corral Arab backing for its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sad that we have to be forced to treat them with dignity too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


In Syracuse, a groundbreaking umpire finds himself called out (Sean Kirst, 2/17/11,The Post-Standard)

For 19th century baseball loyalists in Syracuse, a June afternoon in 1885 guaranteed a slice of history. The Syracuse Stars, a minor league power, were hosting the Providence Grays, world champions of baseball’s major leagues. Three thousand fans packed Star Park, while hundreds more climbed trees or searched for vantage points outside the stadium.

While the fans were right — it was profoundly historic — it was hardly because the Grays won a meaningless exhibition by a score of 4-1.

It mattered because the man calling balls and strikes was an African-American. [...]

Historians often speak of this city’s great sports pioneers, especially during Black History Month. Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to play in a regulation game in the National Basketball Association, spent most of his career here. Moses Fleetwood Walker, who in 1884 became the first black to compete in the Major Leagues, played with the Syracuse Stars until 1889. No black American would be allowed to compete again at that level until Jackie Robinson signed in 1946 with the Montreal Royals.

Even so, while Francis is almost forgotten, what he accomplished in 1885 staggers belief.

An umpire, then and now, is considered the ultimate authority at a baseball game. Yet the America of the 1880s offered little in the way of respect for blacks. The Civil War had been over for only 20 years. Segregation, formal and informal, was in place across the land. Blacks in many states lived in fear of lynchings, beatings and other violence. As for black players, they were about to begin an exile of almost 70 years from the “white” game.

Umpires faced an even deeper ravine. While Robinson shattered the game’s color line in 1947, the Major Leagues waited until 1966 to bring in Emmett Ashford as their first black umpire. Larry Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee, had a one-word response Thursday when asked if Francis is considered the first black to umpire in a “white” professional league:


When it happened, Francis was very much a Syracuse guy.

Maybe the most interesting story the paper has ever produced.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 2/17/11, NY Times)

Few Americans have heard of Mr. [Gene] Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt. [...]

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”

Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had “From Dictatorship to Democracy” posted on its Web site.

While seeing the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as a sign of “encouragement,” Mr. Sharp said, “The people of Egypt did that — not me.”

He has been watching events in Cairo unfold on CNN from his modest house in East Boston, which he bought in 1968 for $150 plus back taxes.

It doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at what is now the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant, Jamila Raqib, whose family fled Soviet oppression in Afghanistan when she was 5; a part-time office manager and a Golden Retriever mix named Sally. Their office wall sports a bumper sticker that reads “Gotov Je!” — Serbian for “He is finished!”

February 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


Great Gatsby 'Nintendo' game released online (Melissa Bell, 2/15/11, Washington Post)

According to the game's Web site, a San Francisco developer found an old dusty Nintendo game cartridge at a garage sale, bought it for 50 cents and discovered a game never released in the U.S.

"The Great Gatsby" is old-school Nintendo in all its 8-bit glory. With dastardly villains, the requisite keyboard soundtrack and fantastic flat visuals. The advertisement on the site reads, "It's the roaring 20s, and trouble's in store for Nick Carraway. It's hard to enjoy a party when you're being chased by wacky waiters, dizzy drinkers, and crazy dancers! Now you have to find Gatsby, the mysterious man you saw disappear on the hillside ... or did he?"

The game has less mysterious beginnings than a garage sale discovery, but it doesn't make the game any less incredible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 PM


"Unknown": The thriller "Inception" wishes it could be: Pick of the week: Liam Neeson and January Jones star in the mind-bending Berlin-set thriller, "Unknown" (Andrew O'Hehir, 2/18/11, Salon)

What do you get when you combine an A-minus cast that seems almost randomly assembled; an identity-loss plot that Mixmasters bits of "Inception," "Memento," "Salt" and perhaps a half-dozen other movies; wintry Berlin locations; and a little-known Spanish director who is arguably most famous for making a horror film with Paris Hilton? To my enormous surprise, what you get in "Unknown" is a stylish and muscular thriller with some nifty twists and turns, a wicked sense of humor, several terrific performances and not one or even two but three of the best car chases in recent action-flick history. All of which, I guess, illustrates William Goldman's famous maxim of the movie business, which can equally be applied to the world in general: Nobody knows anything.

My task here is to convince you that "Unknown" is pretty damn good without totally overselling a film that admittedly mashes up totally familiar ingredients: a good-looking guy, an icy blonde, a missing briefcase, a car accident, a faintly sinister European city and some bad guys in a black SUV. This is a studio thriller released in February, people, not the second coming of Hitchcock. Still, keep your expectations reasonable and director Jaume Collet-Serra -- undaunted by the presence of the 2005 "House of Wax" remake on his résumé -- will exceed them, delivering an exciting and unjaded entertainment with tremendous atmosphere, one that will keep you guessing almost to the final frame.

...but did any literate viewer not know the plot twist as soon as they saw Leo's dreidel?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


House of Theocons (David Sessions, February 18, 2011, Patrol)

Today, the undercovered story of the 2010 midterm elections became clear: Americans have elected the most politically and theologically fundamentalist House of Representatives in modern history. When Tea Partiers insisted their goal was attacking the deficit and government spending they weren’t lying. But when they submerged their long histories of social conservative activism—some of it incredibly radical—they were hiding a crucial part of themselves.

For those who have been watching, it’s no surprise that the 112th Congress immediately put abortion on the front of the agenda. (The House voted today to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding, all of which is marked for non-abortion services.) On Jan. 5, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released its definitive study of the religious makeup of the 112th Congress. While there were no big surprises—Congress is still dominated by Protestants, American Jews are overrepresented and non-believers are underrepresented—the legislature’s movement toward religious conservatism stands out.

Roman Catholics and Baptists, one of the most conservative Protestant denominations, made significant gains in different ways. Catholic representatives have traditionally been split about evenly between the parties, but only two of the 40 freshmen Catholics are Democrats, suggesting that a growing number of conservative Catholics are deciding to run for office. Only 11.8 percent of incumbents in the 112th Congress are Baptist, but Baptists make up 16.1 percent of the newly elected members. Sixteen of the 18 new Baptists are Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM

60-40 NATION:

Americans Say Reagan Is Greatest President, Poll Finds (Christopher Weber, 2/18/11, Politics Daily)

Just in time for Presidents Day, Ronald Reagan tops a list of the nation's greatest chief executives, ahead of Abraham Lincoln, according to a new survey out Friday.

The Gallup Poll puts Reagan, with 19 percent, in the top spot for the third time. Reagan also occupied the position in 2001 and 2005 -- and he has been in the top three eight times since Gallup started asking the "greatest president" question 12 years ago.

Lincoln garnered 14 percent, followed very closely by Bill Clinton, with 13 percent.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


Glenn Beck broadcasts theory that some Muslim leaders want the Antichrist to return (Sean Alfano, 2/18/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

The Fox News firebrand put on his professor’s cap during his show Thursday to put forth his theory that Muslim leaders in Egypt and Iran are trying to bring the Islamic version of the Antichrist to Earth.

On Thursday’s "Glenn Beck Show," the conservative host gave viewers a detailed chalkboard comparison of the Christian and Muslim Judgment Day stories.

Beck said he has been studying the topic of the Mahdi, or the 12th Imam, for more than five years. "I about wet my pants when I finished the research on it," Beck said.

If Roger Ailes cared about politics he'd fire this bufoon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


The Dems' tantrum: In a snit, Senate Democrats run and hide - making a mockery of the democratic process. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 17, 2011)

Democrats in the state Senate threw a temper tantrum Thursday - essentially they took their ball and went home.

Actually, they didn't go home. They apparently went to Illinois, just out of reach of their obligations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Pre-Run Stretching Doesn't Prevent Injuries, Study Finds (Jenifer Goodwin, 2/17/11, HealthDay News)

Runners who stretched before running were no less likely to get injured than runners who didn't bother to stretch, new research finds.

To investigate the effect of stretching on running injuries, researchers divided more than 2,000 runners into two groups. One group stretched the quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles for three to five minutes before starting their run; the other group didn't stretch. About 1,400 of the runners completed the study and were included in the final results.

"Over a period of three months, it did not make any difference if you stretched or didn't stretch before a run," said lead study author Dr. Daniel Pereles, director of sports medicine at Montgomery Orthopaedics in Kensington, Md., and an assistant clinical professor at George Washington University.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:02 PM


Jeff Bingaman to retire (Chris Cillizza, 2/18/11, Washington Post)

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman is expected to announce his retirement today, according to a source close to the decision, a move that further complicates his party's efforts to hold their Senate majority in 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


Exit of Key Aides Reveals Strife in Palin World (Scott Conroy, 2/18/11, RCP)

The departure of longtime Palin aides Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin is the latest indicator of the turmoil that has for years dogged former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's constantly evolving inner circle as she struggles to mount a stable political operation to set the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, Palin aides moved to spin Recher and McMarlin's departure, first reported in New York Magazine earlier this week, as one that was always planned and amicable. But several sources with direct knowledge of the situation told RealClearPolitics that Recher and McMarlin's exits from Palin's sphere were anything but harmonious.

Your nominee can't be higher maintenance than your wife in the grownup party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


White Men Can't Root: No one wants to acknowledge why the NBA is losing popularity. Buzz Bissinger on why white fans have trouble getting excited about African-American athletes. (Buzz Bissinger, 2/17/11, Daily Beast)

The game is in trouble and I don’t think there is much dispute about that. Attendance was down last year and is slightly down so far this season. Although basketball is supposed to be a team game, it has become more one-on-one in the NBA than a boxing match. The style has changed and it is a definite turnoff.

But a major problem with the NBA, one that is virtually never spoken about honestly, is the issue of race. I have no hard-core evidence. But based on my past experience in writing about sports, I know that whites ascribe very different characteristics to black athletes than they do white ones. I also make a habit of asking every white sports fan I know whether they watch the NBA. In virtually every instance, they say they once watched the game but no longer do. When I ask them if it has anything to do with the racial composition, they do their best to look indignant. But my guess is they felt very differently about the game when Larry Bird and John Stockton were playing.

Based on various statistics, the percentage of African-American players in the NBA has remained relatively constant over the past decade, fluctuating between 72 and 75 percent. The number of foreign-born players has increased exponentially to about 18 percent. The number of white American players, meanwhile, has decreased from 24.3 percent in the 1980-81 season to roughly 10 percent now.

Are whites losing interest in a game in which the number of white American players not only continues to dwindle, but no longer features a superstar?

The one white American player today who comes the closest to being a star is Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is averaging 21 points a game and 15 rebounds. He is on the West roster in the All-Star Game. Do you know anyone who would pay to see Love play?

It boils down to this: Are whites losing interest in a game in which the number of white American players not only continues to dwindle, but no longer features a superstar?


Weirdly, Mr. Bissinger begins by conceding that the individualistic style of play is a turn off then proceeds to wonder if it is black domination of the sport that turns other whites off. But isn't the important question whether there is a link between race and that repellent style of play?

I'd argue that there isn't really, that the problem is more that players never even learn how to play a team-oriented game. They're superstars in high school, recruited to play a year or two in college, and then move to the pros without ever having to learn the game and hone their craft. And it doesn't matter whether they are white or black.

Indeed, the most influential in the NBA is Kevin Garnett, because he requires of his teammates that they play defense as hard as he does, and intimidates them into doing so. But, during the spells when he is hurt, and not on the court, they don't. [Watch the Celtics play and you have to wonder if Ray Allen might be considered one of the NBA's greatest all around players, rather than its best ever shooter, had he played with KG his whole career.] That was, likewise, part of the greatness of Michael Jordan--though he was obviously a much better scorer than Garnett--the way he demanded the best of his fellow players. And folks tend to forget that Michael won championships by drawing defenses to himself late in playoff games and then kicking the ball out to slow white shooting guards who took the winning shots.

Yes, neither of them finished school either, but they came to the NBA with something unique to their personalities. If you aren't born with that character trait where are you going to acquire it on the pampered path to NBA stardom?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Objectively speaking, this is reporting (Leonard Pitts Jr., 2/17/11, Detroit Free Press)

[I]t is ultimately not how he said -- but what he said -- that has drawn criticism of CNN's Anderson Cooper this week from several of his fellow journalists.

In his reports on Egypt's crisis, Cooper repeatedly scored Mubarak's government for untruths. He did it in pointing out that journalists had been beaten and detained, in contradiction of the government's contention that they were being allowed to report freely. And in discussing a claim that the government had directed that protesters not be pursued or harassed. And in dismissing a government statement that only 11 people had been injured in the protests when an independent human rights group put the figure at close to 300.

For that, Cooper was ridiculed by James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times.

CNN media critic Howard Kurtz questioned whether Cooper should be "taking sides." And Liz Trotta said that "any correspondent worth his salt knows that you shouldn't be making editorial comments." She, amusingly enough, is employed by Fox News.

All three critics concede Cooper was accurate; the regime did lie. Yet they question whether it was journalistically ethical to say it.

...none of us take seriously the notion that pressmen are impartial as to domestic politics but we're supposed to expect them to not choose sides between dictators and the oppressed? Not even to report accurately if it involves pointing out that the dictator is a liar? Instead, the press should know the truth but not report it?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


The Nir Rosen Overreaction: Rosen destroyed his reputation by joking about Lara Logan’s assault, but the media should stop reducing people to the worst thing they’ve ever done (Michelle Goldberg, 2/17/11, Daily Beast)

I happened to be on Twitter when Nir Rosen was destroying his reputation on Tuesday. In a matter of minutes, he went from joking about Lara Logan’s assault in Egypt, to digging in and defending himself, to self-justifying semi-apology, to abject regret. It was appalling to watch, and it indicated that Rosen has deep, unexamined problems with women, particularly women who are his more-celebrated competitors. But it was also appalling to realize that this brief, ugly outburst was going to eclipse an often-heroic career. The media’s modern panopticon has an awful way of reducing us all to the worst thing we’ve ever done. [...]

His comments about Logan were grotesque, and came from a very twisted place. But he apologized fulsomely and sincerely, and has kept apologizing. In an interview on Mediabistro after the whole thing happened, he seemed profoundly mortified. “I feel like when you have done something so offensive and stupid, even trying to explain it seems like you are justifying it and what you say will be taken out of context,” he said, later adding, “I feel like shrinking now, I am so embarrassed for what I have done and how many people I offended. I always meant for my work to offend the powerful and give comfort to the weak. Yesterday I did the opposite of that.” He’s done himself few favors with subsequent, defensive attempts to explain himself—especially the self-serving essay he wrote for Salon. Still, the general picture is of someone grappling with real remorse and humiliation.

This is very different from the reaction of Debbie Schlussel, a right-wing New York Post columnist and regular O’Reilly Factor guest, to the uproar over her vicious comments about Logan. “How fitting that Lara Logan was 'liberated' by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the 'liberation,'” Schlussel wrote on Tuesday. “Hope you're enjoying the revolution, Lara!” The next day, rather than apologizing, she doubled down: “[I]t warms my heart when reporters who openly deny that Islam is violent and constantly promote it get the same kinds of threats of violence I get every day from Muslims. Because now they know how it feels.”

All you need to know about the two wings is that each has something to celebrate in a rape.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Wis. Dems flee to avoid anti-union vote; other states eye similar measures (Andrea Billups, 2/17/11, The Washington Times)

A dramatic week of angry protests over a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature that would radically limit collective bargaining for state employees came to a boil Thursday with 14 Democratic senators dodging a vote in the Republican-led chamber by fleeing the state and efforts by state police to track them down.

What's the endgame for elected Democrats who refuse to help govern? Let them stay out of state until the next election.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


The Social Cost of Carbon: A requirement for cost/benefit analyses of federal rules has created — without any real public input — a very important number in deciding what to do about greenhouse gases. (Judith D. Schwartz, 2/15/11, Miller McCune)

It is, says economist Frank Ackerman, “the most important number you’ve never heard of.”

The social cost of carbon, or SCC, is the value in today’s dollars of the stream of damages caused by adding one metric ton of CO2 into the atmosphere; a ton is the amount a typical family car will emit every 10 weeks. The SCC figure adopted last February by an interagency working group is $21. The value has already been applied to standards for fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. It will be figured into any carbon mitigation strategy, whether cap and trade, cap and dividend or carbon tax.

Why is this particular number so important? It establishes “how much you should be willing to spend to get rid of a ton of CO2,”said to Robert O. Mendelsohn, the Edwin Weyerhaeuser Davis Professor of Forest Policy at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. A high SCC tells regulators and decision makers that removing one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere has significant value. A low SCC justifies doing nothing — or at most very little.

Here’s the catch: that $21 — roughly 18 cents per gallon of gas — has slipped into our regulatory apparatus unannounced and without public debate.

“A decision was made through the interagency task force with almost no one knowing that it was happening,” says Ackerman, who works with the Stockholm Environmental Institute and is based at Tufts University. “There’s no office that claims credit, no website that explains anything about it. This crucial number, which turns out to be the fulcrum for climate policy, was decided in secret by a task force with no names attached to it.”

The working group determining the SCC did see participation by executive branch entities including the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council on Environmental Quality, National Economic Council, Office of Energy and Climate Change, and Office of Science and Technology Policy. Agencies that actively participated included the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Transportation and Treasury — but no outside organizations.

Jonathan Masur, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, co-authored a legal study on climate regulation and cost-benefit analyses when he stumbled upon the fact that “the government is in effect regulating carbon” through the SCC. He says that in presenting the paper, “very few audiences have heard of the social cost of carbon report, even in the academic community.”

He says “the sensible thing to do would be to have a national discussion on how to price carbon,” but he wonders if the Obama administration deems this discussion “politically impossible or politically dangerous.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Notes on Asymmetric War: Notes on not-so-new wars: in this review of the Moral Dilemmas of Modern War, Charli Carpenter takes author Michael L. Gross to task. (Charli Carpenter, 2/14/11, Current Intelligence)

Gross's typology of “asymmetry” – material, legal and moral – as an explanation for war law violations is highly useful analytically. But as a description of what is new about war it holds up poorly. Material asymmetries between belligerents have always existed, both among states and between states and their many colonial, tribal or insurgent adversaries. Neither is legal asymmetry anything new. In fact, war law was designed in part to distinguish "lawful" from "unlawful" combatancy, as nineteenth century European governments sought to privilege professional armies over nationalist insurgencies in territories under their control. And certainly, moral asymmetry has always been a feature of war. Combatants differ in the justice of their causes and of their means: guerillas, terrorists and even (at times) states have always sought to exploit the ambiguity between civilian and combatant.

In many ways, war law has adapted to these distinctions. It already recognizes, for example, a central insight that Gross articulates: that the appropriate distinction between civilian and combatant is not moral innocence but rather whether or not they are directly participating in hostilities. This is because indirect civilian participation in war is nothing new. Civilians have always sent supplies and letters of support to soldiers. They have worked in munitions factories crafting the tools of war. They have served as cooks, laundresses, and clerics. They have worked side by side with militaries, as medics and journalists. They have encouraged one another to enlist. War law has long accepted that these actions alone do not render civilians legitimate targets in war. Now Gross wants (or has positioned himself as sympathetic to governments who want) to expand the notion of “direct participation” to encompass these acts, on the basis that asymmetric wars of today represent a new beast. But this moral argument is out of sync with the facts he presents.

Even in non-democracies--like Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany--we considered the indirect combatants to be fair game. Nevermind in indirect democracies, like the Confederacy. And, of course, the Left's preferred method of indirect warfare, sanctions regimes, and devastating, even mass murderous, upon the "civilian" populations they target.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Esperanza Spalding: Tiny Desk Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 2/14/11, NPR)

Spalding stows a lot of talent in small packages. She's not a very tall person — diminutive, really — but has made a career of playing the imposing double bass with jazz giants. She sings, too, with a high-pitched but husky flavor, making it easy to wonder how she generates the lung capacity for her acrobatic, high-wire feats. For reference, spend time with the middle tune here, the standard "Midnight Sun." She goes at it solo, just bass and voice, and generates plenty of horsepower.

But it's not sheer musical talent that makes her a winning (and bread-winning) performer — after all, there are plenty of chops to go around in jazz. Spalding has a certain poise, a way of engaging a crowd, of controlling a room. It's usually seen as a large-scale projection, a friendly demeanor greeting a festival or performing arts center crowd of thousands. In this most awkwardly cramped of stages, her deep conviction was a dominant force.

For her Tiny Desk Concert, she mostly called original tunes from Chamber Music Society, her new album pairing a jazz rhythm section with a three-piece string trio. The two tunes bookending her set alternated the gossamer with the rich and darkly hued: the album opener "Little Fly," her setting of a William Blake poem, and "Apple Blossom," featuring her regular guitarist, Ricardo Vogt.

Joe Lovano Us Five: Live At The Village Vanguard (live at the Village Vanguard, 1/12/11))

Now a few years old, Us Five has enjoyed a lot of time on the road to develop its sonic identity. Lovano, a monster player in all directions, is the central focus on tenor saxophone and other strange saxes. But he swims amid the interplay of drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela (replaced on this gig by Matt Wilson), plus the additional lean muscle of pianist James Weidman and bassist Esperanza Spalding. And their collective take on Charlie Parker is a sort of 21st-century expressionism. It's Bird re-painted with broad strokes — Bird as a point of departure for a personal vision — and it's got a churning engine behind it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Chicago Population Sinks to 1920 Level ( KEVIN HELLIKER, 2/17/11, WSJ)

A larger-than-expected exodus over the past 10 years reduced the population of Chicago to a level not seen in nearly a century.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that during the decade ended in 2010, Chicago's population fell 6.9% to 2,695,598 people, fewer than the 2.7 million reported back in 1920.

And Chicago is as good as it gets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


China is richer, but most Chinese are still poor (Nin-Hai Tseng, February 17, 2011, Fortune)

There is no doubt China has achieved impressive growth over the past decade. But even though the country has averaged about 10% growth over the past several years, that doesn't mean the average Chinese citizen is necessarily eating or sleeping better than the average German or Frenchman. In fact, with GDP per capita at $3,744 in 2009, China placed #86 out of 164 countries ranked according to 2009 World Bank data. This was just below much smaller economies such as Tunisia, Albania and Jordan.

While Japan might have lost its place to China, the average citizen there is still generally much richer. In 2009, Japan's GDP per capita, at $39,727, ranked it 19. What's more, even while the size of the U.S. economy ranks just one notch above China's, it's nevertheless one of the richest countries in the world with GDP per capita in 2009 at $45,989. In 2010, Japan's GDP per capita rose to $42,500 while in the U.S. it rose to $47,100.

Alcoholism Is Killing Off Russian Men (John Hudson, February 15, 2011, )
[A] report from the World Health Organization is depicting it in the starkest terms yet: it's causing a demographic timebomb. Richard Weitz at World Politics Review highlights the most disturbing figures from the report:

- Russians 16 and older drink the equivalent of roughly four gallons of pure alcohol per capita each year, almost twice the amount of their American counterparts.
- Russia currently has 2 million alcoholics.
- The number of Russian children aged 10-14 who drink alcohol exceeds 10 million.
- Roughly 500,000 Russians die annually from alcoholic-related accidents, crimes, and illnesses.
- Alcohol poisoning kills more than 23,000 Russians each year.

According to Weitz, 20 percent of Russian male deaths are attributed to alcoholism. A 15-year-old boy has a 40 percent chance of dying before the age of 60. Despite recent economic gains, the Russian population continues to shrink.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Exercise Not Part of Life for Many Southerners (Eric Lander - February 17, 2011, Third Age)

Exercise simply isn't a priority for a large part of the South and in the Appalachian states. In many parts of these two regions, more than 29 percent of adults report no physical activity or exercise other than at their job, U.S. officials say. [...]

The Web site indicates people living in Colorado, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast, and along the West Coast are most likely to be active in their free time.

Heat produces moral lassitude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Hispanic Population Growth Complicates Texas GOP's Redistricting Hopes (Cameron Joseph, February 17, 2011, Hotline)

Texas is officially a majority-minority state, according to just-released Census numbers, the first time in the decennial census that it has crossed that threshold.

Whites now account for just 45 percent of the state's population, down from 52 percent a decade ago. The Hispanic population is now 38 percent of the total population - growing by 42 percent -- while the African American population grew slightly and is now 12 percent of the total population. The state gained four congressional seats in reapportionment, largely due to minority growth: almost 90 percent of the state's growth was from minorities.

The Census findings complicate Republicans' hopes for a partisan gerrymander during this redistricting process. The Democratic lean of Hispanic voters and Voting Rights Act requirements that protect the group's voting strength from being watered down means that despite Republican control of the redistricting process, the GOP will struggle to make the map much more favorable to their party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Why Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood isn't the Islamic bogeyman: Western fears of Islamist takeover in post-Mubarak Egypt are unfounded. During recent protests, the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated a commitment to peaceful political participation. The US now has an opportunity to support a truly democratic Egypt, including the Brotherhood. (David M. Faris and Stacey Philbrick Yadav / February 14, 2011, CS Monitor)

By now, careful observers will know that these fears are unfounded on multiple levels. The protests were not led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which only joined them after they had been going on for days. The Brotherhood itself is not the bloodthirsty threat to liberty its enemies would have us believe. And the process of engaging in collective action may actually have deepened some of the internal fissures within the party’s leadership, making it unlikely to “dominate” Egypt’s future in any single, clear direction.

The Brotherhood is an organization whose leadership’s main aim is to retain the ability to influence the shape of Egyptian society. This means that it will need to work with the military, along with Egyptians of all political backgrounds, to navigate a period of martial law before anticipated reforms take effect. Throughout this period, we should expect the Brotherhood to do what it has so often done: to work with, not against, the people whom it represents.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The book that defined modern campaign reporting (Ben Smith, December 30, 2010, Politico)

What It Takes” is now widely considered the greatest modern presidential campaign book. But the judgments of Washington’s elite come late to Maryland’s remote Eastern Shore, and the book’s place in political writing has dawned only very late on its author. When it came out in the heat of the 1992 campaign, the tome dropped with a heavy thud. It was viewed as eccentric, affected, too long for its boring subject. Who, four years after he lost, wanted to read 100 pages on Dick Gephardt’s childhood?

“What It Takes” received mediocre reviews and sales fizzled. Cramer, after a low period, turned to writing about baseball. The best interpreter of American politicians never wrote another word about politics. He still owes Random House more than $200,000 of his advance.

Cramer had expected his book to change the world. The reception left him “dismayed, bereft, maybe clinically depressed,” he told POLITICO. His researcher and partner on the book, Mark Zwonitzer, recalled that both men felt “like you’d been hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer.”

“Richard just got the hell out of the country,” Zwonitzer recalled. “He shut it down. It was too painful.”

But the fall and rise of “What It Takes” is a case study in how a book enters the canon.

Viewed with skepticism and not a little hostility by the reporters who had covered the ’88 campaign more conventionally, it was embraced by its subjects and by other politicians and operatives who appreciated its central thrust: That they are human beings. Slowly but definitively, the book has been elevated by another generation of political writers to be — as Jill Abramson of The New York Times, which originally panned it, put it this year — “the last truly great campaign book.”

Many of his admirers among that younger generation of political writers couldn’t tell you whether the 60 year-old Cramer is alive or dead, much less where he lives. But Cramer is still gregarious, bearded and profane. He is also just short of a hermit — not J.D. Salinger yet but tending distinctly in that direction.

The house where Cramer now lives with his longtime girlfriend and a large, unkempt young poodle is grand in a spare way, with bare plaster wall and trees planted on the edge of the 27 acres to obscure the view of encroaching developments Cramer refers to as “Moron Acres” and “Shanda Towers.” The only Christmas card on the white fridge is from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, whom Cramer met when he was working for Gary Hart.

Cramer was famous on the campaign trail as an off-kilter clotheshorse, and his current uniform is no less striking. One recent evening, he wore a pink dress shirt, gray sweater vest and checked blazer with a clashing, checked scarf, all over baggy green Lee Valley gardening pants with enough pockets for his cigars, pens and paper, and the cell phone he never answers.

When Cramer sold “What It Takes,” he was a celebrated foreign correspondent, having won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Middle East for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then a hub of the novelistic “New Journalism,” whose icon, Tom Wolfe, he intensely admired. He covered the region from Rome, and he still dressed in the best Missoni suits, with rich red and purple undertones, white sneakers, and a red Rochester Red Wings baseball cap.

He didn’t want to be confused, he said, with “the guy from the Cincinnati Enquirer.”

“Even if they weren’t going to help me, they were going to know who I was,” he said in an interview conducted over port wine in his living room, washing down two massive steaks.

Cramer probably would have stood out anyway, his companion, Joan Katherine Smith, a former San Francisco Examiner book critic, gently points out. With wild hair, a reputation for extravagant writing and spending, and a giant advance, he was hard to miss.

His speech would have lent itself to a Richard Ben Cramer dialect study: There are hints of the acquired drawl of one of his best ’88 friends, George W. Bush, undertones of Baltimore mayors like Big Tommy and Little Tommy D’Alessandro, Nancy Pelosi’s father and brother, and William Donald Schaefer, who was later governor of Maryland after following the D’Alessandros at Baltimore City Hall.

It was Cramer’s time at the Baltimore Sun, in fact, perhaps more than his celebrated Middle East coverage and magazine writing, that made “What It Takes” so different.

Cramer came of age in a political world free of handlers, consultants and professional spin, and he loved — and was loved by — the large characters and ethnic pols whom he covered and, sometimes, got into serious trouble. Maryland politics was the same scene that shaped two other journalists acutely sensitive to the nuance and humanity of the mixed characters they cover, David Maraniss and Mark Bowden, who reported from Annapolis for The Washington Post and Baltimore News American, the Sun’s departed rival, before they went on to their own book-writing careers.

Cramer recalled one pol his stories helped convict writing him warm letters from jail. Bowden recalled that politicians actually invited Cramer back to town for a gathering after he’d left for Philadelphia, a warmth for one of the jackals who covered them that was “unheard of.”

“Even though he was hugely admired by the reporters, he was equally admired and genuinely beloved by the legislators,” Bowden said.

Cramer had never written about American national politics, and he approached it with a rare quality — the affinity for politicians he had acquired in Baltimore and Annapolis. He also came with the principle that “I had to know everything” about his subjects. He encircled the candidates, calling the mothers, cousins, brothers and first-grade teachers of candidates like Gephardt, who were both known Washington quantities and little-known men.

One of the reasons political writing is so joyless nowadays is because journalists, especially on the Left and Right, hold politicians in contempt--at their best they're compromisers after all. Indeed, Mr. Cramer was even on the politicians' side against his fellow journalists.

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February 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:00 PM


Jeb Bush likes Mitch Daniels' 2012 prospects (Abel Harding on February 17, 2011, Jacksonville Times-Union)

"Mitch is the only one who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals," he said, speaking at a reception held before he took the stage in front of a crowd of real estate professionals.

Bush acknowledged that Daniels is absent the smooth, television-friendly delivery present in other hopefuls, but said voters were looking for a direct approach.

"He would be the anti-Obama, at least socially," Bush said. "He's not good on a teleprompter, but if my theory is right that could work well for him."

Republicans have been too cautious in the past, Bush said, and have shied away from needed reforms to entitlement programs. He listed the failure of Congress to act on partial privatization of Social Security, one of the programs favored by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

"Congress ran for cover when President Bush tried to implement reform," he said.

Citing the willingness of so-called "blue state governors," New York's Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey's Chris Christie, Bush said the public was demonstrating a yearning for full-scale change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Is This the Fattest Yankees Team Ever? (DANIEL BARBARISI, 2/17/11, WSJ)

The latest episode of "The Biggest Loser: Yankee Edition" kicked off in earnest Wednesday when General Manager Brian Cashman acknowledged that reliever Joba Chamberlain reported to camp well over his listed weight of 230 pounds, to the team's chagrin. [...]

Going by the listed weights, the Yankees have 18 players in camp listed at 225 pounds or more, just under one-third of the total group in camp. Five players are listed at 250 pounds or more. On the pitching staff, new arrivals Freddy Garcia (250) and Bartolo Colon (245) join the mammoth Mr. Sabathia (290) and the voluminous Phil Hughes (240).

If Mr. Colon and Mr. Garcia both made the staff alongside A.J. Burnett (230), the Yankees would have perhaps the heaviest rotation in baseball history, weighing in at a positively amplitudinous 1,255 pounds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 PM


Obama’s Freedom Agenda (Rick Richman 02.13.2011, Commentary)

In Obama’s first two years, democracy was conspicuously absent from the “three Ds” in his secretary of state’s standard speech. As the Egyptian revolution heads toward the Bermuda Triangle that awaited the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions, the freedom agenda is being managed by an American president who did not believe in it in the first place; whose first two years were marked by confrontations with democratic allies and extended hands to autocratic adversaries; and who still has not scheduled a trip to Israel — the model for freedom in the Middle East.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


Why the Wisconsin labor bill is a big dealZachary Roth, 2/17/11, Yahoo)

Here's a closer look at the what's going on in the Badger state--and what it might mean for the rest of the country:

What exactly would the bill do?

Walker's legislation would end collective bargaining rights--the process by which employees band together to negotiate with employers--for almost all of Wisconsin's state, county and local workers (police, firefighters and the state patrol would be excepted). This would mean, among other things, that unions wouldn't be able to seek pay increases above inflation, unless voters approve those hikes in a special referendum. Unions also would not be able to require members to pay dues, and would have to hold yearly votes to stay organized.

The bill also would make public workers pay half the cost of their pensions, and at least 12.6 percent of their health care coverage. On average, state employees' share of their pension and health care costs would go up by 8 percent.

In exchange for all this, Walker has promised not to lay off or furlough public employees. But he has said that if the bill doesn't pass, he'll order layoffs of up to 6,000 state workers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Cameron talks of helping to recruit Crawford (Gordon Edes, 2/17/11, ESPN)

Cameron, it turns out, had played an active role in the recruitment of Crawford, even though his arrival meant Cameron would become no better than the fourth outfielder on this team. As far back as October, Cameron said, he had talked to Crawford about coming here.

“We just talked about what it was like playing in Boston from the other side,’’ Cameron said. “He made a choice to come to one of the best teams in baseball to add to what we already had here.

“I was just like a college recruiter,’’ agreeing with a reporter who suggested that analogy. “Tell him about the positives, let him figure out what he wanted to do. My experiences, the things that might change for him. I definitely think it will be something he will enjoy.’’

Cameron said he appreciated that general manager Theo Epstein called him even before Crawford signed to inform him of what was happening.

Even into the aughts Boston carried a, mostly deserved, reputation as a team and a city that was inhospitable to black players. But Theo went out and added Cameron and Billy Hall last year, knowing he'd be pursuing Crawford this Winter.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


Ford comes under fire for his remarks (Yvonne Wenger, 2/09/11, postandcourier.com)

In a debate over hardening South Carolina's illegal immigration law, Sen. Robert Ford argued against a new law because "brothers" don't work as hard as "Mexicans."

Ford said during a Senate committee meeting Tuesday that the state needs immigrants to fill hard labor jobs, such as construction jobs at the new Boeing plant in North Charleston, because black Americans won't do the work.

"I know brothers -- and I'm talking about black guys -- they are not going to do the dirty work at Boeing, to do that hauling and all that building, that dirty work," Ford said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Diet Pepsi Debuts its Sleek, New Look at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (PRNewswire, 2/08/11)

"Diet Pepsi has a long history of celebrating women through iconic fashion imagery seen in our infamous and historical campaigns, and we're proud to continue that tradition as an official sponsor of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week," said Jill Beraud, Chief Marketing Officer, PepsiCo. "Our slim, attractive new can is the perfect complement to today's most stylish looks, and we're excited to throw its coming-out party during the biggest celebration of innovative design in the world."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The Boy in the Box: America’s Unknown Child: In woods not far from Philadelphia, the body of a young boy was found in a box in 1957. An autopsy showed the 4-to-6-year-old child had died from a blow to his head and had sustained numerous bruises. A widespread, prolonged investigation failed to even determine the boy’s name. (Mark Pulham, 2/02/11, Crime Magazine)

It had rained heavily the night before, and there was still some rain and cloud cover that Wednesday morning. It was November

11, 1998, and a crowd of around a hundred had gathered at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia for the funeral service. Just in time, the rain cleared and the clouds broke apart to reveal the sun, leaving a blue sky for the ceremony.

The service began exactly at 11 a.m. A lone piper played “Going Home” from Dvořák's “New World Symphony” on the bagpipes.

Reburial of the Boy in the Box. November 11th, 1998

The pallbearers were not family members or relatives, nor were they friends of the deceased, not in the common sense. Some were Philadelphia police officers, others were members of the Vidocq Society. The white casket was lowered into the ground on the corner triangular plot. One of the pallbearers, Sam Weinstein, a retired Philadelphia detective, sat on one of the chairs and wiped a tear from his eye.

Weinstein was there at the beginning, some forty-one years earlier.

In 1957, Fox Chase was still a rural district about eight miles north of Philadelphia’s downtown area. Remote and sparsely populated, Fox Chase had become an illegal dumping ground for trash.

It was Monday, February 25. Spring had yet to arrive, and it had been cold for that last week, the temperature dropping down to the 20s. Around 3:15 that afternoon, Frederick J. Benonis, a 26-year-old student from La Salle College, parked his car on the Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase. He got out of the car and went into the thickly wooded lot. Two weeks earlier, he had stopped at the same spot and chased a rabbit into the woods where he spotted a couple of traps set for small game. Benonis didn’t like the cruelty of these traps and sprung them. Now he wanted to check the traps again. They had not been reset.

As usual, garbage was strewn everywhere, including a large cardboard box partially covered with brush. It had not been there on his previous visit. Curious, he took a look inside and saw a large doll. It was very realistic. Too realistic.

Benonis rushed back to the car and drove away. He didn’t call the police; he knew what they would think. They had already talked with him about his habit of spying on the young ladies at the Good Shepherd Home for Wayward Girls across the street from the woods.

The next morning, as he drove to school, he heard a news broadcast on the car radio. A 4-year old girl named Mary Jane Barker had vanished from her home in Bellmawr, New Jersey, less than 25 miles away. Could that be Mary Jane’s body in the box? Is that what he had found? He had to talk to someone. He told of what he had found to two counsellors and a priest. They told him to call the police.

Sergeant Charles Gargani was manning the station desk when the call came in at 10:10 that Tuesday morning. He ordered a radio message to officers to investigate a cardboard box off Susquehanna Road, saying it could be a body, or a doll. Shortly after, Patrolman Elmer Palmer arrived on the scene. It was drizzling and cold.

Sure that what he would find would turn out to be a doll, Palmer entered the wooded area. Soon, he found the box, which was about three feet long and stamped “Fragile-Handle with Care.” Palmer stopped. He could see the head and shoulder that were sticking out of the box, the rest wrapped in a blanket. This was no doll. He went back to his patrol car and reported what he’d found.

A second car pulled up on that rainy, foggy morning. Sam Weinstein had arrived on the scene. Weinstein looked in the box. He was no stranger to death, having served in the Pacific as a Marine in World War II. But this was different, this was a child. Weinstein would always remember the sick feeling he got when he saw the body, thrown away with the rest of the garbage. He would make a promise that he would never give up on this child.

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February 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Dr. H. Gilbert Welch | G Force: A healthy dose of skepticism (Boston Globe, 2/07/11)

Q. You say the point of your book is that people should be more skeptical about the value of early detection in medicine. If we look for things to be wrong, we’ll find them, even if we didn’t need to?

A. The problem is that we all harbor abnormalities. People have the abnormality, but [in many cases] the abnormality is never destined to go on to cause symptoms or to cause death. We don’t know which people those are, but we tend to treat everybody.

Abnormality is normality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Board Gaming With Michael Lewis: The author of The Big Short discusses his career over a game of Saint Petersburg. (Tim Harford, Feb. 6, 2011, Slate)

"This game is going to end up like the tortoise and the hare," Michael Lewis declares, halfway through his inaugural game of Saint Petersburg. Lewis's green wooden pawn is well ahead on the board, but he's already picked up enough of the game to realize that—to paraphrase one of the characters he describes in his book The Big Short—he's about to get his eyeballs ripped out.

It is hard to understand quite why Lewis has agreed that I will teach him an obscure modern German board game while he is interviewed. Poker would have seemed the obvious choice. Liar's Poker, Lewis's description of the surreal Wall Street world he inhabited for two years as a bond trader at Salomon Bros., was definitive of an era and, to some extent, of Lewis's own career as a narrative writer. But Lewis isn't interested.

"I haven't played poker since I was in high school," he says. "It would be false to portray me as a gambler. It bores me. It's always bored me."

Was that why he left Salomon Bros. to become a writer? "No. It was fun gambling with other people's money. I liked that."

In a small meeting room in a Mayfair hotel, the logistics are awkward: I can't take notes, and it's hard even to talk because we're concentrating on the board. Even a simple game can be baffling to a first-timer, and Saint Petersburg is not a particularly simple game. It describes the building of the city by Peter the Great and his minions (but the theme is very loose: the artwork depicts Czarist Russia).

Players buy cards which provide a flow either of rubles—the currency to buy more cards—or of victory points, which advance the player's pawn and bring victory closer. There are four types of cards: aristocrats, who supply money and victory points and a bonus at the end; buildings, which supply victory points; peasants, who supply money; and upgrades, which improve the other three types. Returns on investment are very high, but there are never enough rubles to buy all the bargains on offer.

I am about to offer some opening hints when Lewis cuts me off. "Don't tell me tactics. You don't have to tell me. I'll screw up. I'd rather just get beaten, and learn that way."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Cameron’s Cuz Is More The Curzon: Pankaj Mishra’s was more an ideological cry of pain than any honest appraisal of my book (Patrick French, Outlook India)

I write as someone who has long admired Pankaj Mishra’s literary aspirations. I first met him in 1996, when he asked me to lunch at the Gaylord restaurant in Connaught Place so as to give me a copy of his Bill Bryson-style travel book Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. It was funny and entertaining, and remains his best book. His journalism has been interesting: no fellow writer could fail to be impressed by his rendition of the story of Ngodup, a Tibetan man who died in a protest in Delhi. It is a pity Pankaj did not pursue his burgeoning career as a novelist, or produce the promised short history of modern India. Instead, he has ranged widely, sitting on eminent literary prize committees, popping up as a visiting fellow at assorted foreign universities and jetting about denouncing “business-class lounges” and their elite inhabitants. It is not clear whether Pankaj—travelling the globe for high-paying western publications, while busily condemning “late capitalist society”—ever uses these lounges himself, or whether he prefers to take a downgrade to cattle class. For a long time I have appreciated his chutzpah most of all, though he remains a writer of promise. He has been successful in imparting his “authentic” take on India to the West, and one American intellectual even adjudged our reviewer to be “the young Siddhartha Gautama himself: a scholar-sophisticate” after meeting him at “the lower Manhattan holiday party of a stylish magazine”.

Pankaj has obviously been on a long journey from his self-described origins—in what he calls a “new, very poor and relatively inchoate Asian society”—to his present position at the heart of the British establishment, married to a cousin of the prime minister David Cameron. But he seems oddly resentful of the idea of social mobility for other Indians. One of the most unexpected aspects of my research for India: A Portrait was the sheer extent of aspiration and achievement across the country, ranging from a girl from a poor background who secured a place at an IIT, to a man who has devoted his life to inventing and manufacturing a low-cost sanitary towel, to Dattu, a landless and illiterate adivasi, who today has a good job in a Maharashtra winery, to C.K. Ranganathan, who trudged the streets of Cuddalore in the 1980s selling sachets of shampoo and now employs more than 1,000 people. Pankaj looks down haughtily on the Re 1 sachet revolution, saying “cheap beauty aids are unlikely to compensate the poor for a cruelly inegalitarian healthcare system”. But whoever suggested they would? It is a fatuous conjunction of two unrelated points.

Having read his review, it is still not clear to me what he wants for India. He mentions what is wrong: poverty, corruption, debt, resource shortages, poor primary education and healthcare. But everyone knows this. Much of my book is devoted to analysing the ways in which progress is—and is not—being made. And the question remains—how to proceed from here? I do not buy the romantic view that an end to poverty is possible without the creation of wealth, or that the era of the permit raj was somehow an easier time. “India registered its most impressive gains from 1951 to 1980,” Pankaj wrote in one of his blogs on the Guardian website. “Until 1980, India achieved an average annual economic growth of 3.5 per cent”. This is a ludicrous statistic to quote, since it makes no mention that the population grew rapidly during the same period: by the 1970s, per capita GDP in India was rising more slowly than at any point in the preceding century. In another exhausting blog post, he makes a paternalistic plea to the British government not to cut its foreign aid, so as to avoid “the severing of Britain’s old links with India’s great mass of ordinary people”. But with the British economy contracting and cousin Cameron having to borrow money to fulfil that particular obligation, it hardly looks like a long-term solution.

It goes without saying that I do not believe—as alleged—that “consumer capitalism is the summit of human civilisation”, but I also have grave doubts whether Marxism, Maoism or Mishraism offer a solution. Can India’s chronic rural poverty really be alleviated only by the state? If so, how will the state get the money to do this, except by further economic growth? It is no use chanting “garibi hatao” and patting yourself on the back if you have no coherent suggestions of how to abolish poverty. You do not choose your history or your geography, and India is situated in a dangerous and difficult neighbourhood. It may be a long way from Utopia, but India has an entrenched and developed democratic system, a long tradition of fervent debate, a vibrant economy and a largely tolerant relationship between different communities.

I have some questions for the vendors of the apocalypse, who make a living abroad selling a constrained, outdated and implacably narrow vision of what India is and could be. Where do they currently see their own political and economic ideas being put into effect in a useful, humane way? Is it in West Bengal, or Dantewada? Or perhaps abroad, in foreign countries? How does poverty stand a chance of being alleviated unless someone does the work of creating wealth?

The path to prosperity is the one laid out by the Anglos.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The Mad Men Account (Daniel Mendelsohn, 2/24/11, NY Review of Books)

I am dwelling on the deeper, almost irrational reasons for the series’s appeal—to which I shall return later, and to which I am not at all immune, having been a child in the 1960s—because after watching all fifty-two episodes of Mad Men, I find little else to justify it. We are currently living in a new golden age of television, a medium that has been liberated by cable broadcasting to explore both fantasy and reality with greater frankness and originality than ever before: as witness shows as different as the now-iconic crime dramas The Sopranos and The Wire, with their darkly glinting, almost Aeschylean moral textures; the philosophically provocative, unexpectedly moving sci-fi hit Battlestar Galactica, a kind of futuristic retelling of the Aeneid; and the perennially underappreciated small-town drama Friday Night Lights, which offers, among other things, the finest representation of middle-class marriage in popular culture of which I’m aware.

With these standouts (and there are many more), Mad Men shares virtually no significant qualities except its design. The writing is extremely weak, the plotting haphazard and often preposterous, the characterizations shallow and sometimes incoherent; its attitude toward the past is glib and its self-positioning in the present is unattractively smug; the acting is, almost without exception, bland and sometimes amateurish.

Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.

That a soap opera decked out in high-end clothes (and concepts) should have received so much acclaim and is taken so seriously reminds you that fads depend as much on the willingness of the public to believe as on the cleverness of the people who invent them; as with many fads that take the form of infatuations with certain moments in the past, the Mad Men craze tells us far more about today than it does about yesterday. But just what in the world of the show do we want to possess? The clothes and furniture? The wicked behavior? The unpunished crassness? To my mind, it’s something else entirely, something unexpected and, in a way, almost touching. [...]

As I watched the first season, the characters and their milieu were so unrelentingly repellent that I kept wondering whether the writers had been trying, unsuccessfully, for a kind of camp—for a tartly tongue-in-cheek send-up of Sixties attitudes. (I found myself wishing that the creators of Glee had gotten a stab at this material.) But the creators of Mad Men are in deadly earnest. It’s as if these forty- and thirty-somethings can’t quite believe how bad people were back then, and can’t resist the impulse to keep showing you.

This impulse might be worth indulging (briefly), but the problem with Mad Men is that it suffers from a hypocrisy of its own. As the camera glides over Joan’s gigantic bust and hourglass hips, as it languorously follows the swirls of cigarette smoke toward the ceiling, as the clinking of ice in the glass of someone’s midday Canadian Club is lovingly enhanced, you can’t help thinking that the creators of this show are indulging in a kind of dramatic having your cake and eating it, too: even as it invites us to be shocked by what it’s showing us (a scene people love to talk about is one in which a hugely pregnant Betty lights up a cigarette in a car), it keeps eroticizing what it’s showing us, too. For a drama (or book, or whatever) to invite an audience to feel superior to a less enlightened era even as it teases the regressive urges behind the behaviors associated with that era strikes me as the worst possible offense that can be committed in a creative work set in the past: it’s simultaneously contemptuous and pandering. Here, it cripples the show’s ability to tell us anything of real substance about the world it depicts.

It has the MacBeth problem--there is no drama in bad stuff happening to unlikable people.

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February 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Peter Hitchens on the Perils of Ideology: The right-wing journalist says the left has been liberated by the fall of the Berlin Wall, that speech is probably freer in modern Russia than it is in Britain. (Five Books)

The Night of Wenceslas.

Many years ago I was told by the wife of Jack Jones, who had in her distant youth been a Comintern courier – gold one way and messages the other – that whatever else I did I should go to Prague, where you could encounter the faint echoes of prewar Europe and was also an astonishingly beautiful city. So in 1977, when it was not fashionable to go there and when stag nights were not held there and people didn’t even know where it was on the map, I and my wife set out on a visit there and it exceeded expectations. Then to stumble across this novel by Lionel Davidson, an author who has been very unfairly neglected, it seems to me!

He is one of the great thriller writers of the second half of the 20th century and he’s also very funny, but this book is again a perfect description of what it is like to be in a Communist capital city and it also contains wonderful moments of fear. For example, when the hero discovers that he is, in fact – and I don’t want to spoil this for anyone reading it – carrying something in his luggage which is tremendously dangerous to him and that the authorities are after him. What follows is a mixture of terror and laughter which it would take a great deal of trouble to undo.

The final scenes, which are played out around the British Embassy in the very beautiful part of Prague where it still stands, are also a wonderful piece of work. So, for anyone who’s interested in Prague, for anyone who’s interested in being made to laugh, for anyone who’s interested in a really good espionage thriller, for anyone who wants to have the atmosphere of one of the most atmospheric cities in the world recreated, you couldn’t do better.

It sounds wonderful.

Do read it! Everybody should. There are other books by him too – The Rose of Tibet and A Long Way to Shiloh, which are fantastic books. One set in Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion and the other in pre-1967 Israel, the only really good archaeological thriller I’ve ever read.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


When Reagan Spoke Truth to Soviet Power: Who is this Neanderthal, sniffed the journalistic elite. (PAUL KENGOR, 1/29/11, WSJ)

Reagan's rejoinder was deemed a crass outrage. The journalistic elite sniffed, Who is this Neanderthal? A Washington Post editorial lamented the "indiscriminate quality of some of the things being said." This sudden "good-vs.-evil approach risks missing what legitimate opportunity for honorable accommodation there may be."

In the ensuing weeks, America's leading journalists—perplexed, offended—repeatedly pressed the new president for clarification. And so Reagan would clarify, again and again, saying of the Soviet leadership: "They don't subscribe to our sense of morality. They don't believe in an afterlife; they don't believe in a God or a religion. And the only morality they recognize, therefore, is what will advance the cause of socialism."

All this was too much for CBS Evening News. CBS's grand old anchor, Walter Cronkite, got the opportunity to confront Reagan during a March 3 interview. Cronkite told Reagan that the president's views seemed too "hard line toward the Soviet Union." He noted that "there are some who . . . feel that you might have overdone the rhetoric a little bit in laying into the Soviet leadership as being liars and thieves, et cetera."

Reagan did not back down. He noted that he had merely responded truthfully to a question from a reporter about "Soviet aims." On that, said Reagan, "I don't have to offer my opinion. They [the Soviets] have told us where they're going again and again. They have told us their goal is the Marxian philosophy of world revolution and a single, one-world communist state, and that they're dedicated to that." The president harkened back to the Soviet version of morality: "Remember their ideology is without God, without our idea of morality in a religious sense."

Nixon was negotiating the terms on which the West would live with a permanent Iron Curtain. Reagan was negotiating the end of that particular evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


The crying game: Why we cry (Stephen Bayley, 2/03/11, The Tel;egraph)

Crying, it turns out, is a physiologically and psychologically complicated device we use to adapt ourselves to dramatic circumstances. And it’s a uniquely human prerogative: despite what you may have heard about crocodiles, animals do not cry.

Research in the Eighties at the University of Minnesota found that men cry once a month, while women cry five times as much. [...]

Crying indicates vulnerability: psychologists believe we empathise with a tearful person because we are reminded of a baby. But crying can also indicate terrible states of desolation. The critic Cyril Connolly claimed to be able to cry with boredom at demanding dinner parties. More impressively, he wrote: “Morning tears return; spirits at their lowest ebb. Approaching 40, sense of total failure.” That is what you might call a cry for help.

It is not entirely clear whether crying is evidence of emotional maturity or of indulgent self-pity; of pride, shame, joy, sadness or anger. Do tears demonstrate touching vulnerability or an annoying manipulativeness? A wholesome style of fearless emotional nudity, or an embarrassing lack of control? Actually, all of these things.

It's not necessarily self-pity, but it's obviously self-indulgence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


When Irish Eyes Are Crying: First Iceland. Then Greece. Now Ireland, which headed for bankruptcy with its own mysterious logic. In 2000, suddenly among the richest people in Europe, the Irish decided to buy their country—from one another. After which their banks and government really screwed them. So where’s the rage? (Michael Lewis, March 2011, Vanity Fair)

What has occurred in Ireland since then is without precedent in economic history. By the start of the new millennium, the Irish poverty rate was under 6 percent and by 2006 Ireland was one of the richest countries in the world. How did that happen? A bright young Irishman who got himself hired by Bear Stearns in the late 1990s and went off to New York or London for five years returned feeling poor. For the better part of a decade there has been quicker money to be made in Irish real estate than in investment banking. How did that happen?

For the first time in history, people and money longed to get into Ireland rather than out of it. The most dramatic case in point are the Poles. The Polish government keeps no comprehensive statistics on the movement of its workforce, but its foreign ministry guesstimates that, since the country’s admission to the European Union, more than a million Poles have left Poland to work elsewhere. At the peak, in 2006, as many as a quarter-million of them were in Ireland. For the United States to achieve a proportionally distortive demographic effect, it would need to hand green cards to 17 million Mexicans.

How did any of this happen? There are many theories: the elimination of trade barriers, the decision to grant free public higher education, the persistent lowering of the corporate tax rate, beginning in the 1980s, which turned Ireland into a tax haven for foreign corporations. Maybe the most intriguing was offered by a pair of demographers at Harvard, David E. Bloom and David Canning, in a 2003 paper called “Contraception and the Celtic Tiger.” Bloom and Canning argued that a major cause of the Irish boom was a dramatic increase in the ratio of working-age to non-working-age Irish brought about by a crash in the Irish birthrate. This had been driven mainly by Ireland’s decision, in 1979, to legalize birth control. That is, a nation’s fidelity to the Vatican’s edicts was inversely proportional to its ability to climb out of poverty: out of the slow death of the Catholic Church arose an economic miracle.

And then one day you wake up and realize that there are no young people to buy the houses from you or pay for your retirement. It's textbook, just not economic texts..

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


My Rayannes (Emma Straub, January 24, 2011, Paris Review)

All teenage girls are at least half-lesbian, always admiring their friends’ still-shifting bodies, their superior wardrobes, their make-up application expertise, their better luck with the opposite sex. Teenage girls curl up together like newborn puppies, painting one another’s toes as if they were licking one another’s ears. If you sit long enough in any Starbucks, or loiter outside any high school, you will see girls climbing onto one another’s laps, kissing on the lips. They aren’t hitting on each other, not precisely, though they are in a constant state of arousal that borders on the insane. No other love is like the love of a teenage girl, all passion and fire and endless devotion—at least for a week.

There are many painful, moving stories about female friendship out there—Amy Hempel’s In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried, Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty, Thelma and Louise—but even the most beautiful stories about teenage girls fail to capture the obsessive, all-encompassing infatuations I remember. That is, all except one: My So-Called Life. It began on the air in August 1994, the summer before my freshman year of high school, and it was as if someone had placed a mirror inside my bedroom and broadcast it on television. I was Angela Chase, more so than everyone else who was sure that they were Angela Chase. I was a freshman in high school and deeply in love with every doe-eyed boy at my school. I parted my hair in the middle and wore a choker made of string. I got pimples, cried for no reason, and (once Angela introduced them to me, I will admit) danced around my room to the Violent Femmes. And like Angela, I had my Rayannes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Turning garbage into gas: Atomising trash eliminates the need to dump it, and generates useful power too (The Economist, Feb 3rd 2011)

For years, some particularly toxic types of waste, such as the sludge from oil refineries, have been destroyed with artificial lightning from electric plasma torches—devices that heat matter to a temperature higher than that of the sun’s surface. Until recently this has been an expensive process, costing as much as $2,000 per tonne of waste, according to SRL Plasma, an Australian firm that has manufactured torches for 13 of the roughly two dozen plants around the world that work this way.

Now, though, costs are coming down. Moreover, it has occurred to people such as Dr Hillestad that the process could be used to generate power as well as consuming it. Appropriately tweaked, the destruction of organic materials (including paper and plastics) by plasma torches produces a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called syngas. That, in turn, can be burned to generate electricity. Add in the value of the tipping fees that do not have to be paid if rubbish is simply vaporised, plus the fact that energy prices in general are rising, and plasma torches start to look like a plausible alternative to burial.

The technology has got better, too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


The Gentleman From Virginia: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history, hails not from the urban melting pot but from a Southern, explicitly Christian America (Allison Hoffman, Feb 8, 2011, Tablet)

Cantor often describes himself as “a minority within a minority”—a Jew from the South, and a conservative Republican whose views are sharply at odds with those of the predominantly Democratic Jewish electorate—and this allows him to occasionally affect a self-deprecating, and sympathetic, underdog quality. He grew up in Richmond’s historic but tiny Jewish community, and in a solidly Republican household when Virginia was still Yellow Dog Democrat country. His parents sent him and his two brothers to the Collegiate School, a prestigious private academy that featured annual Christmas pageants, but they kept a kosher home. He was bar mitzvahed at the city’s main Conservative synagogue, where his own children also had their bar and bat mitzvahs. Cantor keeps kosher at work—his Democratic predecessor, Steny Hoyer, got him egg-salad sandwiches when they met for a rare bipartisan lunch in late January—and at home, where his mother-in-law supervises the kitchen. When I met Cantor in his new, eggnog-yellow office late last month, I asked him whether he would have preferred to grow up in a place where being Jewish wasn’t quite so exotic. “I think it’s given me a real appreciation—” he began, and then he paused. He looked directly at me and started again: “You know, we live in a Christian country.”

Since the beginning of the year, Cantor has become the de facto public face of a party that has grown steadily more religious and more suburban in the two decades since he began working his way up its ranks. In Young Guns, the conservative manifesto Cantor co-wrote last year with his House colleagues Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan, the congressman drew an explicit analogy between their churchgoing and his own synagogue attendance. “I pray on Saturday with a Southern accent,” Cantor wrote. “Paul and Kevin go to church on Sunday and talk to God without dropping their Gs.” What set him apart growing up—his distance from the heavily Jewish cities that now serve as metonyms for liberal elitism, his native ease with the Christian references so many Republican partisans use to define their political values—has become his passport into the heart of the GOP establishment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive: You can deny the inevitable but not defy it—still there are a few compensations to growing old: a review of Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age By Susan Jacoby (Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal)

One departs this book with the impression that the only protection against the depredations and sheer bloody horrors of old age are lots of money or a benevolent government watching out for one. But the experience of aging is richer, more complex, more subtle and philosophically interesting, I fear, than Susan Jacoby, with her feminist's depth and journalist's breadth, can hope to fathom.

Cicero, who had the required depth and breadth, would have strongly disagreed with much in "Never Say Die." A reading of his brilliant essay "On Aging," composed in the form of a dialogue—a work that goes unmentioned by Ms. Jacoby—is the best antidote to her book.

"Cicero," Montaigne wrote, "gives one an appetite for old age." And so he does. Of course old age, bringing with it diminished strength and desires, cannot do some of things youth can; of course old age makes one more prone to illness and disease—parts, after all, do wear out; of course old age puts one closer to death. But weighed beside these serious detractions, Cicero contended, are the opportunities old age brings for "the study and practice of decent, enlightened living," accompanied by a calm that youth, and even middle age, do not allow.

For all the diminishments of old age Cicero set out accompanying consolations. "Great deeds are not done by strength or speed or physique: They are the products of thought, and character, and judgment," he argued. "And far from diminishing, such qualities actually increase with age." The lust of youth is not merely overrated but the seat of much outrage and indecent behavior. "When its campaigns of sex, ambition, rivalry, quarrelling, and all other passions are ended, the human spirit returns to live within itself—and is well off." He added: "The satisfactions of the mind are greater than all the rest."

As for the attribution of such faults among the old as being morose, ill-tempered, avaricious and difficult to please, Cicero claimed, rightly, that "these are faults of character, not of age." Ms. Jacoby argues that "anyone who has outlived his or her passions has lived too long." Cicero, less stringently and stridently, held: "As long as man is able to live up to his obligations and fulfill them . . . he is entitled to live on." I would split the difference and say that the criteria for continuing to live are that one finds life amusing and that there are people in the world who need one.

One of the distinguishing features of Mr. Epstein's recent short story collection is how satisfied the older characters are with their lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Downeast Is Red: The revival of the Maine GOP. (CONRAD KIECHEL, 2/07/11, Weekly Standard)

Sixty years ago, Maine and New Hampshire shared more than a border and their Yankee heritage. Their per-capita income was similar, and so was state government spending as a share of the state’s economy. But, starting with Maine’s decision to impose a sales tax in 1951, two roads diverged in a fiscal wood. In the decades since, the Granite State has not imposed a personal income or sales tax, while Maine has taken the road of higher taxes and greater regulation. And that has made all the difference for the two states’ economies.

By 2009, the share of personal income that Maine residents receive from all government sources was over 36 percent; for New Hampshire, the figure was only 24 percent. As Tarren Bragdon, the baby-faced CEO of the free-market Maine Heritage Policy Center, explains, “Every time there was an opportunity to choose between self-sufficiency and dependence, the state chose dependence. And at the same time you had an increasing social safety net, you had increased hostility toward small business and entrepreneurs.”

The results include: no private job growth in a decade, a ranking by Forbes as America’s least business-friendly state, and an increase in welfare dependence such that nearly one of three Mainers receives some form of government assistance. As newly inaugurated governor Paul Le-Page sums up the preconditions for the GOP victory: “High taxes, unreasonable regulation, high unemployment .  .  . and the stars were aligned.” [...]

On Election Day, voters gave Le-Page a decisive 38.3 percent of the vote, Republicans took the senate 20 to 14 with 1 independent, and​—​in a surprise to everyone but Webster​—​took the house 78 to 72 with 1 independent. Amy Volk won her seat, one of a handful of freshmen who were new to politics. They prevailed despite being considerably outspent by special interest groups. (The biggest Democratic donor in Maine is a hedge fund manager from the northwoods of Greenwich, Connecticut.) Maine Republicans seemed to triumph as the party of the working people.

Yet there is little triumphalism among the victors. Maine’s new political leaders are starting their jobs with Yankee practicality and what Le-Page calls “everyday common sense.”

Welcome back to New England.

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February 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Rethinking the Great Recession (Robert J. Samuelson, Winter 2011, Wilson Quarterly)

The boom did not begin with the rise of home prices, as is usually asserted. It began instead with the suppression of double-digit inflation in the early 1980s, an event that unleashed a quarter-century of what seemed to be steady and dependable prosperity. There were only two recessions, both of them short and mild. Unemployment peaked at 7.8 percent. As inflation fell, interest rates followed. The stock market soared. From 1979 to 1999, stock values rose 14-fold. Housing prices climbed, though less spectacularly. Enriched, Americans borrowed and spent more. But what started as a justifiable response to good economic news—lower inflation—slowly evolved into corrupting overconfidence, the catalyst for the reckless borrowing, overspending, financial speculation, and regulatory lapses that caused the bust.

In some ways, the boom-bust story is both more innocent and more disturbing than the standard explanations of blundering and wrongdoing. It does not excuse the financial excesses, policy mistakes, economic miscalculations, deceits, and crimes that contributed to the collapse. But it does provide a broader explanation and a context. People were conditioned by a quarter-century of good economic times to believe that we had moved into a new era of reliable economic growth. Homeowners, investors, bankers, and economists all suspended disbelief. Their heady assumptions fostered a get-rich-quick climate in which wishful thinking, exploitation, and illegality flourished. People took shortcuts and thought they would get away with them. In this sense, the story is more understandable and innocent than the standard tale of calculated greed and dishonesty.

But the story is also more disturbing in that it batters our faith that modern economics—whether of the Left or Right—can protect us against great instability and insecurity. The financial panic and subsequent Great Recession have demonstrated that the advances in economic management and financial understanding that supposedly protected us from violent business cycles—ruling out another Great Depression—were oversold, exposing us to larger economic reversals than we thought possible. It’s true that we’ve so far avoided another depression, but it was a close call, and the fact that all the standard weapons (low interest rates, huge government budget deficits) have already been deployed leaves open the disquieting question of what would happen if the economic system again lurched violently into reverse. The economic theorems and tools that we thought could forewarn and protect us are more primitive than we imagined.

The beginning of the long boom was tied not just to to the defeat of inflation by Margaret Thatcher, Paul Volker and Ronald Reagan, but to the rise of transparent markets, free trade and free movement of peoples. The recession came when central banks panicked about inflation, bankers were allowed to disguise risk, free trade expansion stalled out, and the US congress became nativist. Getting our mojo back is actually pretty easy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Earth's last great virgin habitat invaded: A borehole through Lake Vostok's polar ice could reveal hidden lifeforms (Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow and David Randall, 6 February 2011, The Independent)

For 15 million years, a vast icebound lake has been sealed deep beneath Antarctica's frozen crust, possibly hiding prehistoric or other unknown life. Now Russian scientists are on the brink of piercing through to its secrets.

They suspect its depths will reveal new life forms, show how the planet was before the ice age and how life evolved. It could even offer a glimpse at what conditions for life exist in the similar extremes of Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


How Democracy Became Halal (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 2/06/11, NY Times)

President George W. Bush’s decision to build democracy in Iraq seemed so lame to many people because it appeared, at best, to be another example of American idealism run amok — the forceful implantation of a complex Western idea into infertile authoritarian soil. But Mr. Bush, whose faith in self-government mirrors that of a frontiersman in Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” saw truths that more worldly men missed: the idea of democracy had become a potent force among Muslims, and authoritarianism had become the midwife to Islamic extremism.

One of the great under-reported stories of the end of the 20th century was the enormous penetration of the West’s better political ideas — democracy and individual liberty — into the Muslim consciousness. For those of us who speak and read Persian, the startling evolution was easier to see. Theocracy-versus-democracy has been a defining theme of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the revolution, which harnessed both Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious charisma and the secular intelligentsia’s democratic aspirations. Over the last three decades, clerical Iran has nurtured an intense intellectual discourse about the duties that man owes to God.

When the legitimacy of theocracy started to unravel amid the regime’s corruption and brutality in the late 1980s, democratic ideas, including powerful democratic interpretations of the Islamic faith, roared forth. The explosion on the streets after the fraudulent presidential elections of June 2009 was just the most visible eruption of the enormous democratic pressures that had built up underneath the republic’s autocracy. More regime-threatening moments are surely coming.

Today’s Arab societies — less intellectually vibrant than Iran, in great part because their regimes have been more effective in shutting down internal debate — have become increasingly schizophrenic. Long before the tumult in Tunisia and Egypt, Arab liberal secular intellectuals had divided. Except for the fearless, who went to prison, liberals who didn’t flee their homelands usually became “court liberals,” whose views never seriously challenged the rulers.

Aware of the dismal fates of their kind in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, they faithfully echoed the anti-Islamist, après-moi-le-déluge fears that the region’s autocrats used in Washington whenever American officials objected to tyranny. Democracy remained for them a cherished ideal, attainable at some future date when the Islamists had lost their appeal and the despots their power.

The secular intellectuals in exile, however, more forcefully embraced the democratic cause — their newspapers, books, magazines, Web sites and, increasingly, appearances on Al Jazeera — delivered their views back home. Intellectuals of such diverse viewpoints as Kanan Makiya, Edward Said, Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Burhan Ghalioun opened up an ever-increasing liberal, democratic space in foreign and Arabic publications. Yes, some mixed their message of liberty with other “Arab” priorities: anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism. But their support of democracy was clear, and became more acute after the 9/11 attacks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Tapping our powers of persuasion: Robert Cialdini’s research harnesses social norms to help you save the world and find a job. (Michael Price, February 2011, Monitor)

Cialdini distilled his findings into six “weapons of influence,” each grounded in how we perceive ourselves or others:


Reciprocity: We inherently want to return favors.

Commitment and consistency: We strive to do and think what we profess to do and think.

Social proof: We look to our peers for deciding what’s acceptable and desirable.

Authority: If not our peers, then those in charge.

Liking: We’re easily persuaded by those we feel good about.

Scarcity: We desire what is rare.

In recent years, Cialdini has been leveraging those weapons to address major world problems such as climate change by persuading people to reduce energy use. For example, an ongoing project where an energy management company places monthly door-hangers on homeowners’ doors letting them know where they stand in energy usage in comparison to their neighbors has reduced energy usage by up to 3.5 percent. And in 2006, he found that when hotel guests were told that most of the other guests reused their towels (thus saving water and energy), people were 26 percent more likely to reuse their own towels than if you simply informed them of the environmental impact of washing guest towels daily.

Which is why no one minds being wrong as long as their peers share the same error, a phenomenon that pretty much defines the Internet.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Classic review: The Count of Monte Cristo: A swashbuckling new edition of a story that never grows old. (Erik Spanberg, February 6, 2011, CS Monitor)

Dumas published the book in 1846. It is no exaggeration to say “Monte Cristo” still ranks as one of the most exciting stories imaginable, one every bit as good as anything Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling could ever conjure up.

Edmond Dantes, a young sailor on the cusp of being named captain of a cargo ship and preparing to marry his sweetheart, becomes the victim of a plot by envious rivals. It leads to false imprisonment of the worst kind, with young Dantes banished to the 19th-century French version of Alcatraz.

Dantes is an innocent of spectacular proportions, clueless as to who has conspired against him – and just as ignorant about how horrible his prospects for ever seeing daylight again have become.

As Eco notes, Dumas pulls off three spectacular narratives in “Monte Cristo.” He tells the story of a wronged innocent man, relates a spectacular hidden-treasure scenario, and caps the fall and rise of his hero’s fortunes with a thrilling series of vendettas allowing readers the endless satisfaction of seeing retribution delivered with violent verve.

Those are technical descriptions of what Dumas accomplishes. Better put, Edmond Dantes makes James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Jason Bourne look in the mirror and wonder why nothing interesting ever happens.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Remembering the Anti-Federalists (John C. Pinheiro, September 8, 2010, Acton)

Recent experience with tyranny shaped the Articles of Confederation, the United States' constitution from 1781-1787. In an effort to avoid everything that had become instruments of tyranny in British hands, the Articles contained no national army, no executive branch, no national judiciary, and States had to vote unanimously for any tax. A unicameral Congress, with members elected by State legislatures (not "the People") and in which each State had one collective vote, oversaw all national matters via committees. In this highly decentralized Union, ensuring State sovereignty trumped concerns about individual liberty.

The U.S. Constitution won ratification on June 21, 1788, mainly because of promises to anti-Federalists that a Bill of Rights would be added as soon as possible. (Federalists had opposed the addition of a Bill of Rights on the grounds that listing Americans' liberties in amendments might unintentionally limit them.) Another comforting thought was that George Washington, who had proven trustworthy with power, would be the first president.

Still, anti-Federalists did correctly predict that the U.S. Constitution would become a much-abused instrument in the hands of those who wished to build a muscular, far-reaching government. They also foresaw that the judiciary might endanger liberty more than a quasi-monarchical president. Robert Yates's warnings about the Supreme Court and Congress certainly ring true today, as do Samuel Bryan's predictions about politicians taking advantage of crises to pursue ideological or partisan ends. These processes tend to limit Americans' liberties while chipping away at their virtue via government-constructed moral hazards. Indeed, as J. Budziszweski notes in The Line through the Heart, Yates's "arguments seem even stronger today than they did at the time they were written."

Does this mean, then, that the anti-Federalists ought to have succeeded in stopping the Constitution's ratification? Far from it. The Federalists correctly criticized the Confederation for being unable to provide the minimum order needed so that Americans could flourish as a free people. Their arguments show they understood better than anti-Federalists the necessary balance between liberty and order. Had the anti-Federalists defeated the Constitution, the Union would have soon split into multiple confederations or divided into highly separate States. The consequences for liberty and human flourishing under these scenarios would have been worse than the most dismal anti-Federalist prediction about life under the Constitution.

Order though is now so well-established that we will devolve into multiple confederations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Roger Penrose: Impossibilities in the real world have to be possible (Subodh Varma, Jan 15, 2011, Times of India)

Many of these impossibilities are controversial, like where and how does the bizarre quantum world end, and our sensible 'classical' world begin?

One point I should make - what you say is a good example of the puzzles you see in quantum mechanics because some of them are genuinely mysterious things that are true of the world. they are not contradictory, they are just puzzling to us. Other things strike me as being genuinely contradictory. For example, the measurement of the Schrodinger's cat or the transition between the quantum world and the classical world seem to me to be things that current theory simply does not explain. So they are both intriguing. Quantum entanglement is a very intriguing issue but it is not impossible. It is something we have to get accustomed to, understand and see what it can do, what its limitations are, and what different picture of the world it provides us with. That's fascinating, but its not a paradox. Its what I call a puzzle mystery rather than a paradox mystery. Whereas, the measurement issue strikes me as a paradox in the sense that the cat in superposition of death and life is a direct consequence of Schrodinger equation. The linearity of the equation tells you that the superpositions between things can quite happily occur - say a neutron can take two paths at the same time or a photon. This is puzzling but not a paradox, in the sense of being a contradiction. It is something unfamiliar and strange. When you use the linearity of the Schrodinger equation or quantum unitarity, this tells us that you should be able to have a cat, which is both alive and dead at the same time, and you could easily produce one. It is not as if you need some sophisticated, impossible to construct apparatus. It's quite a straightforward experiment to do, although you wouldn't want to do it to a poor cat! But nevertheless, in principle, it could certainly be done without difficulty. You would not see a cat, which is half dead and half alive; you would see a cat, which is either dead or alive. This seems to me a genuine paradox and I agree with Tony Legget's discussion in his talk that the common view that it's the decoherence of the environment which gives us either/or for the cat being alive or dead, is not the explanation. There's got to be something else going on which we still don't understand and which to my mind must represent a departure from the standard rules of quantum mechanics at some level. It's a very subtle and physical level and we have to find and locate it but it has to be there.

The further point that I think is part of your question is that I have separate reason to believe that this level of departure from standard quantum mechanics or quantum linearity is something that occurs when gravity becomes involved in the quantum system. For several apparently independent reasons, gravity is a place where we will have to invoke a departure from standard quantum rules. I used to argue from the principle of general coherence which is the underlying principle of general relativity that you have to have a framework which is independent of the coordinates you use. But more specifically and more powerfully the conflict is with the principle of equivalence. This is the foundation of Einstein's theory of gravity where falling in a gravitational field freely is something where you eliminate the force. The equivalence between a gravitational force and an acceleration force is the foundation stone of Einstein's theory. And the exploration of how that fits in with quantum mechanics leads to a place where one expects a limitation to standard quantum rules. The sort of order of magnitude is something that, in the case of a cat (if you had a cat in a dead or alive superposed state) that state couldn't persist for more than a very, very tiny fraction of a second, a ridiculously small time. Planck time is 10-43 seconds, which is the sort of time you would expect if you had a particle which had a mass of 10-5 grams (the Planck mass) superposed in two separate locations. On that scale it would decay in 10-43 seconds - it is almost instantaneous. But for the huge cat it would be much less time. The bigger the mass displacement the smaller would be the time scale for it to decay to one or the other state. But it is very hard to make an experiment, which would actually see this effect. It is not so hard however as it would be to make an experiment that would test quantum gravity, in the sense of how quantum mechanics would affect space-time structure.

Some experiments of this nature were initiated, I believe.

Yes. Let me just put this another way. According to what people refer to as quantum gravity, normally people mean that quantum mechanics is not affected; it is only gravity that is affected or space-time structure. And so experiment to detect the effect on gravity in space-time structure would require a ridiculously huge accelerator or something, that is way beyond the techniques we have available now. But if we are looking at how gravity might affect quantum mechanics, its much more optimistic. We are only looking at experiments that are sort of at the cutting edge of present day technology. You would have to improve experiments, but its not so far. In fact, a colleague of mine Dirk Bauwmeester in Santa Barbara has been involved in an experiment in which you try to put a little mirror - this mirror being 10 micron cube or about a tenth of the thickness of a human hair, just a little too small to be able to see with the naked eye - and this would be put into a superposition of two locations which don't differ too much, only by about the distance of the width of an atomic nucleus. You wouldn't be able to spot the difference with your eye even if you could see it. But the difference would be comparable with the diameter of an atomic nucleus. And then it would be a matter of seconds according to this scheme before it would become one or the other. If the scheme is correct, that is. Based on general principles its not a detailed proposal, its just an estimate of the scale based on general principles and so it would be very exciting if it could be detected whether you could hold this superposition of the mirror for a few seconds. I haven't been in touch with Dirk for a couple of years now, so I don't really know how far it has gone. I know that the main obstruction to doing this experiment was not in any of conditions needed - for example you need to keep it at very near to absolute zero (apparently it works very well then), you need a good vacuum, you need isolation from vibration, you need the suspension holding the mirror to be very perfect and all these things look as though they can be achieved. The main problem as I understood at the time was having a mirror which was perfect enough and still as small as this. I think you can have mirrors that are perfect enough. But what you need to do is you have to split a photon into two beams so that its in a superposition of being in one beam and in another beam. Then, you have to make a cavity to preserve the photon by reflecting backwards and forwards some millions of times. This requires a mirror that is very, very perfect. Now, mirrors do exist that are that perfect but to make them small enough like a speck of dust is a tricky business. I don't know whether they can do this. I don't know the present status.

Why can't we get a handle on these mysterious, paradoxical things - is there an inherent limitation to human mind or are we just waiting for something more to be discovered?

I don't see any limitation of human understanding at this level. There are two puzzling aspects of quantum mechanics. One is the puzzling feature and the other is the contradictory feature. It is confusing and it is not something that we directly experience as we do at the classical level. We are used to them. We find it strange to imagine particles at two places at the same time. But nevertheless we can use our visual imaginations to understand wave functions and the things that are the ingredients here and as long as they make logical sense and are not too fantastically complicated they can be strange and that takes some getting used to, but they are not beyond human comprehension.

Perhaps some of their predictions can be experimentally established?

Oh yes and this happens all the time and if you see that certain experiments give you answers - you get used to seeing what sort of things come about from physical situations.

What about Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen? Is it a puzzle or paradox?

That's a puzzle. Sometimes referred to as a paradox but I regard it as a puzzle. It's a puzzle because it is unfamiliar and it requires a certain understanding of mathematical ideas which are not trivial. But you get used to it. And people who are good at quantum mechanics and make good experiments can make good predictions about what is going to happen. Ok, it's different from the experiences we have of the classical world but they are not incomprehensible. And so that's why I call them a puzzle. If I think about it for long enough, getting used to the ideas, you get to know what to expect and you get an understanding. And, this understanding is not beyond human comprehension. Where I would say something might be beyond human comprehension would be something that's actually inconsistent. So you have a description as you have in quantum mechanics - two descriptions that are in contradiction with each other. One is the evolution according to Schrodinger's equation and the other is the description of what happens when a measurement is performed. That is in contradiction with Schrodinger's equation. And that I believe requires something new so we need a theory that is within human comprehension. We are at the gap between discovering the scheme and that will require some deep insights which may not be available to all of us. But once that theory is made clear enough and explained by people who are good at explaining things I would hope that it would be within human comprehension and I don't have any expectation that it will be non-comprehensible.

Some people believe that detection itself is responsible for entanglement. What is your view?

Depends on how you are thinking about quantum mechanics. Sometimes people refer to detection in the sense of some person perceiving it. It doesn't usually mean that. It means that you invoke the measurement part of quantum mechanics. You have a device that is sensitive to one thing or another and before that device is activated, one or another thing may occur in superposition. This is well part of quantum mechanics It is not that the two things - one or the other - happens. It is the superposition of the two things. But when the detector receives it, there's something in its mechanism that says - no, it is one or another, not the two together. Somehow, there is a magnification of the quantum level process to a classical level scale and in that magnification there is something mysterious that is going on that we do not understand. So, I say that we need that understanding and that a superior, improved quantum mechanics' scheme will give us that understanding. But we don't have it now.

...why/how is there a detective/Detective?

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February 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Tanned and Rested: Vaclav Havel Marks His Return with ‘Leaving’ (Michael Zantovsky, World Affairs)

Although the things he set out to do—transforming the country into a parliamentary democracy governed by the rule of law, increasingly prosperous thanks to market economy, and part and parcel of the West thanks to its membership in NATO, OECD, and the EU—were all accomplished during his presidency, at the moment of his departure his political and personal status did not quite correspond to the momentous achievements in which he played a leading part. The onetime icon of the Velvet Revolution had gradually lost much of his power, if not his influence—some of it to constitutional changes, some to the emergence of competing sources of political power—and he had been criticized and then ridiculed by some as an impractical, irrelevant dreamer, or a devious, overambitious schemer, and sometimes as both at the same time. His international aura of a moral politician, a paragon of tolerance, nonviolence, and humanistic values, had also started to evaporate due to his association with some of the more controversial political events and decisions of recent decades.

Naturally, a large part of the criticism above could be attributed to the endemic ill will permeating the world of party politics. When not living in moments of historical upheaval, existential threat, and revolutionary change, politicians have to deal with the recurring problems and issues of economy, security, and welfare that can cut any legend down to size. Politics thus has to continually reinvent itself, and it has no other way to do this than in contrast to what, and who, has come before. As a dramatist who has dealt with contrast and counterpoint all his life, Havel understood this all too well. But he could not help being silently hurt by the grounding that new political realities had subjected him to, which led his opponents to accuse him of sulking and plotting.

It was therefore not surprising that many people expected Havel to retreat, fade away, or worse. When he left office, those who wished him well thought that he had done enough for several lifetimes and deserved to spend his remaining years in comfortable irrelevance. Those who did not would not miss him anyway.

Havel had other ideas. Almost immediately he started setting up an ex-presidential office, something perfectly customary in the United States but largely unprecedented in Central Europe. It was not his style to go on the lucrative speaker circuit (he may be an exceptionally gifted speechwriter but he’s a middling speaker) or to leverage his celebrity in the world of business. He has also largely avoided commenting on public affairs back home. Rather, he has continued in what he was doing for most of his adult life—advocating human rights causes and supporting dissidents around the world—in Cuba, Belarus, Burma, North Korea.

In keeping with his holistic view of the world as a network of cultures, ideologies, and religions, Havel designed and developed a forum where all these strands of modern civilization can meet and debate. The Forum 2000 conference was first held in Prague in 1997 and was intended to be a one-off. But instead it took off. In October, the fourteenth Forum 2000 conference, attended by politicians, experts, journalists, philosophers, and religious figures, took place under the title “The World We Want to Live In.”

Havel and his wife Dagmar also run a foundation called Vize 97, which helps the handicapped and the elderly, purchases medical equipment for the treatment of cancer, awards an annual prize to an important social thinker (the list of laureates includes novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco, neuropsychologist Karl H. Pribram, economist Robert B. Reich, and sociologist Zygmunt Bauman), and runs a unique public space called the Prague Crossroads, adapted from an old dilapidated church in the center of the city.

The model of American presidencies does not stop at offices and philanthropy but extends to a Havel Presidential Library, the only institution of its kind in Europe. It collects, archives, and presents all the available documents pertaining to Havel and his presidency.

A volume of memoirs is an almost obligatory task for any former president. But the book Havel compiled, To the Castle and Back (2007), is like no other presidential book. It consists of an extensive interview covering the whole period of Havel’s presidency, transcripts of Havel’s notorious “instructions to the office” (originally written in a perfectionist’s meticulous longhand), and items from the diary he kept in 2005 during his three-month fellowship at the Library of Congress in Washington. The charm of the book consists in the counterpoint between the seemingly disparate strands of highbrow political pronouncements, lowbrow struggle with issues of the everyday running of the president’s office, and comparative observations of life in the United States and the Czech Republic. For example: “I have become increasingly aware of an important difference between America, or Washington, and the Czech Republic, or Prague. People enjoy politics here [in America], back home they don’t like it; here they love to talk about it, back home they just curse it; here apparently politicians, scholars, journalists and other important people stay fresh all day and perhaps save their most brilliant conversation for the evening, back home in the evening people like that are either very tired, or desperately trying to catch up, or drunk, or just happy to be home, watching TV and not having to talk to anyone.” As anyone can see from this quote, the most subversive of all the tools in Havel’s literary armory, his humor, has made it back into his writing. In personal contact, it never quite disappeared. Havel’s speeches, however, which were his most frequent, if not his preferred, mode of verbal expression for thirteen years, had become increasingly serious, repetitive, and on some occasions, even a little pompous. (For all that, they differ from a standard political speech in having a beginning, a middle, and an end—and sometimes even what is called a dramatic arc. In his address to the joint session of the US Congress, for instance, he first points out that the rate of historical change has accelerated enormously, then demonstrates that it is the human spirit rather than any material forces that is the causal agent, and finally concludes by expressing hope that the human spirit will be capable, through action, of reflecting its own acceleration. Most political speeches could begin and end anywhere in this text. Some would have never even begun.)

Then came the unexpected. After several near-death episodes at the end of the last century, Havel’s health more or less held and then, almost imperceptibly at first, started to improve. Whether the return of humor was a symptom of the change or its instrument is immaterial in this context, but it was a sure sign that Havel was back to his playful ways. Some kind of a creation could not be far behind. In fact, the ex-president was writing a play. [...]

Entertaining as it is, Leaving provokes some uncomfortable questions about its text and its author. Is it self-referential? If all politics is just an absurd farce of musical chairs in which politicians say their interchangeable and ultimately empty lines only to make room for other interchangeable versions of themselves, does that also apply to the author who was once a politician? Can someone whose vision of the world is intrinsically absurd preach to others about conscience, responsibility, and “living in truth”? And if the sacrosanct slogans of the Velvet Revolution can be parodied on stage to the point of making them meaningless kitsch, does that imply a measure of hypocrisy bordering on cynicism in this playwright, both in the play and in real life? It is not an idle question. Hypocrisy and kitsch are something of which Havel has sometimes been accused by his domestic critics.

Havel does not dismiss the question but ponders it, politely and seriously, and then somewhat hesitantly suggests a few considerations rather than a coherent answer. “I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.”

But cannot perceived absurdity lead to exactly opposite results? Are not there many people for whom the experience of absurdity opens a way to an absolute nihilism? And by implication, are not you such a person yourself? Again the hesitant pause. “Yes, it is possible. Yes. My feeling is that when that happens it has to do with the loss of the metaphysical horizon. We are the first atheistic and global, all-embracing civilization. You cannot tell whether you are sitting at an airport in Hong Kong or in a hotel in Alaska. Everything is instrumentalized, subjected to a short-term purpose. It is quite possible that in such a situation any sense of a deeper meaning gets lost.”

Credo quia absurdum est? Is it after all a question of faith, something about which Havel has always been rather ambiguous, sometimes resembling a person who is irresistibly attracted yet cannot make the final jump? Is he more or less of a believer today? “It is hard to say. If by believing you mean praying to an anthropomorphic deity who created the world and half controls it and half observes it, then I am probably not a believer. But if you mean that it is not all accidental, that there is a mystery to existence, a deeper meaning, that I do believe in. Actually, I am pretty sure of it. We ask ourselves all kinds of questions, such as why does a peacock have such beautiful feathers, and we may answer that he needs the feathers to impress a female peacock, but then we ask ourselves, and why is there a peacock? And then we ask, why is there anything living? And then we ask, why is there anything at all? And if you tell some advocate of scientism that the answer is a secret, he will go white hot and write a book. But it is a secret. And the experience of living with the secret and thinking about it is in itself a kind of faith.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


'A religious revolution': Leading scholar says Christianity is overtaking the globe, led by spectacular, ongoing growth in Africa and Asia (Tim Funk, 2/06/11, charlotteobserver.com)

These times we live in have been called a lot of things. But perhaps the most surprising description came Sunday from one of the country's leading religion scholars.

"The most exciting time in Christianity ... since the 1st century."

Yes, even more thrilling than the Protestant Reformation, Philip Jenkins told about 75 people at Charlotte's Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The reason: The staggering growth in the number of Christians in Asia, Latin America and especially Africa - a phenomenon he called "a global religious revolution" and one that "reverses a trend that people had been used to for several hundred years."

To back up his claim, Jenkins - the author of a host of influential books, including "The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity" - offered a series of eye-popping statistics and projections.

Among them:

In 1900, Europe and North America accounted for about 85 percent of the world's Christians. By 2050, that number will have shrunk to about 25 percent.

During the same period, he said the number of Christians in Africa have, well, skyrocketed seems too tame a word. In 1900, there were 10 million; in 2000, 363 million. By 2015, Jenkins expects 500 million. And, by 2050, he predicted that Africa would become the first continent to have 1 billion Christians. Put another way: One of every three Christians in the world will be African - and that's not counting the Africans who will have moved to the United States or Europe.

In the 20th century, about half of the people on the African continent moved from a tribal or pagan religion to either Christianity or Islam. And, Jenkins added, "Christians outpaced Muslims considerably" - by a margin of about 4 to 1.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Democracy's Tribune on the Arab Awakening: A survivor of nine years in the Soviet Gulag, Natan Sharansky believes that liberalism can take root in Egypt—if the free world supports its transition. (DAVID FEITH , 2/05/11, WSJ)

'If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky's book, 'The Case for Democracy.'" With that comment in 2005, George W. Bush created a best seller, impelling hordes of statesmen, policy wonks and journalists to decode this Rosetta Stone of the "freedom agenda."

In the book, Mr. Sharansky argues that all people, in all cultures, want to live in freedom; that all dictatorships are inherently unstable and therefore threaten the security of other countries; and that Western powers can and should influence how free other countries are. Rarely have these arguments been dramatized as during the past weeks—in Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and especially Egypt. So late Wednesday night I interviewed Mr. Sharansky to hear his explanation of our current revolutionary moment.

"The reason people are going to the streets and making revolution is their desire not to live in a fear society," Mr. Sharansky says. In his taxonomy, the world is divided between "fear societies" and "free societies," with the difference between them determinable by what he calls a "town square test": Are the people in a given society free to stand in their town square and express their opinions without fear of arrest or physical harm? [...]

Mr. Sharansky says the recent uprisings prove his fundamental contentions "that there are limits to how much you can control people by fear," and that all people, regardless of religion or culture, desire freedom. "That's a very powerful universal message. It was very powerful when the Iron Curtain exploded, and it's as powerful today," he says.

He has a prescription for what should happen next. First, he says there's no justification for Mr. Mubarak staying in place. "What would that mean? . . . He could continue for another few months or for another year, until [Egypt] explodes with more hatred toward America and Israel and the free world."

Second, U.S. policy should shift from its focus on illusory "stability" toward "linkage"—an approach that successfully pressured the Soviet Union. That means linking U.S. aid to Egypt's progress in developing the institutions of a free society.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


One-Eyed Gods and One-Armed Gods: Does True Grit tap into an ancient myth? (Paul Devlin, Feb. 4, 2011, Slate)

True Grit's main characters, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) closely parallel two ancient Indo-European conceptions of justice represented by the one-eyed sovereign (wild, unreliable, ruling through bravado) and the one-handed sovereign (solemn, proper, ruling by the letter of the law).

These conceptions of justice and their attendant myths were originally described at length by prominent philologist Georges Dumezil (1898-1986) in his 1948 book Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty. Perhaps you own a copy. Perhaps you have two, so you can keep one in the car. Or maybe you came across Dumezil's essay in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's influential A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980), in which it is discussed at length. Regardless, it's worth revisiting Dumezil's work, as it enriches our understanding of the Coens' movie. I'll demonstrate how below, but be warned: Spoilers will be as prevalent as rattlers in Choctaw territory.

Dumezil observed that a wide range of Indo-European cultures produced myths—philologically related to one another—in which the universe was governed by one-eyed and one-handed gods acting in concert. The one-eyed gods tended to rule though magic, strong personalities, and mad bravado. The one-handed gods, by contrast, represented the rule of law—the ordering and arrangement of society through contracts, covenants, and statutes. In many narratives, the one-handed god loses his hand or arm after breaking a contract or reneging on a deal—illustrating the idea that in times of crisis, the law must be bent or broken, though the price for doing so can be dear.

In Nordic mythology, for example, a young wolf named Fenir is thought (by shrewd prognosticators attuned to supernatural wolf strength) to be capable of destroying the world of the gods. The one-eyed god Odhinn thus tries to get Fenir to submit to a leash. This he does through deceit: Odhinn presents the leashing as a challenge—see how long it takes you to get out of it. The savvy wolf suspects, correctly, that the leash is magic and will subdue him for eternity. So as a gesture of goodwill, Tyr, a god representing the rule of law, offers to put his hand in Fenir's mouth as a pledge to the wolf that there is no hocus-pocus afoot—if Fenir cannot get out of the leash, Tyr will lose his hand. The wolf submits, the world is saved, but at the cost of Tyr's hand.

In Roman mytho-history (Romans liked to give their history a mythic burnish), one-eyed Horatio Cocles ("Cocles" being derived from "Cyclops") and soon to be one-handed Mucius Scaevola team up to defeat Lars Porsenna, an invading Etruscan determined to sack Rome. According to Dumzeil, the one-eyed Cocles "holds the enemy in check by his strangely wild behavior." Citing the Roman historian Livy, Dumezil writes that "remaining alone at the entrance to the bridge, [Cocles] casts terrible and menacing looks at the Etruscan leaders, challenging them individually, insulting them collectively." He also deploys "terrible grimaces."

Cocles' antics stop Porsenna temporarily, but the surly Etruscan soon brings war upon Rome again, and this time it's Scaevola, whose mind ran in a more statesmanlike track than his comrade Cocles, to the rescue. He warns Porsenna that he has 300 assassins at his disposal—it's a bluff, but Scaevola burns his hand in a fire to convince his enemy his threat is bona fide. Porsenna agrees to leave Rome be.

How does this all relate to True Grit?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


The More Mom Works, the Heavier Her Kids Get: Study (Madonna Behen, 2/04/11, HealthDay)

Researchers at American University, Cornell University and the University of Chicago analyzed data on 900 school-aged children, and found that the cumulative time that a child's mother worked was associated with a small but measurable increase in the child's body mass index (BMI), a measurement that takes into account height and weight. [...]

The researchers concluded that it may be changes in children's eating and sleeping patterns (factors that were not included in the data) that account for the BMI changes. "While we weren't able to identify any specific environmental factors, it's clear from other research that nutrition and sleep are important," she said. "So, one possible policy implication is to do more to help working parents find quick and easy ways to prepare healthy foods."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence (David Shulman, 2/24/11, NY Review of Books)

A few weeks ago I was in al-Nabi Salih, a Palestinian village northwest of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. It wasn’t so easy to get there; the Israeli army had closed off the area on every side, and we literally had to crawl through the olive groves, just beneath one of the army’s roadblocks, before we managed to reach the village. Al-Nabi Salih is a troubled place. The large Israeli settlement of Halamish nearby has taken over nearly half of the village lands, including a precious freshwater spring. Most Fridays there are dramatic confrontations between the soldiers and the villagers protesting this land grab and the other difficulties of life under occupation.

Yet the first thing I saw in al-Nabi Salih was a huge sign in Arabic and English: “We Believe in Non-Violence. Do You?” It was World Peace Day, and speaker after speaker reaffirmed a commitment to peace and to nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Particularly eloquent was Ali Abu Awwad, a young activist who runs a new organization, the Palestinian Movement for Non-Violent Resistance, with its offices in Bethlehem and growing influence throughout the occupied territories. “Peace itself is the way to peace,” he said, “and there is no peace without freedom.” [...]

One of the leaders of the struggle in Bil’in is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, occasionally called the Palestinian Gandhi—an impressive, indeed charismatic man with a proven record of peaceful, courageous resistance to the occupation and the ongoing theft of land. I know him: I had the honor of being arrested together with him when I first came to take part in the Bil’in demonstrations in 2005. He has spent the last twelve months in prison after being arrested and accused by the army of “incitement” and “organizing and participating in illegal protests.”

Protesting the loss of Palestinian land, especially by the disenfranchised owners of the land in question, is, it seems, by definition illegal under the terms of the occupation. By any reasonable standard, the arrest and prosecution of Abu Rahmah, who has been acclaimed throughout the world as an exemplar of nonviolent struggle for human rights, should have set off a wave of outspoken public protest on the part of Israeli academics, artists, public intellectuals, and even ordinary citizens. Nothing like this has happened.5 Abdallah Abu Rahmah’s case was decided on January 11: the military judge accepted the prosecution’s appeal against the “leniency” of the punishment and extended the jail sentence from twelve to sixteen months, so he’s of course still incarcerated. The judgment is available on the Internet in Hebrew, and it’s quite a remarkable document, disheartening to read. On the face of it, the deafening silence about his case within Israel is a mystery.

Such eloquent silence raises the classic question applicable to many such situations of organized oppression imposed by a government from above. Why are ordinary Israelis apathetic to the fate of Abu Rahmah and many others like him? Why do they evince no interest in the daily suffering caused by the occupation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Study: Insect group in evolutionary freeze (UPI, 2/03/11)

U.S. researchers say a fossil of an ancestor of modern cricket-like insects shows the category has undergone little evolutionary change in 100 million years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Poured Concrete for the Soul: a review of Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning By Nancy Pearcey (Dan Peterson, February 2011, American Spectator)

Adapted from Francis Schaeffer, under whom Pearcey studied in Switzerland, the fact/value analysis holds that modern secularism has artificially separated truth into two domains. Analogizing truth to a two-story house, the first floor is the realm of "facts," generally defined in an empiricist or materialist way. The truths of science are the paradigmatic facts that can gain admission to the first floor. Only in this realm, the secularists assert, do we find real truths about the world that are objective and verifiable, and can thus form the basis for education, government policy, and public discussion.

The second floor is the realm of "values," such as statements about aesthetics, morality, and God. These are considered by secularists to be expressions of personal preference only, which are subjective and unverifiable, and cannot form the basis for public discourse or actions. So the second floor is where religion goes. Like an eccentric uncle shut up in the attic, Christianity can be ignored so long as it doesn't try to come downstairs and annoy polite company.

Thus, materialist secularism becomes by definition the default worldview and the only legitimate worldview. As Pearcey notes, the fact/value split is the "main strategy used to marginalize and disempower Christians in the public arena." Indeed, "why bother to argue that Christianity is false when it's so much easier to take it out of the realm of true and false altogether?"

THE CONSEQUENCES OF FRACTURING TRUTH, delegitimizing Christianity, and substituting a secular worldview have been staggering. In Saving Leonardo, Pearcey first examines those effects on hot-button issues such as sexual morality, abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic research. As she shows, divisions on these issues are deeply influenced by whether one adheres to the secular view that human beings are merely biological machines, blindly evolved for no purpose, and guided by nothing but their own interests and preferences, or whether one embraces the Christian view that each of us is a divine creation, with a God-given purpose in life, and subject to immutable moral laws.

The central part of the book then traces the development of the two main streams of thought that have produced most of the modern and postmodern worldviews, in which secularism has now come to predominate. Enlightenment rationalism was the spring of the first stream, while the second was fed by the romantic reaction against rationalism.

Pearcey often turns to philosophers and thinkers for the explicit intellectual articulation of those two currents. But her major task is to track the continuing courses of rationalism and romanticism as they shaped artistic expression in the 19th and 20th centuries. In doing so, she lays bare the secular pre- suppositions that have increasingly come to underlie literature, the dramatic arts, the plastic arts, and music, with generally baneful effects.

That is an ambitious, synoptic undertaking, but Pearcey traces cause and effect deftly and clearly, without any sacrifice of nuance or accuracy. The breadth of learning that she brings to bear is formidable. How does materialism deeply inform the novels of Jack London and Theodore Dreiser? What is the philosophic foundation for the (unlistenable) musical serialism of Boulez and Babbitt? How do three paintings depicting executions by firing squad, one by Gamborino, one by Goya, and one by Manet, reveal different underlying worldviews? Pearcey marshals hundreds of examples to elucidate how worldviews play out in works of art. (I'll also note here that the book has more than 100 color images interspersed with the text, so her intellectual points are vividly and graphically reinforced as the reader progresses.)

The effects of the precepts of secularism, which destroy the unity of truth, and deny any objective meaning and purpose in life, have necessarily been dismal in the arts. The romantic strain, focusing on the individual's quest for liberation and meaning, ultimately degenerates into paintings in which paint is flung on canvases, and plays in which noth- ing occurs but banal, meaningless dialogue. The rationalist strain, which has tended to devolve into materialism and determinism, produces barren geometrical abstraction in painting and hideous Corbusian "machines for living" in architecture. An author who actually bases a novel or a play on materialist principles, as the turn of the century "naturalists" tried to do, runs the risk that his work will be utterly boring. Who cares what characters might do, if they are mere "puppets of fate," and lacking free will? As Pearcey shows, human freedom and the responsibility to make moral choices, which are central to the Christian worldview, are also essential for artistic meaning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM

-REVIEW: of Solaris (BrothersJudd)

February 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


In global economy, rural New England rules still apply (AMITY SHLAES, 2/04/11, Union Leader)

Many writers, including myself, have detailed how irresponsible government actions slow economic recoveries. Similar behavior by individuals impedes growth, too. If you can't find someone reliable to do a deal with, you simply don't do the deal at all.

There was a time when most Americans knew this, as I've discovered while reading about Calvin Coolidge. After leaving the White House, Coolidge did what all presidents do: He negotiated lucrative writing contracts. One of these was a deal with Collier's magazine to write 10 articles for $2,000 apiece.

Coolidge delivered all 10, but the magazine published only six. Collier's publisher therefore must have felt a bit anxious when one day he got word that Coolidge wanted to see him.

During their meeting, Coolidge pointed out that Collier's ran only six of his articles. Yes, countered the publisher defensively, but the magazine had paid him the entire $20,000. If the articles weren't published, they must not have been good, Coolidge said. He then handed the publisher a check for $8,000.

It's not hard to figure out why Coolidge returned the money for the unpublished pieces. He came from intimate New England, where people did business over and over again with the same neighbors. He wanted that next deal.

We have neighbors who moved here from California. When the College built our neighborhood the quality of the contracting was uneven and the knuckleheads put in some random contractor grass seeds instead of lawn. So the husband, who wasn't working yet, got a rototiller and turned the whole yard over, but he needed to roll it. So he went to a local store--Dan & Whit's--to rent one. They sent him to a back room where an older gentleman asked his name, then proceeded to write "TOM" in one of those marbled black composition books and helped him put the roller in his truck.

But it rained for a few days so Tom didn't get to return the roller on time. He went to the back of the store and asked what he owed: "$3." The fella took the book, crossed out TOM and the deal was concluded.

Tom came home and said: "We're not in California anymore."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010 (Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Demographer, Pew Hispanic Center, and D'Vera Cohn, Senior Writer, Pew Research Center, 1/31/2011, Pew Hispanic Center)

As of March 2010, 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, virtually unchanged from a year earlier, according to new estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This stability in 2010 follows a two-year decline from the peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009 that was the first significant reversal in a two-decade pattern of growth.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The trouble with Flanders: Why Belgium’s unending linguistic disputes matter to Europe (Charlemagne, Jan 27th 2011, The Economist)

Paradoxically the slow dissolution of Belgium, the most pro-European of countries, goes hand in hand with the (uneven) deeper integration of the EU. Belgium is facing its worst troubles just as the EU confronts the gravest challenge to the euro. One way of looking at Belgium’s divide is as a counterpart to the EU’s split between a Germanic, frugal north and a subsidy-dependent Latin south. Financial markets stand ready to dump Belgian bonds at any hint of formal partition, because of uncertainty over who would repay the country’s debts. But, for the moment, the euro gives all parties the luxury of intransigence. Without it, the stalemate might have triggered a run on the Belgian franc.

Today’s blockage is unlike previous ones in that an avowedly separatist party, the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), has for the first time become dominant in Flanders. Led by Bart de Wever, a charismatic bruiser, the N-VA’s appeal stems precisely from popular exasperation with the messy, unsatisfying compromises of the older political groups. It wants a decisive shift of powers to Flanders, and makes little secret of its wish to see Belgium “evaporate” within the EU. Danny Pieters, the N-VA president of the Belgian Senate, says he sees no need for a Flemish army: one day Belgian forces will be part of a European one. For the N-VA, Europe is the acid that will help to dissolve Belgium.

Strangely, perhaps, this same erosion of sovereignty is seen as an antidote to violent nationalism. European integration overcame the historic enmity between France and Germany. Ireland’s entry into the EU helped to end the worst of Northern Ireland’s sectarian war. In the Balkans, the EU offers the balm of membership to heal the trauma of the Yugoslav wars. But is this not all romantic nonsense when Belgium, a founder of the EU as well as the host to its capital, struggles to hold together? No, says Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank. By “taking the gun out of politics”, the EU has contradictory effects. It makes it easier to draw violent groups into politics; but it also allows peaceful nationalists to act up, and voters to support them, because there is no danger of bloodshed.

We're not going to war to keep the Union together next time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


The new middle east: intellectuals and democracy: The change that is unfolding across the middle east places an especial responsibility on intellectuals to think civically and engage ethically (Ramin Jahanbegloo, 2/03/11, OpenDemocracy)

Whatever the outcome of the tumultuous events in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east, it is clear that the region is entering a new phase in its history. This era of change, a century after some Arabs started thinking of their independence from Ottoman and European rule, is also a defining moment of intellectual history. For it is in such historical moments that writers and thinkers - Arab, Turkish and Iranian - have an opportunity to prove whether they have become critical enough to help transform their societies in a democratic direction.

The role of public intellectuals in any society is indeed one of the elements crucial to its development. Yet for many decades the region has been held back by intellectual elites who surrendered their critical independence to the dogmas of ideologies such as Marxism-Leninism and Islamism. The result is that these intellectuals have been less agents of enlightenment than handmaidens of power, who have to a great degree merely reinterpreted local political realities in accord with their purposes rather than putting ethical and critical issues at the heart of their scholarly and professional activities.

This approach involved a kind of contract, whereby some intellectuals became the icons of discontented, disillusioned and frustrated generations - in return for allowing themselves to be used by political parties and Muslim clergy as instruments of organisational power and political control. Instead of speaking truth to power (as Václav Havel and Edward Said put it), they chose to spread ideological messages: a role that reflected their view of themselves as guardians of the "true" vocation of socialist, nationalist or communalist movements, as against what they saw as corrupt politicians willing to make unacceptable political compromises.

As intellectuals in the middle east put overarching narratives of modernisation - whether framed in terms of liberalism, nationalism, fascism or socialism - ahead of democracy, what could appear as “oppositional” intellectual practice was made to serve the quasi-theological dogmas of states and party or movement politics.

Happily, a key import that comes with Anglofication is anti-intellectualism.

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February 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The Virus of Hysteria: Paul Offit’s new book chronicles the destructive impact of the anti-vaccination movement.: a review of Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul A. Offit (Theodore Dalrymple, 1 February 2011, City Journal)

In his eloquent and bracing book, Paul Offit, an expert on child immunization, traces the intellectual—or perhaps I should say the emotional—history of the modern anti-vaccination movement and its consequences. If progress in preventive medicine has been remarkable, so in its own way has been the persistence of prescientific and even anti-scientific thought in modern society.

The author correctly draws attention to the similarities between the anti-vaccination movements in modern America and in Victorian England. The Victorians, however, had the excuse that they were facing a new and unprecedented situation, which the Americans do not. The Victorians knew nothing of bacteriology, virology, and immunology; their epidemiology was rudimentary. Moreover, smallpox vaccination was a crude procedure, sometimes genuinely dangerous; arm-to-arm vaccination, which was eventually abandoned, could spread syphilis.

Offit underestimates the range, both social and intellectual, of the Victorian anti-vaccination movement. While it might have started off as a popular agitation against Parliament’s decree of compulsory vaccination—which was in practice mainly directed at the poor—it quickly spread to the middle and upper classes. It produced an astonishing range of literature, including a mass-circulation magazine that ran for 70 years. Not all of its adherents by any means were willfully ignorant cranks (such as George Bernard Shaw). Converts to the cause included Charles Creighton, an eminent pathologist and the erudite historian of epidemics in Britain, as well as the first person to hold a chair in bacteriology in Britain, E. M. Crookshank. Vast and learned tomes were produced on the noxiousness of vaccination, and while some of the wilder claims—such as that vaccination had led to a recrudescence of leprosy in Europe—were absurd, attempts to prove vaccination’s dangers by statistical means helped spur the development of the science of epidemiology.

Still, the Victorian anti-vaccination movement discovered, and maybe even invented, a fundamental principle of modern pressure-group politics: always make lots of noise. It is noise that makes the world go round as much as money, with truth coming in a poor third; and noise is difficult to counteract. It’s true that the adventure novelist Henry Rider Haggard produced a good pro-vaccination novel, Doctor Therne, in 1898, after Parliament surrendered to pressure and repealed compulsory vaccination. But it seems that there is a quasi-law of politicking that the noise of opponents is always louder than that of proponents.

As with any medical procedure, things can go wrong with vaccination. But modern vaccine scares are generally not the consequence of genuine problems. They are the result of unproven scientific hypotheses given echo, and magnified and coarsened, by campaigners. The idea, for example, that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine causes childhood autism gained currency when a British surgeon, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found evidence that the vaccine could damage the intestines of those to whom it was given—thus giving a portal to neurotoxic substances.

It was an error of judgment on the part of the medical journal The Lancet to have published this research in the first place. The experimental group was completely without a control group. Even odder, the principal author of the research, Wakefield, held a press conference to announce the findings even before they were published. The most likely explanation of his conduct is that he was a highly ambitious man, desperate for a scientific coup like that of Barry Marshall, who established the bacterial causation of peptic ulceration, which had escaped thousands of previous researchers. The difference, of course, was that Marshall’s research was valuable.

Nevertheless, the autism rumor soon swept the world. Many distressed parents thought they had found the explanation for the otherwise inexplicable condition of their child. Some people underwent a quasi-religious conversion, and made Wakefield’s cause their own. When it was established beyond reasonable doubt that he had feet of clay, they turned him into a martyr, someone condemned for his heresy rather than for his conduct.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The Road to (and from) the 2010 Elections: What happened to the president and his party? (David Brady; Morris P. Fiorina; and Douglas Rivers, Policy Review)

What does the Republican “shellacking” of Democrats in 2010 portend for 2012? If history is any guide, the answer is not good news for Republicans, at least for the post-World War II period. In 1946, the Republicans gained 55 seats in the house and 12 in the Senate to take control of Congress for the first time in 16 years. Democratic prospects for 1948 looked so poor that Senator Fulbright, a Democrat, proposed that President Truman appoint a Republican secretary of state (next in line for the presidency after Truman’s elevation), resign, and cede the presidency to the Republicans. Contrary to expectations, Truman campaigned against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress and won reelection. A generation later, after the 1994 elections gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, some in the media wondered whether a weakened President Clinton was still relevant. But after two government shutdowns Clinton was reelected overwhelmingly in 1996. The key to understanding how these two new Republican Congresses managed to reelect sitting Democratic presidents lies in the policy choices they made. In the flush of a big victory they overreached.

In the 112th Congress, a key issue will be government spending. The one common principle across all the Tea Party movements in states and localities was that the country cannot afford our current deficits, let alone those looming in the not too distant future. Addressing the deficit problem involves raising taxes, cutting spending, or some combination of the two. Thus far, Republicans have been insistent on cutting spending while keeping the Bush tax cuts in place and enacting no new taxes. In principle, very strong economic growth could increase incomes sufficiently to increase revenue without increasing the tax rate; however, few expect the economy to do this in the near future. Given that the next election will occur before economic growth can solve the problem, the key issue for Republicans is reducing government spending.

While the electorate in 2010 yelled a loud “no” to the policies of the president and Democratic Congress, the negative verdict was by no means carte blanche for Republicans to carry out their own wish list. Given the centrality of spending issues, we conducted a YouGov/Polimetrix poll on sixteen federal programs, asking whether spending on each should be increased, decreased, or kept the same. Table 3 presents the results of this poll.

In fifteen out of sixteen programs, a majority of the public would like spending to be increased or kept the same. The only program that a majority of Americans would cut is foreign aid. Most importantly, in the large entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, only small minorities favor the cuts that must come if the budget deficit is to be brought under control. Defense enjoys a similarly privileged status, with 70 percent favoring either current spending or an increase. Even in agriculture and housing, over 60 percent of Americans favor keeping expenditures where they are or increasing them.

Data like these should inform the agenda of the new Republican House majority. In 2010 the country voted no on Democrats, not yes on Republicans, and certainly not yes to across-the-board spending cuts. The new majority faces the hard reality that, in general, voters want spending reduced, but when it comes to specific programs, there are none that stand out, save foreign aid, which, if eliminated entirely, would not dent the deficit of the United States.

....particularly since a freeze is a cut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Groupthink Sells (Lee Siegel, January 25, 2011, NY Observer)

I could never understand why intelligent, cultivated people raved about Mr. Olbermann's "honesty" and "courage." Clearly they had not been reading Paul Krugman, or Bob Herbert, or any print journalists or newspaper articles at all. Mr. Olbermann merely repeated what everyone else on the liberal side had been saying ad nauseam. The only difference was that he did it louder and ruder. He turned rational opinion into emotional, vicarious entertainment, thereby uncourageously freeing his like-minded audience from the obligation, not to "think for themselves," as the boilerplate saying goes, but to try to figure out how the other guy, the hated opposition, thinks. After a hard day at work, the last thing you wanted was to try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, so you watched Mr. Olbermann to have your thoughts drowned out and your lack of empathy-what a day, fuck everyone, I'm exhausted-not only justified, but endorsed.

It's conventional to attribute Mr. Olbermann's success to the decline of news authority. The media are such cowards, such passive, spineless instruments of the status quo, and here comes Keith Olbermann speaking truth to power! But Mr. Olbermann wasn't the alternative to the contemptuous pundits and talking heads. He was their caricature. He was himself the very spirit of contempt for the media. His winking, transparent allusions to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite were parodies, not homages. These guys were also histrionic phonies, he histrionically implied. Murrow and Cronkite, lifelong newsmen both, were sincere. Olbermann invented a new style of seeming to scream sincerely in tones of cynical irony.

Just as much as his supposed arch-rivals at Fox, Mr. Olbermann made feeling the touchstone of political reality. He didn't just strike below the belt; he lived there. I say "supposed arch-rivals" because without O'Reilly, Beck & Co., Mr. Olbermann would never have become so popular, and without Mr. Olbermann, his adversaries at Fox would never have grown so virulent. For people who live inside their televisions, Olbermann vs. Fox was the great political conflict of our day. For the rest of us, it was American business as usual. They needed each other the way Goldman needs Sachs. These two monolithic corporations needed each other the way Laurel needed Hardy.

At least when political professionals repeat talking points they know it's just a job. Amateurs seem to convince themselves that the agitprop is true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


To the Heart of American Exceptionalism : a review of Alexis de Tocqueville: Letters From America Edited and translated by Frederick Brown (Harvey Mansfield, Wall Street Journal)

Two questions arise from the materials of Tocqueville's trip and his preparations for his book, whose first volume appeared in 1835. First, what did he learn by coming to America instead of examining it from afar? Second, how—by what method—did he learn what he wrote so convincingly and profoundly? These questions engage the assertion known today as American Exceptionalism, a recent issue between Republicans, who trumpet it as the justification for American patriotism, and Democrats, who deprecate it and imply that America is nothing special, unless it is special to be the leader of all other unexceptional countries.

Tocqueville thought America to be singular quite apart from the favorable circumstances permitting it to grow and flourish on its own without much interference from Europe. In the introduction to his book, he said he saw in America "more than America . . . an image of democracy itself." Special to America was not only that it believed in democracy and practiced it as best it could, as if straining to fulfill the demands of a theory of democracy. Rather, the theory or the "image" was shown in the practice of democracy, because America was democracy complete and as a whole, the material and source of its image.

In speaking of democracy in America—the title of his book—Tocqueville confirmed and went beyond what Alexander Hamilton said on the first page of the Federalist by way of explaining American Exceptionalism. Hamilton wrote that America was deciding by its conduct and example the question of whether good government could be thoughtfully chosen or was just a matter of chance. America was special because it would answer a theoretical question never before answered, not by thinking up a new theory but by means of its own practice. Tocqueville agreed and then actually found the new theory in its practice. His book on America told the rest of the civilized world what to expect in its future, as America was unique in displaying a complete democracy. It was not unique in being superior to all other peoples for all time, as implied in the boastful, irritable American patriotism Tocque ville found so objectionable.

Tocqueville was not friendly to philosophers or "theoreticians," as several letters confirm. In "Democracy in America," he ignored the political philosophy in the principles of America's founding, calling the Puritans and not, say, John Locke, America's "point of departure." He emphasized the practical work of the Constitution (based on theories, to be sure) and never even mentioned Jefferson's more theoretical and Lockean Declaration of Independence. Yet Tocqueville was interested in "theoretical consequences." In a letter to a cousin written in 1834 (published only in the Zunz volume) he noted that it is "ten years since I conceived most of the ideas" of his book. "I went to America only to remove my remaining doubts." Ten years before, Tocqueville was 19 years old! He did not get his ideas from his trip to America but thought them up years before. He came to America to see "what a great republic is," knowing what it is in advance. In "Democracy in America," he noted it was only of the variety of associational activity there that he "had no idea" before he came.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Jewel of the Nile: Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the world’s most popular and authoritative Sunni cleric, is a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Egyptian based in Qatar. A return to his home country would be dangerous for Israel and the West. (Lee Smith, Feb 9, 2011, Tablet)

Assertions that the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership are too disorganized and uncharismatic to gain a hold on power in Egypt unaccountably ignore the world’s most popular and authoritative Sunni cleric—an Egyptian by birth and member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood whose son currently lives in Egypt. Where the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Iranian revolution, made radio broadcasts in exile from Paris, Qaradawi hosts one of the region’s most famous talk-shows on Al Jazeera, Sharia and Life. Qaradawi has cultivated among some American analysts a reputation for moderation with his fatwas, permitting masturbation and condemning Sept. 11 (while supporting suicide bombers in Israel). But in the Middle East his popularity resides in his stringent criticism of Arab regimes. His public support for violence, combined with the fact that he is a principal shareholder in and adviser to the al-Qaida-associated Bank al-Taqwa in Switzerland, led to him being banned from entering the United States in 1999 and from Great Britain in 2008.

What makes Qaradawi most worth watching is the fact that the Egyptian party system is badly decayed, and no credible opposition figures have stepped up to fill the gap. Mohammed ElBaradei is entirely a creation of Western opinion leaders and has no constituency in Egypt. Amr Moussa has some popular appeal, but his job as general secretary of the Arab League is not a position that showcases an ability to get things done. Moreover, as Mubarak’s former foreign minister he has deep ties to the old regime. The local Muslim Brotherhood was slow out of the gate, and its 68-year-old leader, Muhammad Badie, is not exactly charismatic.

As a media personality with a presence on TV and the Internet—and who is far out of reach of Egyptian internal security and free from Egyptian censors—Qaradawi is perfectly positioned to play the role of Muslim Brotherhood publicist or even kingmaker over the coming months. Nor is there any particular reason to think that Qaradawi’s willingness to embrace facets of modernity while promoting violence and hatred makes him less than dangerous to the dream of a future liberal society in Egypt and to Western interests in the region. The idea that Qaradawi is a moderate because he favors a relatively liberal interpretation of the status of women within Islam, for example, disregards his belief that homosexuality is a crime that should be punished by death and his embrace of the Holocaust as a divine punishment of the Jews that will hopefully be repeated soon.

Here, for example, is Qaradawi speaking about the Holocaust to the audience of his popular Al Jazeera television show on January 30, 2009:

Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them—even though they exaggerated this issue—he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.


Of course, many foreign and Egyptian observers contend that Egyptians, a moderate people by nature, don’t want anything like the Iranian regime running their country. That may be true, but the only real evidence we have, aside from questionable polling, suggests something different. After all, supposedly secular and moderate Palestinian voters were not impressed with the regional failure of Islamist politics—they voted for Hamas, the Gaza branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Or consider Lebanon, where at least 30 percent of the Christian community has aligned itself with the Khomeinist project in their country via Christian leader Michel Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah. Presumably Middle Eastern Christians are among the last people who want to live under an Islamist regime, but what they fear and despise most now is the country’s Sunni community. That is to say, there are many reasons that people might choose to go with an Islamist party, many—but not all of which—are irrational. Mubarak’s departure will almost inevitably leave the ruling National Democratic Party’s organizational structure in shambles, which means that the best-organized political party in Egypt will be the Brotherhood.

And it would be strange if, given free elections, the Brotherhood did not eventually rule Egypt, for it has not only been a pillar of Cairo’s political, cultural, and intellectual life since its founding in 1928; it is also the flower of Arab political modernity, which began with Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Uncool Britannia: how British culture turned Tory: British culture is going through a blue period, with actors, musicians and artists all happily admitting that they're privately educated Conservative toffs. What happened? (John Harris, 2/03/11, The Guardian)

[T]here is a whiff of stardust around the Tories that would once have been unthinkable. It's easily forgotten now, but there were very serious rumours about Mark Ronson DJing at the 2009 Tory conference, and giving Cameron a public endorsement. Now, in a twist no one would have seen coming, Courtney Love recently attended a "Port and Policy" debate organised by Oxford University's Conservative Association, and was given the post of "non-executive officer for rock'n'roll". Photos of the accompanying revellers show Love – who is dating Kirstie Allsopp's art dealer brother, Henry – dutifully posing in front of a union flag with a mostly-male array of student Tories, who look about as non-rock'n'roll as you might imagine. What Kurt Cobain would have made of it all is anyone's guess.

There is, then, something afoot: a waning of the old stigma that got in the way of "creatives" backing the Tories, and resulted in any who did facing loud ridicule. Consider the case of the synth-pop icon Gary Numan – these days a name it's perfectly OK to drop, with a dependable cult following. Back in the 1980s, his public statements of support for the Thatcher government made him a music press pariah, and played some role in his fall (as late as 2003, however, he was unrepentant: "Thatcher had a clear idea about everything and seemed to be massively pro-British against the rest of the world," he said). In 2010, by contrast, the other Gary's campaigning for the Tories caused no career damage whatsoever: it simply stood as an above-average photo opportunity, crashlanded on the evening news, and was promptly forgotten.

So what has changed? Cameron's diligent attempts to rebrand his party by affecting the role of the modern, bike-riding urban dad and paying endless tributes to his favourite rock bands have undoubtedly helped. The same applies to the feting of his supposedly switched-on wife.

Much more important, though, is the wider context. Whether austerity will bring a renewed ideological charge to the relationship between politics and culture is an interesting point: certainly, the famous names who have protested about arts cuts and library closures suggest that very familiar battle-lines are already reappearing. That said, we still largely live in the post-Blair age, in which the right-left divide is not nearly as entrenched as it once was, and people's political preferences count for much less. Whisper it, then – but after decades of ignominy, it might just be OK to be a pop-culture Conservative.

In any case, the arts are aligning themselves with the Tories in ways much more subtle and insidious than simple endorsements. Just as New Labour managed to slot itself into the wider moment known as Cool Britannia, so there are lines that can be drawn from musicians, actors, film-makers and novelists to people at the top of government. Here, the arriviste likes of Barlow are less important than a new elite who speak with the same accents as people at the top, and attest to a simple fact: the privately educated seem to be newly dominant, and a sharp change of tone and taste stretches from politics, to the arts, and beyond.

The demotic affectations – glottal stops, photo-ops in greasy spoon cafes, an affected love of football – that were obligatory 15 years ago have completely disappeared. Last year, there was a flurry of news coverage when the Word magazine reported that during one week in October, 60% of the acts in the UK charts came from privately educated backgrounds, although it subsequently printed a letter pointing out that its figure were erroneously exaggerated [see footnote]. When this story was revived last week in an item on the Today programme it brought a furious emailed response from one Jane Blount, better known as the mother of that renowned Harrow alumnus James Blunt.

Barely a day goes past, it seems, when you cannot pick up a newspaper and find the latest sensation in music, or film, or literature, expounding on an early life of dormitories, tuck shops and "prep". Take, for example, the actor Dominic West – AKA Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, and just cast in an ITV drama as the serial killer Fred West. He went to Eton, his wife is a former countess, he has a daughter from a relationship with a member of the Astor dynasty, and he is – but of course – a friend of the Camerons. He is also said to have once had a soft spot for the prime minister's wife. When asked, he has occasionally seemed uneasy about his background, though he has tended to end up sounding much the same rather questionable notes as the Old Etonians in government. "It probably helps that we now live in a meritocracy," he mused two years ago, "so we don't need to worry where people came from."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Jake Shimabukuro On World Cafe (World Cafe, 1/31/11)

One of the the world's top ukulele players, Jake Shimabukuro wows his audiences with intricate strumming and plucking, overwhelming enthusiasm and an electrifying stage presence. He began to play the ukulele at the tender age of 4 while living in Hawaii. He strummed along to all sorts of rock and pop he heard on the radio; he also learned to play an array of other instruments (piano, drums, classical guitar) to develop his ukulele skills.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The Counter-Terrorism Review: Trading liberty for security (Dr Michael Lister and Dr Lee Jarvis, 5 February 2011, OpenDemocracy)

The revised counter terrorism apparatus continues to enshrine principles that bend and strain procedural fairness. It is still possible to become subject to serious state power without access to evidence or the ability to challenge detention. The concerns articulated by people with whom we spoke were of principle, not of numbers and amounts. The review seems to focus on a quantitative easing of the apparatus, whilst leaving the broad architecture intact. Taken together, we would argue that the review does little or nothing to restore such procedural fairness or to address the sense that some individuals and communities have of being targeted, and the problems this brings about.

And these problems create challenges and issues in terms of security too. As noted, it has been suggested that disaffection may render counter terrorism efforts counter productive as communities will not cooperate with the police and security services. But security is not simply a quality that states possess. At present, the language of ‘balancing liberty and security’ or ‘rebalancing’ seems to be prominent. Yet, as noted political theorist Jeremy Waldron asks: What is it that we are actually balancing? He concludes that in actuality it is not the liberty of all for the security of all, but something more akin to the security of the majority for the liberties of the minority. This does not provide justice and, for a minority, has a serious and negative impact on their security. In the process this therefore fails also either to ensure or increase security; for the majority or the minority.

One is reminded of the famous maxim often attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "one who would trade liberty for security deserves neither". As people we spoke to in our research confirmed, security is often understood by people in terms akin to liberty and freedom. Security and liberty are not viewed as oppositional goods by many people, which need to be traded off or balanced, but rather as elements on the same continuum. To think that some of one can be traded for some of the other seems specious, dangerous, unjust and illiberal. To suggest that a review that continues to do so marks a glorious day for civil liberties (or security) is flawed at best, and specious and fatuous at worst.

It is not, of course, liberty and security that are at opposite ends, but freedom and security. >Liberty is the compromise that reconciles the two and is absolutely pivotal to our republicanism. Any laws and procedures that target only certain persons or communities, rather than being universally applicable, are problematic because they are inconsistent with such republican liberty.

February 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


George W. Bush's Liberal Legacy (Jan Fleischhauer, 2/07/11, Der Spiegel)

Suddenly it seems everyone knew all along that President Mubarak was a villain and the US, who supported him until recently, was even worse. However it was actually former President George W. Bush who always believed in the democratization of the Muslim world and was broadly ridiculed by the Left for his convictions. [...]

Painful as it may be to admit, it was the despised former US President George W. Bush who believed in the democratization of the Muslim world and incurred the scorn and mockery of the Left for his conviction.

Everyone was sure -- without knowing any Muslims -- that the Western model of democracy could not be applied in a backward society like Iraq. Everyone knew that the neo-conservative belief in the universal desire for freedom and progress was naïve nonsense. It is possible that the critics were right, albeit for the wrong reasons. The prospect of stability and order seems to be at least as important to many people.

We can only hope that the desire for freedom will triumph in the end. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood have also put the blame on the US and Israel, though in the reverse order. To them, Mubarak is a "Zionist agent" and should therefore be destroyed like the Zionists; next in line are the "helpers" from the US.

As for the actual revolution, it appears that the Arab youth are not taking to the streets to burn US flags and call for the death of Israel, but to overthrow their own government.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Who’s afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood? (DOUG SAUNDERS, 2/05/11, Globe and Mail)

When these parties are allowed a role in democratic government, there’s a pattern. Remember, however alarming their ideas about women and Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and its neighbouring parties represent the people who explicitly rejected the violent option (and were shunned and sometimes attacked for this by the jihadists) because they wanted a place in a legitimate government. There’s zero chance of Egypt’s uprising turning into the 1979 Iranian revolution or the terrorist violence of Hamas; there are no parties, and no Egyptian constituency of any size, seeking a theocracy.

“These parties definitely reject the Iranian model,” George Washington University political scientist Nathan Brown told me. “First, the Muslim Brotherhood is against a theocratic state or any role for clerics – it’s led by a university professor of veterinary medicine. And second, they prefer to work within a pluralist system. Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

In Arab states such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, Islamist movements don’t command the support to gain a majority and would have to share power with secular parties. Would the Muslim Brotherhood participate in a government that recognizes Israel and works with Western governments? Their leaders, and informed observers, say yes.

And the experience of fighting for an electoral share generally has a galvanizing effect on these parties. In Algeria, the Movement of Society for Peace, a Brotherhood offshoot, plays a leading role in condemning violence and helping denounce the region’s jihadist groups. Leading Islamist parties in Morocco, Kuwait and Bahrain have abandoned sharia law as a principle and replaced it with a loose notion of “Islamic policy guidelines.”

The most prominent example is Turkey, whose governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) began as an illegal Islamist movement but then, seeking electoral credibility, purged its sharia faction and won a majority. It has ruled for nearly a decade as an aggressively pro-European government that has co-operated with Israel and has done more for women’s rights than its secularist predecessors. Its leaders tell me they are “Islamic in the same way that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party is Christian.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Ovide's Stock On The Rise In New Hampshire (Sean Sullivan, February 1, 2011, Hotline)

[Ovide] Lamontagne, a Tea Party favorite, is quickly establishing himself as an early frontrunner for the 2012 Republican gubernatorial nomination, having already met with New Hampshire-based consultants about a possible run in 2012. He's also becoming as a major player in New Hampshire's 2012 Republican presidential primary.

"He's on the short list for 2012 in the gubernatorial race," said University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala. [...]

But other Republicans such as state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R) and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas (R) may also be in the gubernatorial picture come 2012, and Lamontagne may have to prove that he can win a race against other well-known Republicans, something he was not able to do in 2010.

And while Lamontagne may sometimes play the outsider card, he isn't new to politics, having run for governor back in 1996 and for the Senate last year.

"He is part of the establishment here. He was the legal counsel for the party for a long time," Pindell pointed out.

But for now, staying in the picture may be Lamontagne's goal, if he wants to keep his political options open.

"He knows his main challenge is how to continue to be relevant without a title," said Pindell.

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February 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


Constitutional showdown: A Florida judge distorted the law in striking down healthcare reform. (Akhil Reed Amar, February 6, 2011, LA Times)

The central issue in the Obamacare case is how much power the Constitution gives Congress, and the landmark Supreme Court opinion on this topic is the 1819 classic, McCulloch vs. Maryland.

In McCulloch, when states' rights attorneys claimed that Congress lacked authority to create a federal bank, Chief Justice John Marshall famously countered that the Constitution gives Congress implied as well as express powers. Marshall said that unelected judges should generally defer to elected members of Congress so long as a law plausibly falls within Congress' basic mission. Though the words "federal bank" nowhere appear in the Constitution's text, Marshall explained that Congress nevertheless had the power to create such a bank to facilitate national security and interstate commerce. Other words not in the Constitution include "air force," "NASA," "Social Security," "Peace Corps" and "paper money," but all these things are constitutional under the logic of McCulloch. Obamacare is no different.

In 34 years as chief justice, Marshall never struck down an act of Congress as beyond the scope of federal power. The modern Supreme Court has followed Marshall's lead. Since 1937, only two relevant cases — U.S. vs. Lopez in 1995 and U.S. vs. Morrison in 2000 — have held that federal laws transgressed the limited powers conferred on Congress by the framers.

Neither of the laws at issue in these cases plausibly fell within the Constitution's grant of congressional power to regulate "commerce among the several states" — a phrase that includes all interstate transactions, such as a national market in goods or services or a situation in which people, pollution, water or wildlife cross state lines.

By contrast, Obamacare regulates a healthcare industry that obviously spans state lines, involving billions of dollars and millions of patients flowing from state to state. When uninsured Connecticut residents fall sick on holiday in California and get free emergency room services, California taxpayers, California hospitals and California insurance policyholders foot the bill. This is an interstate issue, and Congress has power to regulate it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Sen. Jim Webb Not Running For Re-Election (Amy Walter and Matthew Jaffe, 2/09/11, ABC News)

Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, announced today that he has decided not to seek re-election in the Senate, passing up what was expected to be a tough race to retain his seat in Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


White House to Revive Latin America Deals (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON, 2/09/11, WSJ)

The Obama administration is accelerating efforts to revive stalled trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, aiming to resolve outstanding issues this year and send the pacts to Congress for ratification immediately thereafter, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is expected to tell a congressional committee Wednesday.

"The president has directed me to immediately intensify engagement with Colombia and Panama, with the objective of resolving the outstanding issues as soon as possible this year and bringing those agreements to Congress for consideration immediately thereafter," Mr. Kirk is expected to say, according to excerpts of prepared testimony reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising (Peter Beinart, 2/07/11, Daily Beast)

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.

All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.

Has any people ever been worse at judging what's good for them than the Jews?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Scalia and the Commerce Clause: Could a conservative judge vote to uphold Obamacare? (Robert VerBruggen, 2/09/11, National Review)

At the center of the Obamacare case are the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. According to the Constitution, the federal government has the power to “regulate Commerce#…#among the several States,” and also to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” to do so.

Over time, the Supreme Court has interpreted these clauses as giving the federal government broad regulatory powers — a trend that many conservatives have resisted. Today, the federal government can regulate not only “Commerce#…#among the several States,” but also any activity that “substantially affects” such commerce, even if that activity is non-commercial in nature.

Virtually any activity, of course, can be said to “substantially affect” interstate commerce. Therefore, in the eyes of the Supreme Court, the Commerce Clause gives the federal government license to regulate everything from how much wheat a farmer can grow — even if he’s not going to sell it — to the racial-discrimination policies of restaurants that serve food that has crossed state lines.

Six years ago, Justice Scalia helped to further this trend.

The case was Gonzales v. Raich, and the issue was whether the federal government had the right to forbid California residents to grow medical marijuana in their own homes, for their own personal consumption. It was a perfect test case: California law permitted medical marijuana, and the drugs, being illegal for the growers to sell, had absolutely nothing to do with commerce of any kind.

In a 6–3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with the federal government. Scalia fleshed out his views in a concurring opinion that was primarily based not on the Constitution itself, but on the Supreme Court’s ever-loosening interpretation of it.

“The court [has] recognized that [non-economic activity can] be regulated as ‘an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated,’” Scalia wrote. Then, he endorsed a rather broad interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause: “As the Court put it in Wrightwood Dairy, where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, ‘it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.’”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Catholic Republicans' political beliefs, challenged by their faith (Michael Gerson, February 8, 2011, Washington Post)

A revolutionary populism has seldom been the Catholic style - especially since Catholics have often been the victims of such populism in American history. Catholicism asserts the value and dignity of duly constituted authority, both religious and political, which cannot be dismissed as "elites." Further, in a direct assault on the spirit of the age, it teaches that genuine freedom is found in submission to just authority. The alternative is the "freedom" of a fish liberated from the sea. Neither radical individualism nor disdain for government is an option.

But the tension is also substantive. Catholic social teaching is simply not libertarian. Neither, of course, are most conservatives. But where Republicans veer toward libertarianism, they will run smack into the bishops. [...]

[T]here will probably come a point when red lines get crossed and Catholic and other religious leaders declare: Contempt for immigrants, even illegal immigrants, is not a moral option. Or, cutting AIDS and malaria funding violates pro-life principles. Or, health-care repeal without a serious alternative is not responsible.

At that moment, one hopes, the faith of politicians has sunk deeper than the skin - and that they will be less nasty than they otherwise would have been.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


The DLC Folds; But They Won The Future: The DLC didn't kill the New Left, but arguably, it won the future. (Marc Ambinder, February 7, 2011, National Journal)

With centrism as their lodestar and a bit of seed funding from business, the Democratic Leadership Council launched itself in the mid 1980s. First came a clarion call to fight against populism within the Democratic Party. Founders Al From and Will Marshall believed that Democrats couldn't win the presidency unless they adopted an economic agenda that was more, well, reasonable and less wedded to traditional party constituencies. Also, there was no reason, they also believed, as to why corporations wouldn't contribute money to Democrats who were pro-trade agreements, more skeptical of labor, and less stringent when it came to regulation. A forward-thinking Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton glommed on to the DLC ... and they glommed on to him, and their relationship consummated in his election to the presidency.

With reports today that the DLC is preparing to fold, the political world, which thinks in terms of wins and losses, will wonder into which bucket the group belongs. On the one hand, many DLC-influenced ideas became reality in the 1990s: a free trade agreement with Mexico, a Democratic President who saw the budget balance, and welfare reform. From is essentially retired. Longtime staffer Bruce Reed is now Vice President Biden's Chief of Staff. President Obama addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today. The president is pursuing spending cuts and free trade agreements. [...]

There are two other factors worth mentioning. One was that Big Labor became all the more important to helping Democrats get out the vote, and that made it more difficult for Democrats to affiliate with the DLC. The second was that the Netroots -- Atrios and Daily Kos and Chris Bowers -- thought the DLC's "centrism" was equivalent to the politics of concession and compromise.

The ebb and flow of Anglospheric politics at the End of History is fairly regular and predictable: as a governing party becomes sclerotic and lapses too far into the First or Second Way--depending on whether it is the party of the left or the right--the party out of power adopts the Third Way and boots them from office. The process then repeats itself.

But the danger exists that one party or the other will find itself unable to adopt that reformist mantle and will choose to die defending its own antiquated Way. For the Republican party, dominated by Evangelicals and business, this danger appears rather distant. But for the Democrats, potentially dominated by Labor and the Netroots, the danger seems very real.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Lymph Node Study Shakes Pillar of Breast Cancer Care (DENISE GRADY, 2/08/11, NY Times)

A new study finds that many women with early breast cancer do not need a painful procedure that has long been routine: removal of cancerous lymph nodes from the armpit.

The discovery turns standard medical practice on its head. Surgeons have been removing lymph nodes from under the arms of breast cancer patients for 100 years, believing it would prolong women’s lives by keeping the cancer from spreading or coming back. [...]

Experts say that the new findings, combined with similar ones from earlier studies, should change medical practice for many patients. Some centers have already acted on the new information. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan changed its practice in September, because doctors knew the study results before they were published. But more widespread change may take time, experts say, because the belief in removing nodes is so deeply ingrained.

“This is such a radical change in thought that it’s been hard for many people to get their heads around it,” said Dr. Monica Morrow, chief of the breast service at Sloan-Kettering and an author of the study, which is being published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The National Cancer Institute paid for the study. [...]

The trend reflects an evolving understanding of breast cancer. In decades past, there was a belief that surgery could “get it all” — eradicate the cancer before it could spread to organs and bones. But research has found that breast cancer can begin to spread early, even when tumors are small, leaving microscopic traces of the disease after surgery.

The modern approach is to cut out obvious tumors — because lumps big enough to detect may be too dense for drugs and radiation to destroy — and to use radiation and chemotherapy to wipe out microscopic disease in other places.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


High Taxes? Actually, They're at a 60-Year Low (AP, 2/08/11)

[A]s a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Muslims return favor, join hands with Christian protesters for Mass in Cairo's Tahrir Square (Helen Kennedy, 2/07/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir Square joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.

Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.

They surrounded Christians celebrating Mass in Cairo's central plaza, ground zero for the secular pro-democracy protests reverberating throughout the Middle East.

"In the name of Jesus and Muhammed, we unify our ranks," the Rev. Ihab al-Kharat told the crowd in his sermon.

"We will keep protesting until the fall of the tyranny," he said.

Some of the worshipers began to cry as the congregation sang, "Bless our country, listen to the cries of our hearts."

Afterward, the crowd of both Muslims and Christians chanted "one hand" - meaning "we are one" - and held up a Koran and a cross.

February 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Red Sox' J.D. Drew Facing Big Questions, From His Hamstring To Missionary Work (Rob Neyer, 2/08/11, SB Nation)

[H]e's averaged 131 games per season with the Sox. And that contract? Drew's been paid $56 million so far, and according to FanGraphs he's been worth ... $56 million.

OK, so I fudged that one a little for dramatic effect. It's actually $57.1 million, but these things are imprecise enough that we can say Drew has been worth exactly what the Red Sox have paid him.

So far. But even if the hamstring limits him to 125 or 130 games, he still figures to earn his $14 million salary in 2011. The only way the whole contract looks remotely bad is if Drew's on the shelf for two or three months, because otherwise he figures to come at least reasonably close to that $14 million target. In which case the Red Sox look pretty smart about the whole thing.

...his value is incalculable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


In Egypt, U.S. Weighs Push for Change With Stability (HELENE COOPER and DAVID E. SANGER, 2/08/11, NY Times)

Vice President Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September. And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy.

But, considering it lacks better options, the United States has strongly backed him to play the pivotal role in a still uncertain transition process in Egypt. In doing so, it is relying on the existing government to make changes that it has steadfastly resisted for years, and even now does not seem impatient to carry out.

After two weeks of recalibrated messages and efforts to keep up with a rapidly evolving situation, the Obama administration is still trying to balance support for some of the basic aspirations for change in Egypt with its concern that the pro-democracy movement could be “hijacked,” as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put it, if change were to come too quickly.

The result has been to feed a perception, on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, that the United States, for now at least, is putting stability ahead of democratic ideals, and leaving hopes of nurturing peaceful, gradual change in large part in the hands of Egyptian officials — starting with Mr. Suleiman — who have every reason to slow the process.

Sounds like the UR agrees with Glenn Beck.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Glenn Beck’s Fevered Mind (Peter Wehner - 02.08.2011, Commentary)

“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:

Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.

Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


The banality of tolerance: One of Europe’s most prominent philosophers explains why tolerance seems to be evaporating from the public square. (Rocco Buttiglione, 8 February 2011, MercatorNet)

The idea of tolerance is directly connected to the idea of freedom. Man must seek truth in order to be a man but must be free from external coercion in order to be able to search for truth. The lesser freedom is an unavoidable presupposition for the greater freedom. If I am compelled to act according to freedom, because of the pressure brought to bear on me by an external power, then I am not a free subject but a slave.

A world in which people obey the objective truth because of fear and not because of intelligence and love, would not resemble paradise but rather hell. I am bound to act, moreover, according to the truth I have freely recognized. This means that I must obey my conscience, even in case that it be wrong. What is typical of our age is not the fact that we hold as true a lot of false presuppositions. This happens more or less in all historical epochs. What characterizes our current crisis is rather the fact that many of us use their lesser freedom in order to disengage from the moral duty of searching for truth. We think that there is no truth and it is not worth the while to search for something that does not exist. We cannot, of course, coerce the lesser freedom of others in order to compel them to be free according to the greater freedom. The only way open for a recovery of our civilization is the way of witness.

This means that we must tolerate error in order not to destroy freedom. Tolerance is the simple recognition of the fact that I cannot think truth in the place of another. I can help another to discover truth through argumentation, example and witness but I cannot recognize truth in her or his stead.

In an age, however, in which the idea of truth seems to have been abolished, some may argue that this is not enough. We are required not to be judgmental, that is not to pass any judgment since the distinction of good and evil seems to have been obliterated and has lost its firm foundation in the nature of things. This leads to a kind of tolerance that is different from the one I have explained on the basis of the nature of truth. One is not satisfied with the fact that I recognize his right to error. He does not recognize the right of someone else to think and say that he is wrong. Any judgment based on the presumption of the existence of an objective truth must be excluded from the public square and those who uphold such judgments are labeled as enemies of democracy.

It is apparent that this pretension is self-defeating. If there is no objective truth I have the right to my private truth but since there is only one world in which we all live I have also the right to impose this truth on others, if I have a chance to do it and if the balance of power is in my favor.

The very expression “right” is misplaced in this context. The lion does not have a “right” to kill a gazelle. It just does it. A world without truth is a world where the words right and wrong have become devoid of meaning. It never occurs, however, that a supporter of moral relativism really thinks his or her intellectual stands coherently up to the last consequences, since this is really untenable in real life.

In current cultural and philosophical discussion the aggressive side of moral relativism is usually set aside to concentrate on the pretension that the non-relativist has an inner drive towards the repression of the freedom of those who do not stand in agreement with him/her. We have already explained why this is not the case. The respect for the freedom of the other is a consequence of the reverence for the dignity of the person. I do not need to doubt my convictions to recognize your right to hold a dissenting opinion. It is enough to know that God wants you to come to truth through a free act of your conscience. If I do not have the right to compel, to coerce, to threaten the dissenters, I nevertheless have the right to argue with them and to try to convince them.

In the new mood of moral relativism this is not allowed and is considered as an intolerable offence. I am ready to accept, for example, that nobody has a right to compel gay people to change their sexual preferences or to mistreat them for this reason but I am also convinced that I have a right to think that homosexuality is intrinsically wrong and to argue this conviction in the public debate.

We therefore have two visions of tolerance. One concerns a tolerance without truth. We have already seen how contradictory this concept is. In one possible formulation this may exclude tolerance, in another it implies a prohibition to discuss the behavior of others. A new categorical imperative substitutes the old Kantian ones: the norm of your action must be to collude with the pretension of the other of being not what she or he is but what he fancies to be. There is a bridge between the two possible versions of the principle of tolerance in a society without truth. This bridge is the principle of self preservation and the desire to avoid conflicts that might expose this self preservation to danger. The imperative of the new science of morals is changed thus: collude with the pretension of those who hold enough power to impose their view of things and their interests.

The opinion of a grown up who pretends the unborn baby is just a piece of flesh colludes with the position of the child who pretends (although he cannot articulate this thought) to be a human being. If there is no objective truth then force takes the place of truth and those who are more powerful also possess a larger share of truth.

If we connect the idea of tolerance with the idea of truth we have a completely different outcome. Truth exists although I do not possess it and can see it only “as in a mirror”. I have the duty to tell the truth I have seen in order to help others to live in the truth. I must always be open to the possibility that others have seen sides and aspects of truth that I have not seen and must be ready to incorporate them in my vision of truth. I must never forget that truth is one but that there are many avenues leading to truth and, in one sense, each human being has her or his personal alley of truth. I must respect the conscience in good faith of the other even in case that she/he errs. And I must always remember that I can judge only facts but not persons and their conscience.

I can say: this action is good and this action is bad. I can never say: this man is (absolutely) good or this man is (absolutely) bad. Action has an exterior side that I can judge but also an interior side in the conscience of the person that only God can judge. But I have a right and a duty to pass a judgment on actions.

If we deprive the human being of this right we perform an amputation of the moral dimension of his life. We dehumanize her or him.

...no one believes in multiculturalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


On Health Care, Justice Will Prevail (LAURENCE H. TRIBE,2/08/11, NY Times)

[T]he predictions of a partisan 5-4 split rest on a misunderstanding of the court and the Constitution. The constitutionality of the health care law is not one of those novel, one-off issues, like the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, that have at times created the impression of Supreme Court justices as political actors rather than legal analysts.

Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law’s constitutionality is open and shut. Does anyone doubt that the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry is an interstate market that Congress has the power to regulate?

Many new provisions in the law, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, are also undeniably permissible. But they would be undermined if healthy or risk-prone individuals could opt out of insurance, which could lead to unacceptably high premiums for those remaining in the pool. For the system to work, all individuals — healthy and sick, risk-prone and risk-averse — must participate to the extent of their economic ability.

In this regard, the health care law is little different from Social Security. The court unanimously recognized in 1982 that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to maintain the financial soundness of a Social Security system from which people could opt out. The same analysis holds here: by restricting certain economic choices of individuals, we ensure the vitality of a regulatory regime clearly within Congress’s power to establish. [...]

Given the clear case for the law’s constitutionality, it’s distressing that many assume its fate will be decided by a partisan, closely divided Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, whom some count as a certain vote against the law, upheld in 2005 Congress’s power to punish those growing marijuana for their own medical use; a ban on homegrown marijuana, he reasoned, might be deemed “necessary and proper” to effectively enforce broader federal regulation of nationwide drug markets. To imagine Justice Scalia would abandon that fundamental understanding of the Constitution’s necessary and proper clause because he was appointed by a Republican president is to insult both his intellect and his integrity.

...but a lifetime appointment is a more powerful one. A majority that turned corporations into persons has already determined that ideology can trump intellect and integrity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Obama the Realist (ROSS DOUTHAT, 2/06/11, NY Times)

From the war on terror to the current unrest in Egypt, his foreign policy has owed far more to conservative realpolitik than to any left-wing vision of international affairs.

Many Republicans have been loath to admit this. In the first year of the Obama presidency, conservatives rushed to portray the president as a weak-kneed liberal who would rather appease terrorists than fight. They accused him of abandoning the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies, taking the pressure off Iran, and playing at being president of the world while giving his own country’s interests short shrift. They insisted that his distrust of American power and doubts about American exceptionalism were making the country steadily less safe.

But this narrative never really fit the facts. On nearly every anti-terror front, from detainee policy to drone strikes, the Obama administration has been what The Washington Times’s Eli Lake calls a “9/14 presidency,” maintaining or even expanding the powers that George W. Bush claimed in the aftermath of 9/11. (Dick Cheney himself admitted as much last month, effectively retracting his 2009 claim that Obama’s terrorism policies were undermining national security.) Time and again, this president has proved himself a careful custodian of both American and presidential prerogatives — and the most perceptive critics of his policies, tellingly, have been civil libertarians rather than Republican partisans.

On Israel-Palestine and Iran, the Obama administration did briefly flirt with new strategies, putting more pressure on the Israeli government and attempting outreach to Tehran. But the White House soon reverted to the policy status quo of Bush’s second term. Indeed, from the twilight struggle over Iran’s nuclear program — featuring sanctions, sabotage, and the threat of military force — to the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, this White House’s entire approach to international affairs looks like a continuation of the Condoleezza Rice-Robert Gates phase of the Bush administration.

Obama’s response to the Egyptian crisis has crystallized his entire foreign policy vision. Switch on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and you would assume that there’s a terrible left-wing naïveté — or worse, a sneaking anticolonial sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood — at work in the White House’s attempts to usher Hosni Mubarak out the door. But look closer, and it’s clear that the administration’s real goal has been to dispense with Mubarak while keeping the dictator’s military subordinates very much in charge. If the Obama White House has its way, any opening to democracy will be carefully stage-managed by an insider like Omar Suleiman, the former general and Egyptian intelligence chief who’s best known in Washington for his cooperation with the C.I.A.’s rendition program. This isn’t softheaded peacenik dithering. It’s cold-blooded realpolitik.

The two are identical. Realpolitik is the means to peacnikery. Not that it works....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Which Parts of Stimulus Worked Best? (Justin Lahart, 2/07/11, WSJ)
“Without a counterfactual, the best we can do is fall back on our models,” write Dartmouth College economists James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.[...]

What they find is that the stimulus package did boost the economy — though not by as much as the administration assumed it would when it put the plan in place. One reason why, they find, is that money spent to support education and law enforcement did little to improve employment. But programs to support low-income households were highly stimulative, as was spending on infrastructure projects.

“This all suggests that a stimulus package that did not include state level grants for local services would have been more effective per dollar than the actual stimulus package,” they write.
...if you want people to spend the money give it to people who need to spend it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Senators look for immigration deal (Carrie Budoff Brown, February 7, 2011, Politico)

[I]t is the presence of Graham himself who elevates the odds — however bleak — that the Senate could move on a comprehensive, bipartisan overhaul bill. Graham abruptly departed the talks last spring and took with him any hope of getting a bill in the past Congress.

Now, conservative evangelicals, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, business organizations and immigrant advocacy groups say they have gotten word from Schumer’s office that a renewed effort is under way. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce confirmed that it is back in the mix, after a hasty exit last year when Schumer proposed a legislative framework with a temporary worker program that favored labor unions.

And Schumer and his staff have quietly begun reaching out to some unlikely players in the Senate, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has professed a newfound freedom since winning reelection last year without the Republican Party’s help.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Judgment Days (David Remnick February 14, 2011, The New Yorker)

The historic moments of peaceful popular demonstrations, of oppressed peoples emerging as one from their private realms of silence and fear, are thrilling. And some, like the uprising in Prague, in November, 1989, have thrilling conclusions—a pacific transition from autocracy to liberal democracy. But Tahrir Square is not Wenceslas Square, in Prague, nor is it Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, or Revolution Square, in Moscow. The Egyptians, for all their bravery, do not possess the advantages of the Czechs of a generation ago. Liberated from the Soviet grip, the Czechs could rely on the legacy of not-so-distant freedoms, the moral leadership of Václav Havel, and many other particulars that augured well for them. Circumstances were not as auspicious in Romania, China, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Opening acts can be ecstatic and deceptive. The Russian prospect, in August, 1991, which began with the collapse of a K.G.B.-led coup, soon encountered its own historical legacies, including the lingering hold of the security services and the corruptions of an oil economy. Modern Russia is far better off than it was in the teeth of the Communist era, but it is not the state that so many had hoped for two decades ago.

In the past century, Egypt has been the stage for many ideologies: liberal nationalism, “Arab socialism,” Islamism, Pan-Arabism. Anyone who has spent time in Cairo talking with the political opposition knows how fractured and repressed it has been. The city is thick with human-rights lawyers, political activists, and intellectuals who have been blacklisted, jailed, and tortured—and yet pockets of civil society have persisted.

No one can predict with confidence what might develop after Mubarak—if, in fact, his regime falls. (The new Vice-President, Omar Suleiman, is no democrat, and no less cunning than his patron.) One anxiety, particularly in the United States and in Israel, is that the Muslim Brotherhood, despite its lateness to the revolution, will find a way to power, drop any pretense of coöperation with secular liberal factions, and initiate a range of troubling policies, including an insistence on Islamic law and the abrogation of the long-standing peace treaty with Israel. Last Thursday, Mubarak played on this anxiety, telling ABC that all the disorder was the fault of the Muslim Brothers. Which was utterly false. Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are quite capable of slipping into conspiracy theories about 9/11, but they are not remotely as aggressive or as theocratic as their brethren abroad. During the Iraq War, I called on the Brotherhood at its small, ramshackle offices in Cairo, and one of its leaders, Essam al-Eryam, sought to reassure Western readers. “There will be democracy here, sooner or later,” he said. “It requires patience, and we are more patient because we are, as an organization, seventy-six years old. You have already seen some countries—Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran—describe themselves as Islamic regimes. There’s a diversity of models, even among the Sunni and the Shia. Egypt can present a model that is more just and tolerant.” And there al-Eryam was right: supporters of political Islam sit peaceably in parliaments from Turkey to Indonesia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


A Chicken Chain’s Corporate Ethos Is Questioned by Gay Rights Advocates (KIM SEVERSON, 2/06/11, NY Times)

Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement. A Pennsylvania outlet’s sponsorship of a February marriage seminar by one of that state’s most outspoken groups against homosexuality lit up gay blogs around the country. Students at some universities have also begun trying to get the chain removed from campuses.

“If you’re eating Chick-fil-A, you’re eating anti-gay,” one headline read.

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February 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 PM


HuffPo's New AOL Overlord Is A Republican Donor, "One Of The Most Conservative People Around" (Nicholas Carlson, Feb. 7, 2011, Business Insider)

Progressive Huffington Post readers are already upset about the blog's $315 million acquisition by AOL.

Here's a tidbit that might make the news even harder to swallow.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong "calls himself a libertarian," but is in fact "one of the most conservative people around," says a source close the chief executive.

Unless there is another Timothy Armstrong living in Riverside, Connecticut, the AOL chief is also a Republican donor, having given $500 to Thomas Herrmann's 2010 run for Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Is Glenn Beck Digging His Own Grave With Egypt Commentary? (Alex Eichler | February 07, 2011, Atlantic Wire)

Fox News host Glenn Beck has some interesting ideas about where the revolution in Egypt is heading. Beck, more or less alone among conservative commentators, has spoken at length about the ideological alignment between radical Muslims in Egypt and leftist fringe groups in America. He's also warned that "the world right now is being divvied up" by a coalition of "the uber-left and the Islamicists and the global elite." This is, to put it mildly, a reading of the situation in Egypt that doesn't seem to have much to do with reality. And Bill Kristol has apparently gotten tired of it.

Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the major figures of neoconservatism, made some pointed remarks about Beck in a recent essay for the Standard. "When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society," Kristol wrote this week. "He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Factories boom, but with few new workers (John W. Schoen, 2/07/11, msnbc.com )

One big reason: Business executives like Drew Greenblatt, owner of Baltimore-based Marlin Steel Wire Products, have figured out how to make more widgets with the same number of workers. To do so, he's had to upgrade the skills — and wages — of his employees. But his profits are bigger than ever.

Last July, the company, which makes wire baskets, installed $700,000 worth of robots, continuing a steady process of automation Greenblatt began when he bought the company in 1998.

“In the old days, we had a $6 an-hour-guy who would hand-bend 300 bends an hour,” said Greenblatt. “Now we have guy who’s paid $22 an hour with the robots but he’s giving me (20,000) bends an hour. Do the math.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is a force the world can no longer afford to ignore: Islamist movement has evolved and expresses readiness to work within a democratic framework (Ian Black, 2/07/11, guardian.co.uk)

The Brotherhood – or Ikhwan as it is known in Arabic – boycotted last year's rigged elections. Since then it has again seen its offices closed down and leaders harassed, arrested and released in a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. In 2010, 6,000 activists were detained.

Like other Islamist movements, its popularity is based on a reputation for not being corrupt and charity work in clinics, nurseries and after-school tutoring. Volunteers fill gaps left by a state that has seen illiteracy rise and services fail as liberal economic reforms enriched businesses close to the regime. It is known for its ability to mobilise supporters.

In 2006 Suleiman, then Mubarak's intelligence chief, described the Brotherhood as "neither a religious organisation, nor a social organisation, nor a political party, but a combination of all three" – though the regime exaggerated its importance to present itself as a bulwark against extremism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


An ObamaCare Appeal From the States (Mitch Daniels, 2/01/11, WSJ)

I have written to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Services (HHS), saying that if her department wants Indiana to run its program for it, we will do so under the following conditions:

• We are given the flexibility to decide which insurers are permitted to offer their products.

• All the law's expensive benefit mandates are waived, so that our citizens aren't forced to buy benefits they don't need and have a range of choice that includes more affordable plans.

• The law's provisions discriminating against consumer-driven plans, such as health savings accounts, are waived.

• We are given the freedom to move Medicaid beneficiaries into the exchange, or to utilize new approaches to the traditional program, instead of herding hundreds of thousands more people into today's broken Medicaid system.

• Our state is reimbursed the true, full cost of the administrative burden to be imposed upon us, based on the estimate of an auditor independent of HHS.

• A trustworthy projection is commissioned, by a research organization independent of the department, of how many people are likely to wind up in the exchange, given the large incentives for employers to save money by off-loading their workers.

Obviously, this is a very different system than the one the legislation intends. Health care would be much more affordable, minus all the mandates, and plus the consumer consciousness that comes with health savings accounts and their kin. Customer choice would be dramatically enhanced by the state's ability to allow more insurers to participate and offer consumer-driven plans. Through greater flexibility in the management of Medicaid, the state might be able to reduce substantially the hidden tax increase that forced expansion of the program will impose.

Most fundamentally, the system we are proposing requires Washington to abandon most of the command-and-control aspects of the law as written. It steers away from nanny-state paternalism by assuming, recognizing and reinforcing the dignity of all our citizens and their right to make health care's highly personal decisions for themselves.

...it's just a quarrel over whether to deliver it via the Second Way, as Democrats want, or the Third, as conservatives want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


'Justified' Brings Back Raylan Givens, Another Working-Class Man From FX (Eric Deggans, 2/07/11, NPR)

[Raylan] Givens is a modern-day U.S. marshal with the soul of a sheriff from the old west. He's as crafty, streetwise and smart as you might imagine. Created by novelist Elmore Leonard, bred in eastern Kentucky, Givens represents an interesting trend on FX: smart, emotionally complex working-class heroes.

He's the opposite of the stereotypes we're often fed about working-class men on television. Sent to work his Kentucky hometown after killing one too many suspects in Miami, Givens kicks off this season struggling to rebuild his reputation with his work family and rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife.

In Givens' world, catching the bad guys and winning shootouts is the easy part. Mastering his life and the unpredictable moves of those he loves most; that's what keeps him up at night.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Bush 2012: Jeb Bush should run now, for at least eight reasons. (Rich Lowry,. 2/07/11, National Review)

He’s not just another Bush. Jeb is different from his patrician dad and different from his thoroughly Texan brother. As soon as people see him on the national stage, they’ll realize he’s his own person and has to be taken on his own terms.

7) Jeb can unite the party. Jeb probably has a better chance to unite the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP than anyone else, certainly a better chance than Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney would seem to have at this juncture. The establishment would presumably flock to Jeb, while he’d have a record of solid conservative accomplishment to sell to the conservative base. Some tea partiers will have zero interest in another Bush, and Jeb will take his lumps on immigration (at NR, we’ll look forward to administering some of them, and trying to change his mind). It’s a very volatile environment, and were he to run, much would obviously depend on how he actually campaigned. But he would stand a good chance of avoiding a damaging division in the party.

Indeed, one of the biggest reasons for him to run is to, however unwillingly, unite the Right behind Open Borders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Made in the USA: US manufacturing still tops China’s by nearly 46 percent (Jeff Jacoby, February 6, 2011, Boston Globe)

American manufacturing output hits a new high almost every year. US industries are powerhouses of production: Measured in constant dollars, America’s manufacturing output today is more than double what it was in the early 1970s.

So why do so many Americans fear that the Chinese are eating our lunch?

Part of the reason is that fewer Americans work in factories. Millions of industrial jobs have vanished in recent decades, and there is no denying the hardship and stress that has meant for many families. But factory employment has declined because factory productivity has so dramatically skyrocketed: Revolutions in technology enable an American worker today to produce far more than his counterpart did a generation ago. Consequently, even as America’s manufacturing sector out-produces every other country on earth, millions of young Americans can aspire to become not factory hands or assembly workers, but doctors and lawyers, architects and engineers.

Perceptions also feed the gloom and doom. In its story on Americans’ economic anxiety, National Journal quotes a Florida teacher who says, “It seems like everything I pick up says ‘Made in China’ on it.’’ To someone shopping for toys, shoes, or sporting equipment, it often can seem that way. But that’s because Chinese factories tend to specialize in low-tech, labor-intensive goods — items that typically don’t require the more advanced and sophisticated manufacturing capabilities of modern American plants.

A vast amount of “stuff’’ is still made in the USA, albeit not the inexpensive consumer goods that fill the shelves in Target or Walgreens. American factories make fighter jets and air conditioners, automobiles and pharmaceuticals, industrial lathes and semiconductors.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Did the Stimulus Stimulate? Real Time Estimates of the Effects of the American Readjustment and Recovery Act (James Feyrer, Bruce Sacerdote, February 2011, NBER Working Paper No. 16759)

We use state and county level variation to examine the impact of the American Readjustment and Recovery Act on employment. A cross state analysis suggests that one additional job was created by each $170,000 in stimulus spending. Time series analysis at the state level suggests a smaller response with a per job cost of about $400,000. These results imply Keynesian multipliers between 0.5 and 1.0, somewhat lower than those assumed by the administration. However, the overall results mask considerable variation for different types of spending. Grants to states for education do not appear to have created any additional jobs. Support programs for low income households and infrastructure spending are found to be highly expansionary. Estimates excluding education spending suggest fiscal policy multipliers of about 2.0 with per job cost of under $100,000.

...we should have given everyone food stamps.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


No Rush to Hire Even as Profits Soar (JOHN SHIPMAN, JOE LIGHT AND PAUL VIGNA, 2/07/11, WSJ)

Corporate profits are humming, dividend increases are up sharply and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is back above 12000. It makes job growth the missing link as the U.S. economy mounts a rebound.

With 73% of the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index by market value having reported fourth-quarter results, earnings are up 28% from a year earlier and sales are up 7.7%. But the contrast between profit and job growth remains a big hurdle for companies hoping to keep expanding their business.

...that the proper response to profit is to squander it on boondoggles.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


So this is the new year? (The Economist, Feb 4th 2011)

LOOK almost anywhere in the recent economic data and the signs point to an accelerating recovery. A solid fourth quarter GDP report contained a truly blockbuster increase in real final sales. Manufacturing activity is soaring. Consumer spending is up and the trade deficit is down. Markets are trading at their highest level in over two years. And so economists anxiously awaited the first employment figures for 2011, hoping that in January firms would finally react to better conditions by taking on lots of new help.

Instead, the Bureau of Labour Statistics has dropped a puzzler of an employment report in our laps—one which points in many directions but not, decidedly, toward strong job growth.

Obviously we face a difficult period of adjustment as we replace the job as the near-exclusive means of redistributing wealth, but the fact that we're creating ever more wealth with ever less effort isn't exactly a bad problem.

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February 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


When Reagan was (much) less popular than Carter: Will Bunch, author of "Tear Down This Myth," explains how the Gipper was transformed into a conservative demigod (Steve Kornacki, 2/06/11, Salon)

By 1992, three years after he left the White House, Ronald Reagan was anything but a beloved former president. As a painful recession gripped the country, the public came to see the Reagan years -- which featured a massive defense buildup, soaring deficits and even a stock market crash in 1987 -- as the source of their economic woes. Running for president that year, Bill Clinton promised to enact a clean break from the "failed policies of Reagan and Bush." As Reagan prepared to speak at the Republican National Convention in August, a Gallup poll found that just 46 percent of Americans had a favorable view of him. By contrast, Jimmy Carter, the man Reagan had defeated in a 44-state rout in 1980, was viewed favorably by 63 percent of the American public. The Reagan presidency stood in something approaching disrepute.

...it is that it made a mistake when it elected someone president, especially if we re-elected him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


What school vouchers have bought for my family (Vivian Butler, Washington, 2/06/11, Washington Post)

[The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was created in 2004 to allow students from low-income families to attend private schools. The program stopped enrolling new students after 2008, but Congress is considering legislation that would reopen it. This is one participant's story.] [...]

When Jerlisa was in fifth grade, she became anxious and didn’t want to return to school. It was clear to me she wasn’t getting the help that she needed. That’s when I received fliers about the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Although I didn’t know everything about the OSP, I knew I had to do something different, even if it meant getting out of my comfort zone. When you’re a single mother on a fixed income, sometimes simple things like filling out your name, address or income on a form can be a scary thing to do.

I applied, and the OSP staff guided me through the process. When I received the voucher award letter, I was overwhelmed by the decisions I faced. For the first time, I had the option of choosing a school for Jerlisa. Where should I send her? What were the most important things to consider? In the end, I chose St. Benedict the Moor School because it had an environment that motivated students to learn. I wouldn’t have to worry about her falling behind, and I knew she would be safe there.

It was a huge change for Jerlisa, and sometimes she struggled. Then, four years into the program, Jerlisa was accepted at Archbishop Carroll High School. We were so excited, but now I had a new worry — how would I pay for it all? The scholarship didn’t cover the full tuition, and there also were books, uniforms and even her lunch to consider. On top of everything, I was taking care of my father, who was dying of cancer.

It took all the determination we could muster to keep Jerlisa in the program. The OSP and Archbishop Carroll staff stuck by my side, and I learned about other resources. To stretch my dollars, I rented used books, bought only two sets of uniforms and set up a payment plan to cover whatever costs I could.

I’m so glad I didn’t give up, because slowly but surely Jerlisa’s grades and education advanced. That made everything worthwhile.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Islamist rebel leader threatens further attacks in Russian heartland: Doku Umarov vows year of 'blood and tears' in message released a fortnight after suicide attack on Domodedovo airport (Miriam Elder in Moscow, 2/06/11, guardian.co.uk)

The leader of Russia's Islamist rebel movement has vowed to make 2011 "a year of blood and tears" in a message released two weeks after the deadly suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport in Moscow.

In a video on the Kavkaz Centre rebel website, Doku Umarov says he plans to step up attacks on the Russian heartland. He does not explicitly claim responsibility for the airport attack, which killed 36 people, but says the message was recorded on the eve of a "special operation".

Wearing camouflage, Umarov sits in a dark room flanked by two men, one of whom he identifies as the suicide bomber. Umarov says his movement was forced into the attack by Russia's "lawlessness" and demands the Kremlin quit the Caucasus.

They don't think they're part of Russia, so they aren't.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool: Meireles grabs winner (Zonal Marking, February 6, 2011)

Liverpool were the better side even before they went ahead in the second half, however, for two reasons. First, their diamond had much more fluidity. Chelsea’s midfield roles were obvious, with the diamond remaining intact throughout, each player in the same position. Liverpool’s diamond was based around more mutual understanding – Meireles was usually at the head of the four, but sometimes it was Gerrard, sometimes Rodriguez, sometimes Lucas would venture forward and another player would drop in and hold. That kept Chelsea guessing, and though it didn’t produce anything particularly exciting in the final third, did make Liverpool the side more likely to cause the opposition defence problems.

The second factor was more a question of formation – with the diamonds cancelling each other out in the centre, it was left to the wide areas for drive and attacking thrust. Here, we had Chelsea’s full-backs (in a four) against Liverpool’s wing-backs (in a five), with the latter given much more license to get forward and support the attack. Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly were often immediately in a position to receive a forward pass in space, and stretched the play. In contrast, Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa had to motor forward to move into attacking positions, which made Chelsea’s build-up play more laboured. Johnson becoming free on the left resulted in the best chance of the first half, where Rodriguez somehow missed an open goal from inside the six yard box.

You put four good defenders in front of your goalie, four scorers in front of theirs and a guy on either wing to cross the ball into the box. It ain't rocket science.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


A damning post-mortem of the financial meltdown: Though few have paid attention, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's conclusions clearly point out the failures by regulators — and the (un)regulated — to rein in excesses that predictably led to ruin. (Michael Hiltzik, February 6, 2011, LA Times)

Bankers were playing with novel credit derivatives the risks of which they couldn't calculate. When they got a hint they didn't care. Former Citigroup Chief Executive Chuck Prince told the panel that it would not have "excited my attention" to learn his bank held $40 billion in mortgage securities. The joke's on him: The firm's loss of more than $8 billion when that portfolio went south helped cost him his job.

It's worse than that--the intent of the derivatives was to hide the risk.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


MLB Players Of The Decade: Can Albert Pujols Do It Again? (Rob Neyer, 2/05/11, SB Nation)

Here they are with Seasonal Ages in 2011, plus on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and Wins Above Replacement (via Baseball-Reference.com) over the last two seasons ...

* Cabrera (28) - .407/.582, 11.3
* Gonzalez (29) - .400/.530, 13.3
* Pujols (31) - .429/.627, 16.4
* Votto (27) - .419/.585, 10.7
* Morneau (30) - .390/.553 (8.4)

In case you're curious, the other first basemen with at least 10 WAR over the last two seasons are Youkilis (10.7), Prince Fielder (10.2) and Teixeira (10.1). I've already dismissed Youkilis and Teixeira, and I have a hard time imagining Fielder aging real well.

If Morneau hadn't been hurt last season, he probably would be third or fourth on the WAR list. So we have to consider him. Except for the little matter of not knowing when he's going to play. Sure, the Twins are supposedly still optimistic that Morneau will be ready for Opening Day, but I think that actually means they're hopeful that he'll be ready. Which isn't all that encouraging. If Morneau was a little younger, or had spent the last three months getting his swings, we might consider him seriously. But he's not, and he hasn't, so we can't.

Let's look at the other four, starting with the youngest. Votto's one year younger than Cabrera, two years younger than Gonzalez, and four years younger than Pujols. Even so, he's 27 - already hitting his peak seasons. We probably can't expect better from Votto than we've seen, and in fact 2010 was his first great season. Will he have others? Probably. But Cabrera's already had three or four great seasons, Gonzalez two.

(Hey, I think we're getting somewhere!)

Meanwhile, Pujols ... well, Pujols has been great in every season. Literally every season. He's played in 10 seasons, and was great in all of them.

Pujols is so good, I think he's one of those rare players - like Willie Mays, like Barry Bonds, like Ted Williams - who will continue to dominate his competition well into his 30s. He might not be a great player at 38 and 39, but he'll have been great enough earlier that nobody can catch up to him.

If you could get him on Barry Bonds's chemical regimen it would be one thing, but from age 36 to 38 Willie played at replacement level (admittedly in a pitchers era in an awful hitters park). Given that Albert is already 31, you're going to be paying him for 5 yeears of greatness and five when you already know he's only going to be good at best. Let the Yankees fall into that trap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Dutch Returns (EDMUND MORRIS, 2/05/11, NY Times)

So what made him change his mind 16 years later, and want to see the house — actually a little walkup apartment over a bank — where he was born on Feb. 6, 1911? Even if he had not been struggling with the onset of dementia, he could not possibly have recalled the first of his many childhood homes. By May of that year, Jack Reagan, a restless retail salesman, had already moved little Dutch, his 2-year-old brother, Moon, and their mother, Nelle, across the railroad track to a larger house.

By the time they moved on to Chicago, early in 1915, Dutch had managed to register only a few permanent memories of Tampico (among which, interestingly enough, was one of a white house with columns and high ceilings, where he felt he belonged).

In 1992, I found myself returning there with him, pointing out landmarks along Main Street and telling him about a commotion he may have heard as he lay kicking and gurgling upstairs at No. 111: the team of creamery horses that bolted and dropped a cartload of barrels in the dust.

Biographers of old people often find themselves instructing their subjects about things long forgotten. Of course, Reagan could not have cared less about 60 gallons of spilled buttermilk. But his heavy silence was so disturbing, as we strolled along the sidewalk to the museum, that I felt I had to keep up some sort of patter to entertain him. Nancy walked alongside, her face a mask.

Sadly, Mr. Nicely was not at the Ronald Reagan Birthplace Museum to greet us: he had succumbed to frailty himself. Instead, a cheerful docent took charge and led us upstairs. “This, Mr. President,” she said as they reached the top of the stairs, “is where you were born.”

A small room, a single bed jammed into the corner, a crooked picture or two. Only the walls, ceiling and floor could authentically be said to have been there when Ronald Reagan was smacked into awareness of this world. But to Reagan, who seldom questioned anything he saw, the bed was a reminder of how far he had come, and how little of his life was left — still less of cognitive life.

He wheeled his big body, balanced as always, faced away from the past, and began to tell jokes. The bed had shocked him into temporary lucidity.

It did not last long. By the time we adjourned to the Dutch Diner along the street (named not after him, we were told, but for a group of Mennonite women who bake its excellent pies), he was once again an old man in retreat — withdrawn, halting and perplexed. Yet I noted that he remained standing until every woman in our party had sat down. Of all Ronald Reagan’s innate qualities, his gentlemanliness was the last to atrophy.

In fact, I don’t know that it ever did.

...is one of our most underestimated novels.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Denver event featuring Palin canceled due to safety concerns (KDVR, 2/06/11)

A Centennial-based organization has canceled an upcoming charity event featuring Sarah Palin, citing safety concerns.

The Sharon K Pacheco Foundation announced Saturday that the 2011 Patriots & Warriors Charity Gala scheduled for May 2 would not be held.

"Due to an onslaught of personal attacks against Governor Palin and others associated with her appearance, it is with deep sadness and disappointment that, in the best interest of all, we cancel the event for safety concerns," said the Foundation's Director.

So they're going to teach her to tone down her rhetoric by threatening her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Echoes of Soviet collapse in Mideast revolt (Gregory Katz, Associated Press)

Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen. The astounding pro-democracy domino effect in the Arab world evokes the shock waves of 1989 that toppled communism in Eastern Europe and eventually brought down the Soviet Union.

Two figures who helped shape the Soviet collapse — former Czech president Vaclav Havel and former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze — are watching the Arab drama with excitement and nostalgia, but warn Cairo 2011 may not be Berlin 1989.

Rome wasn't Reformed in a day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


“With Our Eyes Wide Open”: What the Egyptian revolution means for Israel. (Leon Wieseltier, February 4, 2011 , New Republic)

Yet the Egyptian repudiation of Mubarak will have consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and so the analysis of Israel’s new situation cannot be addressed solely in terms of vulnerability and vigilance. Here is where concern about Israel must be added to concern for Israel. For the Netanyahu-Barak government has displayed gross historical irresponsibility in recent years. It has, in its relations with the Palestinians, desired only stasis and the status quo. The Al Jazeera leaks and the Olmert memoirs have abundantly demonstrated that the Palestinian Authority has been capable of significant concessions in the pursuit of a deal. By all accounts the Palestinian security forces on the West Bank have worked assiduously, and effectively, to thwart terrorism and to cripple Hamas. But the momentous improvement of life on the West Bank—is this not what thoughtful Israelis have dreamed of for decades?—has not moved Netanyahu to any kind of creative diplomatic activity. Not at all. Instead of plans and initiatives, he offers platitudes and debaters’ points. He bewails the fate of Palestinian moderation even as he does his best to seal its fate. He warns about the weakness of moderate Arab governments even as he makes them look weak. He worries about the waning influence of the United States in the region even as he helps to damage the influence of the United States in the region. Obama was mad to transform the issue of the settlements into a deal-breaker, when Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had already found an approach to the problem; but Netanyahu was mad—but also clever and consistent—to agree to let the issue be so transformed. Are rec rooms in Ariel really worth all this? Ground was broken last week for a massive new Israeli development in East Jerusalem as Tahrir Square was filling up with the evidence of a new Egypt. Do the Israelis have the right to build there? Let us say they have the right. But this is not a question of rights. It is a question of brains. Why in Herzl’s name would Netanyahu wish to alienate the Palestinians in the West Bank now?

The answer, of course, is that he wishes to alienate them always. “Israel Digs in On Peace Process With Egypt in Turmoil,” The New York Times reported last week. But Netanyahu was dug in on the peace process also before Egypt was in turmoil. Whatever he says, his history shows that in his view the time is never right. “We have to look around us with our eyes wide open,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “The basis for our stability, for our future, and for preserving the peace and widening it, lies in bolstering the might of the state of Israel.” But nobody ever suggested that in the name of peace he lessen the might of the state of Israel. The purpose of Israeli military power is not only military. It is also political. It can serve as the guarantor of diplomatic imagination and diplomatic progress. But there is no diplomatic imagination and there is no diplomatic progress. There is only a perverse surrender to the settlers, and a miasma of short-term (and self-interestedly political) thinking, and a general hunkering down. What Netanyahu has offered his country is a complacent immobilism, now followed by a mild panic. So with our eyes wide open, it is important to assert that Israel’s vision of its future cannot be premised upon an eternity of Arab authoritarianism and an eternity of Palestinian statelessness. Such a vision is wrong, and it will not work. It is painful, for someone who admires the Jewish state for its democratic character, to see it emerge as an enemy of democratization. Jews should not rely on Pharaohs.

Can both these concerns—for Israel and about Israel—be contained within a single perspective, within a single politics? In the present climate of American debate, almost certainly not. The right will press the former and the left will press the latter. Everybody will close one eye.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Game Over: The United States Must Abandon Its ‘Stability’ Fetish (Ann Marlowe, 2/01/11, World Affairs Journal)

Meanwhile, the watchword among pundits — many with as little experience of Egypt as I have — is “stability.” It’s an interesting word, that seems to have gained currency in political affairs only in recent decades. It is notably ill-defined; is Italy unstable, for instance, with its rapid changes of government, or France? Is a country with one government for decades but a roiling insurgency “stable”?

The official American fetish for “stability” in other countries translates as often as not into support for dictators or men who we help make into dictators, like Hosni Mubarak, and in a milder way, Hamid Karzai. The kind of “stability” we favor always seems to emerge from the barrel of a gun, not from a people working out its destiny in the rough and tumble of politics, as our country did. Our revolution began with shouting mobs, too.

To our credit, it seems we supported one Egyptian dissident, enabling him to travel to an opposition meeting in New York in late 2008, in the last days of the Bush presidency.

On Sunday, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei joined the crowd at Tahrir Square; he was charged by the opposition’s central organizing group, the National Coalition for Change, with negotiating with Mubarak. The National Coalition includes the Muslim Brotherhood, but these protestors don’t evoke the past, the 7th century that Islamic jihadists want to restore.

Watching TV, I was struck by the presence of what seemed to be Egyptian hipsters — in rapper-style clothes — and by so many Adidas track suits and current street fashions on young Egyptian men. I didn’t see one male protestor in traditional Egyptian garb. There were women in black abayas and some with face veils, however; these have grown more popular in Egypt in recent years. Then there’s the sign that’s become a trademark of the protests, “Game Over,” which gained currency from video games.

The protestors stand more for modernity than for a return to the Caliphate of yore. And modernity is — dare I say it? — unstable. Our fetish for authoritarian “stability” is self-defeating. We want to see open societies in the developing world — and these grow from cultures steeped in modernity, with long traditions of freedom of speech and the press. They are not nurtured by repressive, kleptocratic police states.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Stand alone: The case for a new isolationism (Thanassis Cambanis, February 6, 2011, Boston Globe)

A strain of isolationism runs through the history of the United States since its founding, along with a mistrust of standing armies. Isolationists were often linked to populist or nativist politics, and were often portrayed as at odds with modernity. Beginning in the Gilded Age, isolationists resisted American involvement in the global economy and in both world wars. Pearl Harbor made “isolationism” a dirty word in American politics, proving that America had no immunity to turmoil beyond its borders. By the dawn of the Cold War, few people indeed gave isolationist views serious consideration.

Today’s new isolationists are different. World events affect America, they say, and a great power needs a potent military. But America has conflated smaller threats like terrorism with major threats, like competition from a rising China. America should not withdraw from the world, or ignore it, they say; but it should minimize direct interference beyond its borders.

Their call for a humbler foreign policy hasn’t gained much of a hearing with the foreign policy elite, and is hardly talked about in mainstream circles. They question many of America’s basic habits and reflexes, at a time when it’s increasingly clear that the “long war” has not eliminated the threat of terrorism or neutralized rogue states and their nuclear black market.

Not every danger rises to the level of an existential threat, these thinkers say; often, the best way to project power is to stay out of other people’s fights. Or as Posen, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist who is one of the most acerbic proponents of restraint, puts it: “We need to get out of the world’s face.”

Where the architects of America’s current foreign policy see 70 unbroken years of growing wealth and influence, these cosmopolitan isolationists see a story of ruin and decline. For starters, they point to America’s colossal defense budget. Washington spends about as much on security as the entire rest of the world. Politicians promised a “peace dividend” after the end of the Cold War, but defense spending has climbed from 3 percent of the American economy to nearly 5 percent.

The entire Clinton boom and balanced budget was just a function of the peace dividend, but then we had to deal with the coda to the Long War and mistakenly, if understandably, did so by boosting spending again.

But we can cut our military massively and remain deeply interventionist. For one thing, globalization is mainly driven by communications, not guns, and imposes our values universally. For the other, we have the ability to deliver lethal strikes anywhere in the world with no risk to our own soldiers which makes such intervention more likely, not less, particularly if we get the rest of the troops out of harm's way.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Da Bears! An Oral History: Fifteen years ago, Sweetness, Samurai, Iron Mike, the Fridge, and a comic book's worth of superheroes roared out of Chicago, taking the NFL by storm. By the time the season was over, they had shuffled their way to the Super Bowl. Andrew Santella retraces their glorious season—and finds out why they never built a dynasty (Andrew Santella, October 2000, GQ)

Three weeks later, the Bears avenged the previous years' season-ending loss to the 49ers, beating San Francisco 26–10. Ditka completed the payback by inserting Perry in the offensive backfield for the game's final two plays and twice calling "34 dive straight." Perry carried both times, picking up two yards on each. They were his biggest rushing gains of the season, and they launched a new phenomenon.

Perry: They asked me to run the ball and block and I said, "Yeah." We started the plays on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It was fine with me, because at that time I was a rookie and the only thing I was doing was on special teams. I wasn't starting on defense yet, so it was just something to be on the team.

Hampton: We put him on offense during the week in practice and we thought it was hysterical.

McMahon: My biggest problem was trying to get my hands and arms out of his when he tried to grab the ball. It's tough to explain to him, you don't grab the ball, I'll put it there. But he saw the ball and he wanted to grab it and everything that was around it. Nearly pulled my arms off a few times.

Ditka: When we got the lead, I put Perry in the backfield and ran him with the ball. And that's where it started.

McMahon: Ditka was just getting back at (49ers coach Bill) Walsh and then all of a sudden it became a pretty good play, because trying to stop him was not fun. Just ask the guys he hit.

Hampton: They put him in the game, it was almost like you could see a magical baton go from their sideline over to ours. It was a transformation. They knew and we knew they were no longer king of the hill. We were.

Ditka: And then in the meetings, we'd say, "Well, if he can block for a touchdown and run for a touchdown, then we'll let him catch a pass for a touchdown." We had a play in where he threw the ball, we thought we could throw a pass for a touchdown. It was something that kind of unified our team. We worked on the goal line in practice and the guys said, "This is gonna be good."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Labor fumes over Democrats' Charlotte pick (MOLLY BALL, 2/5/11, Politico)

In picking North Carolina as the site of their 2012 convention, Democrats didn’t just pick a state that’s relatively unfriendly to unions. They picked the least unionized state in the entire country.

It was a stinging rebuke to one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal and influential constituencies. And labor leaders are fuming at the slight.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Washington’s Secret History with the Muslim Brotherhood (Ian Johnson, 2/05/11, NYRB Blog)

Why the enduring interest in the Brotherhood? Since its founding in 1928 by the Egyptian schoolteacher and imam Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood has managed to voice the aspirations of the Muslim World’s downtrodden and often confused middle class. It explained their backwardness in an interesting mixture of fundamentalism and fascism (or reactionary politics and xenophobia): today’s Muslims aren’t good enough Muslims and must return to the true spirit of the Koran. Foreigners, especially Jews, are part of a vast conspiracy to oppress Muslims. This message was—and still is—delivered through a modern, political party-like structure, that includes women’s groups, youth clubs, publications and electronic media, and, at times, paramilitary wings. It has also given birth to many of the more violent strains of radical Islamism, from Hamas to al-Qaeda, although many of such groups now find the Brotherhood too conventional. Little wonder that the Brotherhood, for all its troubling aspects, is interesting to western policy makers eager to gain influence in this strategic part of the world.

But the Brotherhood has been a tricky partner. In countries where it aspires to join the political mainstream, it renounces the use of violence locally. Hence the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt says it no longer seeks to overthrow the regime violently—although its members there think nothing of calling for Israel’s destruction. In Egypt, the Brotherhood also says it wants religious courts to enforce shariah, but at times has also said that secular courts could have final say. This isn’t to suggest that its moderation is just for show, but it’s fair to say that the Brotherhood has only partially embraced the values of democracy and pluralism.

The group’s most powerful cleric, the Qatar-based Youssef Qaradawi, epitomizes this bifurcated worldview. He says women should be allowed to work and that in some countries, Muslims may hold mortgages (which are based on interest, a taboo for fundamentalists). But Qaradawi advocates the stoning of homosexuals and the murder of Israeli children—because they will grow up and could serve as soldiers.

Qaradawi is hardly an outlier. In past years, he has often been mentioned as a candidate to be the Egyptian branch’s top leader. He is very likely the most influential cleric in the Muslim world—on Friday, for example, thousands of Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square listened to a broadcast of his sermon. He has also declared those demonstrators who have died defying the government to be martyrs.

That is an indication of the Brotherhood’s growing influence in the wave of protests around the region. In Egypt, the Brotherhood, after a slow start, has become a key player in the anti-government coalition; on Thursday, the new vice president, Omar Suleiman, invited the Brotherhood for talks. In Jordan, where the group is legal, King Abdullah met with the Brotherhood for the first time in a decade. And in Tunis, the Islamist opposition leader Rachid Ghanouchi, who has been a pillar of the Brotherhood’s European network, recently returned home from his London exile.

All of this points to the biggest difference between then and now. Half a century ago, the West chose to make use of the Brotherhood for short-term tactical gain, later backing many of the authoritarian governments that were also trying to wipe out the group. Now, with those governments tottering, the West has little choice; after decades of oppression, it is the Brotherhood, with its mixture of age-old fundamentalism and modern political methods, that is left standing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


The forces unleashed in Egypt can't be turned back: The upheaval spreading across the Arab world is at heart a movement for self-determination. The west resists it at its peril (Seumas Milne, 2/02/11, guardian.co.uk)

The US administration's floundering response to the peaceful revolt, first hailing the Mubarak regime's "stability" then demanding an "orderly transition", is a reminder of the decisive support western governments have given to Arab autocracies such as Mubarak's for decades – as well as their arrogant determination to keep a grip on whatever might follow him. The echoes of the winter of 1978-9, when US and British politicians rushed to Tehran to prop up the shah as millions demonstrated against his brutal regime, are unmistakable.

The US could have pulled the plug on Egypt's dictatorship, which it funds to the tune of more than $3bn a year, at any time. But the western powers have long regarded democratisation of the Arab world as a threat to their control of the region and its resources. Hence Nicolas Sarkozy's backing for Tunisia's kleptocratic despot Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali until the day he was chased from the country.

Tony Blair, still Middle East envoy of the US-led "Quartet", this week characteristically blurted out the real attitude towards democracy in countries such as Egypt among the west's powers-that-be. The Egyptian president had been, Blair said, "immensely courageous and a force for good" – this of a man who has jailed and tortured tens of thousands of political prisoners – because of his role in maintaining peace with Israel. Change in Egypt had to be "stable and ordered", Blair explained, because the Muslim Brotherhood might be elected and public opinion in the Middle East could "end up frankly with the wrong idea".

So there is some historical or divine justice in the fact that the tipping point for Tunisia's unfinished revolution, which in turned sparked the Egyptian revolt, was the impact of the west's own economic crisis. Falling living standards and rising unemployment as a result of the 2008 crash were the "final trigger", the exiled Tunisian Islamist opposition leader Rachid Ghannouchi told me before he returned home last weekend.

That fed into escalating discontent over mafia-style corruption, gross inequality, repression, censorship, torture and poverty. In Egypt, where 40% of the population is living on less than two dollars a day, the economic pressure has been even greater.

But more profoundly, the upheaval now spreading across the Arab world is at heart a movement for self-determination: a demand by the peoples of the region to run their own affairs, free of the dead hand of largely foreign-backed tyrannies. It's not a coincidence, or the product of some defect in Arab culture, that the Middle East has the largest collection of autocratic states in the world.

Most survive on a western lifeline, and the result across the region has been social and economic stagnation. There is a real sense in which, despite the powerful challenge of Arab nationalism in the 50s and 60s, the Arab world has never been fully decolonised.

the Arabs are still paying the price for Wilson's League of Nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


Muslim Brotherhood Long Voiced Dissent in Egypt: Organized Opposition Group Despised by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Expects to Play Role in Nation's Future after Protest (Mark Strassmann , 2/05/11, CBS News)

Long before the clamor of Tahrir Square, Hosni Mubarak heard one group's dissent and despised them for it.

They're the Muslim Brotherhood, religious conservatives, often secretive and poorly understood. What is clear: They want an Egyptian Islamic state. This week, they stepped out of the shadows and joined the protesters demanding Mubarak to step down.

"For so long we have voiced our rejection of these criminal policies which have spoiled all aspects of life in Egypt and all those who sought to express their opinion," the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy director, Dr. Rashad Albayomi, said.

The brotherhood, formed in 1928, is the world's oldest and most influential Islamic movement and Hosni Mubarak's sworn enemy.

Illegal in Egypt but tolerated -- to a point -- its members are frequently harassed and arrested by Mubarak's state police.

As a social charity, the brotherhood's won over many Egyptians, and in 2005 they startled Mubarak by winning 88 legislative seats, about one-fifth of Egypt's parliament. But last year, they boycotted and lost every seat in Mubarak's rigged elections.

The brotherhood rejects violence with certain exceptions, and for that groups like Hamas and al Qaeda have denounced them.

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February 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 PM


Chicago residents call "dibs" on dug-out parking (Don Babwin And Carla K. Johnson, 2/05/11, Associated Press)

A blizzard that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow has revived a longstanding Chicago tradition: Break out the patio furniture. Or, if none is available, suitcases, garbage cans, strollers, bar stools and milk crates work, too.

All these items are frequently used by Chicago residents in a time-honored yet controversial system of preserving parking spots, known as "dibs."

In an urban version of wild animals marking their territory, residents use chairs and other objects to tell anyone who passes that someone has taken the trouble to dig out enough snow to park a car — and that person expects the spot to remain available when the vehicle returns. [...]

The practice is so ingrained in the fabric of the city that almost immediately after the blizzard ended, the candidates running for mayor were asked where they stood on the practice. Three told the Chicago Sun-Times they were in favor of "dibs," while one was noncommittal. The retiring Mayor Richard Daley dances around the issue, but he has made no secret of his sympathy for people who spend time digging snow only to lose their parking spots to someone else.

Even the city's top police officer sympathizes with those who do it.

"Think about it, you spend a couple hours clearing a spot and somebody from another block takes it?" Superintendent Jody Weis said Friday.

While "Dibs" has caused fights and inspired vandalism in the past, things have been relatively quiet this year, Weis said. People still seem to be in a help-thy-neighbor mode after one of the biggest blizzards in Chicago history, he said.

In the neighborhoods, residents said they expect drivers looking for a parking spot to follow the law of the street.

"This is my spot because I worked hard to dig my car out," said Max Rosario, 27, just before he put his patio chair on the street. It joined 16 chairs, one slab of plywood, a plastic kids table, three barstools — one wearing a blue t-shirt — and a TV dinner tray, among other things. "I'd be very upset."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Sources: Cards balk at Pujols' demands (Ken Rosenthal, 2/05/11, Fox Sports)

Pujols, 31, wants a contract that reflects his status as the game’s premier player, one that likely would vault him ahead of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, $275 million, free-agent deal at the same age.

Sources paint an increasingly pessimistic view of the negotiations.

...is if he agrees to take steroids for that long. A-Rod's post-steroidal deterioration is argument enough for not doing this deal. His OPS has declined for the past three seasons--down into the 800s now--and is no longer an above average SS but one of the worst fielding 3B in baseball. Albert plays an easier position but isn't even great defensively there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Arsenal reveals much in epic fail (Martin Rogers, 2/05/11, Yahoo! Sports)

The greatest comeback in the history of the English Premier League was also its greatest choke, as Arsenal threw itself out of the title race and snatched an unwanted place in the record books – all in the space of 19 minutes of madness. [...]

Newcastle took advantage of the mindless actions of Arsenal defender Abou Diaby, who earned himself a red card by throwing opponent Joey Barton to the ground. Yet even shorthanded, there is no way Arsenal should have even come close to surrendering the lead they built on the strength of goals from Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and two from Robin Van Persie.

There is a weakness of mind about Arsenal that creeps in from time to time, however, and it likely stems from a lack of overall experience. Wenger has pieced together a team capable of playing an open, entertaining and generally effective style, but there was not a single soul prepared to stand tall when things got rough on Saturday.

They're supposed to be not just grown men but professional athletes, yet if you put your opponent under pressure in soccer they will more than likely collapse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Pairing of religious conservatism with fiscal sets Iowa tea partiers apart (Amy Gardner, 2/03/11, Washington Post)

Although that sort of mixing of fiscal and social conservatism may suit Iowans just fine, it represents a departure for the tea party movement that could threaten its brand and turn away voters who were drawn to its narrower message last year. With the political world focused on the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses for the next year, that could have a profound effect across the country on the tea party and the candidates courting it.

The movement is not as well-organized in Iowa as it is in other states. The national groups that have helped train, organize and fund tea party organizations across the country have less of a presence here, in part because their exclusive focus on free-market priorities puts them at odds with the evangelical movement that controls the state's Republican Party apparatus.

Sixty percent of GOP caucus-goers in the 2008 presidential election described themselves as evangelical Christians, and they were largely the reason Mike Huckabee won the state. If Huckabee enters the race this time, he will be widely viewed as an instant front-runner in Iowa - even though he increased taxes and spending as governor of Arkansas.

"We have a very different tea party," said Ryan Rhodes, founder of the Iowa Tea Party, which has organized rallies on the steps of the state Capitol in Des Moines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


The Psychology Of Lotteries (Jonah Lehrer, February 3, 2011, Wired)

As I note in my recent Wired article on the statistician Mohan Srivastava, state lotteries have become a deeply regressive tax. On average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their income on lotteries.

Of course, this makes no rational sense: People without lots of money should be the least willing to squander their hard-earned cash on games of chance. (Lotteries have such terrible odds that they make slot machines look good.) However, a 2008 paper by a team of Carnegie-Mellon behavioral economists – Emily Haisley, Romel Mostafa and George Loewenstein – helps explain why poor people are so much more likely to buy tickets. The problem, it turns out, is feeling poor:

In two experiments conducted with low-income participants, we examine how implicit comparisons with other income classes increase low-income individuals’ desire to play the lottery. In Experiment 1, participants were more likely to purchase lottery tickets when they were primed to perceive that their own income was low relative to an implicit standard. In Experiment 2, participants purchased more tickets when they considered situations in which rich people or poor people receive advantages, implicitly highlighting the fact that everyone has an equal chance of winning the lottery.

The study neatly illuminates the positive feedback loop of government-run lotteries. The games naturally appeal to poor people, which causes them to spend disproportionate amounts of their income on lotteries, which helps keep them poor, which keeps them buying tickets.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Assange sex crimes file leaked online (The Local, 5 Feb 11)

The files, viewed by AFP Friday, were faxed in November from Assange's Stockholm-based lawyer Bjoern Hurtig to Jennifer Robinson, one of his British lawyers.

Although a cover page says the documents are legally privileged information "for Mr Julian Assange and nobody else" a link to a PDF file of the 97-page fax was posted online this week.

...individuals are entitled to a level of secrecy that governments are not, so, until/unless he is found guilty, this information shouldn't have been made public.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Realpolitiktian: Obama’s handling of the Egyptian uprising reveals that in foreign policy, too, he is a pragmatic centrist to the core. (John Heilemann, Feb 4, 2011, New York)

[W]hatever the long-run implications of the insurrection, in the short run the episode has provided something we hadn’t seen before: a picture of Obama in the crucible, grappling with an unpredictable and unpredicted foreign imbroglio. And although that picture isn’t wildly at variance with earlier portraits of him, it is revealing nonetheless. It’s an image of a president who views foreign policy, as he does so much else, through the lens of pragmatism, not idealism or ideology. Of a president who is in some ways (and surprisingly) more sure-footed playing the inside game of old-school diplomacy than the outside game of grand public gestures. And who is striving to balance a modest conception of American influence, especially in the Middle East, with an awareness that, in the end, the U.S. still packs a throw weight rivaled by no other nation.

This combination of qualities has been for some a recipe for frustration. In the face of the raw exhilaration of the scene in Tahrir Square in the uprising’s first week, with thousands of peaceful demonstrators challenging the legitimacy of a corrupt and crapped-out regime, the expectation among many Obamaphiles was that the president would adopt a heroic stance, demanding Mubarak’s instant exit. Instead, his initial reaction was one of reflexive restraint. When the president reported on January 28 that he had spoken with Mubarak and urged him to undertake democratic reforms, the Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei dismissed Obama’s pronouncement: “To ask a dictator to implement democratic measures after 30 years in power is an oxymoron.”

The president’s people were well aware that his words were underwhelming, but argued that circumspection was, in fact, a virtue in these circumstances. “I think that every situation of this sort requires a thoughtful response,” the outgoing White House senior adviser David Axelrod told the Huffington Post. “You want to respond in a way that’s thoughtful and constructive, and sometimes with foreign policy, the most constructive answer isn’t necessarily the most visceral or satisfying.”

The trouble for Obama was that his posture was consistent with that of the rest of his administration, which in the first few days of the uprising seemed less guilty of thoughtfulness than of cluelessness or fecklessness. Critics pointed quickly to Hillary Clinton’s declaration, as the protests took off, that Mubarak’s government was “stable,” and to Joe Biden’s proclaiming to PBS’s Jim Lehrer that he would “not refer to [Mubarak] as a dictator.” Asked by Lehrer if it was time for the Egyptian president to go, Biden answered, “No. I think the time has come for [him] ... to be more responsive to some ... of the needs of the people out there.”

Certainly those statements seem embarrassing now, and certainly they reflected a serious underestimation of the uprising. But there was also a logic to them. From the outset of the crisis, Obama and his people were acutely aware of the signal they would be transmitting if they cut Mubarak—our most reliable ally in the Arab world for 30 years—loose precipitously. “It would have been terrible, in my view, if on the first day of this, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had totally pulled the rug out from under [him],” said former secretary of State James Baker. “That would send a horrible message to other countries in the region about being allied with the United States.”

...who didn't mind Saddam slaughtering Shi'ites and Kurds as long as he kept Iraq "stable."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Celebrating black history as the black family disintegrates (Colbert I. King, February 5, 2011, Washington Post)

Here we are, another Black History Month: time to lionize great black men and women of the past. Twenty-eight days to praise the first African American to do this and the first African American who did that. Another month of looking back with pride - as we ignore the calamity in our midst.

When Black History Month was celebrated in 1950, according to State University of New York research, 77.7 percent of black families had two parents. As of January 2010, according to the Census Bureau, the share of two-parent families among African Americans had fallen to 38 percent.

We know that children, particularly young male African Americans, benefit from parental marriage and from having a father in the home. Today, the majority of black children are born to single, unmarried mothers.

Celebrate? Let's celebrate.

...the Left's war on cultural norms appears to be a war on minorities. Although, they might prefer to think of them as collateral damage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Reagan's spirit of bipartisanship (Dianne Feinstein, 2/04/11, OC Register)

He was a conservative Republican, but he understood that in order to get anything done he had to work across the aisle, which he did very effectively.

In his 1983 State of the Union address, President Reagan said, "Let us, in these next two years – men and women of both parties, every political shade – concentrate on the long-range, bipartisan responsibilities of government, not the short-range or short-term temptations of partisan politics."

Mr. Reagan had a common-sense conviction that helped his achievements. Sometimes he failed to get what he wanted. Instead of pointing fingers, blaming the other party, or spouting partisan points, President Reagan deftly used his failures to do better. His failures seemed to make him sharper.

Above all, he was a true gentleman of American politics. You would not have seen him giving a speech like many do today – calling his opponents names or giving out generalized insults. Dignity and wit were his weapons of choice.

Former staffers say that his phone logs would show a surprising amount of communication with members of Congress – of both parties. Whether it was at home or abroad, he believed in communication and the credibility of his word.

Good negotiators are careful with their credibility. President Reagan was such a person. When he gave his word, it was a solid promise. I believe that is something we should be mindful of today.

President Reagan served during times of divided government, when one party had the White House and the other controlled at least one chamber of Congress, giving each side some governing responsibility to find solutions.

It was a time when a financial and fiscal crisis brought the two parties together to compromise on tough choices about taxes and spending. In 1983, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neil came together to compromise on Social Security, based on proposals from a commission led by Alan Greenspan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


: a review of THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do By Eduardo Porter (MEGAN BUSKEY, 2/04/11, NY Times Book Review)

“By evaluating opportunity costs, we organize our lives,” Porter writes. A poor country could have used revenue from a landfill to satisfy an important public need, like school construction, and the investment may very well have turned out to be worth the risk. The Summers kerfuffle is one example among the scores that Porter weaves together to prove his worthy point: ­“Prices — how they are set, how people react to them — can tell us who people really are.”

Back in the 18th century, Adam Smith propounded a very different idea: products had an unshakable value equal to the cost of the labor put into them. Much of Porter’s book can be seen as a vehicle for the author to explain to Smith just how wrong he was. Porter marshals an impressive array of research to show all the ways consumers can be shortsighted, self-indulgent, oblivious and inconsistent — not to mention hugely vulnerable to profit-eyed marketers. The information age has further scrambled the relationship between labor and value. How would Smith explain the existence of an iPhone app called “I Am Rich,” which did nothing but flash a red gem on the screen and retailed for $999? Or the computer users who routinely buy new cartridges rather than refills for their printers, effectively laying out $4,731 per gallon of ink?

It’s hardly news that people spend money on stupid things. Thankfully, Porter is interested in more than factoids. Most of his attention is devoted to teasing out the rationale underlying the “cold accounting” that determines the value of things people think are priceless, like human life and national security. What he relates has unmistakable urgency. How much should we spend today to address environmental problems that may be more cheaply tackled by future generations, especially given the number of development projects that clamor for financing now? Should we even attempt to protect against risks that would be more costly to prevent than the damage they would cause?

If you ever want to amuse yourself, go read the price per pound tags on the shelf at the supermarket.

-AUDIO: Eduardo Porter: "The Price of Everything" (Diane Rehm, January 6, 2011)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Clinton Urges Democratic Reforms in Mideast (PATRICK MCGROARTY, 2/05/11, WSJ)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday implored Middle Eastern leaders to take the uprising in Egypt and frustrations shared by people throughout the region as a mandate to undertake broad democratic reforms.

"The status quo is simply not sustainable," Mrs. Clinton told a security conference in Munich, adding that a "perfect storm of powerful trends"--large, young populations facing grim economic prospects and more limited natural resources--made change imperative.

Madame Secretary could get out in front of the curve by imploring the PRC, North Korea and Burma as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Mubarak resigns as head of ruling NDP party (JPOST.COM STAFF AND ASSOCIATED PRESS, 02/05/2011)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned his role as head of the country's ruling National Democratic Party against the backdrop of 12 days of protests throughout the country, Egyptian state television reported Saturday evening.

Minutes earlier, Egyptian state TV said the top leadership body of Egypt's ruling party, including the president's son Gamal Mubarak and the party secretary-general Safwat el-Sharif, resigned in a new gesture apparently aimed at convincing anti-government protesters that the regime is serious about reform.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM

SUPER BOWL TRIVIA (via Glenn Dryfoos):

4 colleges have graduated a US President and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Stand for Freedom (Bill Kristol, 2/05/11, The Weekly Standard)

Our friend Charles Krauthammer began his column last week by asking, “Who doesn’t love a democratic revolution? Who is not moved by the renunciation of fear and the reclamation of dignity in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria?”

Some on the right, that’s who.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Cameron: My war on multiculturalism (Oliver Wright and Jerome Taylor, 5 February 2011, The Independent)

David Cameron launched a devastating attack today on 30 years of multiculturalism in Britain, warning it is fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism.

Signalling a radical departure from the strategies of previous governments, Mr Cameron said that Britain must adopt a policy of "muscular liberalism" to enforce the values of equality, law and freedom of speech across all parts of society.

He warned Muslim groups that if they fail to endorse women's rights or promote integration, they will lose all government funding. All immigrants to Britain must speak English and schools will be expected to teach the country's common culture.

The reason we have so much freedom in the Anglospheric world is because we force so much conformity.

February 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Egypt's Economic Apartheid:
More than 90% of Egyptians hold their property without legal title. No wonder they can't build wealth and have lost hope. (HERNANDO DE SOTO, 2/03/11, WSJ)

Today, when the streets are filled with so many Egyptians calling for change, it is worth noting some of the key facts uncovered by our investigation and reported in 2004:

• Egypt's underground economy was the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.

• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.

• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today's dollars.)

The entrepreneurs who operate outside the legal system are held back. They do not have access to the business organizational forms (partnerships, joint stock companies, corporations, etc.) that would enable them to grow the way legal enterprises do. Because such enterprises are not tied to standard contractual and enforcement rules, outsiders cannot trust that their owners can be held to their promises or contracts. This makes it difficult or impossible to employ the best technicians and professional managers—and the owners of these businesses cannot issue bonds or IOUs to obtain credit.

Nor can such enterprises benefit from the economies of scale available to those who can operate in the entire Egyptian market. The owners of extralegal enterprises are limited to employing their kin to produce for confined circles of customers.

Without clear legal title to their assets and real estate, in short, these entrepreneurs own what I have called "dead capital"—property that cannot be leveraged as collateral for loans, to obtain investment capital, or as security for long-term contractual deals. And so the majority of these Egyptian enterprises remain small and relatively poor. The only thing that can emancipate them is legal reform. And only the political leadership of Egypt can pull this off. Too many technocrats have been trained not to expand the rule of law, but to defend it as they find it. Emancipating people from bad law and devising strategies to overcome the inertia of the status quo is a political job.

The key question to be asked is why most Egyptians choose to remain outside the legal economy? The answer is that, as in most developing countries, Egypt's legal institutions fail the majority of the people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


China nervously watches Egypt erupt (Kathleen E. McLaughlin, 2/04/11, GlobalPost)

The comparisons are inescapable, and for many pundits, irresistible. Thousands of jubilant protestors gathered under often tense and volatile circumstances on a landmark national square to voice opposition to their government. It could be Cairo, it could be Beijing.

As the world waits to see how Egypt’s mass protests will end, talk of China’s own disastrous uprising in 1989 continues on. In China, the Tiananmen Square uprising is on the minds of many watching the situation in Egypt, and the political content is being carefully managed and filtered for China’s domestic audience

...he'd reassure the Chinese, North Koreans, Syrians, etc. that their moment is coming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Egypt's Protesters Puzzle Over Obama's Response: A dispatch from Cairo's Tahrir Square. (Sarah A. Topol, Feb. 4, 2011, Slate)

Many ask me about America, puzzling over the Obama administration's comments about the protests. There's a lot of frustration, but most say they want the United States to butt out.

"This revolution is an Egyptian revolution against Mubarak and his policies—we don't want another client regime. We are capable of doing things without America. I don't need America to teach me about democracy or human rights," Amira Howeidy, a journalist, told me. A fluent English speaker, Amira got worked up, and then apologized. "I'm not trying to be combative," she said as I tried to redirect the conversation.

Others just can't figure it out. "Does Obama really want democracy in Egypt?" one woman wearing a niqab asked me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


A Day of Wal-Mart Bashing, With a Side of Ground Zero Mosque Protests (Remember Those?) (Chadwick Matlin, 2/4/11, Daily Intel)

New York’s City Council held a meeting on Thursday to determine how the construction of a Wal-Mart would affect the city. But first it had to revisit the last building that was supposedly going to disgrace the skyline: the ground zero mosque.

About fifteen minutes before the meeting was slated to begin, people started screaming at each other across Chambers Street. On one side, about 100 people were lined up to get in, most of them in opposition to Wal-Mart’s plan. On the other were a dozen people who were vocally opposing the Park51 Islamic community center in


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


...but, Quisp still rules!

From Blog Stuff

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Ben-Eliezer: Americans Don't Realize What They've Done (Hillel Fendel, 2/04/11, INN)

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer - a former army general, Labor Party Chairman and Cabinet minister - praises Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom he has known for many years, and has strong criticism for U.S. President Obama's abandonment of him.

“When I watched his speech in which he said he would step down, " Ben-Eliezer said on Wednesday about Mubarak, "it pained me to see his collapse. He stood by our side for 30 years, he was a strong leader, he kept proudly to Sadat’s commitments and followed in his path. He always emphasized the strategic importance of peace with Israel, and that this peace was the basis for stability in the Middle East.”

Presumably, if stability should be the aim in the Middle East then General Ben-Eliezer would have agreed with General Marshall that Israel ought not be recognized.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


The Desire for Freedom (Charles Colson, February 4th, 2011, Catholic Exchange)

But one thing should be very clear to anybody who is paying close attention—especially to Christians: People everywhere, we see it in the streets, are yearning to be free. And they yearn to be free precisely because every man, woman, and child, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise, is made in the image of God.

We know, as Augustine taught, that God, who has a free will, bestowed upon us the gift of free will. The desire for freedom—the freedom to choose right from wrong, the freedom to order our lives—is imprinted in our very DNA.

This is what the biblical worldview teaches us. And that is why tyrannical governments can put a lid on freedom for only so long. Inevitably that human desire for freedom will boil over—just like it is doing in the streets of Cairo today. Just like it did in Iran last year, where protesters tried—but failed—to overthrow Ahmadinejad and his theocracy of the mullahs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Amazing Gains In Worker Productivity = Record Output In Q4 2010 With 7 Million Fewer Workers (Mark Perry, February 2, 2011, Daily Markets)

But here’s what’s really amazing and is illustrated in the bottom chart: The U.S. produced slightly more output in Q4 2010 (by 0.14%) than in Q4 2007 when the recession started, but with 7.2 million fewer workers (almost 5%)!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Value added tax: Senate weighs a tax reform Reagan once shunned (Mark Trumbull, Feb 2, 2011, Yahoo News)

Tax policy experts at the hearing, including a prominent conservative, said the idea should be a centerpiece of tax reform.

"All roads are going to lead to a VAT," said Lawrence Lindsey, a former top economic adviser to President George W. Bush. "If we want to be competitive, that's where we're going to end up."

Here's the chain of logic.

Both sides say the current tax code is a complex mess that harms US job growth, while other nations are using better-designed tax systems to lure corporate investment.

Tax reform could help the economy, and by making tax collection more efficient it also has the potential to reduce the persistent federal budget deficit. Politically, too, tax reform appears easier for both parties to strike a deal on than, say, health care reform.

A makeover of the tax code could occur simply by streamlining existing rules for personal income and corporate taxes. The VAT would add a further twist: Proponents say it could help to roll back incentives for corporations to add jobs and factories outside the US rather than inside.

"It really is our central economic issue," Mr. Lindsey said during the discussion with senators.

No one argues that a VAT alone will solve US competitiveness problems. But Lindsey said that such a tax, levied on all business receipts, could be "border-adjusted" so that it didn't tax exported goods. That way US exports wouldn't be taxed twice – once in the US and once by another nation's VAT.

Other changes – such as aligning corporate tax rates closer to rates in other nations – could also help level the field, witnesses at the hearing said.

We're not arguing about where we're headed, just how soon we get there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Rumsfeld, Still Defiant: Bush's Defense secretary chides Colin Powell, says he would have gone into Iraq even if he'd known Saddam had no WMDs—and discusses his son's drug problem. Howard Kurtz speed-reads Rummy's new memoir. (Howard Kurtz, 2/02/11, Daily Beast)

The book retraces familiar ground—the U.S. intelligence estimates in 2002 that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons—with Rumsfeld arguing that "recent history is abundant with examples of flawed intelligence that have affected key national security decisions and contingency planning." This, of course, was the mother of all intelligence failures, but Rumsfeld attempts to shift the argument to higher ground, saying illegal weapons "should have been only one of the many reasons" for invading Iraq, including violations of U.N. resolutions and attacks on American pilots in the no-fly zone. But it was WMD, of course, that was the principal tool in the administration's salesmanship of the war.

In fact, he challenges those who charged that "Bush lied, people died," saying critics had "scoured a voluminous record of official statements on Iraqi WMD to compile a small string of comments—ill chosen or otherwise deficient—to try to depict the administration as purposefully misrepresenting the intelligence."

Rumsfeld acknowledges having made one "misstatement," early in the war, involving the CIA's designation of various "suspect" WMD sites in Iraq. "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad," he said. Rumsfeld says he should have used the phrase "suspect sites."

The author doesn't just play defense. He resurrects quotes from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry and Al Gore as supporting the WMD allegations—and the war. "Yet when opposing the Bush administration's efforts in Iraq became politically convenient," says Rumsfeld, "they acted as if they had never said any such thing."

Rumsfeld takes direct aim at Colin Powell in recounting the former general's famous U.N. speech in February 2003, laying out the administration's case that Saddam indeed possessed a stockpile of banned weapons. "Over time a narrative developed that Powell was somehow innocently misled into making a false declaration to the Security Council and the world," Rumsfeld writes. He seems particularly offended that Powell has said that some in the intelligence community knew "that some of these sources were not good," "didn't speak up," and "that devastated me."

Rumsfeld fires back that the secretary of State had once been "the most senior military officer in our country" and no one else in the administration had "even a fraction of his experience" on intelligence matters. "Powell was not duped or misled by anybody, nor did he lie about Saddam's suspected WMD stockpiles. The president did not lie. The vice president did not lie. Tenet did not lie. Rice did not lie. I did not lie. The Congress did not lie. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong."

In fact, not only was W's case for war wide-ranging and not much focused on WMD per se, but Iraq having WMD would not have been a justification for war in and of itself. It was the non-compliance with UN Resolutions and with terms of the cessation of hostilities from the Gulf War that justified the war legally.

Meanwhile, it was Tony Blair and Colin Powell who specifically asked to make the WMD case in order to try and move their recalcitrant constituencies--Blair successfully, the General un.

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February 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Frank Wisner in Cairo: The Empire's Bagman (VIJAY PRASHAD, 2/02/11, CounterPunch)

The Republicans have their own ghouls, people like James Baker, who are plucked out for tasks that require the greatest delicacy. They are like diplomatic hit-men, who are not sown up by too much belief in the values of democracy and freedom, but to the imperatives of "stability" and Empire. The Democratic bench is lighter now, as the immense bulk of Richard Holbrooke has departed for other diplomatic assignments. He had been given charge of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he found little traction. The Taliban could not be cowered, and nor would the Pakistani military. Holbrooke had much easier times in the Balkans, where, according to Diana Johnstone, he instigated the conflict by refusing the road of peace. Wisner comes out of the same nest as Holbrooke. He is the Democrat's version of James Baker, but without the pretend gravity of the Texan.

Wisner has a long lineage in the CIA family. His father, Frank Sr., helped overthrow Arbenz of Guatemala (1954) and Mossadeq of Iran (1953), before he was undone in mysterious circumstances in 1965. Frank Jr. is well known around Langley, with a career in the Defense and State Departments along with ambassadorial service in Egypt, the Philippines, and then India. In each of these places Wisner insinuated himself into the social and military branches of the power elite. He became their spokesperson. Wisner and Mubarak became close friends when he was in country (1986-1991), and many credit this friendship (and military aid) with Egypt's support of the US in the 1991 Gulf War. Not once did the US provide a criticism of Egypt's human rights record. As Human Rights Watch put it, the George H. W. Bush regime "refrained from any public expression of concern about human rights violations in Egypt." Instead, military aid increased, and the torture system continued. The moral turpitude (bad guys, aka the Muslim Brotherhood and democracy advocates need to be tortured) and the torture apparatus set up the system for the regime followed by Bush's son, George W. after 911, with the extraordinary rendition programs to these very Egyptian prisons. Wisner might be considered the architect of the framework for this policy.

Wisner remained loyal to Mubarak. In 2005, he celebrated the Egyptian (s)election (Mubarak "won" with 88.6% of the vote). It was a "historic day" he said, and went further, "There were no instances of repression; there wasn't heavy police presence on the streets. The atmosphere was not one of police intimidation." This is quite the opposite of what came out from election observers, human rights organizations and bloggers such as Karee Suleiman and Hossam el-Hamalawy. The Democratic and Republican ghouls came together in the James Baker Institute's working group on the Middle East. Wisner joined the Baker Institute's head Edward Djerejian and others to produce a report in 2003 that offers us a tasty statement, "Achieving security and stability in the Middle East will be made more difficult by the fact that short-term necessities will seem to contradict long-term goals." If the long-term goal is Democracy, then that is all very well because it has to be sacrificed to the short-term, namely support for the kind of Pharonic State embodied by Mubarak. Nothing more is on offer. No wonder that a "Washington Middle East hand" told The Cable, "[Wisner's] the exact wrong person to send. He is an apologist for Mubarak." But this is a wrong view. Wisner is just the exact person to send to protect the short-term, and so only-term, interests of Washington. The long-term has been set aside.

"He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety...."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Voucher Bill Picks Up Steam (LISA FLEISHER, 2/03/11, WSJ)

Low-income students in New Jersey's "chronically failing" schools could get taxpayer-subsidized scholarships to attend other public or private schools if a controversial and bipartisan bill is approved.

The proposal, which has been pushed by Gov. Chris Christie and is working its way through the state legislature, would give corporations tax breaks in exchange for paying students' tuition at other schools. The voucher-like program would erode some traditional district boundaries.

New Jersey would join a handful of states around the country that offer this type of program, which has spurred debate about whether the public should pay private- or religious-school tuition.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


Egypt and Islamophobia (Paul R. Pillar, February 2, 2011, National Interest)

The Brotherhood is in some ways the best organized opposition group in Egypt. There is good reason to expect it to play a significant role in a future political order.

Before the alarmism over Islamism gets us searching for ways to head off that eventuality, we need to reflect on a couple of basic facts. One is that in Egypt, as in many other Muslim countries and especially Arab countries, political Islam represents a significant current of opinion in present-day politics and society. It is here to stay. It will find new outlets for expression if it is denied other outlets. The Brotherhood's belief that “Islam is the solution” for political and social problems is certainly foreign to our concept of separation of church and state, although given the compromises of that separation in practice in our own nation the actual difference is probably less than it first appears. Political Islam as embodied in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is a major, intrinsic part of Egyptian politics, not a thing apart from those politics.

The second fact is that given the inevitable presence of political Islam in Egyptian politics and the necessary organizational manifestation of that strain of opinion, the Muslim Brotherhood is about as benign a manifestation as we probably can hope to find in Egypt. The organization became the most adept opposition practitioner of parliamentary politics, despite the handicaps under which it has operated. It shows a strong pragmatic streak in other respects. Most important, its renunciation of violence is clear and long-standing. If this is not enough to make it a legitimate representative of a significant strain of opinion in Egyptian politics, then its adherents are entitled to ask what, if anything, would ever make it so. If the answer is that nothing would make it so and that the organization is to be distrusted simply because it is Islamist, this is a posture that is indistinguishable from simple Islamophobia.

As the United States further develops its posture toward an emerging new order in Egypt, we ought to contemplate one more fact about the Muslim Brotherhood—one pertaining to the forms it has taken in different countries. Where it has been given the opportunity to compete peacefully as one of several players in the political arena—as in Jordan and, in limited ways, in Egypt—it has done exactly that. Where that opportunity has been denied it, as it has been in Palestine, where the local Brotherhood is known as Hamas—and was denied the opportunity even after it won an election—it has resorted to whatever other means are available to it, including violence.

Obama National Prayer Breakfast Speech Addresses Faith (JULIE PACE, 02/ 3/11, Huffington Post)
President Barack Obama said Thursday that his faith has deepened during his two years in the White House, and he urged lawmakers to rely on their own faith to build a spirit of civility in Washington following the shooting of a congresswoman.

Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama said that at a time of bitter partisanship, lawmakers must find a way to be open to the ideas of others, while staying true to their core principles.

"I pray that God will show me and all of us the limits of our understanding and open our ears and our hearts to our brothers and sisters with different points of view, that such reminders of our shared hopes and our shared dreams and our shared limitations as children of God will reveal a way forward that we can travel together," he said.

Mind, Democrats are the secular party and Mr. Obama reputed to be the closest we've ever come to a Marxist Muslim in the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


The Muslim Brotherhood After Mubarak: What the Brotherhood Is and How it Will Shape the Future (Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, February 3, 2011, Foreign Affairs)

The leaders of the Brotherhood learned very different lessons from their experience during the Nasser years. Some, like the Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, became radicalized and concluded that the only way to confront the vast coercive powers of the modern state was through jihad. Hasan al-Hudaybi, who succeeded Banna as the Brotherhood's General Guide, or leader, advocated moving toward greater judiciousness and caution. Umar Tilmisani, who succeeded Hudaybi in 1972, renounced violence as a domestic strategy altogether when then President Anwar el-Sadat allowed the group to join the political fold.
Individuals affiliated with the reformist faction of the Brotherhood, whether still active in the group or not, appear to be the most involved in leading Egypt's popular uprising.

Beginning in 1984, the Brotherhood started running candidates in elections for the boards of Egypt's professional syndicates and for seats in parliament -- first as junior partners to legal parties and later, when electoral laws changed, as independents. Some of the group's leaders opposed participation, fearing that the Brotherhood would be forced to compromise its principles. But Tilmisani and others justified political participation as an extension of the Brotherhood's historic mission and assured critics that it would not detract from the Brotherhood's preaching and social services.

Although the Brotherhood entered the political system in order to change it, it ended up being changed by the system. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements, including secular Arab nationalists. Through such interactions, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past.

By the early 1990s, many within the Brotherhood were demanding internal reform. Some pushed for revising the Brotherhood's ideology, including its positions on party pluralism and women's rights. Others criticized the old guard's monopoly of power within the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, demanding greater transparency, accountability, and stricter conformity with the internal by-laws governing the selection of leaders and the formation of policy.

In 1996, increasingly frustrated with the old guard's inflexible leadership, some prominent members of the "reformist" wing broke from the Brotherhood and sought a government license to form a new political party, Hizb al-Wasat (Center Party). Wasat leaders who used to be in the Brotherhood, along with a few reformers who remained in its fold, helped launch the cross-partisan Movement for Change, known by its slogan, Kefaya (Enough) between 2004 and 2005. They worked with secular democracy activists on such projects as creating a civic charter and a constitution, preparing for the time when a new democratic government came to power. During the past week of protests, members of these cross-partisan groups were able to quickly reactivate their networks to help form a united opposition front. These members will likely play a key role in drafting Egypt's new constitution.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood itself has been stunted in comparison to its analogues in Morocco and Turkey because of its constant vulnerability to repression combined with the parochial mindset of its aging leaders. Nevertheless, important changes, representing a departure from the group's anti-system past, have occurred. Over the last 30 years, Brotherhood leaders have become habituated to electoral competition and representation, developed new professional competencies and skills, and forged closer ties with Egyptian activists, researchers, journalists, and politicians outside the Islamist camp. Calls for self-critique and self-reform have opened heated debates on policy matters that were once left to the discretion of the General Guide and his close advisers. And although the Brotherhood was never a monolith, its leadership is more internally diverse today than ever before.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Beck: Losing his viewers, maybe his mind?: His warnings about a Muslim Caliphate and Chinese New Zealand are only one of the right's delusions about Egypt (Joan Walsh, 2/03/11, Salon)

Naturally, Glenn Beck is the worst. We know he's losing his audience -- his January ratings were his lowest since his show began two years ago -- and he may be losing his mind. Monday night Beck outlined his grand vision of three dominant world powers, as a result of the Egyption turmoil. In case you missed it: "One, a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe. Two, China, that will control Asia, the southern half of Africa, part of the Middle East, Australia, maybe New Zealand, and God only knows what else. And Russia, which will control all of the old former Soviet Union bloc, plus maybe the Netherlands. I'm not really sure. But their strong arm is coming. That leaves us and South America. What happens to us?"

What happens to us, indeed, in a country where Beck still has an audience of 1.7 million people (even if it's down a third from its peak)? On Tuesday he laid the blame for Egypt's unrest at the feet of "the uber-left, the anarchists and the communists and the socialists, the radicals, sowing the seeds and helping those in Egypt," and proclaimed: "The storm that I've talked about for so many years is here. The coming insurrection is here."

It's long past time for the adult wing of the Party to dismiss these nuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Obama Will Be Judged by Egypt Results (E.J. Dionne, 3/03/11, RCP)

[P]resident Obama has restored foreign policy realism to the White House, giving a liberal gloss to what had traditionally been a conservative disposition. [...]

[N]ow, many in the neoconservative movement of which Kirkpatrick was a proud member come close to the view Kirkpatrick criticized -- that "it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances" -- and have long been urging Obama to distance the U.S. from Mubarak's regime.

Robert Kagan, one of the leading neoconservative foreign voices, has been in the forefront of those arguing that the United States needed to be more prepared for a democratic rebellion in Egypt, and he was among the specialists brought to the White House this week for a discussion of next steps on Egypt.

In an NPR interview on Wednesday, Kagan offered the classic view of human rights advocates: that the U.S. should avoid a repeat of its excessively long-lived loyalty to the shah, which had the effect of "alienating the Iranian people for decades." Kagan also warned against the "illusory search for stability."

There is a great irony here for those liberals who passionately took issue with the neoconservative crusade to impose democracy by force but nonetheless share the view that American foreign policy should be more animated by democratic values.

And note that conservatives who take the old realist view -- Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., for example, declared that the "Egyptian demonstrations are the reprise of Iran's 1979 radical revolution" and called on the U.S. to "stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform" -- now seem isolated.

The resulting split on the conservative side has been helpful to Obama and he has won support for his cautious dealings with Mubarak from Republican congressional leaders.

If there was ever any doubt, it is now clear that Obama is more a realist than a human rights crusader, even if he has tried to square this circle in recent days by repeatedly invoking "universal" rights and values.

...it's not as if he's given any thought to his policy, it's just a reaction against W.

And, in fairness to Ms Kirkpatrick, there aren't really any totalitarians anymore, so there's nothing for the authoritarians to be a bulwark against. The Long War is over. We won. Time for our friends to conform to our requirements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Egypt PM apologizes for attack on protesters (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 02/03/2011)

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik has told state TV, "I offer my apology for everything that happened yesterday because it's neither logical nor rational."

The public apology from a top government official was highly unusual. Shafik called the attack a "blatant mistake" and promised to investigate "so everyone knows who was behind it."

On Wednesday, pro-Mubarak demonstrators told The Jerusalem Post that they were not sent by the government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Egypt and Indonesia: As Mubarak teeters, lessons can be drawn from Suharto's ouster. (Thomas Carothers, February 2, 2011, New Republic)

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today is significantly different from the Islamist movement driven by Ayatollah Khomeini that ended up grabbing power in Tehran. It has renounced violence in both word and deed for decades and undergone a significant process of moderation. It lacks a charismatic leader such as Khomeini and has already confronted limits to its popular backing through its unofficial participation in parliamentary elections. The current protests in Egypt have focused on non-religious concerns and not featured Islamist slogans or objectives. The Muslim Brotherhood will certainly play an important role in post-Mubarak Egyptian politics, but Egypt is not ripe for a radical Islamist revolution.

In Indonesia, a dictator who had ruled for more than two decades—holding himself out as the only guarantor of his nation’s stability and serving as Washington’s steadfast ally—tumbled from power after a brief but intense surge of protests led by students and a smattering of NGOs that had managed to survive in the narrow margins of Indonesian political life. The Clinton administration stayed with the aging tyrant almost to the bitter end, issuing tepid calls for reform, refusing to believe he could fall so quickly and worrying deeply about what might follow—chaos, an Islamist takeover, or an actual breakup of the country.

Yet, despite its abrupt, unprepared transition, absence of any deep experience with democracy, entrenched security forces with blood on their hands, and location in a largely undemocratic neighborhood, Indonesia navigated a shaky but remarkably successful passage to democracy. Today, it is the largest democracy in the Muslim world, enjoying rapid economic growth at home and actively supporting democracy in its region. Four Islamic political parties are represented in Indonesia’s parliament and the president’s cabinet, but their vote share has diminished over the past ten years, dropping below 30 percent in the last parliamentary elections. Moderate Islamic values have gained ground in the society generally; Islamic radicalism, after lashing out violently, is marginalized.

Of course, Egypt’s historical path, societal makeup, economic conditions, and national character differ in many ways from Indonesia’s. Nevertheless, enough of its socio-political experiences and structures bear resemblance to Indonesia’s ten years ago—from its newly assertive mix of idealistic young protestors, civic groups, and political opposition parties to its longstanding effort to balance secular and Islamist values—that Indonesia’s democratization offers some hope for Egypt. Accordingly, it is worth noting some of the keys to Indonesia’s successful transition.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Egypt’s Bumbling Brotherhood (SCOTT ATRAN, 2/02/11, NY Times)

[T]he Brotherhood did not arrive at this historical moment with the advantage of wide public favor. Such support as it does have among Egyptians — an often cited figure is 20 percent to 30 percent — is less a matter of true attachment than an accident of circumstance: the many decades of suppression of secular opposition groups that might have countered it. The British, King Farouk, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat all faced the same problem that Hisham Kaseem, a newspaper editor and human rights activist, described playing out under Mr. Mubarak. “If people met in a cafe and talked about things the regime didn’t like, he would just shut down the cafe and arrest us,” Mr. Kaseem said. “But you can’t close mosques, so the Brotherhood survived.”

If Egyptians are given political breathing space, Mr. Kaseem told me, the Brotherhood’s importance will rapidly fade. “In this uprising the Brotherhood is almost invisible,” Mr. Kaseem said, “but not in America and Europe, which fear them as the bogeyman.”

Many people outside Egypt believe that the Brotherhood gains political influence by providing health clinics and charity for the poor. But the very poor in Egypt are not very politically active. And according to Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, the group has only six clinics in Cairo, a city of 18 million. Many of the other clinics are Islamic in orientation simply because most Egyptians are Islamic. The wealthier businessmen who often sponsor them tend to shun the Brotherhood, if only to protect their businesses from government disapproval.

Although originally the Brotherhood was organized into paramilitary cells, today it forswears violence in political struggle. This has made it a target of Al Qaeda’s venom. In January 2006, Ayman al-Zawahri, the former leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda’s leading strategist, blasted the Brotherhood’s willingness to participate in parliamentary elections and reject nuclear arms. You “falsely affiliated with Islam,” he said in vilifying the group. “You forget about the rule of Shariah, welcome the Crusaders’ bases in your countries and acknowledge the existence of the Jews who are fully armed with nuclear weapons, from which you are banned to possess.”

People in the West frequently conflate the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. And although their means are very different, even many Egyptians suspect that they share a common end that is alien to democracy. When I asked Dr. Erian about this, he retorted that the United States and Mr. Mubarak had conspired after Sept. 11 to “brainwash” people into thinking of all Muslim activists as terrorists, adding that “the street” knew the truth.

The street, however, manifests little support for the Brotherhood. Only a small minority of the protesters in Tahrir Square joined its members in prayers there (estimates range from 5 percent to 10 percent), and few Islamic slogans or chants were heard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Brave New World: The Zeitgeist movement is the first Internet-based apocalyptic cult, centered around a doomsday-proclaiming film and an ideology filled with classic anti-Semitic tropes (Michelle Goldberg | Feb 2, 2011, Tablet)

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward is silly enough that at times I suspected it was all a put-on, a sly satire about new-age techno-utopianism instead of an example of it. But to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, the Zeitgeist movement is entirely serious. At times, it even seems like the world’s first Internet-based cult, with members who parrot the party line with cheerful, rote fidelity. In a phone conversation, Brenton Eccles, a former member from Melbourne, described how his involvement cut him off from reality. “It’s very, very, very isolating,” says Eccles, who was part of the communications team in the movement’s Australia branch. “You’re encouraged to kind of exit the real world. There’s kind of this us-and-them attitude.” A few days later, he sent me a document recanting most of his charges and claiming that his conflicts with the organization had in fact been his fault. This did not make it seem less cult-like.

There are lots of strange things about the Zeitgeist phenomenon, but strangest is how it got started. It’s a global organization devoted to a kind of sci-fi planetary communism, but it was sparked by a 2007 documentary steeped in far-right, isolationist, and covertly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The first Zeitgeist documentary borrowed from the work of Eustace Mullins, Lyndon LaRouche, and conspiracy-mad Austin radio host Alex Jones to rail against the cabal of international bankers that purportedly rules the world. It was this documentary that reportedly obsessed Jared L. Loughner, the disturbed young man who allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Since the shooting, conservatives have latched on to the Zeitgeist movement’s new-age side to argue that Loughner hailed from the left. Others, myself included, have pointed out that the original Zeitgeist film is full of fringe right-wing ideas that have migrated toward the mainstream via the Tea Party. Zeitgeist warns, for example, that the United States could soon be subsumed into a North American Union as a precursor to the establishment of totalitarian one-world government. Members of the Zeitgeist movement, not surprisingly, reject any connection between the shooting and their ideology, even as some of them welcome the new attention that it has brought their ideas. “It’s ultimately a positive thing,” says Keith Embler, the earnest aspiring actor who co-chairs the New York chapter. “It’s press. And”—with the third documentary just released—“the timing couldn’t be better.”

Meanwhile, the evolution of the movement itself remains obscure. How did a modern gloss on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion inspire a global organization of wide-eyed technophile environmentalists? What is the Zeitgeist movement?

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February 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Rick Scott Proposes $2.8 Billion in State Pension Savings (Gray Rohrer, February 2, 2011, Sunshine State News)

Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his plan to reform the state’s employee pension system in Naples Tuesday, promising $2.8 billion in savings over the next two years.

The savings would be achieved, Scott said, by requiring state workers in the Florida Retirement System to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the system and have new workers join a defined contribution plan akin to a 401(k) retirement plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Gov. Cuomo follows through on campaign promise with proposal to shrink government (Bill Hammond, February 2nd 2011, NY Daily News)

He didn't just slow the rate of budget growth a smidge and pretend that was a "cut," which is the usual Albany dodge. Nor did he merely hold spending flat.

He really and truly proposed to shrink government - from a budget of $136.6 billion in this fiscal year, to $132.9 billion in the year beginning April 1.

Albany hasn't seen a governor this tight with tax dollars since the first two years of George Pataki - back before he sold his political soul to the health care industry.

Also impressive is the integrity of Cuomo's plan.

Most governors in his position would have found a way to wriggle out of their campaign promises.

They would have jacked up surcharges and fees and tried to spin them as something other than tax hikes.

Or they would have "securitized" an asset or "amortized" an obligation and spun that as something other than digging the state deeper into debt.

Or they would have shoved costs into the laps of local governments and spun that as sharing the pain.

Cuomo's plan is refreshingly void of such dodges - and refreshingly full of true, honest-to-God fiscal discipline.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


How Democrats Learned to Love the Health Insurance Mandate (Merrill Matthews, 2/01/11, Forbes)

For example, Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA) pulled me aside in 1993 to explain his idea for mandating everyone to have high deductible health insurance, along with a Health Savings Account. McCrery went on to be chairman of the House Ways and Means’ Health Insurance Subcommittee; and though he is now retired, I don’t think he ever abandoned his support for a mandate.

A mandate was also part of the Heritage Foundation’s earlier health care reform proposals. And though Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney initially opposed the coverage mandate in the state’s 2006 prequel to ObamaCare, Democrats demanded it and he now defends it.

However, in the summer of 2009 the country erupted in anger over the coverage mandate in the House Democrats’ plan. Democrats dismissed those spontaneous protests in the streets and at town halls, but Republicans knew better and immediately began to criticize the proposal.

Now Democrats defend the mandate at every opportunity. The Obama justice department claims that it is the foundation of the whole health care bill, even though it is threatening the constitutionality—and very survival—of their scheme to vastly expand government oversight and control of the health care system.

Republicans, on the other hand, are adamant about getting rid of the mandate. But in a policy reversal, some of them now claim they want to keep the guaranteed issue provision against pre-existing conditions—which opens the door to higher health insurance premiums, just as we saw in those eight states that passed guaranteed issue in the 1990s.

In partisan politics there are no good or bad policies, only ours and theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


Kenny Dalglish's sure touch unveils foraging foursome to fear (Within a month Kenny Dalglish has lost a household name but rebuilt the front of his side. That takes some doing (Paul Hayward, 2/02/11, guardian.co.uk)

"I think the idea is to frighten a few people who come to Anfield. They are four really good footballers and they'll complement each other pretty well," said Kenny Dalglish, their manager. The new attacking Liverpool started to become visible as Gerrard and Meireles lined up in advanced midfield roles behind Dirk Kuyt. When Suárez disrobed it took him 16 minutes to locate the net in front of the Kop before his adrenaline wore off and the emotion drained him.

Carroll, dressed like a lawyer in a smart grey suit, was watching from the stands. Suárez had spent the previous day completing his work permit application and had yet to train with the squad. In the half-hour or so he was on the field he was imprecise at first but then speedy, agile and quick to exploit space, as befits a player who made his name in Holland.

On this meagre evidence he will torment centre-backs, who will fear his spearing runs, and confuse defensive midfielders, who will have to track his deeper moves. His goal, Liverpool's second, was fortuitous: an angled scuff which was rolling towards the line when Stoke's Andy Wilkinson tried to clear it and deflected the ball in off a post.

A formula to accommodate both Gerrard and Meireles, who scored the opener, behind the two new strikers could be problematic but football is not really about formations. The point is that Dalglish now has a quartet of foragers who will swing plenty of tight games his way. By an unforeseeable twist, losing the most expensive player to wear the Liver bird has broken the dependence on two star turns: Torres, who probably left months ago, in his head, and Gerrard, the over-burdened embodiment of all things Liverpool.

...is that defenses are so bad that if you attack them (with 6 to 8 players) you can blow them up. This gives a distinct disadvantage to teams that generally play defensively--as almost all smaller clubs do and Liverpool did under its past two managers--and a huge advantage to the ones that just attack from the get go. In practice, the most expensive sides tend to come up against opponents that yield too much to them and play for draws. The confidence of the big money clubs is then fed by undeserved results in a positive feedback loop. The most confident then win games just by virtue of trying to do so, against teams that--oddly to Americans--essentially aren't trying to win. On the other hand, even a good and expensive club that suffers a few setbacks will quickly lose confidence and then the losses will snowball because they aren't really trying to win either, just avoid losing again (see Arsenal almost every season and Chelsea and Liverpool this season). It's a sport that lives up to Yogi's old aphorism: 90% of the game is half mental.

Liverpool, by playing an attack-oriented front 6--Carroll, Suarez, Kuyt, Maxi, Gerrard, Mereilles--can rather rapidly re-establish themselves as one of the top clubs in the league, especially if they use Lucas as a defensive midfielder in front of a central defense of Skrtel and Agger with Martin Kelly crossing balls into the box from the wing and drifting back to help defend when needed. even just the commitment of money to two strikers creates a psychological perception that they are confident in attack, which in turn creates goals and wins by itself. Such are the vagaries of the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


America's 'Islamist dilemma': The fear of Islamists coming to power has long paralyzed U.S. policy. That shouldn't guide our approach to Egypt. (Shadi Hamid, February 2, 2011, LA Times)

Once again, the U.S. and its allies find themselves embracing the idea of democracy but not necessarily its outcomes. America is still grappling with its "Islamist dilemma." In 1992, the U.S. tacitly supported a military coup in Algeria that overturned a democratic election in which an Islamist party had gained a majority of the seats in parliament. The coup ended what was, at the time, the most promising democratic experiment in the Arab world. More recently, the George W. Bush administration buried its own "freedom agenda" after Islamists did surprisingly well in elections in the region, including in Egypt.

The fear of Islamists coming to power has long paralyzed U.S. policy. This has prevented bold American leadership in situations where it could have played a decisive role. Today, during the largest pro-democracy protests in Egyptian history, this same fear threatens to derail U.S. policy once again. Despite some nods to the demonstrators from the Obama administration, Egyptians still see the U.S. as holding out hope that the Egyptian regime, long a stalwart ally, might survive, reconstituting itself in a new guise.

Senior American officials have called on Mubarak to take "concrete steps" toward change and to initiate a "national dialogue." And Obama said Tuesday that he had spoken directly to Mubarak of the need for an orderly transition, starting immediately, to a democratically elected Egyptian government. But the hundreds of thousands of protesters holding forth in Tahrir Square have moved well beyond such talk. Their insistent call, made with unmistakable clarity, is for Mubarak to step down immediately, something Obama has so far refused to specifically endorse.

To be fair, Western powers have reason to worry that a democratic government in Egypt will be less amenable to their security interests. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it has no leadership aspirations. However, the group, known for its inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric, is likely to be part of a broad-based national unity government.

But Westerners should not lose sleep over the Brotherhood's inclusion. A pragmatic organization at its core, the group will avoid getting tied up in foreign policy, knowing that this might cause the international community to withdraw support. Also on the line is $1.5 billion in annual U.S. assistance, an amount Egyptians will need even more after the devastation of their economy in the past week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


WikiLeaks Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (VOA News February 02, 2011)

A Norwegian lawmaker has nominated WikiLeaks for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, stating that the secret-spilling website is one of the most important contributors to freedom of speech in the 21st century.

...but it should be shared with W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Cuomo the Conservative (Michael Tanner, 2/02/11, National Review)

“The old way of solving the problem was continuing to raise taxes on people, and we just can’t do that anymore. The working families of New York cannot afford tax increases. The answer is going to have to be that we’re going to have to reduce government spending,” Cuomo declared.

In fact, Cuomo didn’t just rule out tax increases, he actually called for tax cuts. Already he has pushed through the state senate a bill establishing one of the nation’s strongest caps on property taxes. For New York businesses and homeowners, this is a long overdue move. Nationally, the median annual property tax is $1,917. In some New York counties, the average property-tax bill exceeds $9,000.

Cuomo’s proposal, modeled after nearby Massachusetts’s successful Proposition 2½, would limit property-tax increases to no more than 2 percent or 120 percent of the inflation rate, whichever is lower. Significantly, it does not include traditional loopholes for things like government employees’ health-insurance premiums or pensions. It would also eliminate the practice of localities’ voting separately to approve school budgets without regard to their impact on taxes. And most important, the bill would require a 60 percent supermajority for voters to override the cap, ensuring that taxes would only be raised for genuine emergencies or the most worthwhile projects.

Cuomo also has announced that he will allow the state’s “temporary” income-tax surcharge on the wealthy to expire as scheduled at the end of this year. That has outraged liberal groups, unions, and the New York Times, but Cuomo responds by warning that high taxes are a job-killer and would “just prolong the recessionary conditions in the state.”

Of course, tax-cutting is always easier than budget-cutting — as Congress has shown in recent years — but Cuomo also seems serious about controlling state spending. In fact, Cuomo sounds almost Reaganesque, declaring flatly, “The state spends too much money.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


The Paradox of Corporate Taxes (DAVID LEONHARDT, 2/02/11, NY Times)

Of the 500 big companies in the well-known Standard & Poor’s stock index, 115 paid a total corporate tax rate — both federal and otherwise — of less than 20 percent over the last five years, according to an analysis of company reports done for The New York Times by Capital IQ, a research firm. Thirty-nine of those companies paid a rate less than 10 percent.

Arguably, the United States now has a corporate tax code that’s the worst of all worlds. The official rate is higher than in almost any other country, which forces companies to devote enormous time and effort to finding loopholes. Yet the government raises less money in corporate taxes than it once did, because of all the loopholes that have been added in recent decades.

“A dirty little secret,” Richard Clarida, a Columbia University economist and former official in the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush, has said, “is that the corporate income tax used to raise a fair amount of revenue.”

Over the last five years, on the other hand, Boeing paid a total tax rate of just 4.5 percent, according to Capital IQ. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. And the list goes on: Yahoo paid 7 percent; Prudential Financial, 7.6 percent; General Electric, 14.3 percent.

Economists have long pleaded for an overhaul of the corporate tax code, and both President Obama and Republicans now say they favor one, too. But it won’t be easy. Companies that use loopholes to avoid taxes don’t mind the current system, of course, and they have more than a few lobbyists at their disposal.

The official position of the Business Roundtable, one of the most important corporate lobbying groups, is telling. The Roundtable says it supports corporate tax reform. But it actually favors only a reduction in the tax rate. The group refuses to say whether it also favors a reduction of loopholes. In effect, the Roundtable wants a tax cut for its members regardless of how much the tax code is simplified — or whether the budget deficit grows.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


How Cairo, U.S. Were Blindsided by Revolution (CHARLES LEVINSON, MARGARET COKER And JAY SOLOMON, 2/02/11, WSJ)

Just last Monday, few were paying close attention to Egypt. All eyes were on Tunisia, where to much of the world's surprise, President Zine Al Abdine Ben Ali had been chased from office by a month of rising popular protest. This was something the Arab world had never seen before. But the impact spread steadily.

In Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt, protests started breaking out. Often these were organized by local opposition groups but attended by a surprising number of middle-class professionals—a diversity that seemed to mirror the protests in Tunisia.

In Cairo, a beleaguered collection of opposition groups plotted another in a series of demonstrations, this time to coincide with Police Day, a national holiday to thank Egypt's police forces. To activists, it was the perfect irony: Almost a year earlier, a young man from Alexandria with no history of political activism, Khaled Saied, had been beaten to death by police. Activists had managed to bring national attention to the case, and they intended to use Police Day to build on that.

Opposition activists rallied around a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Saied. To call for a protest, Mr. Saied's death became the focal point for people who hadn't been involved in the rights movement before, says Ahmed Gharbia, an Egyptian activist associated with the page. "He was an everyman, and it was very difficult for people who wanted to paint him as an outlaw to do that." In the past week, supporters of the page swelled from 75,000 members to over 440,000.

Other national shocks also incited Egyptians. November elections, widely viewed as fraudulent, had been a complete sweep by Mr. Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. A bigger shock came on New Year's Eve, when a suicide bomber killed 30 worshippers at a Coptic church in Alexandria, the second biggest city. Muslims and Christians alike united in protest against sectarianism, and the government's handling of the assault.

"More Egyptians were more angry than they've probably ever been, and not just activists, but ordinary people. And then came Tunisia, and suddenly people saw that maybe they could do something about that anger," said Ziad Al-Alimi, an organizer for Nobel Prize Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mr. ElBaradei would return to Egypt to play a key role later. But he, too, failed to detect the early tremors of something new and remained in Vienna.

Despite fresh inspiration from Tunisia, even the organizers of the demonstrations expected them to come off like so many others—with protesters, far outnumbered by police, quickly driven off, beaten up and arrested. "We went out to protest that day and expected to be arrested in the first 10 minutes, just like usual," said Mr. al-Alimi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The Right's Egypt Freakout (Michelle Goldberg, 2/02/11, Daily Beast)

Glenn Beck blasts the uprising in Cairo as a threat to our way of life. Michelle Goldberg on how the rebellion is splitting U.S. conservatives—and the fallout for the 2012 presidential campaign. Plus, full coverage of Egypt’s protests.

Store food and prepare for the coming global insurrection: That's the warning Glenn Beck issued Tuesday. The Muslim Brotherhood and American radicals, he informed us, are operating in tandem to bring about "the destruction of the Western world." On his Fox show, Beck presented a clip of Mohamed ElBaradei calling for a "New Egypt that is democratic, that is based on social justice." The phrase "social justice" flashed on the screen, because in Beck's world, it's a code word for a totalitarian leftist agenda, just as the Egyptian protesters' use of the phrase "day of rage" signals their kinship with Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground. "We've shown you tonight that Hamas, Code Pink"—the feminist anti-war group—"and the Muslim Brotherhood are all linked together." With the future bleak, Beck called on his viewers to pray for "our way of life" and for Israel.

Since the war in Iraq, it seems, Beck, like others on the right, has changed his mind about the desirability of Middle Eastern democracy. [...]

Now, as Egyptians pour into the streets and demand control of their political destiny, an interesting divide is opening up on the right. On one side are those who actually took all that democracy stuff seriously. On the other are those who see the Muslim world only as an enemy to be crushed and controlled. With a Republican primary approaching, it remains to be seen which view of Middle Eastern policy will triumph among conservatives.

In the aftermath of 9-11, some on the Right supported their president despite their lack of interest in Arab freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Yemen president vows to quit in 2013 (GlobalPost, February 2, 2011)

A day after Hosni Mubarak of Egypt vowed to quit politics amid mass protests, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has said that he will not seek to extend his presidency at elections in 2013.

Yemen, a key U.S. ally against Al Qaeda, is one of several Arab nations weathering unprecedented popular protests in recent days driven by disaffection with oppressive regimes and poor living conditions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Israel, Egypt and the ‘F’ Word (Rob Eshman, 1/30/11, Jewish Journal)

What’s going on? A massive, heartfelt liberation sweeps through the most populous Arab country in the world, with the prospect of rescuing future generations from drowning in oppression and stagnation. The Arab street cries freedom, and what do we cry? Oy!

True, the uprising is chaotic and messy, its potential outcomes treacherous. But what did we expect? We paid for stability with billions of dollars. The Egyptians paid for it with repression, fear, torture and corruption. We got peace, they got blood on prison walls. How long did we think that was going to last? Fascism fell, Communism fell. Anybody who believed the screw wouldn’t eventually turn in the Middle East doesn’t think much of history, or of Arabs.

“That the pursuit of Arab peace came at the expense of Arab democracy is nothing new,” Shadi Hamid wrote in a long, prescient article about Egypt in the journal Democracy just last month.
“In short, the pursuit of peace came to depend on prevailing authoritarian structures. Unless autocracy can be made permanent–and there is little reason to think that it can–this state of affairs is unsustainable.”

How did the geniuses at Council of Foreign Relations and the State Department and Mossad think it was going to end? That Mubarak was going to wake up one day and decide unlimited power, privilege and wealth were just not his thing after all? Mubarak’s paralysis in the face of the demonstrations proves that he knew well what it took his “good friend” Hillary Clinton so long to fathom: his people despise him. One Cairo protester I saw on CNN held up a sign that said it all:

Mubarak you must get it we hate you.

And liberation is messy. The movie version, the one Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney promised us would play out in Baghdad, involves half-tracks and daisies, candy for the children and gallows for the bad guys. That is fantasy.

We Jews know better. Think of the Allied victory in World War II: What lay ahead for the peoples of Europe were limbo and violence.

“It was a time without structure or form,” William I. Hitchcock wrote in “The Bitter Road to Freedom,” “a time of uncertainty, fear and loss.”

But just because we have no right to expect the best, there’s no reason to fear the worst (other than the fact that, of course, we’re Jews). The Egyptian uprising is hate-fueled but hope-filled.

“I urge you to look at the positive aspect of what’s going on,” Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy pleaded with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “This is a peaceful uprising that wants freedom and dignity for the Egyptian people. This is an internal Egyptian issue.”

In other words: It’s not about us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


The Revolution In Middle East Is Growing Up (DAVID IGNATIUS , 2/01/11, IBD)

The most hopeful sign for the future is that the Egyptian military now holds the balance of power.

It is the one institution that Mubarak has not been able to corrupt. Indeed, across the turbulent Arab world, it's a paradox that strong armies are now platforms for change.

"The army is the middle class in camouflage," says Jamil Mroueh, a Lebanese journalist. Soldiers are embraced on the streets of Cairo because they symbolize the independence and integrity of the nation.

It's a throwback to the paradigm Samuel Huntington described in his 1957 study "The Soldier and the State": A strong army can allow a transition to democracy and economic reform.

At the heart of the current Arab crisis is the inability of leaders to deliver on reforms they knew were necessary.

They chickened out for various reasons — fear of offending domestic power brokers; fear of Muslim radicals; and yes, sadly, fear that the reform agenda was seen as part of an elitist, "pro-American" conspiracy to weaken the Arabs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to switch to GOP, sources say (Jan Moller, 2/01/11, The Times-Picayune)

Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell plans to switch his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican this week, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Caldwell, who is up for re-election this year, becomes the latest in a long line of conservative Louisiana Democrats to leave the party. His departure will leave U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu as the lone Democratic statewide elected official.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Egypt and the Realists: So much for stability in lieu of freedom in the Middle East. (WSJ, 2/02/11)

For most of recent diplomatic history, American policy in the Mideast has tended to emphasize the stability of friendly regimes over the democratic aspirations of Arab populations. This approach is sometimes called foreign policy realism. The reality on the streets in Egypt is one result. [...]

No less than President George W. Bush put it this way in 2003 in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy: "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export."

This became known as his "Freedom Agenda," and in his second inaugural Mr. Bush committed America to carry out "the idealistic work of helping raise up free governments."

It is hard to understate how roundly this agenda was denounced by the U.S. foreign policy establishment on both the left and right. Headlines captured the derision: "The Freedom Crusade" (National Interest) and "Freedom Fraud" (American Prospect). "Historical, ideological and political claptrap," wrote Les Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2005 in remarks typical of the liberal realist school.

Mr. Gelb never disappoints--he's out and about now warning against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Q&A: Suez Canal (Graeme Wearden, 2/01/11, guardian.co.uk)

Q: What would happen if the canal closed?

Sailing around Africa would add around two weeks to journey times, which could lead to some short-term supply issues – and potentially nudge up prices.

A long-term closure would have major implications for the world economy. The canal was shut between 1967 and 1975 following the Arab-Israeli War, which left Egyptian troops on one side of the waterway and Israel's forces on the other. World trade declined steadily through most of this period, according to research by James Feyrer, Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College.

Barclays Capital has also analysed the impact of the eight-year closure, and discovered that Asian countries suffered the most.

"Much of the exports earmarked for Asia found their way into western European markets, which in turn were attempting to cope with both the obstruction to oil transport from the Middle East and a brief Arab oil embargo … The overall impact of the total eight-year closure was largely negative. Deliveries to Asia, in particular, suffered the most."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


India-US relationship has broad bipartisan support: Senators (PTI, Feb 2, 2011)

Given that India-US relationship has broad bipartisan support, Indians can be confident of continued close cooperation between the two nations, two top American Senators have said.

"The people of India can be confident that the close cooperation between our two nations will continue, because it has broad bipartisan support in America," Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner, wrote in a joint op-ed in the latest issue of the popular ethnic India Abroad newspaper here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Democracy: not just for Americans (Daily Star, February 02, 2011)

Washington would not find itself in this situation time after time if it were able to learn a simple lesson. No matter how much aid the U.S. dumps into a country (with Washington’s favor almost always falling mainly on that nation’s armed forces) and no matter how close Washington buddies up to a ruler, the most important part of any country is its people. People’s patience will run out on their dignity being trampled and their future being snuffed out.

After all, the ideal model of government is of the people, by the people and for the people, as an esteemed American once said. It is truly a tragedy that the U.S. so sorely needs a lecture that the same holds true for other nations as well; the U.S. would do well to say so and behave accordingly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


A Fishy Date: Steelhead and Rainbow Trout Mingle in the Northwest (Nick Neely, 02/01/2011, Audubon)

Anglers know that steelhead aren’t quite like rainbow trout—they’re enormous, reaching up to 55 pounds! But in fact, these ocean-running, rod-debilitating, aquatic gorillas of the Northwest are indeed rainbows, Oncorhynchus mykiss. That some members of this species rove the sea for years and become giants before returning to their birth streams to spawn, while others live quieter, local lives in freshwater, is an enigma. Depending on environmental cues like water temperature and food availability (factors we don’t fully understand), it seems any combination of parents—two trout, two steelhead, or a steelhead and a trout—can produce either form.

Now researchers at Oregon State University have added further intrigue to this mystery by discovering that steelhead and their smaller counterparts mingle (wink, wink) quite a lot: On the Hood River, a tributary to the mighty Columbia, 40 percent of returning steelheads’ genes are derived from rainbow trout, not steelhead parents. “What’s particularly remarkable is the extent to which they interbreed,” says Mark Christie, a fish geneticist and coauthor of the recent study, which appeared in Molecular Ecology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Nelson trails Bruning, Stenberg (Public Policy Polling, 2/01/11)

Every poll released so far on the 2012 Nebraska Senate race has shown Ben Nelson in deep trouble and our numbers are no exception. Nelson trails Attorney General Jon Bruning 50-39 in a hypothetical contest and Treasurer Don Stenberg by a 45-41 margin.

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February 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Israeli critics open up on US ‘abandonment' of Mubarak (HERB KEINON, 01/31/2011, Jerusalem Post)

Senior Israeli government officials have been strict in maintaining a silence regarding the events in Egypt, and have also been hesitant about criticizing – at least publicly – US President Barack Obama’s stand toward the developments there.

Privately, however, some have expressed deep concern at what they view as the hypocritical abandonment by the US of a longtime ally once he seemed to be in trouble, with one official saying that while America believes pushing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out would lead to a democratic government, the more likely scenario was that this would lead to an Islamist regime even worse on issues like human rights and freedom than Mubarak.

On Monday, a number of politicians, pundits and former security officials began airing this criticism in public.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Dow closes above 12,000 (LA Times, February 1, 2011,)

Stocks rallied Tuesday on fresh signs of momentum in U.S. economic recovery, and the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 12,000 points for the first time since June 2008.

The Dow jumped 145.20 points, or 1.2%, to end the day at 12,036.83. The rally came after a report indicated the U.S. manufacturing sector grew last month at the fastest pace in seven years, adding to evidence that the economy began the year with real momentum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Rachel Maddow (And NBC) Struggle With Satire (John Hudson, February 01, 2011, AtlanticWire)

The Internet's finest satirists snookered a big fish in the media world last night. In an embarrassing segment on her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow slammed conservatives for attacking President Obama's Egypt policies. Her targets included Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former ambassador to the UN John Bolton and Stephenson Billings at ChristWire.org. Only problem is Stephenson Billings is not a real person. He's a fictional byproduct of website that also warns readers that the Xbox Kinect is a terrorist training tool and the Japanese have created scary robot babies which "threaten humanity."

The article that caught Maddow's eye called for an "American-led invasion" into Egypt and begged former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to lead the war cry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Jordan’s King Dismisses Cabinet as Tremors Spread Through Region (RANYA KADRI and ETHAN BRONNER, February 1, 2011, NY Times)

King Abdullah II of Jordan fired his government in a surprise move on Tuesday, in the face of a wave of demands of public accountability sweeping the Arab world and bringing throngs of demonstrators to the streets of Egypt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Webb's Weak Year End Haul (Julie Sobel, February 1, 2011, Hotline)

Sen. Jim Webb's (D-Va.) year end fundraising numbers do not bode well for Democrats hoping he will seek a second term in 2012.

Webb raised just more than $12,000 from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, finishing the year with just $440,000 in his bank account.

Denny Rehberg to Announce Senate Bid Saturday (Kyle Trygstad, 1/31/11, Roll Call)
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) will announce Saturday he is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

“It’s happening Saturday,” said a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative. “He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.”

This should be the easiest cycle for the GOP to recruit in at least half a century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


In Egypt, 'Islamist' fears overblown (Lionel Beehner, 2/01/11, USA Today)

The threat posed by Islamists seizing power is more often than not a crutch used by autocrats to safeguard their positions, secure foreign aid and snap up White House invitations. We have seen this in spades since 9/11, when presidents from Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf to Egypt's Mubarak played up the threat of radical Islamists at home to secure more goodies from Washington — namely billions of dollars worth of aid and military hardware — and retain power. Their relationship vis-à-vis the U.S. can best be summed up: Hey, we may not be perfect, but trust me, the alternative is worse.

But let's face it, for a democratic coalition to come to power in Egypt it has to make political room for religious groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. That isn't a bad thing. Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition candidate for president, has won the Brotherhood's support. And some Muslim Brothers have participated in the recent protests, though their role and influence remain unclear. The political scientist Barrington Moore once famously posited: "No bourgeoisie, no democracy." What we are seeing is the Arab world corollary: No Islamist representation, no democracy.

Indeed, as the country's largest opposition movement, any grassroots reform coalition in Egypt must win the Brotherhood's support. It is more popular than Egypt's liberal opposition. And the bulk of its membership comprises moderates committed to peaceful relations with Egypt's neighbors, including Israel, and non-Muslims. The Atlantic's Robert Kaplan describes the group as a "community self-help organization." Even though its members support sharia law, their primary aim is not to roll back women's rights or install an Islamic caliphate (much less a Taliban-style haven for terrorists), but to reform Egyptian politics by cleaning up corruption and releasing political prisoners.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Jeb Bush, James Carville stay close to party lines during UNLV debate (Delen Goldberg, Jan. 31, 2011, Las Vegas Sun)

Not surprisingly, Carville largely defended the Democratic agenda — namely health care reform and government support — while Bush promoted the typically Republican ideals of deficit reduction and less government intervention.

Even so, Bush broke from party lines to admonish Republicans for failing to come up with a better health care solution, and Carville appeared to entertain the idea of tax cuts as one prong of a larger plan to re-stimulate the economy. [...]

The biggest chuckle of the night came during a discussion of pension funds. Audience members couldn't contain themselves as Carville — unprompted — mentioned that public employees earn lower salaries than private workers. Loud jeers erupted in the auditorium.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Barrick Lecture Series with political strategist James Carville at UNLV Monday, January 31, 2011. Jon Ralston moderated the discussion.

Carville looked slightly confused until Ralston explained that local firefighters have come under attack recently for their salaries and apparent abuse of sick time.

The event ended with questions from the audience. One Bush supporter asked if the former governor's family ties would hurt him during a bid for the White House. [...]

[W]hile stressing that he has no presidential ambitions (yet), he added: "If I ran for office, I would be a proud younger brother of George W. Bush and a proud son of George H.W. Bush."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


After Message From Obama, Mubarak Expected to Skip Bid for Reelection (Nitasha Tiku, 2/1/11, New York: Daily Intel))

Hosni Mubarak is expected to speak shortly to the throngs of protesters, at least a million strong, who have gathered in Tahrir Square to call for his ouster. Although there is no official confirmation, Al Arabiya television is reporting that Mubarak will announce that he will not run for reelection in September. It's a very different message from his last address to the Egyptian people Friday, when Mubarak thought reshuffling his cabinet would appease public unrest. Al Arabiya also said Omar Suleiman, his newly appointed vice-president, had already started meetings with representatives of parties. Mubarak's concession comes after a message from President Obama, delivered by former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, urging Mubarak not to run again, which in essence withdraws U.S. support for its closest ally in the Arab world. The White House, which provides Egypt with somewhere around $1.5 billion in military aid annually, stopped short of a blunt demand for the current regime to step aside. Rather, the message was "firm counsel that [Mubarak] should make way for a reform process that would culminate in free and fair elections in September to elect a new Egyptian leader," echoing Hillary Clinton's support of an "orderly transition."

Another eight months of Mubarak's 30-year rule is unlikely to appease demonstrators, who are planning on spending the night in Tahrir Square. The Guardian's Jack Shenker, reporting live from Cairo, called the atmosphere "festive."

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Israel Shaken as Turbulence Rocks an Ally (ETHAN BRONNER, 1/30/11, NY Times)

Israel’s military planning relies on peace with Egypt; nearly half the natural gas it uses is imported from Egypt; and the principle of trading conquered land for diplomatic ties began with its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt more than with any other foreign leader, except President Obama. If Mr. Mubarak were driven from power, the effect on Israel could be profound.

“For the United States, Egypt is the keystone of its Middle East policy,” a senior official said. “For Israel, it’s the whole arch.”

...and then wonder that you're unloved?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Americans earn and spend more, save less (Annalyn Censky, January 31, 2011, CNNMoney)

As incomes slowly creep back up, Americans are spending more freely and saving less. [...]

Meanwhile, Americans saved $614.1 billion in December, compared with $634.4 billion the prior month. And personal savings as a percentage of disposable income nudged down to 5.3% from 5.5% in November.

Economists expect disposable income to increase further in January, boosted by the 2% payroll tax cut that started at the beginning of the year.

The core Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, an inflation gauge that strips out volatile food and energy prices and is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, fell to 0.7% -- the lowest level on record since the Commerce Department started tracking the data in 1959.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Health reform's political fallout (PATRICK H. CADDELL & DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN, 1/28/11, Politico)

The opposition to health care turned an election already going south into a political catastrophe. Election studies at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota concluded that at least one-third of the House seats that Democrats lost can be attributed to the electorate’s negative reaction to the health care bill. Election night exit polls found that a near majority (48 percent) of voters favored outright repeal. Independents who favored outright repeal voted for Republicans, 86 percent to 9 percent.

There is one big underlying factor that continues to cause many Americans to oppose the health care bill: Its passage was anti-democratic. If the Republicans’ campaign slogan of 1854 was the “Crime Against Kansas,” in 2010 it would be the “Crime Against Democracy.”

Deals to buy votes in the House and Senate, including extra funding for state projects, all became part of the 2,000-page bill that most representatives never read. These deals deeply affected the American people, making them feel the law was forced on them, despite their opposition.

This fundamental perception of contempt for the American people’s will has sustained the opposition. It is likely to do so until the bill’s anti-democratic stain is expunged.

Having run on nothing, President Obama could ill afford to accept something.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Powerful evidence that the big problem is demand, not structural (Money Illusion, 1/31/11)

Almost a year ago David Glasner mentioned that he was working on a similar study, this time estimating the time-varying correlation between US inflation expectations and US equity prices. He has frequently sent me very significant results, but I held back from mentioning them in order to let him get the project completed before publicizing the results. He has now placed the paper at the SSRN web site, where others can read it. In the meantime I notice that others have observed this pattern, indeed the commenter Gregor Bush recently mentioned some similar results.

It is well known that there is normally little correlation between US inflation expectations and US stock prices. Higher inflation might boost stock prices if associated with growing aggregate demand, but higher inflation can also lead to expectations of tight money, or higher taxes on capital, since capital income is not indexed. Indeed the high inflation of the 1970s seems to have depressed real stock and bond prices. In general, the stock market seems content with the low and stable inflation of recent decades, at least judging by reactions to changes in inflation expectations.

David looked at 8 years of data, from January 2003 until December 2010, and divided the sample up into 10 sub-periods. He found almost no significant correlation between inflation expectations (TIPS spreads) and stock prices (S&P 500) until March 2008. (Actually, there was a modest positive correlation during the first half of 2003, another period when people worried about excessively low inflation.) After March 2008, the correlation was highly significant, and positive. Right about the time where the US began suffering from a severe AD shortfall, the stock market began rooting strongly for higher inflation. And it still is, even in the most recent period. Money is still too tight.

There is no way to overstate the importance of these these findings. The obvious explanation (and indeed the only explanation I can think of) is that low inflation was not a major problem before mid-2008, but has since become a big problem. Bernanke’s right and the hawks at the Fed are wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Von Galen and the Third Reich (Charles Colson, 2/01/11, Catholic Exchange)

Clemens August Graf von Galen was the Bishop of Muenster. He became bishop in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, and from the start he made life difficult for Nazi officials.

He opposed Reich policies in education and its attacks on religious freedom. When others were bending over backwards to avoid provoking the Nazis, von Galen went on the rhetorical offensive: He mocked Nazi ideology and defended the authority of the Old Testament against Nazi attacks.

But von Galen’s most important confrontation with the regime came over the Action T4 program—the Nazi effort to eliminate the physically and mentally disabled. By 1941, Nazi persecution of Catholics, which included sending thousands of priests to concentration camps, had caused leading German prelates, as historian Richard Evans put it, to “[keep] their heads down.”

But as more and more disabled patients were being murdered, keeping one’s head down became tantamount to complicity with evil. What’s more, as von Galen realized, it was futile — because the Nazis were going to persecute the Church, anyway.

So, in July and August of 1941, he delivered a series of sermons that denounced the Nazi regime. He told the German people that if the disabled could be killed with impunity, “then the way is open for the murder of all of us, when we become old and weak and thus unproductive.” If a regime could disregard the commandment against murder, it could do way with the other nine commandments as well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


The Quest for Dignity (David Brooks, 1/31/11, NY Times)

Protesters invariably say that their government has insulted their dignity by ignoring their views. They have a certain template of what a “normal” country looks like — with democracy and openness — and they feel humiliated that their nation doesn’t measure up.

Moreover, the protesters tend to feel enormous pride that they are finally speaking up, even in the face of danger. They feel a surge of patriotism as the people of their country make themselves heard.

This quest for dignity has produced a remarkable democratic wave. More than 100 nations have seen democratic uprisings over the past few decades. More than 85 authoritarian governments have fallen. Somewhere around 62 countries have become democracies, loosely defined.

The experiences of these years teach us a few lessons. First, the foreign policy realists who say they tolerate authoritarian government for the sake of stability are ill informed. Autocracies are more fragile than any other form of government, by far.

Second, those who say that speeches by outsiders have no influence on places like Egypt have it backward. The climate of opinion is the very basis of the revolt.

Third, for all the pessimism and nervousness that accompanies change, most countries that have experienced uprisings end up better off. We can all think of exceptions, like Iran, but we should greet these events with eagerness and hope.

Fourth, while the public hunger for dignity is unabated, the road from authoritarianism to democracy is rocky and perilous. Over the past few years, the world has experienced a “freedom recession” with more governments retreating from democracy than advancing toward it. For outside powers, the real work comes after the revolution — in helping democrats build governments that work.

....which is where Realism becomes the denial of others' humanity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Sudan sees Egypt-inspired protests in the North, jubilation on referendum in the South (Taylor Barnes, January 31, 2011, CS Monitor)

Protesters in northern Sudan gained their first “martyr” late Sunday night when a student died in the hospital from injuries sustained in a police confrontation. The protests, which were inspired by neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, started Sunday. They came as South Sudan announced the near-unanimous results of its referendum vote on secession from the north. [...]

The news wire adds that students in north Sudan began clashing with police over rising food and petrol prices earlier this month, but protests have grown after demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt gained attention. Demonstrators have begun to call for regime change and widened their list of complaints to include corruption and the country’s practice of sentencing women to be lashed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


The war on moral hazards begins at home (John Kay, 26 January 2011, Financial Times)

The point of structural reform of the banking system is not to prevent banks from failing. Regulators have neither the technical competence nor political authority to achieve that objective. Nor, even if they had such competence and authority, would the outcome be desirable. The degree of supervision and control would undermine management responsibility. Regulators would need to be able to block Royal Bank of Scotland’s takeover of ABN Amro, halt Northern Rock’s expansion, and fire Dick Fuld and his associates from Lehman – and that just for starters. The banking system that would emerge would be like nationalisation, only not as fast-moving.

The purpose of structural reform is to allow financial institutions to fail without imposing large costs on taxpayers, retail customers and the global economy. The moral hazard problem is more subtle than sometimes suggested. Banks do not think: “We can afford to take big risks because the government will help if things go wrong.” The downside of failure for senior executives and boards is large even if it is not as large as it should be.

But senior executives and boards can reasonably think: “We can afford to run large counterparty exposures because the government will help if things go wrong.” Experience has shown that they will generally be right to think that. The transfer of wholesale market counterparty risk from the market to the taxpayer is the central issue. It distorts competition, allows excessive risk-taking and imposes wholly unacceptable burdens on the public. The most powerful mechanism for controlling risk-taking is prudential supervision, not by regulators, but by the market itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Obama’s SOTU Has Vanished Without a Trace (RICH KARLGAARD, 1/31/11, Forbes)

What happened? Where did Obama’s SOTU go? The music is gone and no echoes can be heard. Gone in one week. Is the problem us and our ADD culture? Did the terrible shooting and miraculous recovery of Gabby Giffords hand Obama one of those unrepeatable emotional moments? Has Egypt reminded Americans, again, of the flipside of Obama’s youth and brainy idealism – inexperience and paralysis?

Maybe it was those. Maybe, too, it was the SOTU speech itself. Some stories, songs and wines get better on the second experience, their richness revealed as layers. Some things are the opposite; analysis and second helpings show mostly what is not there. Obama’s 2011 SOTU is apparently one of those.

There was nothing in the SOTU that resonated for even a week!

The real question is: can anyone remember a word of any of his speeches, other than the race one he butchered?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Egypt Is the Next Tunisia. What Is the Next Egypt? (Gordon Chang, Jan. 30 2011, Forbes)

China’s communists have every right to be concerned. In a world connected by optic fiber, revolutionary fervor not only crosses from one country to the next but from one continent to another. That is undoubtedly the reason why Chinese netizens cannot search the characters for “Egypt” on some Mainland sites and the authorities are censoring news of the distant upheaval. Beijing’s officials know that every resentment felt by Tunisians and Egyptians is shared by those they rule.

So it’s not surprising the Chinese are closely watching the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. China’s netizens, for example, cannot stop talking about the lone Egyptian who stood in front of an armored car last week. “Must see!” Tweeted human rights lawyer Teng Bao yesterday. “Egypt’s Tiananmen movement, a warrior blocks a military vehicle!”

Is there a connection between the events in North Africa and Asia? Like the Tunisians and Egyptians, the Chinese are losing their fear of dictators. “Many people on the Chinese blogosphere and netizens believe that the future road that China takes is like Tunisia,” remarked Chinese blogger “Twokeqi,” in a session arranged by the American embassy in Beijing. He and other Chinese netizens were peppering two American officials—Jeffrey Bader and Ben Rhodes—who were connected by a video link as they sat in the White House basement. “Does the U.S. government also think so and does the U.S. government have a strategy if this happens?”

Neither Bader nor Rhodes would answer either of Twokeqi’s direct questions. Rhodes, for his part, rambled on about Washington’s human rights policies and Bader talked about the American civil war and slavery in the South, so it is obvious that the pair were afraid of offending Beijing’s officials. Yet China’s citizens—or at least some of them—are not so concerned about the tender feelings of the Communist Party elite.

That’s a dangerous moment for autocrats, even if they dwell thousands of miles from the pyramids. When a people begin to ignore authoritarians, political transformations occur.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


High school biology teachers reluctant to endorse evolution in class (Penn State University, January 27, 2011)

The majority of public high school biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary biology, despite 40 years of court cases that have ruled teaching creationism or intelligent design violates the Constitution, according to Penn State political scientists. A mandatory undergraduate course in evolutionary biology for prospective teachers, and frequent refresher courses for current teachers, may be part of the solution, they say.

"Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms," write Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, professors of political science at Penn State, in the Jan. 28 issue of Science.

The researchers examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, a representative sample of 926 public high school biology instructors. They found only about 28 percent of those teachers consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

American public education may be the most conservative institution in the country.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


In Egypt, Democracy Is The Only Avenue To Economic Stability: How the business world--and the U.S. government--should look at the protests. (Shadi Hamid, 01.29.11, Forbes)

Investors should be worried. And most of them already are. Accordingly, where the people have made clear their desire for change, the international community should do what it can to facilitate successful--and peaceful--democratic transitions. Tunisia, the country that provided the spark for the events of the past month, may very well still fall into chaos. Pro-democracy revolutions don't necessarily lead to democracy. So the current phase of re-building the country's political institutions is crucial. In a country like Egypt, full-scale violence initiated by a fragile regime would undermine the little stability that remains. It may be the case that many in the business community, along with the Obama administration, would prefer to see the Egyptian regime remain in power, but under better behavior. This, however, does not seem to be a path the Egyptian people, led by a diverse and peaceful protest movement, are willing to take.

Democracy--with the accountability, popular legitimacy and peaceful resolution of conflict it so often brings--is the only avenue to long-term stability. Otherwise, authoritarian regimes will appear stable--until they're not. And, by then, it's too late.