Erdogan advocates 2-state Cyprus (UPI, 7/19/11)
Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday his country supports a two-state solution for Cyprus if there is no political resolution by next year.
Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974. Talks organized by the United Nations have been under way since 2008 with little result.
GOP on verge of huge, unprecedented political victory (Greg Sargent, 7/31/11, Washington Post)
By all accounts, it looks like a deal is about to be announced in which the debt ceiling is hiked in exchange for the promise of major spending cuts, including to entitlements, totalling at least $2.4 trillion.
Anything can happen, but it apppears the GOP is on the verge of pulling off a political victory that may be unprecedented in American history. Republicans may succeed in using the threat of a potential outcome that they themselves acknowledged would lead to national catastrophe as leverage to extract enormous concessions from Democrats, without giving up anything of any significance in return.
Everything that's wrong with Hollywood (KYLE SMITH, July 31, 2011, NY Post)
* China sucks. You hate China. I hate China. Everybody hates China -- for now. In 20 years, when Hollywood is done re-educating us, we'll all feel as warm and fuzzy about China as we do about Derek Jeter. Because movies are happy to put ridiculously pro-China propaganda in films like "The Karate Kid" remake and "2012" in return for a) large checks from China and b) approval to open their movies in China's fast-growing multiplex market. The upcoming "Red Dawn" remake just digitally switched the villains from Chinese to North Koreans. The North Korean army couldn't conquer the Purdue football dorm, much less the entire center of the country. How convincing a movie is that going to be? If they're going to do a comedy, they might as well go all the way and imagine the heartland being ransacked by Luxembourgian paratroopers. Or Belgian gnomes, who are a great example of how:
* Marketing sucks. Was anyone you know looking forward to a Smurfs movie? Even kids don't know about Belgium's most irritating export. Their NBC TV show went off the air in 1989. But the movie exists because of its cross-platform promotional potential: It has more than 200 (not a misprint) marketing partners. Sony also figured that parents of small children remember the TV series (we do: it sucked), so that meant "brand awareness" was high and did half the marketers' work for them. Brand awareness is key if you're going to burn $150 million on a movie. If they don't know the basic story going in, how are you going to explain it in a 30-second commercial? See also: adaptations of TV shows, remakes and "Sex and the City 2." There's even going to be a movie version of the game of Battleship. Having a toy tie-in didn't hurt "Transformers." But you saw "Transformers," so really the problem is:
* You suck. What Katzenberg wittily calls "that singular and unique characteristic that only exists in Hollywood, greed" is inseparable from taste: If the crowds demand cinematic Funyuns, someone is going to produce them, and get rich in the process. Audiences get stuck on "No Strings Attached," go with "Just Go With It" and sail away on "Stranger Tides" at "World's End." You want better movies? Be a better audience. The San Francisco-based critic David Thomson told me last year, "I think the most compelling figure in the movies at the moment is the audience. Because the audience are going crazy." I know what you're thinking: Yes, he does get to say "are" because he's English.
"Herbie Fully Loaded" may have been a film about (in the words of filmblather.com) "a stupid anthropomorphic VW Bug that winks, smiles, gets antenna boners when it sees a yellow, 'female' Bug and . . . occasionally exhibits psychotic behavior." But even after Disney hired every Hollywood writer above the level of the guy who writes the questions for Brooke Burke to ask the contestants on "Dancing with the Stars," it still only cost $50 million, according to Boxofficemojo.com. It provided lots of marketing opportunities -- and grossed $144 million in theaters alone. Even Disney was probably shocked. As Bill Goldman put it, "Nobody knows anything."
The audience loves broad jokes and cheap thrills, and will punish any movie that doesn't deliver them, one after another.
Democratic politics in a nutshell (Glenn Greenwald, 7/31/11, Salon)
(1) Three days ago, Democratic Rep. John Conyers, appearing at a meeting of the Out of Poverty caucus, said: "The Republicans -- Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor -- did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that" (video here, at 1:30);
(2) The reported deal on the debt ceiling is so completely one-sided -- brutal domestic cuts with no tax increases on the rich and the likelihood of serious entitlement cuts in six months with a "Super Congressional" deficit commission -- that even Howard Kurtz was able to observe: "If there are $3 trillion in cuts and no tax hikes, Obama will have to explain how it is that the Republicans got 98 pct. of what they wanted," while Grover Norquist, the Right of the Right on such matters, happily proclaimed: "Sounds like a budget deal with real savings and no tax hikes is a go."
(3) The same White House behavior shaping the debt deal -- full embrace of GOP policies and (in the case of Social Security cuts) going beyond that -- has been evident in most policy realms from the start. It first manifested in the context of Obama's adoption of the Bush/Cheney approach to the war on civil liberties and Terrorism, which is why civil libertarians were the first to object so vocally and continuously to the Obama presidency, culminating in this amazing event from mid-2010: "Speaking at a conference of liberal activists Wednesday morning, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero didn't mince his words about the administration's handling of civil liberties issues. 'I'm going to start provocatively . . . I'm disgusted with this president,' Romero told the America's Future Now breakout session."
Rightward Tilt Leaves Obama With Party Rift (JACKIE CALMES, 7/31/11, NY Times)
However the debt limit showdown ends, one thing is clear: under pressure from Congressional Republicans, President Obama has moved rightward on budget policy, deepening a rift within his party heading into the next election.
Entering a campaign that is shaping up as an epic clash over the parties' divergent views on the size and role of the federal government, Republicans have changed the terms of the national debate. Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans' language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.
That has some progressive members of Congress and liberal groups arguing that by not fighting for more stimulus spending, Mr. Obama could be left with an economy still producing so few jobs by Election Day that his re-election could be threatened. Besides turning off independents, Mr. Obama risks alienating Democratic voters already disappointed by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his failure to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, end the Bush-era tax cuts and enact a government-run health insurance system.
Debt deadline may provide another Mitch McConnell moment (Paul Kane, July 30, 2011, Washington Post)
On Saturday, after all the partisan bills were doomed and dismissed, the Senate minority leader took charge of the process, reaching out to the White House to demand that President Obama get personally involved. Any debt-ceiling deal before the Tuesday default deadline, McConnell said, would require direct engagement with the president -- and late Saturday, the approach seemed the last, best hope.
"In the category of getting serious, I have spoken to both the president and the vice president within the last hour," McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "We are now fully engaged, the speaker and I, with the one person in America out of 307 million people who can sign a bill into law."
After returning to the Senate from a White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) accused McConnell of not negotiating in "good faith" and holding "meaningless press conferences" in which he claims to be engaged. Reid said other members of the Republican Conference were truly talking and McConnell was just stalling.
"I guess talking is a step in the right direction, but that's about it," Reid said.
A smiling McConnell interrupted Reid to inform him that he had just "cut short a conversation with the vice president" to come to the Senate floor for an "important vote" on a quorum -- essentially an attendance-taking vote -- that Reid had called.
It may have been predictable that it would come to this. McConnell's fingerprints are on every big bipartisan deal and every key spending bill to emerge from the Congress in recent years. He secretly negotiated, with Vice President Biden, the deal to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts last December. And three years ago, in an environment eerily similar to the current stalemate, it was McConnell who helped rescue a bailout package for the financial services industry from a humiliating defeat on the House floor.
Debt Crisis Shows Obama Lacks Presidential Skills (Mary Kate Cary, July 29, 2011, US News)
Maybe it's because Hillary Clinton's "three in the morning" ad was right--maybe he just doesn't have the experience to be president. Of the top 100 jobs that would qualify one to be president, being a law professor isn't one of them. A plumber would be better qualified than a law professor. Seriously--a plumber is a problem solver who has to keep customers happy. A used car salesman knows how to close a deal. A UPS deliveryman knows how to meet a deadline. A diplomat knows how to be, well, diplomatic. Meaning he doesn't lecture people about "eating their peas" when he needs them to jump on board. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
Think about some of our former presidents and their qualifications for the job. Bill Clinton had been a governor, a job that involves being an executive decision-maker. Ronald Reagan had headed the Screen Actors Guild and worked for General Electric, in addition to being governor. President Bush 41 had served as ambassador to the U.N., liaison to Communist China, head of the RNC during Watergate, director of the CIA during its most difficult years, and had even served as a freshman Republican in a Democratic Congress. Harry Truman had run a men's clothing store that failed in a recession and narrowly escaped bankruptcy--certainly something that would have prepared him for the job today.
Some Bankers Never Learn (GRETCHEN MORGENSON, 7/31/11, NY Times)
[D]odd-Frank also required regulators to define the characteristics of loans that would most likely be repaid. The idea was to ensure that banks had skin in the game when they bundled risky mortgages into securities.
The proposal was this: If a mortgage security contains only high-quality loans, the banks can sell the entire offering. If the investments included riskier mortgages, the underwriters must keep 5 percent of the issue on their own books.
Overseas Solutions To Washington's Budget Deadlock (Reuven Brenner, Jul. 28 2011, Forbes)
[D]ebates fail also to distinquish between two issues:
What spending is expected to build up assets?
What spending is done to help out either permanently unfortunate people or those who fell on hard times?
Here are two examples of the type of simple numbers that could illuminate the debate and make clearer what is the type of information that would be needed to make decisions that macroeconomic aggregates simply cannot provide. It would not take too much time to get such data and transform the Washington debate to down-to-earth matters that U.S. voters could relate to.
Eric Hanushek, of Stanford University, was kind enough to send me such information, the type of which I found in Canada. He sent me a file where he put together the K-12 public school enrollment, teachers, and total staff between 1980 and 2008 in the U.S.
It turns out that staff and teachers grow roughly twice as fast as students over this period (all his data coming from the Digest of Education Statistics 2010.). He also sent me the data on the students' achievement over time. It turns out that while schools' staff increased at 52%, and students' enrollment by 21%, they did not learn one bit more according to the 'achievement' measures. So can the education budget be drastically cut while slashing much of the education bureaucracy? It would seem so.
An old Canadian study caught my eye that I thought would illustrate the points made above. That study showed that Canada had some 6,000 bureaucrats overseeing 60,000 fishermen. Iceland, considered at the time the most successful fishing nation, had 6,000 fishermen, but only 200 bureaucrats. Yet, Canada and Iceland were catching the same amount of fish. Moreover, when Canada needed advice about how to improve its fisheries, it turned to Iceland rather than any of its 6,000 bureaucrats!
And, one final story about Newfoundland's fishermen who were once like Iceland's. They were working as fishermen for part of the year, and when there were no fish, they moved to other parts of Canada and
worked in a range of occupations.
This came to an end when, a generation ago, the federal government made the mistake to extend unemployment benefits to those engaged in seasonal work. Whereas before the fishermen found employment during the off-season in logging, farming, weaving nets, the new government benefits gave them incentives to stay put.
A generation after the introduction of these benefits, Newfoundland found itself with 60,000 fishermen, who were unemployed for most of the year, having forgotten all the other skills they once had. Gradually, the older generation of fishermen, accustomed to getting half of their incomes from handouts, did not pass to the next generation the knowledge of people, activities and places they once possessed. Their children followed suit. Subsequent studies showed that the province scored low in literacy tests and showed no progress for a decade. (Fortunate for Newfoundland, oil was discovered in the late 1990′s and they are now rich by accident!)
Why Voters Tune Out Democrats (Stanley B. Greenberg, 7/30/11, NY Times)
My vantage point on voter behavior comes through my company, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and its work for center-left parties globally, starting with Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992. For the last decade, I have worked in partnership with James Carville conducting monthly polls digging into America's mood and studying how progressives can develop successful electoral strategies. (I am also married to a Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut, Rosa L. DeLauro.)
In analyzing these polls in the United States, I see clearly that voters feel ever more estranged from government -- and that they associate Democrats with government. If Democrats are going to be encumbered by that link, they need to change voters' feelings about government. They can recite their good plans as a mantra and raise their voices as if they had not been heard, but voters will not listen to them if government is disreputable.
Oddly, many voters prefer the policies of Democrats to the policies of Republicans. They just don't trust the Democrats to carry out those promises.
The End for Assad? High Ranking Officers Desert, Join Rebels (Arutz Sheva, 31/07/11)
A Syrian Major-General has deserted Assad's army along with a group of other officers and joined the rebels.
In an Arabic video clip posted on Youtube on July 29, 2011, the officer, Major-General Riad El As'ad is seen in the company of other officers, announcing the establishment of the "Free Syrian Army whose main goal will be to fight the army of oppression headed by President Bashar Assad".
As'ad accused the Assad regime of crimes against the Syrian people and called on the officers and soldiers in the Syrian army not to aim their weapons at the people. He further called on them to join the Free Syrian Army.
Outlines of Debt Compromise Emerge: An announcement could come as early as Sunday afternoon. (Major Garrett, July 31, 2011, National Journal)
$2.8 trillion in deficit reduction with $1 trillion locked in through discretionary spending caps over 10 years and the remainder determined by a so-called "Super Committee."
The Super Committee must report precise deficit-reduction proposals by Thanksgiving.
The Super Committee would have to propose $1.8 trillion in spending cuts to achieve that amount of deficit reduction over 10 years.
If the Super Committee fails, Congress must send a balanced-budget amendment to the states for ratification. If that doesn't happen, across-the-board spending cuts would go into effect and could touch Medicare and defense spending.
No net new tax revenue would be part of the special committee's deliberations.
Liberating Islam: A concerned Muslim tries to do his part. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 7/26/11, National Review)
A practicing Muslim, [Mustafa Akyol] is the author of a new book, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. He talks about the case, as he sees it, with National Review Online's Kathryn Jean Lopez. [...]
LOPEZ: You ask, "Could authoritarian Muslims be just authoritarians who happen to be Muslim?" But isn't it a huge obstacle that they have as much Islamic material to work with?
AKYOL: Sure, there is a lot of material in the classical Sharia that Muslim authoritarians of today can refer to -- as they do. But I am showing that those materials were also products of authoritarians who happened to be Muslim a millennium ago. One of my basic arguments is that most authoritarian elements within the Sharia come from post-Koranic (i.e., "man-made") parts of Islam. I also show that the more liberal strains within this "man-made" tradition were suppressed by the more rigid camp, which we face in the modern world, in its purest form, as Wahhabism.
LOPEZ: You're not an Islamic scholar. Why should a Muslim believe your interpretations and insights? Why should an infidel or anyone?
AKYOL: Well, I am not an Islamic scholar, I don't claim to be one, and I don't need to be one. For I am not issuing fatwas (religious opinions) here. Much of what I do is to show how Islamic thought evolved over time and how things could have been different. As for my argumentative chapters -- "Freedom from the State," "Freedom to Sin," and "Freedom from Islam" -- most of the ideas I express there are already advanced by various theologians, such as the modernist "Ankara school" in Turkey. What I did was to take those ideas from dry academic papers and make them more accessible -- and, I hope, convincing for a broader audience.
LOPEZ: Doesn't that hit an overwhelming obstacle though? There is no authoritative reading. There is no one leader who can be a voice of reason.
AKYOL: You are right, and no one can do anything about it. Islam, especially Sunni Islam, has never had any pope or anything like a church hierarchy. In that sense, it is more "Protestant" than "Catholic." In other words, any charismatic imam who claims to get the scripture right can create his own following. That's why the only way forward is convincing more and more individual Muslims of the more tolerant and flexible interpretations of Islam. That's why, as a concerned Muslim, I tried to do my part.
The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement (ANDREA ELLIOTT, 7/30/11, NY Times)
[T]he campaign's air of grass-roots spontaneity, which has been carefully promoted by advocates, shrouds its more deliberate origins.'
In fact, it is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah.
Working with a cadre of conservative public-policy institutes and former military and intelligence officials, Mr. Yerushalmi has written privately financed reports, filed lawsuits against the government and drafted the model legislation that recently swept through the country -- all with the effect of casting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to American freedom since the cold war.
The message has caught on. Among those now echoing Mr. Yerushalmi's views are prominent Washington figures like R. James Woolsey, a former director of the C.I.A., and the Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, who this month signed a pledge to reject Islamic law, likening it to "totalitarian control."
Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law. [...]
It is not the first time Mr. Yerushalmi has engaged in polemics. In a 2006 essay, he wrote that "most of the fundamental differences between the races are genetic," and asked why "people find it so difficult to confront the facts that some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem-solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones?" He has also railed against what he sees as a politically correct culture that avoids open discussion of why "the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote."
On its Web site, the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil rights organization, describes Mr. Yerushalmi as having a record of "anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry." His legal clients have also drawn notoriety, among them Pamela Geller, an incendiary blogger who helped drive the fight against the Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero. [...]
Mr. Yerushalmi's legislation has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union as well as from Catholic bishops and Jewish groups. Mr. Yerushalmi said he did not believe that court cases involving Jewish or canon law would be affected by the statutes because they are unlikely to involve violations of constitutional rights.
Business lobbyists have also expressed concern about the possible effect of the statutes, as corporations often favor foreign laws in contracts or tort disputes. This is perhaps the only constituency that has had an influence. The three state statutes that have passed -- most recently in Arizona -- make corporations exempt.
The Luxury Frontier: What happens when a country previously hindered by vastness and foreign rule awakens to wealth on its doorstep? With Louis Vuitton on one corner and one of the world's largest gold deposits down the road, the previously nomadic society of Mongolia is putting down some rich (Maureen Orth, WSJ Magazine)
The fragile coalition government that is up for reelection next year is literally besieged on all sides. To hedge against inflation and to share the wealth, Parliament has passed a law creating a Sustainability Fund with money set aside from mining industry revenue including the Tavan Tolgoi coal profits; sometime in the future, all citizens will also be issued 10 percent of the shares of an IPO the government will offer on the Hong Kong and London stock exchanges. (The government has also established a more general Development Bank.) They know they cannot count on the fluctuating prices of commodities to sustain their long-term growth. When I spoke to Z. Gombojav, minister for foreign affairs and trade, he chose to spin the country's many immediate needs as "vast opportunities and room for investment in infrastructure, including roads and railways, energy, urban construction, light industry and food production."
The reality on the ground is more challenging. For example, Mongolia has the best cashmere in the world, but domestic producers who refine the wool say they are in danger of being put out of business because the government does not collect the 30 percent export tax from the Chinese, enabling them to buy vast amounts of raw wool from the herders at higher prices while domestic producers are fully taxed. According to D. Erdene-Ochir, head of sales for Goyo Cashmere, the government is sacrificing them to the herders. "It's terrible politics to treat herders badly. So there are no taxes and the Chinese manipulate the market. They are supposed to pay the government, but the government doesn't collect. Mongolian companies have to pay income and VAT taxes. . . . If I want to be elected, I cheat the producers not the nomads." He also accuses the Chinese of mixing the cashmere with wool, silk and cotton. "They mix it and call it anything they want. We will be extinct very soon."
There is no doubt that Mongolia is white-hot in multinational-investment circles. One night I attended GE's welcome reception celebrating Mongolia as the 130th country where it does business. GE will begin by selling MRI machines to the country's underequipped and overburdened hospitals. Caterpillar already has a $100 million business going there. "Mongolia is like baking a cake," says business consultant Jackson Cox. "All the ingredients are on the table. You've got everything you need in Mongolia to build a modern, prosperous economy. The only thing that's missing is the political leadership to make the tough decisions. You have to envision the Mongolia you want 25 years from now and then take on the decisions to plan the education, infrastructure and health care to get there."
Nevertheless, most of the Mongolian hands I dealt with seemed to believe things would somehow work out in the end, even though environmentalists rightly fear precious grasslands and watersheds could be destroyed in a country that so far has only been 25 percent geologically explored. As Graeme Hancock says, "There is a very, very active civil society. Companies don't get away with making a mess very long."
The looming question is what Mongolia will do once its finite treasures have run out. "Twenty years from now, if all this mineral wealth--which is not renewable--is not turned into renewable wealth, which is knowledge, then we will have missed the point," says newspaper columnist D. Jargalsaikhan. "This underground wealth needs to stay aboveground to suit our will and aspirations."
"Money without policy does more harm than good," says J. Od, who believes "we are only at the tip of the iceberg" in knowing how rich Mongolia really is.
Spinning the American Songbook (MICHAEL WILSON, 7/30/11, NY Times)
On Sunday afternoons for the past four decades, Jonathan Schwartz has been spinning the wax and waxing poetic on all things Sinatra and American standard. Now 72, Mr. Schwartz can be heard every day of the week on Sirius Satellite Radio -- Channel 71 -- but weekends still find him at his longtime home on the FM dial, WNYC. He lives in Midtown Manhattan with the actress Zohra Lampert, whom he married last year. Mr. Schwartz's daughter, Casey, 28, and son, Adam, 24, often join them for dinner. [...]
READY FOR WORK I've thrown some CDs into a bag already. There are usually about 30 of them. They're new things, usually. I listen very carefully and lengthily to new material that sounds to me like something I can use.
THE COLLECTION I'd say I have 2,000 CDs. They're sent to me by people who aspire to have me play them on the show. If there's something extraordinary, they go on the air immediately. The thing that's so important to this music is the younger musicians, and there are a lot of them. Tierney Sutton, John Pizzarelli, Jessica Molaskey, Diana Krall. These are singers that really mean something to me, and they are dealing with the American songbook.
SONGBOOK PARAMETERS From about 1913 on to about 1960, and written by a group of men and, for the most part, one woman, Dorothy Fields, and she called herself one of the boys. Even my father was one of those guys: Arthur Schwartz.
Tempest in a Tea Party (MAUREEN DOWD, 7/30/11, NY Times)
As one Democratic senator complained: "The president veers between talking like a peevish professor and a scolding parent." (Not to mention a jilted lover.) Another moaned: "We are watching him turn into Jimmy Carter right before our eyes."
Farmers Oppose G.O.P. Bill on Immigration (JESSE McKINLEY and JULIA PRESTON, 7/30/11, NY Times)
Farmers across the country are rallying to fight a Republican-sponsored bill that would force them and all other employers to verify the legal immigration status of their workers, a move some say could imperil not only future harvests but also the agricultural community's traditional support for conservative candidates. [...]
Farm laborers, required like other workers to show that they are authorized to take jobs in the United States, often present Social Security numbers and some form of picture ID. [...]
"This would be an emergency, a dire, dire situation," said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, adding that the prospect of an E-Verify check would most likely mean that many immigrant workers would simply not show up. "We will end up closing down."
That sentiment is echoed by growers like George Bonacich, an 81-year-old apricot farmer who has been working the same patch of land in Patterson, 80 miles east of San Francisco, since 1969.
This year, Mr. Bonacich employed up to 100 farmhands to pick a total of 50 to 100 tons each day, often in triple-digit heat. He speaks passionately about his employees -- "They're good people, hard-working," he said -- and plainly about what would happen if E-Verify were to become the law of the farmland.
"If we don't have enough labor at peak time, the fruit goes on the ground," he said. "The fruit will only stay on the tree so long."
Rick Perry Supports Constitutional Amendment to Define Marriage (Arlette Saenz, 7/30/11, ABC News)
Texas Governor Rick Perry told the Associated Press today that he does support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, stripping states of the power to decide who can get married. [...]
Throughout the past week, Perry has made contradicting statements on whether gay marriage should be addressed at the state or federal level, creating confusion over where he stands on the issues. Perry strongly promotes the protections granted to the states by the 10th amendment, but he has flip flopped on whether the 10th amendment should apply to gay marriage.
How Would the Supreme Court Rule on Obama Raising the Debt Ceiling Himself? (Jeffrey Rosen, July 29, 2011, New Republic)
In addition to their concerns about legal standing, the conservative justices have also, in other cases, said that the courts should refuse to hear cases that raise "political questions"--in other words, cases that raise the possibility of "embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements" by the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court on the same legal issue. Nevertheless, Bush v. Gore showed that the conservative justices can abandon their longstanding devotion to construing standing requirements narrowly and the "political question" doctrine broadly when their political passions are high. So let's imagine, for the sake of argument, that the Roberts Court agreed to hear the case of Obama v. Boehner and decide it on the merits. How would the justices rule?
It seems a safe bet that all four liberal justices would rule for Obama. There's a strong argument that Congress's refusal to raise the debt ceiling falls within the spirit, if not the letter, of the paradigm case that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment were concerned about: the efforts of former Southern rebels who had been newly elected to Congress effectively to overthrow the government by repudiating the Union debt and assuming the Southern debt. All four liberal Justices are committed to a vision of "living constitutionalism" that interprets the historical evidence broadly, and they would be supported in their judgment by the Perry decision. Moreover, at least two of the liberal justices--Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer--have supported broad judicial deference to the president's ability to control the administrative state through regulations and unilateral action. And none of the liberals on the Court tends to be overly textualist when construing Congress's power.
What about the conservative justices? Here the divisions in the conservative ranks might become relevant. There are three distinct strains of legal conservatives on the Court: the tea party conservative, Clarence Thomas, the libertarian conservative, Anthony Kennedy, and the pro-executive power conservatives, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia. Of these five justices, Thomas is the only one whose judicial philosophy might lead him to side with Congress over Obama. As someone who believes that Congressional power over the purse should be construed strictly, Thomas might conclude that Article I gives Congress, and not the president, the power "to borrow money on the credit of the United States"--a power that it has exercised by establishing a debt ceiling.
All Eyes on the Senate: Can Two Veterans Deliver a Debt Deal? (Jay Newton-Small, July 30, 2011, TIME)
Of course, Reid and McConnell know how to play the game. They're experts in Senate arcana -- obscure rules they've tried to exploit to shape the schedule of this weekend's debt ceiling showdown. "At the end of the day they are both pragmatists," says Adam Jentleson, a Reid spokesman. "Both feel very strong about the institution and the importance of its rules and traditions." And it's that outlook that has positioned them for their critical roles in the waning days of debt-ceiling negotiations.
The product of weeks of quiet talks, the deficit reduction bills Reid and McConnell are crafting are not so far apart in substance. They have more or less agreed on roughly $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over the next decade, including $36 billion from the 2012 budget. They have also agreed to call for the formation of a commission that would look for an additional $1.8 trillion in savings, and, provisionally, would not be tied to any debt ceiling hike. Instead, in this iteration, a vote of disapproval would accompany the increase in borrowing authority early next year.
One area of disagreement, according to Democratic staff familiar with the talks, is over the enforcement mechanism that would ensure the commission's findings were enacted. The commission would be empowered to find both revenue increases and spending cuts that would sum to $1.8 trillion. Republicans are demanding that if those savings aren't met, an across-the-board cut of $1.8 trillion with no tax increases would be automatically phased in over 10 years. Democrats argue that such a trigger would give Republicans every incentive to sabotage an agreement through the formal commission, and that any trigger must also include revenue.
Downton Abbey second series: first review
( Ceri Radford, 30 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), the middle class heir to the Downton estate, is in the trenches, bravely leading his men into battle.
Female viewers can be assured that he cuts a very satisfactory dash in his military uniform. It is little wonder that the haughty Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), who dithered about accepting her cousin Matthew's marriage proposal in a moment of unmitigated madness in the last series, looks quite so wistful and glum this time around.
In the first major development of the new series, it's revealed that Matthew Crawley has got engaged - and to a young woman from such a humdrum background (Miss Lavinia Swire, played by Zoe Boyle) that the Dowager Countess of Grantham (a magnificent Dame Maggie Smith) pulls a face as if she has swallowed a wasp. Lady Mary herself has a new love interest in the form of Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), an unscrupulous press baron; but it is clear he is no match in her affections for the strapping Matthew.
As ever with Fellowes's writing, there is the same deft balance of emotion, suspense and comedy. The materials he has to play with here are clearly darker: as the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) puts it, "War is now reaching its long fingers into Downton, stealing our chicks."
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), his sweet and idealistic daughter, has volunteered to join the Red Cross, and it is inevitable that her naivety will soon be shattered when she has to deal with severely wounded soldiers. Matthew Crawley, meanwhile, is in daily peril on the front line. Fellowes himself hints ominously that: "None of them is unaffected by the war. All of them change. And death doesn't pass Downton Abbey by."
Despite all this, though, there are some extremely funny moments, along with a sense of smaller human dramas playing out against the backdrop of seismic events.
Heretical Thought: The System Is Working (Paul Greenberg, 7/30/11, Townhall)
But to a few of us simpler types, this little impasse in congressional halls demonstrates that the system is functioning, and not functioning, just as the writers of the Federalist Papers and the framers of the Constitution designed it. It's called a system of divided government, and by design it is supposed to work against itself as power checks power till somehow this Rube Goldberg treadmill clanks out the Will of the People.
A heretical thought: The miracle at Philadelphia in 1787, which the sophisticated told us even then wouldn't work, is still working. That sound you hear is just the friction of its unevenly moving parts. But they are moving. Even if none too fast, which is just the way the generation of Hamilton, Madison and Washington preferred it. Maybe those 18th-century gentlemen knew something that today's sophisticates have forgotten. Or never learned.
Environmentalist Wisdom: Shoot One Owl to Save The Other: The feds take sides in the battle between spotted owls and barred owls. (JAMES L. HUFFMAN, 7/29/11. WSJ)
The final Revised Recovery Plan, issued on June 30, calls for expanding protections for owls beyond the nearly six million acres currently set aside. Ironically, it also calls for the "removal"--i.e., shooting--of hundreds of barred owls, a larger and more adaptable rival of the spotted owl that competes for prey and nesting sites, and sometimes breeds with the spotted owl.
How much will it cost to implement this plan? The Fish and Wildlife Service says the species could be rejuvenated over the next 30 years at a cost of about $127 million. But that money will do little if anything to rejuvenate the depressed rural communities of the Northwest where still more timber land will be off limits to harvesting.
The truth is that no one fully understands why the spotted owl continues to decline. The rise of the barred owl poses an unexpected, but not surprising, complication. If the natural world would just remain static, species preservation and ecological management would be far simpler. But Mother Nature relishes competition, and the barred owl is a fierce competitor. Are we really prepared to send armed federal agents into Northwest forests in search of barred owls? And what will groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have to say as the carcasses pile up?
House passes Boehner's Budget Control Act (The Daily Caller, 7/29/11)
After a wild and bumpy ride, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed Speaker of the House John Boehner's Budget Control Act Friday evening. The vote fell along party lines at 218-210, with 22 Republicans voting against the bill.
The movie plots that technology killed: Hollywood's classic murders, stalkings and deceptions would never have been possible had today's technology been around. Joe Queenan rewrites the script for the digital age (Joe Queenan, 7/28/11, guardian.co.uk)
In the harrowing film 127 Hours, an outdoorsy type played by James Franco finds himself trapped in a mountain ravine with his arm wedged beneath a boulder. A few years from now, with Google Earth tracking everybody everywhere, the Franco character wouldn't have much of a problem; after he's gone missing for a day or so his friends or family would simply contact his cell phone provider, and they would instantaneously track his phone to the ravine and dispatch a search party to rescue him from his predicament. All he would need to do is sit tight, ration his water supply, and hope the rats and rattlers don't get him first.
But because 127 Hours is set in an era where a person without mobile phone service is still pretty much left to his own devices, the hiker played by Franco finds himself in quite a pickle. Ultimately, he has to hack off his own arm to avoid starving to death. Film buffs who enjoy this sort of thing - myself included - should gather rosebuds while they may, since a day is coming when technology will be so pervasive, so intrusive, so ubiquitous, so inescapable that it will no longer be possible to make a film like 127 Hours, no longer possible to make a film where James Franco has to suffer as much as everyone who watched him co-host the Academy Awards broadcast suffered this spring.
New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism (James Taylor, 7/27/11, Forbes)
Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.
"The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show," Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. "There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans."
In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.
The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.
Why are we in this debt fix? It's the elderly, stupid. (Robert J. Samuelson, July 28, 2011, Washington Post)
By now, it's obvious that we need to rewrite the social contract that, over the past half-century, has transformed the federal government's main task into transferring income from workers to retirees. In 1960, national defense was the government's main job; it constituted 52 percent of federal outlays. In 2011 -- even with two wars -- it is 20 percent and falling. Meanwhile, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other retiree programs constitute roughly half of non-interest federal spending.
These transfers have become so huge that, unless checked, they will sabotage America's future. The facts are known: By 2035, the 65-and-over population will nearly double, and health costs remain uncontrolled; the combination automatically expands federal spending (as a share of the economy) by about one-third from 2005 levels. This tidal wave of spending means one or all of the following: (a) much higher taxes; (b) the gutting of other government services, from the Weather Service to medical research; (c) a partial and dangerous disarmament; (d) large and unstable deficits.
Older Americans do not intend to ruin America, but as a group, that's what they're about. [...]
While 70 percent of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll judged budget deficits a "major problem," 64 percent rejected higher Medicare premiums and 58 percent opposed gradual increases in Social Security's retirement age.
What sustains these contradictions is a mythology holding that, once people hit 65, most become poor. This justifies political dogma among Democrats that resists Social Security or Medicare cuts of even one dollar.
But the premise is wrong. True, some elderly live hand-to-mouth; many more are comfortable, and some are wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the following for Medicare beneficiaries in 2010: 25 percent had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more; among homeowners (four-fifths of those 65 and older), three-quarters had equity in their houses averaging $132,000; about 25 percent had incomes exceeding $47,000 (that's for individuals, and couples would be higher).
The essential budget question is how much we allow federal spending on the elderly to crowd out other national priorities. All else is subordinate.
A Blogosphere of Bigots (JOSTEIN GAARDER and THOMAS HYLLAND ERIKSEN, 7/28/11, NY Times)
The Islamophobes of Norway have no manifesto, but they share three fundamental views: that Norway is in the hands of a treacherous, spineless, politically correct elite that has betrayed the pure spirit of Norwegian culture by permitting demographic contamination; that Muslims will never be truly integrated (even if they pretend to be); and that there is a Muslim conspiracy to gain political dominance across Europe.
Hatred of Muslims and resentment of the left -- one of us has repeatedly received resentful diatribes against the "multiculturalist elite," and was mentioned in Mr. Breivik's own writings -- is not confined to Norway. Mr. Breivik has praised Gates of Vienna, a Web site that compares contemporary Europe to long-ago wars with the Ottomans. He has praised writers like Bruce Bawer, the American author of "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within," and Bat Ye'Or, the pseudonym for the British author of the conspiratorial "Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis." He is an enthusiastic reader of the virulently anti-Islamic blog of Pamela Geller, an American who leads the group "Stop Islamization of America" and gained notoriety for her opposition to an Islamic center near ground zero in Manhattan.
Europe's new right is, in other words, not neo-Nazi; it has swapped anti-Semitism for Islamophobia. After a hiatus of several hundred years, fear of Islam reemerged around 1989, as the Cold War was ending and Iranian mullahs issued a fatwa against the British writer Salman Rushdie. It gained popularity as increasing numbers of Muslims entered Europe as immigrants in the 1990s, and became widespread in the aftermath of 9/11. Traditional racism may actually be waning in several European countries, but hostility toward Islam and animosity toward Muslim immigrants and their children is on the rise. [...]
Conceding that a culturally diverse society raises knotty and complex social and political questions is one thing. It is quite another to state that a multicultural society is impossible, or that Islam is incompatible with democracy. Yet the blogosphere to which Mr. Breivik belonged took these views as a basic premise.
Left, right, left: how political shifts have altered the map of Europe: With 21 EU member states now under varying degrees of rightwing government, Europe has never been more blue. See how has its political complexion has changed in the 38 years since Britain joined the EEC (Sheila Pulham, Chris Fenn, Garry Blight and Guardian Research Department, 28 July 2011, The Guardian)
Just a little understanding of how similar politics is throughout the Anglosphere in particular might have helped President Obama and his allies in Congress
avoid interpreting their election victories as any kind of desire on the part of the American people to return top the Second Way. Watch the map at this site shift and then try to convince yourself that America is the one place that would counter-trend.
Cameron guru preaches 'Red Republicanism' (Ben Smith, July 28, 2011, Politico)
Phillip Blond, the celebrated policy adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, visited Washington this week to test the American reception to the "Red Tory" approach that helped sell Cameron and his party to the British public.
Blond shaped Cameron's argument that conservatism should focus not just on free-market liberty but on building a stronger society and that "Big Society" has become Cameron's version of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" or Tony Blair's "Third Way."
Blond made his case to legislators on Capitol Hill Tuesday and to Grover Norquist's private Wednesday Meeting of conservative leaders, and made the rounds of conservative activists and think tanks.
"I talked about how the model of capitalism that we've run with for the last 30 years is broken," he told POLITICO Thursday. "We spoke in the language of free markets, we spoke in the language of economic liberty, but what we've actually done is produced serfdom for the many and oligopolies and cartels for the few.
"I was very surprised by the widespread level of agreement that that got," he said.
Cancer checks 'have little impact' (Evening Standard, 29 Jul 2011)
Breast cancer screening has had little impact on falling death rates from the disease, according to new research.
Experts compared data from three pairs of European countries and found the countries within each pair experienced a similar fall in death rates.
This was despite a gap of 10 to 15 years between the countries in implementing a breast cancer screening programme.
Northern Ireland was compared with the Republic of Ireland, while the Netherlands was compared with Belgium, and Sweden with Norway.
From 1989 to 2006, deaths from breast cancer decreased by 29% in Northern Ireland and by 26% in the Republic of Ireland, according to the study, published in the British Medical Journal. Deaths also fell by 25% in the Netherlands and by 20% in Belgium and 25% in Flanders. Sweden deaths were down 16% compared to 24% in Norway.
The researchers, who analysed data on deaths from the World Health Organisation database, concluded: "Countries of each pair had similar healthcare services and prevalence of risk factors for breast cancer mortality but differing implementation of mammography screening, with a gap of about 10 to 15 years. The contrast between the time differences in implementation of mammography screening and the similarity in reductions in mortality between the country pairs suggest that screening did not play a direct part in the reductions in breast cancer mortality."
Nintendo 3DS price drops from $250 to $170; 20 free games for U.S. owners (Consumer Reports, Jul 28, 2011)
Nintendo announced today that on August 12, the price of its ground-breaking portable gaming device, the Nintendo 3DS, will be slashed from $250 to $170 in the U.S.
US Soccer fires men's national coach Bob Bradley (Chris Jenkins, 7/28/11, AP)
"I think any coach in this country, especially someone who has coached in America for a long time, would have an interest in coaching the national team,'' Schmid said in a teleconference. "I think that's going to be a yes answer from any American coach that you ask. But at the end of the day, is it the right thing? Is it the right time? Where are you coming from? Where are you at? All of that affects that ultimate decision. What I can tell you is I'm very happy where I'm at. I love the Sounders.''
The next competitive match for the U.S. will be the start of World Cup qualifying in June. The draw to determine possible opponents is set for Friday in Brazil.
Bradley's dismissal comes nearly a year after he was given a contract extension to continue coaching the team through 2014. But even as Bradley was given a new deal, there were concerns that the team had hit its ceiling.
Yes, the U.S. made it to the round of 16 in last year's World Cup - but it needed Donovan's last-minute heroics to make it out of what was seen as a relatively easy group beyond England, then was eliminated by Ghana in a game many thought was winnable.
Some American fans heavily criticized Bradley for his reliance on favorites such as his son Michael, a midfielder, and Jonathan Bornstein, a left back who took the brunt of the blame for the most recent collapse against Mexico.
Bornstein is a horror and should be just one of several players thanked for their service and moved along. Unfortunately, that should include Donovan, Dempsey, Cherundolo, DeMerit, Onyewu, Goodson, Bocanegra and any other current mainstay who will be over 30 by the next Cup (with the possible exception of Howard).
Assume you're playing Altidore with either Davies or Agudelo and you've got room for three more midfielders from the group of Holden, Feilhaber, Adu, Edu, Bedoya, Jose Torres, Robbie Rogers, Brek Shea, etc.
It's also time to hire a truly top flight coach, one who will fix the defense and employ a consistent formation where players fill roles, rather than the big names bending the formation around them. Carlo Ancelotti fits the bill on all those counts.
The Past Is a Foreign Country (JO NESBO, 7/26/11, NY Times)
In June I was bicycling with the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, and a mutual friend through Oslo, setting out for a hike on a forested mountain slope in this big yet little city. Two bodyguards followed us, also on bicycles. As we stopped at an intersection for a red light, a car drove up beside the prime minister. The driver called out through the open window: "Jens! There's a little boy here who thinks it would be cool to say hello to you."
The prime minister smiled and shook hands with the little boy in the passenger seat. "Hi, I'm Jens."
The prime minister wearing his bike helmet; the boy wearing his seat belt; both of them stopped for a red light. The bodyguards had stopped a discreet distance behind. Smiling. It's an image of safety and mutual trust. Of the ordinary, idyllic society that we all took for granted. How could anything go wrong? We had bike helmets and seat belts, and we were obeying the traffic rules.
Of course something could go wrong. Something can always go wrong. [...]
Yesterday, on the train, I heard a man shouting in fury. Before Friday, my automatic response would have been to turn around, maybe even move a little closer. After all, this could be an interesting disagreement that might entice me to take one side or the other. But now my automatic reaction was to look at my 11-year-old daughter to see whether she was safe, to look for an escape route in case the man was dangerous. I would like to believe that this new response will become tempered over time. But I already know that it will never disappear entirely.
After the bomb went off -- an explosion I felt in my home over a mile away -- and reports of the shootings out on the island of Utoya began to come in, I asked my daughter whether she was scared. She replied by quoting something I had once said to her: "Yes, but if you're not scared, you can't be brave."
So if there is no road back to how things used to be, to the naïve fearlessness of what was untouched, there is a road forward. To be brave. To keep on as before. To turn the other cheek as we ask: "Is that all you've got?" To refuse to let fear change the way we build our society.
The Empty Bully Pulpit: The president's compromises might be understandable -- if only Obama would explain where he's leading us. (Robert B. Reich, July 27, 2011, American Prospect)
Barack Obama is one of the most intelligent and eloquent people to grace the White House, which makes his abject failure to tell the story of our era all the more disappointing. Many who were drawn to him in 2008 were dazzled by the power of his words -- his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, his autobiography and subsequent policy book, his insights about race and other divisive issues during the campaign -- and were excited by the prospect of an "educator in chief" who would use the bully pulpit to explain what has happened to the United States in recent decades and to mobilize Americans to do what must be done.
But the man who has occupied the Oval Office since January 2009 is someone entirely different -- a man seemingly without a compass, a tactician who veers rightward one day and leftward the next, an inside-the-Beltway deal-maker who does not explain his compromises in light of larger goals.
Scant Evidence to Link 9/11 to Cancer, U.S. Report Says (ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS, 7/26/11, NY Times)
There is not enough evidence yet to say whether the dust and smoke cloud produced by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center caused cancer, federal officials concluded in a report released on Tuesday.
The finding, based on an initial review required by a new federal law, disappointed rescue and recovery workers and people who lived near the World Trade Center who have cancer diagnoses that they attribute to the attack. It means that they do not qualify for federal benefits to treat or compensate them for their cancer, at least until further study.
U.S. Jews: Who are we? (Leonard Fein, 7/26/11, Jewish Journal)
Now is when we get to the really interesting stuff, the ways we part not demographically but dispositionally and ideologically from others.
So, for example, homosexuality: Half of all Americans believe that "homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society." Among some religious communities, that figure drops substantially -- Evangelical churches (26 percent), Mormons (24 percent), Muslims (27 percent) -- while others are more welcoming -- Catholics (58 percent), mainline Protestant (56 percent). Jews, however, score 79 percent approval, right up there with Buddhists at 82 percent. Here it may be important to note that the data are almost four years old, and we do not know how volatile they are. (Attitudes toward homosexuality are a likely instance of that.) As with a few of the matters detailed below, events in "the real world" may have caused significant shifts, one way or the other, in people's dispositions.
The range of response is much narrower on the question of whether "the government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt." There, the national average is 62 percent -- it's 67 percent for Jews -- and the range is from a low of 57 percent (Evangelical churches) to a high of 79 percent (historically black churches). Jews are more inclined than most others to believe that "stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost" and to hold, by a substantial margin, that "it's best for our country to be active in world affairs." And, whereas 43 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 84 percent of Jews endorse abortion, 40 percent in all cases, 44 percent in most.
Forty-eight percent of Americans completely or mostly agree that "evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth." For members of Evangelical churches, that number drops to 23 percent, and for Mormons all the way to 21 percent. Among Jews, however, it rises to 77 percent.
I leave to the side most questions about specific religious belief -- life after death, heaven and hell, the authorship of the Bible, frequency and utility of prayer and more -- and urge the interested reader to go to religions.pewforum.org for the full report. But I can't resist one of this set: Are "angels and demons active in this world?" Sixty-eight percent of all Americans agree or mostly agree that they are, including 88 percent of Mormons, 79 percent of Muslims and 87 percent of members of historically black churches and of Evangelicals. For Jews, the number is 21 percent. (Fourteen percent of Americans completely disagree that angels and demons are active in our world; among Jews, 52 percent completely disagree.)
Seventy percent of Jews seldom or never read Scripture outside of religious services; for Americans in general, that figure is 45 percent. (I report the Jewish number with a straight face but with a heavy heart.)
Bush opens up on bin Laden: No "jubilation" at his death (Gabrielle Pedriani, 7/27/11, CBS News)
Former President George W. Bush is speaking candidly for the first time about the death of Osama bin Laden in an interview for the National Geographic Channel for a special which will debut next month.
"I felt a sense of closure. And I felt a sense of gratitude," Mr. Bush said when asked about Bin Laden's death for the National Geographic Channel's special tied to the 10th anniversary of September 11th, according to a press release. [...]
Coincidentally, the interview was scheduled to happen just two days after news broke that Navy Seals had successfully shot and killed bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Pakistan.
Mr. Bush, who reportedly received 500 interview requests immediately following bin Laden's death, refused them all - all except this one.
"We thought: 'Oh no he's either going to cancel the interview because he's going to run off to Washington or he's going to start talking to everybody,''" New York filmmaker and interviewer Peter Schnall told The Hollywood Reporter. "And to our surprise, that didn't happen."
The Professor and the Madman (John G. West July 27, 2011, Evolution News)
Breivik lists Darwin's Origin of Species as one of the "important" books he has read (p. 1407), and Social Darwinism is never far from the surface in his discussions of social policy. At one point he laments that "Social-darwinism was the norm before the 1950. Back then, it was allowed to say what we feel. Now, however, we have to disguise our preferences to avoid the horrible consequences of being labeled as a genetical preferentialist." (p. 1227) Breivik's vision for "a perfect Europe" also involves Social Darwinism, which he identifies with "logic" and "rationalist thought": "'Logic' and rationalist thought (a certain degree of national Darwinism) should be the fundament of our societies." (emphasis added, p. 1386)
Breivik's Social Darwinism rears its ugly head yet again in his discussions of global ecology and overpopulation. He argues that "radical policies will have to be implemented" to reduce the human population by more than half, or 3.8 billion people. (p. 1202) He writes that if "second and third world countries" cannot curb their production of human offspring, "nature will correct their suicidal tendencies as they are unable to feed their populations." (p. 1202) He further argues that Western countries should not interfere in this natural process, even if it results in mass starvation. "If starvation threatens the countries who have failed to follow our [population control] guidelines we should not support them by backing their corrupt leaders or send any form of aid." (p. 1202) Indeed, "[f]ood aid to 3rd world countries must stop immediately as it is the primary cause of overpopulation." (p. 1203)
Perhaps the most blatant example of Breivik's Social Darwinism is his endorsement of "reprogenetics," a form of "positive" eugenics to allow human beings to take control of their evolution and produce better humans through genetic engineering. According to Breivik, "[t]he never-ending collective pursuit for scientific evolution and perfection should become the benchmark and essence of our existence." (p. 1199) He explains further:
The Nazis destroyed the reputation of "eugenics" by combining it to scientific racism and mass extermination. But seeking biological perfection is still a logical concept and I don't see why we should abandon it. We just have to make sure that we offer it as a voluntary option to everyone or at least start by legalising it (promotional voluntary reprogenetics or private reprogenetics). We should legalise reproductive technologies that will allow parents to create off spring with biological improvement (reprogenetics). This must be a non-coercive form of biological improvement which will be predominantly motivated by individual competitiveness and the desire to create the best opportunities for children. (p. 1200)
Breivik advocates "[t]he commercialisation and state/media encouragement of reprogenetics favoring the Nordic genotype" and "[t]he usage of large scale surrogacy facilities as a secondary reproduction option for countries to compensate for non-sustainable fertility rates. The donors of eggs and sperm will then exclusively carry the Nordic genotypes." (p. 1192)
Breivik is clearly a madman and/or a moral monster, and his Social Darwinism did not "cause" his murderous rampage. Nor am I trying to suggest that modern Darwinists are somehow responsible for his heinous acts. Of course they aren't.
But Breivik's call for a new eugenics--as opposed to his murders--is another matter. The most disturbing thing about Breivik's eugenics proposals is that they are not simply inspired by his own private demons. Instead, they largely spring from "mainstream" Darwinists, past and present.
Do Low Tax Rates On Rich People Actually Ruin The Economy? (Henry Blodget, Jul. 14, 2011, Business Insider)
[A]nother one of the contentions of today's Republican party is that high income tax rates are always bad for the economy, because they deprive people of an incentive to work hard, thus making us a nation of lazy good-for-nothings.
This argument has been repeated so often and for so long that it is now basically regarded as fact.
But, interestingly, the history of income tax rates in the US actually suggests that it may be b.s.
Some of the most prosperous periods in US history (1950s and 1960s) have come during periods of super-high marginal income tax rates. And some of the most disastrous periods in US history (1930s, 2010s) have come after periods of super-low income tax rates.
In the good periods, moreover, the middle-class boomed and inequality between the country's highest earners and everyone else shrank. In the bad periods, meanwhile, inequality soared, and the richest 1% of the population came to earn a staggering amount of the country's income.
To boost future mileage, carmakers are likely to rely on today's advanced technology: To hit a 54.5-mpg target, the key will be applying what's already known or on the drawing boards to almost every vehicle, not just a relative handful. (Neela Banerjee, 7/28/11, Los Angeles Times)
From pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles to hybrids and subcompact cars, almost every vehicle sold in the U.S. is likely to feature the kinds of advanced technology now confined to the most fuel-efficient.
Although the new standard will be a big numerical step upward, experts say, the secret to achieving it is not some huge breakthrough. Rather, the key will be applying what's already known or on the drawing boards to almost every vehicle, not just a relative handful.
"You have to look at a vehicle not just as one thing that will put you over the goal line but all sorts of different things that will help you," said Richard Truett, a Ford Motor Co. spokesman. "We have a head start on that. But everyone has to do it."
GOPers chant 'fire him' at RSC Staffer (JOHN BRESNAHAN & JAKE SHERMAN | 7/27/11, Politico)
House Republicans 0n Wednesday morning were calling for the firing of Republican Study Committee staffers after they were caught sending e-mails to conservative groups urging them to pressure GOP lawmakers to vote against a debt proposal from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Infuriated by the e-mails from Paul Teller, the executive director of the RSC, and other staffers, members started chanting "Fire him, fire him!" while Teller stood silently at a closed-door meetings of House Republicans.
"It was an unbelievable moment," said one GOP insider. "I've never seen anything like it."
The Cult That Is Destroying America (Paul Krugman 7/26/11, NY Times)
Think about what's happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating -- offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent -- because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.
The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president -- actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform -- his only major change to government -- was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else -- including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment -- is according to the conservative playbook.
Obama's Battleground-State Blues: The president's national poll numbers aren't good, but they're worse in battleground states. (osh Kraushaar , July 27, 2011, National Journal)
[I]n every reputable battleground state poll conducted over the past month, Obama's support is weak. In most of them, he trails Republican front-runner Mitt Romney. For all the talk of a closely fought 2012 election, if Obama can't turn around his fortunes in states such as Michigan and New Hampshire, next year's presidential election could end up being a GOP landslide.
Take Ohio, a perennial battleground in which Obama has campaigned more than in any other state (outside of the D.C. metropolitan region). Fifty percent of Ohio voters now disapprove of his job performance, compared with 46 percent who approve, according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted from July 12-18.
Among Buckeye State independents, only 40 percent believe that Obama should be reelected, and 42 percent approve of his job performance. Against Romney, Obama leads 45 percent to 41 percent--well below the 50 percent comfort zone for an incumbent.
The news gets worse from there. In Michigan, a reliably Democratic state that Obama carried with 57 percent of the vote, an EPIC-MRA poll conducted July 9-11 finds him trailing Romney, 46 percent to 42 percent. Only 39 percent of respondents grade his job performance as "excellent" or good," with 60 percent saying it is "fair" or "poor." The state has an unemployment rate well above the national average, and the president's approval has suffered as a result.
In Iowa, where Republican presidential contenders are getting in their early licks against the president, his approval has taken a hit. In a Mason-Dixon poll conducted for a liberal-leaning group, Romney held a lead of 42 percent to 39 percent over the president, with 19 percent undecided. Even hyper-conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann ran competitively against Obama in the Hawkeye State, trailing 47 percent to 42 percent.
The July Granite State Poll pegs the president's approval at 46 percent among New Hampshire voters, with 49 percent disapproving. A separate robo-poll conducted this month by Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling shows him trailing Romney in the state, 46 percent to 44 percent.
G.D. Spradlin, Prolific Character Actor, Dies at 90 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 7/26/11, NY Times)
Gervase Duan Spradlin was born on Aug. 31, 1920, in Pauls Valley, Okla., and grew up on a farm. A son of schoolteachers, he earned a degree in education from the University of Oklahoma in 1941 and then taught history. In World War II he served in the Army Air Forces in China as an air traffic controller. After his discharge he returned to the University of Oklahoma and earned a law degree in 1948.
He went to work for the Phillips Petroleum Company, first as head of its legal department in Caracas, Venezuela, then in Oklahoma City. In 1951, he teamed up with a geologist to drill their own oil wells. Mr. Spradlin made a fortune, retired in 1960 and spent a year and a half sailing in the Bahamas with his family.
It wasn't enough. "Being rich changes surprisingly little," he said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1967. "You still have to have an absorbing interest in life, something to do to make you feel alive."
He ran Senator John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in Oklahoma in 1960, and he himself ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oklahoma City in 1965. That year he earned a master's degree in Latin American studies from the University of Miami.
But the passion he longed for turned out to be acting. He developed an interest in it by watching his teenage daughter Wendy perform in local drama productions. Soon he was acting in plays himself. He moved to Los Angeles and began to audition. Fred Roos, a prominent casting director and producer, cast him in "I Spy," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." and other television series. Mr. Roos was later co-producer of "The Godfather, Part II" and "Apocalypse Now." [...]
His grandson said Mr. Spradlin had often remarked that the hardest job he ever had was going door to door selling life insurance when he was a law student. But he learned salesmanship skills that served him well in Hollywood: he would arrive for appointments with producers, directors and casting directors in an expensive suit, exuding polished charm. Receptionists would usher him in to their bosses under the impression that he must be a well-heeled investor, not just another eager actor.
Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine: The not-so-hidden subtexts of the popular children's show. (Jessica Roake, July 26, 2011, Slate)
There is something rotten on the Island of Sodor, home to Thomas the Tank Engine. Viewers won't find guns, violence, or anything even approaching a double-entendre. There's none of the blatant racism of early Disney Song of the South or religion delivered through talking produce, as in Veggie Tales. Yet something about Thomas and Friends gives liberal parents the creeps.
For example: In 2009, academic Shauna Wilton wrote that Thomas carried a "conservative political ideology." Her report was derided as whimsy-hating "political correctness" by conservative media outlets. But wait: Thomas espouses top-down leadership, is male-dominated, punishes dissent, and is uninterested in the mushy sensitivity of its PBS counterparts. (Thomas and his "friends" often "tease" like this: " 'Wake up lazy bones! Do some hard work for a change!") Its innate conservatism is as obvious as the liberalism of cooperative, solar-panel-building Bob the Builder and his band of hippie hammer-lovers. Given charges that Thomas is anti-Semitic and that Sodor is a fascist paradise, Wilton's assessment is mild. Obviously, it's foolish to claim that Thomas is a fascist. He and his friends are clearly imperialists.
Google's New Twitter Killer (Google+, the booming new social networking system, has attracted some 20 million users in a few weeks and is rendering Twitter obsolete. Facebook will be next (Dan Lyons, Jul 27, 2011, Daily Beast)
The funny thing is, the shot that Google fired at Facebook seems to have ricocheted and hit the wrong target. Because right now the biggest victim of Google+ appears to be Twitter, the microblogging service.
In fact, Google+ could be a death blow for Twitter, a company that after five years in business is still struggling to figure out a business model while coping with chronic management turmoil.
Twitter has been trying to sort itself out lately, but just as that effort begins, along comes Google+, a system that lets you do everything you can do on Twitter but is better in some important ways. Indeed, using Google+ makes you realize that Twitter doesn't just need some little tweaks and fixes. The issue is that some of the fundamental things about Twitter just make no sense.
For one thing, when you use Google+ you're not constrained by Twitter's ridiculous 140-character limit. So instd of sqzng 2 much info in2 2 ltl space 4cing rdr 2 parse grble & get hdache, you can just read and write with full words like a normal human being. What a blast of innovation!
Why every Indian must fly the tricolour: It is every Indian's fundamental right to fly the tricolour with dignity and honour. If the national flag is flown by a larger number of Indians, it will revolutionise, significantly, the way we think and feel about India, making us a happier and prouder nation, while enhancing our sense of patriotism (Naveen Jindal, July 26, 2011, rediff)
I am glad that from January 26, 2002, after 55 years of Independence, Indian citizens were permitted to fly their national flag throughout the year. This was the result of a long and protracted legal battle. And on January 23, 2004 in a historic judgment, the honourable Supreme Court held that the right to fly the national flag freely, with respect and dignity, was a fundamental right.
The tricolour has always been a great source of inspiration for me since my childhood. When we display the national flag, we rise above our religion, political affiliation and the region we belong to. In doing so, we don't merely show our love for our country -- we concomitantly partake in our collective and individual pride in being Indian. The flag also reminds us of our duties towards our country.
When a company flies the national flag at its office or factory premises, it is indubitably a source of genuine inspiration for the workers and the staff, who feel that they are working not just for the company, but for the country as well. It is a symbolic way of placing national interest ahead of everything.
I feel strongly that since all of us now have the right to fly the tricolour, we must display the national flag every day. The joy and happiness that it will bring to us is difficult to articulate, but it certainly will generate a powerful felt experience. The tricolour across the Indian skies will, of needs, inculcate a deep feeling of patriotism and serve as a motivator for everyone, inspiring us to attain greater heights.
A liberal display of the national flag promotes patriotism. The tricolour played a pivotal role in uniting people during India's freedom struggle. Holding the flag , flying it high above their heads, Indians all over the country braved the batons of the British, and when one flag bearer succumbed to the atrocities of the British, the flag was passed on to the other. The flag gave them the inner strength to fight the British.
The tricolour, as a symbol of free India, reminds us that we are all equal, irrespective of our religion, caste, and creed.
The GOP's Reality Test: Republicans who oppose Boehner's debt deal are playing into Obama's hands. (WSJ, 7/26/11)
Strangely, some Republicans and conservative activists are condemning this as a fiscal sellout. Senator Jim DeMint put out a statement raking the Speaker for seeking "a better political debt deal, instead of a debt solution" (emphasis, needless to say, his). The usually sensible Club for Growth and Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, are scoring a vote for the Boehner plan as negative on similar grounds.
But what none of these critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner's plan. The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.
This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees. The reality is that the debt limit will be raised one way or another, and the only issue now is with how much fiscal reform and what political fallout.
California's future homeowners: California increasingly will need immigrants and their children to fill the jobs and buy the homes vacated by aging baby boomers. (Peter Schrag, July 27, 2011, LA Times)
Four years ago, USC demographer Dowell Myers predicted, in effect, that in the not-too-distant future Americans might be worrying less about too many illegal Mexican immigrants than about the education and training of those already here.
Who, Myers asked in his book, "Immigrants and Boomers: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America," will fill the skilled jobs held by the millions of retiring baby boomers in the decades ahead? Who will be able to buy their homes?
Myers' answer: For a large percentage of those retirees, their replacements will have to come from among immigrants and their children, the people who will compose the largest part of California's working-age and home-buying population, and an increasing part of the U.S. population as well. At the same time, the sharp decline in the Mexican birthrate of the past generation will slow the growth of that country's labor force and reduce the pressure to emigrate. In another decade or two, we may need more people of working and home-buying age than we've got.
Newly compiled census data on California homeownership, combined with recent economic and demographic reports from Mexico and the United States, confirm both points.
Norway killer: Right-wing British blogger fears he provided inspiration for Anders Behring Breivik (Richard Alleyne, Duncan Gardham, 26 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
Paul Ray, 35, who writes under the name Lionheart, said he was shocked and horrified by the atrocity and had closed down his blog of four years.
Mr Ray, originally from Bedfordshire but now living in Malta, told The Daily Telegraph: "I am convinced that I have never met him and I can clear my name, but it does worry me that he got inspiration from my blog and it does look that way.
"I do worry that he has taken what I say and overreacted to it. I worry about that. That is my main worry." [...]
Mr Ray said that he was in the process of distancing himself from the EDL because they were too violent.
Oregon Congressman David Wu to resign amid sex scandal with teenager (ASSOCIATED PRESS, July 26th 2011)
Democratic Rep. David Wu of Oregon announced Tuesday that he will resign amid political fallout from an 18-year-old woman's allegations she had an unwanted sexual encounter with him.
Within days of the allegation, Democratic leaders requested a House Ethics Committee investigation of his conduct. Wu had said Monday he would not seek re-election, but had come under increasing pressure to step down.
Guinta: Boehner plan is best we can get right now (Drew Cline, Jul 26, 2011, Union Leader)
In an interview this afternoon, Rep. Frank Guinta told me that he supports House Speaker John Boehner's debt ceiling proposal, which has Republicans and conservatives hotly divided. The Club for Growth opposes it, while House Budget Committee Chairman (Guinta is on the Budget Committee) Paul Ryan and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support it. [...]
Guinta's goal is to "Get back down to our historic average of government expenditures vs GDP, which should give you a surplus, plus pass a balanced budget amendment. To me, if you do that, you then give predictability not just to the markets, but it gives predictability to job creators.
"All those entities that have collectively upwards of $1 trillion sitting on the sidelines" will start to invest again, he said.
"It's not perfect," Guinta said of the Boehner plan. "But short of Cut, Cap and Balance, it is the strongest cap on spending that we can actually pass..."
AP Interview: Israeli parliament speaker concerned about state of country's democracy (Associated Press, July 26, 2011)
Israel's parliamentary speaker on Tuesday expressed concern over the state of the country's democracy following a recent wave of legislation that was widely seen as an attempt to stifle dissent.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Reuven Rivlin said he was especially worried about any law that could undermine the rights of Israel's Arab minority.
"This is unacceptable, it is a danger to the existence of the state of Israel," he said.
Bachmann Continues to Omit Details of Past Work for IRS (Beth Reinhard, July 26, 2011, Hotline)
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., continues to highlight her legal experience without mentioning that the one and only employer of her services was the Internal Revenue Service.
In a press release from her congressional office late Monday, Bachmann, also a presidential candidate, praised the IRS decision to do away with a two-year limit on claims from spouses of accused tax delinquents. The press release describes Bachmann only as a "former federal tax litigation attorney,'' making her sound more like a lawyer who helped clients lower their tax bills than a U.S. Department of Treasury employee who sued tax scofflaws on behalf of the IRS.
Bachmann Continues to Omit Details of Past Work for IRS (Beth Reinhard, July 26, 2011, Hotline)
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., continues to highlight her legal experience without mentioning that the one and only employer of her services was the Internal Revenue Service.
In a press release from her congressional office late Monday, Bachmann, also a presidential candidate, praised the IRS decision to do away with a two-year limit on claims from spouses of accused tax delinquents. The press release describes Bachmann only as a "former federal tax litigation attorney,'' making her sound more like a lawyer who helped clients lower their tax bills than a U.S. Department of Treasury employee who sued tax scofflaws on behalf of the IRS.
Unfortunately for Rick Perry, He's No George W. Bush (Paul Waldman, 07/26/2011, American Prospect)
It's easy to forget that when he ran, Bush was touted as "a different kind of Republican," with the hard edges smoothed down. He talked about education, he reached out to minorities, he was a "compassionate conservative." Perry, in contrast, has no problem with his hard edges. Take religion: While we remember Bush as an extremely religious president, when he ran, his outreach to the religious right was subtle and quiet, as an article in the Deseret News explains, with a quote from Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary:
"Bush's brilliance with the religious right was that he did everything behind closed doors. There were no photo-ops, there were no press releases saying I met reverend so and so today. Bush did everything through intermediaries, and so there was no public trail of him reaching out to the religious right. The irony is that here comes along Perry, the dollar-general-store version of Bush, and here he is meeting with these people in public and you start looking at the line up of the people he's cozying up to in public and all he is doing is setting himself up for trouble later on if by some miracle he actually wins the nomination ... Some of these guys are really beyond the fringe -- folks who George Bush would have never been caught dead with within a hundred miles of."
That's a bit of an exaggeration -- it wasn't exactly a secret that Bush was courting religious leaders. But it's true that he would never have appeared at a sectarian event like Perry's ginormous pray-in "The Response," which takes place on August 6. And while Bush wasn't shy about his affection for Jesus, he actually did make an effort to show respect to those of other faiths. Just one example: In the single most awesome quote in a presidency full of them, Bush said, "I can't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah." Indeed. [...]
The George W. Bush of 2000 probably couldn't get the nomination of today's Republican Party. All his talk of how he had worked with Democrats in the Texas Legislature and how he wanted to end Washington's partisan rancor would have gotten him branded a squish who couldn't be trusted.
Eric Cantor to fellow GOPers: Quit your whining about debt ceiling and support Speaker Boehner (Aliyah Shahid, 7/26/11, DAILY NEWS)
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has a message for his fellow Republicans: Quit whining.
The Virginia Republican reportedly lashed out during a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday, urging members of his party to rally around Speaker John Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for trillions in spending cuts.
The Norway Shooter's Zionist Streak: Anders Breivik's embrace of Israel is the latest sign of a shift among reactionaries in Europe--with fascism and Zionism going hand in hand, fueled by Islamophobia (Michelle Goldberg, Jul 25, 2011, Daily Beast)
The European far right has long been rooted in Nazism, and for decades, anti-Semitism was its hallmark. But Breivik's embrace of Israel, far from being unique, is just the latest sign of a great shift among the continent's reactionaries. Indeed, in European politics, fascism and an aggressive sort of Zionism increasingly go together.
You can see it in country after country. While Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of France's ultraright Front National, is a Holocaust denier, his daughter and successor, Marine Le Pen, is working to cleanse the party of its reputation for Jew hatred, telling the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it "has always been Zionistic." In the early 1990s, the British National Party organized a violent neo-Nazi gang called Combat 18. In 2009, the party's leader, Nick Griffin, boasted that his was the only British party to support Israel's war "against the terrorists" in Gaza.
Earlier this year, Newsweek ran a story about this phenomenon titled "Europe's Extreme Righteous: Far-right European politicians find love--and common cause--in Israel." It opened with three politicians, "a Belgian politician known for his contacts with SS veterans, an Austrian with neo-Nazi ties, and a Swede whose political party has deep roots in Swedish fascism," visiting the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. They met with members of the Knesset and signed something called the Jerusalem declaration, which affirmed, "We stand at the vanguard in the fight for the Western, democratic community" against the "totalitarian threat" of Islamic fundamentalism.
Obviously, Islamophobia is responsible for the bizarre alliance between Israel and European white nationalists. Muslims have come to occupy the place Jews once held in the reactionary European imagination; they're seen as agents of an apocalyptic conspiracy that threatens Europe's very survival. The specter of the coming caliphate has crowded out the old myth of the scheming elders of Zion. Naturally, the self-described agents of the counter-jihad see the enemy of their enemy as an ally. It's the inverse of the anti-Semitic alliance between Hitler and Haj Amin el-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem.
Grover Norquist tips his hat to Harry Reid's plan (BURGESS EVERETT, 7/26/11, Politico)
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist has found something to like in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan to raise the debt ceiling.
"Harry Reid's proposal does not raise taxes," Norquist said in an interview late Monday with CNN's Piers Morgan.
Plugged-In Poverty: Media images of homeless families and hungry children distort poverty policy. (Richard Rector, 7/26/11, National Review)
Year by year, the poor tend to be better off. Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households.
In part, this is because of the normal downward trend in prices that sets in after consumer items are introduced. Initially, new products tend to be expensive and affordable only to the affluent. Over time, prices fall, and the products saturates the entire population -- including poor households. As a rule of thumb, poor households tend to obtain modern conveniences about a dozen years after the middle class. [...]
Let's look at housing.
The typical news story about poverty features a homeless family with kids sleeping in the back of a minivan. But government data show that only one in 70 poor persons are homeless.
Another common media image of poverty is a despondent family living in a dilapidated mobile home. But only a tenth of the poor live in trailers; the rest live in houses or apartments, many of which are in good repair. The poor are rarely overcrowded. In fact, the average poor American has more living space than the average non-poor European.
How about hunger? Activists proclaim, "At the end of every day, 17 million children go to bed hungry." TV news reports wail that America faces a "hunger crisis" in which "nearly one in four kids" is hungry.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which conducts the nation's food-consumption and hunger survey, says otherwise. The USDA reports that 988,000 children (or 1.3 percent of all American children) personally experienced very low food security -- which means "reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns" -- at any point in 2009.
During the full course of the year, only one child in 67 was reported "hungry," even temporarily, because the family couldn't afford enough food. Ninety-nine percent of children did not skip a single meal during 2009 because of lack of financial resources.
Left For Dead: The Israeli left has collapsed in the last decade. But the right, despite its successes, is dying, too, brought down by Russian-imported maximalism and American-imported political consultants. (Liel Leibovitz, Jul 26, 2011, Tablet)
At first glance, pronouncing the Israeli right dead sounds like a bit of sophistry. The current governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is widely regarded as the most stringently conservative in Israel's history. Since being voted into office in 2009, it has, among other achievements: de facto outlawed the public commemoration of the Nakba, the Palestinian narrative of the events that led to Israel's establishment in 1948 and to the expulsion of nearly three quarters of a million Arabs from their homes; passed a bill requiring new immigrants to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a stroke of legislation that mainly targets Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to marry Israeli Arabs and become Israeli citizens; enacted the anti-boycott bill; and threatened to establish official committees of inquiry targeting human-rights and civil-rights nonprofits. But this busy résumé hides the fact that the political and ideological leviathan that shaped so much of the country's character for its first five decades has been supplanted by a new and foreign political culture that would have been utterly unrecognizable to Israelis even a decade ago.
One major influence on that culture arrived in Israel from Russia after 1989, along with the million or so immigrants who made aliyah after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While it is never wise to speak of a culture as if it were inalterable and hereditary, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that, to the extent that Russian political culture can be discussed, it is a ghastly oppressive enterprise. This is, after all, a nation that has spent much of the past millennium stumbling from one oppressive autocracy to the next. The majority of Russia's population lived, until as recently as 1861, as serfs. As Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of history at Harvard and a former Soviet expert, suggested in a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, given the Russians' iron-fisted history, they have traditionally expected their leaders to be groznyi, a word that, applied to Czar Ivan IV, was improperly translated as "terrible" but really means "awesome." This, Pipes wrote, explains why a 2003 survey found that 22 percent of Russians supported democracy, while as many as 53 percent actively disliked it. Pipes called this phenomenon, still very much in force today, a flight from freedom, and he explained it had much to do with Russia's perception of itself as a country under permanent siege. The prominent newspaper Izvestiya, he noted, captured this spirit perfectly when it described Russians as "living in trenches," surrounded by enemies.
It takes a very small leap of imagination to see how perfectly this mentality translates into Hebrew: In Israel, aspiring politicians born in the former Soviet Union found that talk of trenches and enemies made for stellar political currency.
The most renowned example of this new autocratic style is, of course, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's current foreign minister. The Moldovan-born politician started his career as Netanyahu's assistant; within less than two decades, he surfaced as his former boss's most valuable political partner and, some say, puppet master. Lieberman's path to power was simple: Whereas most other right-wing politicians spoke sotto voce about ideological opponents, he favored incendiary statements. The Israeli left, he told a radio interviewer in 2007, was responsible for all the nation's woes. Appearing on television that same year, he compared a prominent civil rights group to concentration camp capos. He snubbed or humiliated foreign dignitaries who would not play by his protocol, refusing, for example, to meet with the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when da Silva chose to skip the customary visit to Theodor Herzl's grave. While most Israeli pundits saw such acts as petty and harmful to Israel's standing in the world, most Israeli voters think Lieberman is groznyi: In mock elections held in Israeli high schools in 2009, a majority of students said they would vote for Lieberman.
But Lieberman is far from alone. Nearly every one of the current government's repressive bills was sponsored by politicians who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The Nakba law, for example, was sponsored by the Moscow-born Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu. The anti-boycott bill was the brainchild of Ze'ev Elkin of Likud, who emigrated from Ukraine. The bill to form official committees of investigation targeting the left, defeated last week in the Knesset, was formed by Faina Kirschenbaum, also from Ukraine. The list goes on.
Even some staunch Likudniks have been appalled by the Russification of the Israeli right. Most vocal among them was Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Knesset and one of the party's most prominent figures. A day after the anti-boycott bill passed, the chairman took the unlikely step of criticizing the parliament he himself headed. His ire was reserved for his colleagues on the right; they, he argued, are a disgrace to the legacy of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, the founder of revisionist Zionism and the ideological founding father of Israeli conservatism.
"I stand ashamed and mortified before my mentor, Jabotinsky, for not having succeeded in protecting the individual, whom he likened to a monarch, against the parliamentary fists of the majority," Rivlin wrote. "It might have been hoped that in an era in which Jabotinsky's followers are scattered across the whole political spectrum, from the coalition to the opposition, things would be different. But in the absence of an ideological backbone, it appears that even the deep commitment to democracy and individual freedoms of those who call themselves his successors is conditional. It is the State of Israel that is compelled to pay the price of political interests that supersede national interests."
Other Likud stalwarts were equally horrified. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, for example--the son of Eliyahu Meridor, a former Likud Member of Knesset and close confidant of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin--gave repeated interviews in which he called several of the legislative initiatives brought forth by Lieberman and his associates "very dangerous." Lieberman wasted no time: Meridor, he told the Israeli media, was a "fineschmecker," a derogatory Yiddish term for an elitist dandy.
And, as American legislators are learning, once politics becomes a zero-sum game, it is very hard for moderate and mindful legislators to thrive. Ze'ev Elkin, the author of the anti-boycott bill, is a great example. When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon abandoned the Likud to form Kadima, he was searching for a token settler to add to his new parliamentary faction as a nod to his former supporters in the settler movement who had largely abandoned him in light of his commitment to withdraw from Gaza; he found Elkin. In Elkin's native Ukraine, the young politician had been known as a capable and committed Zionist activist. After emigrating to Israel in 1990, he excelled in his academic studies, earning degrees in both mathematics and history. When interviewed by Sharon's associates, he expressed views that were right-of-center, but he stood out as a pragmatic, fair-minded, and soft-spoken individual, a perfect choice for Kadima's transideological aspirations. Elected to the Knesset in 2006 as a member of Kadima, Elkin soon realized that the winds were blowing away from Sharon's centrist platform. In 2008, he quit Kadima and joined the Likud. Within a few years, he learned that the only way to survive in a perpetually rightward-moving political universe was to move even further to the right. This, claim some who have long known Elkin, is what's really behind the anti-boycott bill he sponsored. Aviad Friedman, the Sharon aide who recruited Elkin to politics, told the Israeli daily Maariv last week that "the anti-boycott bill may be good for Elkin when he faces off his rivals in the Likud, but it is very bad for Israel, and I think that deep inside, Ze'ev Elkin knows this well."
The ideas of the Russified Israeli right find a clear reflection in current Russian political culture, down to the details of the bills that Russian-born Israeli politicians sponsor in the Knesset. In his 2004 State of the Union address for example, Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president, announced his intention to investigate nonprofit human rights organizations "obtaining funding from influential foreign or domestic foundations." Accepting international funding is standard operating procedure for many nongovernmental organizations the world over, but Putin's speech insinuated that those who criticized the government and profited from foreign funds were disloyal to Russia and somehow dangerous. Within a few years, Putin and his henchmen have succeeded in creating an environment in which it is nearly impossible for NGOs to operate successfully, thereby severely crippling the possibility of a robust political opposition. Faina Kirschenbaum's proposal to investigate left-wing NGOs, and her allegations that the foreign funds some of those NGOs receive--lawfully and transparently--are a sign of nefariousness, are a page out of the Putin playbook.
Tina Fey, Comic Genius: The 30 Rock creator solved comedy's alleged "women problem" by fighting chauvinism with funny. (Elizabeth Weingarten, July 26, 2011, Slate)
With every acerbic episode of 30 Rock, every impromptu one-liner, and every self-deprecating remark, Fey is reshaping the way both genders see female comedians. "There was this myth going around for a while that women couldn't be smart and funny, and she has completely exploded that myth," says Time magazine editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe, explaining how Tina landed a spot in the magazine's 100 most influential people list. Tina has "opened the door for dozens and dozens of other funny women to step forward."
Fey became the third woman to receive the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2010 (the prize has existed for 12 years), and was the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live.
That job wasn't so impressive, Fey insisted at an April Bossypants signing in Washington, D.C. "Before me, there were only three [other] head writers," she explained. "It's not like being the first woman president."
But that's precisely the attitude that has propelled Fey into the spotlight. In a world where feminists are often caricatured as strident fanatics, she's refreshingly flippant. She transcends the politics of gender in comedy by ridiculing them: What's the difference between female and male comedy writers? "The men urinate in cups. And sometimes jars," she writes in Bossypants.
She impugns the male tendency to pigeonhole female performers, again with comedy. This time, it's a story about Amy Poehler's early days at Saturday Night Live. Poehler did something lewd at a meeting, which prompted Jimmy Fallon to exclaim: "Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it."
As Fey tells it, Poehler then spun around, vehemently responding: "I don't f[***]ing care if you like it."
From this exchange, Fey draws a salient lesson for all women: "Do your thing and don't care if they like it."
The SteelDrivers On Mountain Stage (NPR, 7/25/11)
The band consists of new lead vocalist/guitarist Gary Nichols, Mike Fleming on the bass, banjo player Richard Bailey, Tammy Rogers on the fiddle and Mike Henderson on guitar and mandolin. Signed to Rounder Records in mid-2000, the group has released two successful studio albums, The SteelDrivers and Reckless. Included here is a performance of "Guitars, Whiskey, Guns and Knives," which wasn't heard on the radio broadcast.
The Arab Spring Is Still Alive: Our 'realists' also doubted democracy in Eastern Europe and South Africa. (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 7/26/11, WSJ)
An AP headline the other day summed up the conventional wisdom: "Arab Spring Stalled." "The stalling" in the Middle East, wrote Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass in the Financial Times the week before, leaves the region "less tolerant, less prosperous and less stable than what existed." Mr. Haass, a leading voice in the realist camp, sounded a nostalgic note for the days the U.S. maintained the Arab status quo together with the Saudi royals. "It will not be springtime any time soon in the Middle East," he concluded.
By this line of thinking, change in the Mideast carries almost exclusively bad consequences (political chaos, empowered Islamists, regional instability) that the U.S. can at best contain--rather than opportunities that Washington might seize to help build better, freer societies and undermine American enemies. Anyone who remembers the debates of the early post-Cold War era may feel the prick of déjà vu.
Before the Obama presidency, George H.W. Bush's administration was the last with pronounced realist leanings, seeing national interest narrowly and minimizing values in foreign policy calculations. To define the "Obama Doctrine" recently, columnist Fareed Zakaria approvingly cited then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel saying that, "If you had to put [President Obama] in a category, he's probably more realpolitik, like Bush 41." The case made by realists such as Mr. Haass, who served on Bush 41's national security council staff, must resonate with a president who's reluctant to assert himself in the Middle East.
One hopes that the disinclination won't be as misplaced and costly today as it was two decades ago. Bush 41 warned of a new era of "despotism" and "suicidal nationalism" in communism's wake, and he pressed to keep the Soviet Union together. Faced with a disintegrating Yugoslavia, his administration decided that, as then-Secretary of State James Baker put it, "we don't have a dog in this fight." Realpolitik meant washing our hands of the hard cases. But only when the U.S. properly engaged in reshaping the world did much of the Soviet camp join a united and free Europe, did the Balkan conflicts end, and did stability, that beloved realist shibboleth, return.
The Arab world begins this journey in no worse shape than did many recent budding democracies, including in Eastern Europe
Roofer hailed a hero after Norway island rescue (Glenda Kwek, July 26, 2011, Sydney Morning Herald)
"You do not get scared in such a situation, you just do what it takes," Marcel Gleffe said.
But the 32-year-old German roofer's actions of sailing towards Utoya island on Friday afternoon - even as gunman Anders Behring Breivik was on his shooting spree - to try and rescue the youths who were trying to escape from him, has been hailed as nothing short of heroic. [...]
"I immediately suspected that there was a connection to the attack in Oslo. I know the difference between fireworks and gunfire. I knew what it was about," Mr Gleffe, who was described in media reports as having a military background, told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.
"In such a situation, you don't think at all," he told Der Spiegel.
"There were people swimming everywhere in the water. I threw them lifejackets and pulled those into the boat who were having the most trouble. Everyone was screaming, but they were also helping each other."
Mr Gleffe brought his boat as close to the shore of Utoya island as he could and kept an eye out for Mr Breivik - whom he had earlier spotted through his binoculars.
He was initially puzzled as to why some of the youths were frightened of him when he tried to rescue them, with some screaming "don't come too close" or "do you want to kill us", but later found out that Mr Breivik, while dressed in a policeman's uniform, had called the youths to come to him before he fired on them.
Mr Gleffe made around four or five boat trips and managed to pull up to 30 people out from the water. Together with other campers, they rescued a total of 150 people from the island.
A Right-Wing Monster (ROSS DOUTHAT, 7/25/11, NY Times)
For many years, a quiz entitled "Al Gore or the Unabomber?" circulated on conservative Web sites. The quiz juxtaposed passages from the former vice president's eco-manifesto "Earth in the Balance" with quotes from Theodore Kaczynski's critiques of industrial civilization and asked the reader to guess which writer was which.
Was it the bearded hermit who hailed "isolated pockets of resistance fighters" for struggling against modern society's "assault on the earth"? No, that would be the former vice president. Was it Kaczynski, the mathematics Ph.D. turned mad bomber, who complained about the "destructive" impact of bringing a child into "the hugely consumptionist way of life so common in the industrial world"? No, Gore again.
Enterprising left-wing bloggers have already begun to play a similar game with Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who apparently justified last week's mass murder of helpless teenage campers with a 1,500-page "compendium" calling for a right-wing revolution against Europe's ruling class. Judging by the manifesto's contents, Breivik has roughly the same relationship to the cultural right that Kaczynski had to certain strains of environmentalism. The darkest aspects of his ideology belong strictly to the neo-fascist fringe. But many of his beliefs and arguments echo the rhetoric of mainstream cultural conservatives, in Europe and America alike.
Killings in Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought in U.S. (SCOTT SHANE, 7/24/11, NY Times)
The Gates of Vienna, a blog that ordinarily keeps up a drumbeat of anti-Islamist news and commentary, closed its pages to comments Sunday "due to the unusual situation in which it has recently found itself."
Its operator, who describes himself as a Virginia consultant and uses the pseudonym "Baron Bodissey," wrote on the site Sunday that "at no time has any part of the Counterjihad advocated violence."
The name of that Web site -- a reference to the siege of Vienna in 1683 by Muslim fighters who, the blog says in its headnote, "seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe" -- was echoed in the title Mr. Breivik chose for his manifesto: "2083: A European Declaration of Independence." He chose that year, the 400th anniversary of the siege, as the target for the triumph of Christian forces in the European civil war he called for to drive out Islamic influence.
Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and a consultant on terrorism, said it would be unfair to attribute Mr. Breivik's violence to the writers who helped shape his world view. But at the same time, he said the counterjihad writers do argue that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam "is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged. Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged."
"This rhetoric," he added, "is not cost-free."
Dr. Sageman, who is also a forensic psychiatrist, said he saw no overt signs of mental illness in Mr. Breivik's writings. He said Mr. Breivik bears some resemblance to Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who also spent years on a manifesto and carried out his mail bombings in part to gain attention for his theories. One obvious difference, Dr. Sageman said, is that Mr. Kaczynski was a loner who spent years in a rustic Montana cabin, while Mr. Breivik appears to have been quite social.
Mr. Breivik's declaration did not name Mr. Kaczynski or acknowledge the numerous passages copied from the Unabomber's 1995 manifesto, in which the Norwegian substituted "multiculturalists" or "cultural Marxists" for Mr. Kaczynski's "leftists" and made other small wording changes.
By contrast, he quoted the American and European counterjihad writers by name, notably Mr. Spencer, author of 10 books, including "Islam Unveiled" and "The Truth About Muhammad."
Mr. Breivik frequently cited another blog, Atlas Shrugs, and recommended the Gates of Vienna among Web sites. Pamela Geller, an outspoken critic of Islam who runs Atlas Shrugs, wrote on her blog Sunday that any assertion that she or other antijihad writers bore any responsibility for Mr. Breivik's actions was "ridiculous."
"If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists," she wrote.
Chinese rhino cups set Antiques Roadshow record (New Zealand Herald, Jul 26, 2011)
A collection of Chinese cups carved from rhinoceros horns has become the most valuable find in the 16-year history of the television programme Antiques Roadshow in the United States.
The five cups, believed to date from the late 17th or early 18th century were valued at US$1-US$1.5 million (NZ$1.2-$1.7m) on Saturday after being brought to the TV show at a stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The owner, who prefers to remain unidentified, told Asian arts expert Lark Mason he started collecting cups inexpensively in the 1970s and had no idea of the collection's current value.
Supply fails to satisfy skilled labour demand (Kelly Burke, July 26, 2011, Sydney Morning Herald)
ALMOST two thirds of large companies are considering hiring staff from overseas to overcome skills shortages, according to a recent national salary survey by the Australian Institute of Management.
Recruiting difficulties are chronic in construction and engineering, sales and marketing and manufacturing/trades, but primarily at the professional and technical level, not at the blue-collar level. Nurses, childcare workers, cooks, hairdressers and butchers are also in short supply, according to the most recent skill shortage list published by the federal government.
Republicans have won. But can they stop there? (Ezra Klein, 7/25/11, Washington Post)
We don't yet know what the final deal to raise the debt ceiling will be. But now that Harry Reid is developing a proposal with $2.7 trillion in cuts and nothing in revenues, it's a safe bet that it won't include any tax increases. Which means that whether Republicans realize it or not, they've won. The question now is whether they can stop.
Christian Wrong: Republicans are once again arguing that American Jews will abandon the Democratic Party. But it won't happen, because Jews recoil from the GOP's overt Christianity, even when it comes with staunch pro-Israel views. (Michelle Goldberg, Jul 25, 2011, Tablet)
The last time a Republican presidential candidate won a plurality of the Jewish vote was in 1920, when Warren Harding won a landslide victory over James Cox. Even then, Harding didn't get a majority--38 percent of Jews supported Socialist Eugene Debs; 43 percent went for Harding. But in the election of 1980, Jewish support for the Democrats reached a contemporary nadir: According to the book Jews in American Politics, Jimmy Carter, an evangelical who who was widely seen as unfriendly to Israel, got only 45 percent of the Jewish vote. Reagan received 39, and John Anderson 15 percent.
Not surprisingly, many people saw this as the beginning of a long-term shift in Jewish voting patterns, one they expected to continue in 1984. In that re-election year, Mort Kondrake wrote in the New Republic that "Jews are pulling loose from their traditional Democratic moorings." The Reagan Administration, he reported, was trying to convince the American Jewish community that Walter Mondale would be weak on Israel, caving in "to Jesse Jackson and confirmed Arabisants from the Carter State Department." (At the time, Jackson's derisive reference to New York as "Hymietown" was very much in the news.) For the first time in 60 years, wrote Kondrake, "it's not clear which party will receive a majority of the Jewish vote."
That November, despite one of the worst showings in modern presidential campaign history, Mondale carried 67 percent of the Jewish electorate. Reagan got less of the Jewish vote in 1984 than Nixon did in 1972, despite the latter's long reputation for anti-Semitism.
What happened? An important part of the answer lay in the growing association between the Republican Party and Christian fundamentalism. Reagan's empowerment of the religious right was a significant issue in 1984. Endorsing Mondale, the New York Times concluded: "Mr. Reagan's opponent talks about church and state with a care that verges on eloquence. [T]hat, alone, would be reason on Tuesday to vote for Walter Mondale." Concerns about religion in politics did not sway the electorate at large, but Jews took them seriously. As a Commentary article said, "It seems that Reagan's increasingly vocal embrace of the New--specifically, the Christian--Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or [Louis] Farrakhan." Indeed, exit polls showed that Jews had a significantly more unfavorable opinion of Jerry Falwell--a man who'd been awarded the Jabotinsky Prize by Menachem Begin--than of Jesse Jackson.
Barack Obama: The Democrats' Richard Nixon? (7/22/11, BRUCE BARTLETT, The Fiscal Times)
Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.
Here are a few examples of Obama's effective conservatism:
His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush's war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush's defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.
Further evidence can be found in the writings of outspoken liberals such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has condemned Obama's conservatism ever since he took office.
Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it's now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it's increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican.
Senate Democrats unveil debt limit plan (Reuters)
Senate Democrats on Monday offered a $2.7 trillion spending-cut plan that includes large savings from domestic and defense programs to try to break the impasse over raising the government's $14.3 trillion debt limit.
Senate Democrats unveil debt limit plan (Reuters)
Senate Democrats on Monday offered a $2.7 trillion spending-cut plan that includes large savings from domestic and defense programs to try to break the impasse over raising the government's $14.3 trillion debt limit.
Romney's Resistible Rise: The GOP contemplates a wedding of convenience. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 7/25/11, National Review)
While Palin may have brought more charisma to the national scene, Bachmann's assets are likely to prove more enduring.
Can she win the nomination? History is not on her side. Nobody even slightly to the right of the party establishment has won it since 1984. The party has enough conservative voters to make the victory of such a candidate possible, but it is hard to unify them around a single candidate in opposition to an establishment favorite. And Bachmann is well to the right of previous candidates who have tried, such as Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, and the 2008 Romney. The party has moved right in recent years, but probably not enough for Bachmann to make it.
Pawlenty could in theory be a strong general-election candidate: He is a moderate conservative who governed a deep-blue state in a region that has been trending toward the Republicans. He could also pose a serious threat to Romney's chances of winning the nomination, since he could win establishment support while also running to Romney's right. The question about his candidacy has always been whether he would ever be able to get alone in the ring with Romney. During the spring, it began to look possible. Republicans' familiarity with him increased, he got favorable mentions in the conservative media, and insiders began rating his chances better. Doubts about whether he could excite voters and raise money began to recede.
Then he brought them back. He spent early June positioning himself as the candidate most committed to supply-side economics and neoconservative foreign policy, to little noticeable effect in the polls. But the time he spent on those projects was merely a missed opportunity. More damaging were his decisions, first, to light into Romney's Massachusetts health-care plan as "Obamneycare" during a television interview, and, second, to back away from the criticism a day later, during the first presidential debate that included Romney.
The first decision was a mistake: Pawlenty should have let other candidates flay Romney, and then added weight to their critique. But running away from the criticism once he had made it was a disaster. It made him seem too weak to take on Romney, and, by extension, Obama. The incident also highlighted some fundamental flaws of Pawlenty's campaign. Pawlenty is a thoughtful conservative running as a caricature of a tea partier, in part because of an exaggerated concern, fueled by the coverage of his campaign, that he is too dull. "Obamneycare" was a borderline-juvenile taunt; Pawlenty would not have felt awkward delivering a more serious critique -- e.g., "I think Romney went down the wrong path on health care" -- to Romney's face.
Facing criticism after the debate for cowardice, Pawlenty then, absurdly, called Romney a "co-conspirator" with Obama on health care -- as though Romney had consciously attempted to make it easier to pass the national health-care law. If Pawlenty had run as himself, he could have spared himself all this trouble. He has made it less likely that he will ever be in a position to take down Romney. Now Pawlenty is having to take shots at Bachmann, Romney, and Obama in order to stay in the game.
Romney, on the other hand, has the luxury of just taking on Obama. His record on health care is still a serious potential vulnerability, but so long as no alternative candidate takes flight, it may not matter. It seems pretty clear that Romney's advisers think that Bachmann cannot defeat him but can prevent anyone who can from emerging as the anyone-but-Romney candidate. Pawlenty's decline and Bachmann's rise are thus both very good pieces of news for him -- as is the continuing weakness of the economy, which makes him appear a safer bet for the general election.
The Republican field is not weak in the sense that its members are sure losers in a general election: Romney, Pawlenty, and Huntsman all meet the criteria to win in November 2012. They have executive experience, they come across as sensible, and they have not taken any sure-loser positions.
Texas spending kept rising for years with Perry as governor (Aman Betheja, , Jul. 18, 2011, DFW Star-Telegram)
[S]pending through 2011, adjusted for population and inflation, rose more on average while Perry has been in charge than it did under his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to a Star-Telegram analysis.
In the past, Perry has criticized Bush for not controlling spending while governor.
"Let me tell you something," Perry told a small group of Iowa Republicans in 2007 while campaigning for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was running for president. "George Bush was never a fiscal conservative. ... I mean, '95, '97, '99, George Bush was spending money."
When Bush was governor, total state spending rose 13.3 percent every two years on average. Adjusting the figures for population growth and inflation, that growth rate was 2.3 percent.
Perry took the reins in December 2000. From then until 2011, spending increased an average of 16.8 percent every two years. Once adjusted for population and inflation, that rate falls to 4.2 percent. Adjusted spending figures in the just-passed 2012-13 budget are not yet available.
If Perry runs for president, his fiscal record in Texas is sure to draw more scrutiny, just as it did for Bush.
Anders Breivik's Roots in Right-Wing Populism: He was a prolific contributor to extremist blogs and had ties to right-wing populists: The murderer from Norway did not, it would seem, come out of nowhere. Rather, he had found an ideological home among those seeking to cleanse Europe of Islam and multi-culturalism. They are seeking to distance themselves. (Frank Patalong, 7/24/11, Der Spiegel)
he right wing sees it as a "conservative catastrophe" primarily because of the danger that blame might extend from Breivik to the extremist scene itself. Indeed, wherever Breivik left his digital calling card in recent years, he hardly stood out from the crowd of similar missives. "What he writes," reads an offering on Politically Incorrect, "are largely things that could be found in this forum... Whether Breivik suffered from a psychological illness that has since become worse is not known to us."
Contributors to Document.no -- where Breivik had been active for months and sought out a direct exchange with publisher Hans Rustad -- also seek to draw the line between themselves and Breivik. Given the large degree of ideological crossover, it is not a simple endeavor. The fact that Breivik, as early as Sept. 8, 2009, announced his intention to publish the 1,500 page treatise which is now in circulation -- and repeated the announcement on at least two other occasions -- does not make the effort any easier.
Breivik is also not the sole author of that tome, a work called "2083 - A European Declaration of Independence" and which calls for a crusade against Islam in Europe. Hundreds of pages were written by other right-wing bloggers, Breivik simply copied and pasted them into his treatise. Dozens of chapters were published in recent years on blogs like Gates of Vienna (GoV) and The Brussels Journal, two of his most-cited sources. Breivik himself claimed to follow the "Viennese school of thought," a direct reference to GoV.
Such blogs provide a window into a strange scene: pro-Western, exceedingly pro-American and friendly to Israel -- but extremely anti-Muslim, aggressively Christian and openly hostile to everything which is liberal, leftist, multi-cultural or internationalist. It is a "patriotic-nationalist" scene which detests the Nazis but is sympathetic -- to the point of maintaining informal contacts -- to the Tea Party Movement in the US, to the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria, to the right-wing football fan group known as the Casuals and to the stridently anti-Muslim English Defence League.
It is a scene which is considered to be militant and ultra-right wing, but which has in the past cooperated with the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a group which has been branded a terrorist organization in the US. Such a connection would be unthinkable for neo-Nazi groups. Indeed, the JDL has even joined demonstrations held by the English Defence League -- a surprising alliance perhaps, but the crossover is clear: Islam is the enemy.
A central tenant of the writings coming out of this scene is that Muslims are currently in the process of taking over Europe with a "demographic Jihad." They use statistics, historical references and precarious prognostications in an effort to feed the extreme right with an intellectual-sounding foundation for their hatred of foreigners. The scene is extremely well networked and growing rapidly. Breivik himself claims to have participated in the creation of a Norwegian chapter of the English Defence League, called the Norwegian Defence League.
Anders Behring Breivik: Tunnel vision in an online world: Norway's extremists don't tend to gather in visible 'rightwing groups'. But online, they settle into a subculture of resentment (Thomas Hylland Eriksen, 7/25/11, guardian.co.uk)
Anders Behring Breivik's world view seems to have been shaped by online fantasy games and the anti-Islamist blogosphere - a recipe for national fragmentation.
There is a reason why the Norwegian police have not been overly concerned with rightwing extremism in recent years. It is plainly not very visible. An estimated 40 Norwegians currently belong to self-proclaimed extreme rightwing groups.
However, anyone familiar with the darker waters of the blogosphere would for years have been aware of the existence of a vibrant cyberscene characterised by unmitigated hatred of the new Europe, aggressive denunciations of the "corrupted, multiculturalist power elites" and pejorative generalisations about immigrants, targeting Muslims in particular.
Contributors to these websites, blogs and chat groups cannot merely be labelled "rightwing". One member of the Norwegian "Forum Against Islamisation" was also a member of the Socialist Left party. Others see themselves as the true heirs of social democratic values, or as the last carriers of the torch of the Enlightenment. Many talk about gender equality, some about social injustices and class. Others hold more conventional rightwing views, ranging from downright racism to paranoid conspiracy theories about Muslims plotting to take political control of western Europe. Some are online daily; others drop in once a month. They constitute loose networks and cannot easily be counted.
What the denizens of this blogosphere have in common is, first and foremost, a resentment of the defenders of diversity. These "elite" are often described as "traitors", "sellouts" or just "naive multiculturalists". They also share the conviction that Islam is incompatible with the democratic values of the west. This view is problematic in a country where the Muslim population is over 150,000 and growing. Nobody knows how widespread such views are, but they can no longer be written off as harmless.
One day I had a friend request on Facebook from Anders Breivik. There wasn't anything odd about that: when I was a member of SD I was magnetically attractive to everyone who called himself a nationalist: both those for whom it was a game, and the real extremists. Those were, in fact, the people who drove me away from the party. A machine of hate propaganda pumped through my feed on Facebook. There were YouTube clips of massacre victims, demands that all the "fucking niggers" should get out of the country, and far more horrible things.
I reacted by backing away. But for many other people who are weak, or feel bad for some reason, this stream was something to drink from. They egg each other on to believe that the Social Democrats are guilty of all the horrors we'll come to experience; that immigrants rape and murder and that it's the socialists' fault. It is the fault of Mona Sahlin, former Social Democrat leader, that we will be forced to wear burkas and live under sharia law by 2020.
I'm not saying it's wrong to have opinions about immigration, or to protest against the people who really do want Sweden to allow Muslims to have their own courts and laws. I don't think it's right that our borders should be wide open, without any controls - but I utterly reject these reactions. Hatred breeds nothing but hatred. [...]
There are many people like me - Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and other Europeans - who had this person as a friend on Facebook. I wonder how they feel now.
Everyone who is critical of aspects of our immigration policies must wake up and realise what their endless talk about dangers and hatred can lead to. Even though no one wanted to fuel this terrible act in Norway, that's what they actually did. And there are more people out there who are looking for reasons to justify their actions by being able to refer to what "others" have written, above all on the net.
There are two things we learned on Friday afternoon. One: extremists are found in all groups, and all are at least as dangerous. Two: hatred breeds hate. Never help to spread it unless you are ready to take the consequences. Did anyone - even you people who hate me for everything else, and belong to the far right - did anyone, even you, really want something this terrible to happen? Surely everyone can see this could never work to anyone's advantage.
Norway killer wants to wear uniform at court: Lawyer (AFP, Jul 25, 2011)
Self-confessed Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik wants a public hearing when he faces justice on Monday and wants to be allowed to sport a uniform, his lawyer said.
Inside the Mind of the Oslo Murderer: In his 1,500-page manifesto, Anders Behring Breivik slides alarmingly from a legitimate concern about the rise of Islam in Europe to propose 'terror as a method for waking up the masses.' (BRUCE BAWER, 7/23/11, WSJ)
It came as stunning news that Norway had been attacked by a blond, blue-eyed, anti-Islamic terrorist. It should not have been: Several of us who have written about the rise of Islam in Europe have warned that the failure of mainstream political leaders to responsibly address the attendant challenges would result in the emergence of extremists like Breivik.
But I was stunned to discover on Saturday that Breivik was a reader of my own work, including my book "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within." In comments posted in 2009 on a Norwegian blog, document.no, Breivik expressed admiration for my writings, but criticized me for not being a cultural conservative (although he was pleased that I was not a Marxist, either).
Later on Saturday came news of a 1,500-page manifesto, entitled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," that Breivik had recently written and posted online. The first half, in which he indicts the European cultural elite for permitting Islam to take root in Europe, makes it clear that he is both highly intelligent and very well read in European history and the history of modern ideas.
Census figures confirm pockets of diversity in NH (Holly Ramer, 7/21/11, Associated Press)
"When the primary comes and everyone says, `New Hampshire is not representative of the rest of the country,' well, I don't know. When you look at New Hampshire and some of its detail, it actually is not unlike the rest of the United States," he said. "If you look only at the state level numbers, it's not (diverse). But if you look at Hillsborough County, you're seeing a fairly diverse population."
Just over 2 percent of the county's 400,721 residents identified themselves as black or African American in 2010. The Asian population grew to 3.2 percent, and the Hispanic or Latino population grew to 5.3 percent.
The state's overall population grew 6.5 percent to 1.3 million people between 2000 and 2010, making it the region's fastest growing state over the last decade. It also became one of the oldest, with the median age jumping from 37 to 41. While the number of non-Hispanic white children declined by almost 13 percent, the number of Hispanic children increased by 76 percent.
Bill would force Obama to pay Social Security, military if US defaults (Alexander Bolton - 07/24/11, The Hill)
Members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus have met with House freshmen to discuss a plan to pressure House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the Full Faith and Credit Act to the floor.
The legislation would direct Obama to prioritize federal payments to the nation's creditors, Social Security recipients and soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
No debt deal in sight, parties go separate ways (JAKE SHERMAN & MANU RAJU & JOHN BRESNAHAN, 7/24/11, Politico)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) began to draft his own legislation Sunday that would slash at least $2.5 trillion to match an extension of the nation's borrowing limit through the 2012 election, leadership aides said. [...]
Senior Democratic officials said Reid's new effort is an attempt to meet their bottom-line demand to extend the debt ceiling through 2012, while meeting Boehner's demand that any increase in the borrowing limit is matched by an equal number of spending cuts.
Massachusetts Man Says He's Cracked Zodiac Killer Code: Corey Starliper believes he has solved the 41-year-old "340" cipher and has identified the legendary serial killer who terrorized northern California. (Brandon Schillemat, July 21, 2011, Belmont Patch)
A 2007 movie entitled "Zodiac" was what sparked interest in Starliper about the case.
"I saw the movie first, and when I saw the movie, (I had) instant interest in it," he said, snapping his fingers. "When I read the book, I was ... just hungry for more when the book ended."
Starliper describes the Zodiac serial killer case as "extraordinarily consuming."
"I became absolutely obsessed with the case, to the point that I'd look up from Graysmith's books ... and realize that I'd actually forgotten to eat."
Starliper said that after becoming interested in the code, he abandoned it for some time, but after that, an idea for breaking the code came to him almost by "accident."
According to Robert Graysmith, in "Zodiac", tips received by police after Darlene Ferrin's murder indicated that the killing was connected to the U.S Virgin Islands. Starliper believed that the "340" of the 340 cipher was significant, and had some tie-in with the US Virgin Islands. It was then that he found out that 340 is the area code for a portion of the US Virgin Islands -- not an insignificant connection.
"So that's what I started with," said Starliper. "I thought, there's no way ... that Zodiac is going to be prosaic enough not to mention the U.S. Virgin Islands in this code. This is where it gets even creepier. 3+4+0=7. Right. So you get 7+0=7. 707...707 are the area codes for Vallejo, Napa, and Solano. So I figured, why not start this with Caesar code using 3,4."
Caesar code is a substitution type cipher where an encoder has "simply replaced each letter in a message with the letter that is three places further down the alphabet," according tohttp://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/caesar.html.
This doesn't mean the 340 is such an easy task to decode, considering the fact that the original 340 cipher is full of symbols: >, +, and ▲ being just a few of the signs found in the code. To combat this problem, Starliper extracted symbols and changed them to letters they could correspond with. For example, a ^ or < symbol could be interpreted as inverted or sideways "V"s.
"I first went in there and I did that," he said. After everything symbolic had been interpreted alphabetically, he started applying reverse Caesar shifts. He found the first two letters to be "K" and "I".
"What are the next two going to be? right? I figure, what's the first word he's going to throw in there? Kill," said Starliper. "And I was able to keep going from there." For the first few lines, the pattern remained constant, but it changed beyond that. He said he was able to figure out the non-patterned series that by finding "similarities in the numerical sequence."
Starliper split his work into two sessions of 6 hours and 3 hours. When he was done, he had decoded the following text: KILL/SLF/DR/HELP/ME/KILL/MYSELF/GAS/CHAMBER/AEIOUR/DAYS/QUESTIONSABLE/EVERYY/WAKING/MOMENT/IM/ALIVE/MY/PRIDE/LOST/I/CANT/GO/ON/LIVING/IN/THIS/WAY/KILLING/PEOPLE/I/HAV/KILLD/SO/MANY/PEOPLE/CANT/HELP/MYSELF/IM/SO/ANGRY/I/COULD/DO/MY/THING/IM/ALONE/IN/THIS/WORLD/MY/WHOLE/LIFE/FUL/O/LIES/IM/UNABLE/TO/STOP/BY/THE/TIME/YOU/SOLVE/THIS/I/WILL/HAV/KILLD/ELEVEN/PEOPLE/PLEASE/HELP/ME/STOP/KILLING/PEOPLE/PLEASE/MY/NAME/IS/LEIGH/ALLEN/
Arthur Leigh Allen was a prime suspect during the Zodiac investigation. When Sherwood Morrill, a handwriting expert, examined Allen's writing, he told investigators that the writing was "similar, but not the Zodiac killer's", according to "Zodiac Unmasked" by Robert Graysmith. Allen also passed a polygraph exam during the investigation.
These facts don't bother Starliper.
"Leigh Allen in that situation was forcing his handwriting to look different from the way that he normally wrote," said Starliper, referencing the work of detectives.
Allen died in 1992 at age 58.
The discovery of a solution to the code wasn't "disturbing", as Starliper said he had heard it described, but invigorating.
Hizballah's Triumph and Agony: The terrorist group that took over Lebanon is now at a crossroads: well armed, but facing international isolation and a UN Tribunal. Bruce Reidel on how its rise to power could backfire. (Bruce Reidel, Jul 23, 2011, Daily Beast)
Few terrorist groups ever succeed in taking over a country. The Lebanese Shia Hizballah group has done so this year, but at its moment of triumph it faces the most severe challenges it has ever faced.
The party of god, Hizballah, was created in 1982 after one of Israel's invasions of Lebanon by Syrian and Iranian intelligence agents. It rapidly gained support among the angry and down-trodden Shia community who had been at the bottom of Lebanon's archaic political and economic system for decades. Hizballah suicide bombers blew up the U.S. Marines and French paratroopers headquarters in October 1983, driving America and Europe out of Lebanon. Then they waged a long and difficult war against Israel until it too left in defeat in 2000. Another bloody war with Israel ended just five years ago in a stalemate. Along the way Hizballah held dozens of foreigners hostage, murdered a CIA station chief, hijacked airliners, and blew up Israeli targets as far away as Argentina.
But it also became a political party in Lebanon and gradually acquired more and more political power. In 2008 it flexed its military power by briefly taking over most of Beirut for a few days, then drew back to let the message sink in that Hizballah can do what it likes. This year the party has succeeded in getting its candidate picked as Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and it now effectively dominates the government. [...]
Hizballah will still dominate Lebanon and will still have its Iranian benefactor. It will remain the best armed terrorist group in the world. But it will now face international isolation, a UN driven judicial process and a hostile neighbor next door. Hizballah knows well how easy it is to destabilize Lebanon from a base in Syria; soon it may be on the receiving end of the very process that made it triumphant.
Pelosi Outlines Revenue-Free Path Forward On Debt Limit Fight (Brian Beutler | July 22, 2011, TPM)
"A means test done in an efficient way isn't a problem," [Barney Frank] said. "I understand that. Like in Social Security. We already have a partial means test. I get Social Security. My Social Security income is taxed as it should be. I would increase the tax rate on my Social Security income. You don't want to means test it up front -- that becomes awkward -- but say you're making more than $100,000? Tax my Social Security at 95 percent. That's fine. There's an easy way to do that."
On Medicare, "I would be for increasing copays for people above a certain income," Frank said. "I think high copays for people making more than $100,000 is perfectly reasonable."
The Diva and Her Demons: In love and on top of the charts, all Winehouse had to do was survive both (Jenny Eliscu, 2007, Rolling Stone)
Winehouse is an unapologetic daddy's girl, even brandishing a tattoo with that phrase on her left shoulder. Mitch, a cab driver, and Amy's mother, Janis, a pharmacist, split up when she was nine and her older brother, Alex, was thirteen; the siblings lived mostly with their room in Southgate -- a North London suburb that's home to celebrity rehab hospital the Priory, where Pete Doherty and the Darkness' Justin Hawkins were treated but where Winehouse refused to go, go, go.
"She was always very self-willed," Mitch tells me. "Not badly behaved, but ... different." Though the children grew up around music ("We were always singing," says Mitch), including the old Frank Sinatra and Dinah Washington tunes she still adores, Amy's talents as a vocalist weren't immediately apparent. When she was ten, Winehouse and her best friend, Juliette Ashby, formed a rap duo modeled after Salt-n-Pepa that they called Sweet 'n Sour. (You can guess which one Amy was.) She didn't aspire to be a musician, though; instead, she fantasized about being a roller-skating waitress like the ones she'd seen in American Graffiti. She enrolled in the Sylvia Young Theatre School when she was twelve and attended classes there before being expelled for having her nose pierced and for general slackeritude. "I went to see her in a recital and I thought she'd just be acting," says Mitch. "But then she came out on the stage and started singing, and I couldn't believe it. I never knew she could sing like that."
Amy's brother, Alex, had a guitar, and whenever he was out of the house she would fiddle around with it. She bought her own when she was fourteen and started writing her own songs a year later, around the same time she discovered weed and dropped out of school. Yet Winehouse insists that her behavior wasn't the result of teen angst, which she says she'd worked through ahead of schedule. "I do suffer from depression, I suppose," she says. "Which isn't that unusual. You know, a lot of people do. But I think because I had an older brother, I did a lot of that 'Oh, life's so depressing' stuff before I was even twelve. That's when I would be reading J.D. Salinger -- or whatever my brother read- and feeling frustrated."
I point to my left forearm and say, "I couldn't help but notice the scars. How old were you when you started doing that?" She looks at me, surprised, but doesn't have a ready-made answer, so I continue: "I mean, the cutting." Her muscles seem to tighten, and she avoids eye contact as she replies, "Um, that's really old. Really old. Just from a bad time, I suppose. "And then, stammering, "D-d-desperate times."
After she dropped out of school, Winehouse worked odd jobs -- including a gig as a "showbiz journalist" for the World Entertainment News Network -- and started singing with a jazz band. A friend in the music business saw one of those performances and offered to hook her up with studio time to record some demos. "I didn't believe he'd actually let me do it," she says. "I was like, 'What's in it for you?' I just didn't get why he would be so willing to help me. Because I didn't think it was special to be able to sing." The demos from those sessions helped Winehouse score a label deal and management contract with Fuller's company and, later, a publishing deal with EMI. On the very same day the check from EMI cleared, the eighteen-year-old singer-songwriter moved out of the house she was living in with her mom and into a flat in Camden with Juliette.
Though it was inspired almost equally by hip-hop and jazz, Winehouse's first record, Frank, released in 2003, put her in a league with crooners Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua as a key player in a U.K. jazz revival. Never released in the States, Frank went platinum in England and brought her nominations for a slew of awards, including the Mercury Music Prize (which she didn't win) and the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting (which she did). But around the same time she met her Baby, she rediscovered the Sixties music she says she'd loved as a girl. "When I fell in love with Blake, there was Sixties music around us a lot," she tells me five days later in Miami. I was supposed to meet with Winehouse that morning, but she and Fielder-Civil had other plans. They went to get a marriage license with the idea of getting hitched the next day but decided at the last minute that, since they were already there, why not just go for it? And that is how, alone in front of a Miami clerk and for the modest cost of about $130 in fees, Amy Winehouse married her Baby. "I don't want to say we did it on a whim, because that makes it sound whimsical," Fielder-Civil tells me, an irrepressible grin plastered across his face, his eyes dancing with happiness.
The couple met in Winehouse's usual Camden watering hole in 2005. "It was my local," she says. "I spent a lot of time there, playing pool and listening to jukebox music." For Winehouse that meant blues, Motown and girl groups. "More significantly, I used to smoke a lot of weed," Winehouse says, explaining why those sounds appealed to her so much when she was writing songs for Back to Black. "I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other. He doesn't smoke weed, so I started drinking more and not smoking as much. And because of that, I just enjoyed stuff more. I'd go out and have a drink. The whole weed mentality is very hip-hop, and when I made my first record, all I was listening to was hip-hop and jazz. The weed mentality is very defensive, very much like, 'F[***] you, you don't know me.' Whereas the drinking mentality is very 'Woe is me, oh, I love you, I'm gonna lie in the road for you, I don't even care if you never even look my way, I'm always gonna love you.'"
She had recorded Frank in Miami with hip-hop producer Salaam Remi, who has worked with Nas, the Fugees and Jurassic 5, and she says she originally planned to do all of Back to Black with Remi as well. (He ended up contributing four tracks to the album.) But an executive at EMI introduced her to Ronson, in hopes the pair might achieve musical synchronicity. "I do write everything myself, but I have to be close with someone to write songs in their presence," she notes. "I didn't know what kind of stuff Mark did, and I thought he was one of them old-trying-to-be-young cool guys. I didn't realize that he's young! Pretty much right away when I met him we got on like brother and sister."
Ronson broke into the music business spinning hip-hop at New York bars and clubs; the six songs he worked on for Back to Black apply his DJ's cut-and-paste aesthetic to an old-school soul sound rendered live -- that is, sample-free -- by a brilliant Brooklyn eight-piece deep-funk ensemble called the Dap-Kings he recruited to achieve Winehouse's vision for her album. "Amy came to my studio and played me stuff like the Shirelles and the Shangri-Las and the Angels," says Ronson. "I got inspired by what she was talking about, and that night I did the drum beat and piano part for 'Back to Black' and put tons of reverb on the tambourine. She's deceivingly nonchalant, and when I played it for her the next day, she said, 'It's wicked,' but I couldn't tell if she meant it. Then she was like, 'This is what I want my album to sound like.' She would come in every day and play me songs on the acoustic guitar, and we'd try different arrangements to find something that felt authentic. The reason everyone goes back to those Motown records is that there were amazing musicians playing together in a room, and that's what we tried to do."
Though fans with refined ears might be connecting with the authenticity of the album's production and arrangements, it's clear that most of the million folks who've fallen for Back to Black are connecting with the authenticity of Winehouse's guilt, grief and heartache. From the story the songs tell, her relationship with Blake burned too hot, too quickly. There was cheating and heartbreak: He went back to his old girlfriend, and she worried she'd lost the love of her life. "The songs literally did write themselves," she tells me over dinner at Big Pink, a kitschy Fifties-style diner in Miami where the frozen drinks come in jumbo servings and the food is delectably devoid of nutritional value. Adjacent to our table, Winehouse's new husband sits an arm's length away, and she avails herself of every possible opportunity to lean over and whisper or smooch. "All the songs are about the state of my relationship at the time with Blake," she continues. "I had never felt the way I feel about him about anyone in my life. It was very cathartic, because I felt terrible about the way we treated each other. I thought we'd never see each other again. He laughs about it now. He's like, 'What do you mean, you thought we'd never see each other again? We love each other. We've always loved each other.' But I don't think it's funny. I wanted to die."
Hmm. Jeb Bush doesn't 'anticipate' becoming a Republican candidate in 2012 (Andrew Malcolm, July 22, 2011, LA Times)
RWith the Republican presidential field still not coalescing around a dominant front-runner, despite the incumbent Democrat's obvious weakness, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he does not "anticipate" running for the White House in 2012.
Yeh, that's what we thought too. [...]
But there was Jeb tonight on the Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity show saying, "You never say never."
Norway attacks: Utøya gunman boasted of links to UK far right (Mark Townsend in Sundvollen, Peter Beaumont and Tracy McVeigh, 7/23/11, guardian.co.uk)
It was revealed that the 32-year-old former member of the country's conservative Progress Party - who had become ever more extreme in his hatred of Muslims, left wingers and the country's political establishment - had ordered six tonnes of fertiliser in May to be used in the bombing. While police continued to interrogate Breivik, who was charged with the mass killings, evidence of his increasingly far right world view emerged from an article he had posted on several Scandinavian websites, including Nordisk - a site frequented by neo-Nazis, far right radicals and Islamophobes since 2009.
The Norwegian daily VG quoted one of Breivik's friends saying that he had become a rightwing extremist in his late 20s and was now a strong opponent of multi-culturalism, expressing strong nationalistic views in online debates.
Breivik had talked admiringly about conversations he had had with unnamed English Defence League members and the organisation Stop the Islamification of Europe over the success of provocative street actions leading to violence.
"I have on some occasions had discussions with SIOE and EDL and recommended them to use certain strategies," he wrote two years ago.
"The tactics of the EDL are now to 'lure' an overreaction from the Jihad Youth/Extreme-Marxists, something they have succeeded in doing several times already." Contacted about the allegation by email by last night the EDL had not answered.
Amy Winehouse Dead: Singer Found Dead At London Home (Huffington Post, 7/23/11)
Troubled singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her North London home, Sky News is reporting. The Daily Miror reports that police have confirmed the passing.
The Grammy-winning singer, best known for her hit song, "Rehab," died of an apparent drug overdose. She's battled drug addiction for years, having most recently checked back into rehabilitation in May.
...a sequel to the very fine Waste Land and he's once again been reduced to channeling Monty Python to promote it:
Norway suspect member of Nazi web forum: advocacy group (The Local, 23 Jul 11)
The suspect in the twin attacks that killed at least 92 people in Norway was a member of a Swedish neo-Nazi Internet forum, a group monitoring far-right activity said Saturday. [...]
Nordisk, a web forum founded in 2007, describes itself as a portal on the theme of "the Nordic identity, culture and traditions."
It hosts discussions on "everything from white power music to political strategies to crush democracy," Ekman wrote in an article published Saturday on the Expo magazine's website.
Nordisk's members range from Swedish members of parliament for the far-right Sweden Democrats party to Nazi leaders, the article explained.
"What united the members is a critical attitude to the current refugee policy and immigration," it said.
Syrian Forces Kill Eight Protesters as 1 Million Demonstrate Nationwide (Massoud A. Derhally, 7/22/11, Bloomberg)
Syrian forces killed at least eight people at anti-government rallies today as more than 1 million demonstrators across the country defied stepped-up security, human-rights activists said.
Those killed were in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Idlib, while one protester died from wounds sustained earlier in the week, Ammar Qurabi, of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, and Mahmoud Merhi, of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in phone interviews.
Gunfire was also heard in Qamishli and Daraa, leaving some people wounded, Qurabi said. Protesters gathered in the cities of Hama in the west, Homs in central Syria and Latakia on the Mediterranean, as well as the northern city of Qamishli, home to the Kurdish minority, the activists said. There were also rallies in the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's government began, they said.
Syrian government forces stepped up security around Damascus late yesterday ahead of the Muslim Friday prayers, which have been followed by protests for the past four months. Security was "tight" in the Qaboun, Harasta, Douma, Zabadani, Rukneddine and Midan districts of the capital, Merhi said. Raids and the arrest of dissidents preceded the deployment yesterday.
What Obama said in his 30-minute primal scream at the GOP: President Obama, clearly angry, let loose on House Republicans in what was, for him, an extraordinary fit of pique Friday night after talks with Speaker John Boehner broke down. (Linda Feldmann, July 23, 2011, CS Monitor)
"I've been left at the altar now a couple of times," the steely-eyed president said.
China's spectacular real estate bubble is about to go pop (Jeremy Warner, July 22nd, 2011, Telegraph)
House prices look like being a major victim of this slowdown. Up to a point, this is deliberate policy for China. With the example of the Western property bubble, which ended very badly indeed, serving as a salutary reminder of the dangers of unchecked real estate prices, the Chinese authorities have taken a number of steps to cool the country's overheated housing market. And it is working; residential property prices have risen on average by "only" 7pc over the last year, and transaction volumes are lower.
But here's the problem. Residential and commercial property development have been such a big component of growth in recent years that anything that damages the property market risks upsetting the entire apple cart. Nobody can forecast with any certainty when the crash will come, but come it will. You cannot cram that much development into such a short space of time without there eventually being a correction.
And when it comes, its knock on consequences are going to be extreme, possibly just as seismic as the rolling series of banking crises we've had here in the west. As noted in the IMF's latest staff report on China, published this week, the property sector occupies a central position in the Chinese economy, directly making up some 12pc of GDP. It is also highly connected to the health of basic industries such as steel and cement, and to the success of downstream industries like domestic appliances and other consumer durables.
More worrying still, direct lending to real estate (developers and household mortgages) makes up around 18pc of all bank credit (see second graphic below). Again, even by UK standards, this is extreme. And for local authorities, which account for 82pc of public spending in China, property related revenues are an important consituent of the overall revenues used as collateral to back borrowing to fund property and infrastructure development. There's an element of ponzi scheme here.
The Quislings of Norway (Joseph Klein, Jul 20th, 2011, FrontPage)
The infamous Norwegian Vidkun Quisling, who assisted Nazi Germany as it conquered his own country, must be applauding in his grave.
In the latest example of Norwegian collaboration with the enemies of the Jews, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere declared during a press conference this week, alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, that "Norway believes it is perfectly legitimate for the Palestinian president to turn to the United Nations" to seek recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
How Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached the end of the honeymoon: Just two months into office, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces criticism from labor and teacher unions, the city's inspector general, and the local media. Why was the honeymoon so short? (Mark Guarino, July 23, 2011, CS Monitor)
In his opening salvos, Emanuel has taken the offense against the city's teacher and labor unions. In June, the Chicago Board of Education - under his purview - axed a 4 percent pay raise for the city's teachers, arguing that union members had received two similar raises since 2003 while their students "got the shaft." The city's public school system is saddled with a $724 million deficit, Emanuel says.
Emanuel is also threatening the city's labor unions with a 625 job cuts unless they agree to work changes that he says will save the city $11 million by the end of the year.
Sources: Young woman accuses Oregon Rep. David Wu of aggressive, unwanted sexual encounter (CHARLES POPE, JANIE HAR and BETH SLOVIC, 7/22/11, The Oregonian)
A distraught young woman called U.S. Rep. David Wu's Portland office this spring, accusing him of an unwanted sexual encounter, according to multiple sources.
When confronted, the Oregon Democrat acknowledged a sexual encounter to his senior aides but insisted it was consensual, the sources said.
The woman is the daughter of a longtime friend and campaign donor.
Summary Box: Review of music-streaming service Spotify (Associated Press, July 20, 2011)
THE VERDICT: The free version is great for cheapskates, but if you're a major music fan the $10-per-month plan is worth it. More moderate music listeners who don't want to see or hear ads will like the $5 version.
Edmund Burke Against Grover Norquist (Garry Wills, 7/14/11, NY Review of Books)
There is no reason other groups should not issue their own pledges, given the success of Norquist's. This signals a return to what was known in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as governmental "instruction." Constituents issued instructions on how to vote, and candidates for office bound themselves to follow such instructions. Otherwise, it was said, how could a member of Parliament be echoing what his constituents thought or wanted? The obvious objection to this is that it makes office holders impervious to changed conditions, new evidence, the learning experience of exchanges with his fellows, personal growth, or crises of one sort or another. It would render parliamentary discussion otiose and ineffectual.
The best attack on instruction occurred when Edmund Burke, standing for election to Parliament in 1774, addressed the electors of his district, Bristol. The idea of instructions had been raised in the campaign, leading Burke to renounce their "coercive authority":
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Burke makes clear what the real meaning of the Norquist pledge is for those who subscribe to it. They are signing over their souls. This first oath they take, as candidates, makes the next one they take, as office holders--the oath to preserve and protect the Constitution--an empty gesture. That oath, sworn to God, may call for changes of position in a crisis or where better knowledge has become available.
Yes, You Really Can Cut Your Way to Prosperity (Andrew Biggs and Matthew Jensen Thursday, July 14, 2011, American)
In December 2010, we released a working paper on fiscal consolidations accompanied by a Wall Street Journal op-ed, both co-authored with our AEI colleague Kevin Hassett. The goal was to analyze what worked--and what didn't--in balancing national budgets. The paper's findings have generated some interest, including being cited approvingly by congressional Republicans and critiqued by one of the Economist magazine's Free Exchange bloggers.
Our methodology was straightforward. We studied over 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries for a period spanning nearly four decades. We first isolated instances in which countries took steps to address their budget gaps. These steps are referred to as "fiscal consolidations." The literature prescribes two ways to identify fiscal consolidations, one popularized by Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and the other established by the International Monetary Fund. We used both. Some of the fiscal consolidations were spending-based, others relied more on taxes.
Second, we analyzed these countries three years after the consolidation to see which countries had succeeded in significantly reducing debt. We found that countries that succeeded in reducing their deficits and debt tended to do so principally by cutting spending rather than increasing taxes.
In the academic literature, there isn't much disagreement on this basic point. [...]
As one of us noted in recent congressional testimony, even the IMF seems to agree that fiscal consolidations based on spending cuts will produce superior economic outcomes--meaning, higher economic growth and lower unemployment--than those based on tax increases. The IMF argues, contrary to some other economists, that both spending and tax-based fiscal consolidations will tend to reduce economic growth in the short term. But the IMF concludes that a spending-based fiscal consolidation will have smaller negative short-term effects than a tax-based fiscal consolidation. Moreover, the IMF projected that a consolidation focused on reducing transfer payments--which would mostly be entitlement payments in the U.S. context--could increase economic growth even in the short term.
In fact, one of the least contested points in the fiscal consolidation literature is that reduced transfer payments correlate with more successful fiscal consolidations and higher economic growth. And the United States' fiscal problem is, essentially, an entitlements issue. Without rising entitlement costs, the federal budget would be more or less in balance over the long term. It's as if the United States is ripe for a consolidation. Entitlement problems are easiest to fix, and that's what we've got.
A Semi-Defense of the Infamous Slavery Passage in the 'Marriage Vow' Pledge (John McWhorter, July 13, 2011, New Republic)
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum may have a number of things to be embarrassed about. However, supporting an observation that there were more two-parent black families during slavery than there are today is not one of them.
This observation was found in "The Marriage Vow," a conservative pledge produced by The Family Leader, a Christian group. It was signed, notably, by Bachmann and Santorum. "Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families," the pledge said, "yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President." The Family Leader removed the passage after a public outcry. But, while the comparison to slavery might seem crude--and the full pledge, generally speaking, is bigoted and wrongheaded--there was an important truth in the now-erased sentence. It is a truth about the oft-forgotten toughness of black families during slavery and in the difficult decades after emancipation.
IT ONCE WAS fashionable to suppose that slavery had made the conventional family difficult to sustain because of spouses so often being sold away from one another and children being separated from their parents. A natural conclusion was that, after slavery, the old patterns persisted, especially given how difficult conditions continued to be for black people, and that this was an understandable precursor to the fatherless norm in inner-city black communities after the 1960s. There is, indeed, sociological literature showing that it was hardly unknown for black people to be raised by single mothers during slavery and afterward. In fact, over the last 150 years, there have always been proportionately more single-parent black homes than white ones.
However, as classic work by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman has shown, despite the horrors of slavery, overall, during the pre-emancipation era, about two-thirds of enslaved families had two parents--far more than today. More recent revisionist work has stressed that, while forced separations were always an important part of the picture, the two-thirds figure remained dominant (Wilma Dunaway is especially handy on this). And this tendency continued into the Jim Crow era, contrary to a false sense one might have of daily life in a black ghetto of the 1930s and '40s--think Richard Wright's 12 Million Black Voices or Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land. Namely, it is wrong to suppose that, amid the misery of those neighborhoods, all but a sliver of children grew up without a dad. That is a modern phenomenon, whose current extent--fewer than one in three black children are raised by two parents--would shock even the poorest black folk 100 or even 50 years ago.
In 1930 the Fed raised rates from 6% to 2.5% (Scott Summers, 7/21/11, Money Illusion)
No, that's not a typo. In October 1929 the discount rate was 6%, and by October 1930 the discount rate was 2.5%. So how can I say the Fed raised rates? Because interest rates are the price of credit, determined in the market for credit. And free market forces depressed the interest rate even more sharply than the 3.5% drop that actually occurred. Thus in a sense the Fed had to raise rates with a tight money policy, in order to prevent them from being much lower than 2.5% in October 1930.
Of course the discount rate is actually a non-market rate set by the Fed. But market rates such as T-bill yields fell by a similar amount in 1930.
A commenter of the Austrian persuasion recently argued that the Fed made a mistake by driving rates so low during the Great Contraction, and that if they hadn't done so, market forces would have weeded out the weaker and less efficient firms, laying the groundwork for a more sustainable recovery (I hope I got that right John.) [...]
Now for a curve ball. So far I've assumed the Great Depression just happened for mysterious reasons, and that the Fed responded with tight money, thus preventing interest rates from falling as far as market forces would have taken them (assuming a stable monetary base.)
But why did the Depression happen in the first place? It's very likely that the Fed's decision to reduce the monetary base by 7% was a major cause of the sharp contraction of 1929-30 (after October 1930 the base rose, as the Fed partially accommodated higher currency demand during the bank panics.)
Old 97's perform live in The Current studio (Mary Lucia, 7/21/11, Minnesota Public Radio)
This group of Texans were at the forefront of the alt-country movement in the 90's. For the past 20 years, this innovative four-piece has showed us their genre defying skills. As they effortlessly combine reckless punk with catchy pop hooks that are sure to not exclude the down home twang their known and loved for. Some have described their music as a stylistic imagination of The Buzzcocks from Dallas, TX as oppose to England.
Repealing the Individual Mandate Is a Terrible Idea (Avik Roy, 7/22/11, National Review)
According to the Washington Post, John Boehner "has proposed repealing provisions of Obama's health care law, including the requirement that all individuals purchase health insurance after 2014."
While the individual mandate is one of the very worst features of Obamacare, repealing it while leaving the rest of the law intact would be disastrous.
First, it would totally destabilize the private insurance market. The Obamacare individual mandate is relatively weak, as mandates go; but repealing it, while maintaining the law's requirements that insurers take all comers regardless of age or health, will drive insurers out of business, in what economists call the "adverse selection death spiral."
Suspect Identified as Christian Extremist (Gerald Traufetter, 7/23/11, Der Spiegel)
According to investigations by Norwegian media, B. was a right-wing extremist who had repeatedly made anti-Islamic statements on Internet forums. Six days before the attacks, he sent his first and only message from his Twitter account. It read: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests" -- a quote from the British philosopher John Stuart Mill.
B.'s Facebook page, which was taken offline late on Friday evening, featured a photograph of the suspect looking into the distance. He has wavy blond hair, a square jaw and blue eyes. B. apparently played the computer game "World of Warcraft" and was a member of a shooting club in Oslo. A childhood friend of the suspect told the Norwegian tabloid VG that B. had begun to talk about right-wing extremist ideas when he was in his late 20s. B. also maintained a racist profile on Facebook, the friend said.
What 'Gilligan's Island' creator Sherwood Schwartz was saying about democracy (Paul A. Cantor, 7/15/11, Washington Post)
Schwartz learned about my book and wrote to me to get a copy. He explained that he had always thought of "Gilligan's Island" as a show about democracy. His favorite episode, he said, was the one about the exiled dictator "because it's the most meaningful" and demonstrates how democracy can go wrong. He was particularly proud of the "dream sequence in which Gilligan realizes he's simply a puppet dictator of the real dictator."
Much to my gratification, Schwartz said all this before reading my book. Academics like me are always accused of just making up our interpretations. But mine was being confirmed by the highest authority -- the writer himself.
Once Schwartz had read the book, he wrote me another long letter explaining that it had always bothered him that people criticized "Gilligan's Island" for being silly; they didn't understand it, he said. "Not a single critic got it, with the basic concept of democracy staring them right in the face." He viewed my book as a vindication of his work: "I never thought I'd see the day when an English Professor of some note would use 'Gilligan's Island' as one of four pillars on which rest the liberal democratic view of the recent past in America." [...]
In my correspondence with him, I was struck by his intelligence, his learning and his seriousness of purpose. Above all, he clearly knew what he was doing in "Gilligan's Island" and could articulate the thinking behind it.
Poll: GOP Makes Across the Board Gains Heading to 2012: Data shows whites, millennials, poorer Americans increasingly lean or identify with GOP (Danielle Kurtzleben, 7/22/11, US News)
According to Pew, registered voters who identify as Republican or leaning Republican have made substantial gains across many demographic groups since 2008, most notably among whites, voters under 30, and Americans making $75,000 or less per year. Forty-seven percent of registered voters currently identify as Democratic or leaning Democratic, compared to 43 percent who identify as Republicans or leaning Republican, with a margin of error of 1.5 percent. That represents a net eight-point gain for the GOP since 2008, when the figures were 51 percent for Democrats and 39 percent for the GOP (with a 1-percent margin of error). Broken down by particular demographic groups, these splits become more pronounced. Among non-Hispanic whites, Republicans now enjoy a 13 point advantage, compared to a two-point advantage in 2008. Among people making $30,000 to $74,999 per year, Republicans and Democrats are now evenly split, compared to a 12-point Democrat advantage in 2008. Likewise, among those making under $30,000 per year, the Democratic lead has slipped by 12 points. And among people born in 1981 or later, the generation known as the Millennials, Democratic or leaning-Democratic identification has slipped from 62 percent to 52 percent, while Republican support has grown from 30 to 39 percent.
Cornel West Flunks the President (Interview by ANDREW GOLDMAN, 7/22/11, NY Times Magazine)
So let me ask you: in 2007, you introduced Barack Obama as your "brother, companion and comrade." But in May, you referred to him as "the black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs" and the "head of the American killing machine." What in the world happened?
It was a cry from the heart. What happened was that greed at the top has squeezed so much of the juices of the body politic. Poor people and working people have not been a fundamental focus of the Obama administration. That for me is not just a disappointment but a kind of betrayal. [...]
So many of the pundits assume that it's just egoism: "Who does Cornel West think he is? The president is busy." But there's such a thing as decency in human relations.
O.K., but did you also have to say that Obama "feels most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart"?
It's in no way an attempt to devalue white or Jewish brothers. It's an objective fact. In his administration, he's got a significant number of very smart white brothers and very smart Jewish brothers. You think that's unimportant?
When Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he told you your rap album was an "embarrassment" to the university, and you quit soon after. He was one of Obama's first appointments. Did that strike a particular feeling in your heart?
I couldn't help it. I'm a human being, indeed. Given the disrespect he showed me? Oh, my God. [...]
How can Obama be the president you want him to be when he's facing this Republican Congress?
I'll put it this way, brother: You've got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it. If you're just going to reflect it and run by the polls, then you're not going to be a transformative president.
Newt's Still In (Lloyd Grove, Jul 22, 2011, Daily Beast)
"I ran 5 years to win my seat," the 68-year-old former Georgia congressman wrote in an email sent to The Daily Beast on Friday. "I worked for 16 years to create a majority in the house. I worked for 42 years to create a Georgia GOP majority. My dad served 27 years in the infantry. One of my closest friends served eight years in a Vietnam prison camp. Quitting isn't an option."
British realist artist Lucian Freud dies, aged 88 (Deutsche-Welle, 7/22/11)
As a realist painter, Lucian Freud's nudes and self-portraits depicted the wrinkles and imperfections of humanity.
How Spending Cuts--Not Higher Taxes--Saved Canada: Liberals up there listened to voters, and their economy is now growing faster than ours. (FRED BARNES, 7/21/11, WSJ)
When Jean Chretien became prime minister in 1993, Canada faced a fiscal and economic breakdown. The government's share of the economy had climbed to 53% in 1992, from 28% in 1960. Deficits had tripled as a percentage of gross domestic product over the prior two decades. Government debt was nearly 70% of GDP and growing rapidly. Interest payments on the debt took up 35 cents of every tax dollar.
Mr. Chretien and his finance minister, Paul Martin, took decisive action. "Canadians have told us that they want the deficit brought down by reducing government spending, not by raising taxes, and we agree," Mr. Martin said. The new administration slashed spending. Unemployment benefits were cut by nearly 40%. The ratio of spending cuts to tax increases was nearly 7-to-1. Federal employment was reduced by 14%. Canada's national railway and air-traffic-control system were privatized.
The economy rebounded. Between 1995 and 1998, a $36.6 billion deficit turned into a $3 billion surplus. Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio was cut in half in a decade. Canada now has faster economic growth than America (3.3% in 2010, compared to 2.9% in the U.S.), a lower jobless rate (7.2% in June, when the U.S. rate was 9.2%), a deficit-to-GDP ratio that's a quarter of ours, and a stronger dollar.
What's most remarkable about the Canadian turnaround: It was led by liberals. Mr. Chretien and Mr. Martin were leaders of the Liberal Party. Yet they responded to the clear wishes of Canadians and, to the surprise of the political class, shifted to the right.
"Captain America": A patriotic surprise from the comic-book past: Alive with WWII period details and Hugo Weaving's villainy, "Captain America" is a delicious adventure yarn (Andrew O'Hehir, 7/22/11, Salon)
Johnston presumably got this assignment because of his success doing vintage Americana in "The Rocketeer" and "October Sky," the two best films of his 22-year career as a Hollywood journeyman. He has a meticulous eye for period detail, and while the 1940s New York backdrops in early sequences of "Captain America" are obviously fake -- a combination of old-fashioned Hollywood sets and CGI -- that's entirely consistent with the movie's ethos. Just as important, Markus and McFeely's screenplay views the World War II era from a wry but affectionate distance. After the experimental serum developed by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), the future father of Iron Man, turns Steve into Captain America, he is first employed as a propaganda weapon, not a military one. Clad in an embarrassing woolen costume, he goes on tour with a troupe of leggy chorus girls to sell war bonds, stars in short-subject adventure movies and becomes (yes!) a hero in comic books sent to actual soldiers on the front lines.
But fiery English secret-agent bombshell Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell, a British TV star and Hollywood newcomer) believes in him, and so, more grudgingly, does Col. Phillips, the latest in a long line of Tommy Lee Jones irritable-grumpus authority figures. Once Captain America decides to shed the dancing girls and take the fight to Red Skull's Hydra organization -- who evidently find the Nazis insufficiently wicked, in all senses of the word -- this movie turns into the kind of action-adventure you've seen dozens of times, in which a small, plucky and implausibly diverse band of brothers takes on a vastly superior force apparently hand-picked from Darth Vader's Galactic Academy of Sinister Ineptitude.
That's more than a gag, actually. For better and worse (but mostly better), Johnston draws on all kinds of pulpy adventure movies here, most obviously "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "Captain America" has the brisk, chaste manner of a preteen-oriented action flick of yesteryear -- Steve Rogers and Agent Carter barely even smooch -- combined with all the cutting-edge digital effects contemporary audiences expect, and the result is oddly satisfying. Special credit goes to cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Rick Heinrichs for creating the film's witty and internally consistent visual mood. You can tell Red Skull's über-Nazi machinery from Howard Stark's American-century gizmos just in terms of design aesthetic: On the one hand, brooding, neo-Gothic contraptions that would look at home in Dr. Frankenstein's lab; on the other, sleek, modernist lines and cool colors that look forward to Cadillacs and Hoover vacuum cleaners yet to come.
Lyrical Message for Syrian Leader: 'Come on Bashar, Leave' (ANTHONY SHADID, 7/22/11, NY Times)
As anthems go, this one is fittingly blunt. "Come on Bashar, leave," it declares to President Bashar al-Assad. And in the weeks since it was heard in protests in this city, the song has become a symbol of the power of the protesters' message, the confusion in their ranks and the violence of the government in stopping their dissent.
Although no one in Hama seems to agree on who wrote the song, there is near consensus on one point: A young cement layer who sang it in protests was dragged from the Orontes River this month with his throat cut and, according to residents, his vocal cords ripped out. Since his death, boys as young as 6 have offered their rendition in his place. Rippling through the virtual communities that the Internet and revolt have inspired, the song has spread to other cities in Syria, where protesters chant it as their own.
"We've all memorized it," said Ahmed, a 40-year-old trader in Hama who regularly attends protests. "What else can you do if you keep repeating it at demonstrations day after day?"
Tunisia can claim the slogan of the Arab revolts: "The people want to topple the regime." Egyptians made famous street poetry that reflected their incomparable wit. "Come on Bashar, Leave," is Syria's contribution to the pop culture of sedition, the raw street humor that mingles with the furor of revolt and the ferocity of crackdown.
Democrats' Debt-Deal Shutout: House Democrats are shocked and outraged that Obama is pursuing a debt deal with Boehner that sidelines them and won't hike taxes--though some are resigned to it. (Patricia Murphy, Jul 22, 2011, Daily Beast)
House Democrats got a painful lesson on the realities of divided government Thursday when news leaked that President Obama was nearing a major agreement with House Speaker John Boehner to raise the debt ceiling.
The possible framework would slice more than $3 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, including cuts to key entitlement programs such as Medicare, which Democrats have vowed to block.
Worse, in other Democrats' minds, was a proposal to move a tax reform package in Congress to raise revenues, instead of the party's plan to hike income taxes on wealthy Americans.
Not only was the president apparently moving without their knowledge, but as details of the possible agreement made clear, Obama was choosing a path that was designed to win the votes of the Republicans' caucus in the House and not the Democrats' own caucus.
Silver anniversary: Davey Johnson runs out of players (Chris Jaffe, 7/22/11, Hardball Times)
A quarter century ago, Mets manager Davey Johnson got stuck in an unenviable position: He ran out of position players before he ran out of game. Ejections and pinch hits forced him to get creative, as the Mets somehow managed to prevail over the Reds in 14 innings.
It began normally when Johnson trotted out his excellent lineup to play the Reds that day: Gary Carter behind the plate, Keith Hernandez at first, Wally Backman at second, Rafael Santana at short, Ray Knight at third, and an outfield of Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Danny Heep backing up starting pitcher Bob Ojeda.
By the end of the game, only Carter, Hernandez and Dykstra would still be playing--and Carter well out of position.
Michele Bachmann lacks executive experience (FRED MALEK, 7/21/11, Politico)
Let's face it. In light of recent electoral swoons, most voters have learned the hard way that when it comes to picking a president, executive experience matters. We've already seen what comes of electing someone with only scant legislative experience and not much else.
Don't get me wrong: Bachmann's record is a welcome contrast to many other candidates. But being an insurgent legislator is nowhere near as significant as being an insurgent, and effective, executive. As a legislator, your ability to stop the rot is sometimes as effective as shouting into the wind. Strategically, Bachmann occupies a space that can easily be overrun.
Owners vote to end lockout; focus shifts to NFLPA (NFL.com, July 21, 2011)
NFL owners voted on Thursday evening to ratify a proposal to end the lockout, the first step in ending the longest work stoppage in NFL history.
The final vote was 31-0 with Oakland Raiders abstaining, according to a source inside the room.
Senate Democrats 'Volcanic' Over Deficit Deal Rumors (Meredith Shiner, 7/21/11, Roll Call)
Congressional Democrats are set to meet with President Barack Obama on Thursday evening at the White House, and if it's anything like the "volcanic" intraparty sessions that took place earlier in the day, it could be quite the contentious affair.
Senate Democrats were huddled for lunch with Jacob Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, when news broke of a possible deal between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The reports of the "grand bargain" -- potentially worth $3 trillion in savings over 10 years with no upfront revenue raisers -- started filtering into the Mansfield Room, just yards from the Senate chamber, and Senators began getting agitated, worried that Obama was poised to agree to sweeping entitlement cuts with only the "promise" of a deal on future tax code reform.
Obama and Boehner Close to a Debt Deal, Sources Say (Jay Newton-Small Thursday, July 21, 2011, TIME)
Under the floated deal, $3.5 trillion would be slashed from the budget over the next 10 years, including cuts to entitlement benefits - a key area of contention with congressional Democrats.
In another major concession, no revenue increases would be included in the deal, and George W. Bush's middle class tax cuts would not be decoupled from higher income cuts, as called for in the earlier "grand bargain" worked out by Obama and Boehner. Instead, all revenues would be handled in a second bill, a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code, to be passed before the end of the year.
Democrats worry that the President would be giving away too much in such a deal.
Out from under the anti-tax pledge (Washington Post, 7/20/11)
WITH A HANDFUL of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist's interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue -- the cost of extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts for another decade -- without being accused of breaking their promise. "Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase," Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn't violate the pledge? "We wouldn't hold it that way," he said.
McLuhan's Centennial (Joseph P. Duggan, 7.21.11, American Spectator)
Just before entering the Roundabout, I caught sight of a Bahraini boy, maybe 15 years old, in a T-shirt and baggy shorts walking alongside my car. Over his shoulder was a staff with a massive Bahraini flag. The banner of this country is a simply beautiful piece of heraldry. With a medieval sort of flair, about half of the flag is dramatic scarlet and the rest bright white, the two fields divided by a sharp serrated edge -- stylized dragon's teeth.
With plenty of time to look carefully at my surroundings, I noticed something about the boy's flag. The white section had two added heraldic devices: large round-edged squares, the "f" and "t" logos of Facebook and Twitter.
What was this boy (or whoever had added those symbols to the flag) trying to communicate?
More than anything else I was reminded of the words of Marshall McLuhan , a man born on the western Canadian prairies 100 years ago -- July 21, 1911 -- "the medium is the message" and "the human family now exists under conditions of a global village."
McLuhan came to mind again in April when I visited Washington and heard Senator John McCain report on a visit to Tahrir Square in Cairo. He found it remarkable that a young leader of the Cairo protests had told him, "our hero is Mark Zuckerberg ." Not a reincarnation of Gandhi, not a hot new Nasser, but a twenty-something Jewish atheist from White Plains, New York who was a prodigy in physics, math, Latin and ancient Greek before dropping out of Harvard.
Half a century ago, when color television broadcasting was still in its infancy, in a single paragraph McLuhan forecast the personal computer, Google, Wikipedia, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, and several generations of multimedia World Wide Web technologies. Here is what McLuhan wrote in The Gutenberg Galaxy: "The next medium, whatever it is -- it may be the extension of consciousness -- will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual's encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind."
Bill Keller wryly describes Johannes Gutenberg as "the Mark Zuckerberg of his age."
Elites Gone Bad: What America needs is a better class of left-winger. (David Gelernter, June 13, 2011, Weekly Standard)
[P]atriotic Americans on the left and right used to be proud of particulars: the principles on which the nation was founded, the heroes who created and protected it, its world-shaping achievements and relentless struggle to master its worst urges and put its best into practice. And these patriots embraced America's traditional mission: to be the American Zion, the promised land, the leader of free nations; the city upon a hill, watched by all the world--as John Winthrop wrote, quoting the Bible, as his ship hauled towards Boston in 1630.
But today's left finds little to admire in American history. The new Philadelphia museum built around George Washington's partially reconstructed home is typical in its view of Washington as, first and foremost, a slave owner. Neither of the two extraordinary accomplishments of modern America, victory in the Cold War and the all-but-eradication of race prejudice in a single generation, inspires modern Obamacrats. They rarely mention the Cold War, and they evidently regard the country as still in the grip of prejudice. In fact Rahm Emanuel, former Obama chief of staff and mayor-elect of Chicago, has endorsed the idea of compensation payments to the descendants of former slaves. Thus, America the Inexcusable--unless Emanuel's idea of fairness is that nonperpetrators must compensate nonvictims for crimes they never suffered but would have if they had been born 200 years ago. (Probably.) No clearer evidence exists that the left, and Rahm Emanuel, are out of ideas.
Most disturbing of all, there are signs that the Obamacrats' respect for at least one element of the American creed of liberty, equality, and democracy is slipping. The Obama administration, the Democrats in Congress, and left-leaning local players have all shown their growing dislike of democracy. And if you reject history and democracy, you leave yourself precious little to admire (much less love) in the U.S.A.
Dr. No to the Debt Rescue:
Tom Coburn is giving his fellow conservative Republicans political cover to vote for a debt compromise. (Patricia Murphy, Jul 20, 2011, Daily Beast)
"I think it could be a game changer," said Doug Thornell, a political consultant and former senior aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a key Democratic negotiator. "You have Tom Coburn, who has never had his conservative bona fides questioned, embracing this. If the idea picks up some steam, there is a possibility that this could change the trajectory of the discussions and we could get it done."
Coburn's move not only revives momentum for the talks, it also gives fellow conservatives broad political cover to consider a plan with revenue increases, even in the face of outright opposition from most GOP leaders.
Coburn, Mike Crapo, and Saxby Chambliss "are some of the most conservative members of the Republican caucus," Sen. Lamar Alexander said Tuesday when he endorsed the Gang's plan. "So if they study something for six months and tell me it's good for the country, that means a lot to me."
Coburn's role as a Senate middleman is one of the most surprising developments in the entire messy debt standoff. Not only is he one of the most conservative members of Congress, he's earned the nickname "Dr. No" for his history of stalling, stopping, or blocking more than 500 bills--including, for a time, a bill to compensate 9/11 first responders. This, naturally, has infuriated some of his colleagues. George Will once called him "the most dangerous creature that can come to the Senate, someone simply uninterested in being popular."
The good doctor abruptly bolted from the high-profile Gang of Six debt negotiations in May, complaining that Democrats would not make real changes to entitlements. "It's just a recognition that we can't get there," he said at the time.
But Coburn is also one of Obama's closest, and least likely, friends on Capitol Hill. The two hit it off at a freshman orientation dinner in 2004 after both won their seats and have remained close ever since. Coburn regularly writes personal notes to the president, and Obama once called Coburn "my brother in Christ" at a Washington prayer breakfast.
The Oklahoman also has said that middle ground has to be a part of the debt deal. On Monday, he unveiled his own plan to slash $9 trillion from the federal budget--more than double the size of the "grand bargain" that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner had briefly embraced. The Coburn blueprint includes $1 trillion in defense spending cuts and more than $1 trillion in revenues from ending tax subsidies, sacrosanct items in previous Republican budgets. "Here we have this great big problem and what do we want to do? Punt because it's easier?" he said. "That's not what I came here to do."
Why US should not pay Warren Buffet's Social Security and Medicare (Sam Thompson, July 20, 2011, CS Monitor)
Specifically, I set out the following phase-out proposals:
The Social Security benefit should be phased out incrementally as individuals move from $75,000 of annual retirement income to $175,000.
To participate in Medicare, retired persons should be required to pay an increasing portion of the premium covering the costs of Medicare benefits as they move from $75,000 of annual retirement income to $175,000.
As with the proposal Congressman Paul Ryan (D) of Wisconsin has made to reform Medicare, these phase-out provisions in general would only apply to people who are presently younger than 55. Also, the thresholds for the phase-outs would be annually adjusted for inflation and would reflect at the time the provisions become law the inflated value of $75,000 and $150,000 in 2011 dollars.
The Social Security phase-out proposal is similar to the phase-out for such payments under Canadian law. The Canadian phase-out (what Canadians call a claw-back), which was enacted many years ago, is not considered controversial and is generally accepted as fair.
Mitt Romney's Fundraising Pitch: What He Tells High Rollers Behind Closed Doors (ABC News: The Note, July 21, 2011)
According to a top donor who also has knowledge of the campaign-and was in attendance Tuesday night-said Romney repeated his consistent pitch to the crowd, "Obama was a nice guy and America did something they like to do and that is trust a likable guy, well spoken guy, handsome guy, and well meaning guy, but it turns out he's clueless about handling the sophisticated economics stuff."
According to the donor Romney added, "Obama has never had a business job, never had to lead an organization. Never, not once."
But his pitch also veers away from what he says on the stump. When Romney gets into the room with potential donors trying to lure them to his campaign, he's consistently asked how he's going to win. According to several donors, Romney tells the crowd that his strategy will work: they will win New Hampshire and Nevada and are hoping to "get lucky" in Iowa and South Carolina. They believe if they win 3 out of those 4 contests they will sail to the nomination. If they only win two they believe they will be one of two candidates left in the race and he'll push his jobs message to victory from that point on and they think he'll have the cash to last, unlike last time.
The same fundraiser says the campaign calls it the "Bob Dole playbook" referring to Bob Dole's 1996 campaign where he was able to defeat Pat Buchanan. Like in that campaign, the Romney team sees the primary coming down to Romney and an "unelectable hard right counterweight," which would enable Romney to be victorious.
How House Republicans Can Seal a Budget Deal: They could pass a smaller debt ceiling paired with Biden's spending cuts. (Karl Rove, 7/20/11, WSJ)
Having gone on offense with "Cut, Cap and Balance," House Republicans must keep moving forward by now proposing a plan B. Led by Vice President Joe Biden, bipartisan discussions over the last few months have produced what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declared on July 14 are a trillion and a half dollars in cuts that "everybody can agree on." Fine: The House GOP should bundle the majority of those cuts with a debt-ceiling increase smaller than the total of the cuts, making certain the cuts are real and happen sooner rather than later and include easy and popular cuts as well as hard and controversial ones.
The House GOP should then pass the package, likely with Democratic votes. Even if Mr. Reid won't like it, the Senate will have to take it up and pass it. It's inconceivable that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would allow Mr. Obama to make good on his threat to veto any deficit reduction that doesn't raise taxes. And yesterday afternoon the White House said Mr. Obama might be willing to sign on to a short-term debt-ceiling increase, though probably not with big spending cuts.
But a robust package of cuts paired with a smaller debt-ceiling increase would buy Republicans months to fight for additional spending cuts and possibly fashion a revenue-neutral tax reform that cleans out and simplifies the code while lowering rates. Next spring, the House GOP can run the spending cut/debt-ceiling play a second time if needed.
Music of the Spheres (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 7/20/11, NY Times)
For most fans attending a baseball game is a summer diversion, an addiction, an act of devotion. I'm a music critic, so for me it's something else too: an immersion in bustling, jumbled, enveloping sound. And if you think of the Yankees as an athletic orchestra, the team has a comfortable and acoustically lively new concert hall. What if I treated a game as a kind of outdoor musical piece?
I had been to the old Yankee Stadium many times, starting in my childhood. But I had not made it to the new one until a recent Sunday for the game with the Tampa Bay Rays, a pitcher's duel between C. C. Sabathia of the Yankees and James Shields of the Rays. The Yankees won, 1-0.
To experience this baseball symphony in fresh ways I brought along some companions. Kingston Liniak, an 11-year-old nephew of my partner, Ben McCommon, was visiting New York for the first time. Kingston is a huge baseball fan and a gifted player in his league. To complete our party of four we brought Amitav Mitra, the discerning 13-year-old son of our neighbors down the hall in our apartment building.
Going to a game with the intent of paying attention to the sound of it all certainly affected my perceptions. I was struck more than ever by the constant buzz of voices. At the old stadium significant numbers of seats were tucked underneath upper tiers. If you were sitting in one of those enclosed areas, the sounds in your section were intensified, and you had a distorted impression of the overall aural experience.
How Can We Not Love Obama?: Because like it or not, he is all of us (Stephen Marche, 7/20/11, Esquire)
Before the fall brings us down, before the election season begins in earnest with all its nastiness and vulgarity, before the next batch of stupid scandals and gaffes, before Sarah Palin tries to convert her movie into reality and Joe Biden resumes his imitation of an embarrassing uncle and Newt and Callista Gingrich creep us all out, can we just enjoy Obama for a moment? Before the policy choices have to be weighed and the hard decisions have to be made, can we just take a month or two to contemplate him the way we might contemplate a painting by Vermeer or a guitar lick by the early-seventies Rolling Stones or a Peyton Manning pass or any other astounding, ecstatic human achievement? Because twenty years from now, we're going to look back on this time as a glorious idyll in American politics, with a confident, intelligent, fascinating president riding the surge of his prodigious talents from triumph to triumph. Whatever happens this fall or next, the summer of 2011 is the summer of Obama.
White House signals openness to short-term debt extension if tied to 'larger deal' (David Nakamura, Lori Montgomery and William Branigin, Updated: Wednesday, July 20, 2011, Washington Post)
President Obama would consider a short-term measure aimed at raising the nation's debt ceiling and avoiding a default by Aug. 2 if Congress agrees to a larger, long-term deficit-reduction and debt-ceiling deal and needs "a few days" to finalize the legislation, his spokesman said Wednesday. [...]
Obama has continued to push for a larger deficit-reduction package that includes a mix of reduced spending and increased revenues through changes to the tax code. A bipartisan group of senators called the "Gang of Six" submitted a package that would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion, a proposal the administration hailed as a step in the right direction. Carney declined to talk about specifics of the proposal but said Obama was encouraged by the group's approach.
Obama in perilous shape (Public Policy Polling)
For the first time since last July Barack Obama does not lead Mitt Romney in PPP's monthly national poll on the 2012 Presidential race. Romney has now pulled into a tie with the President at 45%.
Obama's approval rating this month is 46% with 48% of voters disapproving of him. There are 2 things particularly troubling in his numbers: independents split against him by a 44/49 margin, and 16% of Democrats are unhappy with the job he's doing while only 10% of Republicans give him good marks. Republicans dislike him at this point to a greater extent than Democrats like him and that will be a problem for him moving forward if it persists.
Watch Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's "History of Rap Part 2" With the Roots (Pitchfork, 7/20/11)
If anything, the sequel moves even faster. In about five minutes, Fallon and Timberlake did chunks of songs from Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, N.W.A, Public Enemy, Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, Salt-N-Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Black Sheep, Cypress Hill, DJ Kool, DMX, Nelly, 50 Cent, OutKast, Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, Cali Swag District, and Rick Ross, and lead the crowd in a massive singalong to Biz Markie's "Just a Friend". It's an impressive performance indeed; the combination of memorization, dancing, and comic timing damn near boggles the mind. Watch it below.
Gaylord Perry (Elizabeth McGarr, Sports Illustrated)
It was an innocuous comment, thrown out at Candlestick Park one day in 1962 while lanky 6'4" Giants rookie pitcher Gaylord Perry took batting practice. "Hey, Alvin," San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Harry Jupiter called out to manager Alvin Dark. "This Perry kid's going to hit some home runs for you." Dark turned to Jupiter and, as Perry tells it, replied, "There'll be a man on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run." Seven years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind. Less than an hour after that, Perry smacked his first major league homer, against the Dodgers at Candlestick. "True story," drawls Perry, now 70 and living in Spruce Pine, N.C., with his wife of 14 years, Deborah. "I could hit fine in batting practice."
Bachmann criticizes black farmer settlement (MARGERY A. BECK, 7/20/11, Associated Press)
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann pointed to one program in particular Monday when talking about wasteful government spending: a multibillion dollar settlement paid to black farmers, who claim the federal government discriminated against them for decades in awarding loans and other aid.
News Desk: Bloodbrother: Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011 (David Remnick, 7/19/11, The New Yorker)
In the summer of 1971, when an ambitious Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was playing at an Asbury Park bar called the Student Prince and writing songs for his first album, a band called Norman Seldin and the Joyful Noyze was playing at the Wonder Bar down the road. The tenor saxophone player was a huge ex-football player with a King Curtis sound named Clarence Clemons. The story, oft-repeated, is that one stormy night, between sets, Clemons wandered into the Student Prince and sat in, playing "Spirit in the Night."
"Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew," Clemons said many years later. "We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives." Clemons played on that first album, "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and, at a gig at the Shipbottom Lounge, joined the group that would be called the E Street Band. The legend of that meeting and the formation of the band was the stuff of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out"--an anthem of becoming that was part of the repertoire for four decades. ("Well the change was made uptown/and the Big Man joined the band....From the coastline to the city/all the little pretties raised a hand.")
Clemons, who died Saturday of complications from a stroke, was not an entirely original player--he was a vessel of many great soul, gospel, and R&B players who came before him--but he was an entirely sublime band member, an absolutely essential, and soulful, ingredient in both the sound of Springsteen and the spirit of the group. Clemons will be irreplaceable; Sonny Rollins could step in for him and never be able to provide the same sense of personality and camaraderie. His horn gave the band its sound of highway loneliness, its magnificent heart. And his huge presence on stage was an anchor for Springsteen, especially when Bruce was younger, scrawny, and so feral, so unleashed, that you thought that he could fall down dead in a pool of sweat at any moment. At the brink of exhaustion and collapse, Springsteen could always lean on his enormous and reliable friend--an emblematic image that is the cover of "Born to Run."
Ex-governors want tough-love budget (Scott Wong, 7/20/11, POLITICO.com)
The nation's governors tend to look at Washington and see lawmakers only too happy to balance the federal budget on the backs of states.
But if the state chief executives who gathering are looking for sympathy from the 10 ex-governors who now serve in the Senate, they can think again.
Four Republican former governors have staked out a hard-line position on the debt ceiling, vowing to pursue a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution in exchange for a vote to raise the nation's borrowing limit.
Stocks soar on earnings and new U.S. plan to avert default (Tom Petruno, 7/20/11, Los Angeles Times)
U.S. stocks surged and Treasury bond yields fell Tuesday after President Obama signaled possible support for a bipartisan plan to slash federal spending. [...]
The market had rallied early in the day as financial tensions eased in Europe and as investors reacted to strong quarterly earnings reports from companies including IBM Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Harley-Davidson Inc.
Market bulls have been steadfast that earnings reports would save them, and that's looking like the right call.
Music Dies for JDub Records: Legacy of Groundbreaking Jewish Label Lives On (Jacob Berkman, July 20, 2011, Forward)
The closure of the record label that had been considered one of the great successes of the Jewish startup culture sent shockwaves through the Jewish communal world, as what many saw as the most stable and visible Jewish organization dedicated to reaching young Jews -- outside the behemoth Taglit-Birthright Israel -- fell swiftly. Its demise has reintroduced difficult questions about the state of Jewish culture and outreach, into which Jewish philanthropists are investing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The label, which drastically changed society's conception of Jewish music, entered the communal lexicon with the 2004 release of Matisyahu's first album, "Shake Off the Dust, Arise." With his long beard and longer sidelocks, Matisyahu started off as something of a novelty act. But as audiences started paying less attention to his appearance and more attention to his music, Matisyahu achieved what few before him had been able to: He put committed Jews into the mainstream spotlight of pop culture.
And despite a nasty divorce from Matisyahu in 2006, JDub continued, until its last gasp, to receive critical acclaim for the wide variety of niche bands it produced and discovered. In addition to Sephardic revival from DeLeon, JDub brought the American public Israeli hip-hop (Sagol 59 and Axum), punk klezmer (Golem), Bible-inspired feminist folk (Girls in Trouble) and the post-cantorial rock of The Sway Machinery. The 36 albums that JDub produced changed the course of Jewish music.
Jewish acts had a label where they could be comfortable in their own Jewish skin: "When we started out, I didn't have to explain to JDub what it meant that we were Sephardic indie rock," DeLeon's frontman, Daniel Saks, said after his bittersweet performance.
Success put JDub at the forefront of a transformation in Jewish identity building that focused less on traditional methods of Jewish education and more on using the social and cultural cues of Gen Y to help draw disaffected Jews into the community. Beyond music, JDub co-founded the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists. That fellowship, which supports early career artists who are creating new work that "explores Jewish ideas and experience," will be part of its legacy.
The Jewish world now spends an estimated $200 million annually on 600 organizations less than 10 years old, according to Jewish Jumpstart, a Los Angeles-based not-for-profit that researches Jewish startups. Supporting these startups is a cottage industry of new incubator organizations, such as the Joshua Venture Group and Bikkurim, both of which helped seed JDub.
Some view JDub's demise as a signal that Jewish philanthropy may not be able to sustain these organizations past the startup phase. Those who run these organizations have become increasingly concerned with their inability to secure significant long-term funding, as donors, they say, are most interested in organizations when they are young, sexy and cheap, but often lose interest after they establish themselves and grow, and as operational costs increase.
That is a problem that JDub faced continually as its budget reached roughly $1.1 million in recent years, especially as donors became reluctant to fund its $340,000 general operating budget, Bisman said. With no one prepared to underwrite basic salaries and running costs, ambitious programs were difficult to sustain.
Rise of the Evangelical Catholic Bishops (George Weigel, 7/20, 11, National Review Online)
Archbishop Chaput put it best himself in an exclusive interview with Catholic News Agency: "The biggest challenge, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere, is to preach the Gospel. . . . We need to have confidence in the Gospel, we have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy."
That formulation -- the Gospel without compromise, joyfully lived -- captures the essence of the Evangelical Catholicism that is slowly but steadily replacing Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the United States. The usual suspects are living in an old Catholic paradigm: They're stuck in the Counter-Reformation Church of institutional maintenance; they simply want an institution they can run with looser rules, closely aligned with the Democratic party on the political left -- which is precisely why they're of interest to their media megaphones. Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and other rising leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States are operating out of a very different paradigm -- and in doing so, they're the true heirs of both the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II.
The Council put the Gospel and its proclamation at the center of Catholic life. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter published at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000, challenged the entire Church to leave the stagnant shallows of institutional maintenance and put out into the deep waters of post-modernity, preaching Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life. In his 1991 encyclical Redemptoris Missio [The Mission of the Redeemer], John Paul insisted that the Church doesn't have a mission, as if "mission" were one among a dozen things the Catholic Church does. No, John Paul taught, the Church is a mission, such that everything and everyone in the Church ought to be measured by what the management types would call mission-effectiveness.
The old warhorses of the post-Vatican II debates, on either end of the Catholic spectrum, don't get this; they're still mud-wrestling within the old paradigm. But Archbishop Charles Chaput gets it, big time. That, and the effective work of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, is what has made the archdiocese of Denver what is arguably the model Evangelical Catholic diocese in the country: a Church brimming with excitement over the adventure of the Gospel, a Church attracting some of the sharpest young Catholics in America to its services, a Church fully engaged in public life while making genuinely public arguments about the first principles of democracy.
T-Paw's Iowa Power Play: Can he place first or second in the Hawkeye State? (Katrina Trinko , 7/20/11, National Review Online)
"He needs a first- or second-place finish," says Craig Robinson, a former Iowa GOP political director and the editor of TheIowaRepublican.com. "Third place has been a deadly spot for people to finish in the straw poll. If you look back four years ago, Sam Brownback finished third and didn't make it to the caucus. If you go back [to 2000], Elizabeth Dole didn't make it to the caucus stage." [...]
[P]awlenty still has one advantage: his Iowa organization.
"His campaign has made a huge investment in grassroots organization, building the apparatus that it takes to actually motivate people . . . to go to Ames," says Robinson, noting that Pawlenty has "the best-organized campaign in the state," with a larger staff than any of the other candidates.
"He doesn't clearly have the momentum," Robinson acknowledges. "But as long as the people already signed up get to Ames, I think he could finish well. I think he could surprise."
An Iowa Republican operative thinks that Pawlenty's "superior" organization could help him leapfrog over Michele Bachmann and get the approximately 3,500 votes needed for an Ames victory. The operative is dubious that Bachmann could round up enough voters.
The operative notes that in 2008, Mitt Romney's centralized campaign won the day. "I bet Romney could tell you 95 percent of the voters he had by name. [Mike] Huckabee could probably tell you 5 percent," the operative says. "That's because Huckabee had the homeschool groups organizing themselves, [and the] Bible studies, churches, but never really put it down on paper. Bachmann's running that kind of campaign, and it's risky, but she's a candidate who could do it if she wanted to."
Population boon: More people leads to more prosperity (Jeff Jacoby, July 20, 2011, Boston Globe)
For more than 200 years the population alarmists have been predicting the worst, and for more than 200 years their predictions have failed to come true. As the number of men, women, and children in the world has skyrocketed - from fewer than 1 billion when Malthus lived to nearly 7 billion today - so has the average standard of living. Poverty, disease, and hunger have not been eradicated, of course, and there are many people in dire need of help. But on the whole human beings are living longer, healthier, cleaner, richer, better-educated, more productive, and more comfortable lives than ever before.
When human beings proliferate, the result isn't less of everything to go around. The planet doesn't run out of food and fuel, minerals, and metals. On the contrary, most resources have grown cheaper and more abundant over the past couple centuries - in tandem with rising population.
The explanation is no mystery. Yes, more babies mean more mouths and therefore more consumption. But more babies also mean more minds and arms and spines - and therefore more new ideas, more effort, more creativity, more initiative, more enterprise. "Human beings do not just consume, they also produce,'' writes George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan. "The world economy is not like a party where everyone splits a birthday cake; it is more like a potluck where everyone brings a dish.''
Americanisms: 50 of your most noted examples (BBC, 7/20/11)
50. "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" has to be the worst. Opposite meaning of what they're trying to say. Jonathan, Birmingham
The Republican Retreat (ROSS DOUTHAT, 7/19/11, NY Times)
In the space of a few days, a party that once looked capable of pressing the White House into a deal that would have left liberals fuming found itself falling back on two less-palatable options instead: either a procedural gimmick that would try to pin the responsibility for raising the ceiling on President Obama, or a stand on principle that would risk plunging the American economy back into recession.
What went wrong? It turns out that Republicans didn't have a plan for transitioning from the early phase of a high-stakes political negotiation, when the goal is to draw stark lines and force the other side to move your way, to the late phase, in which the public relations battle becomes crucial and the goal is to make the other side seem unreasonable, intransigent and even a little bit insane.
Winning the later phase doesn't require making enormous compromises, or giving up the ground you've gained. But it requires at least the appearance of conciliation, and a few examples of concessions that you're willing to (oh-so-magnanimously) make to those unreasonable ideologues in the other party.
For Republicans, this would have required one of two maneuvers: either modestly scaling back the size of the spending cuts they were seeking, or finding a few places in the tax code (the ethanol tax credit? the carried-interest loophole? those corporate jets the president keeps talking about?) where they could live with raising revenue by eliminating a tax break or capping a deduction.
The coming smartening of the car: How Intelligent Cars Will Make Driving Easier and Greener (Rebecca Boyle Posted 07.18.2011, Popular Science)
Lawmakers in Nevada made a pretty forward-thinking move a couple weeks ago when they passed a measure ordering new regulations for driverless cars. Many vehicles already participate in once-human-driven activities like parking and skid control, and it's not long until they'll be able to navigate, make decisions and drive totally by themselves.
But in some ways, the world of self-governing cars is already upon us. Using relatively simple software and adjustments to existing hardware, major automakers in the U.S. and Europe are making cars work smarter and greener in a way that has nothing to do with hybrid engines or alternative fuels.
Connected to each other and to the cloud, cars will be able to make their own decisions -- so the future of driving, put simply, will be largely out of human hands.
'Gang of Six' revives hope for big deal in stalled debt-ceiling talks: President Obama's hopes for a 'grand bargain' both to raise the debt ceiling and rein in the deficit got a boost Tuesday when the Senate's 'Gang of Six' proposed $3.7 trillion in deficit reductions. (Linda Feldmann,7/19/11, CS Monitor)
"So here's where we stand," Obama said. "We have a Democratic president and administration that is prepared to sign a tough package that includes both spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare that would strengthen those systems and allow them to move forward, and would include a revenue component."
The new plan came from the six senators who have been working on and off for months to find spending cuts and revenue increases that could win bipartisan support. They are Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Mich. voters prefer Romney in matchup with Obama, poll finds (TODD SPANGLER, 7/19/11, DETROIT FREE PRESS)
The poll of 600 likely voters by Lansing-based EPIC/MRA showed 46% supporting or leaning toward Romney, compared with 42% for Obama and 12% undecided. The poll was conducted July 9-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Romney's lead is little changed since the last poll in February, when he led Obama 46%-41%.
Stress-related condition 'incapacitates' Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged (Jonathan Strong, 7/18/11, Daily Caller)
The Minnesota Republican frequently suffers from stress-induced medical episodes that she has characterized as severe headaches. These episodes, say witnesses, occur once a week on average and can "incapacitate" her for days at time. On at least three occasions, Bachmann has landed in the hospital as a result.
"She has terrible migraine headaches. And they put her out of commission for a day or more at a time. They come out of nowhere, and they're unpredictable," says an adviser to Bachmann who was involved in her 2010 congressional campaign. "They level her. They put her down. It's actually sad. It's very painful."
Bachmann's medical condition wouldn't merit public attention, but for the fact she is running for president. Some close to Bachmann fear she won't be equal to the stress of the campaign, much less the presidency itself.
"When she gets 'em, frankly, she can't function at all. It's not like a little thing with a couple Advils. It's bad," the adviser says. "The migraines are so bad and so intense, she carries and takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine, to keep them under control. She has to take these pills wherever she goes."
To staff, Bachmann has implausibly blamed the headaches on uncomfortable high-heel shoes, but those who have worked closely with her cite stress, a busy schedule and anything going badly for Bachmann as causes.
Fung grim on pension impact for Cranston (Barbara Polichetti, 7/19/11, Providence Journal)
Imagine one of the state's largest cities without trash collection. No libraries. No senior center or services for the elderly. No recreation programs for children.
Imagine it with fewer police officers to patrol the streets and fewer firefighters to answer calls.
And residents would pay dearly for this dearth of services with one of the highest property taxes in the state.
This is the nightmare that Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is starting to imagine for his city.
Fung told members of a special pension advisory board Monday that without holistic changes to Rhode Island's public retirement plans, the City of Cranston will lose vital services next year.
A demographic depression (SCott Summer, 7/18/11, The Money Illusion)
Jim Glass sent me some very interesting data on household formation, which casts a very different light on the recent housing crash.
By my simple measure recent housing starts peaked with an inventory of 40% of an average year's worth of starts above the trend line in 2007. That's a cyclical high but a typical one. About the same or a little higher was reached in three other cycles since 1960.
But the plunge in starts since 2007 is unprecedented -- by the end of 2010 cumulative starts were 72% of an average year's worth of starts below trend. The next-lowest figure was 46% below trend back in 1970. If things were "normal" this would predict a huge boom in housing starts soon.
But housing starts are *following* household formation, which is plunging even faster, like an ICBM heading straight to its target.
In 2007 household formation was 1627k (average 1998-2007: 1499k) and housing starts were 1355k (average 1998-2007: 1716k). In 2010 household formation was all of 357k, down 78% from 2007 and down 76% from the prior ten year average. Housing starts were 587k, down 57% from 2007 and down 66% from the prior ten years. That's a big fall, but it is still *well behind* the fall in household formation.
If I still had my blog I'd post the graphs -- the line for household formation is heading straight down like to the bottom of the sea, it's three times the fastest-deepest decline of the last 40 years. The line for housing starts looks like it is just striving to not fall too far behind.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that light at the end of the tunnel is an onrushing train called falling household formation. It's caused by three factors:
1. Less immigration due to the post-2006 crackdown.
2. Less immigration due to the severe recession and high unemployment
3. 20-somethings who can't get jobs are living with their parents.
The problem is not that we built too many houses and need to work off the excess. Yes, we did, but we worked off that excess long ago. No the current problem is crashing demand for homes due to an unprecedented plunge in household formation. Call it a demographic depression.
Baseball continues to see fewer black players (Mac Engel, Jul. 17, 2011, Star-Telegram)
For a variety of reasons, from societal to financial, the sport can't seem to reverse the trend of fewer African-Americans playing baseball.
The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported this year that the number of blacks in baseball is down to 8.5 percent. The percentage of Latinos is 27 percent.
The percentage for African-Americans in MLB is at its lowest level since 2007. When the institute began to track the figure in 1990, 17 percent of all MLB players were African-American. Beginning in 1997, the number has steadily decreased for a variety of reasons.
When Cory Patterson walks into the Toronto Blue Jays' clubhouse before a game he sees his teammates and his friends. People he enjoys playing the game with. What he doesn't see are very many people who look like him.
He is one of three black players on his roster.
[N]obody was quite prepared for the latest twist on the French end of the DSK soap opera this morning: the respected weekly l'Express is now reporting on its website that Banon's mother, Anne Mansouret, 65, told detectives that she herself had sex--consensual but "brutal" sex--with DSK in the Paris office of an international organization one day in 2000. And according to the same report that is one reason that when Mansouret's daughter came to her in 2003 asking her what to do after the alleged DSK attack, Mansouret discouraged her from pressing charges. Mansouret didn't want to tell her about the earlier incident.
The convoluted concupiscent relationships in this modern bodice-ripper are worthy of the pulp fiction that people these days like to read ever so discreetly on their Kindles. Strauss-Kahn's second wife, Brigitte Guillemette, is a good friend of Mansouret and the godmother of Banon, now 32. One of Banon's best friends, at least until recently, was Camille Strauss-Kahn, the daughter of Guillemette and DSK. Since police opened their investigations into the Banon allegations, they have interviewed Banon, Guillemette, Camille Strauss-Kahn, and Mansouret, among others. (DSK cannot leave the United States pending further investigation of the Sofitel maid's allegations.)
Brigitte Guillemette, DSK's second wife, will reportedly be suing Anne Mansouret, Banon's mother, for defamation. According to Le Parisien newspaper, Guillemette "denies having been aware of the alleged inappropriate behavior of her ex-husband toward female students when he was teaching at Nanterre University, as Anne Mansouret indicated in her declarations to police when she was questioned." Guillemette also denies, Le Parisien says, "phoning Anne Mansouret several times on the subject and enquiring as to whether Tristane envisaged pressing charges or not." [...]
At the hearing with police, according to l'Express, Mansouret told detectives something she had never before revealed to her daughter. Strauss-Kahn had had sex with her in an office of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) where he served as a consultant there in 2000. Looking back on that incident and on what allegedly happened to her daughter three years later, Mansouret reportedly told investigators she wanted to do away with the notion promoted by Strauss-Kahn's friends that he is an inveterate seducer and a ladies' man, but essentially harmless. "At 65, after a very full love life and three husbands," writes l'Express, "Anne Mansouret describes DSK, on the contrary, as a predator who doesn't look to please but to take, and conducts himself with 'the obscenity of a boor.'"
In hindsight, the show was much more than its silliness and zany plots. Paul A. Cantor, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, suggests that "Gilligan's Island'' was a parable of American democracy. As he wrote in a 2001 study, "Gilligan Unbound,'' the show's premise was that a random group of Americans could fetch up anywhere in the world, and their democratic instincts would hold them together.
In this spirit, "Gilligan's Island'' repeatedly reinforced the classic American faith in the innate wisdom and fairness of the common man. For all the Skipper's naval authority, Mr. Howell's wealth, and the Professor's expertise, Cantor wrote, it was Gilligan - agreeable, moderate, honest, public-spirited - who in episode after episode came through as the island's model citizen. Naturally, when the castaways in one episode decide to elect a president, Gilligan wins.
[L]et us pause to identify the people who decided not to seize the chance to usher in the largest cut in the size of government in American history. They fall into a few categories:After thirty years in power it is somewhat inevitable that the GOP is so captive to the Beltway and the special interests there.
The Beltway Bandits. American conservatism now has a rich network of Washington interest groups adept at arousing elderly donors and attracting rich lobbying contracts. For example, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been instrumental in every recent G.O.P. setback. He was a Newt Gingrich strategist in the 1990s, a major Jack Abramoff companion in the 2000s and he enforced the no-compromise orthodoxy that binds the party today.
Norquist is the Zelig of Republican catastrophe. His method is always the same. He enforces rigid ultimatums that make governance, or even thinking, impossible.
The Big Government Blowhards. The talk-radio jocks are not in the business of promoting conservative governance. They are in the business of building an audience by stroking the pleasure centers of their listeners. [...]
The Show Horses. Republicans now have a group of political celebrities who are marvelously uninterested in actually producing results. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann produce tweets, not laws. They have created a climate in which purity is prized over practicality. [...]
All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.
A Treasury default would be worse than the financial crisis of 2008. The world economy is built on Treasury securities. Companies around the globe use them as collateral for overnight loans so that they have cash to pay workers as they wait for their own payments from other companies. Because this collateral is so safe, the lenders who make the overnight loans don't have to worry about the borrowers. The key is that Treasury bonds are supposed to be risk-free. But nothing is risk-free. If and when the market discovers this about Treasury bonds, the consequences will be dire. Companies short of cash would shed workers. Global asset selloffs could send the slow-brewing Eurozone crisis into multiple defaults, and European governments would struggle to protect their own financial institutions from panic. The fear of default could spur companies around the world to hoard more cash in anticipation, slowing the economy down. In the past week, a parade of leading financial figures has sounded the alarm--Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, JPMorgan Chase honcho Jamie Dimon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, and former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers among them. And that's precisely the problem. Tea Party freshmen and their supporters hold this establishment in contempt. Implicitly invoking TARP, as Pelosi did when she mentioned a stock-market crash, won't scare them; it will only embolden them. It would be one thing if Tea Party adherents merely believed that a default wouldn't spell disaster; in that event, the GOP freshmen would figure out the truth soon enough. The problem is that many Tea Partiers consider TARP such a terrible idea that they would have chosen to brave a worse financial disaster instead. Today, they think that a market cataclysm would be better than another "sellout" vote.It goes without saying that folks who welcome the cleansing effects of a Depression ought not be allowed to determine government policy.
In a decision on Friday that was made public today, New York State Supreme Justice Paul Feinman dismissed a lawsuit by former firefighter Timothy Brown who argued that New York City was wrong to allow the destruction of a 150-year-old building to make way for the Islamic center. The ex-firefighter who was among those who responded to the terror attack on the World Trade Center said the old building had been struck by debris during the collapse of the twin towers and was a "living representative of the heroic structures that commemorate the events of that day." In a 15-page decision Feinman wrote, "Mr. Brown's claim that his ability to commemorate will be injured, is not yet recognized under the law as a concrete injury that can establish standing. Such an injury, although palpable to Brown, is immeasurable by a court."Well, he's definitely not a Boston firefighter.
Why The Democratic Party Is Doomed (Richard Miniter, Jul. 18 2011, )
This week’s fight over raising the federal debt limit exposes a key weakness in the warfare-welfare state that has bestowed power onto the Democratic Party: Without an ever-growing share of the economy, it dies. Every vital element of the Democrats’ coalition — unions, government workers, government contractors, “entitlement” consumers — requires constant increases in payments, grants and consulting contracts. Without those payments, they don’t sign checks to re-elect Democrats.
Like it or not, Obama is not the new FDR, but the new Gorbachev: a man forced to preside over the demise of a political system he desperately wants to save.
Democrat champions in the punditocracy confidently predict that the future of the world’s oldest political party is bright. But in fact, the coalition that is the modern Democratic Party is doomed. Every pillar upholding its heavy roof is crumbling.
The Democratic and Republican parties are structurally different.
The Democrats are a coalition, forged in the New Deal, of diverse interests that do not get along well. Imagine the deer-hunting union member sitting down with the vegetarian college professor and the lesbian lawyer and you will begin to see the trouble party leaders have holding the horde together. So far, money and government preferences have been essential. It is largely a party of unions, government workers and retirees, “green” industries, “entitlement” payees, professors, teachers and social-change activists — all of whom require government payments in one form or another. The only major element of the Democratic base that doesn’t receive government payments is the professional class (lawyers, engineers, stock brokers and so on). These high-earners amount to less than 5% of the population and are not reliable Democrat donors.
On the other hand, the Republicans are a consensus party. Activists and leaders fight like hell — leading Democrats to periodically predict the Republicans’ demise — only to settle on some principle that is then adopted by the majority. Tax cuts and preemptive invasions were once battlegrounds, now they are cornerstones. Significantly, very few of its supporters receive government payments. Yes, defense firms, farmers and small-business owners get contracts, subsidies or loans. Yet the overwhelming majority of Republicans pay more than they receive. They want to pay less, not get more.
The exception is retirees, who want their Social Security and Medicare while sometimes voting Republican. Since this group is large and reliably votes in large numbers, its entitlements will never be severely trimmed in the foreseeable future. But that fact actually spells trouble for the Democrats. The only way to pay retirees is to 1) raise taxes, 2) borrow more or 3) cut funding to other members of the entitlement class. As I explain below, options one and two are essentially off the table. Option three is a nightmare for Democrats and, if not today then very soon, a political reality.
This crisis comes at a very bad time for Democrats. Their coalition is either dying off or going broke.
It’s Time To Kick Farmers Off The Federal Dole (Doug Bandow, 7/18/11, Forbes)
Consider the agricultural dole.
Many city folk have an emotional attachment to a way of life they have never experienced. The image of the “family farm” possesses particular appeal.
Yet most entrepreneurs work hard, as do farmers, while facing enormous and unpredictable risks, only less based on weather. Working with animals and plants is interesting, not ennobling. And the family farm is largely a quaint historical artifact: today agriculture increasingly is big business pursued by shrewd corporate operators, who are even more adept at politics than economics.
Government subsidies obviously aren’t necessary for food production: people have fed themselves and traded their surpluses for thousands of years. The system doesn’t help consumers. Reducing supplies and imposing price floors obviously are bad deals for the hungry. Paying off farmers might lower some prices, but steals back through taxes any benefits received by consumers. Agricultural subsidies are designed by farmers for farmers.
But which farmers? Not the idyllic family farmer. The majority of payments go to farms with average annual revenue exceeding $200,000 and net worth around $2 million.
In a new paper for the American Enterprise Institute, Dr. Barry K. Goodwin at North Carolina State University observed: ”a large share of agricultural subsidies goes to a small segment of society that tends to be wealthier, less financially leveraged, and of higher income than the nonagricultural sectors of the aggregate economy. Moreover, farmers do not generally face more risk than business owners in other sectors, nor do farms fail more often than other forms of business. In fact, farm businesses rarely fail.”
In short, Uncle Sam is playing reverse Robin Hood.
The parliamentary fists of the majority: The Boycott Law is a double-edged sword that threatens to harm Israel’s international standing, and to play into the hands of those criticizing the quality of the country’s democracy. (Reuven Rivlin , 7/15/11, Ha'aretz)
[W]oe betide the Jewish democratic state that turns freedom of expression into a civil offense, and woe betide Knesset members who hoped to produce good grapes, but instead produced rotten fruit, to paraphrase the words of the Prophet Isaiah. Not only does the legislation not provide democracy with an effective tool with which to cope with the boycott problem, it also threatens to catapult us into an era in which gagging people becomes accepted legal practice; an era in which the democratic-constitutional boundary line falls victim to acts of legislative infraction.
The Knesset’s legal adviser warned that the bill verged on the unconstitutional and would damage the heart of political freedom in Israel. Regrettably, my persistent attempts to put forward a compromise formula that would moderate the language of the law and prepare the bill to stand up to the constitutional test failed. The Boycott Law not only fails the test of constitutionality. It is a double-edged sword that threatens to harm Israel’s standing in the international arena, and to play into the hands of all those who criticize and mock the quality of the democracy in the Jewish state.
In practical terms, the outcome of the legislation will be different than what was intended: Those who have so far not boycotted Israel will do so now, and this time they will not differentiate a Green Line from a Red Line or a Purple Line. In addition, the law weakens our moral right to hold Judea and Samaria, and fans unnecessary ferment and protest domestically, as it brazenly defies the basic freedoms of the sovereign − namely, the citizens of the State of Israel.
I stand ashamed and mortified before my mentor, Jabotinsky, for not having succeeded in protecting the individual, whom he likened to a monarch, against the parliamentary fists of the majority. It might have been hoped that in an era in which Jabotinsky’s followers are scattered across the whole political spectrum, from the coalition to the opposition, things would be different. But in the absence of an ideological backbone, it appears that even the deep commitment to democracy and individual freedoms of those who call themselves his successors is conditional. It is the State of Israel that is compelled to pay the price of political interests that supersede national interests.
And as if the burden of the Boycott Law were not enough, one of its unfortunate results is to place the legislative and judicial branches on a collision course.
There are legitimate ways and tools to criticize judgments of the Supreme Court, and my position is well-known regarding the need to move ahead with a Basic Law on Legislation that would regulate the boundaries between the two branches. However, I cannot but condemn vehemently the attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court and its justices, which have been expressed both implicitly and explicitly over the past few days. These threats are another nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy.
Obama's Step Forward on Libya: Recognizing the provisional government is important progress. Now can we finish off the Gadhafi regime? (MAX BOOT, 7/18/11, WSJ)
It took nearly four months, but last week the Obama administration finally did the right thing: It recognized the National Transitional Council as the rightful government of Libya. That will allow the rebels to tap into billions of dollars in frozen Libyan government accounts in the U.S. Access to those funds is crucial not only for furthering the campaign to topple Moammar Gadhafi, but also for constructing a working government in Benghazi that can eventually be expanded to the rest of the country.
Yet the question remains: What took so long? Some two dozen countries—ranging from France to Qatar—had already extended diplomatic recognition to the rebels by the time that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. was joining their ranks. Unfortunately, this tardiness is symptomatic of the administration's conduct of the entire war effort and exemplifies President Obama's puzzling "lead from behind" doctrine.
Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today? (Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, 7/18/11, Heritage)
Each year for the past two decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty.” In recent years, the Census has reported that one in seven Americans are poor. But what does it mean to be “poor” in America? How poor are America’s poor?
For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the Poverty Pulse poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development asked the general public: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs. That perception is bolstered by news stories about poverty that routinely feature homelessness and hunger.
Yet if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the more than 30 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor. While material hardship definitely exists in the United States, it is restricted in scope and severity. The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.
As scholar James Q. Wilson has stated, “The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.” In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.
The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.
Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media.
Regrettably, annual Census reports not only exaggerate current poverty, but also suggest that the number of poor persons and their living conditions have remained virtually unchanged for four decades or more. In reality, the living conditions of poor Americans have shown significant improvement over time.
A Liberal Reads the Great Conservative Works (Carl T. Bogus interviews himself, 7/18/11, National Review
Q. What was your favorite Buckley book, and why?
A. I liked best The Unmaking of a Mayor, Buckley’s memoir of his 1965 New York mayoral campaign. The book bursts with scintillating wit, but it’s Buckley’s position papers — set forth in full — that make the book truly special. They may be the most unusual position papers ever issued by a political candidate. Buckley had no chance of winning. He wasn’t running to win; he was running to promote conservatism, and to explore conservative approaches for urban problems. This left him free — truly free — to tell the truth as he saw it, regardless of how voters would react. While most position papers are written by campaign staffs or consultants, Buckley wrote his own. They are cast in his inimitable style (James Buckley, who was his brother’s campaign manager, confirmed for me that Bill penned them himself). Most of his proposals exhibit sophisticated research and analysis, yet are presented with elegant simplicity. Some of Buckley’s proposals might be characterized as liberal, such as constructing an elevated bikeway from 1st Street to 125th Street in Manhattan; some are outrageous: quarantining welfare recipients and drug addicts in what Buckley described as “great and humane rehabilitation centers” and his opponents called “concentration camps”; but most deal with mundane yet critically important urban problems, such as traffic congestion, public transit, water, and the like. Buckley had the rare gift of making even such prosaic topics interesting.
Q. In your opinion, what constitutes the canon of modern American conservatism?
A. There is, of course, no official list. But I think there is a consensus that at least half a dozen books deserve such a designation. In chronological order, they are: F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944), William F. Buckley Jr., God and Man at Yale (1951), Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (1953), Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), and Milton Friedman, Freedom and Capitalism (1962). [...]
Q. Which of the canonical works had the greatest impact on you?
A. Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. That was inevitable. Kirk argued that Burkeanism “is the true school of conservative principle,” and I happen to be an admirer of Edmund Burke. Indeed, I consider myself a liberal Burkean. If you think “liberal Burkean” is an oxymoron, you have never read Kirk, who repeatedly — convincingly — contends, in both The Conservative Mind and his biography of Edmund Burke, that Burke was both a conservative and a liberal. Anyone who appreciates the complexity of the world realizes that, to be truly wise, a philosophy must somehow embrace the best sentiments of both conservatism and liberalism.
Herman Cain Doesn't Believe in the First Amendment (Conor Friedersdorf, Jul 18 2011, Atlantic)
In June, when Herman Cain said that Muslims seeking to serve in his administration would be subject to a special loyalty test, a lot of people accused him of bigotry. I was among them. In subsequent interviews, Cain scoffed at his critics, but he also quietly changed his position: there wouldn't be any special test for Muslim Americans, he said, he'd just vet everyone very carefully.
As it turns out, those of us who suspected that he isn't to be trusted with the liberty of religious minorities were right. In the clip above, he asserts that every community in the United States should have the right to ban mosque construction. [...]
If his backers, many of whom call themselves "constitutional conservatives," have any regard for the actual liberties guaranteed by our founding document, they'll immediately abandon this candidate. His outright attack on the First Amendment's protection of religious expression ought to cost him the support of every tea partier, religious conservative, and libertarian voter who has the courage of their professed convictions.
Voters whose only criteria is common sense should abandon him too.
Alternatives to Neoliberalism (Noah Millman, 07/18/11, The American Scene)
Henry Farrell, as quoted criticizing Matt Yglesias:
To put it more succinctly – even if left-leaning neo-liberals are right to claim that technocratic solutions and market mechanisms can work to relieve disparities etc, it’s hard for me to see how left-leaning neo-liberalism can generate any self-sustaining politics.
Kevin Drum agrees:
If the left ever wants to regain the vigor that powered earlier eras of liberal reform, it needs to rebuild the infrastructure of economic populism that we’ve ignored for too long. Figuring out how to do that is the central task of the new decade.
But Matt Yglesias responds:
So I really, strongly, profoundly agree with this. The moment someone comes up with a workable idea on this front, please sign me up. But if there’s no idea to debate, then there’s no idea to debate. Debating the desirability of devising some hypothetical future good idea seems kind of pointless to me.
But this completely misses the point. Neither of his critics are primarily saying that neoliberal policy ideas are bad. They are saying that neoliberalism is bad politics – not because it can’t win an election, but because it is based on running on good ideas, winning elections, and then implementing those good ideas. And that’s not a self-sustaining politics. From a more traditional left-wing perspective, you don’t start with good ideas – you start with ideas for how to establish enduring power bases.
Broadly speaking, the alternatives to liberalism reject the goal of finding the best policy, meaning the policy that will benefit the most people, in favor of promoting policies that may hurt more people than they help, but that shift the balance of power in favor of the group you’re seeking to represent.
Among Libyan rebels, reluctant warriors (William Booth, 7/17/11, Washington Post)
Where once there was the paranoid silence of state censorship, now there are over-caffeinated “media centers” with satellite Internet and lots of ashtrays, staffed by eager young volunteers speaking bits of Manchester English, obsessed with this brand-new thing called free Internet access.
At the Wazin border crossing with Tunisia, where the charred remains of a couple of tanks line the empty roads, the Free Libya passport control officer demanded, “Hey, friend me!”
Each of the uprisings of the Arab Spring has its own narrative and personality, and here in the mountains south of Tripoli, where Berber shepherds still tend flocks beside the crumbling walls of thousand-year-old granaries, the vibe is eager, confident, hopeful.
The rebels want to take Tripoli, they want to remove Gaddafi and his sons, but they don’t want to slaughter a lot of people to do it. That is, at least, what they say now.
“Because later, we will have to make a country together,” said Ibrahim Taher, a teacher who commands 130 men.
Members of the new city councils are as likely to quote Martin Luther King Jr. as the Koran. Rebel military commanders say they wish they didn’t have to shoot at fellow Libyans. They are slightly less squeamish about shooting at foreign fighters dragged into the conflict from poor nations such as Mali and Niger.
A common reason given for the slowness of the advance toward Tripoli?
“There are too many families in the way,” said Jamu Ibrahim, a top rebel leader in Zintan.
Venezuela's Docs Flee—So Does Chávez: It's no coincidence that the president has returned to Cuba for medical attention. ( MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, 7/18/11, WSJ)
[I]t is in health care where Venezuelans are feeling the inflation pain most. Hospital services are up 39.7% year over year, doctor and paramedic services are up 21.5%, and the cost of medicines and medical equipment has risen 17.4%.
These cost increases refer, of course, to private clinics and goods that are not subject to price controls. Wherever prices can't be raised, both quality and supply are deteriorating rapidly.
One needn't be sick enough for a hospital to appreciate the problem. Venezuelans report shortages of everything from aspirin to cholesterol drugs, and it's likely this has triggered hoarding, which has exacerbated the situation.
Most medicines sold in Venezuela, prescription or over-the-counter, are imported or contain imported materials. This means that the distributor has to pay the market rate in dollars to suppliers abroad. Obviously if the government sets the retail price below the cost for the importer, the transaction will create a loss.
Chávez-nomics has been even more devastating for doctors in the public hospitals. Dr. Douglas León Natera of the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV) told El Universal on June 16 that doctors earn a mere 2,600 bolivars (roughly $325 at the market exchange rate) monthly, and that even though hospitals have become targets of the country's rising crime, the government has failed to provide protection for health-care staff. Doctors also cite scarce and low-quality resources and long hours. On June 30 the FMV called a strike to protest low pay and arduous working conditions. Last week Mr. Chávez offered them a 30% raise. They refused to yield. They are, however, continuing to treat urgent cases.
Pharmaceutical importers have been reluctant to complain publicly about their difficulties; large companies that offend Mr. Chávez can become targets of nationalization. It's a bit more difficult to nationalize a doctor. A strike is just one option. Many of Venezuela's best doctors have fled the country, which explains how it is, according to the FMV, that in public hospitals there are 130,000 patients waiting for surgery.
Meet the Fútbol Moms: Latina mothers are America’s hottest demographic, and a new website aims to give them the Oprah treatment. Bryan Curtis on the soccer mamis—and their power in 2012. (Bryan Curtis, Jul 17, 2011, Daily Beast)
Read the 2010 Census and you realize something is changing about America. It’s our moms. Over the last decade, 56 percent of the nation’s population growth has been driven by Latinos. In states like Texas, Latinos made up a whopping 65 percent of growth. America’s national mom, you might say, is becoming a Latina mom.
That’s the provocative argument of Mamiverse, a new website that launches Monday. Mamiverse wants to be for Latinas what Oprah Winfrey was for African Americans: a pal, a spiritual adviser, and, more subtly, an image-changer. In period when American-born Latinas have been caught in the national freakout about “border security,” Mamiverse offers them a new spokeswoman. She’s a particular kind of Latina mom—an English-speaking, All-American gal. “The young, acculturated, affluent, online Latina is speaking English, and is imbibing media in English,” says Rene Alegria, the site’s 36-year-old founder and CEO.
Alegria wants Mom benevolent and wise; skeptical and demanding—to lead the political conversation. “We’re rebranding our community,” he says.
John Brown Marches On (BENJAMIN SOSKIS and JOHN STAUFFER, 7/17/11, NY Times)
The song, adapted from a Methodist camp meeting hymn, had emerged from the improvisations of earlier volunteer militiamen at Fort Warren, the Second Battalion, Light Infantry. When the 12th moved in, they inherited the song and embraced it as their own. “John Brown’s Body” quickly made its way outside the fort’s walls. A month after the ceremony on the Common, a Boston publisher released sheet music for a version of the song, announcing, “[a]t this time one can hardly walk on the streets for five minutes without hearing it whistled or hummed.”
After the 12th introduced the song to the residents of New York as it marched down Broadway, the New York Tribune, one of the nation’s largest circulating papers, republished the lyrics. The song’s popularity continued to mount as the 12th made its way to the front, intermingling with other regiments. It soon spread to the entire Army of the Potomac, becoming the Union’s most beloved anthem. With its steady, determined cadence, “John Brown’s Body” seemed to steel men for battle. “The leaders of the Union army acknowledge its superhuman power for inspiring the ranks,” wrote one journalist. But what did Union soldiers mean by singing it?
The song clearly conjured up the memory of John Brown, the radical abolitionist who in October 1859 led a small band of men on a doomed raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Va. Brown was captured and hung after spending six weeks in jail, impressing even his captors with his stoicism and Puritanical resolve. At memorial services across the North, pulpits rang out with declarations that John Brown would live on.
To some extent, the Civil War’s most popular song guaranteed this fate. For a dedicated core of abolitionists, and for those enlistees in the Union army who were impelled by antislavery ardor, “John Brown’s Body” served as a rallying cry. “I want to sing ‘John Brown’ in the streets of Charleston,” announced one Massachusetts infantry captain to his mother, “and ram red-hot abolition down their unwilling throats at the point of the bayonet.” As the song spread through the Union ranks, these abolitionists regarded its popularity as portending the incorporation of Brown’s antislavery zeal into the North’s war effort, which would ultimately culminate in the emancipation of the slaves.
Perhaps no group appreciated the song’s emancipationist associations more clearly than African Americans. “John Brown’s Body” assumed a prominent place in both spontaneous and planned celebrations of emancipation. Indeed, for bondsmen and women who intuited that freedom was no longer a distant, millennial vision, but an imminent actuality, the song clearly held a subversive attraction: when a visitor to Virginia expressed surprise in hearing slaves singing “John Brown’s Body” while laboring in the fields, he asked their master why he allowed them to do so. He was powerless to stop them, the master replied.
Hillary Clinton due in key India visit (BBC, 7/19/11)
The visit is her second as secretary of state and follows President Barack Obama's last November.
Correspondents say Mrs Clinton's visit will seek to expand cooperation between the two countries - from trade and educational exchanges to anti-terror measures.
She will attend a "strategic dialogue" session with Indian officials in the capital, Delhi, on Monday.
Mrs Clinton reacted to the Mumbai blasts last week, saying it was "more important than ever that we stand with India".
She also reaffirmed her "commitment to the shared struggle against terrorism".
Pay as You Go with Smartphones: Why the smart money’s on smartphones as the way to pay for everything you buy (Brad Stone and Olga Kharif, 7/18/11, Business Week)
Osama Bedier is about to buy a pair of scandalously skimpy size 4 denim cutoff shorts from American Eagle Outfitters. (AEO) The beefy, Egyptian-born vice-president at Google—and (GOOG) former bouncer at the Roxbury night club in Los Angeles—is buying the $25 Daisy Dukes to demonstrate a novel way of paying in stores and restaurants: with a cellphone. As about 200 bankers, credit-card executives, journalists, and Googlers watch at the company’s New York building in late May, Bedier waves his Nexus S smartphone in front of a credit-card reader. The device beeps in response, and three things happen at once: The phone submits a $5 store coupon, his Citibank (C) MasterCard (MA) account is charged $20 for the shorts, and his loyalty card with the retailer, also stored on the phone, is credited with the purchase. “And that’s how simple it is,” says Bedier, awkwardly holding a brown paper bag with the short-shorts, which he vows to give to his daughter. “We call that single tap.”
Sixty years after the creation of the plastic credit card, big corporate names are backing a new wave of payments technology—a tap with a phone, rather than a swipe with a credit card. Pretty much every major bank, credit-card company, wireless network operator, and a good number of Silicon Valley players are exploring the cellphone as the next ubiquitous way to spend money. Efforts such as Google’s fledgling service, Google Wallet, which begins trials this summer in New York and San Francisco, are the culmination of a decade of arduous technology development and a multiparty, cross-industry battle over who will control the $20.5 trillion global market for in-store retail transactions. Also pushing their own digital wallets are, among others, Visa (V), American Express (AXP), EBay’s (EBAY) PayPal division, and Isis, a venture of three large U.S. mobile phone carriers.
Should this technology take off, the cellphone could become the central repository of not just bank account information but coupons, loyalty points, and membership cards, allowing companies such as Google to route deals to cellphones at just the right time and place. “Ten years from now, a major portion of marketing is going to go through this personalized media channel,” says Mohammad Khan, who worked at credit-card terminal vendor VeriFone (PAY) before starting what is now a rival, ViVOtech.
A grand health bargain that cuts debt (Stephen T. Parente, July 17, 2011, Politico)
[J]ust three relatively simple changes could give the president and Republicans the $4 trillion of budget savings they need over the next 10 years, and far more beyond.
First, eliminate the tax exemption for employer-provided health insurance. This reduces revenues by more than $250 billion a year — 2.5 times more than the home mortgage deduction. It also creates a tax distortion by penalizing entrepreneurs in small businesses, who don’t have access to the same tax break.
The health insurance deduction was created in 1943 to offset a wage freeze during World War II. Newsflash: The war is over — move on. [...]
Second, make Medicare a defined contribution plan for everyone age 54 and younger today, and make the contribution equivalent to the Medicare expenditure baseline in 2022 (when it goes into effect). After that, the contribution should be pegged to general inflation plus half of the U.S. productivity rate in the three previous years. [...]
Finally, readjust four elements of Obama’s health reform law that fiscal conservatives who vote in 2012 care about. These are: First, cap the subsidy for health insurance at 300 percent of the federal poverty line rather than the current law’s 400 percent — nearly $90,000 for a family of four. Second, let states take their Medicaid transfers from the Treasury and make their own solutions within a fixed budget constraint. Third, eliminate the tax on medical device manufacturers — after aerospace, it’s the strongest U.S. technology export. Fourth, let unused balances in Health Savings Accounts be counted toward the minimum actuarial value of high deductible health insurance plans, so the fastest growing insurance product of the past decade can survive and thrive to insure even more. [...]
This health bargain is likely to yield a savings of $4 trillion over 10 years, extrapolating from existing Congressional Budget Office estimates, and more than twice that amount over 20 years. Because these policies are based on existing CBO estimates, legislation can be gift-wrapped and delivered to the president’s desk by the Aug. 2 deadline.
Harry Potter Is Here to Stay: Why the final movie is only the beginning of the Harry Potter phenomenon. (John Granger, 7/13/2011, Christianity Today)
Rowling's storytelling reveals traditional artistry, with symbols and themes borrowed from Dante, Shakespeare, the Inklings, and other literary greats. Most remarkably, Rowling uses three literary devices that are hallmarks of the series: (1) a complex yet nearly invisible "ring composition"; (2) an alchemical drama; and (3) an engaging picture of the faculties of the soul. Let me explain.
• Ring compositon: The whole series, as well as each book therein, conforms to the touchstones of traditional story scaffolding. Anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Thinking in Circles, calls it "ring composition." She describes it as "a construction of parallelisms that must open a theme, develop it, and round it off by bringing the conclusion back to the beginning." Bible readers might call it chiasmus.
Rowling repeatedly hits the three marks of ring writing. The Potter series and each novel have beginnings and ends that meet up. They have "centers" that both return to the question raised in the beginning and answer that question in the end. And, each book and each chapter has its mirrored image or "reverse echo" in the book or chapter on the opposite side of the story divide. "Parallelisms" define these stories.
I think Rowling picked up this chapter structure from her close reading of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Charles Williams's seven novels, which have a similar if not identical structure. Both Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (marketed and sold in the U.S. as Sorcerer's Stone) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for instance, are 17 chapters long; both have their story centers in chapter 9; and both show an echoing effect between chapters before and after this divide.
• Alchemical drama: Lewis and Williams, and Rowling after their example, write in circles not just because Boethius, Dante, and medieval poets did, but also because they aim to transform readers by giving them an experience of literary alchemy.
Stanton Linden, in Darke Hierogliphicks, says that Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton used the vocabulary and images of alchemy to present allegories of Christian transformation. In alchemy, the darkness of lead becomes illumined and enlightened to become gold—a solid "light of the world"—and the alchemist's heart is restored to Edenic perfection. As a literary medievalist, Lewis used the alchemy motif most obviously in his Space Trilogy. In the world of alchemy, the three movements of transformation are known as the black, white, and red stages. The Space Trilogy parallels these stages as we witness the spiritual dissolution, purification, and perfection of Ransom, the saga's hero.
Rowling confirmed her use of alchemical drama in a 1998 interview with Scotland's The Herald. She said, "To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic."
Thus, it's no coincidence that the title of Rowling's first work is Philosopher's Stone. Rowling writes in a narrow but deep stream of English letters that begins in Shakespeare's Globe Theater, permeates the works of the metaphysical poets (Blake, Coleridge, and Yeats), and is seen in novels from Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities to Williams's Many Dimensions.
• Soul triptych: Rowling puts a peculiar Inkling twist on the schoolboy novel formula of three lead characters. Ron, Hermione, and Harry embody the three faculties of the soul. These faculties are described by Lewis in the essay "Men Without Chests" (from The Abolition of Man), what we call "body, mind, and spirit." It's a literary mechanism as old as the Legend of the Charioteer in Plato's Phaedrus and the "soul triptych" in The Brothers Karamazov. We see it more recently in Frodo, Sam, and Gollum on Mount Doom; Han, Luke, and Leia in Star Wars; and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in Star Trek.
This type of story works because, entering into fiction, we suspend disbelief. We shut down our critical faculties. Looking with this "eye of the heart" (instead of the mind), we see our reflection looking back at us from the hero—who represents the spirit in these triptychs—and identify with what he or she experiences.
In Rowling's world, Harry plays this role—as hero and spirit—to the max. He always chooses the right path, usually at risk to his life while fighting the Dark Lord. Dumbledore tells Harry repeatedly that Harry's power is his capacity for love. Harry survives many near-deaths because of his "bond of blood" with the sacrificial love of his mother. Seven years in a row, Harry dies a near death and "rises from the dead" in the presence of or as a symbol of Christ. Our hearts recognize, resonate with, and thrill to Harry's annual death to self and resurrection.
Like Lewis, Williams, and other greats, Rowling has written a spiritual allegory of the soul's transformation to perfection in Christ. Fiction, as philosopher and historian of religion Mircea Eliade explained in The Sacred and the Profane, serves a religious function in a secular culture. Moderns are immunized against sacramental experience, prayer, and worship, yet still long for the transcendent, something beyond the ego. We find it in sports, film, and music, but most powerfully in books, especially in novels in which the heart recognizes its reflection in a character like Harry. We recognize and imaginatively experience our hearts' end in Christ's victory over death.
Lynch tells agencies to ready layoff plans: State negotiating with unions to cut $50m in costs (Norma Love, 7/16/11, Associated Press)
Governor John Lynch directed state agency heads yesterday to develop contingency plans to lay off potentially hundreds of state workers if negotiations with their union fail to produce $50 million in savings.
Lynch’s budget director John Beardmore requested responses by Aug. 8. He said implementation potentially would be Sept. 8. The layoffs would be in addition to an as yet unknown number of layoffs from budget cuts
New York State’s second-largest union of public workers, facing hundreds of layoffs that had been scheduled to take effect within days, agreed on Saturday to significant wage and benefit concessions in order to save the jobs of its members.
The five-year agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Public Employees Federation largely mirrors the deal struck last month with the state’s largest public employee union, the Civil Service Employees Association, which also agreed to big concessions in exchange for giving its members immunity from most layoffs.
The federation, which represents about 55,000 state workers, agreed to forgo across-the-board raises for three years, accept furlough days for the first time and increase the amount members contribute toward their health insurance coverage.
The concessions in the deal, which must be ratified by the union’s membership, would save the state $75 million this fiscal year and nearly $400 million over the course of the contract, the governor’s office said.
Boston #1! (for meanest population) (Gareth Cook, July 17, 2011, Boston Globe).
Two psychologists conducted a national survey, asking Americans questions designed to measure 24 “character strengths.’’ They grouped some of these strengths, like gratitude and valuing emotional connections, as “strengths of the heart’’ - a fancy way of saying kindness. And then, for each of the nation’s 50 largest cities, they calculated an average score.
The conclusion: Boston came in at number 50. [...]
Boston’s independent streak and Yankee reticence attract the like minded, folks who are probably less inclined toward open-ended emotional connections.
Beckhams a 'bad example' for families: With a fourth child, the couple have joined the ranks of the irresponsible, population experts say (Tracy McVeigh, 7/17/11, The Observer)
David and Victoria Beckham may have been overjoyed to welcome their new daughter, Harper Seven, last week but, according to a growing group of campaigners, the birth of their fourth child make the couple bad role models and environmentally irresponsible.
As the world's population is due to hit seven billion at some point in the next few days, there is an increasing call for the UK to open a public debate about how many children people have.
Now the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has joined other leading environmentalists in calling for the smashing of what TV zoologist Sir David Attenborough has called the "absurd taboo" in discussing family size in the UK.
Lucas said: "We need to have a far greater public debate about population, whether it focuses on improving family planning or reducing global inequality – and looking again at how we address the strain on our natural resources. The absence of an open and honest discussion about this issue means most people don't give much thought to the scale of global population growth in recent years. In 1930, just one or two generations ago, the world's population stood at around two billion. Today it is around seven billion, and by 2050 it is projected to rise by a third to 9 billion.
"We live as if we have three planets instead of just one. It is interesting that public figures, environmental groups and NGOs in general have tended to steer away from population to the extent that it's become a taboo issue. The horrific consequences of China's one-child policy and of other draconian efforts to regulate procreation have, for many, rendered discussion of the subject completely unpalatable. Yet as long as an issue remains a taboo subject where no one talks about it, then there's very little chance of finding the solutions we need."
The tragic reality of euthanasia (Derek Mediema, 7/15/11, National Post)
In the Netherlands, where assisted suicide and euthanasia became legal in 2002, the law states that individuals must give written consent that they want to die. In spite of this, a 2005 study of deaths by euthanasia in the Netherlands found that almost 500 people are killed annually without their consent.
Belgium has the same safeguard. Nonetheless, a 2010 study found that in the Flemish part of the country, 32% of euthanasia cases were carried out without request or consent. Some were cases where a person couldn't give consent due to their medical condition. Others were cases where a person could have given consent but didn't. In the latter cases, doctors proceeded with euthanasia because they felt it was in the best interest of the patient, or because they thought discussing it would be too harmful to the patient.
Another suggested safeguard is mandatory reporting: All cases of euthanasia must be reported to the proper authorities so that they can ensure the other safeguards are being followed. This safeguard is weak from the start. Why would a doctor abusing patients report his abuse to the authorities? Nonetheless, the Netherlands and Belgium maintain this requirement. In Belgium, nearly half of all estimated cases aren't reported. In the Netherlands, at least 20% of all cases aren't reported.
The third safeguard is the guarantee that assisted suicide or euthanasia be carried out only by doctors. Yet a 2010 study of 120 Belgian nurses found that they administered life-ending drugs in 45% of assisted suicide cases without the patient's consent.
Delingpole Takes On the Greens: When it comes to global warming, the issue is not about science, but about control. (Charlie Cooke, 7/15/11, National Review)
Having given up a career writing about “whatever [he] wanted to write,” he is now Mr. Climate-Change Skeptic. This was the “worst financial decision ever made.” So, if not for money, why would he do it? As the book’s title suggests, Delingpole considers the global climate-change movement to be not only wrong on the facts, but at heart a proxy movement that provides convenient cover for, at best, socialism; at worst totalitarianism; and, on its fringes, downright misanthropy. Taking a leaf out of Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism, Watermelons tracks the genesis of the modern Green movement to some vertiginous sources, whose aim is nothing less than the end of Western liberty. At the root of the problem, its author concludes, is the widespread belief among environmental advocates that mankind is a cancer, that humans are separate from and destructive of Nature, and that industrialization, capitalism, and democracy are fundamentally bad for the earth’s prospects of survival (hence the title Watermelons: they’re green on the outside, red on the inside).
It is, thus, not surprising that the former president of the National Academy of Sciences considers that he has “never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process” than that exhibited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, because the issue is not about science, but about control, and the movement is populated by those “less interested in saving planet Earth, than destroying the capitalist system.” Is there much difference in the language and intent, Delingpole asks, between Green alarmists who want to plan every aspect of the “sustainable” future, and the Stalinist five-year plans and obsession with increasing tractor production?
Having laid out a case indicting — among others — the U.N., the Club of Rome, Rachel Carson, James Hansen, and Al Gore, and having made unveiled comparisons to the Nazi concept of Lebensraum, the author becomes self-conscious, as if suddenly noticing that he may appear to some as a conspiracy theorist, replete with tin-foil hat. To many he undoubtedly will, but he adroitly turns the anticipated charge to his advantage: There is a conspiracy, he argues, but the facts are in the favor of those cleverly labeled “deniers” (in order to link them to those who claim the Holocaust never happened). The conspiracy is on the other side.
Here he draws a comparison with the sinking of the Titanic, arguing that to claim that the facts are consistent with the global-warming theory in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is equivalent to pretending the Titanic did not perish because it was, a priori, considered to be “unsinkable.” Laying out a damning history of environmental eschatology, he shows that none of the claims that have routinely been made have come to fruition. To borrow Mark Twain’s comment on the occasion of his mistakenly reported death, the rumors of apocalypse have been greatly exaggerated. Facts may be stubborn things, but the alarmists have managed to invert the usual burden of proof, requiring the impossible proving of a negative. “If there is only a small chance,” they cry, “then we should act now” — a serious misappropriation of Pascal’s Wager.
No, we should not act on the basis of a small chance, retorts Delingpole. It is when exhibiting his trademark sarcasm and borderline hyperbole that he shines, although he never gives the impression of being promiscuously or arbitrarily contrarian. Why, he asks, has not the Cameron-led British government embarked upon a “massive ray-gun building program” in case of deadly asteroid attack? Why not require all children to wear tin-foil hats in case there are aliens controlling their minds? Why not, indeed.
For all his wit, Delingpole has a key problem: He is very much preaching to the choir, not to the unbeliever.
Inside Al Qaeda’s hard drives: A stash of data yields up insights about the business of terrorism (Renny McPherson, July 17, 2011, Boston Globe)
From 2007 to 2010, our team scoured a set of captured financial and organizational documents covering the years 2005 and 2006, and centering on Anbar Province, where Al Qaeda in Iraq was most powerful at that time. What we found there put to rest conflicting theories about Al Qaeda in Iraq’s funding and membership, and revealed it to be a highly systemized, bureaucratic organization. In particular, we learned a remarkable amount about Al Qaeda in Iraq’s franchise status, its flow of money, and its organizational structure.
When we began our work, we already knew something about the group’s history. Al Qaeda in Iraq was formed in late 2004, after the start of the Iraq War, when the Jordanian terrorist abu Musab al-Zarqawi rebranded his organization under the Al Qaeda banner. His group, Jamaat al-Tawhid al Jihad, had existed since the 1990s, with the initial stated goal of toppling the Jordanian kingdom. But its agenda expanded over time to include discrediting the Iraqi interim government, driving US and coalition forces out of Iraq, and helping to build a broader extremist caliphate.
In other words, the group shared a number of Al Qaeda’s goals, but the name itself was a strategic addition by a lesser-known organization. Al Qaeda in Iraq was not established in a top-down manner by a mastermind flush with millions in capital, the way a company would open an office in a new city. It was more like a local restaurant taking the name of a multinational franchise operation, but with autonomy to adapt the menu to local tastes. The new affiliation coupled Zarqawi’s ruthless vision and ability to rally people to his cause with the Al Qaeda brand name and well-organized franchise structure. After 2004, the group soared in power and popularity.
Yet there was little top-down strategy from Al Qaeda central, and dialogue between the groups was minimal. The documents we examined made it clear that there was no start-up capital from the parent company, just permission to use its name.
And, contrary to speculation that Al Qaeda in Iraq was reliant on international donations, this wasn’t a source of funding either. The group was self-financing. In fact, the core organization of Al Qaeda in Iraq in Anbar province was so profitable that it sent revenue to associates in other provinces of Iraq, and perhaps even further afield. The group raised millions of dollars annually through activities such as simple theft and resale of valuable items such as cars, generators, and electrical cable, and hijacking truckloads of goods, such as clothing. And their internal financial record-keeping was diligent, with all the requirements of expense accounts in regular businesses. A central unit of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s hierarchy required operatives to keep records of even the smallest outlay and to turn over their “take” to upper-level leaders, who made the spending decisions.
These carefully monitored expenses occurred in the context of what was literally a workforce. While people tend to think of Al Qaeda as simply a band of fighters, in reality there was a large organization needed to facilitate attacks and create support within the local community - all of which required money. As such, Al Qaeda in Iraq maintained an expanding payroll of members, imprisoned members, families of members, and dead members’ families, with ever fewer fighters and revenue producers. On the hook to provide for many local Iraqis, it had to resort to increasingly unpopular methods for generating revenue.
Beyond these daily expenditures, Al Qaeda in Iraq had big-ticket expenses. Launching attacks was one recurring overhead cost. An attack involved salaries for operatives, safe houses, transportation, weapons, and a crude form of life insurance for the wounded or for families of those killed. (By contrast, most civilian households in Anbar lacked any form of insurance.) Given these pressures, cash flowed fast in and out of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s central command in Anbar. About every two weeks, Al Qaeda doled out funds to pay not only for attacks, but also for housing, medical, and bureaucratic needs.
In terms of its membership, the group was a religious-political organization; its members were Sunnis, like Saddam Hussein.
Old form of singing still a communal fete (Kimberly Haas, 7/17/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Sacred harp is a style of four-part a cappella shape-note music that was widespread in colonial America, the name being a euphemism for the human voice. Many tunes are set in minor keys or use open chords that lend them a haunting quality. The 18th- and 19th-century lyrics are often equally harsh, foretelling of death and travail and, occasionally, hard-earned redemption.
A sacred harp "singing" can range from a dozen or two participants for a local event to a multiday "convention" that draws more than 200 singers from many states. The four voice parts each sit together facing the others, with individual singers taking turns leading songs in the center.
The group first sings through a tune by using the names of the shape notes - fa, sol, la, and mi - then launches into the lyrics. This format helps new singers learn the melody. And therein lies a vital distinction about sacred harp: This is participatory music. Observers are welcome, but if they stick around for more than a couple of tunes, they'll invariably be handed a songbook and gently invited to join in.
"Nobody expects perfection. People are not judgmental," declares Dan Coppock, 25, a Philadelphian who learned sacred harp from his folk-musician parents.
Sacred harp had mostly died out in the North but was nurtured and kept alive in the South, passed down through generations as a birthright. Such fire-and-brimstone lyrics as "The grave will soon become your bed, where silence reigns and vapors roll, in solemn darkness round your head" were sung in Primitive Baptist churches. Yet right here in Philadelphia and its environs, a resurgence of this compelling musical form is taking place - but with some local variations. Lacking the continuity of singing families and churches, the sacred harp groups that have sprung up here draw their membership from an unlikely combination of sources.
"You'll see a diverse group: young hipsters, older people who came to it through the folk-music revival of the 1970s. And outside the city, Plain People join in the local singings in Berks and Lancaster Counties," says Rachel Wells Hall, who last summer founded Old City Singers, which meets monthly in Christ Church's Neighborhood House on Second Street.
Add in the Southern singers who travel to attend annual all-day singings, and it could be a setting for some awkward conversations. Instead, people of different backgrounds, with wildly differing views on flash-point topics, sit side-by-side for hours, get along famously, and forge long-term friendships.
Defence shake-up means our smallest Army since the Boer War: The Army is to be cut in size by 17,000 soldiers in a radical overhaul of the armed forces to be announced on Monday. (Sean Rayment, 16 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
It is understood that by 2020 the Army will be reduced from its present strength of 101,000 regulars, to 84,000. The number of territorials will be maintained at 36,000.
In a separate development it is understood that RAF Leuchars is to close, leaving only one RAF airbase in Scotland. The site will become an Army barracks.
North Korea faces famine: 'Tell the world we are starving': More than a decade after North Korea was struck by a famine that killed up to a million people, the country's poorest are once again facing starvation, reports Peter Foster (Peter Foster, 16 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
In almost 10 hours of interviews during clandestine meetings with The Sunday Telegraph just inside China, four North Koreans who recently risked their lives to flee across the tightly-guarded border from their homeland described the desperate plight of those left behind.
Kim Yeong, 68, told how families were being forced to scour the countryside for wild plants to boil up for food in a desperate attempt to stave off starvation.
"People are very poor again, they are going to the mountains to get grasses and weeds to make into soup," he said. "Some people are having to eat manure when they cannot get any rice or corn."
The UN's World Food Programme says North Korea faces its worst food shortage in a decade, with six million people at risk - a consequence of poor economic management of its centrally planned system, a series of bad harvests caused by harsh winters, flooding and exhausted agricultural land, and the regime's unwillingness to spend its dwindling hard currency reserves on buying food for its 24 million people.
Netanyahu opposes inquiry into left-wing groups (JTA, 7/15/11)
Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes a proposal for parliamentary investigations of Israeli groups critical of the country's policies toward the Palestinians.
“We don’t need investigations in the Knesset,” the Israeli prime minister said Thursday night, speaking in Tel Aviv at a gathering honoring the work of a Chabad-affiliated federation of Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union.
However, Netanyahu said he would not require members of his Likud Party to vote with him on the issue.
The CIA's Secret Sites in Somalia (Jeremy Scahill, July 12, 2011, The Nation)
Nestled in a back corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport is a sprawling walled compound run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners. Adjacent to the compound are eight large metal hangars, and the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport. The site, which airport officials and Somali intelligence sources say was completed four months ago, is guarded by Somali soldiers, but the Americans control access. At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.
As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners. The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with US agents, including those from the CIA. A US official, who confirmed the existence of both sites, told The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.
The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” a senior Somali intelligence official told me. At times, he said, there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu, but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents.
Obama Open to 'Modest Modifications' to Social Security, Medicare in Deficit Deal (JAKE TAPPER (@jaketapper) and DEVIN DWYER (@devindwyer), July 15, 2011, ABC News)
President Obama said today he's open to "modest modifications" to federal entitlement programs that would require some seniors to pay more for benefits, if the changes are included as part of a compromise plan to reduce the deficit.
"I've said that means-testing on Medicare, meaning people like myself,…you can envision a situation where, for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate," the president said in response to a question from ABC News. "That could make a difference."
Consumption Taxes: The Next Topic for Ways and Means? (John D. McKinnon, 7/16/11, WSJ)
As if the topic of new taxes weren’t controversial enough, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to hold a hearing July 26 on consumption taxes.
Consumption taxes such as a national sales tax or the European-style value-added tax have a lot of appeal for many people. They are blessedly uncomplicated, relatively easy to administer, and arguably create less economic drag than a lot of other taxes.
“As you take a holistic view… the value-added tax is one of those things that needs to be on the table,” Greg Hayes, CFO of United Technologies Corp., said in response to a lawmaker’s question at a Ways and Means hearing in May.
Michele Bachmann officially leaves her church (Eric Marrapodi, 7/15/11, CNN)
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has long been a darling of conservative evangelicals, but shortly before announcing her White House bid, she officially quit a church she’d belonged to for years.
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, and her husband, Marcus, withdrew their membership from Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, last month, according to church officials.
Pirates shut out Astros, 4-0, in tie for first place (Paul Zeise, 7/15/11, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
[T]he Pirates offense has seemingly becoming baseball's version of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf." [...]
More importantly, the victory, combined with St. Louis's 6-5 loss to Cincinnati, means the Pirates are in a first-place tie with the Cardinals. This is the latest in a season the Pirates have been in first-place since July 17th, 1997, though they ended up finishing in second place that year.
And not surprisingly, Alex Presley, who seemingly runs so fast that if he had a flux capacitor attached to his belt he'd be capable of time travel, got things started for the Pirates in the top of the first inning.
Presley led off with a single, then stole second with no problem and easily tagged up from second to third on a fly-out to right field by Chase d'Arnaud.
Just like that, the Pirates, who stole three bases in the game, had a runner in scoring position and when Neil Walker singled they led 1-0.
Then in the top of the third, after Presley was hit by a pitch and d'Arnaud -- who, may not be fast enough to travel back in time but probably could give a DeLorean a run for its money - singled it gave the Pirates two runners in scoring position and nobody out.
Oh, yes, only one of the two -- Presley, who was at second - was technically in scoring position, but as fast as those two guys can run they are a threat to score from anywhere on the base paths on anything hit through the infield.
But after Neil Walker struck out, the Pirates third speed demon, Andrew McCutchen didn't leave much room for error as he drove the ball into the gap in deep right centerfield and in the process recorded his team-high fourth triple of the season.
Still, it was a thing of beauty to watch these three rounding the bases with the grace of gazelles and the speed with which they rounded the bases had to give some horse racing fans the feeling they were at Chruchill Downs watching 3-year old Thoroughbreds run for the roses as opposed to Minute Maid Park watching baseball.
Poll: Most back smoking ban (ELIAS GROLL, 7/15/11, Politico)
For the first time, a majority of Americans now support government efforts to snuff out smoking in all public places, according to a new poll released by Gallup on Friday.
Gallup found that 59 percent of Americans say they back a ban, which is the first time a majority has endorsed the idea since the polling outfit began asking the question in 2001. At that time, no more than 39 percent favored banning smoking in public places.
Read My Lisp: Is Michele Bachmann's husband gay? Don't trust gaydar to settle the question. (William Saletan, July 15, 2011, Slate)
Now Marcus Bachmann, husband of Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, is setting off gaydar alarms. It started as a subtle joke among bloggers. Then it progressed to parody and overt insinuation. On Tuesday, Dan Savage said the Bachmanns' marriage was frigid because Mr. Bachmann may have "tiptoed down" the road to homosexuality "just a couple of inches … maybe six, maybe seven." As evidence, Savage cited Bachmann's "mincing" in a YouTube clip, plus "the sound of his voice." He concluded that Bachmann "appears to be a lying closet case." On Wednesday, Jon Stewart said Bachmann, who counsels homosexuals to overcome their urges, seems to be doing this "so he can hoard all the gayness for himself." Stewart said Bachmann "dances and sounds not only gay, but center-square gay."
There's nothing new about calling somebody gay based on a lisp or a girlish gait. We all saw, did, or suffered it in grade school. What's unusual is seeing grown-up gays and liberals do it in 2011 with such open ridicule. But don't worry: The new queer-hunters are progressive.
Maybe It's Time for American Jews to Boycott Netanyahu (Jeffrey Goldberg, Jul 14 2011,The Atlantic)
The anti-boycott law, which would allow people who claim to have been financially victimized by calls for boycotts to sue those who call for such boycotts, without offering proof of damages, is obviously meant to intimidate into silence Israelis exercising their right to speak freely. I am against, of course, all calls for boycotts against Israel; I'm on the fence about calls for boycotts of settlement-made goods. But let the opponents of boycotts make their best arguments against such boycotts -- it has always been the Israeli way to fight bad ideas with better ideas. This new law is an entirely new thing -- a bullying example of the tyranny of the majority in action. I'm confident the Israeli Supreme Court will overturn this dreadful law, but until it does, might I suggest a counter-boycott, by American Jews, of Israeli politicians, up to and including the prime minister, who support the curtailing of free speech in Israel?
What I mean is this: Many of the biggest Jewish federations in America have special fundraising sub-groups organized around specific professions, including lawyers. Let's encourage these lawyers' division to write to the prime minister and tell him that, as much as they would love to have him visit and share his views with them, American lawyers -- and in particular, First Amendment lawyers, half of whom, it seems, are Jewish -- don't feel it is appropriate to honor a speaker who advocates punishing others for exercising their right to free speech.
There is wall-to-wall opposition among American Jews toward this ridiculous law, and this opposition needs to be communicated to the prime minister and to the Knesset in very clear ways, before Israel slips further down the slope away from democracy.
US recognizes Libyan opposition as legitimate government of Libya (Associated Press, July 15, 2011)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the Obama administration has decided to formally recognize Libya’s main opposition group as the country’s legitimate government. The move gives foes of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi a major financial and credibility boost.
Clinton announced Friday that Washington accepts the Transitional National Council as the legitimate governing authority of the Libyan people. Diplomatic recognition of the council means that the U.S. will be able to fund the opposition with some of the more than $30 billion in Gahdafi-regime assets that are frozen in American banks.
Two Navy Ships That Cost $300 Million Are Headed To The Scrapyard Without Having Seen A Day Of Service (Robert Johnson, Jul. 15, 2011, Business Insider)
Embroiled by legal battles for more than 25 years, two U.S. Navy ships are finally headed to the scrap heap without ever having sailed and despite the fact that they're almost completely finished.
According to Hampton Roads, the USNS Bejamin Isherwood and the USNS Henry Eckford were commissioned in 1985 at the Pennsylvania Shipbuilding Co. to carry fuel to the Navy's fleet around the globe.
The Quagmire: How American medicine is destroying itself. (Daniel Callahan and Sherwin B. Nuland, May 19, 2011, New Republic)
In 1959, the great biologist René Dubos wrote a book called Mirage of Health, in which he pointed out that “complete and lasting freedom from disease is but a dream remembered from imaginings of a Garden of Eden.” But, in the intervening decades, his admonition has largely been ignored by both doctors and society as a whole. For nearly a century, but especially since the end of World War II, the medical profession has been waging an unrelenting war against disease—most notably cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The ongoing campaign has led to a steady and rarely questioned increase in the disease-research budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It has also led to a sea change in the way Americans think about medicine in their own lives: We now view all diseases as things to be conquered. Underlying these changes have been several assumptions: that medical advances are essentially unlimited; that none of the major lethal diseases is in theory incurable; and that progress is economically affordable if well managed.
But what if all this turns out not to be true? What if there are no imminent, much less foreseeable cures to some of the most common and most lethal diseases? What if, in individual cases, not all diseases should be fought? What if we are refusing to confront the painful likelihood that our biological nature is not nearly as resilient or open to endless improvement as we have long believed?
Let us begin by pointing to some unpleasant realities, starting with infectious disease. Forty years ago, it was commonly assumed that infectious disease had all but been conquered, with the eradication of smallpox taken as the great example of that victory. That assumption has been proved false—by the advent, for example, of HIV as well as a dangerous increase in antibiotic-resistant microbes. Based on what we now know of viral disease and microbial genetics, it is reasonable to assume that infectious disease will never be eliminated but only, at best, become less prevalent.
Then there are chronic diseases, now the scourge of industrialized nations. If the hope for eradication of infectious disease was misplaced, the hopes surrounding cures for chronic diseases are no less intoxicated. Think of the “war on cancer,” declared by Richard Nixon in 1971. Mortality rates for the great majority of cancers have fallen slowly over the decades, but we remain far from a cure. No one of any scientific stature even predicts a cure for heart disease or stroke. As for Alzheimer’s, not long before President Obama recently approved a fresh effort to find better treatments, a special panel of the NIH determined that essentially little progress has been made in recent years toward finding ways to delay the onset of major symptoms. And no one talks seriously of a near-term cure.
One of the hardiest hopes in the chronic-disease wars has been that of a compression of morbidity—a long life with little illness followed by a brief period of disability and then a quick death. A concept first introduced by James Fries in 1980, it has had the special attraction of providing a persuasively utopian view of the future of medicine. And it has always been possible to identify very old people who seemed to have the good fortune of living such a life—a kind of end run on medicine—and then dying quickly. But a recent and very careful study by Eileen Crimmins and Hiram Beltran-Sanchez of the University of Southern California has determined that the idea has no empirical support. Most of us will contract one or more chronic diseases later in life and die from them, slowly. “Health,” Crimmins and Beltran-Sanchez write, “may not be improving with each generation” and “compression of morbidity may be as illusory as immortality. We do not appear to be moving to a world where we die without experiencing disease, functioning loss, and disability.”
Average life expectancy, moreover, steadily increasing for many decades, now shows signs of leveling off. S. Jay Olshansky, a leading figure in longevity studies, has for some years expressed skepticism about the prospect of an indefinite increase in life expectancy. He calls his position a “realist” one, particularly in contending that it will be difficult to get the average beyond 85. He also writes that it is “biased” to assume that “only positive influences on health and longevity will persist and accelerate.” That view, he notes, encompasses a belief that science will surely keep moving on a forward track—a projection that is not necessarily true. Simply look at the “breakthroughs” that have been predicted for such scientific sure things as stem-cell technology and medical genetics—but have yet to be realized. These breakthroughs may eventually happen, but they are chancy bets. We have arrived at a moment, in short, where we are making little headway in defeating various kinds of diseases. Instead, our main achievements today consist of devising ways to marginally extend the lives of the very sick. [...]
[O]ur broader point is not really about policy changes such as rationing. It is, put simply, that substantial shifts will be needed in the way our culture thinks about death and aging. There is good evidence that if physicians talk candidly and with empathy to critically ill patients and their families, telling them what they are in for if they want a full-court press, minds can be changed. That, in turn, means that physicians themselves will have to acknowledge their limits, explore their own motivations, and be willing to face patients with bad news as a way of avoiding even worse treatment outcomes. The ethic of medicine has long been to inspire unbounded hope in the sick patient and the same kind of hope in medical research. Sobriety and prudence must now take their place.
Why don't our one-sided players practise more? (Stephen Griffiths, 7/15/11, When Saturday Comes)
Most professional sportsmen are dedicated to their craft, often to the exclusion of social lives and leisure time, especially in individual sports where the level of competition demands it. Athletes, gymnasts, tennis players and golfers, for example, spend hour after repetitive hour, day after day, honing their skills, striving for improvement. Cricketers also spend much time on the practice ground, attaining a technical excellence – certainly in terms of fielding – that few other team sports can match. Footballers, on the other hand, turn up for work at ten, do a couple of hours' training, go for a massage, then lunch and are on the golf course before two.
No wonder Man City's pampered poodles were up in arms over Roberto Mancini's demand for a double shift. Then there was the wretched England team in South Africa complaining of boredom between matches. How about spending a few extra hours practising penalties, then? Clearly, in a sport where so many are in the comfort zone, with mid-ranking Championship players living in mansions and driving Bentleys, lack of hunger and motivation has to be an issue. But that alone does not explain a culture in football that tolerates mediocrity and is immured to the demand for better skills and techniques.
Obama's Nuclear Upgrade: The Case for Modernizing America's Nukes (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, July 6, 2011, Foreign Affairs)
Does nuclear modernization contribute to deterrence, which the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review called "the fundamental role" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal?
In "The Nukes We Need" (November/December 2009), we described the deterrence challenges that the United States will likely face in the coming years and the nuclear capabilities that might mitigate them. First, we argued that the United States is likely to face tougher deterrence problems in the coming years than it did during the Cold War. Specifically, as nuclear weapons proliferate, it becomes increasingly likely that the United States will find itself in conventional conflicts with nuclear-armed adversaries. Those adversaries have witnessed the catastrophic consequences of losing a war to the United States -- regime change, with prison or death the frequent fate of enemy leaders. Coercive nuclear escalation is one of the only trump cards that countries fighting the United States hold, offering the prospect of a battlefield stalemate and keeping existing regimes in power. For the United States, deterring weak, desperate adversaries from using their nuclear trump card will be a major challenge -- especially as these weapons spread.
Second, we argued that retaining the right mix of capabilities in the U.S. nuclear arsenal is vital for deterring -- or responding to -- an adversary engaging in coercive nuclear escalation. The foundation of a credible deterrent is maintaining the capability and the will to carry out one's threats. But most of the nuclear weapons in the current U.S. arsenal, including all the land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, have such enormous explosive yields that using them would spread radioactive fallout across vast regions and almost certainly kill large numbers of noncombatants. Threatening to use such indiscriminate weapons would simply not be credible, at least in any scenario short of a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland. To retain a credible deterrent, the United States must possess nuclear weapons that a president might actually use if U.S. allies, military forces, or territory suffered a nuclear attack. We therefore argued that Washington, as it reduces the size of its nuclear arsenal, must retain and modernize its lowest-yield and most accurate weapons.
So what has happened in the past 18 months? After substantial internal deliberation and input from Congress, the Obama administration has settled on a pragmatic approach to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. That approach balances the administration's two principal goals: reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and retaining a robust deterrent for the foreseeable future. Toward the first goal, the administration successfully negotiated and secured the ratification of New START, which caps U.S. and Russian deployed strategic forces at roughly 1,550 warheads -- about 20 percent lower than the previous cap. (All told, the number of deployed U.S. strategic weapons has now been reduced by 85 percent since the end of the Cold War.) The administration is seeking a new round of cuts to further reduce the arsenal.
At the same time, the White House has proposed a major nuclear modernization effort to revitalize the remaining force. Those proposals include funding nuclear infrastructure (that is, the complex of national laboratories, production facilities, and personnel), extending the life of aging warheads, and replacing old delivery systems. Fortunately, the administration's modernization plans seek to preserve the exact capabilities we advocated in "The Nukes We Need."
For example, the administration wants to retain and modernize the lowest-yield nuclear options in the force --the bombs and cruise missiles delivered by aircraft. The White House is seeking funding for a nuclear-capable version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a nuclear-capable long-range bomber to replace the B-52 and B-2 bombers. Most noteworthy, the administration supports a modernization plan that would convert all remaining B-61 nuclear bombs into a single, low-yield version with increased accuracy. The plan also calls for a new air-launched cruise missile that will probably combine lower weapon yield with higher accuracy.
In addition to preserving the low-yield options in the current force, the modernization plan also calls for building a new generation of ballistic missile submarines to replace the Ohio-class fleet -- a step that is essential for retaining the smaller U.S. arsenal's survivability. There also appear to be plans to increase the accuracy of the missiles that these submarines will carry. If so, the missiles could eventually be armed with much lower-yield warheads than those on current submarines.
All these proposals are welcome since they help ensure that the U.S. nuclear force remains usable -- which is the foundation of a credible deterrent.
Memento Harry: Lessons from the final Potter film. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 7/15/11, National Review)
Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. [...]
Beyond her creation of memorable characters and plots, Rowling has crafted a mythical universe where remembering and preparing for death are central virtues. She revives the medieval theme of memento mori, the virtuous cultivation of the memory of death, as a counter to modernity’s vacillation between unhealthy obsession with and tragic forgetfulness of death.
This theme is powerfully coupled with repeated illustrations of (a) the unnaturalness of the project of overcoming death and (b) the way the practice of evil, murderous arts destroys the practitioner. In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore informs Harry that Voldemort’s pursuit of immortality has “mutilated” his “soul beyond the realm of what we might call usual evil.”
The contrast between Harry and Voldemort’s approach to death is palpable. The opening of Yates’s Deathly Hallows Part Two finds Harry and Voldemort occupied in two quite different activities. Harry, refusing to use magic, is physically digging the grave of his friend Dobby, the loyal house-elf who gave his life defending Harry. Meanwhile, in an act of desecration of the dead, Voldemort is stealing the Elder Wand from the grave of Albus Dumbledore. At various points in the story, the Elder Wand is cited as one of three components (along with the Cloak of Invisibility and the Resurrection Stone) of the Deathly Hallows, the possession of which is believed to make one a “master of death” — the object of Voldemort’s quest.
At the center of Voldemort’s search is his performance of the darkest of dark arts: the creation of horcruxes, which preserve splintered pieces of his immortal soul, and which can only be created by committing murder. As Harry and his pals seek to discover and destroy the horcruxes, the only way that Voldemort himself will die, Voldemort pursues invulnerability and permanent rule over the world of wizards. The scenes featuring the destruction of horcruxes are among the most spectacular in the entire series of films, even as they heighten the dramatic tension and the sense of inevitable, final confrontation.
With threats imminent, there is no longer room for self-pity or teen angst — elements that were tiresomely common in the middle, overly long books in the series. Friendships deepen and in some cases blossom into love; the film contains two brief (and very nicely scripted) moments of passion, one between Ron and Hermione and another between Harry and Ginny. But this film is about what the books and previous films have always been essentially about: the practice of the virtues of friendship, loyalty, courage, and leadership.
In the midst of battle, there are revelations, small and large. We learn about the courage of Mrs. Weasley and Neville Longbottom, though Yates prunes important elements from Rowling’s version of their stories. Matthew Lewis is just right as Longbottom, capturing Harry’s rather plain and self-effacing classmate, who in the final film best combines valor and wit.
But the big revelations involve Snape and Dumbledore.
A Songwriter’s Legacy: Baseball Ditties, From Mickey to the Mets (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 7/12/11, NY Times)
[Ruth] Roberts, who died June 30, wrote a trilogy of baseball songs: “Meet the Mets,” “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” which was heard at Dodger Stadium for decades; and “I Love Mickey,” a musical mash note sung by Teresa Brewer to Mickey Mantle recorded during Mantle’s 1956 Triple Crown season.
They are not great songs (were you expecting Sondheim to write an ode to Hot Rod Kanehl?), but they put listeners in a cheerful mood as if they were following the bouncing baseball with Mitch Miller.
“Meet the Mets” was designed to market the Mets after their inaugural 40-120 season in 1962; it invited fans to “bring your kiddies/bring your wife” to the Polo Grounds, then to Shea Stadium and now to Citi Field.
How To Serve The Needy At A Fraction Of The Cost (PETER FERRARA, 7/14/11, IBD)
Our nation's entitlement programs, from Social Security to Medicare to ObamaCare to dozens of welfare programs such as Medicaid, are all based on simple, late-19th century tax and redistribution ideas. Politically, we will never be able to solve the entitlement crisis by simply trying to cut people's benefits.
As I discuss in my new book, "America's Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb," the only politically viable solution is fundamental, structural reform that would modernize the systems to rely instead on capital, labor and insurance markets, with transformed incentives that would lead them to contribute to economic growth rather than suppress it.
Through such reforms, we can achieve all the liberal social goals of those programs far more effectively, serving seniors and the poor far better, at just a fraction of the costs of the current tax and redistribution framework. That would make the necessary reforms politically viable.
Arab world’s views of U.S., President Obama increasingly negative, new poll finds (Jason Ukman, 7/.12/11, Washington Post)
In most countries surveyed, favorable attitudes toward the United States dropped to levels lower than they were during the last year of the Bush administration. The killing of Osama bin Laden also worsened attitudes toward the United States.
In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 30 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the United States (compared with 41 percent in 2009), while roughly 5 percent said the same in Egypt (compared with 30 percent in 2009).
“The very high expectations that were created in 2009 – there’s been a letdown since then,” said James Zogby, the president and founder of the Arab American Institute, of which the foundation is an affiliate.
Fewer than 10 percent of respondents described themselves as having a favorable view of Obama. The president’s ratings were the lowest on “the Palestinian issue” and “engagement with the Muslim world,” as the categories were described in the survey.
France and US: Vive la différence (Edward L. Glaeser, July 14, 2011, Boston Globe)
Before Louis XVI’s dismissal of his finance minister conjured a mob in Paris in 1789, France had been centralizing for hundreds of years. Political institutions reflect the trade-off between dictatorship and disorder; the greater the disorder in a country, the greater the appeal of a strong man on horseback. In all of the last 10 centuries, major wars have bloodied French soil, and the French have sought protection from powerful centralizers from Philip Augustus to Henry IV to Napoleon. As late as 1958, France produced a new constitution, with an empowered chief executive, Charles de Gaulle, to safeguard against a dangerous military coup.
America’s geographic isolation has meant that we never needed a Napoleon to organize us against the angry armies of a hostile continent. Down to the Tea Partying present, many Americans understandably see far more harm than good in a strong central government. Yet while America’s relative safety allowed us the luxury of a national political system well-designed to protect our freedoms, that system is poorly structured to greatly improve public services.
Washington has been less able than Paris to push through more beneficial nationwide reforms. In the late 19th century, France, humiliated by the Prussian Army in the 1870s, sought a stronger, better educated nation. Concurrently, a vast public works program, led by the technocratic public-works minister Charles de Freycinet, invested in the ports, roads, and railroads that connected France.
For Americans who crave radically better schools and public infrastructure, it’s tempting to wish for our own Freycinet - a forceful, superbly trained engineer who could be trusted to invest federal dollars wisely in America’s needs. But those Gallic-inspired dreams ignore the nature and strengths of our country.
Americans can take pride in the fact that our political system has survived, more or less, benign and intact, since 1789, while France experienced Robespierre’s terror, two Napoleonic Empires, and a Bourbon return. During the post-war world, our decentralized, constrained government has avoided major policy mistakes like large-scale industrial nationalization and over-regulating labor markets.
In Sunny Rome, Solving a Murder Involves Sharp Suits and Sexy Talk (GINIA BELLAFANTE, July 14, 2011, NY Times)
The films find Zen on the murder squad in Rome, where, despite a wardrobe and comportment that suggest Marcello Mastroianni in the 1960s, he is living with his mother at the age of 40. Zen is brought to us by Rufus Sewell, an Englishman whose Mediterranean good looks contain enough intelligence to make the character’s complexity resonant. He plays Zen with a perfectly rendered sense of professional confidence and romantic hesitancy, a blend of quiet rectitude and erotic bemusement.
Romance is an essential component of the equation. As Zen tackles one difficult case after another, balancing his own sense of justice against the imperatives of higher-ups, he begins to fall for the precinct secretary, Tania Moretti, played by the exquisitely beautiful Italian actress Caterina Murino as a woman dealing with the rubble of her own crumbling relationship.
Still, there is nothing of the morose in this trilogy, which makes it a welcome antidote to the craze for the grimness and melancholy of the unstoppably popular Scandinavian crime genre. Aesthetically, the Zen films are as distant from something like “The Killing,” AMC’s recent take on a Danish detective series, as an early James Bond movie is from an episode of “24.”
The films deploy a light comic sensibility and graphics that suggest a ‘60s caper. They situate us in a Rome where the weather always seems heavenly, blouses are always unbuttoned suggestively, and no lunch transpires without multiple courses and repeated instances of sexual innuendo.
'Inappropriate relationship' may be motive in severing of penis, source says (Andrew Blankstein, July 14, 2011, LA Times)
A dispute over an "inappropriate relationship" may be the motive in the case of a Garden Grove woman charged with cutting off her husband's penis, a law enforcement source said.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, said the couple had argued earlier in the day and that the wife was angry at the husband over a relationship. Police said that when they confronted the woman, she said her husband "deserved it."
George W. Bush teams up with Topps for 9/11-era baseball card (Andrew Malcolm, July 13, 2011 , LA Times)
George W. Bush and baseball card giant Topps have teamed up to create limited-edition autographed cards of the former president tossing out the first pitch at a World Series game in 2001.
“Our 2011 Allen & Ginter product will continue Topps’ historic tradition of chronicling heroes both on and off the playing field,” Topps Vice President Mark Sapir said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to announce that this year’s set will include limited-edition autographs of our country’s 43rd president, George W. Bush.”
George W. Bush teams up with Topps for 9/11 era baseball card The 200 autographed Bush cards will be randomly inserted into various sets of the 440-card Allen & Ginter sets.
What’s Wrong With Panetta?: He’s smart, careful, and politically astute. Yet suddenly, the newly minted secretary of Defense is a gaffe machine. (Leslie H. Gelb, Jul 13, 2011, Daily Beast)
Something’s amiss with Leon Panetta. He is a very smart and very careful guy who is making one startling verbal slip after another, everything from chalking up the Iraq War, inexplicably and incorrectly, to al Qaeda’s presence in that country to saying, again mistakenly, that there would be 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. He just isn’t the guy I met in 1966, when we both worked for moderate Republican senators. This isn’t the guy who’s watched and balanced his words for more than four decades in politics. Maybe his slips result from this really being the first time in his life that the world’s spotlight is directly on him, with reporters and wave makers hanging on his every word. Oftentimes, that propels even the most cautious to spout off. Or possibly it’s the pressure from the hard decisions he now faces as Defense secretary, namely America’s safe passage out of three wars, to say nothing of the awesome pressures he confronts in cutting military spending.
Knesset of Fools: A harsh new anti-boycott bill will help achieve the exact opposite of what its advocates intended: the delegitimization of the Jewish state. (HUSSEIN IBISH, JULY 12, 2011, Foreign Policy)
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the Knesset members who passed the "Boycott Bill" and their supporters do not seem to understand that boycotts, divestment, and sanctions that are carefully targeted against the occupation and the settlements but scrupulously avoid targeting Israel legitimize rather than delegitimize the Israeli state. They say, in effect: We do not want to buy or sell the products of the illegitimate settlement program, but we are happy to buy or sell Israeli goods because Israel is a legitimate state. By carefully targeting the occupation and the settlements, such boycotts implicitly recognize the legitimacy of Israel itself. But to supporters of the settlements, this is of little or no importance. To them, it's all simply Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has been engaged in precisely this kind of boycott in the small areas under its control in the West Bank. Beginning in March 2010, it circulated brochures to every household in "Area A" complete with color images of the logos of the banned settlement companies so that no one could have any doubts about which products were unlawful. After an initial grace period, the PA began forcibly removing these products from Palestinian shops and then shortly afterward began prosecuting those distributing them. Palestinians have been effectively urging people the world over, including sympathetic Israelis, to join them in seeking clarity, and drawing a sharp distinction between Israel on the one hand and the settlement project on the other.
This Palestinian boycott of settlement goods is an integral part of the program of nonviolent resistance to occupation currently under way in the West Bank, and the international campaign is an extension of that. The "Boycott Bill" is an attack on precisely this kind of nonviolent protest, which is, of course, the appropriate alternative to the self-destructive and self-defeating violence of the past. But, as with other forms of nonviolent resistance, Israel is proving as intolerant to this nonviolent tactic as it has been to all other forms of combating the occupation. For Israel, it seems, the only accepted response is to submit and stop making a fuss of any kind.
It's no surprise that large numbers of prominent Knesset members were unaccountably missing from the "Boycott Bill" vote, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is not only because the law is an obvious affront to freedom of speech and other principles of democracy, but also because of the high likelihood it will be struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court. Canny Israeli politicians no doubt also understand that rhetorically conflating Israel and the settlements in such a crude manner is a very dangerous thing to do in the immediate term, and potentially disastrous in the long run.
Given the powerful international consensus against the settlements -- including the United States, which unequivocally holds that the settlement project is at least illegitimate, if not outright illegal, and which clearly distinguishes between Israel and the occupation -- this crude law inflicts the most powerful delegitimizing blow against Israel in living memory.
Israel's boycott law: The quiet sound of going fascist: This is the one. This is where the slope turns nowhere but down. When the Knesset passed the boycott law, it changed the history of the state of Israel. (Bradley Burston, 7/12/11, Ha'aretz)
This is the one. Don't let what we like to call the relative calm here, fool you. When the Knesset passed the boycott law Monday night, it changed the history of the state of Israel.
In real time, a tipping point of great magnitude can sound a lot like nothing at all. But if the Boycott Law makes it past challenges filed by human rights and pro-peace organizations in Israel's High Court of Justice, then anything goes, beginning with democracy itself.
Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and 10 other cabinet ministers already know this. That's why they failed to show up for the vote.
They stayed away because they know that this is the stain that may prove indelible. The Boycott Law is the litmus test for Israeli democracy, the threshold test for Israeli fascism. It's a test of moderates everywhere who care about the future of this place.
Blowback: Obama’s unsuccessful foreign policy in the Mideast is based not on idealism or realpolitik but anti-colonialism, a legacy of the collapse of the European empires (Lee Smith, Jul 13, 2011, Tablet)
Given the strong Wilsonian streak in U.S. politics, one might imagine that Obama is a staunch idealist—a man who, like Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, or George W. Bush, is disgusted by dictators. But Obama’s shameful record as a protector of human rights in the Middle East hardly bears out this theory: Iran’s Green Revolutionaries begged Obama for support for weeks, only to be greeted first with silence while being shot, tortured, and maimed by the mullahs and their goons, and then by lukewarm support, and now again with silence. Syria’s authoritarian rulers shoot their own people in the streets and bombard civilian neighborhoods with tanks and helicopter gunships, but the White House is virtually mum.
So, Obama is clearly not being driven by an obsession with human rights. Perhaps he is a wily master of realpolitik? A leader of this kind—like, say, Richard Nixon—would support the United States’ powerful friends, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, while seeking to constrain the power of its enemies, like Syria and Iran. Yet Obama has so significantly alienated the Saudis that they have embarked on their own cash-heavy royalist-oriented foreign policy, seeking to woo American allies like Jordan and Bahrain and even Pakistan into a new alliance devoted in large part to blocking Obama’s destabilizing policies in the region. Obama picks fights with Israel and then suddenly demands the Jewish state return to its 1967 borders as a condition for negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians—and is publicly rebuked by the Israeli prime minister, with the support of the U.S. Congress. Losing the trust and support of both Saudi Arabia and Israel in the space of a few months is hardly the move of a leader driven by realpolitik.
Perhaps, as some right-wing critics claim, Obama’s policy is the product of something worse, or more sinister, like a blueprint to weaken America on behalf of its enemies? Except this doesn’t fly either. Obama’s no Manchurian candidate, brainwashed by U.S. enemies during his schooldays in Indonesia to ruin the country. Instead, what all these theories miss is that Obama is simply a representative man of the post-World War II American Ivy League intelligentsia, which came to see the United States in a context shaped by the collapse of the European colonial empires under the weight of greed and barbarity.
It was the furies of Europe—its anti-Semitism and racism, its need to dominate and destroy—that drove its people to war twice in the last century while inflicting a series of revolting indignities on the so-called “lesser races” whose lands they colonized and plundered. Americans believed they were different, both at home and abroad, because they were anti-colonial from birth, and with the 20th-century advent of the decolonization movement they instinctively if sometimes cautiously sided with the new nations of the world against their former European overlords. The American sympathy for decolonization began with Woodrow Wilson and was passionately held by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and most of his top aides and by their successors in the U.S. foreign policy establishment of the 1950s, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, head of the CIA, none of whom can be dismissed as left-wing academics.
Anti-colonialism was the motor driving the Middle East policy of the American warrior who won Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose administration wished to make friends in the region by distinguishing itself from the great European powers and showing that Washington had no colonial ambitions. Ike put that premise into practice when he demanded England, France, and Israel stand down after invading Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956. Obama seems to understand the world similarly—the established order is wrong for us and wrong for the people of the region, morally and politically.
Obama may also reasonably believe that a United States in the grips of a financial crisis simply doesn’t have the money to meddle in the Middle East anymore. This country gets less than 25 percent of its energy resources from the Persian Gulf, so why should it be up to us to make sure that affordable oil transits the region? Let China, India, and Europe share the burden. Combine a bad U.S. economy, American exhaustion with our post-Sept. 11 commitments in the Middle East, and the nostalgic logic of decolonization and you can, finally, understand the origins of Obama’s regional policy.
But then you must tackle its consequences. The problem with this philosophy is that anti-colonialism is not a response to the realities of the Middle East but rather an exercise in self-congratulatory and often delusional nostalgia—and the results in practice have been awful.
Sheila Bair’s Bank Shot (JOE NOCERA, 7/09/11, NY Times Magazine)
Arriving at the F.D.I.C. that summer, Bair found an agency that was floundering. “There hadn’t been any bank failures in a long time,” she said. “We were in this so-called golden age of banking, regulation had fallen out of favor and the F.D.I.C., which had a reputation as a tough regulator, had fallen on hard times.” Its budget had been slashed, employees had been let go and morale was terrible. Except for a 10-second handshake, she never even spoke to Henry Paulson her first year or so in office.
Alone among the regulators, though, the F.D.I.C. began to home in on subprime lending. By 2006, the subprime industry was running amok, making loans — many of them fraudulent, with hidden fees and abusive terms — to just about anyone with a pulse. Most subprime loans had adjustable interest rates, which started low but then jumped significantly after a few years, making the monthly payments unaffordable for many homeowners. The lenders didn’t care because they sold the loans to Wall Street, which bundled them into mortgage-backed bonds and resold them to investors.
Curbing subprime-lending abuses should have been the job of the Federal Reserve, which has a consumer division. But the Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, with his profound distaste for regulation, could not have been less interested. The other bank regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, which regulates the savings-and-loan industry, should have cared, too. But their responses to the growing problem were at best tepid and at worst hostile. (The O.C.C. actually used its federal powers to block efforts by states to curb subprime abuses.) By the time Bair got to Washington, the O.C.C. had spent a year devising “voluntary subprime guidance” for the banks it regulated, but it had not yet gotten around to issuing that guidance.
The F.D.I.C. jumped into the breach. Bair knew the issue well, because during her time at Treasury, when the industry was much smaller, she tried, unsuccessfully, to get the subprime lenders to agree to halt their worst practices. Now she was hearing that things had become much worse. Bair instructed the F.D.I.C. to buy an expensive database that listed all the subprime loans in the mortgage-backed bonds that Wall Street was selling to investors. She was shocked by what she saw. “All the practices that we looked at back in 2001 and 2002, which we thought were predatory — things like steep payment resets and abusive prepayment penalties — had gone mainstream,” she said.
By the spring of 2007, she was holding meetings with industry executives, pushing them to raise their lending standards and to restructure — that is, modify — abusive mortgages so homeowners wouldn’t lose their homes when the housing bubble burst and large numbers of loans were bound to default. “There is nothing unusual about this,” she told me. “Restructuring is one of the tools the banking industry has at its disposal.”
One thing she learned from those meetings was that the mortgage servicers, generally divisions of the big banks, had the legal right in most cases to modify mortgages they managed for the investors who owned mortgage bonds. They just didn’t have the will. After doing some arm-twisting, Bair felt she had extracted a commitment that the mortgage servicers would do so.
She also pushed the O.C.C. to issue its voluntary guidance, even though it would help only marginally. The vast majority of subprime loans were issued by institutions outside the regulated banking system, out of the reach of the O.C.C. or the F.D.I.C. But those nonbanks depended on the regulated banks for their own financing. As a way to get at the unregulated lenders, Bair came up with the idea of applying the government’s subprime guidance to any company that was financed by a regulated bank. The banks, she says, “fought us tooth and nail.” She lost.
Automakers Give Flywheels a Spin : An old technology could make hybrid cars much cheaper. (Kevin Bullis, 7/13/11, Technology Review)
The automakers Volvo and Jaguar are testing the possibility of using flywheels instead of batteries in hybrid electric vehicles to aid acceleration and help engines operate more efficiently. The devices could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent and would cost a third as much as batteries. Volvo will begin road-testing a car with the technology this fall.
In a flywheel system, energy from the wheels is used to spin a flywheel at high speeds. The flywheel continues spinning, storing energy until that motion can be transferred back to the wheels via a transmission. The idea isn't new, but it's hard to make flywheels efficient—a lot of energy can be lost to friction. In 1982, for example, GM engineered a flywheel system that was intended for its 1985 vehicles, but they canceled the project after discovering that the fuel efficiency improvements were less than half of what they'd expected. Advances in the technology now have automakers taking a second look. "Industry has gone from being skeptical to thinking it can be done, but there are enormous challenges," says Derek Crabb, vice president of powertrain engineering for Volvo. [...]
Many challenges remain in bringing a flywheel hybrid to market. For instance, automakers will have to ensure that the systems can be durable, and can be manufactured on a large scale, he says. Flywheels will also have to compete with batteries and other electrical storage devices such as ultracapacitors, which are getting more powerful and less expensive. .
Yes, You Really Can Cut Your Way to Prosperity: The literature is clear: spending cuts, not tax increases, are more likely to succeed in reducing deficits and debt and are more friendly to economic growth. (Andrew Biggs and Matthew Jensen, July 14, 2011, The American)
In fact, one of the least contested points in the fiscal consolidation literature is that reduced transfer payments correlate with more successful fiscal consolidations and higher economic growth. And the United States’ fiscal problem is, essentially, an entitlements issue. Without rising entitlement costs, the federal budget would be more or less in balance over the long term. It’s as if the United States is ripe for a consolidation. Entitlement problems are easiest to fix, and that’s what we’ve got.
The academic debate over fiscal consolidations and economic growth concerns whether the positive "expectational effects" of fiscal consolidations—that is, the increased consumer and investor confidence generated by the belief that adverse fiscal outcomes have been avoided down the road—outweigh the short-term negative Keynesian effects of reduced government spending. Entitlement reform, however, would generate new confidence in the near term while the contractionary reductions to actual spending would not occur for years to come. For instance, many Social Security reform plans raise the retirement age, but all do so over the space of many years, and the effects are gradual. This combination is ideal in our current times of high unemployment and low growth.
This fact is particularly salient given that the Democratic congressional leadership—in particular, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi—has argued for no cuts to Social Security or Medicare. This implies that the long-term fiscal gap would be filled almost entirely by new revenues or draconian cuts to the military and discretionary spending. The academic literature suggests that a consolidation based on raising tax rates or cutting government investment would be practically doomed to failure.
Rather than focus on any given number—be it 85 percent, or 100 percent, or something else—policy makers should heed the broad lessons of the fiscal consolidation literature: that spending cuts, not tax increases, are more likely to succeed in reducing deficits and debt and are more friendly to economic growth; that the larger the debt we need to reduce, the larger the role for spending cuts; and that the most effective spending cuts are in transfer payments, such as entitlement programs, not in areas such as government investment.
13 California Counties Look to Secede, Create New State (Amy Bingham, 7/13/11, ABC News)
In California, a state ruled by Democrats, 13 southern and mostly Republican counties are petitioning to create their own state.
“Onerous regulations on business” that are driving jobs out of the state and the California legislature’s attempts to balance the budget by “stealing” tax revenue from local governments are two reason why Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said he is pushing for secession.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to hold a meeting in late September of representatives from every city and county in California to decide if their grievances can be solved without secession.
If not, the group will hammer out the details of creating a new state.
President Obama storms out of debt negotiation meeting, warns GOP not to 'call my bluff' (Alison Gendar, 7/13/11, NY DAILY NEWS)
A frustrated President Obama warned Republicans not to "call my bluff" before he stormed out on the latest stalled debt negotiation session, Republicans said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) said the President became "agitated" before warning him not to "call my bluff" when Cantor said he would consider a short-term debt-limit hike, something Obama has said doesn't solve the problem.
‘The world owes God to the Jews,’ wrote Chesterton; if anything he was pro-Jewish rather than – as the calumny alleges – anti-Semitic: He was one of the few convinced anti-racists of his time: the allegation just doesn’t add up (William Oddie, 8 July 2011, Catholic Herald)
When I published the main talks in the last Chesterton Society conference on The Holiness of GK Chesterton, together with some additional chapters, one of the chapters I found it had become necessary to add was based on a good deal of work I had done (in the Chesterton papers and other better known material), to do with Chesterton’s attitude to the Jews, as a result of which I came to the view that his attitude to Jewish people, and to Jewish culture and history, were such that I had to conclude that there was a much better case for saying that Chesterton was actually if anything pro-Jewish rather than anti-Semitic: and I ended up calling my chapter “The philosemitism of GK Chesterton”. [...]
During his journey to Palestine in 1919, Chesterton had lunch with Chaim Weizmann, later the first President of Israel: Weizmann would certainly have sniffed out an anti-Semite if Chesterton had actually been one; and there is a good deal to be said (but no space here to say it) about Chesterton’s belief in the Zionist cause. On his return, Chesterton wrote of his reverence for the Jewish spiritual tradition: “…if the Jew cannot be at ease in Zion [a reference to Amos 6:1: "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”] we can never again persuade ourselves that he is at ease out of Zion. We can only salute as it passes that restless and mysterious figure, knowing at last that there must be in him something mystical as well as mysterious; that whether in the sense of the sorrows of Christ or of the sorrows of Cain, he must pass by, for he belongs to God.” With that, we can place the following passage on “the mission… of the Jews” from The Everlasting Man, his first Catholic masterpiece: “…the meaning of the Jews,” says Chesterton, was “that the world owes God to the Jews… The more we really understand of the ancient conditions that contributed to the final culture of the Faith, the more we shall have a real and even a realistic reverence for the greatness of the Prophets of Israel.”
Chesterton was certainly not anti-Jewish. He was, however, writing at a time of a recent large-scale and as yet unassimilated Jewish immigration; and he accepted the Zionist analysis of this phenomenon: in the words of Theodore Herzl, the founding father of Zionism: “We are aliens here, they do not let us dissolve into the population, and if they let us we would not do it. Let us go forth!” Better to understand Chesterton’s Zionist idea that Jews were not naturally a part of English culture, without perceiving it through the intervening lens of the Nazi Holocaust, we might compare it with some modern English perceptions of the Muslim community, still widely seen as being impossible to assimilate: thus, there is understood by many perfectly decent and tolerant people to be what might be termed a “Muslim problem”. The perspective of history may similarly show this “problem” too to be illusory. Chesterton, I suspect, would not be a Zionist today.
Neither Belloc nor Chesterton could accept that Jews could be loyal, assimilated citizens of a non-Jewish state. One can but convclude that this was anti-Semitism. It was true that Chesterton, like Belloc, opposed violence against Jews, as their apologists have often pointed out, and that they warned in their books on the "Jewish question"--Chesterton in 1921 and Belloc in 1922--that Europe's Jews were in physical danger. Their refusal to accept Jews as fellow citizens, however, was part of the problem. Their intellectual attacks on the Jewish people helped create the climate in which physical violence could, and of course did, occur.
New York City Adds 70 New Electric Vehicles to Municipal Fleet (Catherine Yang, 7/12/11, Epoch Times)
Most of vehicles can also run on fuel, but agencies estimate that these vehicles will drive about 35 miles a day, and run on only electrical power. The vehicles will also require fewer replacement parts and last longer than gas-powered vehicles would.
The Chevrolet Volt’s “extended range” hybrid makes up 50 of the new vehicles, 10 are fully electric Ford Transit Connect cargo vans, and 10 are new fully electric Navi-star “E-star” utility trucks.
“And driving these vehicles will produce none of the tailpipe pollution gas-powered vehicles do, … and we will reduce greenhouse gases,” Bloomberg said. He says the plan is to have electric vehicles representing 0.6 percent of total energy consumption by 2015.
The city is also working toward fully electric taxis, and Nissan will be providing six Nissan LEAFs for testing in 2012, as a part of the New York City Taxi of Tomorrow pilot program.
Israel Delegitimizes Itself (Marc Tracy | Jul 12, 2011, Tablet)
“It’s almost as if it were designed to propagate the very thing it’s designed to suppress,” Stephen Clingman, a South African-born English professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told me this morning. I had called him with a leading question that, as a supporter of Israel, I have long dreaded to ask, but that I felt Israel’s passage yesterday of the anti-boycott law demanded: Does the Israeli government legitimately raise comparisons to the former apartheid regime of South Africa? I have long rejected this analogy, and still do (so does Clingman), and can give you about a dozen reasons why, including the nature of the oppressed minority’s politics and the structure of the majority’s government. And it is in part because I reject this analogy that I also reject the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement—both against Israel and against the settlements—that the law would ostensibly combat.
But the passage of this legislation has forced me to grapple with this analogy nonetheless. In striking against the international BDS movement and its undeniable, and undeniably unfair, campaign of delegitimization with such an absurd, draconian gesture, isn’t the Israeli government compelling all honest observers to pay more attention to the motives and arguments of the BDS movement? It seems to me that MK Zeev Elkin, of Likud, the bill’s main sponsor, is the BDS movement’s most useful of idiots. He ought to get a cut of the donations that are about to pour in.
Implicit in insistences today from the U.S. State Department and the Anti-Defamation League that the anti-boycott law offends Israel’s democracy (“among Israel’s many assets is its vibrant democracy,” Abraham Foxman said. “To legally stifle calls to action—however abhorrent and detrimental they might be—is a disservice to Israeli society”) is that, at some point, if you keep going down this road, you no longer are a democracy, and the BDS movement will have won. This is not only a tactical or strategic misstep, as some have suggested; it is a fundamental, moral one.
In Defense Of 'Little Boy': Herbert Hoover warned President Truman that invading Japan would cost at least half a million American lives. (Andrew Roberts, 7/13/11, WSJ)
Most tellingly, the author reminds us of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who had died in the conventional bombings of places like Tokyo and Kyoto while Roosevelt was president, but with relatively little opprobrium attaching to FDR. Father Miscamble cites as well the horrific massacre of innocents for which the Japanese were responsible, a savagery still being unleashed in the summer of 1945, and the awful cost of battle in the Pacific, including 6,000 American dead and 20,000 wounded at Iwo Jima and 70,000 casualties suffered while capturing Okinawa. With these precedents, Herbert Hoover warned Truman that an invasion of the Japanese home islands could result in the loss of between half a million and a million American lives. Marshall, Leahy and Gen. Douglas MacArthur each had his own projected figures, none of them wildly different from Hoover's.
Under these circumstances, it was inconceivable that Truman would not have ordered the use of a potentially war-winning weapon the moment it could be deployed. It is impossible to imagine the depth of the public's fury if after the war Americans had discovered that their president, out of concern for his own conscience, had not used the weapons but instead condemned hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to certain death on the beaches and in the cities of mainland Japan.
No one denies the horror of the weapons themselves. At the International Center of Photography in New York there is presently a fascinating exhibition of the original photos taken in October 1945 by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey for its three-volume secret report to Truman titled "Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan." In the report, the survey's Physical Damage Division noted that Hiroshima had been the ideal target, providing almost laboratory conditions for studying the blast. The city was more densely populated than New York City's five boroughs; there had been little prior bombing damage; it had nearly flat terrain; the 6,000-foot radius of the target was a perfect size; and there were "enough substantially constructed multistory commercial buildings of representative types to allow comparative study of the effects, numerous bridges of various materials, and an extensive public utility system."
The U.S. Treasury will not default (Kurt Brouwer, 7/12/11, Fundmastery Blog)
I believe a debt ceiling limit extension will be enacted. However, let’s consider what might happen if the debt ceiling limit is not raised. Here in a Q&A format is what I believe you need to know at a basic level.
Q: What is a default?
A: In this case, a default would be the failure by the U.S. Treasury to make payments of principal or interest on its debt in a timely manner.
Q: In a given month how much does the Treasury owe as interest on its debt?
A: Roughly about $15–20 billion (more on this in a moment).
Q: How much revenue does the Treasury take in on average in a month?
A: Roughly about $200 billion.
Q: Are you saying the Treasury could pay interest on its debt 10 times over (or more) from monthly income?
A: Yes. Therefore the likelihood of not paying interest on its debt is zero.
Q: But, what about redeeming bonds that come due?
A: As bonds come due, the Treasury would again use monthly income to pay them off. This would lower the debt owed beneath the so-called debt ceiling. Then, the Treasury could turn around and issue debt in that amount up to the debt ceiling.
Pass free-trade agreements to create U.S. jobs: Every day Congress does nothing, American workers and businesses lose (Gary Shapiro, 7/12/11, The Washington Times)
The simple truth is that while the United States dithers, the rest of the world is breaking down trade barriers. On July 1, a trade agreement between the European Union and Korea went into effect, immediately disadvantaging American companies. Likewise, Canada and Colombia are expected to soon implement their trade agreement and the EU is moving ahead on a deal with Colombia as well. In fact, Colombia and EU officials met in June to discuss their pending FTA agreement, which could be finalized by next year.
This is the price of inaction. U.S. companies lose out to foreign competitors in emerging and vital international markets. Especially for the innovation industry I represent, the United States needs more free-trade agreements to restore their ability to sell products overseas without encountering high tariffs. U.S. companies have paid more than $3.5 billion in duties to the Colombian government because of the stalled free-trade agreement.
Just as important, passing these free-trade agreements would send a message to struggling American businesses that Washington is finally getting serious about job creation. For an administration that has kowtowed to the Big Labor line on everything from collective-bargaining rights to silly “buy American” provisions that do nothing except damage our ability to compete worldwide, turning these FTAs into a reality would go a long way toward restoring investor confidence.
The time is now. The votes are there to finally pass the long-overdue free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Bachmann's unlikely model: Howard Dean (JONATHAN MARTIN, 7/12/11, Politico)
The party's grass roots are radicalized. A blunt-talking, anti-establishment presidential candidate draws big summer crowds by pledging to confront the opposition party president. The political pros, fearing a general election disaster, grow more anxious by the day. Talk begins about how to arrest the outsider's surge.
Michele Bachmann hasn't declared yet that she's running to represent "the Republican wing of the Republican Party," but that's all that's missing from a presidential bid that bears more than a passing resemblance to Democrat Howard Dean's in 2004.
Are Antidepressants Just Placebos With Side Effects? (John Horgan | Jul 12, 2011, Scientific American)
Kramer's article seeks to rebut a wave of negative coverage of antidepressants, most notably a two-part essay in The New York Review of Books (which can be found here and here) by Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and now a lecturer in social medicine at Harvard. Angell cites research suggesting that antidepressants—including both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other medications—may not be any more effective than placebos for treating most forms of depression.
Angell highlights a meta-analysis, carried out by the psychologist Irving Kirsch, of trials of a half dozen popular antidepressants submitted by drug companies to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many of the studies were never published because they failed to yield positive results. (The practice of burying negative results from trials is still quite common, as this recent Scientific American blog post points out.) After analyzing all the FDA studies, Kirsch concluded that placebos are 82 percent as effective as antidepressants. According to Kirsch, this difference vanishes if antidepressants are compared to "active placebos," which are compounds such as atropine, an alkaloid that blocks certain nerve receptors and causes dry mouth and other symptoms, that have distinct side effects.
Angell quotes from Kirsch's new book The Emperor's New Drugs (Basic Books), in which he states that "the relatively small difference between drugs and placebos might not be a real drug effect at all. Instead, it might be an enhanced placebo effect." This "startling" claim, Angell adds, "flies in the face of widely accepted medical opinion, but Kirsch reaches it in a careful, logical way. Psychiatrists who use antidepressants—and that's most of them—and patients who take them might insist that they know from clinical experience that the drugs work. But anecdotes are known to be a treacherous way to evaluate medical treatments."
So how does Kramer begin his defense of antidepressants? With an anecdote—about a friend who benefited from antidepressants after suffering from a stroke. This rhetorical strategy should not be surprising, since Kramer's 1993 bestseller Listening to Prozac (Penguin), which contributed to the surge in popularity of Prozac and other SSRIs, relied heavily on anecdotal evidence rather than clinical data. Kramer told story after story of patients transformed by Prozac. He suggested that SSRIs might be ushering in an era of "cosmetic psychopharmacology" in which patients are not only cured of disorders but become "better than well."
The Brave New World envisioned by Kramer was always a complete fantasy. When he wrote his book in the early 1990s, studies by Eli Lilly, Prozac's manufacturer, showed that it was no more effective than older antidepressants, such as tricyclic drugs, or psychotherapy without drugs. Although Prozac was touted for its relatively mild side effects, it causes sexual dysfunction in as many as three out of four consumers. Kramer relegated a discussion of Prozac's sexual side effects to the fine print, literally, in his book's endnotes. His Times essay doesn't provide any better data for antidepressants than Listening to Prozac did. Kramer delves into an arcane discussion of how difficult it is to distinguish genuine drug benefits from placebo effects, but he does not really grapple with the claim of Angell and Kirsch that antidepressants may be active placebos.
Kramer does not mention, for example, a recent analysis of STAR*D (Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression), which has been called "the largest antidepressant effectiveness trial ever conducted." According to a group of four researchers, STAR*D data show that "antidepressants are only marginally efficacious compared to placebos," and even this modest benefit might be inflated by "profound publication bias." The authors recommend "a reappraisal of the current recommended standard of care of depression."
Hillary Clinton: Bashar al-Assad has 'lost legitimacy' (REID J. EPSTEIN | 7/12/11, Politico)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Syria’s government in the strongest language to date, saying President Bashar al-Assad has “lost legitimacy” and is “not indispensible” in the wake of attacks on the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.
China’s bad debts a cause for concern (Edward Chancellor, 7/11/11, Financial Times)
Credit booms are often followed by credit busts. For those who don’t read history, this lesson has been learnt from painful recent experience. But not as far as China is concerned. The world’s second largest economy has seen a tremendous surge in lending over the past few years. The inevitable bad loans are already turning up. Yet the markets are not unduly concerned. While other countries suffer the ill consequences of reckless lending, China’s fate is different. Or, so we are told. [...]
Problems are appearing with loans to local government infrastructure projects, which constitute the bulk of the recent credit surge. Last month, a heavily indebted toll road operator in the south-western province of Yunnan announced it could not meet its repayment schedule. A port operator in Shanghai was reported to have illegally diverted working capital loans into real estate investments. Beijing’s Land Reserve, a levered vehicle that is used to fund public land purchases, apparently faces liquidity problems.
Nobody knows for sure how much debt these local government funding vehicles have taken on. The highest reported figure of Rmb14,000bn ($2,165bn) exceeds one-third of China’s GDP. Nobody knows how many of these loans will default. Moody’s has warned they may drive the banks’ non-performing loan ratio to 12 per cent. In any other country, this would be a cause for concern. But not in China.
Sudan leader's hat tip to Bush (REID J. EPSTEIN, 7/11/11, Politico)
When the new nation of South Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir, signed his country’s constitution this weekend, he did so while wearing a cowboy hat given to him by former President George W. Bush.
Bush gave Kiir the black Stetson in 2006, according to the blog of the Middle East Institute. The hat instantly became Kiir’s trademark, and the institute said he has not been photographed without it since.
Like many in South Sudan, [Taban lo Liyong, a South Sudanese writer and literature professor at the University of Juba] credited the United States, and President George W. Bush in particular, with pushing north and south toward the 2005 peace agreement that ended generations of civil war and paved the way for partition. But his concerns now have turned to future aid.
"It was George Bush and the Christian fundamentalists who heard the cry of South Sudan," he said. "Today is Barack Obama's day. We don't know what he is going to do."
Bell X1 On World Cafe (NPR, 7/10/11)
Of its three studio-recorded albums, Flock, released February 2008, has proven to be the most successful. The album reached No. 1 in Ireland and gained a huge following throughout the U.K. Since then, the group has released 2009's Blue Lights on the Runway — which debuted at No. 1 in Ireland — and this year's Bloodless Coup.
Hear and watch Bell X1 play live at the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin and discuss their fanbases in Ireland and in the U.S.
All Hail the (Democratic) King (AHMED CHARAI and JOSEPH BRAUDE, 7/11/11, NY Times)
IT isn’t news anymore when an Arab ruler facing mass protests pledges sweeping reforms. But Morocco’s July 1 constitutional referendum may be the most significant development in the Arab world all summer. For the first time since the Arab Spring began, a population broadly embraced its leader’s reforms and scaled back antigovernment demonstrations. In the weeks before the referendum, over 100,000 people had taken to the streets; after the vote only about 10,000 did.
A sizable majority of Moroccans approved the new Constitution, which calls for King Mohammed VI to cede half his power to a prime minister appointed from the parliament’s majority party and ensures the rights of women and non-Arabs, including the country’s large Berber population.
Morocco appears to have found a new model for political transition. If the constitutional experiment succeeds, the country will have the opportunity — and responsibility — to take on the regional leadership role that has traditionally been played by Egypt.
The major parliamentary opposition parties, including the main Islamist party, endorsed the Constitution. Those rejecting it, including a radical Islamist group which aims to overthrow the king and install a caliph, had the chance to make their cases on public radio and television. Some officials believe this new openness is serving as a force for moderation. “The more the extremists go on TV, the more ridiculous they look,” said Nawfel Raghay, who manages the country’s broadcasting authority. “We should have done this 20 years ago.”
World's 196th country gives thanks to God for freedom (Charles Braddix & Zoe Allen, 7/11/11, Baptist Press)
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Juba, the new nation's capital, as they heard their president, Salva Kiir, declare the southern region of Sudan free and independent of the north. [...]
"We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright," Kiir said. "As we bask in the glory of nationhood, I call upon all South Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives." [...]
The official ceremonies began with the singing of the country's new national anthem. "Oh God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan," the opening lines say.
In preparation for South Sudan's independence, government officials urged citizens to attend churches and other houses of worship to pray for peace and thank God for their newfound freedom. Many churches held special services Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Nuru Baptist Church, the only Baptist church in Juba, held community services on Saturday to celebrate independence day, taking opportunity to share the Gospel with visitors.
The congregation played drums, sang and danced in traditional African worship. Many waved flags as they danced and sang. A feeling of jubilation filled the air.
One community leader, specially invited to the event, not only thanked God for the country's independence, guaranteeing religious freedom, but also for establishment of the church in the community. "Your presence here is a benefit and a blessing to our area," he said.
"Let us praise God that He has given us our freedom," said Sworo Elikana, a pastor of the church. "We must rejoice!"
The service focused on the theme "Heal the Brokenhearted and Set the Captives Free," from Isaiah 61.
W.H. to agencies: Streamline your rules (DARIUS DIXON | 7/11/11, Politico)
Just days after House Republicans accused several independent agencies of skirting President Barack Obama's regulatory reforms, the White House issued a new executive order to press the issue Monday.
Under the order, the president is asking every independent regulatory agency to review its regulations within 120 days and develop a public plan for streamlining its bureaucracy.
In January, Obama issued an executive order telling federal agencies to streamline their regulatory practices. But White House regulatory chief Cass Sunstein told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June that no independent agency had submitted such a plan.
As agencies that operate outside the guidance of the president, such as the FERC and the FCC, they're not technically required to act.
There’s a lot riding on the deficit showdown (Fred Hiatt, July 10, 2011, Washington Post)
[T]he Aug. 2 deadline offers three potential strategies. One is to join Nancy Pelosi and go for broke on “Mediscare”: Accuse the Republicans of getting ready to wheel every granny out of every nursing home and otherwise threaten civilization as we know it.
A second would be to end up with Mediscare but first appear open to compromise, to appeal to independents, while assuming there can be no grand bargain with Republicans.
The third is to go for something real: a long-term debt reduction plan that would increase revenue, begin to control entitlements without threatening granny and reassure financial markets that the American political system can get its act together when push comes to shove.
After this weekend, option three is looking like a longer shot than ever. It may be that Obama missed his moment to make it work, when he shunned his Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission. It may be that the Republicans and his own liberal caucus always were fatally inclined toward intransigence.
But it’s also true that the political path to a $2 trillion deal doesn’t look all that much clearer than to a $4 trillion deal. And the bigger bargain still offers the biggest payoff. It would most enhance Obama’s chances for reelection. By controlling the national debt, it would give him in a second term the most scope for the kind of action that is off-limits to him today.
And, oh, yes — it would be the best outcome for the country, too.
Where were the Arab Ambassadors? (Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, 7/11/11, Asharq Alawasat)
The American and French Ambassadors have put their Arab counterparts, who remain secluded in their houses in Damascus, in an awkward position after they both went to investigate the demonstrations in Hama. They departed the capital city, risking their lives in extremely dangerous circumstances, for they could have been targeted by thugs or the security services. They entered the districts which have witnessed demonstrations and were lauded with flowers, although the US and the Arabs have both let the protestors down in their dreadful ordeal.
The Arab ambassadors' silent stance is in line with the positions adopted by Arab governments; I have heard nothing, seen nothing, and I will not utter a word. Furthermore, I most certainly will not leave the embassy's premises! The Arab governments' position is a traditional one. This is because, historically speaking, such governments avoid standing against any "sisterly" government, regardless of the gravity of its internal crisis, unless they are hostile towards it. Only Libya was excepted from this official Arab immunity, as Arab governments have all supported the imposition of political and military sanctions against the "sisterly" Gaddafi regime, by sending international troops to overthrow it. With the exception of Qatar, no single Arab state has taken a stance supporting the revolution in Syria, although the Arab world is shocked by what it hears and sees everyday, with regards to the killings and torture taking place there.
Abbas's Breaking Point (Ilan Berman, July 11, 2011, National Interest)
Now, the idea of a Palestinian state is neither new nor controversial; indeed, a "two-state solution" is the logical terminus of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process begun in Oslo, Norway in 1993. But the belief that such a political reality can be created unilaterally is both. It undermines the long-running dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and the role of the United States as its facilitator. It also calls into question the fate of a series of so-called "final-status" issues (like final borders, sovereignty over Jerusalem, water rights and the Palestinian "right of return") that require bilateral consensus in order to be truly settled.
That Abbas's government has chosen to pursue such an option, therefore, seems more the product of frustration than of long-term strategy. The Palestinian Authority chairman said as much in a recent interview with Newsweek, in which he griped about a lack of support from Washington for his efforts to erect a Palestinian state. The resulting logic is clear: if statehood is too difficult to attain via drawn-out negotiations, it might be accomplished by simply making it a fait accompli.
Did Israel play kingmaker in the German-Saudi tank deal? (BENJAMIN WEINTHAL 7/08/11, JERUSALEM POST)
German politicians and the major media have propelled Israel this week into the charged political debate over whether the Merkel administration’s decision to sell 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia conforms with Germany’s military export policies toward the Middle East.
The Munich-based daily Süddeutche Zeitung headlined its Tuesday story “Israel approves tank sale,” suggesting that Israel played the kingmaker role when German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Federal Security Council green-lighted the roughly 1.7 billion euro tank deal to Saudi Arabia in late June. [...]
While the German media and politicians attach at times a disproportionate and superfluous amount of attention to Israel, the Saudi tank deal has generated outrage because of Riyadh’s role in suppressing the prodemocracy movement in Bahrain. Leopard 2A7+ tanks are also suited for use in military crowd control actions.
The path from dictatorship to democracy: Indonesia has asked in recent years to be more involved in Middle Eastern affairs by playing the role of mediator and peacemaker. (GIORA ELIRAZ, 07/10/2011, Jerusalem Post)
[T]he main reason for Egypt’s addressing Indonesia seems to be an understanding that the latter has succeeded in solving its 1998 political crisis in the wake of the Suharto regime’s downfall. The Egyptians also seem to be aware of the high relevancy of the Indonesian case. Amazing similarities exist between Egypt’s current circumstances and those of Indonesia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. To mention just a few of them: Two countries with a dominant Sunni majority experienced a massive democratic protest, mainly by the middle class, against an authoritarian regime headed by an ex-general who had ruled for about three decades. In both cases, the ruler eventually lost the crucial support of the army.
The preliminary years of the post-Suharto era were marked by deep political turmoil that included manifestations of religious extremism and violence, sectarian conflicts, awakening separatist aspirations, the growing voice of radical Islam, increasing religious militancy and threats of terror.
Many observers watched gloomily, fearing that the just-born democracy was liable to crash soon. It was only in 2004, after the second parliamentary elections and first direct presidential elections, and after Indonesia had surmounted many obstacles, that observers started to believe the Indonesians were displaying the attributes of a consolidated democracy.
Hence it is no wonder that the Egyptians dig into the Indonesian case. Last May, a workshop initiated by the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) took place in Jakarta under the title “Egypt-Indonesia Dialogue on Democratic Transition.”
Indonesia established the IPD in 2008 to support the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), which it had established in the same year for promoting democracy in Asia. This initiative has been carried out in cooperation with Australia and was praised by the US. Officials from some Arab countries were invited to the meetings of this forum even before the Arab Spring.
Both men and women participated in the May workshop, among them political leaders, democracy activists, academics and representatives from NGOs and the media.
The workshop addressed the following main issues: the role of the military in the transition, and its place in a democratic society; constitutional and political reform; election laws and management; the role of political parties and civil society in building a representative democracy; Islam, politics and the state; the role of the media in consolidating democracy; and ensuring the full participation of women in the political process.
The IPD intends to hold a second workshop in Cairo that will involve a wider range of Egyptian participants and bring Indonesians into closer contact with the current debates in Egypt. It should be noted that certain Egyptian academics and activists have already been exposed to Indonesia’s democracy in recent years, through conferences and seminars. During the Mubarak era, Egyptian journalists and op-ed writers in opposition newspapers even made pointed references to Indonesia’s transition to democracy.
This process, in the home of the largest Muslim community in the world, provided hope for political change and evidence of the compatibility of Islam and democracy (see Giora Eliraz, “Democracy in Indonesia and Middle East countries,” The Jakarta Post, November 30, 2007, and “Will Indonesia’s breeze of democracy reach here?” The Jerusalem Post, April 5, 2008).
It’s likely that when Egypt first asked Indonesia for help, it was already well aware of the latter’s lessons for building democracy. The Indonesian model has so far frustrated Islamic political parties hoping to achieve a leading position in the post-Suharto era. The voters have actually proved, through fair democratic elections, their loyalty to a basic Indonesian state principle of separation between state and religion.
Federal budget can be balanced with spending cuts: Republican-led states already have succeeded with no new taxes (Frank Donatelli, 7/08/11, The Washington Times)
As the budget season rolls on, a remark- able trend is emerging: States with Republican governors and legislative majorities are balancing their budgets and reforming key programs without raising taxes. Conversely, states with Democratic governors and legislatures are content to raise taxes without basic program reforms. This philosophical and partisan divide focuses on the age-old question of the proper size and scope of government, and Republicans and Democrats are providing starkly different answers.
Republican-led states that have enacted budgets without tax increases include Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maine, Texas and Florida. Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida reduced spending in absolute terms. In addition, virtually all of these states offered some tax reductions for business investment designed to generate more job growth. Indiana cut its corporate tax rate. Maine cut its top marginal individual rate at a time when Democratic governors are trying to raise theirs. Pennsylvania phased out the business-franchise tax for thousands of small businesses. New Jersey put a cap on local property tax increases, and Ohio phased out the “death tax.” Republican leaders in those states realize that while the spending side must remain in check, growing revenue and generating new jobs is the long-term answer to their states’ fiscal health and financial future. [...]
Every rule has an exception, and the exception here is Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. He pressed his legislature to close New York’s budget gap without new taxes, and he succeeded. Good for him. One wonders how much pressure he felt to remain economically competitive with the neighboring states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, both of which pursued a similar strategy.
Obama Leans on G.O.P. for a Deal on Debt Ceiling (MARK LANDLER, 7/10/11, NY Times)
Privately, some in Congress expressed regret at Mr. Boehner’s decision on Saturday to walk away from an agreement that they said would have been a rare opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to radically restructure the government’s finances, rewrite the tax code and fix longstanding problems with Medicare and Medicaid.
In the end, officials briefed on the talks said, ideological differences over a tax overhaul bogged down the bigger agreement. Mr. Boehner, they said, was open to letting Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy people expire, while maintaining the cuts for middle-income wage-earners. But Democrats briefed on the talks said he made that contingent on rewriting the tax code by the end of this year, so that the loss of the cuts would be offset by lower overall tax rates.
The White House, officials said, was willing to put a deadline on a tax overhaul. But it rejected Mr. Boehner’s formula, arguing that it would place too much of a burden on the middle class while protecting the rich.
A Republican official familiar with the negotiations said Mr. Boehner “would only discuss new revenues if they came from economic growth and tax reform instead of tax increases.” And he insisted on a “trigger” that would set off deep spending cuts and other measures if the tax changes were not implemented before the end of 2011.
Thinking Away the Pain: Meditation as cheap, self-administered morphine (JONAH LEHRER, 7/10/11, WSJ)
Learning to meditate altered brain activity in the very same regions, such as the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, that are targeted by next-generation pain medications. It's as if the subjects were administering their own painkillers.
While this research demonstrates the therapy's practicality—it typically took less than two hours of training to see a marked improvement—it's not the first time that scientists have demonstrated a connection between meditation and reduced sensitivity to pain. Previous studies have shown that experienced Zen meditators have significantly higher pain thresholds and that meditation training can reduce the anxiety associated with intense discomfort.
But meditation isn't the only mind-based approach that has gotten impressive results. Researchers at Duke University recently looked at a wide variety of psychological interventions for chronic lower back pain, including cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and hypnosis. In almost every case, these treatments proved effective, leading to improved health outcomes at a fraction of the cost of conventional medical approaches.
The larger lesson is that, for far too long, we've been treating pain as a purely physical problem, a sensation rooted in the breakdown of the flesh. As a result, we've invested in costly and often ineffective surgeries, such as spinal fusion, that attempt to fix the mechanical failure.
But this approach oversimplifies an extremely complex condition. It's now clear that pain is best understood as a mental state concerning the body, an objective sensation terribly twisted by the brain. And that's why these psychological interventions sometimes work better than scalpels: They help us to untwist our thoughts.
Will electric cars ever take over our roads?: Their detractors say are they too pricey and tricky to charge. But a select fleet of drivers in Oxford and London has been testing a prototype electric Mini. Were they won over? (Leo Hickman, 7/10/11, guardian.co.uk)
On 6 July last year, the US Patents and Trademark Office in Virginia received an application from General Motors to trademark the term "range anxiety". With just a few months to go before GM was set to launch its much-anticipated Chevy Volt – a plug-in hybrid, which would go on to earn the title of "most fuel-efficient compact car in the US" – the company's marketing team was on the offensive. It knew that prospective buyers would need to be convinced early on that the Volt would not have a limited range, as has proved the case with standard electric cars. "It's something we call 'range anxiety' – and it's real," explained Joel Ewanick, GM's head of marketing, when quizzed about the trademark application by car gossip website Jalopnik.com. "We're going to position this as a car first and electric second . . . People do not want to be stranded on the way home from work."
"Range anxiety" is very much on my own mind as I traverse the M40 between London and Oxford at 70mph in a prototype all-electric Mini E lent to me for the morning by BMW, the company currently conducting the world's most comprehensive trial aimed at gathering data on what it will take to convince people to ditch the internal combustion engine and go electric. (Yes, the same BMW that sells around 1.5m internal combustion engines globally each year.) As I look down at the gauge showing me that the car has less than 50% charge left, I have to keep reminding myself that the engineer who showed me round the car at Mini's Mayfair showroom said the car's 100-mile range at full charge would "easily" get me the 55 miles to BMW's Cowley plant just outside Oxford – with or without the air-con on full blast.
I ease off the accelerator a little; something that, somewhat counter-intuitively, causes the battery to start charging momentarily owing to the regenerative braking system. Having been in the car less than an hour, I'm already having my preconceptions about electric cars challenged, most notably by the fact that I am travelling at the national speed limit in one of the pokiest set of four wheels on the road. This is not the milk float of eternal jokes.
The technical details of the Mini E are certainly noteworthy: it is, I'm told by the engineer, powered by a battery that's the "equivalent of 5,088 AA lithium ion cells"; it has a speed limiter fitted on its reverse "gear" because, without it, the car could go at top speed (95mph) both forwards and backwards (yes, that thought scared me, too); and any sound file can be installed into the car's computer to rectify the fact that the engine is near silent and could therefore be a potential danger to pedestrians. ("You could load in anything you like: the EastEnders soundtrack, or a clip-clopping horse noise," says the engineer, smiling. "Warwick University is now experimenting with different sounds to find the optimum safest sound.")
But I'm not too interested in all this, to be honest. As a driving experience, the Mini E amply disproves the popular notion that electric cars cannot meet the needs of your average petrolhead. I want to better understand why there is still a reluctance among some to drive these things – and how far off we are from overcoming this. The roadblock to the mass acceptance of electric cars is, yes, range anxiety, but also the perceived inconvenience of charging these vehicles. BMW has built 400 Mini Es with the sole purpose of understanding how these two huge hurdles might be cleared in time for its first all-electric production vehicle, the i3 MegaCity, which it expects to launch globally in 2013.
Are we a nation of abstract art snobs? (Jonathan Jones, July 2011, The Guardian)
Britain has never "got" abstract art. Even articles that appeared this week marking the death of Cy Twombly attracted comments of the "my child could do that" variety. It is tempting to dismiss these attacks as philistine, but that would be to ignore an eminently respectable and artistically sophisticated British tradition of disdain for abstract painting.
In a justly famous collection of essays called Art and Illusion, the leading art historian of postwar Britain EH Gombrich argued that western painting is the pursuit of reality – that in effect representational painting has a scientific vocation. This is a translation to art of the empiricism that goes back in British philosophy to John Locke. To look is to discover (although Gombrich showed how what we see is coloured by what we expect to see). If art is about trying to see things how they really are, what is the value of abstraction? For Gombrich it basically had no value at all.
It was not only theorists who believed this in postwar Britain. The best artists did, too. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud fearsomely depicted real life as they found it – real human life, with the figure at the heart of the matter, the lonely human predicament their weighty concern. Bacon loudly dismissed the American abstract painting of the 1950s as looking like "old lace". Freud paints to this day with total commitment to reality and no interest whatsoever in abstraction.
So British sceptics who think abstract art like that of Twombly is just a load of visual guff can claim a tradition on their side.
Why, then, are we so different from Americans?
The Abstract isn't art. It's an intellectual rebellion against the very idea of art. One of the main features of the Anglosphere is its anti-Intellectualism. Abstract "art" never stood a chance.
U.S. decrees that marijuana has no accepted medical use (John Hoeffel, 7/09/11, Los Angeles Times)
In a June 21 letter to the organizations that filed the petition, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said she rejected the request because marijuana "has a high potential for abuse," "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States" and "lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision." The letter and 37 pages of supporting documents were published Friday in the Federal Register.
This is the third time that petitions to reclassify marijuana have been spurned. The first was filed in 1972 and denied 17 years later. The second was filed in 1995 and denied six years later. Both decisions were appealed, but the courts sided with the federal government.
Justice!: The USA women's triumph over Brazil was one of the most thrilling, and deserved, victories in recent sports history (Josh LevinPosted, July 10, 2011, Slate)
Sunday's quarterfinal victory by the U.S. women against Brazil, 12 years to the day after 1999's memorable win over China, was stirring for the reason every great sporting event is stirring. This was not a win for all the 8-year-old girls practicing in their backyards. This was a win by the American women, for themselves. And there can't be many teams in the history of balls, cleats, and nets that have deserved to win more than this one.
No game is perfectly fair, and the last hour of USA-Brazil seemed to be a contest to determine the far end of the unfairness scale. First came a questionable red card on American defender Rachel Buehler, who kinda, sorta took down Brazil's star Marta in the box. (I would've given her an orange card if such a thing existed.) Seconds later, Hope Solo's diving penalty kick save was disallowed, for reasons that FIFA, forever transparent, has yet to make clear. (The potential calls here—Solo moved before the kick was taken; an American player encroached on the penalty area—range from obviously incorrect to laughably strict.) Marta converted the PK do-over, tying the game 1-1, then scored again on a deft, slicing, left-footed shot in the opening minutes of extra time. The pass that freed Marta for her brilliant strike was delivered by a player who might have been offside. The assistant referee didn't call it.
At this point, Team USA was down 2-1 and seemed to be playing 10 against 12: the Brazilian 11 plus referee Jacqui Melksham. With time running out, Brazil's Erika engaged in the classic end-of-game maneuver of faking your own death, then springing back to life due to the restorative power of soccer's magically curative stretchers. The fans in Dresden hissed at this fakery, as they should have. This was the booing of sports fans scorned—the refs are against us, the other team is cheating, and this is all just so unfair.
The Governors’ Advantage in Presidential Races Is Bigger Than You Thought (NATE SILVER, 6/15/11, NY Times)
It’s reasonably well known that governors have a more successful record than senators when it comes to winning presidential nominations. Throughout American history, about twice as many governors as senators have been chosen to be standard bearers by the major parties, even though at any given moment there are only half as many sitting governors as sitting senators.
The advantage may be even more powerful than you think. Not only are governors more likely to win nomination, they also do better than senators even after accounting for their polling. That is, if you take a governor who is polling at 10 percent and a senator who is polling at 10 percent in a race, and the candidates seem about equal in most other respects, the governor is more likely to outperform his polling and win the nomination. Governors likewise hold an advantage over members of the House of Representatives and over holders of most other elected offices — everyone except presidents and vice presidents.
Tim Pawlenty: Michele Bachmann has done nothing in Congress (Alison Gendar, 7/10/11, NY DAILY NEWS)
Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty took off the gloves Sunday and called his rival for the GOP nomination Michele Bachmann a big zero in Congress.
"I like Congresswoman Bachmann. I've campaigned for her. I respect her. But her record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent," Pawlenty said today on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Pawlenty said his record as Minnesota governor made him more qualified to run the country than Minnesota Rep. Bachmann.
Somehow, the Unemployed Became Invisible (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 7/09/11, NY Times)
Word came Friday from the Labor Department that, despite all the optimistic talk of an economic recovery, unemployment is going up, not down. The jobless rate rose to 9.2 percent in June.
What gives? And where, if anywhere, is the outrage?
The United States is in the grips of its gravest jobs crisis since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. Lose your job, and it will take roughly nine months to find a new one. That is off the charts. Many Americans have simply given up.
But unless you’re one of those unhappy 14 million, you might not even notice the problem. The budget deficit, not jobs, has been dominating the conversation in Washington. Unlike the hard-pressed in, say, Greece or Spain, the jobless in America seem, well, subdued. The old fire has gone out.
In some ways, this boils down to math, both economic and political. Yes, 9.2 percent of the American work force is unemployed — but 90.8 percent of it is working.
It's pretty hard to gin up a revolution when things are better than normal.
Now, there is an interesting question suggested by the fact that the current employment rate is below the levels we saw from the mid-80s until 2008 and by the fact that the reduction in the employment rate has been accompanied by a massive increase in productivity, such that none of those unemployed are missed: should our economic policy be concerned with finding people with productive employment? Or are jobs merely the vehicle via which we want to redistribute wealth to the unproductive, since we find it repulsive to do so via direct government channels?
Undocumented Jews Live in Shadows of U.S. Society: Not the Usual Illegal Alien and Off the Communal Agenda (Nathan Guttman, July 06, 2011, Forward)
Exact numbers of undocumented Jews are not available, and estimates are hard to find, but activists believe there are at least several thousand Jews currently living in the shadows of society. They are Israelis who immigrated to the United States without proper papers — some joining ultra-Orthodox communities, others seeking to pursue better financial opportunities and some who have used Israel as a stepping stone on their way to America from the former Soviet Union, without obtaining the necessary immigration status. And while their numbers are minuscule in comparison with the estimated 11 million mostly from Mexico and Latin America, Israeli undocumented immigrants share a similar fate.
Yamzi Rosen has been living in the United States for nearly nine years. Rosen said she and her family moved to Brooklyn from Israel after she lost her son to a violent murder in her hometown of Netanya. The family hoped the distance would help them overcome the tragedy. The seven family members crammed into a one-bedroom apartment, and began working odd jobs for which papers were not required.
But the American dream turned out to be hard to achieve. A lawyer dealing with their request for obtaining a green card, which grants legal residence in the United States, was arrested for fraud. Meanwhile, a temporary work visa expired, and Rosen was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Since she does not have legal status, Rosen is afraid to drive, and because she lacks health insurance, she relies solely on Jewish charities to help her deal with the large medical bills that accumulated because of her sickness. “They are tzaddikim” she said, using the Hebrew term for “righteous people” when she speaks of the Satmar Bikur Cholim charity organization that walked her through the maze of medical procedures she needed.
The Rosen family is reluctant to request any kind of welfare assistance, fearing that it will hamper their hopes to achieve a green card in the future.
As Same-Sex Marriage Becomes Legal, Some Choices May Be Lost (TARA SIEGEL BERNARD, 7/09/11, NY Times)
Now that same-sex marriage has been legalized in New York, at least a few large companies are requiring their employees to tie the knot if they want their partners to qualify for health insurance.
After Years of Struggle, South Sudan Becomes a New Nation (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 7/09/11, NY Times)
From the mid-1950s, even before Sudan shook off its colonial yoke in 1956, the southern Sudanese were chafing for more rights. Sudan had an unusually clear fault line, reinforced by British colonizers, with the southern third mostly animist and Christian and the northern part majority Muslim and long dominated by Arabs.
The southern struggle blew up into a full-fledged rebellion in the 1960s and then again in the 1980s, and the Sudanese government responded brutally, bombing villages and unleashing Arab militias that massacred civilians and enslaved southern Sudanese children. Many of the same scorched-earth tactics associated with the crisis in Darfur, in Sudan’s west, in the mid-2000s, were tried and tested long before that here in southern Sudan. (The International Criminal Court has indicted Mr. Bashir on genocide charges for the Darfur massacres.)
The central government also sowed divisions among the southerners, turning ethnic groups against one another. Some of the most unspeakable violence, like the Bor massacre in 1991 when toddlers were impaled on fence posts, was internecine.
Christian groups had been championing the southern Sudanese since the 19th century. And their efforts paid off in 2000 when George W. Bush was elected president of the United States. He elevated Sudan to near the top of his foreign policy agenda, and in 2005, the American government pushed the southern rebels and the central government — both war weary and locked in a military stalemate — to sign a comprehensive peace agreement that guaranteed the southerners the right to secede.
On Saturday, one man held up a sign that said “Thank You George Bush.”
The American-backed treaty set the stage for a referendum this January in which southerners voted by 98.8 percent for independence.
At 1:20 p.m. on Saturday, the southerners officially proclaimed their freedom.
“Recalling the long and heroic struggle of our people,” began the legislative speaker, James Wani Igga.
A few minutes later, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the new South Sudan flag (actually quite similar, plus a star) was raised. The masses exploded in one loud roar.
“Mabrook Janoob Sudan!” they yelled. “Congratulations South Sudan!”
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, wearing his signature black cowboy hat given to him by Mr. Bush, signed the interim Constitution.
The Rethinking Man’s Candidate: Meet Jon Huntsman (ANDREW FERGUSON, 7/18/11, Weekly Standard)
Covering political campaigns can be a dull, remorseless duty, but at least the reporters who gathered in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, on June 21 to see Jon Huntsman announce his presidential candidacy have this compensation: Someday they’ll be able to chuck their grandchildren under the chin and tell them, “Yes, kids, I was there when the Huntsman campaign peaked.”
The setting for the announcement was meant to be highly inspiring. A small, flag-bedecked stage had been built at the tip of a vast lawn jutting out into the Hudson River. The skyline of lower Manhattan and, more symbolically, the Statue of Liberty rose just beyond, through a scrim of early morning haze. By my rough estimation, newsfolk outnumbered normal people, who in turn narrowly outnumbered the political consultants, low-level politicians, and other hangers-on that always attend the launch of a presidential campaign, when the breezes still carry the springtime scent of fresh, unspent money.
Among the campaign’s consultants was the adman Fred Davis, a veteran of various John McCain campaigns who most recently gained fame for the mysterious “demon sheep” ad he produced for the California senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina last year. (The ad featured a pasture full of sheep and a guy in a sheep’s costume and was, of course, catnip to bored-stiff reporters but less appealing to voters, whose sensibilities haven’t yet evolved into postmodernism, even in California.) I see that the 2012 Political Reporter’s Stylebook requires that upon first reference Davis must be called “unconventional,” although “maverick” is allowed as a substitute under some circumstances. True to form, the scene Davis staged for Huntsman’s announcement was unconventional in the conventional manner.
The event had the feel of an unsubtle satire dreamed up by some snotty 1970s aging-hippie movie director—Robert Altman, say—to prove that political candidates are just pretty-boy airheads engaged in a show-biz sham. In addition to the lifted lamp of Lady Liberty and the overdone backdrop, there was the handsome candidate and his excellent hair, tossed Kennedily by a gentle wind off the river. There was the lovely wife wreathed in smiles, accompanied by a raft of offspring who looked as if Madame Tussaud’s “Brady Bunch” exhibit had sprung wondrously to life.
Large speakers played a boneless soundtrack of soft New Age rock, part Kenny G, part early 1980s porno. On a video screen across from the stage, solitary words shimmered in and out of focus against a western landscape: Vitality. Comfort. Home. Tough. Calm. (You’re getting sleepy, sleepy . . . )
Stem cell hope for heart patients (BBC, 7/08/11)
Scientists have raised hope that stem cell therapy could provide significant relief for patients disabled by untreatable chest pain.
Patients with severe angina had stem cells from their blood injected into their heart.
The therapy, carried out by Chicago's Northwestern University, halved the number of bouts of angina chest pain.
In Israel, group targets Messianics (Baptist Press, Jul 8, 2011)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish group in Israel that singles out Jewish Christians -- known as Messianic Jews -- for harassment and abuse is taking aim at a couple it falsely claims is manipulating minors into becoming Christians.
The group, Yad L'Achim, placed leaflets around the home of Serge and Naama Kogen in Mevasseret Zion, a suburban community located just west of Jerusalem. The same week someone took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper, giving the couple's address and telling residents they were part of a missionary group "targeting" the community. [...]
According to its website, literature and speeches, Yad L'Achim wants to make "proselytizing" by all non-Jewish groups illegal. The group does not specify which non-Orthodox groups they consider to be truly Jewish, or how groups with secular viewpoints might be similarly censored.
The advertisement invited the public to a protest planned against the Kogens, and on June 26 about 20 of the group's supporters demonstrated outside the couple's home, where they denounced them over megaphones for 90 minutes.
Chucho Valdes And Richard Galliano On JazzSet: North Sea Jazz Festival Sets Recorded By Radio Netherlands (Becca Pulliam, 7/08/11, NPR)
After half an hour with the stunning accordion of Richard Galliano and his quartet of name players from Cuba, West Africa and the U.S., we check out piano wonder-of-the-world Chucho Valdés from Havana. Valdés calls his eight-piece group his "big band."
The youthful Galliano (born 1950 in Cannes) taught himself to play Clifford Brown trumpet solos on the accordion. In Paris, he worked with Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. Inspired by Piazzolla's renewal of the tango, Galliano revived a forgotten form of turn-of-the-century Parisian dance music, the bluesy musette. He replaced the bagpipes and horns of the original musette with his accordion and a jazz rhythm section. Galliano is expansive, embracing the full romantic arc from Edith Piaf songs to Brazilian music, and most recently Bach. You forget that this instrument is rare in jazz, or that anyone except Galliano ever played it.
And then there is Chucho Valdés. Even after he lowers himself to the bench, Valdés (born 1941) is tall and direct. A glissando from Chucho makes something happen. He commands an exquisite blend of Cuban music with African roots and North American jazz. Valdés first performed in the U.S. at Carnegie Hall in the late 1970s with his Grammy-winning fusion group Irakere, with Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. Though he's always photographed wearing a beret, when I saw him in Montreal in 1993, he wore a New York Yankees baseball cap (before El Duque). In 1998, Valdés invited JazzSet to cover his Havana Jazz Festival, and speaking for engineer Duke Markos and myself, we have never been the same. In the early 2000s, Chucho Valdés led his quartet in a JazzSet performance from the Gilmore Festival. In every situation, a set with Chucho temporarily and momentarily resolves decades of forced separation between jazz and Cuban music.
Beyond Minnesota Nice: Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty brags that as governor he stared down Democrats on taxes and spending, but can he sell it to conservative voters? (KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL, 7/09/11, WSJ)
Far from going on defense, this week he aired a spot on Iowa television feting . . . the Minnesota shutdown. To be precise, the ad is highlighting a 2005 Minnesota shutdown, bragging that it happened because Mr. Pawlenty refused "to accept Democrats' massive tax and spending plans." The ad also references a 2004 transit strike (caused by a fight over pension cuts), in which Mr. Pawlenty "refused to cave in to government unions." The ad's moderator notes that both situations ended with one result: "Pawlenty won."
The candidate is eagerly talking about the current shutdown, contrasting Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's calls for more spending (the immediate cause of the state's deficit) with his own final budget fight with a Democratic legislature. He's telling audiences that he refused Democratic spending demands and vetoed Democratic tax proposals. He's highlighting his use of a little-used tool called "unallotment," which allowed him to unilaterally cut $736 million from the budget—much to Democratic fury. "In a liberal state, I reduced spending in real terms, for the first time," says the candidate in one ad.
Pawlenty as Fighter. Pawlenty Refusing to Roll for Democrats. Minnesota—goes the thinking—is T-Paw's big opening to define his candidacy. All the more so in the context of Washington's white-hot debt-limit talks. Conservative primary voters are looking for Republicans to hold the line against the president's spending and taxes, and Mr. Pawlenty's pitch is that he's been there, done that. And if, along the way, he can use this to replace his reputation as a perfectly "nice guy" with that of a candidate with the fight to take on Obama, all the better.
The Pawlenty team no doubt also sees this as an opportunity to draw contrasts within the GOP field. Mr. Romney is claiming frontrunner status, and the primary fight is increasingly about which candidate emerges to challenge him. Mr. Pawlenty's stance—that he held the line against Democratic demands—is one way to sharpen his distinctions with Mr. Romney, whose own grand bargains with his state's Democrats led to programs like RomneyCare. Or with Jon Huntsman, who despite being governor of a deep-red state with a Republican legislature, managed at one point to preside over a 35% state spending increase over a two-year period.
A ‘Mystery!’ Series That Has (Gasp!) Actual Sunshine (ELIZABETH JENSEN, 7/09/11, NY Times))
Beginning next Sunday the series takes a very different turn, with adaptations of three books by the British writer Michael Dibdin, centered on his Italian police detective Aurelio Zen. [...]
Publicity materials for “Zen” paint the character as an “honest cop” bringing “justice to modern-day Italy, whether the authorities want it or not.” Mr. Sewell sees it differently. “Always be very much wary of DVD liner notes,” he said in a telephone interview. While not corrupt in the same sense that his colleagues are, he said, Zen “can be quite morally dubious when it suits him.”
He added: “He has a slightly lackadaisical moral code, a sense of wanting to do something good. But he’s not above kicking someone when they’re down. He’s a gray area, and that’s what makes it incredibly fun.”
Just shy of 40, Zen is separated from his wife and living with his mother. “There’s a certain lack of dynamism in the character,” Mr. Sewell said. “He’s pushed around by tides and circumstances.” (But just as he always solves his case despite the conflicting pressures, he also ends up with the most sought-after woman in the office, played by an Italian actress, Caterina Murino.)
The casting proved a challenge for the producers. With “Wallander,” Mr. Harries explained, it was easy to find British actors who shared the Scandinavians’ pallor; trying to find ones who could play Italians was much harder. Mr. Harries said he had Mr. Sewell in mind for the role from the beginning, because “he has a good Eastern European Mediterranean look about him.”
But while the men are almost all English speakers, Italians were largely cast for the female roles, for creative reasons and also because the project had partial Italian financing. “English girls on the whole simply just don’t have the sensuality and looks of the Italian girls,” Mr. Harries said, quickly adding that “they have different charms.”
Pawlenty the Hawk: He’s betting that voters, however fatigued with intervention, won’t accept decline. (Colin Dueck, July 8, 2011, National Review)
Here are some of the main things Pawlenty said:
● The Obama administration’s approach toward the Arab Spring has been “timid,” “slow,” and indecisive.
● Republicans must not shrink from promoting American leadership internationally: “In the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item.”
● There is a danger that democratic revolutions in “formerly fake republics” such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya will be hijacked by radical Islamists. Washington should therefore help with the transition process in concrete ways, including non-military ones.
● On Libya: “Stop leading from behind and commit America’s strength to removing Qaddafi, recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli.”
● The U.S. should support a “step by step” democratization process in traditional Arab monarchies, including Saudi Arabia.
● Obama’s “engagement” of Syria and Iran, both “enemies of the United States,” has failed: “They are not reformers and never will be.”
● On the Assad government’s violent crackdown on protesters: “I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today.”
● America should ratchet up its pressure on Iran’s regime and its nuclear program.
● Israel should have America’s unequivocal support.
The Q & A after the address was in some ways the best and most reassuring part. In answering a series of tough questions, Pawlenty showed himself to be calm, fluent, and well-informed. He was particularly strong on the issue of counterterrorism, saying that Americans face a continuing struggle with al-Qaeda and similar groups in spite of bin Laden’s death: “The organizations still exist; their mindset still exists; their design and plans still exist,” and “we need to steel ourselves for that future.”
With this speech, Pawlenty claimed to be the leading foreign-policy hawk and conservative internationalist in the presidential race. It may not be the most obvious move politically, but it is a gutsy one, and it shows seriousness on difficult issues that any credible candidate will have to face.
The most compelling theme in Pawlenty’s address — one that might set the agenda for Republican foreign-policy debates moving forward — was that of leadership versus retreat: Will America lead internationally, and will the president lead Americans in doing so, or will the United States and its president retreat from commitments overseas?
The Road to Serfdom and the Arab Revolt: The dictators who came to power in the 1950s and '60s were economic levelers who impoverished their countries. Today's unrest is the result. (FOUAD AJAMI, 7/08/11, WSJ)
The late great Austrian economist F.A. Hayek would have seen the Arab Spring for the economic revolt it was right from the start. For generations the Arab populations had bartered away their political freedom for economic protection. They rose in rebellion when it dawned on them that the bargain had not worked, that the system of subsidies, and the promise of equality held out by the autocrats, had proven a colossal failure.
What Hayek would call the Arab world's "road to serfdom" began when the old order of merchants and landholders was upended in the 1950s and '60s by a political and military class that assumed supreme power. The officers and ideologues who came to rule Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen were men contemptuous of the marketplace and of economic freedom. As a rule, they hailed from the underclass and had no regard for the sanctity of wealth and property. They had come to level the economic order, and they put the merchant classes, and those who were the mainstay of the free market, to flight. [...]
In his 1944 masterpiece, "The Road to Serfdom," Hayek wrote that in freedom-crushing totalitarian societies "the worst get on top." In words that described the Europe of his time but also capture the contemporary Arab condition, he wrote: "To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of vile deeds; he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own."
Wizards, Muggles and Economic Exploitation Dependency Relations in the World of Harry Potter (Zakir Husain, Journal of Creative Communications)
The huge popularity of the Harry Potter novels has surprised many. The series initially won considerable critical acclaim. Over time, the adulation is somewhat tempered, and reviewers have turned to more critical examination of class, racism, gender and similar elements in the series. In this article, we reevaluate the relations between Wizards and Muggles, and show that this relation can be interpreted in terms of the dependency literature prevalent in development studies to explain the relation between developed and developing countries. This article will focus on three principles of dependency relations that are present in the novels of Rowling: (a) flow of agricultural goods from the periphery to the centre; (b) flow of skilled labour from the periphery to the centre; and (c) prevalence of a ‘we–they’ relation between the centre and the periphery. It is argued that the economy and society of the Wizards sustains itself based on a neo-colonial mode of exploitation, operating through these channels.
Debt limit deal a key moment for John Boehner (JOHN BRESNAHAN & JAKE SHERMAN, 7/8/11, Politico)
Even Boehner’s closest friends and allies in the House admit the stakes are huge on the biggest stage of Boehner’s political life, signalling that the 60-year-old Ohio Republican has reached a pivotal moment of his speakership.
“He’s playing for historic stakes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a one-time Boehner rival who now finds himself a top cheerleader of the speaker. “What he’s trying to accomplish will literally change the fiscal trajectory of the country.”
“The road is filled with political landmines” for Boehner, added Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a Boehner ally. “But the folks who are running around saying he shouldn’t negotiate with Obama, that isn’t the way the Founders set up the government. If you only have one side making demands and the other side caves in, that’s not negotiations, that’s a surrender. And I don’t think this president surrenders.”
In interviews, several GOP lawmakers said any “grand bargain” must not include any tax increases - or even provisions that can be construed as tax increases - or rank-and-file Republicans will turn against it.
“There can’t be any hint of a tax increase,” said Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.). “The last thing we can do is raise taxes.”
Getting the support of his top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has emerged as a major challenge for Boehner. Cantor told Obama during Thursday’s bipartisan-bicameral meeting that a large-scale deal can’t pass the House. He and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) are both pushing for a “middle” package that includes $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and no new tax revenues.
Psaltrio On Mountain Stage (NPR, 7/08/11)
Greg and Tish Westman are luthiers based in Beckley, W. Va., who play traditional music on the bowed Psaltery, a stringed instrument kin to the dulcimer that comes in 9-, 25-, 32- and 37-note versions and in varying tonal ranges. The duo record as Psaltrio, which has one album under its belt, The First Time.
Koch Industries Acting Like It’s Never Given Money to the Democrats Before (Dan Amira, 7/8/11, New York)
If you've been listening to the Democratic Party and liberal activists over the past couple of years, then you've heard that Charles and David Koch, the wealthy industrialist brothers who have placed their inestimable financial muscle behind conservative causes and candidates, are democracy's rapists. So it may seem a bit strange that Washington senator Patty Murray, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recently solicited Koch Industries for a donation. [...]
[T]his is embarrassing for the DSCC. The parallel would be the GOP trying to hit up the ACLU for campaign cash after years of ACLU fear-mongering in order to scare cash out of other people. But the pearl-clutching reaction from Koch Industries is entirely phony. KochPAC, the political action committee of Koch Industries, donated $30,000 to the DSCC just last year, when the Democratic assault on the Brothers Koch was in full swing, and gave another $30,000 to the DSCC during the 2008 election cycle
Why the Left Is Starting to Hate Obama (Jacob Heilbrunn, July 8, 2011, National Interest)
Both Krauthammer and Krugman are pillorying Obama for what they see as rank opportunism. But what president hasn't acted opportunistically? And if apprehension about the debt pushes Obama to become the first Democratic president to tackle entitlement programs, why would Republicans object? As David Brooks put it in the New York Times the other day, this is an opportunity that the GOP will probably never see again.
What Obama Wants (PAUL KRUGMAN, 7/08/11, NY Times)
On Thursday, President Obama met with Republicans to discuss a debt deal. We don’t know exactly what was proposed, but news reports before the meeting suggested that Mr. Obama is offering huge spending cuts, possibly including cuts to Social Security and an end to Medicare’s status as a program available in full to all Americans, regardless of income.
Obviously, the details matter a lot, but progressives, and Democrats in general, are understandably very worried. Should they be? In a word, yes. [...]
Watching Mr. Obama and listening to his recent statements, it’s hard not to get the impression that he is now turning for advice to people who really believe that the deficit, not unemployment, is the top issue facing America right now, and who also believe that the great bulk of deficit reduction should come from spending cuts. It’s worth noting that even Republicans weren’t suggesting cuts to Social Security; this is something Mr. Obama and those he listens to apparently want for its own sake.
Which raises the big question: If a debt deal does emerge, and it overwhelmingly reflects conservative priorities and ideology, should Democrats in Congress vote for it?
Mr. Obama’s people will no doubt argue that their fellow party members should trust him, that whatever deal emerges was the best he could get. But it’s hard to see why a president who has gone out of his way to echo Republican rhetoric and endorse false conservative views deserves that kind of trust.
In Dutch shechitah ban, Jews see a sign they are unwanted (Alex Weisler, July 7, 2011, JTA)
A few streets over from the bookstore where Anne Frank bought her famous diary, the only kosher butcher shop in Holland is bustling. Two employees man the long counter at Slagerij Marcus, pausing from chopping meat to sell customers a bit of this or that for Shabbat dinner.
In the wake of an overwhelming vote by the Dutch House of Representatives to ban the type of ritual slaughter required for kosher and halal meat, this butcher shop famous for its handmade sausage is at the front lines of a battle between two competing ideals in Holland: freedom of religion and animal welfare.
What put shechitah, or kosher slaughter, in the crosshairs was an unlikely convergence between animal rights activists and Holland’s far-right, anti-Muslim movement.
The Party for the Animals is interested in banning all forms of what it considers inhumane slaughter, while the Freedom Party led by firebrand Geert Wilders is interested in making Holland inhospitable to Muslims. For Wilders, who in 2009 called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture,” the impact on shechitah is collateral damage.
Surprise! The big bad bailout is paying off: The U.S. government's often maligned $14 trillion intervention not only staved off global collapse - but is making money. (Allan Sloan, July 8, 2011, Fortune)
The bailout of the financial system is roughly as popular as Wall Street bonuses, the federal budget deficit, or LeBron James in a Cleveland sports bar. You hear over and over that the bailout was a disaster, it cost taxpayers a fortune, we didn't really need it, it didn't work, it was a failure. It has become politically toxic, which inhibits reasoned public discussion about it.
But you know what? The bailout, by the numbers, clearly did work. Not only did it forestall a worldwide financial meltdown, but a Fortune analysis shows that U.S. taxpayers are coming out ahead on it -- by at least $40 billion, and possibly by as much as $100 billion eventually. This is our count for the entire bailout, not just the 3% represented by the massively unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program. Yes, that's right -- TARP is only about 3% of the bailout, even though it gets about 97% of the attention.
A key reason for the rescue's profitability is that the Federal Reserve System has already turned over more than $100 billion of bailout-related income to the Treasury, and is on track to turn over $85 billion more this year and next. That's not something most people include in their math.
Obama’s No Bill Clinton (Peter Wehner, 07.06.2011, Commentary)
[W]hatever his other failures, he was in many respects a constructive intellectual force in the Democratic Party. He moved it toward the center, much as his friend Tony Blair moved the British Labour Party toward the middle, making it not only politically viable but politically successful.
Both Clinton and Blair achieved impressive political track records. They made their parties stronger, not weaker; and more, not less, appealing. [...]
It turns out that in almost every respect, Clinton was a more formidable political figure than Obama, and certainly more competent. And as we get closer to 2012, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Democrats speak longingly of the Clinton Era, as glory days compared to the dangerous, even ruinous, prospects they now face.
Women football players half as likely to fake an injury as men (Cory Doctorow, Jul 7, 2011, Boing-Boing)
According to a study published in Research in Sports Medicine, woman football (soccer) players are about half as likely to fake an injury as male players. The researchers used a representative sample of match-videos, counted injuries, and noted whether the player left the field for a substantial period or had visible blood, and counted those as definite injuries, then ranked the remaining injuries by their plausibility. Hilariously, they use the term "injury simulation," instead of "faking an injury," the former is apparently the term of art preferred by FIFA, which knows an awful lot about fraud.
Polar bear origins: Polar bears have Irish ancestry, suggests DNA study (Jennifer Welsh, 7/07/11, LiveScience )
Comparing a special kind of genetic material — called mitochondrial DNA — of these bears, the researchers found the modern polar bear's DNA was very similar to that of the Irish brown bears. The bears seem to have intermixed their DNA in the last few dozen millennia, sometime between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.
"It's interesting because polar bears really are marine animals," Bradley said. "That's not the case for these brown bears."
Cell phones, devices biggest driving distractions (Reuters, July 08, 2011)
Driving distractions, primarily by cell phones and other electronic devices, are associated with up to 25 per cent of US car crashes, according to a report released yesterday.
[G]ood marketing of driverless cars will suggest that these vehicles make the split-second decisions that you would prefer not to make—like whether to slam on the brakes or rush through the yellow light, or whether to swerve to avoid the deer that scampers across the road. The advent of electronic stability control, a technology that minimizes swerving and skidding by automatically applying brake pressure, has been extremely effective in reducing crashes. It would be a shame if autonomy concerns prevent all drivers from taking advantage of such features.
The case of religion and prayer offers a similar situation. People like to assume personal control of their lives, but in high-stakes emotion-laden situations such as waiting to hear the outcome of an HIV test or tending to a loved one undergoing chemotherapy, believers have little difficulty transferring these outcomes into "God's hands." Developers would be wise to convey the superhuman qualities of this technology and to emphasize that the driverless car may know things that you do not. It is already difficult to avoid using the terminology of intellect when describing the increasingly anthropomorphic technology that is coming to dominate daily life. As a class, these technologies are called artificial intelligence. They are "thinking" machines or "smart" robots. The iTunes function that creates a full playlist from a single song is called "Genius." It is a delicate task to convey the superior intelligence of autonomous technologies without offending the human- and self-centered consumer (recall the late, annoying Microsoft Word paper clip, Clippy), but doing so effectively can facilitate user interaction with these technologies.
At a more basic level than making the agent appear God-like, car manufacturers will do well to recognize that people are willing to defer to experts. In rare cases, submissive drivers have followed their GPS devices into bodies of water, onto roads closed for the winter, or, in one tragic case, into the middle of a desert. leading to the death of a young passenger. These examples represent the minority of cases. However, they convey people's respect for perceived expertise, even technology-based expertise, and developers will want to emphasize the autonomous vehicles' credibility to facilitate their adoption. If marketers and engineers consider the psychology of potential consumers, we may enter a future in which self-driving car owners will be amazed that we once dared to handle steering and braking on our own.
Once again, the baby boomers will be the moving force in the switch over, because they're going to want to keep their cars until they're planted in the grave and hands-free will make them less dangerous.
Debt talks hinge on evolved Obama-Boehner relationship (John Dickerson, 7/08/11, CBS News)
Like men of a bygone era, Obama and Boehner are now holding secret meetings in the White House. On Sunday the two met as a part of a mini-breakthrough in talks over raising the debt ceiling. In private the president says that Boehner reminds him of the Republicans he worked with in Springfield as a state legislator, the kind of Republicans he played poker with on Wednesday nights.
There's a long way to go before a deal on the debt limit. But if it happens, the story of how Obama and Boehner learned to deal with each other will be at the heart of it. In the Saturday-serial narrative of this drama, the stage of gloom and doom has lifted momentarily to suggest that a deal even larger than imagined might be possible. Instead of $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years the White House is now suggesting that as much as $3 trillion to $4 trillion in reductions might be possible.
Of course, the clouds will come and go a few more times in this story. And as in previous negotiations, what's said outside the negotiating room may have little to do with what's going on inside. Each side is trying to shape the public story in order to put pressure on their opponent at the negotiating table. Each is also playing to its base to establish toughness in advance of a deal that might leave it open to charges of capitulation. Finally, there's the elephant-and-the-blind-man problem: There are so many moving and interconnected parts to this grand bargain that fierce disagreements over the description of one area do not give a clear description of the larger animal.
The World Today, Foretold by Nixon (TOM SWITZER, July 5, 2011, NY Times)
“When we see the world in which we are about to move, the United States no longer is in the position of complete pre-eminence or predominance [and] that is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it can be a constructive thing. ... We now have a situation where four potential economic powers have the capacity [to] challenge [the U.S.] on every front.”
So said Richard Nixon, 40 years ago today. Addressing media executives in Kansas City on July 6, 1971, the 37th president predicted “in 5 years, 10 years, perhaps it is 15, but in any event within our time,” America’s global hegemony would be replaced by a multipolar world, in which the United States, the Soviet Union, Western Europe, Japan and China would be leading powers.
Not only had the Soviets matched U.S. military might, the old cold warrior conceded, but Japan and Western Europe were competing vigorously with U.S. companies for markets. The American Century had ended. [...]
A few months later, he told Time magazine: “I think it will be a safer world and a better world if we have a strong, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other. ...”
Brink of a Grand Bargain?: With Obama positioning himself as a budget-cutting pragmatist and GOP leadership showing flexibility, Howard Kurtz reports that a debt ceiling agreement seems more within reach than ever. (Howard Kurtz, Jul 7, 2011, Daily Beast)
[R]epublicans are suddenly sounding more positive about an elusive agreement. A GOP leadership source said House Speaker John Boehner told his caucus that the odds were “maybe 50-50” of reaching a deal within 48 hours—although the source said it would take longer than that, with the president having called another meeting for Sunday. That is a more upbeat assessment than anyone associated with the talks has voiced publicly so far.
Republicans were greatly encouraged by the administration’s willingness to consider substantial cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, the source said. At the same time, the GOP has signaled a willingness to accept Democratic proposals for certain tax increases—but only, based on the party’s mantra, if offsetting tax reductions are made at the same time.
In debt talks, Obama offers Social Security cuts (Lori Montgomery, July 6, 2011, Washington Post)
President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue.
At a meeting with top House and Senate leaders set for Thursday morning, Obama plans to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.
As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal. [...]
While Democrats would be asked to cut social-safety-net programs, Republicans would be asked to raise taxes, perhaps by letting tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest households expire on schedule at the end of next year.
The administration argues that lawmakers would also get an important victory to sell to voters in 2012. “The fiscal good has to outweigh the pain,” said a Democratic official familiar with the discussions.
Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North: Economic, demographic and social changes in Mexico are suppressing illegal immigration as much as the poor economy or legal crackdowns in the United States. (DAMIEN CAVE, July 6, 2011, NY Times)
The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.
A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.
Here in the red-earth highlands of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s top three states for emigration over the past century, a new dynamic has emerged. For a typical rural family like the Orozcos, heading to El Norte without papers is no longer an inevitable rite of passage. Instead, their homes are filling up with returning relatives; older brothers who once crossed illegally are awaiting visas; and the youngest Orozcos are staying put.
“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, 18. Indeed, at the new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering, all the students in a recent class said they were better educated than their parents — and that they planned to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.
Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”
J. Gordon Coogler Award Rescinded, Shawcross Forgiven (R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., 6.30.11, American Spectator)
Here is the problem. In February 1980 we awarded "The Worst Book of the Year Award" to the British writer William Shawcross for his Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia. The late and gifted Peter Rodman reviewed the book in The American Spectator and took issue with its narrative and methodology, for instance the maps were off according to his calculations; and yes, the New York Review of Books had done cartwheels over Sideshow. We had our worst book of the year. Our problem arose because over the years Shawcross has become increasingly sound, an admirer of George W. Bush (though with qualifications), a friend of America, a proponent of America's special relationship with the UK, and even a defender of Israel. Some members of the Coogler board began to suspect that we should strip Shawcross of his 1980 award, cruel as that might sound.
Actually even when we gave him the award he did not act like the ordinary knavish Liberal. We sent him Rodman's review and he responded to it, politely but for the most part negatively; and Rodman answered, not so politely but intelligently. The exchange took place in our July 1981 issue. But that was not all. Shawcross published the whole exchange in the paperback edition of his book. He relished the debate! He encouraged his readers to witness the exchange. I should have known then that this fellow Shawcross was not your normal run-of-the-mill intellectual antagonist. He believed even in the 1980s in the give and take of ideas. It is very rare. Most intellectuals run and hide.
Moreover, he has not flinched from standing up for those that defend Western values.
The Shawcross Redemption: An ex-liberal cheers on Bush and Blair (John J. Miller, 1/29/04, National Review)
Here's what The New Statesman said about Shawcross in an especially agitated column: "Once a model progressive, he is today a fellow-traveler of U.S. imperialism, a committed Euroskeptic, a powerful advocate of pre-emptive war, and an apologist for monarchy and inherited privilege."
The New York Times was more restrained but no less surprised. "What's going on here?" asked James Traub in a review of Allies.
What's going on here is that Shawcross has written an outstanding justification of the Anglo-American effort to drive Saddam Hussein from power. It is an exemplary piece of moral clarity and fine writing — and it is downright refreshing to read the words of a European who says things like this: "As in the twentieth century, so in the twenty-first, only America has both the power and the optimism to defend the international community against what really are the forces of darkness."
Allies would be a very good book no matter who wrote it. The fact that comes from the pen of Shawcross — "Cambodia was not a mistake," he once wrote, "it was a crime" — makes it both good and interesting.
Julian Fellowes: Lord and master of Toff Television: With his 'Downton Abbey’ set to return, a contrite Julian Fellowes tells Jusith Woods of his regrets at letting pernickety viewers get the better of him. (Judith Woods, 06 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
“I think I behaved rather stupidly about the criticisms,” he says. “I allowed them to irritate me, but really they were a tribute to how much the nation took Downton to their hearts. There was also an assumption in the media that the complainant was automatically correct and we were wrong, which was frustrating.” Quite so – the conservatory in question dated back to the Edwardian era and the first printed usage of “boyfriend” was in 1889.
“When there was a television aerial in a shot, as there was once, I was happy to hold my hands up, but I expended a lot of energy getting agitated about accusations that such-and-such piece of music wasn’t released until 1922, when in fact it was being played in 1910. Or the butler should have been in uniform when they came out of uniform in the Regency period – I mean, just shut up!”
Fellowes, 61 – a clubbable, hearty, high church Tory in mandatory Vyella shirt and Harris tweed jacket – regrets coming across as such a churl and hopes to enter the forthcoming Downton Abbey fray in a more relaxed frame of mind. He understands now that audiences gripe because they feel intensely involved with and proprietorial towards Downton, even if they have a peculiar way of showing it.
Google+ is Awesome. Facebook Maimed, Twitter Mortally Wounded? (Keith Kleiner July 6th, 2011, Singularity Hub)
Google+ is like Facebook. The interface looks almost identical, with the classic three column homepage seen in Facebook. But the differences start to kick in immediately when you try to make friends.
In Facebook, you cannot friend someone unless they friend you back. And once that person does friend you, for the most part they see all of your updates and you see all of their updates. The result is a privacy nightmare and a news feed filled with everybody´s junk. Most of us have not fully appreciated these glaring problems at Facebook because until Google+ came around there was no other game in town to show us how bad they were. Now we know better.
Instead of treating all of your friends as equals, Google lets you put them into different groups, called circles, such as “friends”, “acquaintances”, “family”, “sports fans”, and so on. These circles represent a powerful innovation. They allow us to send more personal updates just to our closest friends instead of forcing us to share with all of our hundreds of acquaintances. This simple task is not easy to do within Facebook. Furthermore, Google+ allows us to chop up our incoming news stream based on what circle they are coming from, so that we can focus on just the updates from our family or just the updates from our coworkers.
The Google+ circles concept is powerful and easy to use. It represents the defining, foundational difference between Google´s and Facebook´s vision for social networking. If this new model takes off with users, then Facebook will find itself in the uncomfortable position of having to replicate these features within its own platform. Unfortunately for Facebook, moving to this new paradigm will not be possible overnight. We are talking about a major architectural overhaul (update: I mean major as in the backend and more importantly the UI. It will probably be hard for Facebook to integrate this model into their UI in a way that is intuitive and widely adopted by users). In the meantime, Google will have a chance to attract significant numbers of users and influence..
The States and the Brotherhood: With dialogue between the US and the Muslim Brotherhood now out in the open, observers are keenly awaiting what the future may bring (Amani Maged, 7/06/11, Al-Ahram)
It's no longer a secret that the Americans and the Muslim Brotherhood are talking. The Muslim Brothers don't even bother to deny it. After the revolution, everything is possible, and all the cards are on the table. "The game's out in the open," as the Egyptian saying goes. So, political observers were not surprised by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement of US dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood. They described it as a move to regularise already existing communications and a gesture of support for a group that the US has chosen to talk to out of all other groups.
The US has been holding talks with the Muslim Brotherhood for years, albeit in the context of discussions with the 2005 Egyptian parliament, in which Brotherhood members had a significant presence. Brotherhood deputy chairman Kheirat El-Shater made no attempt to conceal the fact that he had met with the Americans during that time. In fact, he regarded the meetings as perfectly normal, having taken place in full view of the authorities of the previous regime, in spite of the buzz of insinuations about them in the press.
According to Sobhi Saleh, a prominent Brotherhood member, the recent American move to bring the talks out into the open was in part intended to do away with the Muslim Brotherhood bogeyman that the previous regime had concocted.
The strange silencing of liberal America (John Pilger, 07 July 2011, New Statesman)
My 15 June talk was to have been about the collusion of American liberalism in a permanent state of war and in the demise of cherished freedoms, such as the right to call governments to account. In the US, as in Britain, serious dissent -- free speech -- has been substantially criminalised. Obama the black liberal, the PC exemplar, the marketing dream, is as much a warmonger as George W Bush. His score is six wars. Never in US presidential history has the White House prosecuted so many whistleblowers, yet this truth-telling, this exercise of true citizenship, is at the heart of America's constitutional First Amendment. Obama's greatest achievement is having seduced, co-opted and silenced much of liberal opinion in the US, including the anti-war movement.
The Heath Brothers: Live At The Village Vanguard (NPR, 7/06/11)
Jimmy Heath came of musical age when bebop did — he was once nicknamed "Little Bird," after Charlie Parker — and eventually came to be known as a dynamic tenor saxophonist. As time passed, composing and arranging, often for large ensembles or jazz orchestras, also became a forte; his name is on many tunes, a few of which have become jazz standards ("C.T.A.," "Gingerbread Man," and so on). Tootie Heath is eight years younger than his brother, and emerged when bebop was morphing into what came after. He's been a premier freelance drummer ever since: Jazz.com estimated he's been on more than 400 recordings. With them are the fine pianist Jeb Patton, a former student of Jimmy's, and bassist David Wong, who often performs in the Village Vanguard band when he isn't playing with, say, Roy Haynes.
The three Heath brothers grew up largely in Philadelphia — "the city of brotherly love," coincidentally — but all ended up in New York after some time. Percy and Jimmy were both drawn into Dizzy Gillespie's band; Percy would later assume the bass chair in the Modern Jazz Quartet, while Jimmy would go on to develop his compositional talents, make many records under his own name and even play briefly in Miles Davis' quintet. Tootie followed in his brothers' footsteps, quickly establishing himself as a premier percussionist; some of his earliest recordings were made as a sideman to John Coltrane.
Obama's Debt-Ceiling Opportunity: He could do a lot for his re-election prospects by getting more serious about spending cuts. (KARL ROVE, 7/07/11, WSJ)
There's still time for the president to make history's largest debt-ceiling increase a moment when spending is curbed, a debt crisis averted, entitlement programs saved, and a fraying social safety net repaired.
As a liberal Democrat, this could be Mr. Obama's Nixon-to-China moment. He could draw on ideas with fairly broad bipartisan support, including changing the way benefits are indexed for inflation, raising the age at which people start receiving benefits, and modest means-testing. These reforms wouldn't make Medicare or Social Security permanently solvent, but they would put the programs on firmer financial ground for decades. It would be good for the country, to say nothing of Mr. Obama's re-election chances.
The Shame of the Cities and the Shade of LBJ (Walter Russell Mead , 7/06/11, American Interest)
After the Medicare/Medicaid catastrophe the single greatest policy failure of modern America is urban policy. Since the Great Society era of Lyndon Johnson, the country has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into poor urban neighborhoods. The violence and crime generated in these neighborhoods costs hundreds of billions more. And after all this time, all this money and all this energy, the inner city populations are worse off than before. There is more drug addiction and more social and family breakdown among this population than when the Great Society was launched. Incarceration rates have risen to levels that shock the world (though they make for safer streets); the inner city abortion rate has reached levels that must surely appall even the most resolute pro-choicers not on the Planned Parenthood payroll. Forty percent of all pregnancies in New York end in abortion, with higher rates among Blacks; nationally, the rate among Blacks is three times the rate among white women. Put it all together and you have a holocaust of youth and hope on a scale hard to match.
This is not a lot to show for almost fifty years of fighting poverty — not a lot of bang for the buck.
We need to do better. The state of the American inner city is an unacceptable human tragedy, and the costs in money spent and prosperity forfeited create an unsustainable drag on the national economy at a time when we need all the help we can get. [...]
Once a community has reached the levels of dysfunction and defeat that characterizes the third, fourth and fifth generations of the modern American underclass, conventional social programs no longer work particularly well. Affirmative action does not help a thirty year old illiterate with a drug habit get a job. The most dedicated teachers in the best schools cannot compensate for the lack of basic parenting at home. A community of young men who have never known a father’s care or even seen a father caring for a family cannot be prepared for adult life by anything the government can do.
There are no magic solutions to problems this deeply rooted, but we are going to dispel the shadow of LBJ from our urban policy and find new approaches to urban problems that break with the core assumptions of the catastrophically wrongheaded ‘best and the brightest’ of the 1960s.
Gaddafi would go in exchange for security: Russian report (Reuters, 7/06/11)
A Russian newspaper said on Tuesday that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was willing to give up power in exchange for security guarantees, citing a high-level Russian official.
The report in the respected daily Kommersant, which did not identify its source, came a day after the search for ways to end the war in Libya dominated Russia's talks with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and South African President Jacob Zuma.
"The colonel (Gaddafi) is sending signals that he is prepared to relinquish power in exchange for security guarantees," Kommersant quoted what it called a high-level source in the Russian leadership as saying.
Cantor Spells Out Possible Tax Compromise (COREY BOLES And KRISTINA PETERSON , 7/06/11, WSJ)
In recent weeks, Democrats have pushed for raising revenue by closing a raft of corporate tax breaks and benefits as part of a potential deficit-reduction deal that would ease the passage of a required increase in the federal borrowing limit. Such proposals include tax benefits currently available to owners of corporate jets, yachts, thoroughbred horses, ethanol fuel producers and the largest oil and gas companies.
Until now, senior Republicans have said those measures could only be addressed in the context of overhauling the entire tax code, which most political analysts don't expect this year. Mr. Cantor said he would be open to including closures of such tax benefits as long as Democrats go along with renewing popular business tax benefits such as the research and development tax credit. [...]
Mr. Cantor's comments come a day before a White House meeting with congressional leaders and President Barack Obama in an attempt to resolve the dispute before an Aug. 2 deadline to increase the country's debt ceiling.
Mr. Cantor also said he believed that roughly $2 trillion in spending cuts identified in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden that he had been part of could form the base for an eventual budget deal.
The World's Greatest Light Bulb: Dump your flourescents and incandescents for this amazing new LED bulb. (Farhad Manjoo, July 5, 2011, Slate)
When I arrived at Switch, Brett Sharenow, the company's chief strategy officer, showed me two lamps. Inside one was a standard 75-watt incandescent bulb. Switch's 75-watt replacement bulb, which uses only 16 watts of power, was plugged into the other. The lampshades prevented me from seeing the bulbs directly—I couldn't tell which lamp contained which bulb. When Sharenow turned on the lamps, the light from each lamp looked identical. The moment was completely undramatic, and that was the point. Switch has spent years developing bulbs that produce something thoroughly unexceptional—light that looks exactly like what we're used to.
Turned off, a Switch bulb looks like an incandescent from the future. It's got the same pear shape as a standard bulb, but it's divided into two sections. The bottom half is composed of a wavy metallic structure that looks like the wings of a badminton birdie. Above that is a thick glass orb filled with a cooling agent and a bank of LEDs, which are semiconductors that produce light. Because LEDs use a fraction of the energy required to light up the filament in an incandescent bulb, they're seen as the next great advance in light bulbs. LEDs have advantages over CFLs, too—they don't contain dangerous chemicals, and they can be used in lamps with dimmer switches (only certain CFLs are dimmable). A host of start-ups, as well as many of the giants in the lighting industry, are working on LED bulbs that mimic incandescents. At the lighting industry's annual trade show in Philadelphia in May, several companies showed off their LED technology. Switch was among a handful that unveiled prototypes of a 100-watt-equivalent LED bulb, which is considered a kind of tipping point for LEDs—if someone can make an LED bulb that looks as great as a 100-watt incandescent, the LED bulb will have finally arrived. [...]
Switch's 60-watt-replacement bulb will sell for about $20, and the 75-watt and 100-watt replacements will cost slightly more. This will be cheaper than other LED bulbs—Phillips sells a 60-watt replacement LED bulb that goes for about $45, for instance. But $20 for a light bulb still sounds expensive. Incandescent bulbs sell for about 50 cents to $1 per bulb, and CFL bulbs have been approaching that same low price. LED bulbs seem to break the bank by comparison.
But that's only until you do the math. On average, an incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours—that's about a year, if you keep it on for about three hours a day. Electricity in America also costs about 11 cents per kilowatt hour (that's the average; it varies widely by region). In other words, a 50-cent, 60-watt incandescent bulb will use about $6.60 in electricity every year. Switch's 60-watt-equivalent LED, meanwhile, uses only 13 watts of power, so it will cost only $1.43 per year. The Switch bulb also has an average lifespan of 20,000 hours—20 years. If you count the price of replacing the incandescent bulb every year, the Switch bulb will have saved you money by its fourth year. Over 20 years, you'll have spent a total of about $142 for the incandescent bulbs (for electricity and replacement bulbs) and less than $50 for Switch's 60-watt bulb.
Nerves Show on Team Obama: Recent scrambling by the president’s political advisers indicates they’re very worried about his reelection chances. (Josh Kraushaar, June 28, 2011, National Journal)
The president’s reelection team, once hoping to run on a “Morning in America” theme now doesn’t have that luxury. No wonder, the president’s advisers over the past month have been making moves that suggest they’re awfully concerned about his prospects: [...]
2. Doubling down on manufacturing. The latest White House effort to wring good news out of a bad economy focuses on successes in the manufacturing sector: the auto bailout that put GM and Chrysler on sounder footing, as well as green initiatives.
Politically, it’s a puzzling message. While there has been a small uptick in manufacturing jobs, it’s hardly enough to be felt by the blue-collar electorate, who have been bearing the brunt of the recession and never viewed Obama too favorably in the first place. The latest Gallup weekly tracking poll shows Obama’s approval with college graduates at 51 percent, with a 40 percent approval among nongraduates.
The president’s emphasis on green jobs doesn’t help. It’s tough for many steelworkers to see themselves producing solar panels. Clean-energy jobs may be the future, but they’re not seen by displaced workers as a panacea.
Instead, Obama’s key to winning reelection is solidifying his support with college-educated whites, a swing demographic that has been more receptive to his message, along with high turnout among minorities.
Spreading the word: Syria's digital revolution (Deutsche Welle, 7/05/11)
An oppressive regime, a brutal military and little promise of change: Unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the uprising in Syria has faced seemingly insurmountable odds from the very beginning. This was the revolution, analysts predicted, that would not last as President Bashar al-Assad's forces were simply too powerful.
But more than 100 days after the first protests began in the streets of Daraa, the breadth and strength of the uprising stronger than as ever. And across the border in Turkey in refugee camps, Syrians wave flags, upload images of protests and try to help their countrymen while echoing the cries for change during popular Friday protests.
"Syria has never had this kind of popular uprising with mass protests on the street, Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington DC, told Deutsche Welle. "The Syrians right now have actually discovered the power of their voice, and the power of numbers."
That power, say many protestors, is thanks in part to digital technology. As the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt began earlier this year, Syrians, too, witnessed the images, voices and messages broadcast around the world. They carried forward the rallying cry into Syria in March, using cell phones and amateur cameras to document their own protests and inspire an ever-growing number of Syrians to join the movement.
Egypt’s Islamists: asset and flaw (Tarek Osman, 5 July 2011, Open Democracy)
The moderate voices within political Islam, by repeatedly stressing that there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, also try to present their thinking in a language that avoids affronting the liberal sections of Egypt’s middle class. The precise combination of message, language, tone here is crucial; for Egyptian society, notwithstanding the non-religious rhetoric of the 2011 uprising, remains pious and religiously conservative.
More generally, the new political landscape - where the previously ruling National Democratic Party is sidelined, and political influence and voting blocs are no longer centred on a single source of power - tends to favour Islamists, as the best organised of those now in the field.
But the Islamic movement also faces immense challenges, including divisions among its various currents. The liberal Islamist message may resonate among significant parts of Egyptian society, but it faces opposition (even outright hostility) from the more conservative wings in the salafist movement. Several ultra-conservative factions, emerging from decades of persecution, are becoming more assertive. In a number of poor Cairene neighbourhoods, some salafist groups - emboldened by the retreat of Egyptian police after the fall of the Mubarak regime - demand the closure of shops selling alcohol (and when refused, try to force the issue).
There have also been protests, including in front of churches, to press demands for an Islamic Egypt. Salafist groups have been behind the growing number of sectarian flare-ups. The differences in modes of operation, and ideology, between these ultra-conservative groups and liberal Muslims will evolve into cracks in the Egyptian Islamic movement.
These actions also blemish liberal Muslims, and the image of the Muslim Brotherhood, at a time when the movement’s leaders are striving to assure almost anyone prepared to listen to it - inside and outside Egypt - of their moderation. The consistent message is that the Brotherhood believes in multiparty democracy; aims for a secular state where Islamic sharia (jurisprudence) is a guiding principle, but not superimposed on society; supports women’s participation in all social, economic and political spheres; and (of course) renounces violence in internal politics.
Israel's Rightward Turn (Benny Morris, July 5, 2011, National Interest)
Perhaps Shimon Peres's worst mistake was back in November 1995, when he failed to throw the book at – or even mildly harrass – the coterie of right-wing leaders and rabbis who had allegedly incited the assassination of his predecessor, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
For months, right-wing politicians, including Ariel Sharon, had painted Rabin as a traitor for having embarked on the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians and handed over territory, in Gaza and the West Bank, and weapons to Yasser Arafat's PLO. Several rabbis connected to the settler movement had reportedly given spiritual cover to the plotters, who included the gunman Yigal Amir, by ruling that Rabin was subject to the halachic laws governing one who handed over Jews or sovereign land to the enemy, din moser (the judgement of one who hands over a Jew, or, by extension, Jewish land, to gentiles) or din rodef (the judgement of one who chases a Jew). For both, a death sentence was seen as apt. Amir later hinted that he had consulted one or more rabbis before embarking on the assassination.
But Peres, taking over from Rabin at that chaotic time, failed to move against those who had paved the way for the assassination, and the chance to subordinate the hard right's spiritual guides to Israeli law was missed (the statute books include laws against incitement to murder). Within months, Peres lost the premiership to the tyro politician Netanyahu in general elections that all had assumed would be a walkover for Labor.
Last weekend, the police briefly arrested and interrogated two alleged spiritual miscreants, Dov Lior, who was already a prominent settler movement rabbi in the Rabin days, and Yaakov Yosef, the son of Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party and, by extension, of Israel's Sephardi ultra-orthdox community.
Lior is currently the municipal rabbi of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish suburb of Hebron and bastion of Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful), which orchestrated the expansionist settlement movement in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) since the early 1970s. Lior and Yosef had refused to respect a police summons for questioning after they had given a rabbinic stamp of approval to Torat Hamelekh (the thinking of the king), a book that appeared two years ago that discusses halachic rulings concerning the killing of goyim (i.e., in context, Arabs). The book is emblematic of the drift rightward of the Israeli public, and of its racist fringe.
U.S. willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq past year's end, officials say ( David S. Cloud and Ned Parker, 7/06/11, Los Angeles Times)
The White House is prepared to keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year, amid growing concern that the planned pullout of virtually all remaining American forces would lead to intensified militant attacks, according to U.S. officials. [...]
Unless Iraq asks for a change in its 2008 agreement with the George W. Bush administration, only about 200 active-duty troops would remain as advisors after December, the officials said. More than 166,000 American troops were in Iraq in 2007 when the U.S. military presence there peaked. There are about 46,000 remaining. [...]
As a candidate in 2008, President Obama promised to end the conflict in Iraq, and after taking office, he pledged to abide by the deadline.
Welcome to Juba!: Southern Sudan Prepares for Independence (Horand Knaup, 7/06/11, Der Spiegel)
Welcome to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan! The city still has much to do before United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and up to 40 heads of state and government fly to Juba Airport this coming weekend, an airfield about the size of that in the German town of Paderborn.
On Saturday, July 9, Southern Sudan will proclaim its independence . The move will strip Sudan, Africa's largest country, of a quarter of its area -- and the world will get a new country, the youngest in Africa.
The Blind Boys Of Alabama: Tiny Desk Concert (Stephen Thompson, NPR)
[N]umbers and awards don't sum up the gentle, easygoing grace of this Tiny Desk Concert, wherein these Blind Boys — young and old, blind and sighted — craft an impeccable mix of polished blues, swinging soul and from-the-gut gospel. The Blind Boys of Alabama's new album, Take the High Road, features an assortment of country stars, from Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson to Lee Ann Womack and Hank Williams Jr. That the group so seamlessly bridges the worlds of country, gospel, blues and R&B speaks volumes about its impact on performers of every stripe, not to mention the graceful ease with which its message can stick to just about any soul.
A Debt-Limit Breakout: Republicans should call Obama's bluff on tax increases. (WSJ, 7/05/11)
The debt-limit talks in Washington are bogged down in the hedgerows, with some Republicans insisting on a balanced budget amendment that can't pass Congress and President Obama insisting on tax increases that Republicans oppose. What this debate needs is a breakout strategy—to wit, Republicans should answer Mr. Obama's tax call by accepting his business tax increases in return for a lower corporate tax rate.
We've long favored such a reform, and last year so did the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission and the White House economic advisory council headed by Paul Volcker. But the cause has now acquired no less a convert than Bill Clinton. Speaking Saturday at something called the Aspen Ideas Festival, the former President admitted that he had once raised tax rates on corporations.
"It made sense when I did it. It doesn't make sense anymore. We've got an uncompetitive rate," he said. "We tax at 35% of income, although we only take about 23%. So we should cut the rate to 25%, or whatever's competitive, and eliminate a lot of the deductions so that we still get a fair amount, and there's not so much variance in what the corporations pay."
Tim Pawlenty: The Latest Dangerous Neoconservative (Doug Bandow, July 5, 2011, National Interest)
Republicans have spent a decade as the party of war. In fact, since President George W. Bush abandoned his call for a “humble foreign policy” the country has not been at peace. Now former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has unabashedly raised the neoconservative banner.
Solid Majority of Jewish Americans Still Approve of Obama (Lydia Saad, 7/05/11, Gallup)
Gallup's monthly trend in Jewish approval of Obama continues to roughly follow the path of all Americans' approval of the president, more generally, as it has since Obama took office in January 2009. The 14-percentage-point difference in the two groups' approval ratings in June -- 60% among U.S. Jews vs. 46% among all U.S. adults -- is identical to the average gap seen over the past two and a half years. [...]
President Obama delivered a major speech at the State Department on May 19 in which he articulated his support for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a return to Israel's 1967 borders. His remarks provoked a highly negative reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as from many high profile supporters of Israel in government, politics, and media.
Gallup cannot say whether the speech had an immediate impact on the views of Jewish Americans toward the president nationally, as sample sizes for this group in Gallup Daily tracking are too small to isolate short time periods.
However, aggregated Gallup Daily tracking interviews for the month and half periods prior to and following the speech show no significant nor sustained shift in Jewish Americans' views toward Obama.
Bank of Montreal Repays $1.7 Billion in TARP to Treasury ( Cheyenne Hopkins , 7/05/11, Bloomberg)
The U.S. Treasury Department said today that Bank of Montreal repaid $1.7 billion following its acquisition of Marshall and Ilsley Corp.
Bank of Montreal repaid the $1.7 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program capital, purchased warrants for common stock of the bank for $3.3 million and paid dividends totaling $11.9 million.
The Treasury said with today’s capital repayment, TARP proceeds total approximately $255 billion, exceeding the original $245 billion investment in those programs. The Treasury said it estimates the program will provide approximately $20 billion to taxpayers.
With Little Notice, Globalization Reduced Poverty (Laurence Chandy, Geoffrey Gertz, 5 July 2011, Yale Global)
It is customary to bemoan the intractability of global poverty and the lack of progress against the Millennium Development Goals. But the stunning fact is that, gone unnoticed, the goal to halve global poverty was probably reached three years ago.
We are in the midst of the fastest period of poverty reduction the world has ever seen. The global poverty rate, which stood at 25 percent in 2005, is ticking downwards at one to two percentage points a year, lifting around 70 million people – the population of Turkey or Thailand – out of destitution annually. Advances in human progress on such a scale are unprecedented, yet remain almost universally unacknowledged. [...]
Not only is poverty falling rapidly, it’s falling across all regions and most countries. Unsurprisingly, the greatest reduction has occurred in Asia. But it’s not just the dynamic economies of East Asia, such as China, recording great feats in poverty reduction; South Asian giants including India and Bangladesh, and Central Asian economies such as Uzbekistan also make great strides. Even Sub-Saharan Africa is sharing in this progress. The region finally broke through the symbolic threshold of a 50 percent poverty rate in 2008 and its number of poor people has begun falling for the first time on record.
This stunning progress is driven by rapid economic growth across the developing world. During the 1980s and 1990s, per capita growth in developing countries averaged just 1 to 2 percent a year, not nearly fast enough to make a serious dent in poverty levels. Since around 2003, however, growth in the developing world has taken off, averaging 5 percent per capita a year.
How and why sustained high economic growth in developing countries took hold are questions likely to be debated by economic historians for many decades. Already one can point to a number of probable sources emerging or accelerating around the turn of the century: an investment boom triggered by rising commodity prices; high growth spillovers originating from large open emerging economies that utilize cross-border supply chains; diversification into novel export markets from cut flowers to call centers; spread of new technologies, in particular rapid adoption of cell phones; increased public and private investment in infrastructure; the cessation of a number of conflicts and improved political stability; and the abandonment of inferior growth strategies such as import substitution for a focus on macroeconomic health and improved competitiveness.
These factors are manifestations of a set of broader trends – the rise of globalization, the spread of capitalism and the improving quality of economic governance – which together have enabled the developing world to begin converging on advanced economy incomes after centuries of divergence. The poor countries that display the greatest success today are those that are engaging with the global economy, allowing market prices to balance supply and demand and to allocate scarce resources, and pursuing sensible and strategic economic policies to spur investment, trade and job creation. It’s this potent combination that sets the current period apart from a history of insipid growth and intractable poverty.
The Mother of All No-Brainers (DAVID BROOKS, 7/05/11, NY Times)
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.
A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.
This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn: profile of 'attempted rape victim' Tristane Banon (Henry Samuel, 04 Jul 2011, The Telegraph)
Tristane Banon is a French journalist and writer, born in 1979 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France’s wealthiest suburb where Nicolas Sarkozy was mayor for 18 years.
She is the daughter of Anne Mansouret, a regional councillor in Upper Normandy, and god-daughter of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's second wife Brigitte Guillemette. She was also a close friend of one of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s daughters, Camille. [...]
The allegations were first mentioned in the bestselling 2006 book Sexus Politicus by Christophe Dubois and Christophe Deloire, about the private lives and sexual mores of leading French political figures.
Miss Banon’s lawyer said the charges laid against Mr Strauss-Kahn in New York had brought the 2002 incident back to his client.
He said she was ready to go to court now because "she knows she'll be taken seriously."
As DSK hit the headlines, the Banon family code of silence was broken, and her mother, Anne Mansouret, admitted that she had advised her daughter not to file for charges at the time – advice she said she now regretted.
Iowa Republican leaders don't miss Romney, Huntsman (Jackie Kucinich, 7/04/11, USA TODAY)
Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, announced earlier this month he will not compete in Iowa, and neither he nor former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will participate in the Ames Straw Poll in August.
Huntsman has said his stance against ethanol subsidies, a popular program in the state, would make a campaign a non-starter, although other candidates, such as Minnesota former governor Tim Pawlenty, have also said cuts to the longtime program should be "on the table."
Romney's campaign announced last month he would not participate in any straw polls this cycle in order to focus on primary contests and conserve resources.
Presidential contender and former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has suggested Huntsman and Romney may not be conservative enough to play in the state. Santorum's comment fuels a narrative that has taken root since Arkansas former governor Mike Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008, largely because he gained the support of the state's social conservative base.
Huckabee's win with 34% of the vote in 2008 surprised political observers who had watched Romney drop millions in Iowa only to finish with 25%.
Huckabee won 46% of evangelical or born-again Christian votes, most of whom said they backed him because he shared their values, according to a 2008 Associated Press exit poll.
Inside Google+ — How the Search Giant Plans to Go Social (Steven Levy, June 28, 2011, Wired)
Sensing a leadership vacuum, Gundotra, who had arrived at Google after a long stint as a Microsoft executive, made it his mission to channel the energy into a more focused, sweeping effort. Gundotra, who is 43, had arrived at Microsoft in the aftermath of the 1980’s applications wars, when Lotus Development Corps, the maker of a seemingly invincible spreadsheet, had failed to decisively adopt the graphical user interface — and was crushed by Bill Gates. Gundotra believed that social networking was a similar discontinuity, and he wanted to make sure that Google’s executives realized this.
“There are only a few emotions that can effect change at a large organization,” he explains. “One is greed and another powerful one is fear.” Outright greed is gauche in the Googleplex, so Gundotra prepared a slide deck that mocked up challenges from Google’s competitors (notably, Facebook), illustrating how each company could turn Google upside down. And vice versa.
A crucial turning point was a May 2010 gathering of 50 of Google’s top people to discuss the broader challenges faced by the company. At one point, the meeting dispersed into breakout sessions of about eight people each. Gundotra was in a group that included Amit Singhal, one of the company’s most respected search engineers. Singhal spoke passionately about how the internet was increasingly organized around people, urging that Google dramatically expand its focus to create a hub of personalization and social activity. Singhal believed that Facebook not only was ahead in that realm, but, worse, it was building an alternative internet with itself in the center.
“If every web page is living on one company’s servers, it’s not healthy for the web,” Singhal later would explain. But there was good news, too. “We’re still just scratching the surface of marrying human relationships with information,” he says. “There’s a huge opportunity which someone else will fill — or we will fill.” Gundotra convinced Singhal to repeat the rant when the group regathered. The words hit Google’s leaders hard.
Gundotra made a pitch to lead the Emerald Sea project, and got the nod. Bradley Horowitz became his co-leader and collaborator. (This year, Gundotra was promoted to senior vice president in charge of social, giving him the top-tier organizational equivalence to Google’s leaders in search and ads.)
Gundotra’s philosophy of product design is to envision the demo he will eventually present at the launch event and work backwards from there. He did this with Google’s social strategy and he and Horowitz created a slide deck that he presented at yet another high level May meeting in Building 2000. The presentation identified ten key elements of the initiative and named a proposed leader for each team. “My name was on a slide,” says Rick Klau, who became the product manager in charge of Profiles. “That was the first time I knew that I was one of the leaders in this effort.” (Klau is now at a different job at Google.)
Oh, and Google would launch this effort in 100 days.
It was a “wild-ass crazy, get-to-the moon” goal, Horowitz says. But a project like Emerald Sea — which quickly expanded to cover 18 current Google products, with almost 30 teams working in concert — was a complicated and challenging task. Indeed, on the hundredth day after that May meeting, which fell in August, Emerald Sea was not completed. But several hundred Googlers were working on the project, and making progress. Gundotra’s demo now had a working prototype. Gundotra and Horowitz had already shown it to Google’s board of directors, who had responded with a standing ovation.
It was that August where I first viewed Emerald Sea. In a small auditorium in Building 2000 Gundotra showed me what had won the board’s ovation. Since then Emerald Sea has undergone many changes. But the philosophy of the product as Gundotra explained that day, has been unwavering.
Glass that does it all (Jessi Hempel, July 5, 2011, Fortune)
That windowpane in your office will soon become valuable for more than the view. Newly developed electrochromic "smart" glass can cloud up for privacy, block the sun's rays to cool you down, or absorb them to power the place.
Bradley Manning’s Army of One: How a lonely, five-foot-two, gender-questioning soldier became a WikiLeaks hero, a traitor to the U.S., and one of the most unusual revolutionaries in American history. (Steve Fishman, Jul 3, 2011, New York)
On the night of February 21, 2009, a year before Army private Bradley E. Manning allegedly leaked the largest cache of classified information in American history, he sat at a computer in his barracks at Fort Drum in upstate New York. It was a Saturday in midwinter, and the barracks were nearly empty. He pulled a chair up to the computer in his cinder-block room, briefly debated between a pizza and a sandwich from Domino’s, went with the sandwich, and passed over into his “digital existence,” as he thought of it. He logged on to AOL’s instant-messenger service under the handle Bradass87, and off he went to transform himself. On the web, he could be whomever he chose.
It was 8:27 p.m. at Fort Drum when he popped up on the computer screen of ZJ Antolak.
“hi,” he began.
“hi,” ZJ responded.
“You don’t know me, i apologize, i got this [address] from your youtube channel.”
“No problem, there’s a reason I put it on there :P,” wrote ZJ, adding an emoticon to indicate her playful tone—or his, depending on your frame of reference. ZJ was Zachary Antolak, a 19-year-old gay activist and web designer. On YouTube, he went by the name Zinnia Jones. On the Internet, he was a she who called herself Queen of the Atheists, wearing her auburn hair below her shoulders and painting her lips a bold red.
Manning was an atheist himself—“I’m godless,” he told an acquaintance. But even more, he identified with ZJ’s self-invented life. “I saw your more personal stuff and figured you were on the same page … as me,” Manning wrote. “You remind me of … well … me.”
What does barbecue tell us about race?: Andrew Warnes, Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food (Ken Albala, Common-Place)
Americans just happen to have raised this form of cooking to High Art.
Andrew Warnes takes these macho associations one step further, though, arguing that the barbecue, from the initial encounter between Europeans and Native Americans, right down to the present, is really about race, violence, and exploitation. The idea of barbecue, he argues, even when alluring, is tainted by associations with the primitive, exotic other, the cannibal, and the assertion of white superiority.
But isn't barbecue one of the few foods prepared and enjoyed by all Americans regardless of color? A truly hybrid cuisine which all claim as their own and share equally? Blacks, whites, even Mongolians, stake a rightful claim to it. Warnes could not possibly be further from the mark with his impression of "American culture's low estimation of pit barbecue" (10). But perhaps this enthusiasm really does conceal, like a cloying thick sauce, an underlying truth that is vicious and racist.
The evidence presented is unfortunately tough and hard to swallow. The first chapter tries to convince us that putting together the words barbecue and barbarian is not coincidental. Early conquistadors and their chroniclers who first described the crude cooking methods of the Native Americans unwittingly forged an association that would be used to justify the exploitation of natives who slow-cooked not only horrid beasts like iguanas, but even human flesh. Theodor de Bry's popular images of freakish bald-headed cannibals chomping on arms and legs certainly would seem to suggest a "long tradition of conflating barbecue and cannibalism" (46).
But does the evidence really hold up? Do a handful of references denote a long-standing tradition of associating barbecue with racial discrimination? We are offered a Puritan divine, Edmund Hickeringill's Jamaica Viewed, which appeared in 1661, who mentions that Caribs, or Cannibals, barbecue the flesh of captives and feed it to their wives and children. But does this really reflect a "new and emergent doctrine of white supremacy" (35) or merely a statement of what Hickeringill took to be fact? Every other early historic reference to barbecue is completely neutral: a wooden platform for cooking food. Or even any wooden grid raised off the ground. And would this technique really have been so fundamentally strange to Europeans? They had been using iron grills since ancient times—just think of St. Lawrence, barbecued for the faith. The famed Bartholomew Pig is an English BBQ.
Then there is the little story upon which Warnes' whole argument hinges, Edward Ward's The Barbacue Feast: or, the Three Pigs of Peckham, which was published in 1707, supposedly heralding "barbecue's popularization in 1700s and '10s London" and "the ascent of new notions of racial exoticism and mastery. Even among those who ate it, as we will see, barbecue in these years seems to have retained its full complement of savage and cannibal meanings ..." (53).
Really? It turns out this is a story about sailors meeting for a common meal not far from the docks south of London for something, it seems, that reminded them of the food they ate back in Jamaica. And the sailors do what sailors do: eat raucously, make bad music and dance, tell stories, drink way too much rum, smoke, and then stumble home. It is anything but a cannibal feast.
America's 15th financial panic: … and our recovery from it (Jeff Korzenik, July 4, 2011, Chicago Tribune)
The U.S. has a long, if largely forgotten, history of panics. Roger Babson, the pioneering market statistician and famed forecaster of the 1929 stock market crash, wrote a series of articles about them for The New York Times in 1910. He documented 13 panics in American history up until that time — the first in 1791 and the last in 1907.The bank crisis and panic of 1930-1933 was No. 14. That makes 2008 the 15th panic in U.Shistory . The good news, of course, is that we have survived 14 prior episodes, and can survive this panic as well. But beyond mere survival, the question remains: what path will our recovery take?
There are remarkable similarities in the events that trigger panics. A century-old economic text, "A Brief History of Panics and their Periodical Occurrence" noted, "The symptoms of an approaching panic… are wonderful prosperity… a rise in the price of all commodities, of land, of houses, etc, etc…, by the gullibility of the public, by a general taste for speculating in order to grow rich at once, by a growing luxury leading to excessive expenditures…." The book further cited excessive leverage in the financial system, a point taken up by Babson, who likened the creation of new financial institutions to "putting out a flame by pouring oil over it." How easily all this could have described the years preceding the Panic of 2008!
Recoveries from panics also follow similar routes. Fidelity Investments allowed me access to its famed chart room in Boston, where graphs of more than 200 years of economic and financial markets history adorn the walls. The panics of the 19th century looked nearly identical — and reminiscent of our own recent history — an initial period of deflation, soaring unemployment and plummeting asset values. Putting the charts together with other data sources shows recovery periods marked by long periods of private sector debt reduction, extended high levels of unemployment and slow economic growth.
There is no guarantee that our economic rebound will follow the historic pattern. However, the three hallmarks of past panic recoveries: debt reduction (and a consequent weak consumer), slow growth and high unemployment certainly plague our present economy. These factors reinforce each other and prolong the pain of the downturn. Economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff studied centuries of experience with financial panics, and they have emphasized the length of the economic healing process. Last year Reinhart predicted an additional seven years of convalescence.
The news is not all bad. Historically, barring major government policy errors, investors have fared well, with stable low interest rates offering stability to bondholders and valuation improvements for stock shareholders. Reducing consumer indebtedness dampens near-term commerce, but sets the stage for sustainable long-term growth. Entrepreneurship remains vibrant, and we have a long history of our greatest commercial enterprises being founded in our most difficult times.
Exceptionally American: A review of Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character, by Claude S. Fischer (Wilfred M. McClay, Winter/Spring 2010/11, Claremont Review of Books)
Fischer makes the astonishing but entirely plausible argument that there is an essential continuity between the American national character of two centuries ago—let us say, of Tocqueville's day—and that of America today. And the way he goes about sustaining the claim is even more astonishing. Rather than simply ignoring the vast accumulation of specialized work in American social history as a hopeless muddle, a pudding without a theme, a pile of rocks in search of a cathedral, Fischer has plunged into it all with admirable energy, seeking to discover the congruencies and thematic resonances that the individual scholars themselves have been unable, and sometimes unwilling, to tease out.
Fischer has, one might say, undertaken to do the work that American historians have declined to do. Perhaps best known for his work on the social history of the telephone (America Calling, 1992), he has until now not been particularly well-known among American historians, who have in any event found other social sciences, such as anthropology, of greater interest in recent years. But they will have to contend with him now. The sheer volume of Fischer's reading, indicated by the book's more than 200 pages of Notes and Bibliography, is staggering, as is the discernment with which he sifts through the various works from which he draws material. But most admirable of all is the book's sharp clarity of organization and the jargon-free unpretentiousness with which the author puts forward his findings. Out of the massive volume of recent American social-history scholarship, Fischer finds clear, consistent themes emerging, pointing toward a clear and reasonably consistent "American character" that has endured over centuries, and has even, he argues, made Americans "more American" over the years. His is a story of a nation that has been steadily becoming more fully what it was from the beginning.
In the process, Fischer dispels a number of myths and misconceptions about American social history. Americans are not becoming more mobile; on the contrary, the trend has been moving in the opposite direction. Americans are not becoming less religious; on the contrary, religious affiliation stands at higher levels than in most past periods of American history. Nor are Americans becoming more violent, or more alienated from their work, or less concerned about the needy. The contrary proposition is true in each case.
But far more important than these debunkings are the striking continuities over the centuries that Fischer finds in the American national character. Needless to say, these continuities won't be startling to anyone acquainted with the pre-1960s scholarship; but even so, he makes them freshly plausible by grounding them in the newer scholarship. To begin with, he finds Americans from the beginning to have been largely a "people of plenty," in David Potter's famous term, which means that the "consumerism" so lamented in the present day is nothing new. Steady improvements in material security and economic prosperity have always been eagerly and confidently expected by Americans, serving to underwrite the expansion of a distinctive middle-class American culture, which has become over time more and more inclusive.
He also finds America to have been, from the start, a highly voluntaristic society—a better word than individualistic—meaning that Americans' relationships, organizational affiliations, and living circumstances were, to a great and steadily increasing extent, a product of their own choices rather than of necessity or external compulsion. Americans have always had an extraordinarily powerful belief in the possibilities of self-improvement or self-culture, and an unwillingness to accept the hand they were dealt in life as the hand they would be constrained to play. Similarly, they have tended to regard participation in public life as optional, and tended (with some exceptions) to favor cultivation of the private sphere of life.
Fischer is of course fully aware of the multitudinous prohibitions against speaking of "national character," but he brushes them aside. "While many scholars emphasize the survival of ethnic diversity into the twenty-first century," he acknowledges, "what is sociologically striking is the extent to which the American mainstream has overflowed and washed away that diversity, leaving behind little but food variety and self-conscious celebrations of multiculturalism." The concept of a distinctive national character "does make sense," he states, with the impatience of one who knows he is stating the obvious. Even though early America, like most societies, was "complex, pluralistic, and often conflicting," it is nevertheless clear that "out of this variety emerged a dominant social character" which "spread and gained power over time."
Fischer is even entirely comfortable using the "e" word—exceptionalism—to describe American culture, although he prefers to confine the word's meaning to "uniqueness" rather than superiority. Nevertheless, he asserts confidently that "there is an American cultural center; its assimilative pull is powerful; and it is distinctive—or ‘exceptional'. The historical record speaks." Lest the significance of this be lost, let me underscore it: he is saying that American culture is exceptional, and not merely (as President Obama tried to finesse the point) that we believe it to be. And that historical record, as Fischer hears it, speaks far more of a vast, enduring continuity in the American character than of change and fragmentation.
George Washington saved America's Constitution (NEIL REYNOLDS, 7/04/11, Globe and Mail)
When Washington died in 1799, he bequeathed three extraordinary precedents. He had declined a crown. He had declined office for life. And he had declined aristocratic titles (although people, for a time, did call him “Excellency”).
The Constitution was a glorious thing – in part, because Washington epitomized the spirit of it. Without the restraint of America’s first president and commander-in-chief, the Constitution could have been, as many constitutions are, mere pieces of paper. It’s interesting to note that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cited Roosevelt’s example last year when he was asked whether he would return for another term (or terms) as president.
Though the U.S. inherited the great injustice of slavery from its colonial past, it became a beacon of freedom and liberty for a widely enslaved world. By 2010, the World Forum on Democracy could document 120 functioning democracies (with 58 per cent of the world’s population – more than 3.5 billion people), with many more evidently still to come.
Ronald Reagan statue unveiled in London (The Telegraph, 7/04/11)
Former US president Ronald Reagan was honoured today with the unveiling of a statue in Grosvenor Square to mark 100 years since his birth.
Foreign Secretary William Hague and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both paid tribute to the late President at the unveiling ceremony, which coincides with the US Independence Day celebrations.
"I doubt very much that President Reagan would have even imagined the world that we see today and so this statue of Ronald Reagan is quite clearly a memorial and a commemoration of a glorious past but more importantly it is a call to an even more glorious future," said Ms Rice, who was representing Reagan's widow, Nancy Reagan, at the ceremony.
A Good Joke Spoiled: a review of Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1 By Mark Twain Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith (Michael Lewis, June 23, 2011, New Republic)
He seems to have arranged to be treated as a child as often as possible. The role that he carved out for his wife, for instance, was less spouse than custodian: he played Tom Sawyer to her Aunt Polly. Her chief function, to judge from his account of her here, was to prevent Twain from getting away with being who he naturally was. He allowed her to excise all jokes, phrases, and sentiments from his books that she deemed to be in poor taste. Her nickname for Twain was “Youth,” because “I had certain mental and material peculiarities and customs proper to a much younger person than I was.” One such custom was his habit of leaving a mess behind him for others to clean up. He can’t go camping beside Lake Tahoe without setting fire to the forest. When he gives a match to a drunk in the local jail, the drunk uses it to burn down the jail, with himself inside. When he dabbles in venture capitalism—funding the creation of one-handed grape shears, perpetual calendars, a cloth made from peat—he creates commercial mayhem. A rich businessman friend is called in to sort it all out.
Twain is never oblivious; he always professes to be aware of the damage that he has done. After each of his mishaps he is able to see that his actions had consequences. But he feels no need to address the root cause of the problem, even when its consequences are tragic:
I was the cause of the child’s illness. His mother trusted him to my care and I took him [on] a long drive in an open barouche for an airing. It was a raw, cold morning, but he was well wrapped about with furs and, in the hands of a careful person, no harm would have come to him. But I soon dropped into a reverie and forgot about my charge. The furs fell away and exposed his bare legs. By and by the coachman noticed this, and I arranged the wraps again, but it was too late. The child was almost frozen. I hurried home with him. I was aghast at what I had done, and I feared the consequences. I have always felt shame for that treacherous morning’s work and have not allowed myself to think of it when I could help it. I doubt if I had the courage to make confession at that time. I think it most likely that I have never confessed until now.
That chilling anecdote is the beginning of the story of the death of his first child, his only son. It is the most sincere expression of remorse in an autobiography filled with moments of phony remorse. But even this passage feels to me, I don’t know, undigested—less an expression of deep torment than of a desire to shed an unpleasant memory. Perhaps that’s unfair.
In any case, Twain clearly thought of himself, and enjoyed thinking of himself, as heedless. For a writer of his caliber he had surprisingly little interest in assuming a fully adult role in the world, partly because adulthood struck him as an inferior state. Reflecting on the death of his eldest daughter, Susy, he writes that “Susy died at the right time, the fortunate time of life; the happy age—twenty-four years. At twenty-four, such a girl has seen the best of life—life as a happy dream. After that age the risks begin; responsibility comes, and with it the cares, the sorrows, and the inevitable tragedy. For her mother’s sake I would have brought her back from the grave if I could, but I would not have done it for my own.” When Twain was in his late sixties, after the death of his wife, he found companionship in a series of young girls. He took twelve-year-old girls as his dates to grown-up parties and entertained eleven-year-old girls for the weekend at his home. The Angel-fish, he called these young friends—though he does not have much to say about them in his memoir. And while it sounds completely creepy, it also feels deeply characteristic. There doesn’t seem to have been a hint of sexuality in these relationships, at least from his side. The man just preferred to feel like a boy.
He also enjoyed the excuse of childhood: the right to do and say the things a child can do or say and still be loved when an adult cannot. I do not mean this as an original criticism. Orwell long ago called it “the central weakness of Twain’s character,” in an essay that went on to charge him with a deeper fraud:
Mark Twain describes his adventures as a Mississippi pilot as though he had been a boy of about seventeen at the time, whereas in fact he was a young man of nearly thirty. There is a reason for this. The same part of the book [Life on the Mississippi] describes his exploits in the Civil War, which were distinctly inglorious. Moreover, Mark Twain started by fighting, if he can be said to have fought, on the Southern side, and then changed his allegiance before the war was over. This kind of behavior is more excusable in a boy than in a man, whence the adjustment of the dates.
Whenever Twain writes about himself, and especially when he writes about his childhood, the reader senses that he has been invited to participate in a delightful fiction. In these dictations, Twain says several times words to the effect that “when people write their memoirs they do nothing but lie and puff themselves up. Because I will be speaking directly to you from the grave, with nothing to lose, this will be the first deeply honest autobiography.” But he isn’t any more interested in simple, artless honesty in death than he was in life. Honesty, for Twain, was not a virtue, and it was certainly not the best policy. It was a tool in his toolkit, to be used from time to time, when the occasion called for it.
BUT WHEN YOU READ even the most innocent of the funny stories that Twain tells about himself, and think about it for a minute, you realize that not only could it never have happened just the way he tells it, but the real point of the story is to settle, cheaply and painlessly, the question of what sort of person Mark Twain is.
Religious Liberty and Development of Doctrine in Islam (Michael Novak, June 27, 2011, Public Discourse)
By the year 2020, the Islamic nations of the Mediterranean Basin will resound with positive cries for democracy, human rights, individual liberty, and the dignity of every man, woman, and child.
As a graduate student at Catholic University of America I had the privilege of taking a course from Msgr. Joseph Fenton, the tough but unpopular antagonist to John Courtney Murray on religious liberty, one of those who alerted Rome of the “dangers” of Murray’s teachings. Msgr. Fenton knew I sided with Murray—I had already published on that—but he enjoyed repartee with me and rather favored me in class.
I was very early at the center of the American Catholic argument on religious liberty. Reporting from Rome during the Second Vatican Council, I recorded the first passionate stirrings of the discussion of religious liberty at the Council, and followed the backstage private debates at individual episcopal conferences. That is where I first heard the name Karol Wojtyla, the new and youngest ever cardinal of Krakow, and his fresh insistence that the episcopal conferences of Central and Eastern Europe must have a declaration of religious liberty from the Council. Some say his cool intellectual passion did more than anything else to sway Paul VI to throw his weight in favor of bringing that issue to a vote, even though powerful forces (especially but not only) in the Latin world feared greatly that it would lead to relativism and religious indifferentism.
In a word, I saw firsthand how the Catholic Church needed a “development of doctrine”—and quickly—on religious liberty. As an American, I was acutely aware of how late it was in coming. I could not help rejoicing, later, at the powerful similarities between key passages of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty and central lines of argument in James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
The development of doctrine is happening in dozens of Islamic countries, especially in the eighteen key ones of the Middle East.
We, of course, live in a time when history teaches us that the ultimate defenders of the West were Britain and America, when Pope John Paul II reconciled the Church to capitalism, and when the current Pope is a Tocquevillian, who has written and spoken in glowing terms of the American model of religious liberty (protestantism). Bellocianism is comprehensively routed.
And yet, the works of this English Catholic intellectual circle--those by G. K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Dawson, in particular--remain popular and influential among American conservatives. [Not to mention those outside the circle--C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien.] So we are naturally disposed to view them sympathetically, even as we read about them fighting this rearguard action against the Anglosphere, even going so far as to play footsie with not just Mussolini but Oswald Mosley.
Watching these good and decent people we still admire wrestle futilely with the threat of globalization, one is struck by the parallels to what is going on in the Islamic world. Look at how long it took us to Reform the Catholic Church and now consider that, our attention finally having turned to Islam after the end of the Cold War, we;re trying to compress their Reformation into a single generation. No wonder it's so disorienting, even for the best among them.
Revisionists on American Revolution Brooding on Left and Right (IRA STOLL, June 28, 2011, NY Sun)
More puzzling, to me, is the Brooklyn rabbi — described by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg as “an important figure in liberal Jewry,” and someone I know to be intelligent and dynamic — who recently posted, “That stupid introduction to the Declaration of Independence, that pretentious, idiotic, self-absorbed nonsense about ‘certain unalienable rights?’ It’s precisely where we went wrong!”
How the GOP Can Blow It in 2012: Thomas Dewey tried to run out the clock on Harry Truman. It didn't work. (KARL ROVE, 7/01/11, WSJ)
High unemployment, anemic growth, defections in key groups such as independents and Hispanics, and unpopular policies are among the reasons President Obama is unlikely to win re-election. But likely to lose is far from certain to lose. If Republicans make enough unforced errors, Mr. Obama could win.
The first such mistake would be forgetting that the target voters are those ready to swing away from Mr. Obama (independents, Hispanics, college educated and young voters) and those whose opposition to Mr. Obama has deepened since 2008 (seniors and working-class voters).
These voters gave the GOP a big win in the 2010 midterm. They are deeply concerned about the economy, jobs, spending, deficits and health care. Many still like Mr. Obama personally but disapprove of his handling of the issues. They are not GOP primary voters, but they are watching the contest. The Republican Party will find it more difficult to gain their support if its nominee adopts a tone that's harshly negative and personally anti-Obama.
The GOP nominee should fiercely challenge Mr. Obama's policies, actions and leadership using the president's own words, but should stay away from questioning his motives, patriotism or character.
The Soul of the Party (David Shribman, 7/03/11, Real Clear Politics)
LEBANON, N.H. -- Up here in tranquil New Hampshire, where the hills glow peacefully in the summer sunshine, everyone's talking about the war for the soul of the Republican Party.
Hold it, I am thinking. Haven't I witnessed several wars for the soul of the Republican Party?
Six in my lifetime alone, now that I'm counting.
There's no denying that there's a struggle within the Republican Party as it moves toward the first presidential primary here, tentatively (and, given the nature of this campaign, perhaps mischievously) scheduled for next Feb. 14. But the Republicans are holding no lovefest in New Hampshire. Already the party is divided every which way -- between regulars and irregulars, economic conservatives and social conservatives, established politicians and newcomers, Westerners and Easterners, males and females.
The Republicans haven't been at each other's throats this much since ... the last election.
Open to America (Tariq Alhomayed, 7/03/11, Asharrq Alawasat)
It appears that relations between the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have gone further than mutual courtship. It is clear that it is an old relationship, and it was revealed yesterday that Washington and the Brotherhood have indeed been communicating. Yet here is the bottom line; the communication took place not after the fall of Mubarak, but before. It is now clear that there has been communication between the two parties since 2006. This means that the Brotherhood and Washington were in negotiations at a time when the Muslim Brotherhood was raising its voice against the West, and primarily America. This was during the era of the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, and afterwards Israel's war on Gaza, not to mention the term of former U.S. President George W. Bush. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers, whether knowingly or not, hypocritically betrayed all those who had criticized the Brotherhood and its political line.
Today, after nearly five years, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was open to the Americans at a time when the organization was attacking Mubarak, and most of the Arab regimes, because of Israel's wars on Lebanon and Gaza, and accused Mubarak of cutting off the Gaza strip to appease Israel and the West. Yet the Brotherhood itself was open to Washington.
Joe Ely On Mountain Stage (NPR, 6/28/11)
Joe Ely returns to Mountain Stage with songs from his first album of new material in four years, Satisfied at Last. For more than three decades, Ely has epitomized the rugged Texas singer-songwriter tradition. Beginning in bars and clubs around his native Lubbock, Ely later joined his friends Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock in The Flatlanders. By the early 1980s, Ely was on his own again, opening for The Clash, who were loyal admirers of Ely's music. By the '90s, Ely had found a home in the growing alt-country movement, where he's regarded as a pioneer.
Ely's mastery of everything from blistering roadhouse rock to delicate country-folk is on full display during his Mountain Stage set, which includes a staggeringly beautiful cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever," and his closing number "Hard Livin'."
Strong Arm Offers New Life to Young Indians (Reuters, 6/28/11)
Young men all over India are flexing their muscles in the hope that a strong arm will carry them into a money-spinning career in professional baseball in the United States.
Despite the lack of a baseball tradition in India, the dream is not an impossible one, as Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel proved in a tale that is being immortalized in a Walt Disney film.
Singh beat 35,000 rivals three years ago in a talent-hunt in India dubbed "The Million-Dollar Arm" (TMDA) and is tipped to break into Major League Baseball (MLB) after a spell with the minor-league Pittsburg Pirates.
Patel, second in the throwing contest, also earned a contract with the Pirates and, after a lucrative stint in the U.S. which included a meeting with President Barack Obama, is back home looking for a coaching job.
Now, India is looking for someone to follow in their footsteps, with the second TMDA contest beginning in Bangalore last week and due to trawl 60 cities, towns and villages in search of potential baseball talent.
"India's rural belt has unbelievable potential," said Vivek Daglur, vice president of Turn On, TMDA's official partner in India.
"So many are pursuing sports just to get a job in the army or the railways. Their dedication is unbelievable. Some I met could afford only one meal a day but still ran 20 kms just to be a marathon runner.
"TMDA is the perfect platform for anyone with that simple thing. You just need to have a strong arm, nothing else. There are tremendous possibilities that we would take you and sculpt a champion out of you."
Why I’m Becoming an American: Forty years ago, this country embraced a broke Brit. On July 4, I’m giving back—with the oath of citizenship. (Simon Winchester, June 26, 2011, Newsweek)
I took a year off before Oxford, bought the cheapest ticket to Montreal, traveled to Vancouver, and then crossed the American frontier by way of the Peace Arch into the seaside town of Blaine, Wash.
I then spent the magical days of that spring and summer hitchhiking through every corner of the country, from Los Angeles (dinner with Kirk Douglas, coffee with Johnny Carson), to New Iberia, La. (guests of the Tabasco sauce factory owners), from Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. (shaking President Kennedy’s hand) to Topeka, Kans. (horse riding with Harold Stassen), to Wheeling, W.Va. (where at 2 a.m. one frightening night a young man of lustful intent asked me if I wanted a b.j. to which I, quite innocent of such matters, spluttered thanks, but I already have one at home), to New York City, and myriad places in between.
All told, I hitched 38,000 American highway miles, and it cost me just $18. I had entered at Blaine with 200 crisp bills in my pocket; and when six months later I left for Canada by way of Houlton, Maine, I had 182 of them left. Such kindness I had never known.
The experience changed me, profoundly. That summer, somewhere inside me was germinated the vague idea that one day I might make common cause with these kindly, warm, open folk, and even eventually become (as I heard it was possible to do) one of them.
The Future Still Belongs to America: This century will throw challenges at everyone. The U.S. is better positioned to adapt than China, Europe or the Arab world. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 7/02/11, WSJ)
The U.S. has no interest in controlling Asia or in blocking economic prosperity that will benefit the entire Pacific basin, including our part of it. U.S. policy in Asia is not fighting the tide of China's inexorable rise. Rather, our interests harmonize with the natural course of events. Life rarely moves smoothly and it is likely that Asia will see great political disturbances. But through it all, it appears that the U.S. will be swimming with, rather than against, the tides of history.
Around the world we have no other real rivals. Even the Europeans have stopped talking about a rising EU superpower. The specter of a clash of civilizations between the West and an Islamic world united behind fanatics like the unlamented Osama bin Laden is less likely than ever. Russia's demographic decline and poor economic prospects (not to mention its concerns about Islamic radicalism and a rising China) make it a poor prospect as a rival superpower.
When it comes to the world of ideas, the American agenda will also be the global agenda in the 21st century. Ninety years after the formation of the Communist Party of China, 50 years after the death of the philosopher of modern militant Islam Sayyid Qutb, liberal capitalist democracy remains the wave of the future.
Israel has become a society of force and violence: What will Israelis think about when they are spoon-fed scary stories about the flotilla, if not about the use of force? Those activists want to kill IDF soldiers? We'll arise and kill them first.
(Gideon Levy, 6/30/11, Ha'aretz)
Yes, the situation in Gaza has improved in recent months, in part because of the previous flotilla. But no, Gaza is still not free - far from it. It has no outlet to the sea or air, there are no exports, and its inhabitants are still partially imprisoned. Israelis who freak out if Ben-Gurion International Airport shuts down for two hours should be able to understand what life without a port is like. Gaza is entitled to its freedom, and those aboard the flotilla are entitled to take action in an effort to achieve this. Israel should be allowing them to demonstrate.
But look at how Israel is reacting. The flotilla was described immediately, by everyone, as a security threat; its activists were classified as enemies, and there was no doubt cast on the ridiculous assumptions that defense officials are making and the press has lapped up eagerly. We haven't heard the last of the campaign to demonize the previous flotilla, in which Turkish citizens were killed for no reason, yet the new campaign has already begun. It has all the buzzwords: danger, chemical substances, hand-to-hand combat, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, terrorists and maybe some suicide bombers. Blood and fire and pillars of smoke!
The unavoidable conclusion is that there is only one way to act against the passengers aboard the flotilla: by force, and only by force, as with every security threat. This is a recurring pattern: first demonization, then legitimization (to act violently ). Remember the tall tales about sophisticated Iranian weaponry coming through arms-smuggling tunnels in Gaza, or those about how the Strip was booby-trapped? Then Operation Cast Lead came along and the soldiers hardly encountered anything like that.
The attitude toward the flotilla is a continuation of the same behavior. The campaign of scare tactics and demonization is what contributes to the violent rhetoric that is taking over the entire public discourse.
How Blue Labour can outflank the coalition: There is a huge opportunity for Ed Miliband to borrow and adapt thinking from the centre right. (Neil O'Brien - 30 June 2011, New Statesman)
When political parties have been in government for a long time, they run out of new ideas. After their crushing defeat in 1997, it took an awfully long time for the Conservatives to even refresh their thinking. The process of intellectual renewal didn't begin in earnest until after 2001, when a new generation of think tanks were created to modernise the centre right.
Something similar is needed now on the centre left. A process of renewal is slowly starting. New groups like the Resolution Foundation are doing interesting work on stagnating wages. The Blue Labour project is interesting, as any group involving both James Purnell and Jon Cruddas is likely to be.
The problem is that this new thinking won't come to fruition for years yet. And that leaves Ed Miliband awfully exposed. Why not borrow and adapt some thinking from the centre right? There are plenty of opportunities to outflank the coalition.
20 Most Patriotic States: Independence Day may bring out the stars and stripes in millions of citizens, but The Daily Beast stacks the statistics to determine which states have the most pride year-round. (Daily Beast, June 30, 2011)
The Fourth of July weekend may be the banner days for flags, fireworks and all things red, white and blue, but some corners of the country tend to be a little more patriotic even when the holiday’s not looming. West Virginia spends more than any other state—an average of $7.81 per vet—for veteran compensation, medical care, education and other outlays. Minnesota has the greatest voter turnout of any state in the nation. And, Alaska has the largest veteran population.
While the nation’s focused on celebrating the work of our forefathers and the sacrifices of our peers, The Daily Beast took a look at which states honor that focus throughout the year by honoring and supporting military service and exercising their right to vote.
States were pitted against one another in terms of average voter participation rate for the 2008 and 2010 elections (to include Presidential and non-residential election seasons). Rates recorded were taken from George Mason University Professor Michael P. McDonald’s United States Election Project. As well, we compared the percentage of the adult population that is a veteran and the state’s spend per veteran in 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Maple Corn Muffins: Southern classic gets a Far North makeover (PJ Hamel, 6/30/11, KAF: Baking Banter)
1 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup, Grade B preferred
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon maple flavor, optional
1 large egg
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease the 12 wells of a standard muffin pan.
2) In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3) In another bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, maple flavor, and egg.
4) Pour the liquid all at once into the flour mixture, stirring quickly and gently until just combined. Once everything is barely combined, stir in the melted butter; there's no need to beat it, just stirring is fine.
5) Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, filling the muffin cups about 2/3 full.
6) Bake the muffins for 15 to 18 minutes, until one of the center muffins tests done: the top should spring back lightly, and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
7) Remove the muffins from the oven, and as soon as you can safely handle them, transfer them to a rack. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Why Bush judge backed mandate (Jennifer Haberkorn, July 1, 2011, Daily Beast)
[Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a member of the three-judge panel for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeal] subtly suggests throughout his opinion — which concurs with Judge Boyce F. Martin’s majority opinion — that he doesn’t like the law but thinks it must be upheld.
“Call this mandate what you will — an affront to individual autonomy or an imperative of national health care — it meets the requirement of regulating activities that substantially affect interstate commerce,” he wrote.
Sutton also sides with the government on a key issue: that not buying health insurance is “activity” that can be regulated. His opinion rips apart the opponents’ argument that choosing to not buy health insurance is akin to sitting at home, asking to be left alone. He argues that those people who don’t buy insurance choose to be “self-insured.” [...]
But opponents of the law read Sutton’s opinion as a helpful outline of how the Supreme Court might strike down the law. Sutton listed all of the legal precedents that support upholding the mandate and said the court would have to strike them down to strike down the mandate.
“There is another way to look at these precedents — that the Court either should stop saying that a meaningful limit on Congress’s commerce powers exists or prove that it is so,” Sutton wrote.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, calls it the “put up or shut up” dare to the Supreme Court. “He says, ‘if you’re going to strike this down, you’re going to have to define the limiting principle.’ ” [...]
Sutton hints that if opponents of the law want it overturned, they have to do it in the public and the legislature, not the courts.
Throughout his opinion, he points to the landmark 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the courts settled an issue that was then almost as controversial as the mandate by ruling that Congress has the power to institute a national bank. While the courts approved the creation and renewal of the bank, after the decision, Congress never approved it again.
“Today’s debate about the individual mandate is just as stirring, no less essential to the appropriate role of the national government and no less capable of political resolution,” Sutton wrote. “Time assuredly will bring to light the policy strengths and weaknesses of using the individual mandate as part of this national legislation, allowing the peoples’ political representatives, rather than their judges, to have the primary say over its utility.”
‘Ground Zero Imam’: My Regrets: Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the “Ground Zero Mosque” talks to Lloyd Grove about what he would have done differently, Fox News’ malicious intent, Donald Trump, and 9/11. (Lloyd Grove, June 30, 2011Daily Beast)
Even Feisal Abdul Rauf, America’s most famous imam since his plan for a so-called Ground Zero Mosque captured the dark imagination of the mediapolitical complex last summer, knows that his optimism sometimes gets the better of him.
Especially when he predicts the inevitable success of his campaign—one hesitates to say crusade—to bridge the yawning chasm between Islam and the West.
“I realize some people think that I’m tilting at windmills,” Rauf tells me in the midst of explicating his rosy scenario of how the breach between the two competing cultures, which frequently has resulted in horrific violence, will ultimately be repaired much like solving a thorny problem in physics or engineering.
But then reality intrudes: Earlier this week, the supposedly sophisticated Aspen Institute think tank and Atlantic magazine, hosting a lunch at which Rauf was the featured speaker during the Aspen Ideas Festival, served slices of roast pork.