November 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Suit: Sandusky molested boy more than 100 times (Jeremy Roebuck and John P. Martin, 11/30/11, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

The first in what is expected to become a series of civil suits against Pennsylvania State University and its former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was filed today in Philadelphia.

The plaintiff - a 29-year-old State College resident identified in legal filings only as John Doe A - claims Sandusky molested him more than 100 times between 1992 and 1996 on the university's campus and during at least one out-of-state trip to a Nittany Lions bowl game. He is not one of the eight purported victims identified in a grand jury presentment that accused Sandusky of serial sexual abuse earlier this month. is that they're all lying.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM


How to Free Congress's Mind (AMY GUTMANN and DENNIS F. THOMPSON, 11/29/11, NY Times)

What enabled the uncompromising mind-set to dominate our politics? We live in the era of the permanent campaign, and the uncompromising approach is designed for campaigning: voters are inspired by high-flying promises never to give in on their favorite causes, while the news media thrive on low-lying attacks, endlessly repeated even (or especially) if they are mendacious.

Although campaigning is essential to democracy, this degeneration of American politics over the past three decades enables the uncompromising attitude to dominate like an invasive species, spreading beyond its natural habitat of the campaign to the government. Once there it overwhelms the compromising mind-set, which is far more suitable to governing, calling on politicians to adjust their principles and respect their opponents to reach agreements. [...]

Only a few decades ago, Ronald Reagan -- a staunch partisan -- criticized the "radical conservatives" in California who thought " 'compromise' was a dirty word" and "wouldn't face the fact that we couldn't get all of what we wanted today." Not coincidentally, it was under President Reagan that Congress passed the most far-reaching tax reform law of the century, a classic bipartisan compromise.

And yet today Reagan's professed followers go out of their way to avoid association with the very idea of compromise. Speaker John A. Boehner, pressed to explain why he would not try to compromise, said, "I reject the word."

The UR has only ever been a...well, nothing he's done nothing.  If you want compromise elect someone who's achieved them previously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Herman Cain's team bumbles toward 2012 (JONATHAN MARTIN, 11/30/11, Politico)

The botched responses to allegations of marital infidelity, sexual impropriety and his own gaffes -- not to mention the puzzling strategic decisions -- have, in the eyes of many veteran strategists, reached record levels of ineptitude.

It's an operation that has repeatedly contradicted its own candidate, leveled baseless charges, and put Cain in difficult political spots with little apparent forethought.

The chain of events following a woman's claim Monday that she had a 13-year affair with the Republican presidential hopeful provides the freshest evidence. Campaign manager Mark Block confirmed to ABC News Tuesday that Cain is "reassessing whether to stay in the race," while spokesman J.D. Gordon told ABC the opposite: that Cain is simply reassessing campaign strategy, such as "what states we visit, what interviews we do, how we allocate resources - things like that."

Later in the day, Block told ABC there's "no way he's dropping out," and that the reassessment was "not a reassessment of withdrawing" from the 2012 race.

That familiar Keystone Kops performance is a reflection of an organization staffed by few operatives with presidential experience, working for a political neophyte who's proven himself ill-equipped for a national campaign. The combination of a supremely self-assured candidate -- speaking in the third-person and convinced of his own ability to talk himself out of any jam -- surrounded by a group of not-ready-for-prime-time aides making it up as they go along has resulted in a campaign meltdown for the ages.

The question is why/whether anyone ever took the candidate seriously in the first place.  IA is a caucus state, with said caucuses dominated by Evangelicals.  It rewards organization and Christian credibility.  Mr. Cain had neither.

So having barely registered he'd head to NH, where he's an afterthought in the polls and not interested in the sort of retail politics that the state requires of candidates.  And then he'd be out of the race.  And that was his best case scenario.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Big Thinker:  The diplomat who argued for "containment"--and lived to regret it: a review of George F. Kennan: An American Life,  By John Lewis Gaddis  (James Gibney, Winter 2011, American Scholar)

Not only did he conceive the now-totemic Marshall Plan and the policy of containment that guided the United States through the Cold War, but he also inaugurated the study of grand strategy at the National War College, created the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department, and helped define the realist school of foreign policy thinking. [...]

[B]arely had the idea of "containment" sprung from Kennan's brow before it took on a form that its creator would forever regret. Other more powerful, more supple U.S. policymakers gave his policy a militaristic and aggressive cast, using it to justify everything from a spiraling nuclear arms race to the war in Vietnam. As Gaddis writes, "Even after the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union was itself history, Kennan regarded the 'success' of his strategy as a failure because it had taken so long to produce results, because the costs had been so high, and because the United States and its Western European allies had demanded, in the end, 'unconditional surrender.' "

Part of the problem was Kennan's disdain for the tug-and-pull of democracy...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


In a sea of Soviet-era failures, one state stands alone (Ahmed Rashid, Nov 30, 2011, The National)

A democratic leader in Central Asia who surrenders power as she promised to do two years ago is as rare as a spring of fresh water in the Karakum or Black Sands desert. But that is exactly the case with Roza Otunbayeva, 61, whose two-year term as interim president of Kyrgyzstan ends on December 1, when she will step down to hand over to a fully elected president. [...]

Kyrgyzstan has been fortunate in that it had President Otunbayeva, a rumbustious, feisty, worldly, highly intelligent diplomat and politician with a great sense of humour who for more than a decade has been at the centre of trying to democratise her country. In a few days time she just may have succeeded.

She has achieved this only because she is also a tough, wily and often ruthless politician. For the first time in Central Asian history there will be a peaceful and democratic transition of power.

Ms Otunbayeva is expected to swear in her rival and leader of the opposition, Almazbek Atambayev, who was once her former prime minister in the interim government. Mr Atambayev was elected president on October 30 in an election that international observers said was the cleanest and fairest that Central Asia has ever held. Central Asian states are better known for their Soviet-style rigged elections.

Much of the credit goes to Ms Otunbayeva. In the 1990s she was considered such a political threat that the first dictator-ruler, President Askar Akayev, packed her off to become ambassador in London and Washington. A stint with the UN peace keeping mission in Georgia followed. But she imbibed the best and the worst of western democracy, made excellent high level contacts (she counts the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as a friend) and above all was anxious to learn and read about everything.

All that has stood her in good stead in Kyrgyzstan, where riots and political unrest were endemic and two presidents were forced into exile after pursuing cronyism rather than democracy. A popular uprising in which ninety people were killed forced out her predecessor Kurmanbek Bakieyev in April 2010, and she became interim president, promising a full transition to democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


President Obama's Job Rating Lower Than Jimmy Carter's (David Guzman, November 29, 2011, IB Times)

While President Barack Obama's 43 percent job-approval rating on the poll results Gallup released Tuesday shows an improvement over the 40 percent score he got a few weeks earlier, his shot at winning re-election looks uncertain considering that at this point in his term, even presidential pariah Jimmy Carter did better.

Apart from Carter, the only other presidents who scored an average approval rating lower than Obama's at 49 percent were Gerald Ford and Harry Truman -- and just the latter won a second term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


U.S. Nears Milestone: Net Fuel Exporter (LIAM PLEVEN AND RUSSELL GOLD, 11/29/11, WSJ)

U.S. exports of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels are soaring, putting the nation on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 for the first time in 62 years.

You have to tax gas to drive innovation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


Let's be humane: Republican rhetoric on immigration reform and voter opinion (Stephen A. Nuño, 11/25/11, Latino Decisions)

Latino Decisions also asked Hispanic voters about their support for candidates who promoted each immigration model. The third and fourth graphs show that Hispanics demonstrated uniform support across party identification for those candidates who promoted the assimilation model, with 81% of Democrats, 68% of Independents and 67% of Republicans saying they would do so. Latinos also saw the criminal model as a turn off, with 62% of Independents, 61% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans saying they were less likely to support a candidate who promoted the criminal model. While Latino Republicans did not show as strong as a reaction as Independents and Democrats, its important to understand that if the Republican Party is to increase its Latino membership, it will most likely come from Independents. The data suggests this is not very likely to happen unless the GOP can change their message on immigration. However, perhaps the most imperative news for the GOP today is that even Latino Republicans are strongly supportive of candidates who favor the assimilation model, while a significant amount of Latino Republicans are less likely to support candidates who promote the criminal model. The current Republican position on immigration coming from the primary candidates will not only garner almost no advantage among whites as discussed above, but risks further isolating the Party from a demographic it cannot afford to maintain its current trajectory it is to remain a competitive national Party into the future.

Perhaps this is why Newt Gingrich has been insistent on a moderate stance on immigration, despite the vociferousness of his detractors and largely reflective of the two GOP primary winners who preceded him, George W. Bush and John McCain. In the last debate, Gingrich said, "I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here a quarter-century. I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in enforcing the law."

With the exception of Rick Perry, who appears to have difficulty articulating his position, Gingrich seems to have a polished message that appeals to electorate at large. This is not surprising since Gingrich was the first to start an online newspaper that covered Hispanic issues, The Americano, and he has been committed to learning Spanish so he can not only communicate with Hispanics, but also demonstrate genuine comfort with Hispanic culture.

The Beltway activists cheer on the nativism, so the candidates generally don't care that the rank and file are pro-amnesty (by other names).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


To self-diagnose, spit on an iPhone (Paul Marks, 11/29/11, New Scientist)

Many believe that in the future collecting samples of saliva, urine or blood could be performed using a cheap, USB-stick-sized throwaway device called a lab-on-a-chip. The user would inject a droplet of the fluid in the chip, and micropumps inside it would send the fluid to internal vessels containing reagents that extract target disease biomarker molecules. The whole device would then be sent to a lab for analysis.

But Hyun Gyu Park and Byoung Yeon Won at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology in Daejeon think touchscreens could improve the process by letting your phone replace the lab work. Park suggests the lab-on-a-chip could present a tiny droplet of the sample to be pressed against a phone's touchscreen for analysis, where an app would work out whether you have food poisoning, strep throat or flu, for example.

November 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Pushing Past the Taboo of Climate Adaptation: Shunned in the past as trumping mitigation, the issue of climate adaptation is now receiving serious attention. With a global climate conference heating up in Durban, South Africa, Kristian Beadle makes sense of the adaptation question (Kristian Beadle, 11/29/11, Miller-McCune)

In October, a group of investors shepherding $20 trillion in assets signed an appeal for clear, long-term policies as incentives for low-carbon economies. Later that month, a study listed the nations and mega-cities most at risk from climate impacts. Then, a report on refugees found that nations must prepare to help millions re-settle in the coming decades.

The link between these headlines is climate adaptation: reconfiguring our world's economies and policies to work under a more extreme climate. While that might seem like an old conversation, it's not; mitigation -- reducing greenhouse gases -- has been the main topic of climate discussion in the past 20 years. But attention is shifting to the once taboo topic of adaptation.

"Nobody talked about it," Richard Klein, a climate specialist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told me during last year's global climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. "People thought that adaptation meant giving up on mitigation efforts. It was politically incorrect. But after the last two decades -- with frequent hurricanes, droughts, floods, record temperatures -- we see that people are already adapting, whether we like it or not.

"The battle to reduce greenhouse gases is worth fighting; even though vested economic interests make mitigation a tough topic. But planned adaptation is now just as necessary."

About time they joined us Creationists in believing that Man adapts to his environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


No Free Speech at Mr. Jefferson's Library (Peter Van Buren, 11/28/11, Tom Dispatch)

Free speech is considered so basic that the courts have been wary of imposing any limits at all. The famous warning by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes about not falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater shows just how extreme a situation must be for the Supreme Court to limit speech.  As Holmes put it in his definition: "The question in every case is whether the words used... are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." That's a high bar indeed.

Does a newspaper article from November 2009, a few hundred well-reasoned words that appeared in the conservative Wall Street Journal, concluding with these mild sentences, meet Justice Holmes's high mark?

"Double standards don't play well in Peoria. They won't play well in Peshawar or Palembang either. We need to work to change the negative perceptions that exist about Guantanamo and our commitment to the law. Formally establishing a legal double standard will only reinforce them."

Morris Davis got fired from his research job at the Library of Congress for writing that article and a similar letter to the editor of the Washington Post. (The irony of being fired for exercising free speech while employed at Thomas Jefferson's library evidently escaped his bosses.)  With the help of the ACLU, Davis demanded his job back.

..since Mr. Davis exercised that right with no interference.  Instead, he's asserting a right to government employment, which isn't a constitutional guarantee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Jon Huntsman: Herman Cain should consider dropping out (Michael Levenson, November 29, 2011, Boston Globe)

Jon Huntsman said today that the continuing sexual allegations against Herman Cain have become a major distraction in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and Cain should consider dropping out.

So it's not just trailer trash making false allegations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


...but we do know he's a RiNO socialist. Too bad his personal foibles trump his political ideas.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The irresistible rise of the Muslim Brothers (Fawas Gerges, 28 November 2011, New Statesman)

In contrast, members of the 1970s generation - such as Essam el-Arian, vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party and a law and medical school graduate, and Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a medical doctor and former member of the Brotherhood's highest executive policy-setting "guidance bureau" - are progressive. They profess commitment to an open society and representative government. Some voiced pointed criticisms of the Old Guard for their autocratic ways and pledged to challenge the status quo once there was an opening in the closed political system under Mubarak.

The balance of power has tipped in favour of the pragmatists and Mubarak's downfall will hasten the transition to the new generation. Abul-Fotouh is a case in point. He has decided to run for the presidency as an independent candidate, against the wishes of the leadership, and submitted his resignation from the organisation. The young Brothers will probably vote for him in defiance of the Old Guard.

During recent years, intergenerational differences within the Brotherhood manifested themselves in an open challenge by young Egyptians to authoritarian practices by the ultra-conservative veterans. Younger Brothers have used new media such as blogs and Facebook to criticise their elders and call for the demo­cratising of the movement as a prerequisite to building a pluralistic civil state in Egypt. Young Brothers are the single largest subgroup in the organisation, and their world-view is closer to that of their liberal and nationalist counterparts than their conservative elders, as shown in the past ten months. Frustrated by the closed leadership, younger members of the Brotherhood established four political parties of their own and were promptly expelled from the organisation for disobedience.

The intergenerational and ideological divisions show that the Brotherhood is not a monolith, frozen in time and space. Far from it: there is increasing evidence that its leaders respond to pressure from within and without and are sensitive to public opinion. In the past decade, they have laboured to reassure critics at home and abroad that they accept the rules of politics and do not wish to establish a theocratic state along the Iranian model. "We'll build a civil state with Islamist references," the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammad Mursi, told the French ambassador in Cairo this month. Exhibiting maturity during the mass protests against Mubarak, the Brothers stayed in the shadows for fear that they would alarm Egyptians and the western powers.

As the electoral campaign intensifies and concerns mount about the Brotherhood's agenda, the two top leaders of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mursi and el-Arian, have stressed that if they win they will form a government of national unity with other parties. Addressing assertions often made by their secular opponents, they insist that the party "would hand over power if we lose" because the public mood will no longer tolerate dictatorship. El-Arian pledged that Freedom and Justice will not add terminology to the Egyptian national constitution to make explicit old demands that all legislation comply with sharia law. Article 2 of the constitution already states that the "principal source of legislation is Islamic jurisprudence".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Wal-Mart's Entrance Into Health Care Is Great News for American Consumers (Sally Pipes, 11/28/11, Forbes)

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and RAND Institute researcher, examined the comparative quality of treatment at retail clinics in a 2009 study for Annals of Internal Medicine.

The results? "We're not seeing any differences in the quality of care that's provided by retail clinics compared to doctors' offices and emergency departments," Mehrotra told the American College of Physicians.

It's no wonder that patient satisfaction with retail clinics is over 90%.

Concerns about retail clinics' quality might just serve as cover for doctors' opposition to new competition. But the facts indicate that doctors shouldn't worry about losing patients.

Retail clinics largely service people who don't have regular healthcare providers. A 2008 study in Health Affairs found that nearly two-thirds of visitors to retail clinics had no primary care physician.

The same study concluded that retail clinics were likely to provide only basic services. According to the report, "About 90% of the visits to retail clinics were for 10 simple acute conditions and preventive care: upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, sore throat, immunizations, inner ear infections, swimmers ear, conjunctivitis, urinary tract infections, and either a screening test or a blood test."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Euro Area Is Coming to an End (Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, 11/28/11, Bloomberg)

The French, along with U.S. and U.K. officials, are pleading with the European Central Bank to come to the rescue. Their hope is that the ECB can remove credit risk by promising to back all sovereign and bank credits in the euro zone. This is what politicians mean when they say "bring out the bazooka."

When large amounts of any currency are printed in response to deep structural flaws, it's hard to trust that money. A massive bond-purchase program by the ECB would reduce credit risk but increase the danger that the euro will decline in value against the dollar and other currencies. And if the ECB needs to continue buying more debt to finance deficits and prevent defaults -- because peripheral countries could stop making painful fiscal adjustments once the ECB starts buying bonds -- wages and prices would increase, as we saw in the U.S. in the 1970s. This is anathema to the Germans.

We would soon see German bonds sold off as investors protect themselves from long-term inflation, which erodes the value of such debt. People holding bonds with a high credit risk (such as Italy and Spain) would surely sell many of those to the ECB, or simply cash out when those bonds mature in case the central bank, at some point, stops buying.

An ECB "bazooka" wouldn't restore competitiveness to Europe's periphery, so even with this, Europe's troubled nations would require many more years of tough austerity and budget reform to stabilize debt.

This would all just look like another unsustainable debt profile. Germany would be paying higher interest rates on its debt, while most banks and the periphery would be heavily financed by the ECB -- and both credit and currency risk premiums would remain. Markets would eventually turn against Europe with a vengeance, and with no more plausible solutions, the whole system would come tumbling down amid both inflation and debt restructuring. 

November 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 PM


The Future of the Obama Coalition (THOMAS B. EDSALL, 11/27/11, NY Times)

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment -- professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists -- and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.

It is instructive to trace the evolution of a political strategy based on securing this coalition in the writings and comments, over time, of such Democratic analysts as Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. Both men were initially determined to win back the white working-class majority, but both currently advocate a revised Democratic alliance in which whites without college degrees are effectively replaced by well-educated socially liberal whites in alliance with the growing ranks of less affluent minority voters, especially Hispanics.

The 2012 approach treats white voters without college degrees as an unattainable cohort. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM

The Front Bottoms On 'World Cafe: Next' (NPR, November 28, 2011, World Cafe)

There's no easy way to pin down The Front Bottoms' sound. Members Brian Sella (vocals, guitars) and Mathew Uychich (drums, bullhorn) describe themselves as acoustic indie pop-punk, and focus on making music that feels familiar, yet surprising. [...]

The young duo's smart, irreverent, self-titled debut strikes a deft balance between the comical and the emotional, as heard on this week's installment of World Cafe: Next.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Buddhist Retreat: Why I gave up on finding my religion (John Horgan, Feb. 12, 2003, Slate)

For many, a chief selling point of Buddhism is its supposed de-emphasis of supernatural notions such as immortal souls and God. Buddhism "rejects the theological impulse," the philosopher Owen Flanagan declares approvingly in The Problem of the Soul. Actually, Buddhism is functionally theistic, even if it avoids the "G" word. Like its parent religion Hinduism, Buddhism espouses reincarnation, which holds that after death our souls are re-instantiated in new bodies, and karma, the law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama. [...]

Much more dubious is Buddhism's claim that perceiving yourself as in some sense unreal will make you happier and more compassionate. Ideally, as the British psychologist and Zen practitioner Susan Blackmore writes in The Meme Machine, when you embrace your essential selflessness, "guilt, shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, and fear of failure ebb away and you become, contrary to expectation, a better neighbor." But most people are distressed by sensations of unreality, which are quite common and can be induced by drugs, fatigue, trauma, and mental illness as well as by meditation.

Even if you achieve a blissful acceptance of the illusory nature of your self, this perspective may not transform you into a saintly bodhisattva, brimming with love and compassion for all other creatures. Far from it--and this is where the distance between certain humanistic values and Buddhism becomes most apparent. To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


How the Owners Won the NBA Lockout (Matthew Yglesias, Nov. 26, 2011, Slate)

The full details of the NBA labor agreement still aren't in, but it's difficult to read the basic terms as anything less than a huge victory for management. The most fundamental issue at stake is that under the old labor agreement, owners committed to paying out 57 percent of Basketball-Related Income in the form of player salaries. Under the new deal, the owners will only pay 50 percent out. There are lots of other balls in the air, but there's no other topic that divides the interests of players and owners in such a stark and fundamental way.  [...]

[F]or now at least owners don't need to worry that squeezing player compensation will degrade the quality of their workforce. If you're really good at basketball, the way to make money is to play in the NBA. Many Americans earn a living playing basketball in Europe, but even in the new stingier regime it's still much more lucrative to play in the NBA and there's no meaningful competition for high-end basketball talent.

...but they lack skill.  Hard to believe the game would suffer if teams fielded guys who'd honed the latter through four years of college and some minor league seasoning.  Then again, the game isn't the product, a few stars are and they're created by the NBA marketing people.  They can just create others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


'Most Beautiful Woman' By Day, Inventor By Night: Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes (NPR, November 27, 2011, All Things Considered)

At the height of her Hollywood career, actress Hedy Lamarr was known as "the most beautiful woman in the world." For most of her life, her legacy was her looks.

But in the 1940s -- in an attempt to help the war effort -- she quietly invented what would become the precursor to many wireless technologies we use today, including Bluetooth, GPS, cellphone networks and more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Pay More, Get Less (Robert Samuelson, 11/28/11, RCP)

What propels U.S. health spending upward? The OECD's answer comes in two parts: steep prices and abundant provision of some expensive services. In 2007, an appendectomy cost $7,962 in the United States, $5,004 in Canada and $2,943 in Germany. A coronary angioplasty was $14,378 in the United States compared with $9,296 in Sweden and $7,027 in France. A knee replacement was $14,946 in the United States, $12,424 in France and $9,910 in Canada. Knee replacements in the U.S. were almost twice as common per 100,000 population as in the rest of the OECD. So were MRI exams and angioplasties.

This is a devastating portrait. At times, the U.S. health care system delivers the worst of both worlds: pay more, get less. Unfortunately, the message isn't new. America's fragmented and overspecialized health system maximizes returns to providers -- doctors, hospitals, drug companies -- but not to society. Fee-for-service reimbursement allows providers to reconcile their ethical duty (more care for patients) and economic self-interest (higher incomes). The more they do, the more they earn. Restraints are few, because patients and providers both resist limits on their choices. Government regulators and private insurers are too weak to control costs.

Countless thousands of conscientious doctors provide most Americans with good care and some with superb care. But the system needs a fundamental overhaul to deliver more value for money. There are essentially two ways to do this.

One is a voucher system that, through tax credits and fixed Medicare premium subsidies, would allow patients to shop for the best health plan. Competition, the theory goes, would force hospitals and doctors to restructure the delivery system; health plans would compete on the basis of price and quality. The other way is a government-run, single-payer system that would -- somehow -- include strict budget limits on doctors, hospitals and other providers. Lower administrative costs alone wouldn't provide enough savings to control overall spending. If open-ended reimbursement survived, so would the existing system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


The missing martyrs : Islam specialist Charles Kurzman

(Christian Century, Nov 10, 2011)

What kind of numbers are we talking about?

The figures I find interesting are the number of deaths by violence per day by terrorism compared to the number of deaths by violence overall. According to the World Health Organi­zation, 2,000 people die each day by violence around the globe. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the number of deaths per day by terrorism peaked at 63 in 2007 and has shrunk to half that.

Where do most terrorist murders occur?

In three countries: Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Excluding those countries, the daily death toll from terrorism peaked at just over 20 per day. The 2010 figure for terrorist deaths outside those three countries is 13 per day. The figure for the U.S. is even more striking--since 9/11, terrorists have killed only 33 Americans.

Let me stress that each of these deaths is a terrible tragedy. By putting these numbers in context I don't want to minimize them. But people are disproportionately focused on what is a relatively small factor globally and in the U.S.

How do you explain the relative rarity of terrorism?

Most Muslims do not want an Islamic government imposed by force. They strongly support a free press, free association and other aspects of liberal politics. Mainstream Muslims are culturally conservative, so they share some concerns with the goals of revolutionary Islamic movements, such as prohibiting the use of alcohol. But cultural conservatism is generally combined with a pro-democracy viewpoint.

There are other Muslims who might not mind an Islamic government but who oppose the use of violence. Their numbers go up each time al-Qaeda uses violence against Muslims.

...wasn't about terrorism, but about using the opportunity for regime change and democratization.  Al Qaeda gave us the sword....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Africa Unleashed: Explaining the Secret of a Belated Boom (Edward Miguel, Nov/Dec 2011, Foreign Affairs)

Steven Radelet's accessible and insightful new book, Emerging Africa, joins a growing chorus of voices explaining how and why Africa has turned the corner. Radelet, who joined the U.S. State Department to work on international development issues last year, was a fellow at the Center for Global Development and has served as a policymaker in both the United States and Liberia, where he advised President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. He does a remarkable job of weaving together hard statistical patterns, case studies, and a coherent narrative that explains both Africa's decline and its recent rebound. The book is useful reading both for specialists in the field, who will gain from its detailed description of the experiences of numerous countries, and for those newly interested in Africa, including non-economists, who will find their preexisting notions about the continent overturned. Emerging Africa crystallizes the new conventional wisdom on Africa's recovery. But it also highlights gaps in experts' understanding about its underlying causes.

In Radelet's view, five main factors have conspired to turn Africa around. Expanding democratization has opened up governments, bolstering popular accountability. Improved economic policies have curbed the worst tax and regulatory policies that had plagued African households and investors. Debt reduction has freed up resources for education and health care. New technologies (most notably the ubiquitous cell phone) have boosted Africans' access to markets. And the rise of a new generation of energetic leaders, the so-called cheetah generation (in the evocative terminology of the Ghanaian scholar George Ayittey), has brought new ideas and attitudes to the fore.

Radelet assembles chronological graphs for dozens of key measures, such as income levels, foreign trade, political freedom, schooling, and cell-phone penetration. He then ties the data together with fresh accounts of how the process of transformation has actually occurred on the ground. Tanzania, for example, boosted primary school enrollment by abolishing school fees in 2000. In Mozambique, the liberalization of agricultural markets has allowed farmers to keep more of what they sell. Mali's mango exports have soared since the adoption of improved supply-chain management practices. In Rwanda, incentive payments for doctors have strengthened the health-care system, as has the use of daily text messages to remind HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients to take their pills. These and other smart public policies are revolutionizing African economies.

Radelet also looks beyond government decisions, describing how individual Africans have accelerated these transformations, often at great personal risk. He profiles such visionaries as John Githongo, Kenya's fearless anticorruption crusader, and Patrick Awuah, a Swarthmore College graduate who left a lucrative career at Microsoft to return to his native Ghana, where he founded Ashesi University, a liberal arts college that aspires to educate a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial African leaders. There is finally enough oxygen in these increasingly free countries for talented Africans to reimagine and rebuild their societies.

Although all five of the factors Radelet describes have plausibly played a role in Africa's nascent transformation, the essential question, of course, is, which one has contributed the most? Radelet's answer is democratization. The relationship between democracy and economic growth in Africa, he writes, "is crystal clear: democratic governments . . . have been successful, while authoritarian governments have by and large been failures." He goes on to note that 13 of the 17 countries he singles out as emerging success stories have made the transition to more or less full-fledged democracies since the 1990s, whereas the pace of democratic reform has been far slower in both oil-producing countries and economic "laggards."

Radelet argues that Africa's political opening in the early to mid-1990s had a number of positive side effects. Competitive elections promoted public accountability, which led to better economic policies and governance. Politicians rightly perceived that competent macroeconomic management and fiscal policies would benefit them at the polls, and so they began to give up their kleptocratic ways. Increasingly open political systems created new opportunities for well-educated "cheetahs," energetic political newcomers who were often trained abroad, to outcompete the slow-moving "hippo" holdovers from the anticolonial struggle. Newly democratic regimes have also been more eager to embrace, rather than suppress, new information technologies that can make markets more efficient and grass-roots political organizations easier to form. Although social scientists are still debating the relationship between democracy and economic performance, Radelet makes a robust case that democratic reform was a necessary precondition for many of Africa's other recent advances. 

November 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Why climategate is a catastrophe for science (Christopher Caldwell, 11/26/11, Financial Times)

Voters in a democracy do not argue about science. They argue about the authority of scientists. And scientists' claim to authority comes from the perception that, in fact, they do not let their vanities and rivalries influence their work. Where others pursue their grubby little self-interest, scientists pursue only the truth. The emails of 2009, however, showed that some prominent members of the climate-change establishment were not operating in a spirit of openness. Defending a scientist's furtiveness on the grounds that "his science is good" is like defending a politician's blunder on the grounds that he "did nothing illegal". The emails were damaging because they undermined the scientists' claim to be speaking as scientists rather than as interested parties.

If scientists are shown to be colluding to arrive at a given result, then the halo around science dissipates. Any voter who does not want to be duped must suspend his scepticism. He must listen to scientists with no more deference than he does any other interest group.

...that the very notion of scientists being able to arrive at results that are not shaped by their own biases is anti-scientific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


...since, given the opportunity, he passed a massive amnesty.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 AM


The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin (Benjamin Wallace, November 23, 2011, Wired)

Through 2009 and early 2010, bitcoins had no value at all, and for the first six months after they started trading in April 2010, the value of one bitcoin stayed below 14 cents. Then, as the currency gained viral traction in summer 2010, rising demand for a limited supply caused the price on online exchanges to start moving. By early November, it surged to 36 cents before settling down to around 29 cents. In February 2011, it rose again and was mentioned on Slashdot for achieving "dollar parity"; it hit $1.06 before settling in at roughly 87 cents.

In the spring, catalyzed in part by a much-linked Forbes story on the new "crypto currency," the price exploded. From early April to the end of May, the going rate for a bitcoin rose from 86 cents to $8.89. Then, after Gawker published a story on June 1 about the currency's popularity among online drug dealers, it more than tripled in a week, soaring to about $27. The market value of all bitcoins in circulation was approaching $130 million. A Tennessean dubbed KnightMB, who held 371,000 bitcoins, became worth more than $10 million, the richest man in the bitcoin realm. The value of those 10,000 bitcoins Hanyecz used to buy pizza had risen to $272,329. "I don't feel bad about it," he says. "The pizza was really good."

Bitcoin was drawing the kind of attention normally reserved for overhyped Silicon Valley IPOs and Apple product launches. On his Internet talk show, journo-entrepreneur Jason Calacanis called it "a fundamental shift" and "one of the most interesting things I've seen in 20 years in the technology business." Prominent venture capitalist Fred Wilson heralded "societal upheaval" as the Next Big Thing on the Internet, and the four examples he gave were Wikileaks, PlayStation hacking, the Arab Spring, and bitcoin. Andresen, the coder, accepted an invitation from the CIA to come to Langley, Virginia, to speak about the currency. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party (whose central policy plank includes the abolition of the patent system), announced that he was putting his life savings into bitcoins.

The future of bitcoin seemed to shimmer with possibility. Mark Suppes, an inventor building a fusion reactor in a Brooklyn loft from eBay-sourced parts, got an old ATM and began retrofitting it to dispense cash for bitcoins. On the so-called secret Internet (the invisible grid of sites reachable by computers using Tor anonymizing software), the black-and-gray-market site Silk Road anointed the bitcoin the coin of the realm; you could use bitcoins to buy everything from Purple Haze pot to Fentanyl lollipops to a kit for converting a rifle into a machine gun. A young bitcoiner, The Real Plato, brought On the Road into the new millennium by video-blogging a cross-country car trip during which he spent only bitcoins. Numismatic enthusiasts among the currency's faithful began dreaming of collectible bitcoins, wondering what price such rarities as the genesis block might fetch.

As the price rose and mining became more popular, the increased competition meant decreasing profits. An arms race commenced. Miners looking for horsepower supplemented their computers with more powerful graphics cards, until they became nearly impossible to find. Where the first miners had used their existing machines, the new wave, looking to mine bitcoins 24 hours a day, bought racks of cheap computers with high-speed GPUs cooled by noisy fans. The boom gave rise to mining-rig porn, as miners posted photos of their setups. As in any gold rush, people recounted tales of uncertain veracity. An Alaskan named Darrin reported that a bear had broken into his garage but thankfully ignored his rig. Another miner's electric bill ran so high, it was said, that police raided his house, suspecting that he was growing pot.

Amid the euphoria, there were troubling signs. Bitcoin had begun in the public-interested spirit of open source peer-to-peer software and libertarian political philosophy, with references to the Austrian school of economics. But real money was at stake now, and the dramatic price rise had attracted a different element, people who saw the bitcoin as a commodity in which to speculate.

November 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Liberty and Security: Hostile Allies: We do not purchase one at the expense of the other (Benjamin Wittes, 11/10/11, Defining Ideas)

The idea that liberty and security exist in balance hangs over America's entire debate about national security. The metaphor of balance lives pervasively in our rhetoric. It lives in our case law. It lives in our academic discourse. It lives in our efforts to describe our reality. It lives in our aspirations. It lives in the calls to shift the balance in perilous times by giving up liberty in the name of security, and it lives as well in the calls to restore the balance by abandoning security measures said to injure freedom.

As Philip Bobbitt puts it,

    There is a virtually universal conviction that the constitutional rights of the People and the powers of the State exist along an axial spectrum. An increase in one means a diminution of the other... . . A corollary to this conviction is the widely held belief that intelligence and law enforcement agencies constitute a threat to civil liberties.

The balance metaphor lives, paradoxically enough, even in our attempts to reject it. Opponents of new security measures will often vocally eschew the balance metaphor--insisting that we can be both "safe and free" or, as President Obama put it in his inaugural address, that we can "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

The image of balance arises especially vividly in the context of surveillance, where every augmentation of government power is said to come at some cost to liberty. The relationship between surveillance and liberty has taken on special importance as the internet has continued its exponential growth and as personal data concerning individuals has proliferated. The question of how aggressively governments can police and monitor the use of communications and other technological architectures has necessarily arisen alongside these platforms--with the balance metaphor invariably hovering over the discussion.

Proponents of more aggressive surveillance justify such steps as necessary and imposing only allowable costs in light of some compelling governmental or societal security need. Opponents criticize them as excessive enhancements of governmental power, which we take at the expense of freedom or privacy. We seldom stop and ask the question of whether and when our surveillance programs are really coming at the expense of liberty at all or whether the relationship might be more complicated than that--indeed, whether some of these programs might even enhance liberty.

We should ask these questions because the balance metaphor is incomplete to the point of inducing a deep cognitive error. Any crude notion of a "balancing" between security and liberty badly misstates the relationship between these two goods--that in the vast majority of circumstances, liberty and security are better understood as necessary preconditions for one another than in some sort of standoff. The absence of liberty will tend to guarantee an absence of security, and conversely, one cannot talk meaningfully about an individual's having liberty in the absence of certain basic conditions of security. While either in excess can threaten the other, neither can meaningfully exist without the other.

One of the things that drives this debate is--as one would expect--the failure to understand what liberty means in the first place, in particular the tendency to confuse it with freedom.  Freedom and security do indeed exist at opposite ends of a continuum.  A system that afforded absolute freedom could afford no security (safety), because every man would be free to do anything he wanted to every other man.  Meanwhile, a system that afforded absolute security from our fellow men could afford no freedom, because our every action would have to be controlled. 

Americans are the fortunate inheritors of two distinct limits on freedom that, nearly paradoxically make it possible for us to live under the form of regime that affords the greatest freedom of any so far crafted by men.  In the first instance, our Judeo-Christian/Protestant-Calvinist origins establish behavior parameters backed by Authority while also requiring that every man be treated with the dignity inherent in creatures created in the Image of God.  Thus, even preceding the formation of governments we accept significant limitations on personal "freedom." 

Second, we are heirs to the classical ideal of republican government and the republican liberty that is its essence.  As Maurizio Viroli explains:

Classical republican writers maintained that to be free means to not be dominated--that is, not to be dependent on the arbitrary will of other individuals. The source of this interpretation of political liberty was the principle of Roman law that defines the status of a free person as not being subject to the arbitrary will of another person--in contrast to a slave, who is dependent on another person's will. As the individual is free when he or she has legal and political rights, so a people or a city is free insofar as it lives under its own laws. [...]

Classical republican theorists also stressed that the constraint that fair laws impose on an individual's choices is not a restriction of liberty but an essential element of political liberty itself. They also believed that restrictions imposed by the law on the actions of rulers as well as of ordinary citizens are the only valid shield against coercion on the part of any person or persons. Machiavelli forcefully expressed this belief in his Discourses on Livy (I.29), when he wrote that if there is even one citizen whom the magistrates fear and who has the power to break the law, then the entire city cannot be said to be free. It can be said to be free only when its laws and constitutional orders effectively restrain the arrogance of nobles and the licentiousness of the people.

Or, as John Locke rendered it for more modern times:

The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, [...] a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man...

We might put it this way: freedom means, not that I am free to do whatever I want, but, that I am free to do whatever everyone else is allowed to do by the laws we arrive at together.   

What's especially helpful about having this sort of basic understanding about the Republic is that the security concerns of the civil libertarians and the freedom concerns of the generally libertarian are exposed as equally silly.  To take one example we've been discussing recently, while the Right rages against Wickard v. Filburn, it is actually Gibbons v. Ogden that they can not over come and remain faithful to the Founders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


The Age of the Superfluous Worker (HERBERT J. GANS, 11/24/11, NY Times)

AMERICA, like other modern countries, has always had some surplus workers -- people ready to work but jobless for extended periods because the "job creators," private and public, have been unable or unwilling to create sufficient jobs. When the number of surplus workers rose sharply, the country also had ways of reducing it. [...]

When the jobless recovery ends and the economy is restored to good health, today's surplus will be reduced. New technology and the products and services that accompany it will create new jobs. But unless the economy itself changes, eventually many of these innovations may be turned over to machines or the jobs may be sent to lower-wage economies.

In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates -- or more jobs than it creates -- future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.

What could be done to prevent such a future? America will have to finally get serious about preserving and creating jobs -- and on a larger, and more lasting, scale than Roosevelt's New Deal.

Consider the serial strange assumptions here and let's highlight the two biggest:

(1) The capacity of capitalism to create ever more wealth with ever less labor is a bad thing.

(2) In order to deal with this bad thing we require innovations that will force ever more labor irrespective of the value-added.

A hundred and sixty years ago the Left was fretting about how capitalism must result in man being alienated from labor.  Today's Left is fretting about man being alienated from leisure.  And they call themselves Progressive?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


A Democrat Bites Union Story: In Rhode Island, liberals take the lead on pension reform. (WSJ, 11/25/11)

The Ocean State has been running a $7 billion unfunded pension liability, one of the largest per capita in the nation, and its annual pension bill was expected to double next year to $600 million. While public unions wanted to keep partying like it's 1995--when its pension liability was $1 billion--the state's left-leaning independent Governor Lincoln Chafee and Democratic treasurer Gina Raimondo took a more sober view.

Earlier this year they appointed a 12-member commission to recommend reforms that would reduce the pension bill and shore up retirement funds. Some panel members reported that the state would have to modify current worker and retiree benefits going forward to realize immediate savings. Merely tweaking benefits for new hires wouldn't save much money for another 20 to 30 years.

In contrast to President Obama's decision to ignore his own Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, the Rhode Island reformers then moved to implement these recommendations. What a concept. The reforms suspend annual 3% cost-of-living increases for retirees until the pension funds became solvent, raise the retirement age for most workers to 67 from 62, and shift all workers to a new hybrid pension plan that includes a modest annuity and defined-contribution component. They estimate their plan will lop $3 billion off the state's unfunded liability and cut its pension bill in half next year.

These reforms are far more comprehensive than those adopted or proposed in other states. Most have reduced future workers' benefits or required current workers to contribute more to their retirements. Only a handful have modified cost-of-living adjustments, which is where most immediate savings can be found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Support Builds for a Plan to Rein In Medicare Costs (ROBERT PEAR, 11/25/11, NY Times)

Though it reached no agreement, the special Congressional committee on deficit reduction built a case for major structural changes in Medicare that would limit the government's open-ended financial commitment to the program, lawmakers and health policy experts say.

Members of both parties told the panel that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government. [...]

Mr. Obama's health care law provides "premium support" for people below age 65. The government will offer subsidies, in the form of tax credits, to help people buy coverage marketed by private carriers on an insurance exchange.

If this approach works for commercial insurance under the new law, it could allay concerns about similar changes to Medicare.

Competition among private insurers has already driven down costs for prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Medicare's drug benefit is delivered entirely by private insurers. In addition, one-fourth of the 48 million Medicare beneficiaries are in private Medicare Advantage plans, offered by companies like UnitedHealth and Humana, which cover a wide range of doctors' services and hospital care.

The new health care law is cutting payments to Medicare Advantage plans. Republican lawmakers predicted that the cuts would lead insurers to increase premiums, reduce benefits or pull out of the program. But so far the dire predictions have not been borne out.

On average, the Obama administration said recently, Medicare Advantage premiums will be 4 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011, and insurers expect their Medicare enrollment to increase by 10 percent. 

Everyone knows how we'll reform entitlements and make the budget "crisis" disappear, we're just reluctant to join hands with the other party to achieve it.  After all, if my party agrees with their party then what's the point of all my political passion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Morocco election: PJD declares victory after early counting (Reuters,  25 November 2011)

Morocco's Justice and Development party (PJD) has declared victory in a parliamentary election that should produce a stronger government after King Mohammed ceded some powers to prevent any spillover from Arab Spring uprisings.

The PJD, supported largely by Morocco's poor, would be the second moderate Islamist party after Tunisia to lead a north African government since the start of the region's Arab Spring uprisings.

The party hopes to push Islamic finance but says it will steer clear of imposing a strict moral code on society. It will have to join forces with others to form government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament (MARK OPPENHEIMER, 11/25/11, NY Times)

So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus's birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that "early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil." He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a "magos."

Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word "magos" derisively -- less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer -- we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.

This volume is thus for anybody interested in a Bible more attuned to Jewish sources. But it is of special interest to Jews who "may believe that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion," Drs. Levine and Brettler write in their preface. "This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion."

Jews who peek inside these forbidding covers will also find essays anticipating the arguments of Christian evangelists. Confronted by Christians who extol their religion's conceptions of neighbor love or the afterlife, for example, many Jews do not know their own tradition's teachings. So "The Jewish Annotated New Testament" includes essays like "The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics" and "Afterlife and Resurrection."

Of course, the important thing is that they don't know it because of the reaction to Christ.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


For Perry, Life Was Broadened and Narrowed by the Military (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 11/25/11, NY Times)

Today Mr. Perry, the Texas governor, is running for president in a crowded Republican field as one of just two candidates with military experience. (The other is Ron Paul.) As an Air Force pilot, he flew C-130 cargo planes out of Dyess Air Force Base outside Abilene, about an hour south of the tiny town of Paint Creek, where he grew up.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Perry has focused on domestic affairs, pitching himself as the man who can "overhaul Washington." His Air Force days give a hint of how he might handle another aspect of the presidency, national security. In recent debates, he has emerged as a muscular interventionist, a stance that can be traced, in part, to his military service.

It was an experience that both expanded and narrowed him, taking him to exotic locales while cementing his Texas roots and the traditional, conservative values that have been so central to his political identity. On Air Force missions overseas, he told students at Liberty University this fall, he had his first encounters with "oppressed people" -- an experience that sharpened his idea of the United States as a beacon of democracy and helped convince him that Americans "cannot isolate ourselves within our borders."

Today, the college student who backed the Vietnam War is, at 61, the hawkish presidential candidate. Mr. Perry has called President Obama "irresponsible" for ending the Iraq war, urged the overthrow of the Iranian government -- he would not rule out a military strike -- and suggested he would deploy troops to Mexico to "kill these drug cartels" there.

He has also pledged to reinstate "don't ask, don't tell," the military policy that barred openly gay soldiers.

Just one of the ways he can contrast himself with Newt Gingrich.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM

Hot Tuna On Mountain Stage (NPR, November 25, 2011, Mountain Stage)

Hot Tuna kicks off today's Mountain Stage performance, which was recorded on the campus of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Formed by Jack Casady and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Jorma Kaukonen as a side project of legendary San Francisco group Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna has spent decades both playing its own material and covering songs by American blues artists like Rev. Gary Davis and Jelly Roll Morton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Oil Rigs Bring Camps of Men to the Prairie (A. G. SULZBERGER, 11/26/11, NY Times)

TIOGA, N.D. -- As much as the drilling rigs that tower over this once placid corner of the prairie, the two communities springing up just outside of town testify to the galloping pace of growth here in oil country.

They are called man camps -- temporary housing compounds supporting the overwhelmingly male work force flooding the region in search of refuge from a stormy economy. These two, Capital Lodge and Tioga Lodge, built on opposite sides of a highway, will have up to 3,700 residents, according to current plans.

Confronted with the unusual problem of too many unfilled jobs and not enough empty beds to accommodate the new arrivals, North Dakota embraced the camps -- typically made of low-slung, modular dormitory-style buildings -- as the imperfect solution to keeping workers rested and oil flowing.

But now, even as the housing shortage worsens, towns like this one are denying new applications for the camps. In many places they have come to embody the danger of growing too big too fast, cluttering formerly idyllic vistas, straining utilities, overburdening emergency services and aggravating relatively novel problems like traffic jams, long lines and higher crime.

The grumbling has escalated despite the huge influx of wealth from the boom, largely because it has become clear that growth is overwhelming capacity.

Growth is the ultimate threat to nativism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


To Err Is 'Humane': Gingrich's immigration gaffe was to tell the deportation truth. (WSJ, 11/25/11)

The rugby scrum that is the GOP Presidential field is once again zeroing in on that most pressing of all national priorities, illegal immigration. Now the candidates are beating up Newt Gingrich for saying in Tuesday night's debate that mass deportations of illegal immigrants wouldn't be "humane," and it's true that isn't the right word. He should have said it would be psychotic.

Mr. Gingrich was asked about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to the three million illegals living in the country at the time, and he responded sensibly enough that "If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out."

Michele Bachmann promptly accused Mr. Gingrich of supporting "amnesty," while Mitt Romney claimed that Mr. Gingrich wants to create a "magnet" that will draw more foreigners into the U.S.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Gratitude for the Fall: an interview with Timothy S. Goeglein (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 11/25/11, National Review)

TIMOTHY S. GOEGLEIN: The root of any sin is our fallen human nature. And yes, I think at some level all of us understand what our vulnerabilities and weaknesses are or could be. Bill Buckley once wrote it was a remarkable thing to be having a conversation with a president of the United States and see him taking notes while you are speaking. I was never a confidant of the president nor was I on the senior White House team. But I know what Bill meant. The contrails of that kind of power can be long and winding. The White House and its environs can be a heady place: the history of it all, its projection of influence, the place where the most powerful man in the world both works and resides.

I do believe the capacity for self-deception can be large, and so while I was aware that pride was taking root, I did not face it directly. I deeply regret that now, as I make clear in the book, and it is why I chose to begin my memoir with a powerful verse from Proverbs: "When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with humility comes wisdom." I learned firsthand the power of that passage, and it cut with a serrated edge.

LOPEZ: "Even as I write these words, the horror of that morning and the events of that day come back to haunt me with the pain and awfulness I inflicted on others but most especially the three people I love most in the world, my wife and sons. I embarrassed them all deeply in a betrayal rooted in self-centeredness and ambition, both of which were venal." But Tim, you worked in the White House. Why did you need to show off in your hometown paper?

GOEGLEIN: Your question perfectly encapsulates my failure, and later, my confession and absolution in Christ. I did not need to do what I did, but pride seeks all kinds of vacuums and silos to fill. This is the nature of sin. " [...]

LOPEZ: "Whatever punishment was to follow that day and in the weeks to come, I deserved it completely." Did you deserve the forgiveness you seemingly received? Or is that the point of the story?

GOEGLEIN: I did not deserve the forgiveness that was extended to me by President Bush, by my family, by my White House colleagues, and by my friends. I expected a kind of decoupling to take place, and to be cut off from those I loved and worked with -- and whose friendship had been my joy and privilege.

By God's grace and mercy, the opposite happened through no merit of my own.

I chose to open my memoir at the nadir of my life, and I describe in detail my Oval Office exchange with the president. I still cannot fathom his extension of forgiveness to me. It flowed from his own faith. 

November 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


College Tries Alternative Care Scheme (Chris Fleisher, 11/24/11, Valley News)

Dartmouth Health Connect puts into practice many of the ideas, particularly the call for taking a team approach to delivering health care, that have been championed by researchers at The Dartmouth Institute and the newly established Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, said Dr. Albert Mulley, the Center's director.

The new practice, which will be open to Dartmouth employees, scraps the old physician-centered model in favor of a health care "team." The team includes two Dartmouth-Hitchcock physicians, a nurse, practice coordinator and "health coaches," who will be in touch regularly with patients to make sure they're staying on top of medications and doing the things they need to stay healthy. Iora will manage the practice and, with the exception of the two D-H doctors, hire the employees.

The team will talk with one another, email and phone patients, involve family members and even other outside physicians who are responsible for caring for a patient.

"What's sorely missing in health care is shared teamwork," Mulley said in a telephone interview from London, where he is a fellow at The King's Fund, a charity designed to improve health care in England. "It's all about coordination. It's all about being on the same page."

Another major change will be in how the care is paid for. Health reform advocates have criticized the existing fee-for-service model as being one that promotes treatment of sickness rather than maintaining good health.

With Dartmouth Health Connect, there will be no bills to insurance companies for treatment. Instead, Dartmouth bypasses the third-party insurers and will pay Iora a flat fee for each patient. The hope is that this will give caregivers an incentive to keep patients well rather than seeking more procedures, since it will cost the same either way. It means fewer administrative hassles to deal with billing, and patients won't be charged a co-pay fee for each visit.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


In N.H., Obama Touts Tax Break (Christi Parsons, 11/23/11, Chicago Tribune)

President Obama visited New Hampshire to highlight the next big fight in Washington, as he urged Congress to not "be a Grinch" by allowing tax cuts to expire after the holidays and cost the average middle-class family $1,000 in 2012.

In a less-than-jolly assessment of Republican motives yesterady, Obama said the GOP's votes against his jobs plan this fall were essentially votes to hike taxes, because one provision of the plan would have preserved the tax breaks.

"The question they'll have to answer when they get back from Thanksgiving is this: Are they really willing to break their oath to never raise taxes, and raise taxes on the middle class just to play politics?" Obama said.

The UR's problem in NH is that his entire general campaign here was based on opposition to reforming health care, a la John McCain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


U.S. May Be Near Vanquishing Al-Qaida (Greg Miller, 11/24/11, The Washington Post)

The leadership ranks of the main al-Qaida terrorist network, once expansive enough to supervise the plot for Sept. 11, 2001, have been reduced to just two figures whose demise would mean the group's defeat, U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials said.

Aymen al-Zawahri and his second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, are the last remaining "high-value" targets of the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, U.S. officials said, although lower-level fighters and other insurgent groups remain a focus of Predator surveillance and strikes.

Al-Qaida's contraction comes amid indications that the group has considered relocating in recent years, but that it ruled out other destinations as either unreachable or offering no greater security than their missile-pocked territory in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

Now, about that peace dividend...

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Assassinating the Rule of Law (Leonard C. Goodman, 11/25/11, In These Times)

The lawyers declared that Obama may accept the word of the CIA, which is able to bury evidence so it can never be second-guessed.

Of all the promises made by candidate Barack Obama, it was his promise to end the lawlessness of the Bush years by closing Guantanamo, ending torture and restoring the United States' reputation for justice that got me out in the streets and knocking on doors. And it is President Obama's failure to keep these promises that makes it impossible for me to support him again.

President Bush's foreign policy was roundly criticized by most of the world and by candidate Obama. Following 9/11, Bush's foreign policy was simple: If my administration decides that you are a terrorist or a terrorist supporter, we reserve the right to invade and occupy your country, kill you or send you halfway around the world to a prison camp. [...]

Obama has carried on where Bush left off. Realizing that captured American-born terror suspects must be given a hearing, Obama decided it would be more convenient to kill them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Digital Darwinsim and why brands die (Brian Solis, November 22, 2011, Washington Post)

Consumers, in search of certainty, rely heavily on a brand's symbolism and significance. We don't have to look much further than Netflix - the company that gained the most from Blockbuster's decline - for a recent example of what happens when executives misread the impact of technology and consumer demand and, in turn, make decisions that negatively imapct the business and the brand. But, any form of market research or customer engagement program that analyzed conversations in social networks would have revealed the state of consumer needs. Netflix now must focus on rebuilding its brand to earn and re-earn trust before it can take another aggressive move into the future.

Brands that fail to instill this level of confidence in consumers run the risk of falling victim to digital Darwinism.

And if Darwinism means anything, it's decision-making by intelligent actors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy (Avik Roy, 11/24/11, Forbes)

A few years back, Robert Ohsfeldt of Texas A&M and John Schneider of the University of Iowa asked the obvious question: what happens if you remove deaths from fatal injuries from the life expectancy tables? Among the 29 members of the OECD, the U.S. vaults from 19th place guessed it...first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Why the new breast cancer screening guidelines make sense (ANDRÉ PICARD, 11/24/11, Globe and Mail

The fundamental problem, aside from failing to recognize that screening carries risks as well as benefits, is the presumption that anyone who has had breast cancer detected by screening has survived because of the test.

That is simply not true.

That's because there are different kinds of breast cancer:

* Slow-growing tumours that would likely be found and treated without screening;

* Aggressive cancers that are deadly, whether they are detected by screening or not;

* Innocuous lesions or growths that are not deadly and frequently result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment;

* Potentially deadly tumours that are detected at just the right time by screening to allow for lifesaving treatment.

The latter group consists of about one in 1,000 women. Do those numbers justify the cost of screening, which is in the neighbourhood of $500-million annually?

Probably - but only if screening is done judiciously, targeting the women who will benefit most and are least likely to be harmed.

That is the 50-to-74 age group. And that is why the task force made its recommendation - not to save money; not because they hate women; not because they are oblivious to the scourge of breast cancer.

No, the recommendations are based on the latest science, not on wishful thinking. The evidence, no matter how displeasing or counterintuitive, must guide us.

And as Dr. Susan Love, the breast cancer pioneer (and supporter of screening over 50), is fond of reminding us: "All too often, when it comes to breast cancer, we seem to get caught up in wishful thinking and forget about science."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Alabama Rethinks Its Harsh Immigration Law: Politicians who voted for it fear the state's reputation is tarnished (Elizabeth Dwoskin, 11/24/11, Business Week)

On Nov. 16, a European businessman paying a visit to his company's manufacturing plant near Tuscaloosa, Ala., was pulled over for driving a rental car without a tag. The police officer asked the man for his license, but the only paperwork he had with him was a German I.D. card. Anywhere else in the nation, the cop might have issued the man a citation. Not in Alabama, where a strict new law requires police to look into the immigration status of people detained for routine traffic violations. Because the man couldn't prove he had the right to be in the U.S., he was arrested and hauled off to the police station.

As it turned out, the businessman was an executive with Mercedes-Benz, one of Alabama's prized manufacturers. The Mercedes plant employs 3,400 people, and the company's much-heralded decision in 1993 to build cars in the state encouraged Hyundai (HYMTF), Honda (HMC), and Toyota (TMC) to follow. Mercedes has downplayed the incident, calling it "unfortunate" and refusing further comment. Others aren't so understanding. Word of the arrest spread quickly through the state and amplified a growing sentiment among many Alabama politicians, business owners, and citizens that the immigration law, intended to drive off undocumented workers and free up jobs for unemployed Alabamians, is too strict and is damaging the state's reputation as a place to do business (Bloomberg Businessweek, Nov. 14).

"I was really embarrassed and overwhelmed," says State Senator Gerald Dial.

...dang it, we're backwards enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


Coherent Schrödinger's cat still confounds (Tim Wogan, Nov 23, 2011, Physics World)

The famous paradox of Schrödinger's cat starts from principles of quantum physics and ends with the bizarre conclusion that a cat can be simultaneously in two physical states - one in which the cat is alive and the other in which it is dead. In real life, however, large objects such as cats clearly don't exist in a superposition of two or more states and this paradox is usually resolved in terms of quantum decoherence. But now physicists in Canada and Switzerland argue that even if decoherence could be prevented, the difficulty of making perfect measurements would stop us from confirming the cat's superposition.

Erwin Schrödinger, one of the fathers of quantum theory, formulated his paradox in 1935 to highlight the apparent absurdity of the quantum principle of superposition - that an unobserved quantum object is simultaneously in multiple states. He envisaged a black box containing a radioactive nucleus, a Geiger counter, a vial of poison gas and a cat. The Geiger counter is primed to release the poison gas, killing the cat, if it detects any radiation from a nuclear decay. The grisly game is played out according to the rules of quantum mechanics because nuclear decay is a quantum process.

If the apparatus is left for a period of time and then observed, you may find either that the nucleus has decayed or that it has not decayed, and therefore that the poison has or has not been released, and that the cat has or has not been killed. However, quantum mechanics tells us that, before the observation has been made, the system is in a superposition of both states - the nucleus has both decayed and not decayed, the poison has both been released and not been released, and the cat is both alive and dead.

...when folks compare denying human-caused global warning to denying Galileo. 

November 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Between working full time and two kids playing hockey, I don't have as much time to blog as several years ago.  But you all make it enjoyable to banter back and forth about the issues of the day.  The success of this blog has always been as much about the comments sections as the posts and we thank you for that.

We hope everyone travels safely and enjoys some time with family and friends.  For all the bitching and moaning from the tea parties to the occupation tents, Americans have absurdly much to be thankful for and this is a good time for us all to pause and consider how picayune our gripes really are.  Hug somebody you love, stuff your face with turkey, stuffing and pecan pie, watch football 'til your eyes glaze over and then thank whichever relatives snuck into the greatest country God ever made.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 AM


Pumpkin Pie: A Thanksgiving Dessert with History (Bhaskar Prasad, 11/24/11, IB Times)

The etymology of the word pumpkin dates back to Ancient Greece, where the fruit was called "pepon". That was changed to "pompon" by the French and the English subsequently started calling it "pumpion" or "pompion".

The fruit is native to the continent of North America, with the oldest evidence of pumpkin-related seeds dating back between 7000 B.C. and 5500 B.C., in Mexico. Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins, roasting or boiling them for eating. They also brought the fruit as gifts to the first settlers, who exported the new delicacy to France and then Tudor England.

Sometime after that the fruit began to be used as fillers for pie; in the 19th century the pie was made by stuffing the whole pumpkin with apples, spices and sugar and baking it. The pumpkin pie was then introduced to New England.

In 1651, Francois Pierre la Varenne, a famous French chef and the author of one of the most important cookbooks of the 17th century, wrote one other called "Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois" ("The True French Cook"). It was translated into English in 1653 and it contains one of the first, perhaps, true recipes for pumpkin pie.

It took more than 100 years after la Varenne for the first American cookbook to written and published in that country and it was written by Amelia Simmons. It was particularly special for another reason - it was the first one to contain and develop recipes for foods native to America. Simmons pumpkin pies were baked in crusts similar to the ones made today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 AM


Turkey Tacos (Miami Herald, 11/24/11)

12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

2 cups shredded turkey

3/4 cup jarred chunky tomato salsa, plus more for garnishing

4 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1 small can (4 1/2 ounces) chopped green chilies or 2 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

3 strips cooked, crisp bacon, crumbled

1/2 cup shredded cheese

1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Combine shredded turkey and 3/4 cup salsa in a microwaveable container; heat on high until heated through, 1-2 minutes. Keep warm.

Lightly toast tortillas on both sides in a dry skillet over medium heat, about 30 seconds each. Place the tortillas on plates. Divide turkey among tortillas, mounding down the center of each. Top with the celery, chilies, nuts, bacon and cheese.

Spoon as much extra salsa as you like over the filling; top with cilantro. Fold tortillas over into a taco form.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 AM


A war with bad guys on both sides in early America: a review of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (Bruce Ramsey, 5/12/06, The Seattle Times)

[T]he final third refocuses on King Philip's War.

It is a war of extermination, or of cultural defense, depending on how you look at it. It is started by Philip, son of Massasoit, the Pokasset chief who had attended the first Thanksgiving. Massasoit had made allies of the Pilgrims. Philip aims to kill them. He prepares for the conflict by selling off tribal land to buy muskets. The author compliments the Indians for being quick to learn to use the flintlock musket, but the Indians cannot craft muskets themselves. The tribes who attack the whites -- and Philip is able to enlist only some of them -- are so dependent on farmed corn that they need to win their war in time for spring planting.

Philbrick, who won the National Book Award for "In the Heart of the Sea," vows not to tell a morally simplified story, "either the time-honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America" or "the now equally familiar modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans." This is a story of individuals, and though Philbrick tends to apply a tougher moral standard to the whites, he finds wisdom and folly on both sides. There is also appalling cruelty by both sides.

Philbrick's hero is a settler, Benjamin Church, who insists that his people not see all Indians as the enemy, as many were violently inclined to do. Church makes a deal with a neighboring tribe to switch sides and support the settlers. He adopts Indian ways of war. He recruits loyal Indians into his force, and is successful. He also opposes an effort to sell captives into slavery, though the white leaders in Boston, who had interned loyal Indians on a barren island, put hundreds of captives on slave ships for the Caribbean.

It is a book with a lesson, which is about not demonizing your opponents, and trying to find the humanity in them, and learning from them.

All American wars are about offering the enemy a choice of decimation or abandonment of their own and adoption of our culture.

[originally posted: 05/12/06]

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November 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Newt calls for 'humane' immigration policy (Rachel Weiner, 11/22/2011, Washington Post)

As he starts to lead in primary polls, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) appears to be looking ahead to the general election. In CNN's national security debate, he called for a "humane" immigration policy.

It was an echo of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's declaration in an earlier debate that if you don't support helping undocumented immigrants afford college, "you don't have a heart."

...but you do know he'll be for Open Borders, just like the majority of the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


'Cancer' or 'Weird Cells': Which Sounds Deadlier? (GINA KOLATA, 11/22/11, NY Times)

The idea of cancer as a progressive disease that will kill if the cells are not destroyed dates to the 19th century, said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Cancer Society. A German pathologist, Rudolph Virchow, examined tissue taken at autopsy from people who had died of their cancers, looking at the cells under a light microscope and drawing pictures of what he saw.

Virchow was a spectacular artist, and he ended up being the first to describe a variety of cancers -- leukemia, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer.

Of course, his patients were dead. So when he noted that aberrant-looking cells will kill, it made sense. The deranged cells were cancers, and cancers were fatal.

Now, Dr. Brawley said, the situation is very different. Instead of taking tissue from someone who died, a doctor takes tissue from a living patient, threading a thin needle into a woman's breast or a man's prostate, for example. Then a pathologist looks for abnormal cells.

Yet "how it looks under a microscope," Dr. Brawley said, "does not always predict." That is especially true for things like Stage 0 breast cancer or similar conditions in other areas of the body -- conditions detected by screening and not by symptoms or by feel. [...]

Many medical investigators now speak in terms of the probability that a tumor is deadly. And they talk of a newly recognized risk of cancer screening -- overdiagnosis. Screening can find what are actually harmless, if abnormal-looking, clusters of cells. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Antibiotics can't cure colds - but a placebo may (Andrew Brown, 11/21/11, Guardian)

Yet people expect health, and demand it. So they demand antibiotics, which are understood as a magic medicine. And, when you take them, your cold goes away, as it would anyway. It's obvious that some doctors, with 10 minutes a patient, are crumbling under the pressure to overprescribe. According to the HPA survey, 97% of the people who asked their doctor for an antibiotic last year were given one. We are heading for a classic tragedy of the commons.

What is to be done? One solution is to send patients away empty-handed. The HPA says that patients should be educated to understand that antibiotics don't work against viral diseases like colds and influenza. But that's not working and it's not going to work. The ignorance of the public will remain immovable. The answer requires a little creative thinking. So let's give up efforts to defeat the ignorance and tendency to magical thinking, and take advantage of it instead.

Let us invent a class of medicines called "antivirotics". They will need to be quite heavily marketed as a breakthrough in the treatment of common inconveniences: the kind of medicines that work when Lemsip is helpless. They will only be available on prescription, so that we know they are dangerously powerful.

They will work at least as well as antibiotics on colds and flu, as the marketing will make abundantly clear. They could, like vitamin supplements, be specially formulated for men and women, and come in different sizes and packaging for different ages. They would be absolutely free of side-effects.

But they would work. In an ideal world, the NHS would get through millions of them every year. And when you think of it, the government would hardly need to do anything. The private sector could handle all the marketing and public education campaigns, providing it could make a profit from these antivirotics.

They would, of course, be placebos. The main ingredients would be sugar and flavouring: the active ingredient would be the patient's trust. They would work solely because people believed in them. But they would work. Colds would clear up more quickly, and flus would miraculously change into a heavy cold. They would save money, since antibiotics are expensive; and they would save lives, since the abuse of antibiotics is in the long run quite literally lethal.

This is ethically interesting because it's clearly a case where it is right to deceive people and wrong to tell them the truth. This is, I think, true in almost any system of ethics. For if you tell the patient that you are giving them a powerful medicine for a complaint which will clear up by itself, then you are in fact telling the truth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Tending a Small Patch of Capitalism in North Korea (EDWARD WONG, 10/12/11, NY Times)

A seaside casino resort developed by a Hong Kong company chauffeurs Chinese officials and businesspeople from the nearby border in a red Humvee.

A Chinese construction company is expanding a bazaar where North Korean entrepreneurs sell Chinese-made goods to their compatriots at market prices, a sign of nascent capitalism. Trucks bring coal from mines in northeast China to a pier leased by the Chinese where the coal is shipped to Shanghai. A Russian company is leasing another pier.

Those are some of the seeds of foreign enterprise in this remote northern port town that North Korean officials are seeking to nurture. Grappling with an economy that has stagnated from decades of communist central planning, North Korean leaders are slowly opening their isolated nation to foreign investment.

A thrust of their strategy is to develop previously created "free trade and economic zones" on the borders that have languished. Here, about 30 miles from China, the combined towns of Rajin and Sonbong, called Rason, are central to the new push. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


What Is Constitutional Conservatism? (Yuval Levin,  Nov. 28, 2011, National Review)

[W]hereas the progressives championed both technocratic government and direct democracy, the Constitution stands opposed to both. As the framers saw it, both populist and technocratic politics were expressions of a modern hubris about the capacity of human beings -- be it of the experts or of the people as a whole -- to make just the right governing decisions. The Constitution is built upon a profound skepticism about the ability of any political arrangement to overcome the limitations of human reason and human nature, and so establishes a system of checks to prevent sudden large mistakes while enabling gradual changes supported by a broad and longstanding consensus. Experts should not govern, nor should the people do so directly, but rather the people's representatives should govern in a system filled with mediating institutions and opposing interests -- a system designed to force us to see problems and proposed solutions from a variety of angles simultaneously and, as Alexander Hamilton puts it in Federalist 73, "to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws through haste, inadvertence, or design."
That such a system is far from populist should be obvious. In Federalist 63, James Madison says plainly that the constitutional architecture involves "the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity" from directly governing. The democratic elements of the Constitution are intended to be checks on the power of government, not expressions of trust in the wisdom of the public as a whole. And even as checks, these elements are imperfect. As Madison argues in Federalist 51, "A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary control on the government, but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."

But those precautions do not amount to the rule of experts. The framers were disdainful of the potential of technocratic know-it-alls whose abstract expertise was often of value only in what Hamilton calls, in Federalist 28, "the reveries of those political doctors whose sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction." And even men with expertise in administration should not be given too much power. In Federalist 68, Hamilton argues that, while good administration is very important, the idea that the best-administered regime is the best regime is a "political heresy." There is much more to government than administration.
Thus expert omniscience could not be trusted to check the excesses of popular passion, and public omniscience could not be trusted to check the excesses of expert arrogance. In the view of the framers, there is no omniscience; there is only imperfect humanity. We therefore need checks on all of our various excesses, and a system that forces us to think through important decisions as best we can. This may well be the essential insight of our constitutional system: Since there is no perfection in human affairs, any system of government has to account for the permanent imperfections of the people who are both governing and governed, and this is best achieved through constitutional forms that compel self-restraint and enable self-correction.
This emphasis on moderating forms - that is, the focus on arrangements that impose structure and restraint on political life -- is crucial, and it has always been controversial. Indeed, it is what troubled the progressives most of all about our system, and what troubled many other technocrats and populists before them. But as Alexis de Tocqueville noted a century before the New Deal, "this objection which the men of democracies make to forms is the very thing which renders forms so useful to freedom; for their chief merit is to serve as a barrier between the strong and the weak." And he added, with his usual prescience, "Forms become more necessary in proportion as the government becomes more active and more powerful." In other words, we need them now more than ever.
The framers' formalism, with its humility about our knowledge and its limits on our power, is at work not only in our political institutions but in our economic system too. American free enterprise, like our constitutional system, establishes rules of the game that restrain the powerful and create competition that helps balance freedom and progress. And in economic policy, just as in politics more generally, that framework is undermined by a populism that wants to take from the wealthy and by a technocratic mindset according to which Washington should pick winners and losers. In economics and in politics, our defense against these dangers has to start with an adherence to procedural rules and forms that restrain the hubris of the powerful -- defending markets, not coddling big business or soaking the rich; defending the Constitution, not advancing technocracy or populism.
It is no surprise that we find the same pattern in our economic and our constitutional debates. In fact, the humble assumption of permanent human imperfections and the humble desire for forms that might prevent large mistakes are at the core of the greatest achievements of the modern age: of constitutional democracy, of the free market, of the scientific method. Yet the most ardent champions of liberalism in our politics have too often failed to see the power of such humility, instead articulating a liberalism rooted in utopian ambitions or their mirror image -- naïve resentments -- all dressed up as a theory of justice.
The difference between these two kinds of liberalism -- constitutionalism grounded in humility about human nature and progressivism grounded in utopian expectations -- is a crucial fault line of our politics, and has divided the friends of liberty since at least the French Revolution. It speaks to two kinds of views about just what liberal politics is. the struggle between the Anglospheric view, that a just system requires that all men be on equal footing within the forms (liberty), and the French insistence that justice requires that equality of results for all men result from the forms (security).

November 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Why Doesn't No Mean No? (JOE NOCERA, 11/21/11, NY Times)

After Genentech appealed, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner, affirmed the decision on Friday in a ruling that would seem, on its face, unassailable. She essentially said that F.D.A. decisions had to be driven by science, and the science wasn't there to support Genentech's desire to market Avastin as a breast cancer drug.

Yet there was an immediate outcry. Some breast cancer patients, convinced that the drug was helping them stay alive, condemned the ruling. That's certainly understandable. Less understandable was the reaction from conservatives, who cast the F.D.A. decision as an example of the nanny state making decisions that more properly belonged to doctors and their patients. The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Dr. Hamburg's decision a "blunt assertion of regulatory power" and described Avastin as "potentially life-saving," which it most certainly is not.

The strangest reaction, though, has come from the nation's health insurers and the administrators of Medicare. Despite the clear evidence of Avastin's lack of efficacy in treating breast cancer, they have mostly agreed to continue paying whenever doctors prescribe it "off label" for breast cancer patients. Avastin, by the way, costs nearly $90,000 a year.

The reason they are doing so is obvious: the science notwithstanding, no company wants to be cast as so heartless that it would deprive a seriously ill cancer patient of a drug that might offer hope, however slim.

It's magical-thinking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Historian Hunts for Motives Behind Climate Change Doubt-Mongering: A Q&A with Naomi Oreskes (Rae Tyson, 11/21/11, The Daily Climate)

Q:  Are you frustrated by the continuing debate over the reality of climate change?

A: Yes, because some people are now saying, we should just accept that climate change is happening and not worry about the cause.  Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases and that is why we need to do something about them. So it's time we rolled up our sleeves and got to work doing what we know in our hearts we need to do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Choice: Squabble or Govern (Robert Samuelson, 11/21/11, RCP)

[T]he committee's Republicans opened the door to compromise by abandoning -- as they should have -- opposition to tax increases. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed a tax "reform" that would raise income taxes by $250 billion over a decade. First, he would impose across-the-board reductions of most itemized deductions and use the resulting revenue gains to cut all tax rates. Next, he would adjust the rates for the top two brackets so that they'd be high enough to produce the $250 billion. All the tax increase would fall on people in the top brackets.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin called Toomey's proposal a "breakthrough." With good reason: It came from a "no new taxes, over my dead body" Republican who had signed Grover Norquist's pledge against any tax increases. But the details of Toomey's plan are murky, and many Democrats claim that it would cut taxes for the rich. Nor did Democrats respond with an equal concession: a willingness to deal with Social Security and Medicare.

As is known, these "entitlements" are the central cause of long-term budget deficits. From 2005 to 2035, their cost will nearly double as a share of national income, projects the Congressional Budget Office. How big a government do we want? What's the balance of fairness between young and old? How much should other programs be reduced or taxes raised? Many Democrats duck the fundamental policy questions and reject any benefit cuts.

Only President Obama can start such a debate. He has the bully pulpit, but he hasn't used it. why would anyone think he'd suddenly start leading from the front?

On the other hand, the shape of the deal is so obvious to everyone it doesn't require much leadership at this point, just a few public statements to provide cover for both parties, the GOP on taxes and Democrats on entitlements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The news forecast (Tom Cheshire, 10 November 11, Wired)

A year earlier, on January 12, 2010, a tech startup posted an article on its blog: "Yemen heading for disaster in 2010?" The author, "Ninja Shoes", wrote: "Based on the information we've gathered, Yemen will likely experience food shortages and torrential floods in 2010. This combination of natural disasters, propensity for famine and malnutrition, and challenges with Islamic radicals and terrorists, make it a hot spot for conflict in the future."

The 20 employees of Recorded Future aren't foreign-policy experts. They aren't traders either, but if you'd started using Recorded Future's predictions to buy US stocks on January 1, 2009, you would have made an annual return of 56.69 per cent. (The S&P 500 had an annualised return of 17.22 per cent over the same period.) Between May 13 and August 5 this year, as markets behaved with vertiginous abandon, their strategy returned 10.4 per cent; in contrast, the S&P 500 lost 9.9 per cent of its value. They're data experts: computer scientists, statisticians and experts in linguistics. And in the data, they think, lies the future.

All Recorded Future's predictions, whatever the field, are based on publicly available information -- news articles, government sites, financial reports, tweets -- fed into the company's own algorithms. The result, it claims, is a "new tool that allows you to visualise the future" -- one that is changing how government intelligence agencies gather information and how giant hedge funds place bets. On its website, Recorded Future states: "We don't grant interviews and we don't issue press releases." But behind closed doors, the company is developing the technology that has been described be one tech blog as an "information weapon".

The company, cofounded by Christopher Ahlberg, an entrepreneur who sold his first business for $195 million and served in the Swedish special forces, has $8.5 million in funding. Its first two investors were Google and the CIA.

The closed model of intelligence agencies was a mistake, a bigger one now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


On Conservatism and the Quest for Purity (Peter Wehner    11.21.2011, Commentary)

In his book Keeping the Republic, Mitch Daniels relays an event from his tenure as Indiana governor that illustrates a wider political reality.

Governor Daniels set out to reduce Indiana's property taxes and spent weeks examining all the options, including abolishing property taxation completely. But according to Daniels, "In order to wipe out local property taxes totally, we would have had to more than double the state sales tax, or double the state income tax, or some equally onerous combination of the two." The costs of complete abolition of property taxes "would have crushed our state's rapidly improving status as an attractive place to invest and create jobs," Daniels writes.

No matter. A well-organized, anti-tax citizens' group, Let Us Vote, demanded total elimination of the tax. The Daniels administration showed them the mathematical impracticality of their approach and the flawed assumptions they were embracing. The Daniels plan slashed property taxes by more than one-third, to what would prove to be the lowest level in America. Nevertheless, Let Us Vote became the loudest lobby against the reform.

Daniels eventually prevailed, enacting the largest tax cut in state history. But for a time, according to Daniels, "this signal achievement was endangered by good folks who not only agreed with our low-tax, limited-spending policies, but agreed so strongly that they almost derailed any progress at all."

What are we to make of this and similar episodes?

For one thing, such clashes are a long-standing feature of political life. During his presidency, even the now-iconic Ronald Reagan was considered a sell-out by some prominent movement conservatives. For example, Richard Viguerie, an influential figure in what was then called the "New Right," was a persistent critic of Reagan, going so far as declaring in 1987, "In other important matters he [Reagan] has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets." That same year Howard Phillips, the founder and chairman of Conservative Caucus, called Reagan "a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda."

The Liberal Misappropriation of a Conservative President (Steven F Hayward, October 2011, Commentary)

Of all the unlikely developments in American politics over the last two decades, the most astonishing is this: liberals suddenly love Ronald Reagan. They have taken to celebrating certain virtues they claim Reagan possessed--virtues they believe are absent from the conservative body politic today--while looking back with nostalgia at the supposed civility of the political struggles of the 1980s.

"There's something there I miss today," mused the former Democratic staffer and longtime talk-show host Chris Matthews in January about the relationship between Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, the most powerful Democrat in Washington during Reagan's first term. Matthews dreamily evoked a time when Reagan and O'Neill had drinks together, swapped Irish stories, slapped backs, and, they say, cut deals with a minimum of personal rancor--as opposed to the ugly relations between the two parties today.

Even more notable is the fact that Reagan has become a model for presidential governance for . . . Barack Obama. Time, having proclaimed Obama to be the second coming of FDR in January 2009, abandoned that image in favor of declaring an Obama "bromance" with Reagan in January 2011. The White House's press office revealed that Obama had read Lou Cannon's biography of Reagan over the 2010 Christmas holidays, a choice that might once have seemed as incongruous as John F. Kennedy reading up on Calvin Coolidge. Obama even wrote an homage to Reagan for USA Today in February at the time of Reagan's centennial birthday. "Reagan recognized the American people's hunger for accountability and change," the president said, thereby conferring on Reagan two of his most cherished political slogans.

All in all, say Time's Michael Duffy and Michael Scherer, "there is no mistaking Obama's increasing reliance on his predecessor's career as a helpful template for his own." After all, Reagan governed during a punishing recession with horrific unemployment, both of which led to a bad midterm election for his party and approval ratings in the 30s--only to win a 49-state landslide reelection. It is only natural for Obama and his political team to look at Reagan's example to glean lessons about how they might achieve a similar result in 2012.

We can start with Obama's use of Reagan's words about "raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share," which the current president deployed to place Reagan's imprimatur on his own support for tax increases to reduce the deficit. Reagan spoke those words about a budget deal struck with Congress before the 1982 elections. That deal, which came to be known as TEFRA (the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act), featured what was then, to date, the largest tax hike in American history.

It's too bad that Mr. Obama isn't actually emulating The Gipper, which would consist of giving the GOP all the cuts they want in exchange for mere promises of hikes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Why Demographic Shifts on Religion and Marriage Could Doom the Democratic Party (Michael Medved, Nov 22, 2011, Daily Beast)

New polling from the Gallup Organization includes striking details that ought to alarm the administration and its allies. For the first time, substantial majorities of those who describe themselves as Democrats in the age of Obama say they are unmarried and irreligious--in a nation that overwhelmingly values both marriage and religion. [...]

As a party overwhelmingly comprised of churchgoers and married people, the Republicans not only mirror the nation at large (where solid majorities are currently married and attend religious services at least monthly), but, more important, connect to nearly universal American aspirations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Hey Hey, Ho Ho, I-95 Has Got to Go: Goodbye, ugly elevated highway. Hello, pedestrian-friendly boulevard? (Brian Howard   11/21/2011, The Philly Post)

 If there's one thing that everyone in the Philadelphia area can agree on (along with the fact that Andy Reid still can't play-call his way out of a paper bag), it's that the stretch of I-95 that runs through the city really, really blows.

If you live and work in Philly, it's the enduring urban-planning screw-up that's cut the city off from one of its two source rivers and that has thwarted development on Penn's Landing--the great white whale of Philadelphia politics--since not long after Penn landed. And if you're unlucky enough to commute to or from the 'burbs in the elevated perpetual traffic jam, it's the kick in the teeth that starts your workday and/or kick in the 'nads that ends it.

There's no way (yet!) to go back in time and right this cosmic wrong. But is it just crazy to imagine a future without the monolithic, immovable, angry-making behemoth?

There's at least one woman in Philly who's not only undaunted by the prospect, she's rounding up a posse. Her vision: to end Philly's I-95 misery once and for all--even if ending that misery takes decades.

The Big Dig has re-humanized Boston so radically it's natural for other cities to aspire towards similar improvement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Let's play Moneyball: It started as a conversation and became the book that changed baseball and other sports forever. As it becomes a movie, player turned statistics king Billy Beane and author Michael Lewis meet up where it all began - in Oakland, California (Simon Kuper, 11/11/11, Financial Times)

Innovation hurts. After Beane began using numbers to find players, the A's' scouts lost their lifelong purpose. In the movie, one of them protests to Pitt: "You are discarding what scouts have done for 150 years." That was exactly right. Similar fates had been befalling all sorts of lesser-educated American men for years, though the process is more noticeable now than it was in 2003 when Moneyball first appeared. The book, Lewis agrees, is partly "about the intellectualisation of a previously not intellectual job. This has happened in other spheres of American life. I think the reason I saw the story so quickly is, this is exactly what happened on Wall Street while I was there. You had the equivalent of the old school..."

"The fat mortgage traders at Salomon Brothers," I interject. (Declaration of interest: Liar's Poker explains so clearly what a bond is that it got me through my job interview at the FT in 1994.)

"Yes," says Lewis, "who had high-school degrees from New Jersey and traded by their gut. But they are replaced by hairless wonders from MIT."

Hairless wonders like the young Lewis?

"I wasn't as bright as they were, but, yes, when I came out of the training programme at Salomon Brothers it was pretty clear I was going into the cutting-edge group filled with the people from MIT, as a lesser light, a salesman rather than a trader.

"The intellectuals had an advantage because the securities had got more complicated. The Black-Scholes options pricing model had been invented [a mathematical formula for pricing options developed by two professors, which helped kickstart trading in derivatives]; the guys from New Jersey didn't understand it. And so there was never any question about who was going to win. It was quick and ruthless. The old guys just shuffled off to less and less important parts of the business and that sort of person wasn't hired again."

In baseball, though, the old scouts did find a new purpose. Lewis says, "I never thought scouts were totally pointless, I thought they were just looking for the wrong things. I told Billy: 'If I were you I'd hire a bunch of female journalists who go and find out about the lives of these players. Find out if they're alcoholics, that stuff.'"
"For years Moneyball worked for Oakland. The A's won more games than they lost from 1999 to 2006"

To a degree, this happened. Today a laptop evaluates a player's quality, and the scouts evaluate his personality. They are needed now for their soft skills. [...]

We chat about Moneyball's inexorable spread through all sports. I tell him about the England cricket team's recent victory in the Test series with India. England's coach, Andy Flower, is a devotee of Moneyball. Before the series his statistician, Nathan "Numbers" Leamon, carried out a Moneyball-style analysis of India's great batsman Sachin Tendulkar. "Numbers" discovered that Tendulkar struggles early in his innings to score runs on his "off side" - that is, when the ball is bowled on the side of his bat rather than his legs. In the 22 years that Tendulkar has played Test cricket, nobody had previously spotted this. England bowled to Tendulkar's off side early in his innings, and repeatedly dismissed him cheaply.

Beane is amazed that cricket has only just started doing this analysis. On the shelf behind him, he finds the A's' statistical file for their recent routine series against the Detroit Tigers. The file is perhaps 40 pages thick. Beane leafs to the pages for one of the Tigers' batters, Alex Avila. A chart shows exactly how Avila has fared in each tiny section of his strike zone, and how that varies depending on the phase of his at-bat. The chart looks, as Beane likes to say, like a piece of analysis done at a hedge fund. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?: If every Democratic president disappoints, maybe there's something wrong with our expectations. Tough love from a fellow traveler. (Jonathan Chait, Nov 20, 2011, New York)

It is odd that Bill Clinton's imagined role as ass-kicking economic savior has become the object of such extensive liberal fantasy. We don't have to speculate as to what Clinton would have done if Republicans had blocked his economic stimulus. It actually happened. Clinton had campaigned promising a stimulus bill to alleviate widespread economic pain, with unemployment at 7.5 percent at the start of his term. Like Obama, Clinton needed a handful of Republican senators to pass it (Obama needed two Republican votes to break a filibuster, Clinton three). Clinton's proposed stimulus was $19.5 billion. Unable to break a Republican filibuster, Clinton offered to pare it down to $15.4 billion. Republicans killed it anyway, creating an image of a Clinton administration in disarray.

Certainly, the circumstances faced by Clinton were different. (For one thing, the recession was far less deep and passed its worst point shortly after he took office, making the case for stimulus less urgent.) Still, nothing in this episode suggests Clinton possessed any special communicative or legislative skill that would have enabled him or his wife, had either held office in 2009, to pass a larger stimulus than the $787 billion bill Obama signed.

Bill Clinton's election, following a dozen years of Republican presidencies, ushered in buoyant hopes of renewal. But liberals experienced his presidency as immediate and almost continuous deflation and cynicism. Clinton did enjoy one major triumph in his first year, when he passed a budget bill that raised the top tax rate, expanded the earned-income tax credit, created a new national-service program for graduates, and reformed other parts of the budget. This was the progressive apogee of the Clinton administration. Liberals at the time viewed it as a sad half-measure. The focus was on deficit reduction, not public investment, and each iteration of the legislation that worked its way through the congressional machinery emerged less inspiring than the last. "The Senate's machinations on President Clinton's budget plan have left many Democratic House members feeling angry and betrayed," noted a New York Times editorial.

The rest of Clinton's first two years consisted of a demoralizing procession of debacles and retreats. A series of Clinton appointments--Lani Guinier, Zoe Baird--came under conservative fire and were withdrawn in a panic. He steered his agenda toward right-of-center goals, like the North American Free Trade Agreement and a crime bill, serving only to alienate his liberal allies without dampening hysterical attacks from conservatives and the business lobby. Health-care reform collapsed entirely, in part because liberals refused to support a compromise final measure. Six months into Clinton's presidency, after he had abandoned his effort to integrate gays into the military, Bob Herbert summarized what had already settled as the liberal narrative: "The disappointment and disillusionment with President Clinton are widespread ... He doesn't seem to understand that much of the disappointment and disillusionment is because he tries so hard to be liked by everyone." Hardly anybody contested that portrait.

After Republicans swept the midterm elections, Clinton moved further rightward. He famously declared that "the era of big government is over" and brought in reptilian operator Dick Morris--not yet the right-wing conspiracy-monger seen on Fox News these days, but distinctly right of center--as his chief political adviser. He signed a welfare-reform bill containing such Draconian provisions that several liberals resigned from his administration in protest.

All of the things that made Bill Clinton unpopular with liberals made him popular with voters.  But he had the advantage of having run to the Right in '92, so it seemed he was being summoned back to himself. 

Mr. Obama ran on nothing, so he could have governed from the Right from the git-go, but shifting now, while helpful politically, would only make him more troubling personally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Saudi Arabia poised to become solar powerhouse (Steve Hargreaves, 11/21/11, CNNMoney)

The reason is mostly economic. The Saudis currently generate over 50% of their electricity by burning oil, which can consume up to an eighth of the country's total oil output. [...]

"This is eating into the Saudis' ability to export oil," said Logan Goldie-Scot, lead analyst for the Middle East and North Africa at the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

New Energy Finance estimates that given the projected price for both oil and solar panels, the Saudis stand to make 11% return on their money if they make big investments in solar power.

"Saudi Arabia has come around to the idea that this makes economic sense," said Goldie-Scot.

November 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


Poll: 'Occupy' movement fails to capture Americans' interest (Douglas Stanglin, USA TODAY)

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows that the "Occupy" movement has failed to capture the attention of a majority of Americans, indicating either ambivalence toward it or lack of interest.

The poll finds that 56% of Americans surveyed are neither supporters nor opponents and 59% say they don't know enough to have an opinion about the movement's goals.

The survey, however, does show an increase from 20% to 31% in disapproval of the way the protests are being conducted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


A Tax Code for Tomorrow: We need to encourage investment, not penalize it. (Josh Barro, Autumn 2011, City Journal)

A better tax-reform plan would cut tax rates on capital, rather than simply cutting tax rates broadly. A key principle of this approach: all income would be taxed only once, so that people's and businesses' decisions would be distorted as little as possible.

There are a few ways of achieving such neutrality. One, recommended by staff at the Treasury Department in the 1990s, is the adoption of a comprehensive business income tax (CBIT). Under this system, businesses would no longer be allowed to deduct their interest expenses from their taxable income, but individual investors and bondholders--the people ultimately receiving that business income, whether from stocks or from bonds--wouldn't have to pay taxes on it. So the money would be taxed just once. Further, because the CBIT would apply equally to corporate debt and corporate equity, it would remove companies' incentive to borrow too much. However, a CBIT would make it impossible to tax capital income progressively: since the single tax would be paid at the corporate level, wealthier shareholders and bondholders couldn't be made to pay more.

Another option, widely used in other Western countries, is an "imputation-credit" system. Corporations would still pay income taxes, but those who received dividends from those corporations would then deduct the corporate taxes from their taxable income. In many cases, such a rule is the equivalent of eliminating taxes on dividends.

A third option would be to stop taxing income entirely and to tax consumption instead. New York University professor David Bradford has suggested a system called the "X tax," in which both businesses and individuals would pay an income tax--but individuals, crucially, would pay no tax on interest, dividends, or capital gains. Since people can do only two things with their income--invest it or spend it--a government that taxes income without taxing capital is imposing the equivalent of a consumption tax. The businesses, meanwhile, would pay taxes on the revenue that they took in from customers--again, this would be a consumption tax--but subtract from their taxable income whatever they bought from other businesses, as well as what they paid their employees. Though its operation is significantly different, the base of the X tax is the same as that of a value-added tax (VAT). But unlike with a VAT, the government could levy tax at lower rates for lower-wage individual earners, introducing progressivity and potentially drawing some Democratic support to the plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Not the BEST way to debate climate: A study prompted by 'Climategate' has been held up as proof that sceptics are wrong. The truth is far murkier. (Ben Pile, 11/21/11, spiked)

So what does the BEST study really reveal according to sceptics, and how has it changed things in the post-Climategate world? Montford tells me that BEST 'doesn't really change anything'. For Montford, Climategate simply revealed a group of people 'just being civil servants and trying to hide the fact that they're not doing much' and who have 'commercial incentives to keep everything under wraps'. There is, in fact, little dispute about the temperature changes over the past few decades.

BEST merely confirmed what most sceptics agreed was probably happening anyway. Nonetheless, the BEST story was widely reported as representing a meaningful end to the climate debate. Muller had made ambiguous comments, which were amplified by an incautious sub-editor. A phantom news story appeared out of an uncontroversial study. Journalists were reporting from inside their own heads, not from the real world. And that is an interesting phenomenon, and one which needs some explanation.

Complex debates are reduced to simple, moral stories of 'scientists versus deniers', in part because of the shortcomings of news organisations and their journalists' attachments to the debate. Anxieties about the end of the world give moral orientation to commentators. Taking a stand to 'save the planet' elevates journalists who, without the narrative of possible climate disaster, would quite probably struggle to overcome mediocrity and define a sense of purpose for themselves. It looks like bravery, but it is merely vacuity that drives sensationalism.

However, vapid journalism - 'churnalism' - is not the whole story. The controversy generated by the treatment of BEST's result speaks volumes about wider and unrealistic expectations of science. Politicians, activists and scientists are as vulnerable as journalists to the idea that science can supply them with uncorrupted objectivity and unambiguous instruction. Given that Muller himself didn't seem able to supply clarity to the debate - in spite of the science - it is no surprise that arguments downstream have even greater difficulty getting the story straight. In this case, science, rather than shedding light on the material world, obscures the debate.

Climategate, and other events in late 2009, such as the failure of the climate-change summit in Copenhagen to find a successor to the Kyoto protocol, revealed that too much had been invested in science. Science is, after all, produced by humans prone to error and vice. Climate scientists had refused to reveal their data or show their workings, and several alarming claims about climate change, such as the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers, were found to be groundless.

This would have all been without consequence had there been more circumspection about the role of science. But rather than reflect on such expectations, the BEST project aimed to reproduce the science with virtue, with 'transparency'. It made no difference, though, because before it had even been published, BEST became a peg on to which the same old prejudices, myths and politics were hung. BEST came to 'vindicate climate science', exonerate climate scientists and force 'sceptics' to concede that the Earth had warmed. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


'Arab League plan violates Syria's sovereignty' (REUTERS, 11/20/2011)
An Arab League plan to send a monitoring mission to Syria compromises the country's sovereignty but Damascus has not rejected the mission, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said on Sunday.

Moualem told reporters in the Syrian capital that the proposed mission has "pervasive jurisdiction that reaches the level of violating Syrian sovereignty" and said he would send the Arab League a letter with questions about its role. is not sovereign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Imperial Overstretch: Is A Bloated Defense Budget Weakening the U.S.? (Joseph Lazzaro, 11/20/11, IB Times)

Yale University History Professor Paul Kennedy perhaps best demonstrated the link between too much military spending and national decline in his seminal work, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" (Random House: 1987). In it, Kennedy argued, among other tenets, that the relative strength between the major powers in the world never remains constant, and that, repeatedly, a great power has thought it could engage in military adventures -- extend itself beyond its ability to maintain those commitments, and neglect its economy, but the result has been empire decline.

It's the right argument, but at the wrong time, again.  We're about to get another, and much longer term, peace dividend.  And not just because of recouping the military waste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Palestinian president to seek unity government deal with Hamas (Phoebe Greenwood, 11/20/11,

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will meet the Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, in Cairo this week to agree details of a new unity government, hoping to close a six-year schism between the political factions that has separated the West Bank from Gaza.

The meeting is scheduled to take place in Cairo on Friday. A spokesperson for the prime minister, Salam Fayyad, confirmed on Sunday he would resign his position should the Fatah and Hamas factions agree to reconcile.

It's a healthy step, but they need to unilaterally declare nationhood next.

November 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 PM


'Fake Doctor' Oneal Ron Morris Arrested for Illegal, Lethal Butt Injections (Nadine DeNinno, November 19, 2011, IB Times)

Oneal Ron Morris, a 30-year-old transgender woman from Miami Gardens, was arrested on Friday after an ongoing investigation by police and the Florida Department of Health.

According to the police report, one victim in May 2010 underwent a procedure with Morris, who injected cement, tire sealant "Fix a Flat," mineral oil and super glue into the buttocks of her patient, sealing the incision with super glue.
Cue the whining about Obamacare rationing these vital procedures in the future....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Spanish election: convincing victory for People's party (Giles Tremlett, 11/20/11,

The conservative opposition People's party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy have won a clear majority in Spain's general election.

With over 90% of the votes from the election counted, the centre-right PP won 186 seats compared to 154 in the last legislature, while the Socialists plummeted from 169 to 110, their worst performance ever.

Although the 56-year-old is an apostle of deficit control and liberalisation, he has been deliberately vague about his plans so as not to frighten off voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


"The Paradox of Choice": We have never been this free--and this conflicted. Psychologist Barry Schwartz talks with Lars Mensel about the downside of choice, and the silver lining to the economic downturn. (Lars Mensel, 11/14/11, European)

The European: How did you get into researching choice and decision making?

Schwartz: For many years, I have been interested in the hold that the ideology of free market, economics has on people throughout the developed Western world. Why is it that everyone thinks that it's a miracle of human intervention? I concluded that one of its principle attractions is that it seems to cater to the desire for freedom. That's the most important thing about it: nobody tells you what to do, nobody tells you what to buy. There's no other way to arrange things where that kind of freedom is nearly as substantial. The question then is: are people actually liberated by all this freedom? A study came out more than ten years ago, that actually showed that when you give people too much choice, instead of being liberated, they get paralyzed. That study has generated many many follow-up studies, that indicate that this is really quite a pervasive phenomenon, and it seemed to me that this undermined the principle justification for organizing everything around competitive markets. Even if your aspiration is to enhance human freedom, this doesn't seem to be the way to do that.

The European: Yet modern times and Western prosperity has enabled us to do just about anything we want. What is the downside?

Schwartz: It seems fabulous in prospect and I can easily see why people embrace this with such enthusiasm. Not just choice when it comes to the stuff you buy, but choice when it comes to how you live. There's no canonical form of intimate relations--you get to decide, and you get to change your mind. You're not shackled the way your parents or your grandparents were, what could be better? It just turns out that when you give people this kind of unconstrained opportunity to reinvent themselves, they don't know what to do. Or if they do it, they look over their shoulders, convinced that they've made the wrong decisions, made the wrong career move, the wrong romantic choices and so on. So you are plagued with doubt, you are always dissatisfied with whatever you've chosen because just around the corner there's a better option. And I think we see this in the explosion of people seeking psychotherapy. In this land of milk and honey of unimagined freedom and affluence, everybody seems to be miserable.

The European: Many will confirm that even the most mundane decisions can be a burden. Is it the expectation to make something of our lives that weighs down on us?

Schwartz: Not just something: that we make something spectacular out of our lives. When choice was limited, I think people's aspirations and expectations were limited. And so you could live a decent life and feel good about it. But living a decent life just isn't good enough anymore. Why would you settle for decent when anything is possible?

This becomes important as we move towards more Third Way reforms--like personal SS accounts, HSAs, etc.--where we'll want to offer a discrete set of choices based primarily on the age-appropriate risk for the ciotizen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Syrian Ba'ath party building 'hit by rockets' in Damascus (Reuters,  20 November 2011)

At least two rocket-propelled grenades have hit a ruling Ba'ath party building in Damascus, residents said, in the first insurgent attack reported inside the Syrian capital since the eight-month uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad.

W should have taken care of this rather than occupying Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


The Dane Attraction: The Killing Season Two Previewed (Terry Staunton , November 18th, 2011, Quietus)

If the first two episodes of the new series are any indicator, it's going to be a plain deep red one this season, and unlikely to prove as big a talking point as its predecessor. Sarah Lund's chunky patterned sweater prompted acres of press coverage when UK audiences were introduced to The Killing in January, making it the most iconic crime fighter knitwear since Starsky's cardigan.

Not that the Danish detective's sartorial choices detracted too much from the task at hand; it was merely a sensible and functional item of clothing to ward off the bitterness of a Scandinavian winter while a pensive Lund (Sofie Grabol) unravelled the puzzles surrounding the murder of schoolgirl Nanna Birk Larssen. Job done? Can we move on to the stuff that matters now, please?

The first series of The Killing was a master class in how to make a slowburn whodunit; 20 hours of television littered with clues, curveballs, red herrings, criminal intrigue, police procedural confrontation, political scandal, viable suspects and grieving relatives. Nanna's death was merely the jumping-off point for a lattice weave of utterly human stories, played out against a cold and clinical geographical landscape, what more than one reviewer referred to as "bleak chic".

Forbrydelsen, along with other Scandi whodunits, harks back to a more artful age of crime drama. (Steven Baxter, 11/18/11, New Statesman)

What's so great about this latest piece of Scandi Crime fiction? Are we just interested in our Nordic cousins meandering around because it seems foreign and cerebral to us; a notch up from Midsomer Murders or the standard detective shows on our major channels? As someone once said to me, there are probably Scandinavians sitting down to a subtitled episode of New Tricks, marvelling at Dennis Waterman's subtle characterisation and the psychological pacing of the drama. But I think it goes beyond that: the Scandi shows like Wallander and The Killing hark back to a more exciting, more artful age of crime drama.

Look back at an old episode of Bergerac, for example, and you'll find the pacing is so different. Fires in the Fall, the fabled creepy Christmas special of 1986 is well worth a look (though don't watch it right before going to bed) for several reasons. The plot really takes time to get going, almost as if you're not going to turn it over after 10 seconds if you get bored. As well as that, shows went 30 or 40 minutes before anyone even got killed; it seems John Nettles had a lot less death to deal with in Jersey than he does in Midsomer, where the corpses stack up before every ad break.

What The Killing's first series combined, over 20 hour-long episodes, was a whodunit with a drama about the effect of the crime on those who were left behind, along with a political thriller. It was like 24, but without the torture porn and the need for explosions. No mean feat for a bit of Sunday night telly, but there it was. We had time to learn about the various suspects and characters, to rule them out and then think they might have done it after all. Who knew? No one knew. Even the actors didn't know.

Unusually, The Killing is written as the series is filmed, with the main writers taking account of the actors' interpretations and including them in future episodes.

The Killing: the cream of the crop of European detective drama: As Danish thriller The Killing returns to BBC Four, Neil Midgley asks what it is about the cops of Europe that has gripped the UK (Neil Midgley, 18 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

"We felt that people were bored - that you could see the recipe behind episodic cop shows," says Piv Bernth, the executive producer of The Killing. "So we decided to break that rhythm of storytelling. It was absolutely conscious to make one killing be followed over 20 episodes, to do it day by day."

That painstakingly slow pace, allowing each new lead in the case to be investigated in compelling detail, felt luxuriant to British viewers who are used to murders being solved in just one or two episodes. They also revelled in the attention that could be lavished on the bereaved family, whose grief was picked out in almost unbearable detail.

Such length and depth simply isn't possible in the crime drama made by the BBC or ITV, with runs of six or at most eight episodes the norm. American crime dramas, such as the CSI and the Law & Order franchises, churn out around 22 episodes a year but contain almost no development at all of the returning characters. Instead - for commercial reasons, because stand-alone episodes can be repeated ad infinitum and attract casual viewers each time - each week brings a new case.

All The Killing's episodes were shot, as only the Danes could, against the brooding backdrop of a dark, drizzly Copenhagen. "We tried to make a sort of 'TV noir', and that Copenhagen should have a big part in the story," says Bernth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Fraud Scandal Fuels Debate Over Practices of Social Psychology: Even legitimate researchers cut corners, some admit (Christopher Shea, 11/13/11, Chronicle of Higher Education)

The discovery that the Dutch researcher Diederik A. Stapel made up the data for dozens of research papers has shaken up the field of social psychology, fueling a discussion not just about outright fraud, but also about subtler ways of misusing research data. Such misuse can happen even unintentionally, as researchers try to make a splash with their peers--and a splash, maybe, with the news media, too. [...]

Even before the Stapel case broke, a flurry of articles had begun appearing this fall that pointed to supposed systemic flaws in the way psychologists handle data. But one methodological expert, Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, of the University of Amsterdam, added a sociological twist to the statistical debate: Psychology, he argued in a recent blog post and an interview, has become addicted to surprising, counterintuitive findings that catch the news media's eye, and that trend is warping the field.

"If high-impact journals want this kind of surprising finding, then there is pressure on researchers to come up with this stuff," says Mr. Wagenmakers, an associate professor in the psychology department's methodology unit.

Bad things happen when researchers feel under pressure, he adds--and it doesn't have to be Stapel-bad: "There's a slippery slope between making up your data and torturing your data."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


'Beckham experiment' shows signs of success as fans flock to MLS final (Guy Adams, 20 November 2011, Independent)

Question: What is the hottest ticket in LA this weekend? Answer: a seat just above the half way line of the Home Depot Center in Carson. Here, amid the smog and sprawl of Southern California, the local side will tonight bid for a little place in history: as national champions of a sport their fans call "soccer."

The final of MLS Cup, the US league's post-season playoffs, is the biggest game in the North American football calendar. This year, that actually seems to count for something. Tickets in the 30,000-seat stadium are long sold out, and on the secondary market, where US law permits sports tickets to be bought and sold, they were yesterday changing hands for between $150 and $350.

In a country that measures the worth of everything - particularly sports - in dollars and cents, that's a big deal.

Games already have higher attendance than the NHL and NBA and teams like KC and Seattle outdrew the local baseball franchises. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Older, Suburban and Struggling, 'Near Poor' Startle the Census (JASON DePARLE, ROBERT GEBELOFF and SABRINA TAVERNISE, 1!/19/11, NY Times)

Of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care.

Demographically, they look more like "The Brady Bunch" than "The Wire." Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. "These estimates defy the stereotypes of low-income families," Ms. Renwick said.

Among them is Phyllis Pendleton, a social worker with Catholic Charities in Washington, who proudly displays the signs of a hard-won middle-class life. She has one BlackBerry and two cars (both Buicks from the 1990s), and a $230,000 house that she, her husband and two daughters will move into next week.

Combined, she and her husband, a janitor, make about $51,000 a year, more than 200 percent of the official poverty line. But they lose about a fifth to taxes, medical care and transportation to work -- giving them a disposable income of about $40,000 a year.

Adjust the poverty threshold, as the new measure does, to $31,000 for the region's high cost of living, and Ms. Pendleton's income is 29 percent above the poverty line. That is to say, she is near poor.

Which is to deprive the concept of any meaning whatsoever.

November 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Reneging on Justice at Guantánamo (NY Times, 11/20/11)

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantánamo Bay prisoners who are not American citizens have the right of habeas corpus, allowing them to challenge the legality of their detention in federal court and seek release.

The power of the ruling, however, has been eviscerated by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The appellate court's wrongheaded rulings and analyses, which have been followed by federal district judges, have reduced to zero the number of habeas petitions granted in the past year and a half.

The Supreme Court must reject this willful disregard of its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, and it can do so by reviewing the case of Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif, a Yemeni citizen imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.

...if the Timesmen could explain by what stretch of the imagination habeas corpus could apply to someone who is not only not an American citizen but a captured enemy to boot.  The first proposition is dubious enough, but the second is explicitly repudiated by the Constitution: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Burma poised to free jailed activists as it edges closer to democracy (Tracy McVeigh and Joseph Allchin,  19 November 2011, The Guardian)

There is no "concrete" reason why hundreds of Burma's political prisoners could not be released without delay, according to a spokesman for the country's authoritarian regime.

The pace of the Burmese "spring" appeared to accelerate this weekend as the regime revealed plans to make peace with ethnic rebels, release more prisoners and ease state censorship.

It came as Hillary Clinton arrived in the country for a two-day visit, the first by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years. Praising reforms made since the March elections when the military gave way to a civilian one, albeit in a parliament stacked with former generals, she urged more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


An open letter to Christian leaders in Jerusalem (DAVID J. MICHAELS, 11/19/2011, Jerusalem Post)

I write with a request: for your forgiveness.

As a representative of the oldest Jewish communal organization - B'nai B'rith International, which includes members of many backgrounds in over 50 countries, including Israel, where we have been present in Jerusalem since 1888 - I feel obliged to express my revulsion over new reported incidents of spitting at Christian clergy in certain areas of the Holy City. I feel especially obliged to do so as an Orthodox Jew.

Though these acts are committed by a decided minority of young, ostensibly highly observant yeshiva students, the fact that many leaders and seminarians identifiable as Christian have experienced them compels me to ensure you know that Jews overwhelmingly find this behavior disgraceful and intolerable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Spanish Right heads for biggest election victory in decades (Fiona Govan, 19 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

Mariano Rajoy, 56, the man expected to become the next prime minister of Spain, called on financial markets to grant a period of grace to turn around the economy, after a week that saw Spain's borrowing rate edge closer to the critical 7 per cent.

"Those who win should have a minimum margin, more than half an hour" to enact swift reforms, he said Friday on the last day of campaigning, amid market pressure that treatened to make Spain the next victim of the Euro crisis.

Polls have consistently placed the Popular Party (PP) 15 points ahead of the ruling Socialists, but a mid-week survey conducted by Sigma Dos predicted an even greater lead, with the PP securing 48 per cent of the vote against 28 per cent for the PSOE. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


MODERNIZING CONSERVATISM (Steven F. Hayward, Fall 2001, Breakthrough)

Which brings us to the third major political fact of our age: the welfare state, or entitlement state, is here to stay. It is a central feature of modernity itself. We are simply not going back to a system of "rugged individualism" in a minimalist "night watchman" state; there is not even a plurality in favor of this position. A spectrum of conservative and libertarian thinkers acknowledge this, though this perception has not penetrated the activist ranks. Back in 1993, Irving Kristol called for a "conservative welfare state" on the pragmatic grounds that "the welfare state is with us, for better or worse, and that conservatives should try to make it better rather than worse." National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru noted in 2006, "there is no imaginable political coalition in America capable of sustaining a majority that takes a reduction of the scope of the federal government as one of its central tasks." William Voegeli, author of the most trenchant critique of the welfare state (Never Enough) since at least Charles Murray, concludes, "No conservative, either in the trenches or the commentariat, has yet devised a strategy for politicians to kick deep dents in the side of the middle-class entitlement programs without forfeiting a presidency or a congressional majority." And libertarian economist Tyler Cowen faces the reality squarely: "The welfare state is here to stay, whether we like it or not."

Given these realities, how must conservatism revive itself for the 21st century? For starters, we must admit that starve-the-beast has been a spectacular flop. Reagan argued, both as governor and as president, for constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget, limiting spending to a fixed proportion of personal income, and imposing a two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes. These reforms -- even if they could be passed through the difficult amendment process -- might have some effect, but their record on the state level suggests conservatives will be disappointed. The two-thirds vote requirement for budgets and taxes, along with the balanced budget requirement, has not kept California's welfare state from slipping into the abyss. Colorado's constitutional spending limit was breached and amended by the most conservative governor in the state's history, Bill Owens, because it proved defective in ways important to conservatives.

Requiring the American people to actually pay for all of the government they receive is, as Niskanen and others have convincingly argued, the most effective way to limit its growth. Right now the anti-tax bias of the Right results in shifting costs onto future generations who do not vote in today's elections, and enables liberals to defend against spending restraints very cheaply. Instead of starving the beast, conservatives should serve the check.

While increasing taxes will likely feel painful to many conservatives, there are innovative ways to reform the tax code that might be palatable while also increasing revenues. One area of tax policy where there is some room for maneuver would be family tax policy. While many households today -- perhaps half or more -- do not pay any federal income tax, all working households pay payroll taxes. One conservative idea that liberals ought to like well enough is to expand the current $1,500 per child tax credit to something closer to $5,000, which would wipe out a large portion of payroll tax liability and raise household after-tax income considerably. The revenue loss could be made up through broader tax reform that reduces deductions, credits, and tax breaks both for individuals and corporations. A wholesale pro-growth tax reform that incorporates both features might even allow for lower marginal rates along the lines of the 1986 Tax Reform Act. For conservatives this would be a pro-family initiative that would not involve the usual culture war issues. And this targeted tax cut should appeal to liberals as well, who generally disapprove of tax cuts that reward the rich but ought to be willing to support tax reform that would predominantly benefit working families.

Next, conservatism must learn from its success in reforming welfare that acknowledging the reality of social problems is not the same as agreeing with liberals about their solutions. Keeping the welfare state solvent as the baby boomers crash the rope line of eligibility will require tax increases far larger than Americans are likely willing to bear. One might almost say that the welfare state is the next bubble waiting to collapse. There is one obvious compromise policy mechanism for reforming and securing entitlement programs: means testing. Some conservatives, as well as the Paul Ryan plan, have embraced this in principle while others fear the premise embedded in it of recognizing the permanent legitimacy of the welfare state.

Activists in both parties fear splitting their own constituencies. Conservatives fear agreeing to such terms will mean accepting a losing position over the long run. Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute worries:

    There is no evidence that if conservatives agree not to try to roll back the welfare state, liberals will agree to restrain its growth. More likely, conservatives will simply become involved in a bidding war, in which they will inevitably look like the less caring party.12

Liberals worry that embracing means testing for entitlements will weaken them as totem of a broader universal social contract and, by making them "poor peoples" programs, will lead to an eventual decline in public support and to their ultimate demise.

These seemingly reasonable fears of both camps are overblown. The experience of welfare reform suggests that there has been no "race to the bottom" among the states to eliminate basic assistance programs, though, to be sure, many have been severely constricted in the current fiscal crisis. But the current fiscal crisis on the state level should be seen as a harbinger of the future for the federal government if nothing is done. The force of fiscal gravity is virtually certain to compel means testing at some future date. For liberals, the means thresholds are likely to be more generous the earlier they are calculated; for conservatives, the tax increases are likely to be lower today than if postponed into the future.

Another area ripe for conservative reappraisal is the environment. Conservatives who sensibly dislike both the centralized regulation of most environmental policy and the untethered apocalypticism of much of the environmental movement have tended to respond with a non sequitur: the environment has mostly become a cause of the Left, therefore environmental problems are either phony or are not worth considering. To be sure, many environmental problems have been overestimated, and the proposed remedies are problematic from several points of view, but conservatives, with only a handful of exceptions, have ceased sustained reflection on how to assess environmental problems seriously, or how to craft non-bureaucratic and non-coercive remedies for many genuine problems that require solutions.

The tortured course that has led to the extreme polarization of environmental issues is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that this polarization has been deleterious to both the aims of the environmental movement -- which has allowed environmentalism to become so strongly associated with the aims of the Left as to be no longer worth conservatives competing for -- and the long-term political viability of American conservatism, which has at this point almost entirely conceded areas of sustained public concern (environmental health, the provision of parks, and the protection of wildlife and scenic landscapes) to its political opponents.

There is a small subculture on the Right, known as "free market environmentalism," that offers an alternate path toward environmental protection consistent with conservative principles, including respect for property rights, a strong preference for markets, and our congenital suspicion of government and regulation. The conservative movement would be well served to take those ideas more seriously.

Finally, conservatives must rethink their sweeping rejection of public investments in public goods such as science research and useful infrastructure. Once upon a time, conservatives supported large infrastructure projects, such as dams, water projects, the interstate highway system, and the Apollo project. It is generally forgotten now that President Reagan supported both the international space station and the superconducting supercollider. In fact, over the last 30 years, federal science research spending has tended to grow faster under Republican presidents than Democratic ones. To be sure, there is no small amount of government research and technology spending, including under Republican presidents, that is caught in the maw of rent-seeking behavior and ideological favoritism. Too often a favored pork barrel spending program is called "investment," degrading the worthy name and long-standing track record of true public investment. But this is hardly reason to dismiss out of hand, as many conservatives do, investments in truly public goods -- goods the private sector cannot or will not invest in, fearing the inability to capture their benefits.

Conservatives and liberals ought to be able to join hands on basic projects that modernize the infrastructure for roads, energy, and water. Efforts are needed to explore ways of building environmentally responsible water storage and delivery projects in the parched West that would reduce the political friction and economic cost of current water constraints. New roads and water projects could integrate market mechanisms that reduce waste and promote efficiency. And investments in energy should be made with an eye to making energy cheaper and cleaner, not in subsidizing longstanding liberal technological fetishes like high-speed rail or wind and solar energy.

Put a little more bluntly, the Right doesn't care about the end of providing social welfare, but the citizenry does, while the Left doesn't like capitalism, not even as the means to provide that welfare, but the citizenry does.  This being a republic, those two wings don't get much choice in the matter then.  The citizenry will have a social welfare system and  it will be paid for via market mechanisms.  Modern Anglospheric politics is just a matter of which party is most able to accept that reality at any given moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


If you're male and people don't know what to get you for Xmas:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Six Ideas to Revive Housing that Congress Might Actually Support (Stan Humphries, 11/18/11, Forbes)

Go bigger on refinancing Fannie/Freddie mortgages. In a speech in Las Vegas on October 24, President Obama promised that the Federal Housing Finance Agency would prod banks to give homeowners who are under water with their Fannie and Freddie mortgages an opportunity to refinance. I don't object to the President's plan. I'm just afraid it doesn't go far enough. Instead of helping only one million homeowners refinance their homes, we should try to help out the 16.5 million homeowners who are under water with their mortgages.

Columbia University professor Christopher Mayer proposes that the government consider giving homeowners who are current on their mortgages permission to refinance, regardless of their credit score. [...]

Grant visas to immigrants who buy U.S. homes. We've got an excess supply of homes in this country right now and not enough people who want to buy them. But we've got plenty of foreigners who'd love to get in on U.S. real estate, especially since home values are back to mid-2003 levels (and even worse in some markets). It's a match made in heaven. Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Lee (R-UT) have proposed legislation along these lines already. Let's pass it. [...]

Allow people to set aside a portion of their retirement funds for down payments. The Progressive Policy Institute has championed a concept they call HomeK, under which individuals can set aside up to half of their contributions to existing retirement accounts into a housing-specific subaccount. The money in this subaccount could then be used for a one-time disbursement toward a down payment on a first-time home loan used to buy a primary residence (up to the local loan limit for an FHA-financed mortgage). Unlike withdrawals for home purchases from current retirement plans, withdrawals from this housing subaccount would be tax-free for lower-income buyers and at steeply reduced tax rates for middle-class buyers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


God Has a Lot to Do with It, Christianity and Freedom (Chuck Colson, 11/19/11, Break Point)

What Shermer doesn't tell us is that things like the rule of law, mass education, and the other things he credits with making our freedom and security possible, didn't spring fully-formed out of nowhere. They are part of Christianity's legacy to the West.

Take the rule of law. It was Christianity that taught the West that rulers are not free to do as they pleased and that they are not above the law. According to John Calvin, resisting tyranny was the duty of those "who desire that every individual should preserve his rights, and that all men may live free from injury."

The same can be said about mass education and even the science that Shermer puts so much stock in. They are the result of what Christianity taught: that God created the world, and we were called to explore every aspect of it.

Most of all, our ideas about what constitutes a free and secure society are derived from Christianity. Political scientist Glenn Tinder has written about how much of what we celebrate in our society, like the "respect for the individual and a belief in the essential equality of all human beings," has "strong roots in the union of the spiritual and the political achieved in the vision of Christianity."

It was Christianity, you see, that taught the West that all human beings are created in the image of God. Without that understanding, the very words of the Declaration of Independence, "that all Men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights," could never have been written.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Idaho Man Charged with Attempted Obama Assassination Calls Himself 'Modern Day Jesus' (Monami Thakur | November 19, 2011, IB Times)

In a bizarre video, the 21-year old man is seen wearing a large crucifix around his neck.  Declaring his open resentment of the government, Ortega-Hernandez says the government is "bullying" other countries for their oil and that people's freedom are at stake. [...]

According to the complaint, investigators also interviewed a witness who knows Ortega-Hernandez well. The witness informed that Ortega was increasingly becoming agitated against the federal government and was convinced that the government was conspiring against him. He mentioned that Ortega frequently referred to Obama as the "anti Christ" and often said that he wanted to "hurt" him. just joining the like-minded Tea Party or Occupation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Obama in Oz: President Obama forges a military alliance with Australia. (MARY KISSEL, 11/19/11, WSJ)

Barack Obama's first presidential tour to Asia, in November 2009, arguably harmed U.S. interests in the region by exposing him as a weak leader. China tightly controlled the president's visit. Japan threw a tiff over relocation plans for a U.S. airbase on Okinawa. And smaller Asian allies pleaded -- to little avail -- for protection against Beijing's rising military might and for freer trade with the world's largest economy. This time around, however, the American leader is hitting higher notes.

Nowhere was that more evident than on Wednesday in Canberra, Australia, where the President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard marked the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS defense alliance and announced a major boost to military cooperation between the two long-time allies. Starting in 2011, Australia will host 250 Marines in Darwin. They'll train in the Northern Territory, exercise with their counterparts (known colloquially as "diggers") and store equipment Down Under. The contingent could eventually grow as large as 2,500 men. Australia will also host U.S. ships and nuclear submarines, and the U.S. Air Force will more closely cooperate with the Royal Australian Air Force.

This deal should come as no surprise. Australia's left-leaning Labor Party has a long pro-American history, as does its rival, the conservative Liberal Party.

Party doesn't matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Berkshire's NetJets Sues IRS Over Tax Bill (ERIK HOLM, 11/19/11, WSJ)

NetJets, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., this week sued the Internal Revenue Service over what it called an "illegal" $643 million tax assessment. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Second experiment confirms faster-than-light particles (Brian Vastag, Published: November 17, 2011, Washington Post)

For more than a century, the speed of light has been locked in as the universe's ultimate speed limit. No experiment had seen anything moving faster than light, which zips along at 186,000 miles per second.

Much of modern physics -- including Albert Einstein's famous theory of relativity -- is built on that ultimate speed limit.

The scientific world stopped and gaped in September when the OPERA team announced it had seen neutrinos moving just a hint faster than light.

"If it's correct, it's phenomenal," said Rob Plunkett, a scientist at Fermilab, the Department of Energy physics laboratory in Illinois, in September. "We'd be looking at a whole new set of rules" for how the universe works.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Did Israel Actually Lose the 1967 War?: a review of THE UNMAKING OF ISRAEL By Gershom Gorenberg (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, 11/19/11, NY Times Book Review)

Gorenberg, a leftist Israeli journalist of American extraction, tells us that the Israel of the mainstream American, Leon Uris-influenced imagination is not the Israel of today's reality. The Israel of today is rampant with illiberal feeling. It is a place whose Arab citizens are at once enfranchised and isolated. It is a place whose military is coming to be dominated not by the secular, progressive-minded kibbutznikim of old, but by a right-wing Orthodox officer corps, some of whom may respect the idea of Jewish land more than they respect the decisions of the elected government. Mainly, it is a place being corrupted by an ostensibly temporary but in fact interminable occupation

"The Unmaking of Israel" argues, in essence, that Israel is losing the 1967 Six- Day War. How can it lose a war it won so decisively more than 44 years ago? By believing it can swallow whole the territories it gained in that war and flourish in perpetuity as a law-abiding democratic nation with a Jewish majority. And Israel is losing another war, as well, Gorenberg argues, against twin religious fundamentalisms, the first that of the haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, variant, whose adherents deplete the Israeli treasury while rejecting any notion of responsibility to the state. The second, and even more ominous fundamentalism is the type followed by many West Bank settlers and their supporters, who have sanctified the acquisition of land to the detriment of all other Jewish values.

Gorenberg is at his most incensed, and most eloquent, on the issue of the Jewish settlements, which many Palestinians see as concrete proof of Israeli lack of interest in a two-state solution. It is an understandable Palestinian view, but the truth is more complicated. The majority of Israelis say they support a two-state solution, and the majority of Israelis, if they ever loved the settlements, appear to love them no more (Israelis are not, in my experience, unaware that settlements are the main weapon in the arsenal of Israel's adversaries). But the majority is powerless in the face of the relentless settler minority.

The settlements were not part of an insidious plan. But after the Six-Day War -- a war Israel did not seek -- euphoria gripped the country, and a previously marginal religious movement within Orthodoxy saw the conquest of the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria, as a sign not only of God's favor but also of the imminence of the redemption.

"So at the moment of its triumph, Israel began to take itself apart," Gorenberg writes. "Long-term rule of Palestinians was a retreat from the ideal of democracy, a retreat that governments denied by describing the occupation as temporary. The settlement enterprise was a multipronged assault on the rule of law."

While people tend to justify its every action by reference to an imaginary existential struggle, Israel's divergence from Western values is not a recipe for existence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


The Invincible Mrs. Thatcher: With Britain's Tories back in power--and a biopic starring Meryl Streep on its way--the career of Margaret Thatcher is newly resonant. A conservative revolutionary, she prefigured, then partnered with, Ronald Reagan, worshipping "real men" as she went where no woman had, never losing a national election (or a war), and defining an era. Twenty years after Thatcher's retirement, her biographer Charles Moore re-assesses the most powerful British prime minister since Churchill, one who forged a legacy that will long survive her. (Charles Moore, December 2012, Vanity Fair)

As well as elections, Margaret Thatcher won wars. When Argentina invaded the British colony of the Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic, in April 1982, she sent a task force of 27,000 across the world and recaptured them by June. As the force set sail, she paraphrased Queen Victoria: "Failure--the possibilities do not exist!" With Ronald Reagan in the White House for most of her time as prime minister, she was able to re-forge a mighty defensive alliance that outpaced the Soviet Union and hastened the end of the Cold War. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, in September 1990, she attended a conference with Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, who was undecided about how best to act. She told him, "Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly!"

Perhaps more important still, she won the big arguments. She argued that inflation was a disease of money that could be cured by controlling the growth of the money supply alone, without suppressing incomes. During her premiership, inflation fell from a high of 27 percent in 1975 to 2.5 percent by 1986. She believed that the political power of British labor unions had strangled enterprise and placed the country at the mercy of unelected barons. When she removed the legal immunities that protected unions from the financial consequences of their actions and overcame a yearlong strike organized by the hard-left leadership of the coal miners' union, the employee days lost to strikes each year fell from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million in 1986. She said that taxes were too high and brought the top rate down from 98 percent to 40 percent. She declared that the state should not be running British business and led the world in "privatization"--a word she found ugly but a concept she loved--selling off airlines, airports, utilities, and phone and oil companies to the private sector. In every case, her critics said that it could not be done. Yet, for better and for worse, she did it.

To find out why, we must go back to Grantham, where Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on October 13, 1925. Grantham was, and remains, a small market town in the county of Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. Neither rich nor poor, neither remote nor metropolitan, it is an ordinary place, and hers was, at least in appearance, an ordinary family.

Margaret Thatcher's father was the single biggest influence on her life. Alfred Roberts was a grocer who ran two fairly successful shops in Grantham. He was also a Methodist lay preacher, well known for the quality of his sermons, and an alderman, a type of local politician now obsolete. Alderman Roberts had no sons and appears to have harbored for Margaret, the second of his two daughters, many of the ambitions which, had he been born to a higher level of society, he might have been able to fulfill for himself.

Roberts impressed upon young Margaret the importance of knowledge, duty, and hard work, the power of both the spoken and the written word, and the value of public service. The Roberts girls had to borrow and read two books from the library every week, at least one of them nonfiction. They attended church twice on Sundays (where Margaret sang notably well), and Margaret often accompanied her father to political meetings. Because the family lived above one of the shops, Alderman Roberts usually came home for meals with the girls. He and Margaret discussed public events, including the coming war with Germany. Of her mother, Beatrice, Margaret Thatcher said, "Oh, Mother. Mother was marvelous--she helped Father."
..."Together they broke the unions/inflation, confiscatory taxation and Communism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM

Gettysburg Address from Adam Gault on Vimeo.

November 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Britain's 'most wanted' killed in drone attack (Duncan Gardham,  18 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

An international alert was issued last year warning that Ibrahim Adam was trying to secure a passport and might be trying to return to Britain to launch attacks.

He was killed in the tribal region of Waziristan alongside Mohammed Azmir Khan, 37.

Both men and their brothers were believed to be part of an established network of radicals from Ilford, East London with connections to al-Qaeda. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM

Scythian On Mountain Stage (NPR, November 18, 2011)

The up-tempo string band Scythian makes its first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Featuring twin fiddles and energy to spare, Scythian sets itself apart from other traditional bands by blending Celtic music and bluegrass with touches of French Canadian, zydeco and gypsy styles, a product of founder Alexander Fedoryka's Ukrainian ancestry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 PM


Cain receives Secret Service protection (Ed O'Keefe and Amy Gardner, 11/18/11, Washington Post)

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said Thursday night that the campaign asked for the protection after The Washington Post posted an article online that morning detailing a series of physical skirmishes involving journalists at Cain rallies.

The Cain campaign asked for the security and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders approved the request Thursday, said a government official, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Clinton to Visit Myanmar as Dissident Leader Rejoins Politics (JACKIE CALMES and THOMAS FULLER, 11/18/11, NY Times)

Hours before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's most prominent democracy campaigner, announced her return to formal politics on Friday, President Obama disclosed that he was sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on a visit there next month, the first by a secretary of state in more than 50 years.

The twin events underscored the remarkable and sudden pace of change in Myanmar, which has stunned observers inside and outside the country, analysts said.

Let's see her give a speech like this: Ronald Reagan at Moscow State University (Ronald Reagan, Moscow State University on May 31, 1988)

But freedom is more even than this: Freedom is the right to question, and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to stick - to dream - to follow your dream, or stick to your conscience, even if you're the only one in a sea of doubters.

Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.

America is a nation made up of hundreds of nationalities. Our ties to you are more than ones of good feeling; they're ties of kinship. In America, you'll find Russians, Armenians, Ukrainians, peoples from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They come from every part of this vast continent, from every continent, to live in harmony, seeking a place where each cultural heritage is respected, each is valued for its diverse strengths and beauties and the richness it brings to our lives.

Recently, a few individuals and families have been allowed to visit relatives in the West. We can only hope that it won't be long before all are allowed to do so, and Ukrainian-Americans, Baltic-Americans, Armenian-Americans, can freely visit their homelands, just as this Irish-American visits his.

Freedom, it has been said, makes people selfish and materialistic, but Americans are one of the most religious peoples on Earth. Because they know that liberty, just as life itself, is not earned, but a gift from God, they seek to share that gift with the world. "Reason and experience," said George Washington in his farewell address, "both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. And it is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."

Democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, unintrusive: A system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.

I have often said, nations do not distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. If this globe is to live in peace and prosper, if it is to embrace all the possibilities of the technological revolution, then nations must renounce, once and for all, the right to an expansionist foreign policy. Peace between nations must be an enduring goal -- not a tactical stage in a continuing conflict.

I've been told that there's a popular song in your country -- perhaps you know it -- whose evocative refrain asks the question, "Do the Russians want a war?" In answer it says, "Go ask that silence lingering in the air, above the birch and poplar there; beneath those trees the soldiers lie. Go ask my mother, ask my wife; then you will have to ask no more, 'Do the Russians want a war?'"

But what of your one-time allies? What of those who embraced you on the Elbe? What if we were to ask the watery graves of the Pacific, or the European battlefields where America's fallen were buried far from home? What if we were to ask their mothers, sisters, and sons, do Americans want war? Ask us, too, and you'll find the same answer, the same longing in every heart. People do not make wars, governments do -- and no mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for ideology. A people free to choose will always choose peace.

Americans seek always to make friends of old antagonists. After a colonial revolution with Britain we have cemented for all ages the ties of kinship between our nations. After a terrible civil war between North and South, we healed our wounds and found true unity as a nation. We fought two world wars in my lifetime against Germany and one with Japan, but now the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan are two of our closest allies and friends.

Some people point to the trade disputes between us as a sign of strain, but they're the frictions of all families, and the family of free nations is a big and vital and sometimes boisterous one. I can tell you that nothing would please my heart more than in my lifetime to see American and Soviet diplomats grappling with the problem of trade disputes between America and a growing, exuberant, exporting Soviet Union that had opened up to economic freedom and growth.

Is this just a dream? Perhaps. But it is a dream that is our responsibility to have come true.

Your generation is living in one of the most exciting, hopeful times in Soviet history. It is a time when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free.

We do not know what the conclusion of this journey will be, but we're hopeful that the promise of reform will be fulfilled. In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope -- that freedom, like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoy's grave, will blossom forth at least in the rich fertile soil of your people and culture. We may be allowed to hope that the marvelous sound of a new openness will keep rising through, ringing through, leading to a new world of reconciliation, friendship, and peace.

Thank you all very much and da blagoslovit vas gospod! God bless you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


First Respo (Kai Falkenberg, 11.16.11, Forbes Magazine)

The Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, provides for universal coverage but is proving anything but affordable. Yes, there are billions projected in cost savings from modernizing our health system, but the law provides little framework for getting that done, just lots of money to study it. Meanwhile, Americans will break another record this year, spending 17% of GDP--a chest-grabbing $2.7 trillion--on medical expenses, the highest in the world, all to buy results that are worse, collectively, than most of the industrialized world. You've heard that tune before.

Much of those costs--up to 30%--are unnecessary. (Dartmouth president, Jim Yong Kim) comes from the camp, based on two decades of Dartmouth research, that believes this waste can be eliminated by rewarding health care providers for better patient outcomes rather than more procedures. The trick is navigating a system of dizzying complexity: coordinating treatment across physicians and health systems, using universal medical records to avoid duplicative testing, employing community-based health workers to cut down on hospitalizations and emergency room visits and the like. A riddle far more likely to produce an Excedrin-level headache than any type of results.

But Kim has a tool that can potentially provide answers to the cost issues ObamaCare simply raises. This fall he launched the Center for Health Care Delivery Science. On paper it's a master's program. In reality it's a grand experiment that mixes disciplines (management and systems engineering, economics, insurance, as well as medicine and health policy) and personalities (researchers and practitioners are paired). Four dozen of the best minds in their fields--the average age is 45, and most with two decades of top-flight experience--will meet weekly, usually virtually and sometimes in Hanover, N.H., for the next 18 months to participate in what Kim terms a "fundamental revolution in the way we think about health care." [...]

The faculty and students draw upon groundbreaking research compiled over the last two decades by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, a group that has criticized how U.S. medical resources are organized and practiced. It is particularly known for its Altas of Health Care, which produced a map of the U.S. showing the country's distribution of medical resources that has drawn the ire of physicians, hospitals and health officials (see graphic, above). It focuses on end-of-life care, drawing on Medicare claims data, and shows dramatic variation in cost and outcome across the U.S., broken down by region, hospital and illness. Why did expenses rise five times as fast in McAllen, Tex. as they did in Honolulu? Wasteful spending: too many hospital beds and high-priced specialists rewarded for piling on tests and procedures.

The Atlas has provoked debate in the White House and Congress about tying Medicare payments more closely to benchmarks of efficiency. It has also brought howls from high-cost institutions that claim they must spend more because their patients are sicker. They point to a competing University of Pittsburgh study, which found that patients tend to live longer in hospitals that provide lots of expensive end-of-life procedures. Yet in March new analysis by the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, factoring in variations like cost of living in different regions, largely confirmed the Dartmouth findings.

What the Atlas can't provide are the tools to redress all the inefficiencies. That's the ambitious work of Kim's Center. "Medical school let us down," says Brian Spence, a student in the program and anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. "They never taught us that medicine was a business. None of the other programs address the central core of health care delivery, of getting the most bang for your buck."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


The Smartphonification of Stuff (Rebecca Greenfield, 11/18/11, Atlantic)

Here're all the things we used to carry around that we don't have to anymore.

Watches. Everyone knows that the popularity and ubiquity of cellphones have relegated watches to fashion pieces and status symbols.
Wallets. Paypall, Google and MasterCard all have mobile payments systems. They're easy, fast, safe and will never clutter with old receipts

Newspaper/Magazines. Print is dead because the iPhone killed it.
Disc Man, iPod, Walkman. Smartphones, just like iPods, hold a lot of digital music. But now with cloud services, like iTunes Match and Google's Music Service, smartphone owners can access huge 20,000 song libraries via the cloud.
Keys? Ok, this one isn't a widespread reality yet. But at least one person has rigged Siri to open doors.

...and faster...

New Material Promises Faster Chips, Faster Internet, Faster Everything (Clay Dillow Posted 11.17.2011, Popular Science)

We've constructed a world out of fiber optic cable and silicon, but Arizona State University researchers think their new material can do better. They have synthesized a new kind of single-crystal nanowire from a compound of erbium--a material generally used to dope fiber optic cables to amplify their signals--and they claim it could increase the speed of the Internet, spawn a new generation of computers, and improve photovoltaic solar cells, sensor technologies, and solid-state lighting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Mother of East Windsor teen suspended for Confederate flag shirt threatens to sue school (Lisa Coryell, 11/16/11, The Times of Trenton)

 The mother of a Kreps Middle School student suspended in a flap over her Confederate flag sweat shirt says she wants the school to formally apologize to her daughter, rescind her suspension and grant the teen permission to attend school outside the district.

Send her to school in Camden and see how often she wears the slavers' banner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


The Future of Light Is the LED (Dan Koeppel, August 19, 2011, Wired)

There's an excellent reason LEDs have taken on the aura of inevitability: LEDs are semiconductors, and like all solid-state technology, they are getting better and cheaper on a predictable curve. In 1999, a researcher named Roland Haitz, then heading up semiconductor R&D at Hewlett-Packard, coauthored a paper that became the lighting industry's manifesto. By charting the historical prices of LEDs and projecting forward, Haitz estimated that the amount of light they produced would increase by a factor of 20 per decade, while the cost would correspondingly drop by a factor of 10.

Haitz's law has proven remarkably accurate. [...]

The reasoning behind the lighting provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act is pretty straightforward: Incandescents convert less than 10 percent of the energy pumped into them into light, losing the rest as heat. More-efficient bulbs could save billions of dollars, decrease dependence on foreign oil, and significantly reduce greenhouse gases.

Nothing costs more than it used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Democrats see minefield in Occupy protests (BETH FOUHY, 11/17/11, AP)

The Republican Party and the tea party seemed to be a natural political pairing. But what may have seemed like another politically beneficial alliance -- Democrats and Occupy Wall Street -- hasn't happened.

Although both Democrats and the Occupy protesters have similar views on economic inequality and corporate responsibility, each holds the other at arm's length. There's little benefit to Democrats in opening their arms wide to a scruffy group that has erupted in violence, defied police and shown evidence of drug use while camping in public parks across the country -- much as the prospect of such a pairing delights Republicans.

Took them this long to figure out they can't afford to return to being the drugged-out hippie party?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Expert in idleness is surprise winner of science book prize (Steve Connor, 18 November 2011, Independent)

A self-confessed idler who believes that doing nothing is an art form has won the most prestigious prize in science book publishing for his treatise on watching waves.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who co-founded The Idler magazine and set up the Cloud Appreciation Society, was last night awarded the £10,000 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books with his latest observations on laid-back living, The Wavewatcher's Companion.

His BBC film, Cloudspotting, is awesome.

November 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM

Maple Bacon Biscuit Bake (Kate Lawson, 11/17/11, Detroit News)

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour. Be sure to turn the biscuits/topping out of the pan right after removing it from the oven or the caramel topping will stick to pan.

• Syrup:

• 1/2 pound good-quality bacon, cooked until medium-brown and crisp

• 1/3 cup brown sugar

• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

• 1/4 cup maple syrup

• 2 tablespoons melted butter

• Biscuits:

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 cup cold butter

• 1 cup cold milk or 1 cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Generously grease an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan.

Syrup: Chop cooked bacon into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine bacon with remaining syrup ingredients, stirring until well combined. Spread in bottom of the prepared pan.

Biscuits: Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Work in the butter until the mixture is crumbly; some larger, pea-sized pieces of butter may remain intact. Add the milk or buttermilk, stirring to make a sticky dough. Drop the dough in heaping tablespoonfuls atop the syrup in the pan. A tablespoon cookie scoop, slightly overfilled, works well here. Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes on middle rack of oven. Turn the oven off, and leave them in the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove the biscuits from the oven, and immediately turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Lift off the pan, and scrape any syrup left in the pan onto the biscuits. Pull biscuits apart to serve. Makes 16.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Re-election Strategy Is Tied to a Shift on Smog (JOHN M. BRODER, 11/16/11, NY Times)

The summons from the president came without warning the Thursday before Labor Day. As she was driven the four blocks to the White House, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, suspected that the news would not be good. What she did not see coming was a rare public rebuke the president was about to deliver by rejecting her proposal to tighten the national standard for smog.

The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 -- if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said.

The White House announced the decision the next morning, infuriating environmental and public health advocates. They called it a bald surrender to business pressure, an act of political pandering and, most galling, a cold-blooded betrayal of a loyal constituency.

"This was the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. "Period."

The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way.

Only the Right is still convinced he's an ideologue, and evidence doesn't matter to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Home Ownership, Education Rates of Immigrants in U.S. Projected to Shoot Up (Amrutha Gayathri, November 17, 2011, IB Times)

Panning across all nationalities and ethnic groups, immigrants to the U.S. are assimilating into American life, at higher rates than their predecessors. The overall progress of the people who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s shows that various aspects like home ownership and higher education are set to grow from 2000 to 2030 despite their current financial setback due to the economic meltdown.

A study conducted by the Center for American Progress, a research and educational institute, found that the percentage of immigrants who own their homes is projected to rise from 25.5 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2030.

Furthermore, the percentage of immigrants speaking English well or very well is projected to rise from 57.5 percent to 70.3 percent and the percent living in poverty is projected to fall from 22.8 percent to 13.4 percent.

But their grandkids won't do construction work, so we'll need to import builders from somewhere else. And, naturally, they'll oppose those immigrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Cary Dolego, Former Write-In Candidate for 2010 Governor's Race, Found Homeless in Ukraine After Failed Love Quest (Ray Stern Tue., Nov. 15 2011,Phoenix New Times)

​Cary Dolego, a former Green Party write-in candidate for the 2010 Arizona governor's race, was found among homeless people in a Ukrainian town last week following a failed quest for love.

A Youtube video (see below) shows Dolego, 53, sitting on a bed in a hospital ward, explaining to an interviewer how he arrived in Chernovtsy to meet a woman.

Dolego had originally traveled to the Ukraine on a "romance tour" to meet potential brides -- as explained in an ABC News special on international matchmaking that featured him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


How crowdsourcing is changing science (Gareth Cook, November 11, 2011,  The Boston Globe)

        At the end of the 19th century, a team of British archeologists happened upon what is now one of the world's most treasured trash dumps.

        The site, situated west of the main course of the Nile, about five days journey south of Memphis, lay near the city of Oxyrhynchus. Garbage mounds are always a sweet target for those interested in the past, but what made the Oxyrhynchus dump special was its exceptional dryness. The water table lay deep; it never rained. And this meant that the 2,000-year-old papyrus in the mounds, and the text inscribed on it, were remarkably well preserved.

        Eventually some half a million pieces of papyrus were drawn from the desert and shipped back to Oxford University, where generations of scholars have been painstakingly transcribing and translating them. The manuscripts are rich, fascinating, and varied. The texts include lost comedies by the great Athenian playwright Menander, and the controversial Gospel of Thomas, along with glimpses of daily life -- personal notes, receipts for the purchase of donkeys and dates -- and the occasional scrap of sex magic.

        The pace, however, has been glacial. After a hundred-plus years, scholars have been able to work through only about 15 percent of the collection. The finish line appeared to lie centuries in the future.

        But a few months ago, the papyrologists tried something bold. They put up a website, called Ancient Lives, with a game that allowed members of the public to help transcribe the ancient Greek at home by identifying images from the papyrus. Help began pouring in. In the short time the site has been running, people have contributed 4 million transcriptions. They have helped identify Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch's "On the Cleverness of Animals," and more.

        Ancient Lives is part of a new approach to the conduct of modern scholarship, called crowd science or citizen science. The idea is to unlock thorny research projects by tapping the time and enthusiasm of the general public. In just the last few years, crowd science projects have generated notable contributions to fields as disparate as ecology, AIDS research, and astronomy. The approach has already accelerated research in a handful of specialized fields. And it may also accomplish something else: breaking down some of the old divisions between the highly educated mandarins of the academy and the curious amateurs out in the world.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


King James Bible: First printed 400 years ago, it molded the English language, buttressed the "powers that be"--one of its famous phrases--and yet enshrined a gospel of individual freedom. No other book has given more to the English-speaking world. (Adam Nicolson, December 2011, National Geographic)

Rome Wager stands in front of the rodeo chutes on a small ranch just outside the Navajo Reservation in Waterflow, New Mexico. He is surrounded by a group of young cowboys here for midweek practice. With a big silver buckle at his waist and a long mustache that rolls down on each side of his mouth like the curving ends of a pair of banisters, Wager holds up a Bible in his left hand. The young men take their hats off to balance them on their knees. "My stories always begin a little different," Brother Rome says to them as they crouch in the dust of the yard, "but the Lord always provides the punctuation."

Wager, a Baptist preacher now, is a former bull-riding and saddle-bronc pro, "with more bone breaks in my body than you've got bones in yours." He's part Dutch, part Seneca on his father's side, Lakota on his mother's, married to a full-blood Jicarilla Apache.

He tells them about his wild career. He was raised on a ranch in South Dakota; he fought and was beaten up, shot, and stabbed. He wrestled and boxed, he won prizes and started drinking. "I was a saphead drunk."

But this cowboy life was empty. He was looking for meaning, and one day in the drunk tank in a jail in Montana, he found himself reading the pages of the Bible. "I looked at that book in jail, and I saw then that He'd established me a house in heaven ... He came into my heart."

The heads around the preacher go down, and the words he whispers, which the rodeo riders listen to in such earnestness, are not from the American West: They are from England, translated 400 years ago by a team of black-gowned clergymen who would have been as much at home in this world of swells and saddles, pearl-button shirts and big-fringed chaps as one of these cowboys on a Milanese catwalk. "Second Corinthians 5. 'Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.'"

Here is the miracle of the King James Bible in action. Words from a doubly alien culture, not an original text but a translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, made centuries ago and thousands of miles away, arrive in a dusty corner of the New World and sound as they were meant to--majestic but intimate, the voice of the universe somehow heard in the innermost part of the ear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Obama's dark vision of America (KEITH KOFFLER, 11/16/11, Politico)

"We've lost our ambition," Obama said in California fundraiser last month, "our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and unleashed all the potential in this country."

Compare this to Clinton, who told voters in 1996 that he was presiding over a nation that was essentially well. He embraced some conservative values and even aligned himself with Republicans -- signing the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman; embracing welfare reform, and asserting that he had cut taxes.

The only thing he had left to do, Clinton asserted, was to tinker with things to "build the bridge to the 21st century."

Obama's vision reflects the worldview of a former community organizer, whose long focus has been on the disadvantaged. But this seems to have spurred him to see injustice around every corner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Could Ukip overtake the Lib Dems? (George Eaton - 16 November 2011, New Statesman)

The latest YouGov poll puts the Lib Dems on seven per cent (their joint lowest rating since the election), with Ukip two points behind on five per cent (down from six per cent the previous day). As Europe rises up the political agenda, there's every possibility that Nigel Farage's party could eventually overtake Nick Clegg's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


From Nablus to Jerusalem (AJA SHEHADEH, 11/16/11, NY Times)

Last Saturday, I arrived at the Nablus train station, a low, thick-walled stone structure, in time to board the 3:20 pm to Jerusalem. Some 20 passengers were waiting at the entrance, mostly young men and women, with a few people old enough to remember the days of train travel during the British Mandate over Palestine. The excitement was palpable: It was our chance to take a ride to Jerusalem, a city we are barred from visiting, bypassing the Israeli checkpoints along the way. As I entered the station, a porter in a dark blue uniform issued me a ticket on the Green Line. The journey would take 30 minutes, with stops planned at Hawwarah, Zatara, Uyun al Haramiya, Attarah and Kalandia -- all existing checkpoints. I made my way to the waiting room. It was barren, except for low tables with brochures entitled "Palestine Connected" showing local train networks and their destinations. Gaza. Jaffa. Haifa. Beersheba.

Soon there was an announcement in Arabic and English: the train would be arriving in three minutes. I could hear it approach, all whistles and honks. The sounds grew louder and louder until they became deafening. Then, they subsided; the train had arrived. The doors of the waiting room opened, and we were invited to step out onto Platform Number Two. The train was waiting, shrouded in rising smoke. We surged forward toward its doors as they opened for us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Israel Studies Plan to Detain Illegal Migrants (JOEL MILLMAN And JOSHUA MITNICK, 11/16/11, WSJ)

[T]he Israeli parliament's Internal Affairs Committee on Monday began taking up Israel's so-called Prevention of Infiltration Law. Originally promulgated in 1954 to curb Palestinians seeking to return to their homes--and to counter cross-border attacks by militants--it is a law that the government now wants to modify to enable three-year detentions without trial for illegal migrants entering from Africa via Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Migrant-rights advocates say that would be in violation of a 60-year-old United Nations convention on refugee rights, adopted largely as a response to the world's inaction to the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

November 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Women with Sleep Disturbances Have Increased Risk of Fibromyalgia: Study (Monami Thakur, November 16, 2011, IB Times)

Adult women who have difficulty either in falling asleep or staying asleep have increased risk of developing the medical disorder called fibromyalgia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Clean fracking: Moving to replace chemicals (Steve Hargreaves, November 16, 2011, CNNMoney)

Last summer a Halliburton executive did the unthinkable: He took a big ol' swig of hydrologic fracturing fluid.

No, he didn't have a death wish. And yes, he appears to be doing just fine. He did it to prove a point: fracking fluid need not be toxic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Bring Free Trade to the Far East (National Review, 11/16/11)

We were cheered by President Obama's commitment, at this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, to the completion of the nine-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement... [...]

The final goal of the United States should be a high-quality, pan-Asian free-trade agreement that includes Japan, and eventually China -- the kind of agreement that can help bring poor Asian nations out of poverty even as it benefits consumers and creates jobs in the U.S. But pursuing this goal does not preclude us from pursuing others, and we should not be afraid to go both bigger -- continued aggressive pursuit of the Doha round -- and smaller. The TPP would be a major step toward the realization of free trade in the region, while the continued expansion and harmonization of our portfolio of bilateral trade agreements, on the model of our accords with South Korea, Australia, and Singapore, would be a sturdy hedge should TPP stall. None of these tacks are mutually exclusive.

Though the nitty-gritty of free-trade negotiations can be among the nittiest and grittiest features of relations among nations, the upshot of those agreements is bracingly simple: When it comes to free trade, the more the better. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Panetta: Super Committee Cuts Could Leave Military at Pre-World War II Levels (Joseph Orovic, November 15, 2011, IB Times)

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quantified a super committee failure in real numbers on Monday: ground forces shrunk to 1940-levels; a naval fleet rivaling 1915's; and the smallest Air Force in history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


The Broccoli Test (EINER ELHAUGE, 11/16/11, NY Times)

THE new mandate to buy health insurance has now reached the Supreme Court, which agreed on Monday to judge its constitutionality. The crux of the constitutional complaint against the mandate is that Congress's ability to regulate commerce has never been understood to give it the power to force Americans to buy insurance, or anything else.

But not only is there a precedent for this, there is also clear support for it in the Constitution. For decades, Americans have been subject to a mandate to buy a health insurance plan -- Medicare. Check your paystub, and you will see where your contributions have been deducted, whether or not you wanted Medicare health insurance.  [...]

Opponents of the new mandate complain that if Congress can force us to buy health insurance, it can force us to buy anything. They frequently raise the specter that Congress might require us to buy broccoli in order to make us healthier. However, that fear would remain even if you accepted their constitutional argument, because their argument would allow Congress to force us to buy broccoli as long as it was careful to phrase the law to say that "anyone who has ever engaged in any activity affecting commerce must buy broccoli."

That certainly sounds like a stupid law. But our Constitution has no provision banning stupid laws. The protection against stupid laws that our Constitution provides is the political process, which allows us to toss out of office elected officials who enact them. This is better than having unelected judges decide such policy questions, because we cannot toss the judges out if we disagree with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Jordan's King Abdullah: Syria's Assad must go (AP, 11/15/11)

Jordan's King Abdullah said Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad should step down, making him the first Arab ruler to issue such a call over the regime's deadly crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising.

The surprising statement comes as Arabs close ranks against Damascus. On Saturday, the Arab League voted to suspend Syria over attacks on protesters that the U.N. estimates have killed 3,500 people since mid-March.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Liberia - a model for US development aid (Benjamin J. Spatz, November 9, 2011, CS Monitor)

Turn the page to 2011 and this emerging West African democracy of 3.5 million people is nearly unrecognizable from its not-so-distant past.

Drug-addled child soldiers and combatants with names like General Butt Naked - known for charging into battle naked - no longer roam the streets. Instead, the US vetted and trained new Liberian soldiers, the start of the country's first professional army.

Literacy rates that bottomed out at an abysmal 20 percent are on the rise with US support to train teachers and build teaching colleges; future child scholars, not child soldiers, are busy in classrooms.

Just one example of why W was the best president Africa ever had.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Why cities should dismantle highways (Andrew Nusca,  November 10, 2011, Smart Planet)

After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the city of San Francisco faced the tremendous task of rebuilding the structurally-damaged Embarcadero Freeway. Instead, they tore it down, replaced it with a people-friendly boulevard that encouraged development. The surrounding area has since rebounded, Lind said, with higher property values, more tourism and more housing for city residents.

The same phenomenon occurred in New York City when it rebuilt the elevated West Side Highway in 1989 as a surface roadway, giving New Yorkers access to parks, piers and picturesque views on the West Side of Manhattan.

So why not replace Philadelphia's aging Interstate 95, which blocks much of the city's access to the Delaware River, when its lifespan is exhausted? All 51 miles of Philly's section of I-95 are in phases of structural obsolescence, Lind said, and it's almost surely better to encourage industry, education and the public to reclaim the waterfront.

"Instead of reverting, we should try something that reflects the direction the country is going in," Lind said. "So that in 2026, when it's the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we are creating a city that will last another 250 years."

...the Big Dig is the best thing to happen to Boston in a century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Republicans' 'Starting from zero' aid proposal startles pro-Israel community (Ron Kampeas · November 15, 2011, Jewish Telegraph)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced the plan during the first foreign policy debate Saturday night, held by CBS and the National Journal at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state.

"The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars," he said. "Zero dollars. And then we'll have a conversation. Then we'll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries."

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, signed on immediately. Gingrich said the plan made "absolutely perfect sense." Romney, who has made clear that he disagrees with Perry on much else, in this case said he welcomed the idea, saying "You start everything at zero."

The proposal of such a radical change raised concerns in the pro-Israel community.

"Hacking away at the international affairs budget of the U.S. government is inefficient and counterproductive, and will not advance U.S. fiscal interests," said Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee's director of international affairs. "There's too little money and it's too vital to put on the chopping block."

..what the new Likud bill attacking money from foreign governments is trying to do, no?

November 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


Up in smoke? Cain says medical pot's a state issue (NBC's Andrew Rafferty, 11/15/11)

 GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain said he supports the ability of states to make medical marijuana available as a treatment for patients.

"If states want to legalize medical marijuana, I think that's a state's right," Cain said while campaigning in Iowa. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


BBC drops Frozen Planet's climate change episode to sell show better abroad (Andy Bloxham, 15 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

British viewers will see seven episodes, the last of which deals with global warming and the threat to the natural world posed by man.

However, viewers in other countries, including the United States, will only see six episodes.

The environmental programme has been relegated by the BBC to an "optional extra" alongside a behind-the-scenes documentary which foreign networks can ignore. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


The Medicaid Ambush: The Supreme Court's unexpected and astounding reasons for wanting to hear a challenge to Obamacare. (Simon Lazarus and Dahlia Lithwick, Nov. 14, 2011, Slate)

The court asked the parties to brief and argue for an hour whether the lawsuit brought by the states challenging the insurance mandate is barred by the 19th century Anti-Injunction Act. That's a law that precludes claimants from asking for a refund on a tax until the tax has been collected and paid. If the court were to determine that this law applies in this case, then the courts wouldn't have jurisdiction to even consider the challenges until 2015, when the tax-penalty provision goes into effect. This argument was advanced in the 4th Circuit decision upholding the ACA and made with even more force by Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals when it upheld the ACA last week. In a 65-page dissent, Kavanaugh writes: "For judges, there is a natural and understandable inclination to decide these weighty and historic constitutional questions. But in my respectful judgment, deciding the constitutional issues in this case at this time would contravene ... the Anti- Injunction Act."

Cautioning that courts of appeals should be wary of upholding such a dramatic law, Kavanaugh goes on to warn the courts against "prematurely or unnecessarily rejecting the Government's Commerce Clause argument." This is because striking down a major law should be done only rarely, he writes, and also because "we may be on the leading edge of a shift in how the Federal Government goes about furnishing a social safety net for those who are old, poor, sick, or disabled and need help." He concludes: "Privatized social services combined with mandatory-purchase requirements of the kind employed in the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act might become a blueprint used by the Federal Government over the next generation to partially privatize the social safety net and government assistance programs and move, at least to some degree, away from the tax-and-government-benefit model that is common now." The fact that the court asked for extra briefing on the jurisdictional issue may signal that some of the court's conservatives are contemplating Kavanaugh's advice about leaving this matter to the political branches to resolve, or at least kicking it down the road until after the election.

It's one of those classic cases where Scalia and Thomas will insist on writing their own opinions that no one joins, but arrive at the same result as the rest of the majority.  Which is why collegiality is more important in a nominee than "brilliance."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Torture and Exceptionalism (FRANK BRUNI, 11/16/11, NY Times)

If we truly believe ourselves to be exceptional, a model for all the world and an example for all of history, then why would we practice torture? [...]

[O]bama has dispatched more drones than Dick Cheney likely ever fantasized about, including the one that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen never given any trial. He ordered the mission that ended the life of Osama bin Laden. These aren't the actions of a commander in chief apologetic about the use of force. And they're proof that you can be plenty fearsome without whipping out the instruments of torture.

We face difficult decisions and a tricky balancing act when it comes to keeping this country safe, whether from terrorists abroad or criminals coming across the southern border. And there's no doubt we can't be as high-minded as we'd sometimes like. I for one am not losing any sleep over Awlaki.

So it's bad to douse a terrorist but okay to kill him?  Would we really think less of Hitler if he'd water-boarded Jews instead of exterminating them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Distrust Feeds Anti-Atheist Prejudice: New research finds atheists are widely perceived as untrustworthy, which may be a major factor in why they're disliked more than other minorities. (Tom Jacobs, 11/16/11, Miller-McCune)

A landmark 2006 study, analyzing data from a large survey of Americans, found that atheists "are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious and other minority groups." Writing in the American Sociological Review, researchers noted that "while rejection of Muslims may have spiked in post-9/11 America, rejection of atheists was higher."

So why are atheists "among the least liked people ... in most of the world," in the words of a research team led by University of British Columbia psychologist Will Gervais? In a newly published paper, he and his colleagues provide evidence supporting a plausible explanation.

Atheists, they argue, are widely viewed as people you cannot trust.

"People use cues of religiosity as a signal for trustworthiness," the researchers write in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Given that "trustworthiness is the most valued trait in other people," this mental equation engenders a decidedly negative attitude toward nonbelievers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


Out of the Yard: Occupy Harvard should move out (The Crimson, November 15, 2011)

Last Wednesday night, Occupy Harvard Yard--a local extension of the Occupy movement--set up camp in Harvard Yard, occupying the campus quite literally. Harvard and Cambridge police responded in kind. Around midnight on Wednesday, the entire Yard was closed off to any entrants, leaving a group of protesters circled outside the Widener Library entrance, sandwiched between a locked gate and a horde of police and onlookers. Since then, students and a handful of non-Harvard affiliates who did manage to get in have camped out in the Yard, enduring cold nights and the ire of many on campus. Meanwhile, the Yard remains closed to anyone without Harvard identification, so long as there remains the threat of larger or more unstable protest. Occupy Harvard participants declare that they will not move until the University begins to meet their goals, including that the Yard be reopened to the general public as soon as the sit-in ends.

In a bitterly ironic twist on the protesters' slogan of "taking back Harvard for the 99 percent," their actions have truly closed off Harvard's campus to all but a select few. Over the weekend especially, the Yard felt eerily quiet and lacking in the conviviality that typifies public enjoyment of the University's campus. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Well Qualified, but Facing Uphill Fight (ELISABETTA POVOLEDO, 11/13/11, NY Times)

Italians can expect Mr. Monti to act in support of market integration, which he believes will make Italy -- and the European Union -- more resilient to crises. "He holds that the monetary union has to be based on market integration, openly competing within the euro single market," Mr. Pisani-Ferry said.

They can also expect Mr. Monti to push for the reform-minded agenda demanded by the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank to make Italy more competitive, and spur the growth that has eluded it in the past decade. Those reforms would include enforcing -- and possibly strengthening -- measures passed by the Italian Parliament on Saturday that aim to eliminate some structural obstacles to Italian competitiveness, like cumbersome red tape or its entrenched professional guilds. [...]

Mr. Monti is also an international adviser to Goldman Sachs, and was president of the Italian Group of the Trilateral Commission, an organization described in his blog by Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian mathematician and writer, as "ultra-liberal American, European and Japanese Masonry inspired by David Rockefeller."

Some in the Italian news media have begun referring this week to the dawn of an era of "Government Sachs." Like Mr. Monti, Mr. Draghi worked for the global investment bank, as did Greece's new prime minister, Lucas Papademos.

"I see Monti and his team knowing what needs to be done," said Mr. Naím of the Carnegie Endowment. "Italy is the most overdiagnosed country in the world."

But if the diagnosis is straightforward, a cure may be less so. "No one wants to bear the costs of the reforms," Mr. Naím said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


Herman Cain: Henry Kissinger Rejected My Offer To Be Secretary Of State (Huffington Post, 11/15/11)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Boeing Secures Huge Dreamliner Orders from Gulf Airliners (Erik Pineda | November 14, 2011, IB Times)

"Our decision to order the 787-8 is part of Oman Air's long-term growth strategy to expand and modernize our fleet with newer, more fuel-efficient airplanes," the Oman Air CEO was quoted by The Associated Press as saying in a news release.

The new order came following Boeing's record deal over the weekend that saw another Gulf airliner, Dubai's Emirate, inking an $18 billion agreement with the American aircraft manufacturer that will soon pave the way for the delivery of 50 Boeing 777 in the immediate years ahead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


The Triumphalist: a review of The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution By Francis Fukuyama (John Gray, November 9, 2011, New Republic)

Ever since his original essay appeared, and was widely and witheringly criticized, Fukuyama has complained that his central idea has been wickedly caricatured. In the introduction to The End of History and the Last Man, he responded indignantly to critics who pointed out that history had not in fact stopped. When informed of Fukuyama's writings, Margaret Thatcher is reported to have exclaimed, "The end of history? The beginning of nonsense!" For Fukuyama, Thatcher was laboring under a misunderstanding. He had never claimed that historical events were grinding to a halt. It was "history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process" that had come to an end. Nor had he asserted that there would be no more historical conflicts--he had always accepted that there would be plenty. But one type of conflict has ended, he insists: with the triumph of liberal democracy, the conflict over what is the best form of government has been resolved definitively and finally. Charting the development of the state, the rule of law, and accountable government, his new book maintains that together they define a universal regime: "A successful modern liberal democracy combines all three sets of institutions in a stable balance." An idealized version of American government--this is the only regime that can be fully legitimate in modern conditions.

It is a grandiose assertion, which only re-states, in more specific terms, the end-of-history thesis to which Fukuyama claims never to have subscribed. History--the history of modern politics, at any rate--largely consists of conflicts about what is the best form of government. The ideological rivalry of the cold war is only one example among many such antagonisms. The French Revolution sparked a contest between two rival versions of democracy, the first a version of limited government and the second a vehicle for popular will. (From one point of view, the present regime in Iran can be seen as a popular theocracy of a kind whose outlines are sketched in the writings of Rousseau.) It is often conveniently forgotten, but there were many in the interwar years who viewed fascism and communism as legitimate alternatives to the failing regime of liberal capitalism--a position defended, with some qualifications, by James Burnham in 1941 in The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World.

At the start of the twenty-first century, meanwhile, Islamists claim to be advancing a political and social model that rivals Western modernity--an extremely disputable thesis given that so much in Islamist thinking has been shaped by Leninism, but one that will doubtless continue to be advanced. And while not claiming to be a universally applicable model, the post-Mao regime of state-managed capitalism in China is increasingly coming to be seen as a viable alternative to Western free markets. Unless one defines political legitimacy so that it means nothing other than liberal democracy, the best system of government remains as contested as it has ever been. Plainly, ideology has not ended.
The problem, obviously, with Mr. Gray's alternative defeatist view is that Islamists are competing within emerging liberal democracies, not offering an alternative, thereby accepting that their legitimacy requires not a religious imprimatur but a democratic one.  Meanwhile, the PRC and Islamicists--like the Taliban--demonstrate their lack of legitimacy because they cannot contest elections--they'd be rejected--and because they have to exercise such a high degree of control over their populations just to keep them in line. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Views on Herman Cain Increasingly Negative (Gary Langer, 11/14/11, ABC News)

Unfavorable views of Herman Cain have soared by 17 points in the face of allegations of past sexual harassment, including a sharp increase in negative views of Cain within his own party.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that more Americans now see Cain unfavorably than favorably, by 44 percent to 29 percent, with the rest undecided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Congress Backslides on School Reform: Thanks to a strange, harmful alliance between the tea party and the teachers unions. (KEVIN P. CHAVOUS, 11/15/11, WSJ)

A funny thing happened on the way to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the sweeping school-reform law better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB): The debate over reauthorization has spawned a political alliance between the tea party and the teachers unions. These strange bedfellows have teamed up to push for turning teacher-evaluation standards over to the states--in other words, to turn back the clock on educational accountability.

On the right are tea party activists who want the federal government out of everything, including establishing teacher standards. On the left are teachers unions who bridle at the notion of anyone establishing enforceable teacher standards. And in the middle is another generation of American kids who are falling further and further behind their European and Asian counterparts.

It's hardly strange, since neither care about the sorts of kids the law helps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


The King of Human Error: Billy Beane's sports-management revolution, chronicled by the author in Moneyball, was made possible by Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. At 77, with his own new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, the Nobel Prize-winning Kahneman reveals the built-in kinks in human reasoning--and he's Exhibit A. (Michael Lewis, December 2011, Vanity Fair)

Their work intersected with economics in the early 1970s when Tversky handed Kahneman a paper on the psychological assumptions of economic theory. As Kahneman recalled:

I can still recite its first sentence: "The agent of economic theory is rational, selfish, and his tastes do not change."

I was astonished. My economic colleagues worked in the building next door, but I had not appreciated the profound difference between our intellectual worlds. To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.

The paper that resulted five years later, the abovementioned "Prospect Theory," not only proved that one of the central premises of economics was seriously flawed--the so-called utility theory, "based on elementary rules (axioms) of rationality"--but also spawned a sub-field of economics known as behavioral economics. This field attracted the interest of a Harvard undergraduate named Paul DePodesta. With a mind prepared to view markets and human decision-making as less than perfectly rational, DePodesta had gone into sports management, been hired by Billy Beane to work for the Oakland A's, and proceeded to exploit the unreason of baseball experts. A dotted line connected the Israeli psychologists to what would become a revolution in sports management. Outside of baseball there had been, for decades, an intellectual revolt, led by a free thinker named Bill James, devoted to creating new baseball knowledge. The movement generated information of value in the market for baseball players, but the information went ignored by baseball insiders. The market's willful ignorance had a self-reinforcing quality: the longer the information was ignored, the less credible it became. After all, if this stuff had any value, why didn't baseball insiders pay it any attention? To see the value in what Bill James and his crowd were up to you had first to believe that a market as open and transparent as the market for baseball players could ignore valuable information--that is, that it could be irrational. Kahneman and Tversky had made that belief reasonable.

Kahneman is a professor emeritus at Princeton, but, as it turned out, he lived during the summers with his wife, Anne Treisman, another well-known psychologist, near my house in Berkeley. Four years ago I summoned the nerve to write him an e-mail, and he invited me for a safe date, a cup of coffee. I found his house on the top of our hill. He opened the door wearing hiking shorts and a shirt not tucked into them, we shook hands, and I said something along the lines of what an honor it was to meet him. He just looked at me a little strangely and said, "Ah, you mean the Nobel. This Nobel Prize stuff, don't take it too seriously." He then plopped down into a lounge chair in his living room and began to explain to me, albeit indirectly, why he took such an interest in human unreason. His laptop rested on a footstool and a great many papers and books lay scattered around him. He was then 73 years old. It was tempting to describe him as spry, but the truth is that he felt more alert and alive than most 20-year-olds.

He was working on a book, he said. It would be both intellectual memoir and an attempt to teach people how to think. As he was the world's leading authority on his subject, and a lot of people would pay hard cash to learn how to think, this sounded promising enough to me. He disagreed: he was certain his book would end in miserable failure. He wasn't even sure that he should be writing a book, and it was probably just a vanity project for a washed-up old man, an unfinished task he would use to convince himself that he still had something to do, right up until the moment he died. Twenty minutes into meeting the world's most distinguished living psychologist I found myself in the strange position of trying to buck up his spirits. But there was no point: his spirits did not want bucking up. Having spent maybe 15 minutes discussing just how bad his book was going to be, we moved on to a more depressing subject. He was working, equally unhappily, on a paper about human intuition--when people should trust their gut and when they should not--with a fellow scholar of human decision-making named Gary Klein. Klein, as it happened, was the leader of a school of thought that stressed the power of human intuition, and disagreed with the work of Kahneman and Tversky. Kahneman said that he did this as often as he could: seek out people who had attacked or criticized him and persuade them to collaborate with him. He not only tortured himself, in other words, but invited his enemies to help him to do it. "Most people after they win the Nobel Prize just want to go play golf," said Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology at Princeton and a disciple of Amos Tversky's. "Danny's busy trying to disprove his own theories that led to the prize. It's beautiful, really."

November 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Old-fashioned pecan pie  (Emma Christensen, 11/14/11, Tribune Media Services)

1 9-inch unbaked piecrust
1 cup cane sugar syrup
1 cup  granulated sugar
3 large eggs, lightly whisked
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups halved pecans

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F with an oven rack placed in the middle of the oven.

Roll out the piecrust and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and freeze for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Microwave the cane sugar syrup in 30 second bursts on HIGH (about 60 to 90 seconds total), or set in a saucepan of simmering water, until the syrup is pourable.

Combine the syrup, sugar, eggs, salt, melted butter and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Stir gently until the mixture is smooth and all the ingredients are evenly combined. Stir in the pecans.

Remove the piecrust from the freezer and pour the filling into the shell. Use a spoon to make sure the pecans are distributed evenly. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. The pie is done when it reaches an internal temperature of about 200 F, and when the top crust turns deep golden-brown and feels firm when gently tapped.

Allow to cool completely and keep loosely covered with plastic in the refrigerator. Pie will keep for one week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Israel's foreign minister says Jordan is a stabilizing element, not future Palestinian state (Associated Press, November 14, 2011)

At Israel's parliament Monday, Avigdor Lieberman said, "Talk about Jordan as a Palestinian state damages Israel." He praised the neighboring country as a "stabilizing element in the region."

Palestinians make up about half of Jordan's population. A fringe minority of Israelis believe a Palestinian state should be founded there. A Lieberman spokesman said he has never said Jordan should be the Palestinian state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


U.S. Presidents Tend to be Basses, Not Tenors (IB Times, November 14, 2011)

"People think we want to vote for men with lower-pitched voices because they're more attractive," said David Feinberg, psychology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who supervised the research. "But it's because people perceive them as better leaders and more dominant, not just because they're attractive."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


The king of the bibles: As the Queen prepares to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version, Peter Mullen pours scorn on some of its modern rivals. (Peter Mullen, 14 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

There is no such thing as noble truth expressed in ignoble words. The choice of words determines what is being said. Therefore, we should choose the best.

"Strips of cloth" is no substitute for "swaddling clothes". And Mary was "with child" - we think of the Madonna and Child - and she had not "fallen pregnant" as it says in one of the modern versions. You cannot satisfactorily replace "through a glass darkly" with the crass literalism "puzzling reflections in a mirror" or "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal" with "noisy gong and clanging cymbal". The King James Bible was designed to be read aloud in churches. All the modern versions sound as if they have been written by tone-deaf people with tin ears and no rhythm.

What level of vacuity is reached when "Son of Belial" (i.e. the devil himself) is rendered by the New English Bible (NEB) as "a good-for-nothing"? As if the son of the devil is only a truant from the fourth form who has been stealing from the housemaster's orchard.

The real Bible says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." The NEB gives us instead, "The first step to find wisdom." But that is only the way in which babyish primary school teachers speak to their charges. The first step to find wisdom - and then, if you are ever so good little children, I'll show you the second step. This is infantilisation. Sometimes the New Jerusalem Bible's (NJB) pedantry, this pseudo-scholarly fascination with all that is merely foreign and obscure, is just silly, as in "You, Yahweh examine me." But occasionally it is mindlessly un-poetic and banal, as in the substitution of "Acclaim Yahweh" for the mesmerisingly beautiful and timelessly familiar "make a joyful noise unto the Lord". But in one example of supreme idiocy the meaning becomes impenetrable: The King James Version says, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord ..." In the New Jerusalem Bible this degenerates into tasteless obscurantism: "If you live in the shelter of Elyon and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai, you can say to Yahweh ..." The Revised Standard Version (RSV) loves to parade the translators' acquaintance with the slightest nuances in the ancient languages but their utter ignorance of what will go into ordinary English. It renders the "giants" of Genesis as "nephilim" - to the confusion, one supposes, of elderly ladies everywhere. And the "two pence" that the Good Samaritan gave to the innkeeper as "two denarii" - lest we should imagine that the currency of the Roman Empire was the same as that of England, pre-decimalisation.

The RSV makes a habit of iconoclasm, as for instance in its destruction of that very familiar phrase: "Arise, take up thy bed and walk." The RSV says, "Take up your pallet and go home." Because we must on no account be allowed to imagine that the poor paralytic slunk off carrying his four-poster, we have forced upon us the literalism pallet: and the result sounds like instructions to a sloppy painter.

The NEB also cannot tell the difference between speech that is poetic and metaphorical and speech that is literal and descriptive. That is why for "wolves in sheep's clothing" we are given instead the pantomime howler "men dressed up as sheep". We recall perhaps Ulysses' escape from the Cyclops or that pejorative expression "mutton dressed up as lamb". In the KJV men are "at meat" or they "sup"; but the RSV mentions a Pharisee who "asked Jesus to dine" - where, at The Garrick or White's? Likewise, his rebuke to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, "O fools and slow of heart" is emasculated to become "How dull you are!" How dull indeed. Can you imagine for one minute Our Lord Jesus Christ on the evening of his day of resurrection using such language? "How dull!"

The KJV's "pearl of great price" is exhibited in more of that infantilised Blue Peter language as "a pearl of very special value". And then the end of the world itself is described as if it were only an exceptionally hot afternoon at Goodwood: "My dear friends..." (that is the voice of the NEB's urbane, housetrained St Peter) " not be bewildered by the fiery ordeal that is coming upon you, as though it were something extraordinary." The end of the world not extraordinary? 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


The Age of Kennan: a review of GEORGE F. KENNAN: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (HENRY A. KISSINGER, 11/10/11, NY Times Book Review)

Kennan had rejected the proposition of an inherent American-Soviet harmony from the moment it was put forward and repeatedly criticized what he considered Washington's excessively accommodating stance on Soviet territorial advances. In February 1946, the United States Embassy in Moscow received a query from Washington as to whether a doctrinaire speech by Stalin inaugurated a change in the Soviet commitment to a harmonious international order. The ambassador was away, and Kennan, at that time 42 and deputy chief of mission, replied in a five-part telegram of 19 single-spaced pages. The essence of the so-called Long Telegram was that Stalin, far from changing policy, was in fact implementing a particularly robust version of traditional Russian designs. These grew out of Russia's strategic culture and its centuries-old distrust of the outside world, onto which the Bolsheviks had grafted an implacable revolutionary doctrine of global sweep. Soviet leaders would not be swayed by good-will gestures. They had devoted their lives (and sacrificed millions of their compatriots) to an ideology positing a fundamental conflict between the Communist and capitalist worlds. Marxist dogma rendered even more truculent by the Leninist interpretation was, Kennan wrote, "justification for their instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value. . . . Today they cannot dispense with it."

The United States, Kennan insisted (sometimes in telegramese), was obliged to deal with this inherent hostility. With many of the world's traditional power centers devastated and the Soviet leadership controlling vast natural resources and "the energies of one of world's greatest peoples," a contest about the nature of world order was inevitable. This would be "undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face."

In 1947, Kennan went public in a briefly anonymous article published in Foreign Affairs, signed by "X." Among the thousands of articles produced on the subject, Kennan's stands in a class by itself. Lucidly written, passionately argued, it elevated the debate to a philosophy of history.

The X article condensed the Long Telegram and gave it an apocalyptic vision. Soviet foreign policy represented "a cautious, persistent pressure toward the disruption and weakening of all rival influence and rival power." The only way to deal with Moscow was by "a policy of firm containment designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world."

So far this was a doctrine of equilibrium much like what a British foreign secretary in the 19th century might have counseled in dealing with a rising power -- though the British foreign secretary would not have felt the need to define a final outcome. What conferred a dramatic quality on the X article was the way Kennan combined it with the historic American dream of the ultimate conversion of the adversary. Victory would come not on the battlefield nor even by diplomacy but by the implosion of the Soviet system. It was "entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions" this eventuality. At some point in Moscow's futile confrontations with the outside world -- so long as the West took care they remained futile -- some Soviet leader would feel the need to achieve additional support by reaching down to the immature and inexperienced masses. But if "the unity and efficacy of the Party as a political instrument" was ever so disrupted, "Soviet Russia might be changed over night from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies."

No other document forecast so presciently what would in fact occur under Mikhail Gorbachev. But that was four decades away.

Four and a half decades of wasted lives and wealth and cultural degradation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Obama: Hoping for Pacific free trade plan by 2012 (ELAINE KURTENBACH, 11/14/11, BusinessWeek)

Pacific Rim leaders gathered for an annual summit in Hawaii pledged Saturday to work together to keep world growth on track, as President Barack Obama announced the broad outlines of a plan he said could serve as a model for a trans-Pacific free trade zone.

"There are still plenty of details to work out, but we are confident that we can do so. So we've directed our teams to finalize this agreement in the coming year," Obama said while seated beside leaders of eight other nations involved in the negotiations toward setting up what has been dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"It is an ambitious goal, but we are optimistic that we can get it done," he said.

The trade zone can serve as a model for the region and for other trade pacts, increasing U.S. exports and helping to create jobs, a top priority, in the fastest growing region in the world, said Obama, who made promoting the so-called TPP a priority in hosting this week's summit in his hometown, Honolulu.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Social democracy is dead. Now let's move on: Across Europe, labour parties are reinventing themselves to stay relevant, but they've been redundant for decades. (Michael Fitzpatrick, 11/14/11, spiked)

In retrospect I think we can see that the period after 1968 was the last gasp of that time, when the dominant tension in world politics was between capital and labour, between the left and the right. Francis Fukuyama famously argued his thesis that this marked the 'end of history'. Obviously it didn't, but it did mark the end of politics in the old form. Particularly, it marked the end of the historic role of social democracy because its very existence was dictated by its relationship between the poles of capital and labour, between left and right, between the working class and the capitalist class, in terms of the working out of politics. And when that polarisation no longer existed then traditional social democracy no longer had a role and the parties of labour became redundant. A parallel process afflicted the right. The Conservative Party also disintegrated following this period, but that's a separate, although related, story.

So the question is whether social democracy can survive this sequence of events. The answer is only by fundamentally reconstituting itself. The model for that of course is New Labour, which is a model that existed not only in Britain but in the rest of Europe as well. In other words, by negating its history as a party of the working class or as a party of the labour movement, as the party which had the goal of socialism, all these things were abandoned in quite explicit terms. to turn laborers into capitalists, which is how it destroys Labour, and to do so by forcing and aiding them to accumulate capital, which is how it transcends Conservatism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


A New Knesset Session, a New Assault (Liel Leibovitz, November 14, 2011, The Tablet)

Here's a partial list of the bills under consideration, which will likely be voted on in the coming weeks:

• A bill that would guarantee the government a majority in the committee dedicated to nominating Supreme Court justices. The judiciary and executive branches are currently separate entities, which explains, in part, Israel's robust and critical court system. This, of course, is a problem for a government frequently dedicated to breaking the law, as Netanyahu's administration does any time it colludes with settler groups. But the bill is not just a bit of ideological legislation; its practical purpose is to enable the appointment of Noam Sohlberg to the Supreme Court. Sohlberg's record is worth a closer look; some of his highlights on the District Court include acquitting a policeman who killed a Palestinian despite admitting that the deceased was shot "without cause" and stripping an Israeli man who had dodged the draft of his passport. [...]

• A bill that would severely limit the funding NGOs can receive from foreign governments. The bill's mastermind, Likud's Ofir Akunis, wasn't too subtle about the proposed legislation's purpose: The goal, he wrote in his draft of the bill, was to curb "the inciting activities of many organizations who masquerade as human rights groups and wish to influence the political discourse, the nature and the policy of the state of Israel."

These bills, most likely, will pass. If they do, Israel will no longer be able to truthfully call itself a democracy. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Aung San Suu Kyi braced for return to Burmese politics (Joseph Allchin, 11/13/11,

Aung San Suu Kyi appears on the verge of leading her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in a groundbreaking return to parliamentary politics in Burma a year after she was freed from house arrest.

The potential move comes after the government signed an amendment to the electoral law on Friday that seemed to remove legal and ideological barriers to the party's participation, making the NLD "very likely to register", according to its spokesperson, U Nyan Win.

History ends everywhere.

The Burmese bull in the reform shop (David Pilling, 10/11/11, Financial Times)

"I almost left the country thinking they're moving a little too fast. I never thought I would say that about Myanmar."

Those are the words of Espen Barth Eide, Norway's deputy foreign minister, after a trip this week to Burma, which the Norwegians call by its official name of Myanmar. Mr Barth Eide said that political reformers in the country "have the upper hand" and were moving quickly to try to consolidate their position before there was a counter-offensive from hardliners. "The danger is not that it's not sincere," he said of the push to open up the political process, "but that the counter forces will set in."

The deputy minister, who met senior officials in the new military-backed civilian government, cited among the changes:

- A promise to release political prisoners, the first tranche of which could come imminently
- Easy access to previously banned websites, including those critical of the Burmese government
- A statement by the government's chief censor that the country should consider ending all forms of censorship
- Lively debates in parliament, which were being filmed and shown on television. This must be "mindboggling" for the people, he said.
- A change of tone in the official newspapers, which had dropped slogans bashing western news organisations and "foreign propaganda"
- The words of Aung San Suu Kyi, who told him she thought Thein Sein, the newly "elected" president, was sincere in his push for a political opening.

Other developments include freedom of movement for Ms Suu Kyi, who has even appeared in the local press, and new legislation going through parliament to legalise trades unions. The deputy minister was also encouraged by the symbolism behind the scrapping of a huge $3.6bn dam being developed with China, an extremely popular measure among the Burmese who worry about the dam on environmental grounds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Iraq's federalist project reflects a resurgent sectarian conflict (Reidar Visser, Nov 14, 2011 , The National)

Today, finally, Sunni interest in federalism exists in Iraq. In fact, it exists in several forms. Since 2010, pro-federal movements have been noted in both Anbar and Nineveh governorates. But most substantially, there is now a formal request from the governorate council in Salahaddin, the home province of Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein, for a referendum to be held on a federal status for the governorate.

If successful, the referendum would put Salahaddin on par with the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is the only existing federal region in Iraq as of today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The Blunders of Statesmen: Freedom betrayed (Herbert Hoover, 11/14/11, National Review)
Editor's note: This article is adapted from Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited and with an introduction by George H. Nash, included below (Hoover Institution Press, 2011) Alliance with Stalin Indeed the greatest loss of statesmanship in all American history was the tacit American alliance and support of Communist Russia when Hitler made his attack in June 1941. Even the false theory that American military strength was needed to save Britain had now visibly vanished. By diversion of Nazi furies into the swamps of Russia, no one could any longer doubt the safety of Britain and all the Western world. These monstrous dictators were bound to exhaust themselves no matter who won. Even if Hitler won military victory, he would be enmeshed for years trying to hold these people in subjection. And he was bound even in victory to exhaust his military strength -- and the Russians were bound to destroy any sources of supplies he might have hoped for. His own generals opposed his action. American aid to Russia meant victory for Stalin and the spread of Communism over the world. Statesmanship again imperiously cried to keep out, be armed to the teeth and await their mutual exhaustion. When that day came there would have been an opportunity for the United States and Britain to use their strength to bring a real peace and security to the free world. No greater opportunity for lasting peace ever came to a president and he muffed it. The Economic Sanctions on Japan of July 1941 The eighth gigantic error in Roosevelt's statesmanship was the total economic sanctions on Japan one month later, at the end of July, 1941. The sanctions were war in every essence except shooting. Roosevelt had been warned time and again by his own officials that such provocation would sooner or later bring reprisals of war. Refusal to Accept Konoye's Peace Proposals The ninth time statesmanship was wholly lost was Roosevelt's contemptuous refusal of Prime Minister [Fumimaro] Konoye's proposals for peace in the Pacific of September, 1941. The acceptance of these proposals was prayerfully urged by both the American and British ambassadors in Japan. The terms Konoye proposed would have accomplished every American purpose except possibly the return of Manchuria -- and even this was thrown open to discussion. The cynic will recall that Roosevelt was willing to provoke a great war on his flank over this remote question and then gave Manchuria to Communist Russia. Refusal to Accept a 3 Months' Stand-Still Agreement with Japan The tenth loss of statesmanship was the refusal to accept the proposals that his ambassador informed him came from the emperor of Japan for a three months' stand-still agreement in November 1941. Our military officials strongly urged it on Roosevelt. Japan was then alarmed that Russia might defeat her ally, Hitler. Ninety days' delay would have taken all the starch out of Japan and kept war out of the Pacific. As the Stimson diary disclosed, Roosevelt and his officials were searching for a method to stimulate an overt act from the Japanese. Then Hull issued his foolish ultimatum, and we were defeated at Pearl Harbor. The train of losses and this Japanese victory in the Japanese occupation of all South Asia were incalculable. Further, with the loss of sea control, Hitler and Togo were able to destroy our shipping in sight of our own shores. The Demand for Unconditional Surrender The eleventh gigantic error in Roosevelt's statesmanship was demand for "unconditional surrender" at Casablanca in January 1943, where without our military, or even Churchill's advice, he was seeking a headline. It played into the hands of every enemy militarist and propagandist; it prolonged the war with Germany, Japan, and Italy. And in the end major concessions in surrender were given to both Japan and Italy. It held out no hope of peace to the Germans if they got rid of the Nazis. The war to the bitter end left no semblance of a structure in Germany upon which to build again. The Sacrifice of the Baltic States and East Poland at Moscow, October 1943 The twelfth error of lost statesmanship was the sacrifice of free nations at the foreign-ministers meeting at Moscow in October 1943. Here amid words of freedom and democracy not a word of protest was made against the known Russian intentions to annex the Baltic States, East Poland, East Finland, Bessarabia, and Bukovina (which he had in his agreement with Hitler). This acquiescence marked the abandonment of the last word of the Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter. Teheran and Its Sacrifice of Seven More Nations The thirteenth and possibly one of the greatest of all confused wanderings in Roosevelt's and Churchill's statesmanship was at Teheran in December 1943. Here was confirmation of the acquiescence at the Moscow Conference of the annexations; here was the acceptance of Stalin's doctrine of a periphery "of friendly border states" -- the puppet Communist governments over seven nations. Fidelity to international morals and their own promises of independence of nations and free men demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill at Teheran stand firm against Stalin once and for all. There were by this time no such military perils of Stalin's making a separate peace that could justify these agreements, acquiescences and appeasements. Yalta -- the Secret Agreements on the Downfall of Nations The fourteenth fatal loss of statesmanship was by Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta in February 1945. Not only were all Stalin's encroachments on the independence of a dozen nations ratified, but with a long series of secret agreements other malign forces were set in motion that will continue to plague the world with international dangers for generations. Knowing that Stalin had already created Communist puppet governments over seven nations, Roosevelt and Churchill sought to camouflage their lost statesmanship with gadgets entitled "free and unfettered" elections, "representation of all liberal elements." Even the strongest defender on military grounds of appeasement at Teheran could no longer defend it at Yalta. Here at least a stand might have been made for decency and free mankind which would have left America with cleaner hands and the moral respect of free men. Refusal of Japanese Peace Proposals of May-July 1945 The fifteenth time of lost statesmanship was in respect to Japan in May, June, and July 1945. Truman refused to take notice of the Japanese white flags. Truman was not obligated to Roosevelt's "unconditional surrender" folly. It had been denounced by our own military leaders in Europe. Peace could have been had with Japan with only one concession. That was the preservation of the Mikado who was the spiritual as well as secular head of the state. His position was rooted in a thousand years of Japanese religious faith and tradition. And we finally conceded this after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been sacrificed. Potsdam The sixteenth time of blind statesmanship was Truman at Potsdam. Power had now passed to inexperienced men on the democratic countries, and the Communists had their way at every consequential point. The whole Potsdam agreement was a series of ratifications and amplifications of the previous surrenders to Stalin. Not only were all the Communist annexations and puppets further cemented to Stalin, but the provisions as to government in Germany and Austria were so set as to send parts of these states into Stalin's bosom. The result of reparations policies was to load the American taxpayers with billions of the cost for relief of idle Germans and stifle the recovery of Germany and thus of Europe for years. The wickedness of slavery of war prisoners, the expelling of whole peoples from their homes was ratified and amplified from Yalta. Beyond all this, against advice from leading men, the ultimatum was issued to Japan of unconditional surrender without the saving clause allowing them to retain the Mikado recommended by a score of experienced American voices. The Japanese, in reply, asked only for this concession, which was met with the atomic bomb -- and then conceded in the end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Occupy Wall Street costs local businesses $479,400! (CANDICE M. GIOVE, November 13, 2011, NY Post)

The Occupy Wall Street movement has cost surrounding businesses $479,400 so far, store owners said.

A Post survey of a dozen restaurants, jewelry shops, beauty salons, a chain store and mom-and-pop establishments tallied almost a half-million dollars lost in the 53 days since the Zuccotti Park siege began on Sept. 17.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Bills limiting NGO funding pass Knesset committee (JTA, 11/13/11)

A Knesset committee approved two bills that would impose restrictions on foreign funding to nongovernmental organizations in Israel.

The bills approved Sunday in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by a vote of 11 to 5 will be brought in the coming days to the full Knesset for a preliminary reading. [...]

"These two bills are a severe affront to Israel's democratic character and part of a larger effort on the part of specific MKs to curtail the work of human rights and social change organizations whose agenda and/or activities differ from their political views," The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a position paper distributed twice to lawmakers before the vote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Immigration reforms could drive U.S. recovery (The Tennessean, Nov. 13, 2011)

America's eagerness to compete on the world stage over the past 200 years, along with its constitutional freedoms, made it into the pre-eminent economic power and the destination for disaffected and displaced people from all parts of the globe.

Lately, we have lost a significant amount of that luster.

Dozens of emerging economies such as Brazil and India are getting bigger shares of the international trade pie, and are modernizing and diversifying at a faster rate than the United States. What's more, they are becoming the destination for highly skilled workers and creative entrepreneurs -- even when those individuals have trained or earned their degrees at American universities. [...]

Restrictions on work visas, verification of employment eligibility and obtaining legal status are such that foreigners who have exhausted every avenue in attempting to stay and start a business in America often have no choice but to move to another country or return to their homeland to pursue their dream.

Of course, the economic downturn caused by immigration restrictions is a blessing for the nativists because it too makes America less attractive to immigrants.  Growth is their enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM

LET'S MAKE A BAND (profanity alert):

A Quietus Interview: Brown Acid Black Leather: The Story Of The Jesus And Mary Chain's Psychocandy (Julian Marszalek , November 8th, 2011 Quietus)

Unlike the well-organised and generally well-behaved gigs of the 21st century, concert going in the early 1980s were frequently fraught affairs. With tribalism at its height, punch-ups were a regular occurrence but there had been nothing like the mess that the Mary Chain had left behind. With their reputation preceding them, the Electric Ballroom was always going to end in tears but no one could have predicted just how violent this gig was going to be. Indeed, this writer, though a fan of the singles that had been released during the previous year, went with the intention of witnessing the trouble that was going to happen but didn't expect anything quite on this scale. In addition the curious observers and voyeurs milling around the Electric Ballroom was a heavy contingent of squatters, people who'd dropped out of mainstream society in the wake of punk rock as well as some faces more at home fighting on football terraces rather than a gig.

"It was great standing there knowing it was going to go off," continues Jelbert. "I'd seen them before at the ICA and that really did stink; they were totally clueless. The atmosphere at the Electric Ballroom was very odd and I felt that it was almost like a pantomime riot; if there had been custard pies then they would have been thrown at the stage. People wanted to kick off because no one really knew the Mary Chain's music. They came out late and there was this really horrible humming noise coming out through the PA all the way through which went over the racket the band was making."

Adding to the melee were members of the Metropolitan Police who came running into the venue as the violence increased in its intensity and with them came the realisation that things had come to a serious head. This was no longer the kind of event that generated column inches in the music press used to create a mythology around the band but a descent into darkness and uncontrollable chaos. Something had to give.

"That was the end of that period and it had stopped being funny," bassist Douglas Hart tells The Quietus. "[Band manager] Alan McGee had sorted out body guards for that gig but I remember that on the second date of that tour, one of them got knocked out with a scaffolding pole and he quit because he couldn't handle the heaviness of it all. And I think he'd been ex-SAS and had been one of the guys who'd gone through the window at the Iranian embassy. He was like, 'No amount of money can make me put up with this.'"

It wasn't until the release of Psychocandy in November 1985 that the Jesus And Mary Chain's musical objective came gloriously into view. The hype, hoopla and carnage generated by both the band and manager Alan McGee obscured the fact that they were not only radical sonic visionaries but masterful songwriters capable of creating a classic debut album that not only captured the mood of the age but would also stand the test time while creating a new template for rock & roll.

Politically and culturally, 1985 was a watershed year. After nearly 12 months, the miner's strike collapsed in March. Bitterly divisive, the defeat of the NUM by Margaret Thatcher's government was an event whose ramifications are felt to this very day. The violence that had marred the dispute slipped into other sections of society. Brixton and Tottenham in London and Toxteth in Liverpool were engulfed in riots within a week of each other in the autumn. Earlier in May, pre-match rioting between Liverpool and Juventus fans resulted in the tragic deaths of 39 Italian football fans when they were crushed to death at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, an event that was broadcast live on TV.

The pop landscape of 1985 had become increasingly grim. Daytime radio was fronted by any number of goons more concerned with their own increasing fame than the music they played and pop itself was becoming increasingly sterile. No longer a haven for outsiders and misfits, pop did its best to play safe as it increasingly relied on the promotional video becoming an end in itself. Smack in the middle of all this was Live Aid. As a genuinely altruistic event, Live Aid and its preceding single 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by Band Aid, can't be faulted. An incredible event, it was watched by a global audience of some 1.5 billion people and raised in the region of £40m for the starving of Ethiopia. At the centre if it was Bob Geldof. Though his own pop career with The Boomtown Rats had come to an end, Geldof's Herculean efforts to do the job that governments had failed to do did much to alleviate the suffering of millions.

Despite Geldof's protestations, as a cultural event Live Aid was a stinker with huge implications for pop music. Suddenly, bands that should have been out to pasture - indeed, many of them had been - were now welcomed back with open arms, mainly by people for whom pop was little more than light entertainment. Millionaire hippies were back while others such as Queen and Status Quo who'd made money from African suffering by breaking the cultural embargo on South Africa and playing the segregated environs of Sun City were now supposed to be helping starving Africans. Their record sales were boosted as a result and none, if any, of the revenues generated made it to the starving millions. Disgracefully, the London leg featured just one black act in the shape of Sade and the whiff of self-satisfaction - witness Phil Collins jumping on to a Concorde so he could play on both sides of the Atlantic - was overbearing.

"I was very suspicious of the whole thing at the time and I still am," Mary Chain vocalist Jim Reid tells The Quietus. "If money came out of it that went to the right people then so be it but I think a lot of people did it for the wrong reasons.

"It did create a change in people's perceptions of what a pop could be and then it seemed alright to be an iconic figure. A lot of those bands became something that went from being a dinosaur to being iconic and a lot of people did it to sell records.

"I remember at the time, I knew people who worked at the Virgin Megastore who'd say things like Simple Minds' albums were selling five times the amount they were the week before and you were thinking, 'Well, are they going to send that extra money to the starving millions? How can they live with that?'"

"I remember the Live Aid thing," adds Douglas. "We thought that punk had shaken things up; we really believed in that and we couldn't believe it when we met people who said they were going to go to Live Aid and we'd be thinking, 'What the fuck?' I suppose we then tried to compete on their terms and it made us work harder. We figured that if you'd get kids listening to that kind of s[***] then you'd get kids hearing us. It made us more determined to be bigger."

For a generation that was too young to appreciate punk on its first outing but had grown up on pop charts that regularly featured outsiders, seemingly sexual deviants and the kind of acts that would have parents frothing at the mouth during Thursday night's airing of Top Of The Pops, the Jesus And Mary Chain were a godsend. Combining the sonic fury and melodicism of The Velvet Underground - a band whose resurgence in popularity during the early 1980s cannot be overstated - and the sensibilities of pop at its most classic with a surliness that suggested that anyone could do this, JAMC's seismic arrival in pop's barren wasteland couldn't come quick enough. Indeed, it was precisely this kind of vacuum that galvanised Jim and William Reid into action.

"Music of that period pretty much appalled us," says Reid as he recalls the motivating factors behind the formation of the band. "A lot of people talk about the things that we were into that caused us to form a band but it was as much the bands that we detested that caused it too.

"I remember the NME going gaga about Kid Creole & the Coconuts and we thought, 'F[***] this!' That just didn't make sense in the pages of the NME. I wouldn't say that was the turning point but round about then there seemed to be so much garbage and we thought, 'F[***] it, there's no one making the kind of music that I wanna buy so let's go out and do it and make a band.'"
At our warehouse we have to play music that even the older ladies can tolerate, so the radio gets set to Oldies alot.  One of the youngsters was complaining and I tried to explain that the music of the 70s was much worse than he imagined.  Who can forget the excrutiating stretch where the airwaves were rife with: Billy Don't Be a Hero, Wildfire, The Night Chicago Died, Have you Never Been Mellow and Seasons in the Sun?  It may be that unless you lived through that aural assault you can't appreciate punk and its progeny.  Racket was a huge improvement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


On the Rise in Alabama (NY Times, 11/13/11)

[I]f there is any place where bigotry does not go unrecognized, it is Alabama.

"It is a fear of folks who are not like us," said Judge U. W. Clemon, a former state senator and Alabama's first black federal judge, now retired. "Although the Hispanic population of the state is less than 5 percent, the leaders of the state were hell-bent on removing as much of that 4 percent as possible. And I think they've been fairly successful in scaring them out of the state of Alabama."

There are, of course, significant distinctions between the civil rights movement and the fight for immigrant rights. African-Americans have endured 400 years of oppression, and toppled laws created to deny their equality and to brutalize them. Unauthorized immigrants are a group who arrived by choice, mostly. They are living outside the law, and want in.

Yet to those, like Judge Clemon, a civil rights foot soldier who fought Bull Connor and George Wallace, the common thread between then and now -- the threat of racial profiling and the abuse of a cheap, exploited work force -- is obvious, as is the racism driving the law.

A sponsor of the legislation, State Senator Scott Beason, chairman of the Rules Committee, was secretly taped by the F.B.I. talking about black residents of Greene County. "They're aborigines," he said. He is the lawmaker who urged fellow Republicans to "empty the clip" to stop illegal immigrants.

And then Republicans wonder why minorities vote against them.

November 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Billions Wasted on Billing (Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 11/12/11, NY Times)

How do we get to these savings? First, electronic health records would eliminate the need to fill out the same forms over and over. An electronic credentialing system shared by all hospitals, insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid, state licensing boards and other government agencies, like the Drug Enforcement Administration, could reduce much of the paperwork doctors are responsible for that patients never see. Requiring all parties to use electronic health records and an online system for physician credentialing would reduce frustration and save billions.

But the real savings is in billing. There are at least six steps in the process: 1) determining a patient's eligibility for services; 2) obtaining prior authorization for specialist visits, tests and treatments; 3) submitting claims by doctors and hospitals to insurers; 4) verifying whether a claim was received and where in the process it is; 5) adjudicating denials of claims; and 6) receiving payment.

Substantial costs arise from the fact that doctors, hospitals and other care providers must bill multiple insurance companies. Instead of having a unified electronic billing system in which a patient could simply swipe an A.T.M.-like card for automatic verification of eligibility, claims processing and payment, we have a complicated system with lots of expensive manual data entry that produces costly mistakes.

The Affordable Care Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop operating standards for electronic eligibility determination and payment -- steps one and six -- in the next few years, but we need to go further. We need the standard operating rules to encompass authorizing tests and treatments, submitting claims, verifying where in the process a claim is and the real-time adjudication of denials. And we must accelerate the process, covering all steps by 2015. Finally, the government needs to require that all parties -- doctors, hospitals, insurers, government agencies -- use the electronic systems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


How I fooled the art world: To expose the madness at the heart of contemporary art, William Boyd invented a 'forgotten' American artist, Nat Tate. Now, 13 years on - and in a bizarre twist - one of Tate's paintings is being sold at Sotheby's (William Boyd, 13 Nov 2011, The Telegraph)

It's a strange experience to stand in the main gallery at Sotheby's in Bond Street, looking at a small pen and ink drawing, Bridge no. 114 signed by the artist in his somewhat awkward, childish hand - "Nat Tate". It hangs alongside Lowrys, a Scottish Colourist, an Edward Burra, a Bridget Riley, a Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherlands and many other artistic luminaries ready to go under the hammer on November 15-16 at Sotheby's big Modern and Post-War British Art sale.

Nat Tate, however, is unique - because, alone among the many artists represented here, he never existed. I made him up and wrote his fictional biography in 1998. I'm also responsible for what remains of his output - Bridge no. 114 was created by me, I signed the name "Nat Tate" at the foot of the drawing - and, as I stand looking at it, I have this unusual feeling of vague pride and authorial distance. This is both my drawing and not my drawing. I half expect Nat Tate to stride into the room and shoulder me aside. For the only time in 30 years of writing fiction I have this sensation that a character I invented has taken on a life of his own beyond the pages of the fiction that enshrined him. The pleasure that I feel contemplating the sale ahead is as much Nat's as my own - a most unusual and not entirely comfortable state of mind.

The Nat Tate "affair" began on April Fools' Day in 1998 at a glittering party held in the artist Jeff Koons's studio in Manhattan. The host was David Bowie and he was celebrating the birth of his new publishing house, 21. My biography of Nat Tate was his inaugural publication and, apart from a very few present, nobody else knew that Nat was a fiction. Bowie read extracts from the book and an English journalist (one of the conspirators) moved through the throng asking leading questions and - people being people and not wanting to look ignorant or uninformed - many of them spoke openly about Nat Tate, warmly remembering aspects of his life, shows they had attended, reflecting on the sadness of his premature death.

...before it existed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Fatherhood Can Help Change a Man's Bad Habits (ScienceDaily, Nov. 7, 2011)

After men become fathers for the first time, they show significant decreases in crime, tobacco and alcohol use, according to a new, 19-year study.

Researchers assessed more than 200 at-risk boys annually from the age of 12 to 31, and examined how men's crime, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use changed over time. While previous studies showed that marriage can change a man's negative behavior, they had not isolated the additional effects of fatherhood.

"These decreases were in addition to the general tendency of boys to engage less in these types of behaviors as they approach and enter adulthood," said David Kerr, assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University and lead author of the study. "Controlling for the aging process, fatherhood was an independent factor in predicting decreases in crime, alcohol and tobacco use."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


How Walmart Is Changing China: The world's biggest corporation and the world's most populous nation have launched a bold experiment in consumer behavior and environmental stewardship: to set green standards for 20,000 suppliers making several hundred thousand items sold to billions of shoppers worldwide. Will that effort take hold, or will it unravel in a recriminatory tangle of misguided expectations and broken promises? (Orville Schell, December 2011, Atlantic)

Originally hired by Sam Walton to work in Walmart's transport division, Lee Scott, who became president and CEO in 2000, is pretty much the stereotype of what many might imagine a Walmart executive to be. Tall, with sandy hair and a pale, almost forgettable face, he radiates a reassuring, no-nonsense air and Great Plains earnestness--a middle American who grew up in a small southeastern-Kansas town pumping gas at his father's filling station and earned his degree at a state university while living in a trailer and working in a tire-mold factory.

Fed up with being viewed as an environmental despoiler and everyone's punching bag, Scott had already begun questioning how he might turn around Walmart's image, if not the corporation itself. In 2004, he connected with Jib Ellison, a former river guide who had recently set up a small consulting firm, Blu Skye Sustainability, in Sonoma County, California. "When I first met Lee, the guy was just getting pummeled," Ellison told me. "I mean, the world was really turning upside down for him!"

After a discreet courtship, Ellison managed to break through the "Bentonville bubble," as he calls it, and convince Scott that it was not enough to "limit Walmart's exposure" to environmental criticism. He also had "an opportunity to use sustainability to 'do well by doing good.'" According to Edward Humes, the author of Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Walmart's Green Revolution, Ellison insisted "that inefficiency and waste were omnipresent, even in a notoriously stingy company like Walmart, with the waste not only damaging the environment, but damaging the company's bottom line as well." Identify and cut out the waste in areas like packaging, shipping, and energy use, Ellison said, and Scott would solve his company's image problem and make a better return on investment.

It was a beguiling dream, so much so that Ellison persuaded Scott to make tiny Blu Skye a Walmart consultant, a decision that helped send the massive company off on an environmental odyssey and won Ellison the handle of "CEO whisperer." Soon, Scott was inviting the longtime banes of Walmart's existence--nongovernmental organizations like the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund--to Bentonville for discussions with his executives.

In the company's corporate narrative, October 24, 2005, is spoken of as "a defining day in the history of Walmart." This was the day Lee Scott gave his "Twenty First Century Leadership" speech, broadcast via video to all Walmart stores and suppliers. In the same way Chinese Communist cadres quote from the revolutionary scripture of their Big Leader's collected works, Scott began by citing Walmart's founder. "Sam Walton's dream to serve the underserved changed the world," he said. "We didn't get where we are today by being like everyone else and driving the middle of the road. We became Walmart by being different, radically different."

Scott acknowledged that the company was "in uncharted territory as a business," but he said that "after a year of listening, the time has come to speak, to better define who we are in the world, and what leadership means for Walmart in the 21st century." Then Scott got to the point. "Environmental loss threatens our health and the health of the natural systems we depend on," he told his audience. "As one of the largest companies in the world, with an expanding global presence, environmental problems are our problems."

Scott acknowledged that naysayers would "think that if a company addresses the environment, it will lose its shirt." But, he countered, "I believe they are wrong. I believe, in fact, that being a good steward of the environment and in our communities, and being an efficient and profitable business, are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one and the same."

Walmart was a company with a reputation for having already "gotten religion" through Sam Walton. But now, it seemed on the verge of being reborn in a different way. In the most practical language, Scott tersely laid out three long-term goals, which he described as "both ambitious and aspirational":

    1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
    2. To create zero waste.
    3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

"I'm not sure how to achieve them," he admitted. "At least not yet."

Scott left a stunned audience, but soon the company was examining every aspect of itself to find inefficiencies and waste. It condensed products like laundry detergent into small, more easily packed and shipped containers; retrofitted 7,000 big rigs with small auxiliary motors so that drivers would not run their engines just to cool their cabs while they slept; reduced the amount of cardboard and plastic used in packaging; and started buying directly from farmers to ensure cheaper, fresher, and more reliable organic lines of fresh food. The goal was to save money by becoming greener.

With some 30,000 Chinese factories making things for Walmart, the company's future was tied to China in the most elemental way. So Scott and his team knew that Walmart could never truly "green" its supply chain without taking on its Chinese partners. But, if China was going to be the laboratory of the future, it was difficult to imagine how even Walmart could wrangle such a far-flung and disparate range of suppliers into a responsive group.

On October 22, 2008, the CEOs and factory managers of more than 1,000 Chinese Walmart suppliers sat waiting in the Valley Wing Grand Ballroom of Beijing's Shangri-La Hotel, for the beginning of Walmart's China Sustainability Summit. Many of the attendees anticipated a significant new environmental announcement, and not a few of them were concerned. After all, Walmart was famous for pressuring suppliers to cut costs and reduce prices to the point where profit margins vanished. Moreover, the world economy had begun to careen toward breakdown, with countries like the United States cutting back precipitously on orders from abroad.

Heralded by a blast of pop music, Lee Scott strode to the podium. In characteristically flat tones, he started off with a few pleasantries about the Olympic Games, complimenting his Chinese audience for being part of a nation "that really gets things done." Then he leaned into the topic at hand. "When Walmart first came to China," he declared, "the government said that it expected us to be a model retailer. We have worked hard to try to meet those expectations ... and to save money in the process." He spoke without any dramatic oratorical pauses or expressive hand gestures. "And with the Chinese government expanding its goals for sustainability ... it just makes sense that Walmart would be committed to being a more sustainable company here in China."

As Scott continued in the cavernous and, by now, completely still room, he conveyed utter conviction. "Look around: we have 1,000 suppliers here. A year from now, each and every one of you who chooses to make a commitment will be a more socially and environmentally responsible company. And that will make a difference. It will make a difference for you, for Walmart, for China, for our customers, and yes, for the planet."

Acknowledging that Walmart customers "need low prices," he said he also believed that "more and more, they will be looking at the entire life cycle of a product: How is it made, how is it sold, how is it used, and how is it reused? To meet these customer expectations, we need to ask ourselves: Is a product made in a factory that is a responsible steward of the environment and our natural resources?"

On the crucial role of energy use, Scott declared, "The final factor that I see at work in bringing us here today is an increase in the global demand for energy and what that means for climate change." Then, as if he were, in fact, a foreign minister, Scott warned: "This will be one of the greatest economic, environmental, and perhaps security challenges that the world will face in the 21st century ... Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional. I firmly believe that a company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts, will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products."

As his listeners were digesting all this, Scott assured them that Walmart was willing to "work with" them. But then he dropped the trap door: "If a factory does not meet these requirements, they will be expected to put forth a plan to fix any problems. If they still do not improve, they will be banned from making products for Walmart." Like a priest admonishing parishioners to accept Communion or be excommunicated, Scott explained that each supplier would have to make a commitment to comply with these environmental standards. (Ultimately, they would also be required to open themselves to third-party auditors.)

"Some may wonder, even inside Walmart: With all that is going on in the global economy, should being a socially and environmentally responsible company still be a priority?" Scott did not yield an inch. "You're darn right sustainability should be a priority!"

He was all but preaching now. With his hint of a southern accent and his almost religious sense of the righteousness--not to say the profitability!--of his cause, he seemed to be crescendoing toward some sort of evangelical climax. But, ever the model of middle-American restraint, Scott resisted the urge to overstep the bounds of oratorical modesty.

"I believe that as a businessman. I believe it as a person who has a responsibility to shareholders. And I believe it as a father and a grandfather. We will have better companies, better communities, and an even stronger commitment to a cause that is greater than each of us and unites us all. And we will leave a better world for future generations."


I turned to a Sichuan factory manager standing beside me and asked what he thought of Scott's speech. He gave a worried frown.

At the press conference that followed, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Scott, almost accusatorily, if these new demands on suppliers would simply presage a further squeeze of their already meager profit margins. In a tone as close to testy as he could come, Scott asked the reporter if she wouldn't rather pay a few cents more for something that was made well and would not harm the environment.

What made Scott's sermon so timely was the buildup in China of political and economic forces that augured well for the idea of a large and trustworthy foreign-owned company "going green." Whereas up until about 2005, Party leaders had been dedicated to unfettered development, whatever its environmental cost, the five-year plan that went into effect in 2006 introduced the concept of kexue fazhan, or "scientific development," which was a way of injecting the idea of a more environmentally sound kind of development into the equation without directly impugning all the previous efforts to promote economic progress. Then, over the next few years, the Party began heralding the notion of kechixude fazhan, or "sustainable development."

As it happened, just at this time, growing numbers of Chinese were also becoming worried, even frightened and angry, about pollution, adulterated foods, and the corruption that kept local government agencies from taking remedial actions. And because more and more Chinese were not only erupting into spontaneous protests as a way to get action, but also looking to NGOs rather than to the government for relief, and because even the press had become more activist, the government became concerned about the impact of environmental damage on the stability of the country.

The number of scares involving illegal chemical additives in food was creating particular alarm. In 2008, milk products were found to contain melamine, a coal-based industrial chemical that, when ingested, can cause kidney stones and renal failure. (Melamine had been regularly used to give milk powder and baby formula a seemingly higher protein content.) As a result, some 300,000 Chinese consumers were sickened and at least six infants died. The Chinese government reorganized its food-inspection system in response, and its new Food Safety Law went into effect in 2009. Nonetheless, the dairy industry was hit again with scandals this year.

In the spring, hundreds were sent to the hospital when hogs from 16 provinces were found to have been fed a "lean meat powder" containing the toxic chemical additives ractopamine or clenbuterol, to produce less-fatty pork. In Guangdong province, authorities discovered and destroyed 45 tons of vermicelli noodles adulterated with industrial wax and ink; in Shenyang, police seized 40 tons of bean sprouts that had been illegally bathed in urea, sodium nitrite, antibiotics, and the plant hormone 6-benzyladenine, to make them grow faster and appear fresher. The food-safety situation became so serious that on April 14, Premier Wen Jiabao took the unprecedented step of speaking out, saying the recent scandals indicated that "dishonesty and moral degradation" had become a serious problem.

No wonder, then, that many in China's burgeoning middle class, especially those with children, are seeking refuge in brand-name restaurants--particularly fast-food chains such as McDonald's and KFC--and grocery markets such as Walmart. Walmart has several times come under fire in China for selling produce tainted with toxic chemical residues, and for mixing organic and nonorganic foodstuffs: this fall, for example, the Chongqing municipal government fined Walmart, and temporarily closed some of its stores, for mislabeling pork as organic. Still, because Walmart is a well-known multi-national corporation with so much at stake in terms of its global brand, Chinese shoppers have assumed that it will be a more trustworthy outlet.

It's pretty comical the way the Right opposes making the economy more efficient just because cutting waste and using energy more wisely is tainted by Environmentalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


My Teacher Is an App: More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The result: A radical rethinking of how education works. (STEPHANIE BANCHERO and STEPHANIE SIMON, 11/12/11, The Wall Street Journal)

In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some--or all--of their classes from their bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens. Other states and districts are bringing students into brick-and-mortar schools for instruction that is largely computer-based and self-directed.

In just the past few months, Virginia has authorized 13 new online schools. Florida began requiring all public-high-school students to take at least one class online, partly to prepare them for college cybercourses. Idaho soon will require two. In Georgia, a new app lets high-school students take full course loads on their iPhones and BlackBerrys. Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools, up 40% in the last three years, according to Evergreen Education Group, a consulting firm that works with online schools. More than two million pupils take at least one class online, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade group.

Although some states and local districts run their own online schools, many hire for-profit corporations such as K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Academy in Baltimore, a unit of education services and technology company Pearson PLC. The companies hire teachers, provide curriculum, monitor student performance--and lobby to expand online public education.

It's all part of a burst of experimentation in public education, fueled in part by mounting budgetary pressures, by parental dissatisfaction with their kids' schools and by the failure of even top-performing students to keep up with their peers in other industrialized countries. In the nation's largest cities, half of all high-school students will never graduate.

Advocates say that online schooling can save states money, offer curricula customized to each student and give parents more choice in education.

A few states, however, have found that students enrolled full-time in virtual schools score significantly lower on standardized tests, and make less academic progress from year to year, than their peers. Critics worry that kids in online classes don't learn how to get along with others or participate in group discussions.

Public education exists in America to make kids into effective citizens of the Republic.  Abandoning that role entirely makes them useless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Pricing of electricity could use a jolt: Common-sense pricing systems that consider the time at which energy is used could save consumers money on their power bills and encourage conservation. (Frederick Taylor-Hochberg, November 13, 2011, LA Times)

During the day, businesses and large office buildings are humming along, sucking up vast amounts of juice. During these peak demand hours, utility companies often have to turn to expensive and polluting "peaker" plants to keep the supply flowing. Electricity should cost more during these times, but because tiered prices are blind to when a kilowatt hour is consumed, it doesn't.

So what should be done? An alternative way to charge for energy, known as time-of-use pricing, is beginning to gain some traction, and it makes economic and environmental sense.

The idea is to do away with complex tiers and instead charge consumers a price based on the time of day they consume a kilowatt hour, with higher prices during peak times and lower ones during off-peak times. This would encourage people to consume power when it's cheaper and better for the environment to produce, and it would discourage them from using it at peak times.

It would let consumers take charge of their own electricity bills: Instead of accidentally slipping into an upper tier and getting charged exorbitant rates for electricity, people could make informed decisions about when to consume and set simple behavioral rules, such as washing clothes at night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Ayatollah for a Day: I war-gamed an Israeli strike on Iran -- and it got ugly. (KARIM SADJADPOUR, NOVEMBER 10, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Iran's nuclear sites are purposely built close to population centers, but in the simulation, the Israeli strike managed to cause only a small number of civilian casualties. Nonetheless, one of my immediate reactions was to order Iranian state television to show graphic images of the "hundreds of innocent martyrs" -- focusing on the women and children -- in order to incite outrage against Israel and attempt to convert Iranian nationalism into solidarity with the regime.

To further that goal, we then invited the symbolic leadership of the opposition -- Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (both of whom are now under house arrest), as well as former President Mohammad Khatami -- onto state television to furiously condemn Israel and pledge allegiance to the government. Instead of widening Iran's deep internal fractures -- both between political elites and between the people and the regime -- the Israeli military strike helped repair them.

I asked a longtime aide to Karroubi about the plausibility of the above scenario. He said that an Israeli strike on Iran would be "10 times worse" -- in terms of eliciting popular anger -- than a U.S. strike and agreed that it would likely bring recognized opposition figures in concert with the government, strengthening the state's capacity to respond.

And respond we did. I went into the exercise believing that the Iranian regime's response to an Israeli military strike -- despite many predictions otherwise -- would be relatively subdued, given the regime's fears of inviting massive reprisals. The opposite turned out to be true. Once our nuclear sites were effectively destroyed, we calculated that we had no choice but to escalate and retaliate in order to save face and project power to our own population and neighbors, deter future attacks, and inflict a heavy political cost on Israel.

Perhaps implicitly, the experience of Israel's September 2007 bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor was instructive. Aside from a feeble official complaint to the United Nations about Israel's "breach of Syrian airspace," there was virtually no reaction from Damascus. As a result, the Israeli attack was met with little international or even Arab condemnation.

We needed to respond in a way that would further enflame the regional security environment, negatively impact the global economy, and make reverberations felt throughout the world. So we played dirty.

One of our first salvos was to launch missiles at oil installations in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, as well as stir unrest among Saudi Shiites against their government. Our pretext was that Israel had used Saudi airspace to attack us, though we later found out it did so without Saudi permission. Given Iran's less-than-accurate missile technology, most missiles missed their mark, but some struck home and we succeeded in spiking oil prices enough so that Americans and Europeans filling their cars with gasoline might be irritated by Israel's actions.

We also fired missiles at Israeli military and nuclear targets and unleashed Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad to fire rockets at Israeli population centers. Although few of these missiles reached their targets, the goal was create an atmosphere of terror among Israeli society so its government would think twice about future attacks.

We didn't limit our reaction to just the Middle East. Via proxy, we hit European civilian and military outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq, confident that if past is precedent, Europe would take the high road and not retaliate. We also activated terrorist cells in Europe -- bombing public transportation and killing several civilians -- in the belief that European citizens and governments would likely come down hard on Israel for destabilizing the region.

But, appreciating the logic of power, we stopped just short of provoking the United States.

In other words, Iran is incapable of meaningful reaction, other than against its own people. 

November 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Arab League suspends Syrian membership, calls for sanctions against Assad's regime (Al Arabiya, 11/12/11)

The Arab League voted to suspend Syria's membership at its meeting on Saturday and said it would impose economic and political sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad as well as call for the withdrawal of Arab ambassadors from Damascus.

The Arab foreign ministers meeting at the League's headquarters in Cairo also called on the Syrian army to cease its involvement in the killing of civilians and invited the Syrian opposition for transition talks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Occupy Camp To Be Cleared, Decisions About Future Not Made (WPTZ, 11/11/11)

Occupy Burlington members are displaced after almost two weeks of encampment. This following the death of 35-year-old participant, Josh Pfenning. He shot himself Thursday afternoon in one of the tents and later died. Protestors were in mourning on Friday.

In a little over a day, City Hall Park has hosted a campsite, crime scene, angry police protests and a vigil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Supreme Court Votes Can Be Predicted: Study (Dan Rivoli, November 12, 2011, IB Times)

"We find that Supreme Court justices are significantly more predictable than one would expect from 'ideally independent' justices in 'ideal courts,'" that is, independently evaluating cases on merits, free of ideology, the study said.

The study was based on 150 cases of each court starting with the Warren Court in 1953 to the Rehnquist Court, which ended in 2004.

In using a "block" method, grouping justices and cases, the researchers' model correctly predicted 83 percent of votes, compared to 67.9 percent from legal experts in one particular study and a case content-based algorithm's 66.7 percent.

Of course, the Beltway activists would prefer an algorithm to a person.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Aleppo merchants abandon a regime that fails on stability (Hassan Hassan, Nov 13, 2011 , The National)

When I visited Aleppo a year ago, the Carlton Citadel Hotel had just opened. The hotel was built on the site of an old palace near the Aleppo Citadel, a well-known tourist attraction. Because of the protests, there are few tourists in the city and such hotels are losing million of dollars a year just in rents and maintenance. The slump in the tourism industry means that associated businesses are losing too. Other cities that Aleppo relied on as markets have become protest hot-spots. And wealthy people tend to hoard their wealth in times of unrest, instead of spending it on luxury items like jewellery.

A broad section of the wealthier classes had hoped that the regime would quell the protests quickly before business deteriorated further. But as the violence spread across the country and the death toll reached the thousands, hostility towards protesters began to turn into sympathy and pragmatism.

One of the merchants in Istanbul said leading business figures in Aleppo now want the regime to fall sooner rather than later.

Although it is unlikely that the silent wealthy class will join the protests, the new attitude strongly indicates that the protest movement has entered into a new phase: the beginning of the downfall of the regime.

It has long been argued that the Baathist regime holds power partly because of the loyalty of the business community. The argument is flawed. Businessmen who directly benefit from the regime are a small oligarchy. In recent years, the majority of businesses suffered in the same way that the agricultural sector did. Many businessmen in Aleppo, for example, closed down their factories after the government told them to relocate to a centralised industrial zone in 2009. The new zone barely accommodated half of the existing businesses.

Dissatisfaction within the business community is as deep as in the agricultural sector, which has been neglected by the regime for many years and suffered from inflation as "reforms" focused on raising the salaries of government employees.

It is not that the business community supported the Assads; if anything, it supported stability. It was passivity, not loyalty, that kept it outside the protest movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Propaganda of the Deed: Is Anarchism, not Marxism, the more relevant left tradition? (Mark Mazower, Summer 2011, BookForum)

What exactly was anarchism, and why should it matter to us today--more, perhaps, than Marxism itself? With hindsight, some basic distinctions are relevant. All revolutionaries disliked the state in the form in which they found it; some nevertheless acknowledged the necessity for working through it to get to the utopia they envisaged. Only the followers of Bakunin, Proudhon, and those who thought like them resisted any engagement with the state on principle.

What's amusing is that while both the Tea Party and the Occupiers are driven by their deep hatred of the state, both are thoroughly dependent on it, in the form of SS and Medicare for the former and government-guaranteed student loans for the latter.  Basically, they just don't like it that other groups get money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Why China Is Unhappy: Rising discontent is challenging Communist Party rule. (WSJ, 11/11/11)

On the Chinese equivalents of Twitter, criticism of the government is exploding, despite fierce censorship. A recent poll by Tsinghua University and the magazine Xiaokang found that 40% of Chinese are unhappy with their lives, while another survey by the magazine Outlook and Peoples University found 70% of farmers dissatisfied, mainly because of land seizures. Some 60% of the rich are emigrating or considering doing so, according to a survey by the Hurun Report and the Bank of China. Even the People's Daily warned last week that there is a "crisis of confidence" in government.

The crisis is real, but the Communist Party mouthpiece didn't quite get it right. Chinese lost faith in local-level officials a long time ago, but until recently they continued to believe in their national leaders. They also largely accepted the post-1989 social contract in which the Party provided rising living standards in return for not questioning its monopoly on power.

This is changing as a result of two trends. The first is a growing awareness among the bottom strata of society that it is policy made at higher levels, not merely the incompetence or corruption of local officials, that is responsible for their woes. The second is the interest of the wealthy and the intellectuals in reform after two decades of being bought off by the Communist Party. 

November 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


Difference Engine: Luddite legacy (Babbage, Nov 4th 2011, The Economist)

The conventional explanation for America's current plight is that, at an annualised 2.5% for the most recent quarter (compared with an historical average of 3.3%), the economy is simply not expanding fast enough to put all the people who lost their jobs back to work. Consumer demand, say economists like Dr Tyson, is evidently not there for companies to start hiring again. Clearly, too many chastened Americans are continuing to pay off their debts and save for rainy days, rather than splurging on things they may fancy but can easily manage without.

There is a good deal of truth in that. But it misses a crucial change that economists are loth to accept, though technologists have been concerned about it for several years. This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America's current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)--including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software--are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.

This is unlike the job destruction and creation that has taken place continuously since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as machines gradually replaced the muscle-power of human labourers and horses. Today, automation is having an impact not just on routine work, but on cognitive and even creative tasks as well. A tipping point seems to have been reached, at which AI-based automation threatens to supplant the brain-power of large swathes of middle-income employees.

That makes a huge, disruptive difference. Not only is AI software much cheaper than mechanical automation to install and operate, there is a far greater incentive to adopt it--given the significantly higher cost of knowledge workers compared with their blue-collar brothers and sisters in the workshop, on the production line, at the check-out and in the field.

In many ways, the white-collar employees who man the cubicles of business today share the plight of agricultural workers a century ago. In 1900, nearly half of the adult population worked on the land. Thanks to tractors, combine harvesters, crop-picking machines and other forms of mechanisation, agriculture now accounts for little more than 2% of the working population.

Displaced agricultural workers then, though, could migrate from fields to factories and earn higher wages in the process. What is in store for the Dilberts of today? Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff ("Program or Be Programmed" and "Life Inc") would argue "nothing in particular." Put bluntly, few new white-collar jobs, as people know them, are going to be created to replace those now being lost--despite the hopes many place in technology, innovation and better education.

The argument against the Luddite Fallacy rests on two assumptions: one is that machines are tools used by workers to increase their productivity; the other is that the majority of workers are capable of becoming machine operators. What happens when these assumptions cease to apply--when machines are smart enough to become workers? In other words, when capital becomes labour. At that point, the Luddite Fallacy looks rather less fallacious.

This is what Jeremy Rifkin, a social critic, was driving at in his book, "The End of Work", published in 1995. Though not the first to do so, Mr Rifkin argued prophetically that society was entering a new phase--one in which fewer and fewer workers would be needed to produce all the goods and services consumed. "In the years ahead," he wrote, "more sophisticated software technologies are going to bring civilisation ever closer to a near-workerless world."

The process has clearly begun. And it is not just white-collar knowledge workers and middle managers who are being automated out of existence. As data-analytics, business-intelligence and decision-making software do a better and cheaper job, even professionals are not immune to the job-destruction trend now underway. Pattern-recognition technologies are making numerous highly paid skills redundant.
...we have a wealth redistribution crisis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


Tuberculosis Breaks Out At Occupy Atlanta's Base (CBS Atlanta, 11/11/11)

The Fulton County Health Department confirmed Wednesday that residents at the homeless shelter where protesters have been occupying have contracted the drug-resistant disease. WGCL reports that a health department spokeswoman said there is a possibility that both Occupy Atlanta protesters and the homeless people in the shelter may still be at risk since tuberculosis is contracted through air contact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Cold Warrior: No single person encapsulates the drama, the deadly confrontations, and the self-destructive follies of the Cold War better than George Kennan. (Ronald Steel, November 11, 2011, American Prospect)

In 1943, the millionaire statesman Averell Harriman, chosen by President Roosevelt as the new envoy to Moscow, appointed Kennan to run the civilian side of the embassy. This, Gaddis writes, gave Kennan the "opportunity to mount a sustained assault on Roosevelt's approach to the Soviet Union." Writing to his friend Charles Bohlen, before the 1945 conference at Yalta, where Bohlen would serve as interpreter for the president in his meetings with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, Kennan warned against any efforts to achieve cooperation with the Soviet Union. Europe, he argued, should be divided into spheres of influence. Eastern Europe should be written off, Germany divided between eastern and western zones, and any pretense of shared interests between Russia and the West abandoned.

In February 1946, Kennan's distrust of the Soviets boiled to the surface in the form of a 5,000-word dispatch that he sent to Washington as a telegram to emphasize the message's importance. Coming at a critical moment, when wartime collaboration had given way to mutual suspicion, it had an electrifying effect beyond his wildest hopes. In language designed to shock and frighten, Kennan declared that Soviet officials sought foreign enemies to justify their harsh internal rule and were intent on undermining the United States. "We have here," he charged, "a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure." What came to be known as the "long telegram" turned into, Gaddis writes, "the conceptual foundation for the strategy that the United States and Great Britain would follow for over four decades."

 Word spread throughout a bureaucracy searching for an understanding of how to deal with a recalcitrant Russia. In July 1947, the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs featured an article based on the "long telegram," signed as "X" to conceal Kennan's identity as a government official. There he argued, in vivid words that were to animate American foreign policy during the Cold War, that American policy must be guided by the "long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." If the United States pursued such a "policy of firm Containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world," Kennan maintained, the ultimate result would be "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power."

To see the Soviet Union clearly, for the anti-human monstrosity it was, but then argue that Eastern Europe and the Russian people should be left to suffer under its rule was abominable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Obama Should Still Resist Congress on Solyndra (Stephen L. Carter, 11/11/11, Bloomberg)

[T]he constitutional scholar in me finds something admirable in the administration's original instinct to demur. Congressional investigations of the executive branch have been out of control for a very long time, under both parties, and a little more resistance now and then would be a useful corrective. [...]

From the earliest days of the republic, every President has taken the position that it is up to him, and not the legislators, to decide how much of the private deliberations of the chief executive and his advisers should be disclosed.

George Washington denied some congressional requests for internal documents of his administration. Perhaps the best-known case was his refusal in 1794 to provide the Senate with copies of the correspondence between the French government and the U.S. ambassador, and between that envoy and the State Department. After consulting his Cabinet, Washington agreed to the request "except in those particulars which, in my judgment, for public considerations, ought not be communicated."

Every president has made similar reservations, even up to the point of resisting subpoenas. Andrew Jackson refused to give Congress memoranda from his advisers. Abraham Lincoln successfully resisted congressional efforts to obtain documents on many controversies. More recently, Bill Clinton relied on the claim of privilege to shield everything from documents on the firings at the White House travel office to a 1996 memorandum supposedly critical of his handling of the drug war. George W. Bush refused to release papers relating to matters ranging from communication between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency to pardons issued by his predecessor.

Often the president wins these confrontations. Sometimes the parties fight and snarl before reaching some compromise, respecting both the legitimate role of the legislature and the need to protect the internal deliberations of the executive.

For most of the nation's history, both branches understood that this political byplay was precisely what the Framers of the Constitution expected. Only in recent decades has the president's effort to assert his constitutional prerogative been attacked as some sort of illegitimate concealment.

If they want to read the Executive's emails they should serve in that branch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


This Week at War: Doing More With Less: How can the U.S. still field a global military force in an age of austerity? (ROBERT HADDICK | NOVEMBER 11, 2011, Foreign Policy)

In a speech this week to senior leaders of the National Guard, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey revealed his outline of U.S. military strategy for the remainder of the decade. Dempsey's task is to reshape the military to accomplish anticipated missions, respond and adapt to surprises, and do all this with much less funding than previously expected.  [...]

First, he called for a reformulated relationship between active-duty and National Guard and reserve forces. Implied in this proposal is a transfer of many active-duty Army forces, especially heavy tank and mechanized units, into the National Guard and reserve. With demand for such forces expected to drop following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, defense budget planners no doubt see this move as a way to save money on active duty personnel and training costs. The Air Force and Marine Corps will also likely be asked to similarly contribute. But a remaining concern is how quickly the Pentagon will be able to reconstitute reserve forces into effective combat units during a crisis.

Next, Dempsey called for a transformed relationship between special operations and general purpose forces. He noted that the capabilities of these forces have already been merging over the past decade. On a per soldier basis, special operations forces are expensive to train, equip, and maintain. Relative to its total budget, the Pentagon could achieve modest savings by having lower-cost general-purpose soldiers perform some designated special operations missions, such as foreign internal defense training. Such occasional substitution would free up special operations capabilities for missions requiring highly technical or covert skills. Dempsey was also likely referring to enabling support for special operations, which in the future may be provided in more cases by general purpose forces.

Dempsey's broadest and most-challenging strategy is to build a force that is capable of quickly executing military operations along the entire spectrum of conflict, from peacekeeping and training partner forces through high-intensity ground combat, including exotic capabilities such as cyberwarfare, defending space assets, and long-range strikes against heavily defended targets. 

Gotta be ready to fight the war...even if it was four wars ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Cain Has a Chief of Staff Problem (Peter Wehner, 11.11.2011, Commentary)

Here's the problem: Block has still not produced a shred of credible evidence that the Perry campaign was behind the leak. He's simply making a charge, based on a wish and a hope, presumably in order to re-direct attention away from Cain to Perry. And Block not only fingered the Perry campaign, but fingered Perry's political strategist Curt Anderson. But when Anderson went on the air and declared that Politico reporters were freed from any confidentiality agreement in order to prove he wasn't the source for the story, Block had to reel back his charge against Anderson.

Block's assertion also complicates matters for Cain, who insisted at his press conference earlier this week that the "Democratic machine" is behind the sexual harassment charges. So the Cain campaign has charged both the Rick Perry campaign and the "Democratic machine" with being behind the charges against Cain - even as they've provided no evidence to support either charge, which happen to be mutually exclusive.

This embarrassing mistake shouldn't be confused with the one Block made when he declared that the son of Karen Kraushaar, who has accused Cain of sexual harassment, works at Politico. "We've confirmed that he does indeed work at Politico and that's his mother, yes," Block said.

Here's the thing, though: Block was referring to former Politico reporter Josh Kraushaar, who left for National Journal last year. And more importantly, Josh Kraushaar is not related to Karen Kraushaar. They simply share the same last name. So Mark Block is in the habit of throwing out unfounded accusations and smears, replicating exactly the tactic that Herman Cain complains is being used against him. (Block now admits "we didn't have our facts straight" regarding the charge against Kraushaar. But just how hard were those facts to get straight in the first place?)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 PM


Political Insiders Not Sold on Cain (Taylor West and Peter Bell, November 11, 2011, National Journal)

Republican Insiders were some of the most cutting toward their fellow party-member. "His ego and inflated sense of self will keep him in the race," said one. Echoed another Republican who predicted Cain would continue campaigning: "Quitting requires dignity, self-control, and consideration for others."

"He should bow out now," said a Republican who anticipates Cain will end his campaign before January. "He is making a mockery of the entire GOP field and diminishing everyone's chance to beat Obama. He's doing a Clinton/John Edwards - and not well."

"He seems not to care much about conventional campaign tactics," argued a Democratic Insider. "And they don't seem to impact him. So he'll be around. He's too clueless to know he's not a real candidate."

"He has no choice but to take this to the end," said another Democrat. "To quit is to admit that it's all true."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Obama, jobs, and the Keystone XL pipeline (Robert J. Samuelson, November 11, 2011, Washington Post)

To those who claim that the Obama administration's regulatory policies don't have any effect on jobs, we now have conclusive evidence to the contrary from -- you guessed it -- the Obama administration. In case you missed it, the administration announced Thursday it is delaying a decision on the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada's oil-sands deposits to American refineries on the Gulf Coast. Although there's some disagreement over the number of jobs involved, no one disputes that the project would be a sizable net employer. The Obama administration estimated 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs. Some other estimates are higher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


A Petri Dish of Activism, and Germs (MATT FLEGENHEIMER, 11/11/11, NY Times)

The chorus began quietly at a recent strategy session inside Zuccotti Park, with a single cough from a security team member, a muffled hack between puffs on his cigarette. Then a colleague followed. Then another.

Soon the discussion had devolved into a fit of wheezing, with one protester blowing his nose into the mulch between clusters of tents.   

"It's called Zuccotti lung," said Willie Carey, 28, a demonstrator from Chapel Hill, N.C. "It's a real thing."

As the weather turns, the protesters in Zuccotti Park, the nexus of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Lower Manhattan, have been forced to confront a simple truth: packing themselves like sardines inside a public plaza, where cigarettes are shared and a good night's sleep remains elusive, may not be conducive to good health.   

"Pretty much everything here is a good way to get sick," said Salvatore Cipolla, 23, from Long Island. "It'll definitely thin the herd."

This is what the Left thinks America should be like?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Increasing number of disabled Israeli children sue for not being aborted (Christine Dhanagom, November 10, 2011,

"Wrongful life" lawsuits, in which doctors are held liable for not discovering fetal abnormalities that might have prompted parents to abort their child, have become so common in Israel that the government has set up a committee to investigate the issue, New Scientist reports.

According to magazine, wrongful life claims are more prevalent in Israel where a higher rate of genetic disorders caused by consanguineous marriages has fueled a "pro-genetic testing culture." The county has seen an estimated 600 wrongful cases since the first in 1987.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan (PAUL V. KANE, 11/11/11, NY Times)

There are dozens of initiatives President Obama could undertake to strengthen our economic security. Here is one: He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015. 

Even by the standards of the editors of the Times, that sort of Realism is appalling. How about a Black Friday special and we let them attack Mongolia?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Booing the Character Issue (Mona Charen, 11/11/11, National Review)

As someone who was well-disposed toward Herman Cain as a public figure (if not as a potential president), I cannot help recalling the response of Democrats to revelations about Bill Clinton. "We know all about it," one exasperated reader wrote to Newsweek magazine, "and WE DON'T CARE." In fact, the majority of Americans did not care -- and it was not our finest moment as a nation. Liberals, who professed to be appalled by the one accusation against Clarence Thomas (just one non-contemporaneous accusation -- not four or five), dismissed Bill Clinton's behavior as no big deal. Stuart Taylor noted at the time that even if everything Anita Hill said about Clarence Thomas were true, it would not be nearly as serious as the allegations against Bill Clinton. Conservatives argued at the time that character mattered. Liberals replied, in effect, that it didn't.

But liberal hypocrisy, however malodorous, shouldn't justify our own. The booing, and some of the commentary among conservatives, can be interpreted to mean not only that we disbelieve the accusations, but that they wouldn't trouble us even if they were true. Alternatively, one gets the sense among some conservatives who are circling the wagons around Mr. Cain that the accusations are the reason to support him -- despite his weaknesses on policy, experience, and crisis management.

They hate the media more than they value the truth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


NYPD sends elite detectives to Wall St. protests (PHILIP MESSING and BOB FREDERICKS, November 10, 2011, NY Post)

The NYPD has moved three elite Manhattan homicide detectives and a deputy chief to the raucous Occupy Wall Street protest in response to a rash of sex attacks, thefts and vandalism -- including graffiti scrawled on the nearby 9/11 Memorial, The Post has learned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Six Members of Supercommittee Break Away in Bid to Forge Debt Deal (Eleanor Clift, Nov 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

With time running out before the panel's November 23 deadline, some of the ideas reportedly before the committee include means-testing for Social Security on people with adjusted gross incomes over $1 million; ending the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $1 million; adjusting the way inflation is calculated to save on Social Security cost-of-living increases; and ending many subsidies for energy, chiefly oil and coal, but also the money for new sustainable energy, which is exhausted anyway. Some of the money saved on energy incentives would go to an infrastructure bank; the rest to deficit reduction. [...]

A Democratic leadership aide put the odds of a successful deal at 30 to 35 percent, with success defined as reaching $1.2 to $1.4 trillion in cuts. The days of the so-called Grand Bargain of $4 trillion are gone, he says. And failure is an option. "If we come out of here with nothing, the voters will say we told you so.... There's a reason everybody hates us, we're dysfunctional. They're right."

The rump group of six includes Michigan Republicans Dave Camp and Fred Upton, both longtime members of the House, and Ohio freshman Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who was President Bush's budget director. The Democrats are represented by two veteran senators, John Kerry and Max Baucus, along with Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

If the six can find a deal they can support, they would need one more member to achieve a majority, and speculation is that Arizona Republican Jon Kyl might be the seventh vote. "If the train starts leaving, do more people get on, or get off?" says a Hill source.

...the appearance of progress would be good for the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Why Americans Won't Do Dirty Jobs  (Elizabeth Dwoskin, 11/09/11, Business Week)

Skinning, gutting, and cutting up catfish is not easy or pleasant work. No one knows this better than Randy Rhodes, president of Harvest Select, which has a processing plant in impoverished Uniontown, Ala. For years, Rhodes has had trouble finding Americans willing to grab a knife and stand 10 or more hours a day in a cold, wet room for minimum wage and skimpy benefits. [...]

Rhodes arrived at work on Sept. 29, the day the law went into effect, to discover many of his employees missing. [...]

In their wake are thousands of vacant positions and hundreds of angry business owners staring at unpicked tomatoes, uncleaned fish, and unmade beds. "Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren't coming back to Alabama--they're gone," Rhodes says. "I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody."

There's no shortage of people he could give those jobs to. In Alabama, some 211,000 people are out of work. In rural Perry County, where Harvest Select is located, the unemployment rate is 18.2 percent, twice the national average. One of the big selling points of the immigration law was that it would free up jobs that Republican Governor Robert Bentley said immigrants had stolen from recession-battered Americans. Yet native Alabamians have not come running to fill these newly liberated positions. Many employers think the law is ludicrous and fought to stop it. Immigrants aren't stealing anything from anyone, they say. Businesses turned to foreign labor only because they couldn't find enough Americans to take the work they were offering.

At a moment when the country is relentless focused on unemployment, there are still jobs that often go unfilled. These are difficult, dirty, exhausting jobs that, for previous generations, were the first rickety step on the ladder to prosperity. They still are--just not for Americans.

November 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


UC campus police move in on student protesters (Nanette Asimov,Justin Berton, November 10, 2011, SF Chronicle)

Dozens of police in riot gear descended on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Wednesday in two violent confrontations with student protesters that prevented them from building an Occupy encampment on the campus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Occupy Portland: Mayor Sam Adams orders camps cleared at 12:01 a.m. Sunday (The Oregonian, 11/10/11)

Mayor Sam Adams this morning gave the Occupy Portland encampment an eviction notice of 12:01 a.m Sunday.

At a press conference at City Hall, Adams, standing with Chief Mike Reese and City Commissioner Nick Fish, cited the rise in  crime around the encampments in ordering demonstrators out of the squares.

He said Terry Schrunk Plaza, a federal park, will be cleared as well.

"Crime, especially reported assaults, has increased in the area," he said. "Occupy has had a considerable time to share its movement's message with the public but has lost control of the camps it has created."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


Niall Ferguson: "It's The Stupid Economy" from Daily Beast TV on Vimeo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


How to Save Israel: The three steps that could rescue it from endless conflict and international ostracism. (Gershom Gorenberg, , Nov. 9, 2011,Slate)

I write from an Israel with a divided soul. It is not only defined by its contradictions; it is at risk of being torn apart by them. It is a country with uncertain borders and a government that ignores its own laws. Its democratic ideals, much as they have helped shape its history, or on the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th-century ideologies.

What will Israel be in five years, or 20? Will it be the Second Israeli Republic, a thriving democracy within smaller borders? Or a pariah state where one ethnic group rules over another? Or a territory marked on the map, between the river and the sea, where the state has been replaced by two warring communities? Will it be the hub of the Jewish world, or a place that most Jews abroad prefer not to think about? The answers depend on what Israel does now.

For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Second, it must divorce state and synagogue--freeing the state from clericalism, and religion from the state. Third and most basically, it must graduate from being an ethnic movement to being a democratic state in which all citizens enjoy equality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


We need a flat tax Democrats and Republicans can love: Done right, a flat tax can make the U.S. more competitive and help working people. So let's stop making it so partisan. (Geoff Colvin, 11/08/11, CNN Money)

Just don't call it a flat tax. Call it a top-to-bottom overhaul that will put people to work, close loopholes that serve only certain corporations and the rich, make America more competitive globally, and improve life for people who work hard and save money. A flat tax, done right, can achieve all those benefits and more. Nor is it just theory. Several Eastern European countries have successfully used flat-tax systems for years.

Emphasize that it's a big change, bigger than most people first realize. Asking whether your taxes would go up or down under a flat tax is too small a question. Such a system would change your income, your taxes, interest rates, the value of assets, and prices of things you buy. All those changes combined would determine whether you'd be better or worse off. If it's done right, most people would be better off.

A flat tax can be a good idea. Let's hope it can escape the campaign war zone and get the serious attention it deserves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Syria's Assad Will Fall, Says U.S. Official (Bhaskar Prasad, November 10, 2011, IB Times)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's departure is "inevitable," a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

"Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad's rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable,''  Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Wastern affairs, told a Senate committee.

The Cold War ended when Ronald Reagan said that Communism was going to fall and not because we'd defeat it but because it was a failure on its own terms. Mr. Obama would have done well to avoid trying detente with the Middle East he found and to follow the same line, which W had laid out, that the replacement of dictatorship by democracy was inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Islamists Are Coming: But democracy and piety aren't always contradictions. (ROBIN WRIGHT | NOVEMBER 7, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Political Islam is today defined by an increasingly wide spectrum. And no one vision dominates. Indeed, the Islamists' diversity -- when the strictly observant believe in only one true path to God -- is unprecedented.

The nonviolent parties fall in three main pivots on the spectrum. At one end, the Justice and Development parties (of the same name) in Turkey and Morocco reject the Islamist label -- and recognize Israel's right to exist, a barometer of coexistence or pluralism in practice. Tunisia's al-Nahda has the potential to be a model if it follows through in forming a coalition with two secular parties and honoring women's rights.

When I met with Ghannouchi, he spoke at length about aqlanah, which translates as "realism" or "logical reasoning." Aqlanah, he told me, is dynamic and constantly evolving -- and Muslims needed to better balance sacred texts and human realities.

In the middle of the spectrum are groups like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has sired 86 branches across the Islamic world since the 1920s and renounced violence in the 1970s. It had 88 members of parliament during Hosni Mubarak's last government. Its positions on women and Coptic Christians in politics and Israel as a neighbor are archaic; so is the undemocratic selection of its own leadership. But those policies have also alienated its own members.

The factors that generated the uprisings -- the young bulge, literacy, and the tools of technology -- have spawned diverse ways of thinking among younger Islamists, too. Ibrahim Houdaiby's grandfather and great-grandfather were both supreme leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. He became its best-known blogger in 2005. But Ibrahim also advocated pragmatism, internal democracy, less secrecy, religious tolerance, and women's rights.

"I had lots of debates with my grandfather," he told me. "One was over which comes first: freedom or sharia. My grandfather said sharia leads to freedom. My argument came from the Quran, which says, 'Let there be no compulsion in religion.' I said freedom comes first." Ibrahim eventually resigned from the Brotherhood over practical political differences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


All Roads Lead to (Ancient) Rome:  The old empire could teach us a thing or two about the euro and its flaws. (Gilles Bransbourg, 11/06/11, Daily Beast)

Europe's fundamental sin is actually simple. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992, in creating a single legal tender and monopolistic currency for the countries that ratified it, fundamentally undermined the very founding principle it ostensibly enshrined: that of "subsidiarity," or the principle that holds it is always better for a matter to be handled at a local level than by a centralized authority.

The peculiarity of the Roman political system was indeed its taste for subsidiarity. The imperial government was usually quite happy to restrict itself to the essentials--mainly military defense and the rule of law--while devolving to local civic authorities most of the burden of managing their own issues. As such, the cities and regions, notably in the Greek or Syriac-speaking East, struck their own lower-value bronze coins as a complement to the usually higher-value imperial coins, leading to specific monetary zones.

As a result, the issuance of local money was to a large extent a local matter. Gaius, the second-century jurist, wrote that "money, although it should enjoy the same power of purchasing everywhere, is easier to obtain in some locations and interest rates are lower, while it is harder to find in other locations and interest rates are higher." (Would that he were available today for a powwow with Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM

SORRY, TERRY (via Beppo)

EEGs give voice to brain-injured patients, researchers find (Megan Ogilvie, 11/09/11, Toronto Star)

The patients are alive, but unaware. Their brains, damaged by injury, have seemingly shut down. They are mute and immobile and appear to have no knowledge of the world around them.

But scientists are now finding that some patients in a vegetative state are conscious -- and can actually communicate.

On Wednesday, a Canadian-led group of researchers revealed a relatively simple and cost-effective way to assess the consciousness of patients at their bedside.

The finding means doctors may soon have a new way to more accurately diagnose the thousands of people around the world with severe brain injuries.

November 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Dr. Wal-Mart: May offer more primary healthcare, seeks partners (Tiffany Hsu, November 9, 2011, LA Times)

It's not enough to be a clothing store, grocer, pharmacy, auto servicer and more. It looks as if Wal-Mart Stores Inc. now plans to play doctor too.

The largest retailer in the country recently sent out a request for information to potential partners to help it offer a range of medical services without the traditionally steep prices.

In the 14-page document, Wal-Mart said that it "intends to build a national, integrated, low-cost primary care healthcare platform that will provide preventative and chronic care services ... in an affordable and accessible way."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Occupy Denver Elects Dog (Daniel Tovrov | November 9, 2011, IB Times)

Occupy Denver has elected a three-year-old border collie named Shelby as its official leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


High Bank Fees Give Wal-Mart a Money Aisle (ANDREW MARTIN and STEPHANIE CLIFFORD, 11/07/11, NY Times)

Geoffrey Cardone, a 26-year-old factory worker, said he dumped his bank account because he felt that he was being nickeled and dimed by fees. His new payday ritual includes a trip to the Wal-Mart here in northeastern Pennsylvania.

"It's cheaper," said Mr. Cardone, who was charged a flat fee of $3 to cash his paycheck. Many check-cashing stores keep a percentage of the check, which tends to be higher.

The Wal-Mart here has a clerk in a brightly painted Money Center near the entrance, like more than 1,000 other Wal-Marts across the country. Customers can cash work and government checks, pay bills, wire money overseas or load money on to a prepaid debit card. At most Wal-Marts without dedicated Money Centers, the financial services are available at the customer service desks or kiosks.

Four years ago, Wal-Mart abandoned its plans to obtain a long-sought federal bank charter amid opposition from the banking industry and lawmakers, who feared the huge retailer would drive small bankers out of business and potentially conflate its banking and retail operations. Ever since, Wal-Mart has been quietly building up à la carte financial services, becoming a force among the unbanked and "unhappily banked," as one Wal-Mart executive put it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


"In Assad's Syria, There Is No Imagination" (Anthony Shadid, 11/08/11, Frontline)

Deprived of a popular mandate, or even consent, Arab leaders have long searched for the instruments to show their power was an entitlement. Sometimes they are symbols, meant to convey legitimacy. Anwar Sadat mined the 1973 war, when Egyptian troops overwhelmed Israeli defenses on the Suez Canal. He turned to Islam, casting himself as "The Believer President." His successor, Hosni Mubarak, tedious and taciturn, saw the very notion of stability as legitimizing his rule. Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, looked far and wide, too. His rule was meant to seem eternal, as his images were omnipresent. "The Leader Forever," his portraits read. But his success relied not on his regime's ability to end a volatile chapter of Syrian history that saw dozens of attempted coups over more than 20 years, or the modernization of infrastructure and education, or his service to the poor and rural, like him, who represented his base. It was his ability to inculcate a suffocating cult of personality, buttressed by fear, often the most visceral sort, the kind that once led Egyptians to quip that the only place where it was safe to open your mouth was the dentist's office.

Hafez al-Assad was sophisticated, and the dour visage that he fostered was supposed to suggest a certain cunning, an understanding of how pervasive fear could be. He built the wall brick after demolished brick in Hama, where his regime's crushing of an uprising in 1982 is one of the bloodiest chapters of the modern Arab world. He tended to that wall, too, with the machinations of an inveterate plotter who understood the sectarian dynamics of the country -- he ensured that every sect shared in the bloodletting in Hama -- and who knew that loyalty was best fostered by reliance on family and sect, namely his own Alawite clan, a heterodox Muslim group that accounts for about 10 percent of the population.

This was Syria of the Assads: rendered in their image, haunted by their phobias and ordered by their machinations.

Bashar seemed to think he was different. With his Sunni Muslim wife, education abroad and upbringing in the privileged circles of Damascus, where the children of poor Alawite officers from the countryside mixed with those of the moneyed elite, he lacked his father's edge. He seemed to take pride in an everyman quality, frequenting restaurants and driving his own car. He made it clear that he wanted to be liked. Rare is an official who visits Bashar and doesn't find him amiable, even humble. And so he presided over a brief opening after taking power in 2000, called the Damascus Spring. (His regime soon crushed it). He inaugurated a veneer of consumerism in the capital Damascus and Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city. He dismantled the façade of the grim police state in both those cities and promised the bromide of every authoritarian leader: a China-style economic liberalization whose very success would mitigate the need for political reform.

For a time, his seeming humility brought a measure of support his father never enjoyed. Even today Turkish officials, once his admirers and now plotting against him, rue what they see as a missed opportunity. Had he introduced sweeping reform and held elections before the uprising erupted in March, they say, he surely would have won. But Bashar believed his own aura. In those days, he declared his state immune from the upheavals of Egypt and Tunisia. He insisted that his foreign policy, built rhetorically on enmity with Israel, opposition to American hegemony and support for the kind of resistance preached by Lebanon's Hezbollah, reflected the sentiments of an Arab world long humiliated by its impotence.

His father, a poor boy who proved he was more, would have known better. Sheltered by a royal court, Bashar seemed oblivious to a drought-stricken countryside seething under the sway of utterly unaccountable security forces. He overlooked crimes that his family and the state had committed. He had forgotten that in the calculus of the imperium his father created, the instrument through which Bashar really exercised power, fear made more sense than adulation, whatever his modernizing pretensions. Even today, eight months after an uprising and a ferocious crackdown that, by the United Nations' count, has killed more than 3,000 people and, by the Arab League's estimate, put more than 70,000 in jail, people who have seen Bashar contend that he still doesn't recognize the severity of the challenge. This summer, Turkish officials actually offered him their own intelligence to persuade him that the information coming from his people was bad, incomplete and misleading. They were telling him what he wanted to hear. But since then, the old truths have returned, and his regime has fallen back on the premise of his father's rule. It has sought to restore the wall of dread between ruler and ruled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Release Marwan Barghouti (AVINOAM BAR-YOSEF, 11/08/11, NY Times)

[W]hile he always made clear to his counterparts that a Palestinian state would have an Islamic character, and was proud of being a Muslim, he also expressed contempt for Islamic fundamentalists.

Above all, he has never been associated with the corruption of the Palestinian establishment that formed around Yasser Arafat. While a student at Ramallah's Birzeit University, his main efforts were invested in the refugee camps: social work, aid to the ill and the poor, cleaning the streets.

In 1987 he was deported by the late Yitzhak Rabin, then minister of defense, because of his role in preparing the first, less violent, intifada. Barghouti spent seven years in exile, keeping his distance from Arafat's corrupted entourage in Tunis. He was allowed back in 1994, under the Oslo Accords signed by the same Rabin, and in 1996 elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, where he was a strong critic of the corruption in Fatah. In 1995 he was among the founders of Tanzim, an armed, grassroots offshoot which played a significant role in the second intifada, far more violent than the first.

So why would Israelis, including some from the intelligence community, seriously consider releasing Barghouti?

For one thing, he and Tanzim represent the next generation of secular Palestinian leaders. One of the biggest mistakes of the Israeli establishment and American envoys over the past two years has been their failure to open back channels to Tanzim, a group also ignored by Abbas and his officials.

Barghouti would also form a powerful leadership team with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Like Barghouti, Fayyad is regarded as being above any dirty dealings. He has structured an impressively efficient bureaucracy. He is rightly courted by the Obama administration and many Israelis. It is well known that there is no love lost between him and Abbas, but the Palestinian president needs Fayyad to ensure a flow of funds from the West.

The trouble is that Fayyad is regarded by the Palestinians as a professional, as the C.E.O. of the Palestinian Authority, but not as its leader. Many experts believe that Israeli and Western negotiators should encourage cooperation between Fayyad and Barghouti. The endorsement of Tanzim would bring Fayyad and his reforms critical support from the Palestinians.

This may be why some in the Israeli leadership, those who are interested in achieving a two-state solution to the conflict, see Barghouti as a possible partner, even if his sins are not forgiven.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Gender segregation on rise in Israel (AP, 11/08/11)

Posters depicting women have become rare in the streets of Israel's capital. In some areas women have been shunted onto separate sidewalks, and buses and health clinics have been gender-segregated. The military has considered reassigning some female combat soldiers because religious men don't want to serve with them.

This is the new reality in parts of 21st-century Israel, where ultra-Orthodox rabbis are trying to contain the encroachment of secular values on their cloistered society through a fierce backlash against the mixing of the sexes in public.

On the surface, Israel's gender equality bona fides seem strong, with the late Golda Meir as a former prime minister, Tzipi Livni as the current opposition leader, and its women soldiers famed around the world.

Reality is not so shiny.

November 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Numbers Games (Thomas Sowell, 11/07/11)

One of the things that has struck me, when I have gone on luxury cruise ships, is that most of the passengers look like they are older than the captain -- and luxury cruise ships don't have juveniles as captains.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM


Key Obama Aide Relinquishes Some Duties: Daley's Role Yet to Be Fully Defined, but Will Focus on Relations With Outsiders; 'It's Been a Tough Slog,' a Friend Says (CAROL E. LEE, 11/08/11, WSJ)

On Monday, Mr. Daley turned over day-to-day management of the West Wing to Pete Rouse, a veteran aide to President Obama, according to several people familiar with the matter. It is unusual for a White House chief of staff to relinquish part of the job.

A senior White House official who attended Monday's staff meeting where Mr. Daley made the announcement said that his new role has not yet been fully defined. But in recent weeks, Mr. Daley has focused more on managing relations with influential outsiders.

The recalibration of Mr. Daley's portfolio, agreed to by Mr. Obama, is designed to smooth any kinks in the president's team as it braces for the overlapping demands of governing while campaigning for re-election, people familiar with the matter said. The West Wing is preparing for budget battles with Congress and is seeking to use its executive powers more extensively.

The new set-up effectively makes Mr. Rouse the president's inside manager and Mr. Daley his ambassador, roles that appear to better suit both men's talents. Mr. Rouse served as interim chief of staff before Mr. Daley arrived, and his White House bio boasts he is "known as the '101st Senator' " for his extensive knowledge of Congress.

Under what other Chief Executive would that be a boast?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


OBIT: Joe Frazier: Joe Frazier, who has died aged 67, was one of the great heavyweight boxers of his era, and will forever be remembered for his epic trilogy of fights with Muhammad Ali in the 1970s, the third of which -- the so-called "Thrilla in Manila" -- is widely regarded as the best fight of all time. (The Telegraph, 08 Nov 2011)

Early in the seventh round of the bout -- which took place in the Philippines on October 1 1975 - Ali and Frazier went into a clinch during a momentary lull in the breathtaking action. "They told me Joe Frazier was washed up," murmured Ali through bleeding lips. Frazier, his swollen eyes reduced to mere slits, grinned mirthlessly. "They lied", he replied -- delivering another monstrous hook to the champion's body.

Known as "Smokin Joe" because of his relentless all-action style, Frazier was not a great knockout artist but wore opponents down with his remorseless attacking approach. The most famous weapon in his arsenal was his feared left hook. It was one such blow which floored Ali in the final round of their first encounter - which itself had become known as "The Fight Of The Century" - at New York's Madison Square Garden on March 8 1971.

Frazier never forgave Ali for branding him "an Uncle Tom" in the build-up to these contests, nd remained convinced that his time spent in his great foe's shadow meant he never earned the respect he deserved.

Despite repeated attempts to heal their rift, Frazier's deep enmity towards Ali frequently resurfaced in later decades. After watching his great rival, by now stricken by a form of Parkinson's Disease, struggle to light the Olympic flame at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Frazier commented: "I think it was a slap in the face for boxing. He [Ali] was a draft dodger. If they'd asked me, hell, I'd have run all the way up there and lit the flame." To his obvious disappointment, Frazier had never been asked.

In 1978 Frazier appeared on a This Is Your Life tribute to Ali in which he referred to him as "a great guy". But Frazier's autobiography, published in 1996, revealed his true feelings: "People ask me if I feel bad for him," he wrote. "Fact is, I don't give a damn."

Hard as it may be for some younger folks to imagine, Joe Frazier was the good guy in their fight series, for exactly such reasons as the draft-dodging.

True confessions time: my one personal interaction with Mr. Frazier reflects poorly upon me.  Sophomore year at Colgate the radio station ran a trivia contest, one question of which involved all the salient facts from the first Ali-Frazier fight: year, location, trainers, etc.  Well, everyone knew Angelo Dundee had trained Ali, but we couldn't remember Frazier's.  So one of the guys in the room, who was from Philly, piped up with: his number's listed in the phone book.    So we called him.  Suffice it to say, Mr. Frazier didn't appreciate being woken at 11;30 on a Friday night by a bunch of drunk fraternity brothers who couldn't even remember his trainer's name.  Sorry, champ.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


A Second Accuser Goes Public Against Cain (JIM RUTENBERG AND MICHAEL D. SHEAR, 11/08/11, NY Times)

Karen Kraushaar, one of the two women who settled sexual harassment claims against Herman Cain with the National Restaurant Association, spoke publicly for the first time on Tuesday about her allegations against him.

Moments later, a defiant Mr. Cain, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, once again declared her allegations to have been found "baseless" and repeated his claim that his only offense against her was to have made a gesture about her height.

Mr. Cain's denials came in a nationally televised news conference in Phoenix in which he railed against a "Democratic machine" even as Ms. Kraushaar joined Sharon Bialek, a Chicago woman, in publicly accusing Mr. Cain of inappropriate behavior.

...he's unfit to lead our party, nevermind our republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


In a surprise, D.C. appeals court upholds healthcare law (Noam N. Levey, November 8, 2011, LA Times)

The suit was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this year. But many believed the three-judge panel of the D.C. circuit, which included two Republican appointees, would reverse the lower court and uphold the challenge to the law.

One of the GOP appointees--Judge Laurence H.  Silberman--was appointed to the bench by President Reagan and is considered a  conservative intellectual leader on the court. He won plaudits from gun rights groups recently for writing an opinion that the District of Columbia's handgun ban was unconstitutional.

But in a concise majority opinion in the healthcare case, Silberman categorically rejected the central critique Republican attack on the healthcare law's expansion of federal regulation of healthcare.

"The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems," Silberman wrote.

...when people are taken off-guard by a judge following the law instead of ideology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


Trumbull Hall Troupe Overcomes: Challenges to Stage 'Play Time' (Katie Beth Ryan, 11/07/11, Valley News)

The halls of Richmond Middle School in Hanover had fallen empty and quiet by 3:30 Friday afternoon, save for the backpacks left outside the auditorium, and the animated conversations coming from the auditorium.

It was the first day that members of the Trumbull Hall Troupe -- the teenage theater company co-founded by Jodi Picoult, bestselling novelist and Etna resident -- had seen the set for Play Time.

The adult volunteers who keep the troupe running had stayed at the school until 11:30 the previous night to put finishing touches on the backdrop for the play, which will be staged this weekend at Richmond. Their efforts have resulted in a set that is perhaps as much fun to look at as to perform upon. There's Barbie's Dream House, in trademark neon pink, at stage left, and a group of life-sized stuffed animals standing watch over the stage. And everywhere you looked during Friday's rehearsal, you could find actors and crew members running around, rehearsing lines, laughing and grinning. The set inspires all these things.

"I think today was a huge step for us," said production intern Bethany Adam.

At the center of activity was Picoult, wearing one of Play Time's blue T-shirts, with the slogan "Eat. Play. Love" on the back. When she wasn't overseeing a group of chatty teenage actors, or consulting with Ellen Wilber, who wrote the songs for Play Time, she carried a cordless mike with her and gave feedback to the actors and crew.

If Picoult felt exhausted, she didn't let on. At this rate, Play Time, which she co-authored with her son Jake van Leer, has survived both a hurricane and an October snowfall, as well as the loss of the Trumbull Hall Troupe's rehearsal space. There's little that Picoult, and the cast and crew, aren't equipped to handle. [...]

Play Time will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with additional performances at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Visit to reserve tickets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Israeli diplomat: Le Pen lunch was an 'error': Embarrassment for UN ambassador over meeting with head of French National Front (Donald Macintyre,  07 November 2011, Independent)

Israel's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that the country's ambassador to the UN made an "error of judgement" by chatting and being photographed with Marine Le Pen, leader of France's extreme right wing National Front, at a New York reception.

Ron Prosor, formerly Israel's ambassador to London, has explained that his presence at a lunch last week for Ms Le Pen - whose party has long been shunned by Israel as a matter of government policy - last week was a "mistake." But while he was also quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz yesterday as saying that he left "immediately" when he realized his error, it has emerged that he did indeed stay long enough to have a conversation with the National Front leader which she later reportedly described as "warm". And Mr Prosor was filmed by a French TV crew shortly after leaving saying that he and Ms Le Pen had talked about "Europe and other topics" and that he had "very much enjoyed the conversation."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Meet 'bronies' -- grown men who are fans of My Little Pony (Kelly House, 9/17/11, The Oregonian)

The phenomenon began taking hold soon after "Friendship Is Magic" debuted last fall. As the brony ranks grew, monthly viewership -- which was 1.4 million a month in November -- nearly tripled to 4 million by the end of the first season. The bronies expect another growth spurt after the show begins its second season today.

 "We are getting new members by the day," says Nathan Shepard, 20, who helped organize the Portland group. "There's been a lot of buildup."

Shepard planned to wake up early this morning to catch the 6 a.m. premiere of the show, which follows a brigade of six kindhearted young ponies as they battle the forces of darkness. Such die-hard enthusiasm isn't uncommon among the bronies, who say they're just as shocked as the general public that the show has attracted such a fan base.

"About the fourth episode in, I had that moment that all college 20-year-old guys get: 'Wait, I'm watching a show for little girls?'" Schultz says. "Right after, I had that moment I was like 'Eh, who cares?'"

With the occasional exception, the bronies share a common profile. Talk to any of the 117 (and counting) members in Portland's network, and you're likely to get a similar story.

They're self-described geeks, nerds or video gamers in their teens to mid-30s. They discovered My Little Pony after noticing a glut of pony-related activity while browsing Internet forums. Curious, they checked out the show and got hooked.

"I've gotten raised eyebrows from friends," says Jim West, a 20-year-old brony from Olympia.

But don't call them girly men. Yes, some bronies are sensitive types. But they also rock climb and play sports, have girlfriends and maintain active social lives.

"I play video games and hang out with my (non-brony) friends; I still like fighting zombies and all that good stuff," West says. "It's not like the ponies are the only thing, but they have become pretty big for me."

Animation fandom is nothing new among the anime and gaming set. Past and present fads include "World of Warcraft," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Transformers" and scores of Japanese anime cartoons.

But the bronies are different -- and not just because their obsession is peculiarly feminine and juvenile.

They're outspoken. Many bronies proudly display their pony passion with T-shirts, pins, posters and large figurine collections. One of the most popular Facebook pages on the subject lists Bronyism as a religion.
Those Pacific Northwesterners do love getting freaky with horses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


What do we want from Wall Street? (Spengler , 11/08/11, Asia Times)

In some ways, the 2008 financial collapse was Enron writ large. The ratings agencies - Moody's, Standard and Poor's, and Fitch - agreed that it was inconceivable that more than a third of a pool of subprime mortgages could default. If the banks got one group of investors to accept the first 35% of losses on the pool, the ratings agencies would label the rest of the pool default-proof, and give it a triple-A rating.

The banks then went to the Federal Reserve and asked permission to increase leverage on what the ratings agencies called ultra-safe securities. Normally banks can hold about $12 of loans or securities for every $1 of their own money, but the Fed allowed them to own $70 of the phony subprime triple-A's for every $1 of shareholders' capital. Some of those bonds are now trading at 33 cents on the dollar.

That's one reason the banks had massive losses, but not the only one. Banks (and insurance companies) were writing huge amounts of guarantees on phony triple-A-rated debt, generating up-front fee income in return for turning the banks' balance sheet into a toxic waste dump.

By the time that Lehman Brothers went under in September 2008, there is no way that its chairman, Dick Fuld, could have calculated the volume of losses for which his bank was on the hook. Every derivatives and structuring desk was taking in all the fees and back-loading all the risk it could, telling the risk managers as little as possible. [...]

The root of the problem, I believe, lies in the measurement of risk. The incentive to cheat always will be there as long as bankers can represent a sow's ear as a silk purse. Both managers as well as the public need to measure risk, such that they understand the way that investments or innovations add to or reduce risk.

Some popular finance writers insist that risks are inherently impossible to measure, because conventional risk models based on the normal distribution of returns don't assign enough weight to the likelihood of extreme outcomes. In fact, the point of risk models is to estimate the likelihood of an extreme outcome, and the banks have reasonably good models of borrower defaults which do just that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


What's the language of the future?: an excerpt from "The Language Wars: A History of Proper English" (Henry Hitchings, 11/06/11, Slate)

No language has spread as widely as English, and it continues to spread. Internationally the desire to learn it is insatiable. In the twenty-first century the world is becoming more urban and more middle class, and the adoption of English is a symptom of this, for increasingly English serves as the lingua franca of business and popular culture. It is dominant or at least very prominent in other areas such as shipping, diplomacy, computing, medicine and education. A recent study has suggested that among students in the United Arab Emirates "Arabic is associated with tradition, home, religion, culture, school, arts and social sciences," whereas English "is symbolic of modernity, work, higher education, commerce, economics and science and technology." In Arabic-speaking countries, science subjects are often taught in English because excellent textbooks and other educational resources are readily available in English. This is not something that has come about in an unpurposed fashion; the propagation of English is an industry, not a happy accident.

English has spread because of British colonialism, the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, American economic and political ascendancy, and further (mostly American) technological developments in the second half of the twentieth century. Its rise has been assisted by the massive exportation of English as a second language, as well as by the growth of an English-language mass media. The preaching of Christianity, supported by the distribution of English-language Bibles, has at many times and in many places sustained the illusion, created by Wyclif and Tyndale and Cranmer, that English is the language of God.

The history of English's global diffusion is littered with important dates: the planting of the Jamestown colony in 1607; Robert Clive's victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, which ushered in the dominion of the British East India Company; the creation of the first penal colony in Australia in 1788; the British settlement at Singapore in 1819 and establishment of a Crown Colony in Hong Kong in 1842; the formal beginning of British administration in Nigeria in 1861; the foundation of the BBC in 1922 and the United Nations in 1945; the launch by AT&T of the first commercial communications satellite in 1962. This list is condensed. It takes no account, for instance, of the various waves of Anglomania that swept much of Europe in the eighteenth century. But it will be apparent that the diffusion of English has had a lot to do with material reward, the media, and its use as a language of instruction. A fuller list might intensify the impression of a whiff of bloodshed.

Wherever English has been used, it has lasted. Cultural might outlives military rule. In the colonial period, the languages of settlers dominated the languages of the peoples whose land they seized. They marginalized them and in some cases eventually drove them to extinction. All the while they absorbed from them whatever local terms seemed useful. The colonists' languages practised a sort of cannibalism, and its legacy is still sharply felt. English is treated with suspicion in many places where it was once the language of the imperial overlords. It is far from being a force for unity, and its endurance is stressful. In India, while English is much used in the media, administration, education and business, there are calls to curb its influence. Yet even where English has been denigrated as an instrument of colonialism, it has held on - and in most cases grown, increasing its numbers of speakers and functions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 AM


Don't Curse the Darkness, Get One of the Bright New Lights (Smithsonian, 11/07/11)

On New Year's Day, the ban on producing 100-watt incandescent bulbs kicks in, the first wave of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which will also phase out lower-wattage bulbs over the next few years. Incandescent bulbs, revolutionary in their day, are one of the more inefficient inventions of the past century--90 percent of the energy they use goes to creating heat and only 10 percent produces light. So, many people, including light bulb manufacturers and President George Bush, thought banning the bulbs was a good idea when the law passed in 2007. [...]

Bottom line, though, is that CFLs are more likely to be a phase we go through on our way to light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs. Now those are 21st century light bulbs--consuming one-tenth the energy of incandescents, but able to last 50 times longer. (To see how the three types of bulbs stack up against each other, see Popular Mechanics' "Ultimate Light Bulb Test.")

Of course, there's the matter of the price. These are not times when people want to hear about $20 light bulbs.  Understood. But some experts think the price could drop under $10 in a few years.  And keep in mind, you'll probably change the oil in your car a dozen times or more before you'll have to change an LED bulb.

Not only will LEDs change how we view bulbs, they'll change how we view lighting. A company called Nth Degree Technologies is producing lights that look like glowing sheets of paper and can actually be wrapped around curved surfaces. On a much larger scale is City Touch, a system developed by Phillips in which LED lighting in a city automatically adjusts to weather, traffic and people walking by at night. Phillips claims it could cut urban lighting costs by 70 percent.

Have a problem with jet lag? LED lights can help with that, too. They're being programmed in airplane cabins on transcontinental flights to smooth the circadian rhythms of passengers.

Try that with Tom Edison's light bulb.

November 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Abbas, Mashaal to meet to discuss Palestinian elections (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 11/07/2011, Jerusalem Post)

Nimer Hammad, political advisor to Abbas, said that the meeting between the two men would take place in the second half of this month in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

Hammad said that in addition to the issue of the elections, Abbas and Mashaal will discuss ways of ending the Hamas-Fatah dispute and reuniting the Palestinians.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper claimed that Abbas was planning to call the elections next May.

According to the paper, Abbas has asked Fatah members and supporters to start preparing themselves for the vote.

However, an aide to Abbas told The Jerusalem Post that the elections could be held as early as March next year.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Sports Medicine Said to Overuse M.R.I.'s (GINA KOLATA, 10/28/11, NY Times)

Dr. James Andrews, a widely known sports medicine orthopedist in Gulf Breeze, Fla., wanted to test his suspicion that M.R.I.'s, the scans given to almost every injured athlete or casual exerciser, might be a bit misleading. So he scanned the shoulders of 31 perfectly healthy professional baseball pitchers.

The pitchers were not injured and had no pain. But the M.R.I.'s found abnormal shoulder cartilage in 90 percent of them and abnormal rotator cuff tendons in 87 percent. "If you want an excuse to operate on a pitcher's throwing shoulder, just get an M.R.I.," Dr. Andrews says.

He and other eminent sports medicine specialists are taking a stand against what they see as the vast overuse of magnetic resonance imaging in their specialty.

M.R.I.'s can be invaluable in certain situations -- finding serious problems like tumors or helping distinguish between competing diagnoses that fit a patient's history and symptoms. They also can make money for doctors who own their own machines. And they can please sports medicine patients, who often expect a scan.

But scans are easily misinterpreted and can result in misdiagnoses leading to unnecessary or even harmful treatments.
People want medicine to make them "normal," even though abnormality is normal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


A Look Inside the Super Committee (Stephen Moore, 11/07/11, WSJ)

But raising rates and raising revenues are different. Eliminating loopholes in exchange for making the Bush tax cuts permanent after 2013 is on the table--and by broadening the tax base, this could bring in tens of billions of new revenues each year. Says Mr. Hensarling: "Republicans want more revenues. We want more revenues by growing the economy; we're not happy with revenues at 14% of GDP, but we don't want to do it by raising rates."

One positive development on taxes taking shape is a deal that could include limiting tax deductions, perhaps by capping write-offs on charities, state and local taxes, and mortgage interest payments as a percentage of each tax filer's gross income. That idea was introduced on these pages by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein. [...]

The big fiscal breakthrough Mr. Hensarling and his GOP colleagues are hoping for on the spending side of the ledger is first-stage reforms in the big three entitlements--Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Republicans want a gradual rise in the retirement age for the giant cost drivers Social Security and Medicare; higher co-pays and premiums for Medicare; and a tweak in the cost-of-living benefit formula to more accurately reflect the real inflation rate.

A change in the index formula (substituting the rise in prices rather than the rise in wages) to calculate benefits for Social Security and other federal programs would save about $200 billion over the next decade. And it would reap two to three times more in future decades. As Mr. Hensarling puts it, these reforms "are huge, because they start to bend the cost curve downward on the big entitlements." 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


The Rich Kids of Occupy Wall Street (Daniel Flynn, Nov 4th, 2011, Frontpage)

People spending their free time camping out in protest of the wealthiest one percent share more in common with that top one percent than with the bottom one percent with whom they wish more to be shared in common. One needn't rely on visuals of the protestors' Cabela tents or iPhones. The Daily Caller has examined the arrest records of hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and found that they live in homes with a median value of $305,000 versus the national median of $185,000. The median rent for apartments listed by OWS arrestees was $1,850.

The revelation is supposed to be counterintuitive--except that it isn't. Movements speaking for the poor have always been led by the very rich. Whether it's the guilt trip, free time, or self-importance fostered by opulence, the affluent have historically been behind attempts to tell other wealthy people how to use their money. Occupy Wall Street isn't an outlier in this regard. It is in line with past cash-movements passing themselves off as mass-movements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


D.E.A. Squads Extend Reach of Drug War (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 11/07/11, NY Times)

Late on a moonless night last March, a plane smuggling nearly half a ton of cocaine touched down at a remote airstrip in Honduras. A heavily armed ground crew was waiting for it -- as were Honduran security forces. After a 20-minute firefight, a Honduran officer was wounded and two drug traffickers lay dead.

Several news outlets briefly reported the episode, mentioning that a Honduran official said the United States Drug Enforcement Administration had provided support. But none of the reports included a striking detail: that support consisted of an elite detachment of military-trained D.E.A. special agents who joined in the shootout, according to a person familiar with the episode.

The D.E.A. now has five commando-style squads it has been quietly deploying for the past several years to Western Hemisphere nations -- including Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Belize -- that are battling drug cartels, according to documents and interviews with law enforcement officials.

The program -- called FAST, for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team -- was created during the George W. Bush administration to investigate Taliban-linked drug traffickers in Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008 and continuing under President Obama, it has expanded far beyond the war zone. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


US wealth gap between young and old is widest ever (HOPE YEN, , Associated Press)

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

Which is why we need to raise retirement age, means test, and lift the income caps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Getting Real: George F. Kennan's Cold War: a review of George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (Louis Menand November 14, 2011, The New Yorker)

The war in Europe was won on the Eastern Front. Between June 22, 1941, the day Germany invaded Russia, and June 6, 1944, D Day, ninety-three per cent of German military casualties--4.2 million missing, wounded, or killed--were inflicted by Soviet forces. Stalin was not an ally of choice; Roosevelt and Churchill understood the ethical niceties of the situation they found themselves in. In an earlier book, Gaddis quotes a saying of Roosevelt's (apparently a Balkan proverb): "It is permitted you in time of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge." The Allied coalition was held together by one common goal: the total defeat of Nazi Germany.

There is no doubt that Stalin saw things the same way. In the most uncharacteristic blunder of his career, he had imagined that he could talk turkey with Hitler, and, in 1939, had signed a non-aggression treaty with Nazi Germany. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, twenty-two months later, Stalin was completely unprepared--one reason that the death toll in the East was so enormous. The Wehrmacht had come within sight of Moscow; it cost the Soviets almost a million lives to beat the Germans off, and millions more to drive them all the way back to Berlin. In the end, Soviet dead exceeded twenty-six million, roughly fourteen per cent of the population. (Fewer than half a million Americans died in the war.) Stalin needed a second front in the West, just as Roosevelt and Churchill needed the Red Army in the East.

From the start, the question was what the price would be. Stalin's view was uncomplicated. "This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system," he explained privately to a group of Communist officials when the Red Army was bearing down on Berlin. "Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach. It cannot be otherwise." This is exactly the way Kennan thought that the Soviets understood the matter, and he regarded Soviet intentions in Eastern Europe as the worm in the Allied apple. Once Germany was defeated, Moscow would revert to prewar form, and the United States would have little leverage. But he could not seem to get anyone to acknowledge that the worm was there.

In August, 1944, with Soviet troops less than sixty miles from Warsaw, partisans in the Polish Home Army staged an uprising against the city's German occupiers. Stalin failed to intervene militarily; he refused to airlift armaments to the Polish fighters; and he turned down Harriman's personal appeal to allow Allied planes to refuel at Ukrainian bases so they could get supplies into Warsaw. Stalin's motives were not hard to guess. He was waiting for the S.S., which had taken over the battle in Warsaw, to annihilate the Home Army for him, thereby removing a potential obstacle to the establishment of a Soviet puppet regime when the war was over.

The S.S. more than obliged. Though Stalin eventually relented, and the Soviets airlifted (actually, simply dropped from planes) matériel into Warsaw, it was to little effect. In two months, the Germans killed twenty thousand members of the Home Army and massacred two hundred and twenty-five thousand civilians. Half a million Poles were shipped to concentration camps, a hundred and fifty thousand were sent off to forced labor in Germany, and, on Hitler's orders, Warsaw was razed. When the Red Army entered the city, in January, 1945, not a single inhabitant was left.

Kennan always believed that this was the moment when Stalin showed his hand. In the "Memoirs," he recalls Harriman returning from his futile meeting about the Ukrainian bases "in the wee hours of the night, shattered by the experience. There was no doubt in any of our minds as to the implications of the position the Soviet leaders had taken. This was a gauntlet thrown down, in a spirit of malicious glee, before the Western powers." Kennan thought that the Soviets should have been given the choice, right there, of relinquishing their designs on Eastern Europe or forgoing further American assistance. He didn't think that this would have stopped Stalin; he considered the creation of a Soviet "sphere of influence" inevitable. But it would have ended the impression of American acquiescence.

In all his reports, Kennan's repeated message to Washington was "Get real." He didn't just disapprove of idealistic policy talk. He deeply loathed it. Declarations about the self-determination of peoples or international economic coöperation--the kind of thing that Roosevelt and Churchill announced as Allied war aims in the Atlantic Charter--seemed to him not only utopian and unenforceable but dangerously restrictive on a government's scope of action. If you tell the world that you are fighting to preserve the right of self-determination, then any outcome short of that makes you look hypocritical or weak.

By not fighting to destroy Communism as well as Nazism we were hypocritical and weak, and the Cold War was the price we paid for it, as WWII was the price for Wilson's hypocrisy after WWI and the WoT has been the price for our hypocrisy in preferring the "stability" afforded by Arab dictators to the unruliness of Muslim democracy.   All we've done in these instances was delay the inevitable at great cost to the peoples we failed and to our own society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM

A MERE 3%:

Busting the budget myths (Robert J. Samuelson, November 6, 2011, Washington Post)

Since 1971, federal spending has averaged 21 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Even with aggressive cuts, spending may never again fall this low. The reason: the surge in retirees. Meanwhile, taxes averaged 18 percent of GDP over those years, leaving average annual deficits of 3 percent. The take-away for both liberals and conservatives is repugnant: They need to identify the most justifiable spending cuts -- lots of them -- and the least damaging tax increases, which will still be sizable.

They need to come clean with reality. For years, they've exuded self-serving platitudes. Conservatives should acknowledge that Big Government is a permanent part of the social fabric and that much of what it does is popular. It needs to be financed. Liberals should concede that Big Government can become so big that its crushing taxes weaken the middle class and economic growth. Government then promotes conflict and degrades social justice.

The supercommittee cannot solve America's budget problems with one sweeping plan. It cannot remedy runaway health costs or streamline the complex income tax. These large tasks will be left to the next president and Congress. But it can elevate popular understanding by proposing a plan justified by a vision of government's collective responsibilities and the public's reciprocal obligations.

Entitlement and tax reform should be done for their own sake, but just getting defense/security spending back to its historic norms balances the budget.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Obama's Flunking Economy: The Real Cause (Ezra Klein, 11/24/11, NY Review of Books)

Of course, the most straightforward path to energizing the Fed isn't adding two new members to its Board of Governors, but replacing its chairman. And the White House had an opportunity to do so in 2010, when Ben Bernanke's term expired. Instead, Obama chose to renominate Bernanke. The thinking was that Bernanke had pursued an extraordinary set of activist policies during the worst of the crisis--he probably deserves more credit than any single person for preventing a second Great Depression--and he was respected in the institution and by the markets. Reappointing him would thus help with confidence and ensure that the White House had an able partner if the economy turned south again.

But Bernanke has been much more cautious in accelerating the recovery than he was in combating the initial crisis. When the financial markets were collapsing, he went far beyond the traditional limits of the Fed to support the financial markets, purchase depressed assets, and inject liquidity directly into the banking system. But he has not been nearly as aggressive in his efforts to support the recovery. The second round of quantitative easing could have been much bigger. The Fed's commitment to employment--even at the cost of modest inflation--could have been communicated directly to the markets. Unorthodox policies, such as targeting a specific level of nominal GDP growth, have been left untried.

At this point, even quite mainstream voices have come to worry over Bernanke's apparent timidity. In September, Charles Evans, the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve, gave a pointed speech in which he asked:

Imagine that inflation was running at 5 percent against our inflation objective of 2 percent. Is there a doubt that any central banker worth their salt would be reacting strongly to fight this high inflation rate? No, there isn't any doubt. They would be acting as if their hair was on fire. We should be similarly energized about improving conditions in the labor market.

This raises the question of whether the Obama administration made a mistake in reappointing Bernanke. If it had managed to install a more activist chairman at the Federal Reserve, then its inaction might have been more effectively offset by the Fed's actions.

If inflation were running at 5 percent the Fed wouldn't be doing its job.  When the employment rate is 64%+ it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Smaller, cheaper, faster: Does Moore's law apply to solar cells? (Ramez Naam | March 16, 2011, Scientific American)

Over the last 30 years, researchers have watched as the price of capturing solar energy has dropped exponentially. There's now frequent talk of a "Moore's law" in solar energy. In computing, Moore's law dictates that the number of components that can be placed on a chip doubles every 18 months. More practically speaking, the amount of computing power you can buy for a dollar has roughly doubled every 18 months, for decades. That's the reason that the phone in your pocket has thousands of times as much memory and ten times as much processing power as a famed Cray 1 supercomputer, while weighing ounces compared to the Cray's 10,000 lb bulk, fitting in your pocket rather than a large room, and costing tens or hundreds of dollars rather than tens of millions.

If similar dynamics worked in solar power technology, then we would eventually have the solar equivalent of an iPhone - incredibly cheap, mass distributed energy technology that was many times more effective than the giant and centralized technologies it was born from.

So is there such a phenomenon? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy has watched solar photovoltaic price trends since 1980. They've seen the price per Watt of solar modules (not counting installation) drop from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today.

Is this really an exponential curve? And is it continuing to drop at the same rate, or is it leveling off in recent years? To know if a process is exponential, we plot it on a log scale.

And indeed, it follows a nearly straight line on a log scale. Some years the price changes more than others. Averaged over 30 years, the trend is for an annual 7 percent reduction in the dollars per watt of solar photovoltaic cells. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Occupy Turns Sinister (K.J. Kaila, Nov 6, 2011, Daily Beast)

With the death of a young woman from an apparent heroin overdose in Occupy Vancouver's tarpaulin-covered encampment, some in the city where the movement began are wondering whether what was initially something idealistic has turned into something dangerous and dark.

Even former supporters have begun to sour on the Occupy demonstrations. "Those who agreed with part of your protest got the message the 1st day," tweeted Clay St. Thomas, a local actor and radio host. "Since, you've alienated and antagonized. Pack it up."

The mood in Vancouver, whose Adbusters magazine inspired the Occupy movement, has shifted dramatically since the death on Saturday of Ashlie Gough. Protesters who knew the 23-year-old, who was from Victoria on nearby Vancouver Island, confirmed she was homeless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Weighing Pentagon Cuts, Panetta Faces Deep Pressures (THOM SHANKER and ELISABETH BUMILLER, 11/07/11, NY Times)

Under orders to cut the Pentagon budget by more than $450 billion over the next decade, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is considering reductions in spending categories once thought sacrosanct, especially in medical and retirement benefits, as well as further shrinking the number of troops and reducing new weapons purchases.

Mr. Panetta, a former White House budget chief, acknowledged in an interview that he faced deep political pressures as he weighed cuts to Pentagon spending, which has doubled to $700 billion a year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said that meeting deficit-reduction targets might require another round of base closings, which could be highly contentious as members of Congress routinely fight to protect military deployments and jobs in their communities.

Among other steps, Mr. Panetta said, Pentagon strategists were looking at additional cuts in the nuclear arsenal, with an eye toward determining how many warheads the military needed to deter attacks.

Mr. Panetta also held out the possibility of cutting the number of American troops based in Europe, with the United States compensating for any withdrawal by helping NATO allies improve their militaries. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Cuba Legalizes Private Property Sales (VOA News, 11/03/11)

Cuba says it will allow people to buy and sell homes for the first time in more than 50 years.

Cuba's Granma -- official newspaper of the Communist Party -- announced the move Thursday, saying it applies to Cuban citizens and permanent residents.

The new law, set to take effect November 10, is part of a series of reforms President Raul Castro has undertaken in an effort to boost the communist-led island's economy. Under the new rules, Cubans will be able to own one main residence and one secondary home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


From Dream Into Nightmare (Alan Sked, 02.11.2011, The European)

So the European Ideal is now faced with a reality check. Do Europeans actually think of themselves as citizens of one country? Do they actually believe they have common ethical, social and political standards? Do they want to share their savings and their salaries with one another? Do they actually trust one another to follow the rules and not to cheat? Would a fiscal union be a solution to Europe's problems or an economic suicide pact?

Some of us see Europe as a state system rather than a single state. We believe in common values as aspirations but recognize that Europe is a diverse community of historical actors with different political and social cultures and that this diversity should be tolerated and respected. We see the attempt by bureaucrats in Brussels to create plastic, assembly-line citizens for a plastic Union as un-European and unrealistic.

We liked EFTA which allowed Europe's natural units--nation states--to trade freely without a suffocating blanket of central regulation.

We still believe that Europeans can coexist peacefully and in prosperity outside a straightjacket of federal law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


A Free-Trade Plan to Save Japan (GEORGE MELLOAN, 11/07/11, WSJ)

Yoshihiko Noda, selected to lead the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) only two months ago, already is contemplating a bold move. Prime Minister Noda's idea is to bring Japan into the U.S.-led negotiations aimed at greatly expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership into a broad free trade zone.

If Japan and the U.S. jointly back the TPP with its goal of a 10-year dismantling of all tariffs, they could significantly expand Pacific Basin trade flows. Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam already are part of the negotiations. China is a notable absentee.

Freer Trans-Pacific trade would have special importance for Japan, which has been stuck for years with slow economic growth, a huge public debt, an aging population, and a large U.S. dollar trove that loses value every time the dollar sinks to a new low. A U.S.-Japan-centered TPP would help Japan escape from the old worn-out Japan Inc., mercantilist economic model that has burdened it for two decades.

November 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


The Department of Health and Human Services' Death Panel (Steve Forbes, Nov. 21, 2011, Forbes)

A routine rectal exam last spring resulted in an alarming finding, subsequently confirmed by an ultrasound and a biopsy. The Gleason score was flashing red, so my prostate was removed, and--knock on wood--it seems the disease was caught early and successfully.

The task force makes a big deal about the unpleasant side effects in treating prostate cancer. But with a disease like cancer I'll take the side effects of treatment over letting nature take its course.

You'd never realize it from this panel, but the death rate from prostate cancer has dropped 40% in recent years, the result of a combination of early detection and better treatments.

Imagine how far the rate would drop if we just declared them universally cancerous and removed every prostate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:59 PM


Post reporter spends an in'tents' night amid anarchy in Zuccotti Park (CANDICE M. GIOVE, 11/06/11, , NY Post)

Every camp tent is like its own state. There is "Camp Anonymous," the group best known for anti-Scientology protests.

It's neighbored by a tent full of vampires, the "Class War" tent and the "Occupy Paw Street" tent, whose residents hand out treats to occupying pets.

There's also "Camp France" and the "Nic at Night" tent, which supplies the protest with smokes.

I settle on a sliver near Broadway by an OWS library -- which frighteningly has a children's section. On a bulletin board, there are personal messages like, "Call your sister!"

I'm wedged between a newbie from Brooklyn and some guy from Toronto, who preferred the experience of urban camping to his buddy's couch or a hotel.

"My knees will crush you," a hulking squatter shouts. "I don't want to hurt you.

"You're in my doorway. I'm going to crush you."

Someone takes offense and yells, "Manners!"

He's much kinder when he emerges later from his green tent and hands me a shiny Mylar blanket for extra warmth. "It's going to get cold," he said.

This spirit of generosity and the naivete of the original OWS protesters is devolving into a state of distrust and paranoia, however.

They speak of theft, about government infiltrators and tales of Rikers Island castoffs being dropped off to roam and ravage the site.

From underneath my blanket, I hear allegations of financial corruption and intimidation over sexual orientation.

"I'm in a tent that keeps getting flooded, ransacked and robbed," fumes a transgender group leader -- a female who identifies as a male.

He said that the transgender group would create its own police force for transgender protesters and females, since an immense distrust loomed over the OWS-created authority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Hollisto's World (Chad Hollis, 11/04/11, The Dartmouth)

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "Every tradition grows ever more venerable -- the more remote its origin, the more confused that origin is. The reverence due to it increases from generation to generation. The tradition finally becomes holy and inspires awe."

Throughout Dartmouth's expansive history, the College has developed many of its own holy and awe-inspiring traditions. We build a massive bonfire for Homecoming every fall, and we sculpt an intricate snow sculpture for Winter Carnival. No term passes without a streaking incident and it is not uncommon to see girls in fairy costumes storm the library during finals period, offering shots of vodka and rum to overstressed classmates.

If you ask most students about the history of these practices, they will not be able to tell you how, why or when these traditions started. These same students, however, would likely fight you to the death before they let you take away one of the traditions that make Dartmouth special.

Big Green athletics also have several long-standing traditions. Nearly every freshman class has a few members rush the field during halftime of the Homecoming football game. This past Homecoming, a large slew of freshmen rushed the field during Columbia University's marching band performance and disrupted the band's formation. One band member broke away from his pack and tried to chase down one of the instigators. Moments like this are why I love this college.

My favorite Dartmouth athletics ritual occurs when the men's hockey team plays Princeton University at Thompson Arena. For freshmen who do not know, it is a time-honored tradition to throw tennis balls onto the ice after Dartmouth scores its first goal against Princeton.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


List of free Prime eligible Kindle e-books (David Carnoy, November 5, 2011, C-Net)

In case you missed it, Amazon recently launched the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which allows Amazon Prime members to check out up to one e-book a month for free with no due date.

The only problem is that it wasn't so easy to find all the more than 5,000 titles in the Kindle Store that qualify for free borrowing. However, as one might expect, a somewhat helpful link has cropped up in the blogosphere.

Click on this link to get to the list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


A New President, and a Union's Last Stand : a review of Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America by Joseph A. McCartin  (BRYAN BURROUGH, 11/06/11, NY Times Book Review)

That, Mr. McCartin shows, was the final straw for Patco militants. The union's president was overthrown in a boardroom coup, making way for hard-liners to take over. For these men -- and they were almost all white men -- the union's long string of defeats was too much to stomach. They began itching for a strike well before the 1981 contract talks. A network known in the union as "the Choirboys" emerged to begin spreading the gospel of a strike, never mind that any strike would be illegal. "In the eyes of many union members," Mr. McCartin writes, "the Patco fight concerned a fundamental human right: the freedom all workers should have to strike in protest of their conditions."

By and large, the new Reagan administration took little notice of Patco. The union had endorsed Mr. Reagan in the 1980 election, after cutting a closed-doors deal in which Reagan advisers, while promising few specifics, made it clear they would look kindly on union demands. But Patco leadership emboldened by the deal, demanded pay raises. In June 1981, Mr. Reagan actually gave in, granting the union what Mr. McCartin shows was possibly the most generous set of concessions made to a federal public employee union in government history.

It wasn't enough. The rank and file rejected the deal, setting the stage for a strike that, in retrospect, had little to do with salary. This was about respect, about a deep-seated anger at years of perceived humiliation at the hands of F.A.A. supervisors. It was only after the union rejected the government's offers, Mr. McCartin demonstrates, that Mr. Reagan took his historic hard line. Any controllers who struck, he vowed, would be fired. And they were fired, in the thousands. Supervisors and military controllers filled in, and replacements would be trained and hired. For the most part, the public applauded while unions cringed. The cause of organized labor was set back years, if not decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Hisham Matar on Libya's awakening (David Lepeska, Oct 28, 2011 , The National)

Little-known outside literary circles before this year, Matar seems to have surfaced at precisely the right moment to herald a new Arab modernity. Born in New York City in 1970, he moved with his family to Tripoli three years later when his father, Jaballa, resigned from a United Nations posting in objection to the Qaddafi regime. In 1979, Jaballa found himself on a Libyan government watch list and again moved the family, this time to Cairo. He wrote articles calling for democracy, and became a leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya. In the mid-80s, Matar was sent to boarding school in the UK, where he stayed to study architecture at university.

On the afternoon of March 12, 1990, Jaballa was taken from the family's Cairo home by Egypt's mukhabarat, handed over to the Libyan government and deposited in Abu Salim prison. Two letters, smuggled out by fellow prisoners in 1992 and 1995, relayed stories of interrogation and torture. The family has not heard from Jaballa since. His fate remains unknown.

Matar's twenties fell away in a decade of hate for the Egyptian and Libyan governments. By 2004, he had moved to Paris, met his future wife and begun work on a novel. In the Country of Men, published in 2006, is the story of a sensitive Libyan boy experiencing the quiet panic of a childhood under despotic terror. The book made the Man Booker Prize shortlist and won the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize, honouring a work that evokes "the spirit of a place".

Released early this year, his second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, is also narrated by a sensitive Arab youth and has received strong reviews. The story pivots around his father's mysterious abduction and the long-held secrets it reveals. A "chronicle of the dead years", is how the poet and critic Luke Kennard described the book in his February review for this publication. "Moving and impressively concise, what ultimately sets Anatomy of a Disappearance apart and makes it something of a modern classic is not just the universality of loss, but the deep humanity of Matar's prose." Written in English, that prose is simple, declarative, and all the more forceful as a result of his great care.

"Every word we utter betrays us, says a little more than what we think we are saying, reveals more than what we anticipated, exposes us further," Matar said during a recent lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Few better expose the long, dark reach of dictatorship than Matar, which is something of an irony, as Anatomy's publication coincided with the uprisings sweeping the region. Suddenly, Matar was everywhere: writing about Libya and his father in the New York Times, The Guardian and The New Yorker; interpreting the Arab Spring at think-tank discussions and literary festivals; chatting with the BBC, NPR and other news channels.

All at once, and despite spending more than half of his life in the UK, Matar emerged as the new Arab world's unofficial interlocutor to the West. "It's not so much translating or communicating things, but it's dispelling the presumptions that we are quintessentially different," he says of his new role.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Jindal cuts La. budget 25% and sky doesn't fall (Jim Geraghty, 11/06/11,

Privatization played a big role in Jindal's reinvention of state government, with private contractors taking over state-run operations for a lesser cost. The companies often hired the state workers who would often be the centerpiece of opponents' criticism.

His administration privatized the state's Office of Risk Management. Then the state's Division of Administration privatized claims management and loss prevention in the self-insurance program, saving $20 million over five years. The Department of Health and Hospitals privatized six inpatient, residential-treatment programs around the state, saving $2.5 million. Separately, patients were moved from state-operated institutions that cost $600 or more per patient per day to community-based services and private group homes that average $191 per day, saving an additional $23.8 million.

Consolidation was another key element: The state's Department of Revenue shrank from eight offices statewide to three. The Department of Children and Family Services consolidated its offices from 157 to 90, saving a total of $2.7 million.

But some of Jindal's cuts are the old-fashioned kind. The state sold 1,300 vehicles from its fleet of automobiles. Louisiana's Transportation Department shut down a ferry that was used by only 7,200 drivers per year, saving the state roughly three-quarters of a million dollars.

In fiscal 2011, Louisiana eliminated more than 3,500 full-time government positions. Add the 6,363 previous reductions during Jindal's term, and that means a total of almost 9,900 full-time positions reduced since he took the oath, a savings of almost $600 million. Louisiana now has the lowest level of full-time state government employees in almost 20 years. [...]

Jindal's first term was marked by several high-profile crises he successfully managed - Hurricane Gustav and the response to the BP oil spill, along with the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on all drilling in the Gulf of Mexico - but the state's economy has generally chugged along: Louisiana's unemployment rate is 7.1 percent, two percentage points lower than the national average, and a comparably booming economy makes cuts in state spending much easier to take.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


$6.9 Billion Spent Yearly On 12 Unnecessary Tests And Treatments (KaiserHealth, 11/01/11)

Minal Kale, an internist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead author of the study, says $6.8 billion was a conservative estimate of the cost of the inappropriate care. She notes, for example, that the study didn't evaluate the cost of additional testing or procedures that result from an abnormal blood test reading result or imaging scan, even though in the absence of symptoms or risk factors the follow-up may be unnecessary and even cause harm. "The financial and other emotional results of that can be significant," she says.

The original list of primary care activities upon which Kale and her colleagues based their financial analysis was developed by the Good Stewardship Working Group under a grant from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation and published first online in May. Working group members were composed of internists, family physicians and pediatricians who are part of the National Physicians Alliance, a group of 22,000 doctors that advocates universal, affordable health care.

The working group focused on common activities that no physician would argue against, says Stephen Smith, a family physician and professor emeritus at Brown University's Alpert Medical School, who co-authored that group's paper. That's why you don't see more controversial practices like the PSA blood test for prostate cancer, which was recently removed from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's list of recommended screenings for most men. "What we were trying to do was change [physicians'] mindset, not cause firestorms of controversy," says Smith.

So why would physicians continue to order tests and prescribe pricey drugs when there's clear evidence that they're not necessary in many cases and may even cause harm by exposing people to unneeded care?

One of the main reasons is the way doctors are trained, Smith says. "I think all of us practicing in the U.S. were raised in an educational environment where we got dinged if we didn't order certain tests," he says.

Defensive medicine also plays a role. "Nobody ever gets sued for ordering unnecessary tests," says Doug Campos-Outcalt, a family physician in Phoenix and a past president of the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians.

And patient expectations drive some of the spending as well, say physicians, who note that sometimes simple directives, such as drinking less alcohol or getting more exercise, aren't what patients want to hear. "If a doctor says, 'Let's talk about weight control,' patients aren't usually too happy," says Campos-Outcalt. "They feel like there should be some testing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


To Screen or Not to Screen? (Diana Mahoney, 11/02/11, Family Practice News)

Pegged by some in the health care industry as a potentially dangerous renegade in the months since the January 2011 publication of his book, coauthored by colleagues Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz and Dr. Steven Woloshin, Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health (Boston: Beacon: 2011), Dr. Welch is unapologetic for his assertion that the chief benefactors of early screening protocols are device manufacturers, imaging centers, pharmaceutical companies and even local hospitals. Screening, he said, is a recruiting tool. It doesn't necessarily lead to better patient care, but it does generate "new" patients, including those with no signs and symptoms of disease who would otherwise believe themselves to be healthy and those who turn into patients overnight by virtue of a threshold change, such as a reduction in fasting blood sugar values indicating prediabetes or an alteration in osteoporosis criteria, he said. [...]

Dr. Welch maintains that he is not anti-health care or anti-medicine or anti-screening, per se. "I am against treating people who are well," he said.

November 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Why global governance does not work: SOVEREIGNTY OR SUBMISSION: WILL AMERICANS RULE THEMSELVES OR BE RULED BY OTHERS? By John Fonte (W. James Antle III, 11/05/11, Washington Times) 

Black helicopters and "one-world government" have long been staples of conspiracy theories across the political spectrum, but, as the saying goes, even paranoids have real enemies. Hudson Institute senior fellow John Fonte has written a new book showing that there really are people in positions of authority who would dilute national sovereignty and transfer political power to unaccountable transnational organizations.

"Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?" painstakingly demonstrates that people worried about global governance have real enemies: academics and political activists, government bureaucrats and nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations and the European Union. They needn't bear the mark of the beast.

In the foreword, the respected journalist John O'Sullivan describes Mr. Fonte as "one of the very few scholarly defenders of sovereigntist ideas." Indeed, the author does stand out as someone who can debate issues pertaining to democratic sovereignty without resorting to hyperbole or heavy breathing. But readers might be surprised to learn how bereft the academy is of people who believe in self-governing nation-states that use international organizations rather than being used by them.

...and not just the EU but even Great Britain is breaking apart, you'd have to say we sovereigntists have the upper hand over the transnationalists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


Why Defense Stocks Could get Crushed in Coming Years (David Sterman, 11/05/11, Townhall)

Cuts in military spending already have the support of most Democrats, but a rising number of deficit hawks in the Republican Party are willing to trim Department of Defense (DoD) spending as well. Still, a negotiated budget will be far friendlier to the DoD than the automatic cuts that may take place on Nov. 23. How much are we talking about? About $454 billion from the next DoD budget. That's more than one-third of all planned automatic cuts that would take place. And these cuts come on top of $350 billion in previously agreed-upon cuts as a result of this summer's budget agreement.

The number of soldiers on active duty would likely have to shrink, but it's impossible to quickly shed tens of thousands of soldiers, shutter dozens of military bases and withdraw from key strategic regions around the world. This is a long-term possibility, but not a short-term one. Instead, look for the budget axe to come down hard on defense contractors, all of whom live off lucrative contracts to build billion-dollar planes, ships and security systems. Merrill Lynch says spending by defense contractors will shrink 3.3% annually for the next five years -- and even this number may prove optimistic. Defense spending has risen from 3% of gross domestic product in the 1990s to a current 4.8%. A return to that 3% level represents a 35% drop.

Merrill's analysts note that since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, defense and security spending has risen 74%. "In our view, this defense budget trend is unsustainable considering the current political and economic backdrop. We expect the budget to decline and revert to the mean, particularly as our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down."

There's a big old peace dividend coming with the last ism defeated, one of the reasons that deficit hysteria is so silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Colombia's president hails killing of Farc leader Alfonso Cano (Sibylla Brodzinsky, 11/05/11,

Colombia's top rebel leader has been killed in a hail of gunfire near his remote camp in what the government are calling the "most resounding blow" against the guerrilla army known as the Farc in its near 50-year history. [...]

On inspecting the bombed-out camp, troops found several computers, 39 pen drives, 24 hard disks and cash in Colombian pesos, dollars and euros.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the military high command travelled to Popayán, the nearest city to the camp. On announcing the news after midnight on Friday, Santos declared Cano's death "the most resounding blow to this organisation in its entire history".

Santos seized the occasion to call on the Farc fighters to demobilise. "Otherwise you will end up in a prison or in a tomb. We will achieve peace."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


The Politics of Austerity (THOMAS B. EDSALL, 11/05/11, NY Times)

The new embattled partisan environment allows conservatives to pit taxpayers against tax consumers, those dependent on safety-net programs against those who see such programs as eating away at their personal income and assets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Changes in Occupy Los Angeles crowd prompt concern (Dakota Smith, 11/05/11, LA Daily News)

As the growing Occupy L.A. movement enters its second month, the makeup of the crowd is changing. New arrivals are coming from out of state. Others are showing up who are more interested in drinking and partying than protesting the nation's political structure. And, there are significantly more transient men and women at the campout since it began.

"There are more homeless moving in, and with that there are the associated addiction issues and mental health issues," said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.

Sunday night, Los Angeles police officers arrested a man for carrying a concealed weapon, one of the first arrests on the lawn. A woman overdosed on heroin the same night and was taken away by ambulance, according to numerous Occupy L.A. residents.

Joseph Thomas, a volunteer with the homeless advocacy group Community Action Network, has spotted crack cocaine use at the site a handful of times.

"The drugs are being brought in by the younger (protesters) crowd," Thomas said. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Remains Of Ancient Race Of Job Creators Found In Rust Belt (The Onion, October 31, 2011)

A team of leading archaeologists announced Monday they had uncovered the remains of an ancient job-creating race that, at the peak of its civilization, may have provided occupations for hundreds of thousands of humans in the American Northeast and Midwest.

According to researchers, these long- forgotten people once flourished between western New York state and Illinois, erecting highly distinctive steel and brick structures wherever they went, including many buildings thought to have held hundreds of paid workers at a time.

"It's truly fascinating--after spending a certain number of hours performing assigned tasks, the so-called 'employees' at such facilities would receive monetary compensation that allowed them to support themselves and their families," said archaeologist Alan H. Mueller, citing old ledgers and time-keeping devices unearthed at excavation sites in the region. "In fact, this practice seems to have been the norm for their culture, which consisted of advanced tool users capable of exploiting their skills to produce highly valued goods and services."

"It's a complex and intriguing set of rituals we're still trying to fully understand," Mueller added. "But it appears as if their entire society was centered around creating, out of thin air, actual jobs that paid an actual living wage."

What's funny here is not the jibe, but the lack of comprehension it reveals.  Not that the core assumption is that an economy's purpose is to create jobs.  Indeed, the manner or substance (or the lack of said) of the job is completely beside the point, any "assigned task" is considered sufficient.  Goods and services are secondary, an afterthought at best. 

This misapprehension would be funnier were it not so common, so persistent, and so damaging. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:56 PM


Goldline: We'll Fight Fraud Charges (MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS (@brianross) and AVNI PATEL, Nov. 2, 2011, ABC News)

As reported on "Good Morning America," local officials in California filed a 19-count criminal complaint Tuesday against Goldline, a company that used endorsements from Glenn Beck and other conservative icons to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in gold products to consumers.

The complaint alleges that Goldline "runs a bait and switch operation in which customers, seeking to invest in gold bullion, are switched to highly overpriced coins by using false and misleading claims," according to a statement released by the consumer affairs division of the Santa Monica City Attorney's office.

The company has been charged in the court filing with misdemeanors that include theft by false pretenses, false advertising, and conspiracy, the City Attorney's office said. In addition to the charges against the company, the complaint accuses former CEO Mark Albarian, executives Robert Fazio and Luis Beeli, and salespeople Charles Boratgis and Stephanie Howard of defrauding customers. Current CEO Scott Carter is accused of making false or misleading statements. Each of the charged offenses carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and maximum fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 per offense. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


Chicago Economics on Trial: Nobel-winning economist Robert Lucas on the high cost of the welfare state, why he voted for Barack Obama, and how Milton Friedman changed his life. (HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR., 11/05/11, WSJ)

Robert E. Lucas Jr., 74, didn't invent the idea or coin the term, but he did more than anyone to explore its ramifications for our model of the economy. Rational expectations is the idea that people look ahead and use their smarts to try to anticipate conditions in the future.

Duh, you say? When Mr. Lucas finally won the Nobel Prize in 1995, it was the economics profession that said duh. By then, nobody figured more prominently on the short list for the profession's ultimate honor. As Harvard economist Greg Mankiw later put it in the New York Times, "In academic circles, the most influential macroeconomist of the last quarter of the 20th century was Robert Lucas, of the University of Chicago."

Mr. Lucas is visiting NYU for a few days in early September to teach a mini-course, so I dash over to pick his brain. He obligingly tilts his computer screen toward me. Two things are on his mind and they're connected. One is the failure of the European and Japanese economies, after their brisk growth in the early postwar years, to catch up with the U.S. in per capita gross domestic product. The GDP gap, which once seemed destined to close, mysteriously stopped narrowing after about 1970.

The other issue on his mind is our own stumbling recovery from the 2008 recession.

For the best explanation of what happened in Europe and Japan, he points to research by fellow Nobelist Ed Prescott. In Europe, governments typically commandeer 50% of GDP. The burden to pay for all this largess falls on workers in the form of high marginal tax rates, and in particular on married women who might otherwise think of going to work as second earners in their households. "The welfare state is so expensive, it just breaks the link between work effort and what you get out of it, your living standard," says Mr. Lucas. "And it's really hurting them."

Turning to the U.S., he says, "A healthy economy that falls into recession has higher than average growth for a while and gets back to the old trend line. We haven't done that. I have plenty of suspicions but little evidence. I think people are concerned about high tax rates, about trying to stick business corporations with the failure of ObamaCare, which is going to emerge, the fact that it's not going to add up. But none of this has happened yet. You can't look at evidence. The taxes haven't really been raised yet."

Given the recent history of taxes as a percentage of GDP, it is fair to say that Mr. Lucas's "people" are imprisoned by a delusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Meeting With Chinese, Official Tests Limits Set by Congress (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 11/02/11, NY Times)

At an oversight hearing on the matter Wednesday, the subcommittee chairman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, criticized cooperation with China and chastised the administration for violating the statute. But Dr. Holdren said that the benefits of engaging with China outweighed the risks and that his actions were lawful, pointing to the Justice Department's advice.

While the power of the department's Office of Legal Counsel to nullify statutes has led to fierce debate in recent years, the highest-profile disputes have involved national security issues like surveillance, where significant portions of the material are classified.

By contrast, the executive branch's writings in the current dispute are public. They illustrate how one president's assertion of executive power -- sometimes in memorandums that are secret at the time -- establishes a "precedent" for his successors to develop by applying it to new circumstances. Each repetition cements and expands the claim without a court ever weighing in.

"This is a bipartisan project of executive aggrandizement," said Bruce Ackerman, a Yale law professor and critic of the Office of Legal Counsel system. "Law is a disciplined conversation between lawyers and judges. But without any judges, law is a conversation between lawyers and other lawyers -- and they're all on the same side, building upon one another."

Dawn Johnsen, who led the Office of Legal Counsel for a period during the Clinton administration and was Mr. Obama's first nominee for that position, said on some matters the president must rely on Justice Department legal advice.

"The executive should be very wary of ever acting contrary to a federal statute, but on rare occasions it is necessary and appropriate," she said. "On some issues there is simply very little judicial precedent, and there is no alternative to the executive branch relying on its own legal interpretations."

As in many cases raising tensions between the power of Congress and of the presidency, courts have no opportunity to weigh in because no one has standing to file a lawsuit. In that vacuum, the Justice Department largely cited its own previous claims.

If congressmen want to exercise executive powers they need to run for the presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Could Shale Gas Reignite the U.S. Economy?: Unlocking vast reserves of shale gas could solve the energy crisis, the jobs crisis, and the deficit. Now, about fracking's safety ... (Paul M. Barrett, 11/03/11, Business Week)

Geologists have known for generations that immense, deeply buried shale formations contain copious reserves of methane, or natural gas, which can be burned efficiently to make electricity and run factories. Until recently, however, industry lacked the tools to get at shale gas profitably. In the early 2000s, the combination of two existing techniques led to a breakthrough. One method is horizontal drilling. The other is hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a scary-sounding and controversial process involving the high-pressure pumping of millions of gallons of chemical-laced water deep underground to create cracks in shale rock and release trapped gas.

When in 2007 environmentalists began raising reasonable concerns about fracking, industry executives responded with a dismissive, "Just trust us"--ensuring that skeptics would trust them less. Just in case concern didn't turn into panic on its own, the industry for years took the additional step of refusing to disclose the chemicals it uses in fracking. Lost amid the suspicion and recrimination was a potentially more constructive discussion over improving industry standards for drillers' concrete-lined steel casing, which, when installed correctly, has successfully insulated wells from drinking water.

Now, though, there's some surprising good news: Despite all the vituperation on both sides, some people from business and environmental circles are quietly at work in Texas, New York, and Washington on guidelines that should ensure a safe, profitable gas revival. The Environmental Defense Fund, for example, is drafting model state regulations with Southwestern Energy, a producer based in Houston. The collaboration is rooted in the recognition that the choice between polluting fossil fuels and pristine alternatives is not simple. For the foreseeable future, the U.S. has to burn a whole lot of something to produce power. The nation now gets 45 percent of its electricity from coal, 25 percent from natural gas, 20 percent from nuclear, 7 percent from hydro, and 2 percent from wind. Solar barely registers. With current technology, wind and solar probably can't reach into double digits, let alone bear the bulk of the load.

If you want to continue to turn on the lights with the flip of a switch, the real short-term choice is whether to stick with the current mix or replace a substantial amount of coal capacity with less dirty natural gas. John Podesta, former chief of staff to ex-President Bill Clinton, argues for the latter option. Now head of the Center for American Progress in Washington, Podesta writes on the liberal think tank's website that natural gas can serve "as a bridge fuel to a 21st century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels." Exploring where that bridge will lead should be one of the country's most important economic priorities.

Like petroleum, natural gas is a hydrocarbon, a product of decomposed organic material that simmered underground for hundreds of millions of years. Simple in structure--one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms--gas has a convoluted history in the U.S. In the 1970s, federal price restrictions contributed to underproduction and shortages, leading to wintertime shutdowns of Midwestern schools and factories. Utility executives and consumers came to view natural gas as unreliable.

A titanic political fight during the Carter Administration ended in a bizarre compromise: price deregulation combined with restrictions on burning gas to generate electricity. (The coal industry, it should be noted, sponsors a long-established and adroit K Street lobby.) By the 1990s, the limits on using natural gas for power had been eased, and new turbine technology made gas an attractive alternative to coal. Furious construction of gas-fired power plants ensued, only to be followed by dismay: Gas supplies were not expanding apace. At the turn of the 21st century, some natural gas basins were nearly tapped out, and once again many utilities, homeowners, and energy-intensive manufacturers dismissed domestic gas as a sucker's bet.

It might have stayed that way if not for the stubbornness of a Texan named George P. Mitchell. The son of an immigrant Greek goat herder, Mitchell worked his way through Texas A&M University in the late 1930s waiting tables and repairing clothes for students. After World War II, he went into the oil and gas business in Houston, working from a tiny office above a drugstore. All through the '80s, Mitchell pondered geological studies showing that gas could be found not only in conventional reservoirs but also in deeper, denser "unconventional" shale formations.

Shale is where gas is actually created. Energy men call it "the kitchen," where hydrocarbons "cook," and where large amounts of gas remains trapped. Mitchell wondered: Why not drill all the way down to the kitchen? His exploration company probed the Barnett Shale, a slab sprawling 7,000 feet beneath Dallas and Fort Worth. Competitors scoffed. "We we running low on gas, and I had to find another reservoir somewhere," Mitchell, now 92, told Bloomberg News. "So I said let's drill a well and see what this thing is about."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


The Once and Future Way to Run (CHRISTOPHER McDOUGALL, 11/06/11, NY Times Magazine)

Back in the '60s, Americans "ran way more and way faster in the thinnest little shoes, and we never got hurt," Amby Burfoot, a longtime Runner's World editor and former Boston Marathon champion, said during a talk before the Lehigh Valley Half-Marathon I attended last year. "I never even remember talking about injuries back then," Burfoot said. "So you've got to wonder what's changed."

Bob Anderson knows at least one thing changed, because he watched it happen. As a high-school senior in 1966, he started Distance Running News, a twice-yearly magazine whose growth was so great that Anderson dropped out of college four years later to publish it full time as Runner's World. Around then, another fledgling operation called Blue Ribbon Sports was pioneering cushioned running shoes; it became Nike. Together, the magazine and its biggest advertiser rode the running boom -- until Anderson decided to see whether the shoes really worked.

"Some consumer advocate needed to test this stuff," Anderson told me. He hired Peter Cavanagh, of the Penn State University biomechanics lab, to stress-test new products mechanically. "We tore the shoes apart," Anderson says. He then graded shoes on a scale from zero to five stars and listed them from worst to first.

When a few of Nike's shoes didn't fare so well in the 1981 reviews, the company pulled its $1 million advertising contract with Runner's World. Nike already had started its own magazine, Running, which would publish shoe reviews and commission star writers like Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson.

"Nike would never advertise with me again," Anderson says. "That hurt us bad." In 1985, Anderson sold Runner's World to Rodale, which, he says, promptly abolished his grading system. Today, every shoe in Runner's World is effectively "recommended" for one kind of runner or another. David Willey, the magazine's current editor, says that it only tests shoes that "are worth our while." After Nike closed its magazine, it took its advertising back to Runner's World. (Megan Saalfeld, a Nike spokeswoman, says she was unable to find someone to comment about this episode.)

"It's a grading system where you can only get an A," says Anderson, who went on to become the founder and chief executive of Ujena Swimwear.

Just as the shoe reviews were changing, so were the shoes: fear, the greatest of marketing tools, entered the game. Instead of being sold as performance accessories, running shoes were rebranded as safety items, like bike helmets and smoke alarms. Consumers were told they'd get hurt, perhaps for life, if they didn't buy the "right" shoes. It was an audacious move that flew in the face of several biological truths: humans had thrived as running animals for two million years without corrective shoes, and asphalt was no harder than the traditional hunting terrains of the African savanna.

In 1985, Benno Nigg, founder and currently co-director of the University of Calgary's Human Performance Lab, floated the notion that impact and rear-foot motion (called pronation) were dangerous. His work helped spur an arms race of experimental technology to counter those risks with plush heels and wedged shoes. Running magazines spread the new gospel. To this day, Runner's World tells beginners that their first workout should be opening their wallets: "Go to a specialty running store . . . you'll leave with a comfortable pair of shoes that will have you running pain- and injury-free."

Nigg now believes mistakes were made. "Initial results were often overinterpreted and were partly responsible for a few 'blunders' in sport-shoe construction," he said in a speech to the International Society of Biomechanics in 2005. The belief in the need for cushioning and pronation control, he told me, was, in retrospect, "completely wrong thinking." His stance was seconded in June 2010, when The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that a study of 105 women enrolled in a 13-week half-marathon training program found that every single runner who was given motion-control shoes to control excess foot pronation was injured. "You don't need any protection at all except for cold and, like, gravel," Nigg now says.

Of course, the only way to know what shoes have done to runners would be to travel back to a time when no one ever wore them. So that's what one anthropologist has effectively done. In 2009, Daniel Lieberman, chairman of Harvard's human evolutionary biology department, located a school in Kenya where no one wore shoes. Lieberman noticed something unusual: while most runners in shoes come down hard on their heels, these barefoot Kenyans tended to land softly on the balls of their feet.

Back at the lab, Lieberman found that barefoot runners land with almost zero initial impact shock. Heel-strikers, by comparison, collide with the ground with a force equal to as much as three times their body weight. "Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain."
At Camp Sankaty Head we used to have a "marathon" every summer--you ran the entire golf course.  Tees, fairways and greens lent themselves naturally to running bare foot and, since my sneakers were high white Chuck Taylors, that's what I did (albeit at a glacial pace). 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Is Obama Toast? Handicapping the 2012 Election (NATE SILVER, 11/06/11, NY Times Magazine)

Then came the debt-ceiling debates of July and August, which seemed to crystallize Obama's vulnerabilities in a way that even the Democrats' midterm disaster of 2010 did not. It's probably because he handled the situation so poorly, simultaneously managing to annoy his base, frustrate swing voters, concede a major policy victory to Republicans and -- through the fear imported into the market by the brinksmanship in Congress and the credit-rating downgrade that followed -- further imperil the economic recovery. On Aug. 12, a week and a half after the debate ended in Congress, Obama's stock on Intrade, a popular political betting market, dipped below 50 percent for the first time. It has hovered just below the 50 percent threshold, usually at about 48 percent, ever since.

Obama has gone from a modest favorite to win re-election to, probably, a slight underdog. Let's not oversell this. A couple of months of solid jobs reports, or the selection of a poor Republican opponent, would suffice to make him the favorite again.

Nevertheless, this is an unusual circumstance. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes all looked like the favorite to win a year in advance of their re-election battles, either having strong approval ratings or good-enough ones accompanied by robust economic numbers. When we look at the last eight elected presidents, only Carter faced a situation worse than Obama's: approval ratings in the low 30s rather than low 40s, the likelihood rather than the mere possibility of a recession, a primary challenge rather than a clear path to renomination and a crisis in Iran rather than a string of foreign-policy victories.

The other seven had stronger fundamentals heading into the election year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


How I'll tackle spending, debt (Mitt Romney, 11/05/11, USA Today)

There are three ways to reduce spending, which combined, will achieve a fiscal turnaround of this size.

First, eliminate every government program that is not absolutely essential. There are many things government does that we may like but that we do not need. The test should be this: "Is this program so critical that it is worth borrowing money to pay for it?" The federal government should stop doing things we don't need or can't afford. For example:

•Repeal ObamaCare, which would save $95 billion in 2016.

•Eliminate subsidies for the unprofitable Amtrak, saving $1.6 billion a year.

•Enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.

•Eliminate Title X family planning programs benefiting abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.

•End foreign aid to countries that oppose America's interests.

Second, return federal programs to the states where innovation, cost management and reduction of fraud and abuse can far exceed what Washington achieves. I will block grant Medicaid and workforce training, saving well over $100 billion in 2016.

Third, sharply improve the productivity and efficiency of the federal government itself. Where we do want the federal government to act, it must do a better job. For instance:

•Reduce the federal workforce through attrition and align compensation with the private sector, saving over $40 billion by 2016.

•Repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, a union giveaway that artificially raises costs for government projects, and save taxpayers more than $10 billion a year in the process.

•Attack rampant fraud in government programs by enacting far stiffer penalties for those who steal from taxpayers. Cutting improper payments in half could save more than $60 billion a year.

•Consolidate, eliminate and streamline federal departments, agencies and offices following a stem-to-stern review. to run for President, rather than for the nomination, trying to make himself seem inevitable and next in line. Ironically, that means he should skip the debates (and has to avoid Iowa at all costs).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Odds Are, It's Wrong: Science fails to face the shortcomings of statistics (Science News, 11/19/11)

It's science's dirtiest secret: The "scientific method" of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.

Replicating a result helps establish its validity more securely, but the common tactic of combining numerous studies into one analysis, while sound in principle, is seldom conducted properly in practice.

Experts in the math of probability and statistics are well aware of these problems and have for decades expressed concern about them in major journals. Over the years, hundreds of published papers have warned that science's love affair with statistics has spawned countless illegitimate findings. In fact, if you believe what you read in the scientific literature, you shouldn't believe what you read in the scientific literature.

"There is increasing concern," declared epidemiologist John Ioannidis in a highly cited 2005 paper in PLoS Medicine, "that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims."

And that's when they're trying to do genuine science, not propaganda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Coffee ( Trent, 11/04/11, Simple Dollar)

Let's say we're looking at a 16 ounce cup of coffee - what you might fill a to-go cup with from a coffee shop, for example. A 16 ounce cup of coffee is approximately 473 mL, which, using the ratio above, would require 26 grams of coffee to make it yourself. An ounce is 28.3 grams, just for measurement's sake.

So, how much does "good" coffee cost? I asked my wife to select what she considered to be a very good coffee for the price and she chose Eight O'Clock Coffee's original ground, which can be obtained at a rate of $0.39 per ounce.

Simply put, you'd need about $0.38 of decent ground coffee to make a good 16 ounce cup of coffee at home. There's also the negligible cost of water and electricity (say, one cent per cup), plus the ongoing cost of filters (say, two cents per cup), plus the cost of the cup (say, one cent per drink prorated out over time), plus the startup cost of purchasing an inexpensive pot to brew the coffee with (say, another two cents per cup, prorated out over time). That's a cost of about $0.44 for a 16 ounce standard coffee.

Now, if you add cream or other ingredients to that, you're increasing the cost, but not significantly. For example, International Delight French Vanilla liquid creamer costs $0.08 per cup. Other options might ding you as much as a quarter per cup for flavoring, which is still leaving you below $0.70 per cup.

Depending on what exactly you order at your typical coffee chain, a 16 ounce coffee will set you back somewhere between $2 and $5. The variation here is pretty impressive, but even if you're comparing the low end of a purchased coffee with the high end of a homemade cup, you're still talking about a savings of a dollar per 16 ounce cup. It's quite likely you're saving even more than that.

As the Other Brother explained it to me once, "Starbucks isn't in the coffee business, they're in the milk business."

November 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Is Hamas Moderating?: Fatah and Hamas have tried without success to forge a unity government, but with Hamas's Syrian patrons weakened, the group may be softening its hard line and ready for a deal (Eli Lake, 11/03/11, Daily Beast)

Top Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, a key member of the Fatah Party started by Yasser Arafat, says his rivals inside Hamas appear to be moderating their positions and could be moving toward a deal for a unified government.

Shaath told The Daily Beast that the weakening of Syria's government--long a source of support for Hamas--in the face of civil unrest has changed the dynamic for Palestinians still trying to create a unified government that could negotiate with Israel with one voice.

'Jordan, Hamas on road to reconciliation' (Taylor Luck, 11/04/11, Jordan Times)

At times unlikely allies, Jordan and Hamas are on the road to reconciliation, observers and officials say.

Recent communications between the two sides have sparked a flurry of speculation that was only fuelled on Tuesday when Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh declared that the decision to expel Hamas leaders from Amman a decade ago was a "political and constitutional mistake".

Despite the rapid developments, analysts say only time will tell whether the Arab Spring-inspired thaw in relations represents a seasonal political shift or the beginning of a regional realignment with ramifications in Damascus, Ramallah and beyond.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Occupational Hazards (Hendrik Hertzberg, November 7, 2011, New Yorker)

Winter is coming. The strategy of static outdoor encampments is straining the patience even of sympathetic mayors in cities like Oakland, where last week riot police stormed the site and a Marine veteran was left in critical condition. If the weather and the cops pare the numbers in the camps, it's far from unimaginable that ideologues in the mold of the Old New Left--people for whom the problem is "capitalism" per se, as opposed to a political economy rigged to benefit the rich at the expense of the rest--could end up dominant. As it is, the Occupiers' brand of romantic participatory democracy can too easily render their decision-making vulnerable to a truculent few. In the most notorious example, Representative John Lewis, the revered civil-rights hero, was prevented from speaking at Occupy Atlanta--not because the crowd didn't want to hear from him (the great majority did, as they signalled, in the movement's semaphore language, with raised hands and wiggling fingers) but because one man clenched his fists and crossed his forearms, thereby exercising a consensus-breaking "block." A vegan filibuster, you might say. The pollsters tell us that Americans like O.W.S.'s essential message. They like the Occupiers, too--not as much as they like the message, but more than they like the Tea Party. But if the pressures of hypothermia, frustration, and correcter-than-thou one-upmanship converge to push them toward more provocative, less mellow forms of civil disobedience--"occupying" a nice warm state capitol building, for example--the messengers will mess up the message. And the public will cross its fists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Swing States poll: Obama faces uphill climb (Susan Page, Nov. 03, 2011,  USA Today)

For President Obama, the path to a second term is going to be an uphill climb.

While Americans across the nation are downbeat about the economy and the future, a special USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that voters in a dozen key battleground states for the 2012 election are in an even deeper funk about their lives, Obama's tenure and the nation's politics.

One year before Election Day, the debut Swing States survey charts a narrower and more difficult course to victory for Obama than he navigated four years ago -- and shows opportunities for Republicans in some states that have gone Democratic for decades. [...]

Michigan, which has backed the Democratic candidate in the last five presidential elections, is among the 12 swing states likely to determine the outcome next year. The others are Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in the South; Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico in the Mountain West; Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin in the Midwest; and New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in the Northeast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Tight Budgets, Loose Money: Why Both Liberals and Conservatives Are Wrong About How to Fix the Economy (David Beckworth and Ramesh Ponnuru, November 3, 2011, New Republic)

Many liberals believe that the Fed is now "out of ammunition" since interest rates cannot be lowered further. Ron Suskind's recent book Confidence Men reports that President Obama, for example, told economic adviser Christina Romer that the Fed had "shot its wad." But as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted in an analysis of Japan in 1999, the Fed can expand the money supply even when interest rates are very low.

For example, the mere announcement that the Fed will buy assets until nominal spending hits a target could raise expectations for nominal-spending growth. If debtors expect higher nominal income as a result, they will devote fewer resources to deleveraging. If investors expect higher nominal spending, they will rebalance their portfolios away from cash and toward higher-yield assets such as stocks, bidding prices up. Higher asset values then lead to increases in spending on both consumption and investment. The more aggressive the Fed's announcement, in fact, the fewer assets it will likely have to actually buy.

The Fed has refused to take such steps largely because it fears that a dangerous level of inflation would result. That's a foolish fear: Inflation has been low for the last few years, and the market for inflation-indexed bonds suggests that investors expect low inflation for years to come.

But the Fed's fear has an implication that liberals overlook. It means that the current "multiplier" from fiscal stimulus--the amount of extra economic activity new deficit spending will generate--is zero at most. That's because the more fiscal stimulus Congress provides, the less monetary easing the Fed feels inclined to offer. Liberals feel they are compensating for the Fed's lack of action, but they are really just encouraging it... [...]

This tight money works against conservatives' fiscal goals. It increases the deficit both by suppressing revenues and by triggering automatic spending on such programs as unemployment insurance. It also creates political pressure for new discretionary spending to help the economy. Both of the last century's most pronounced periods of monetary tightness--during the Depression, and during 2008-9--also saw substantial growth in the federal government.

Conservatives have countered liberal fiscal views by pointing to studies suggesting that other countries have cut their budgets while enjoying economic rebounds. But almost all of these success stories featured the accommodative monetary policy that today's conservatives oppose. This was true of the much-celebrated case of Canada's fiscal retrenchment in the latter half of the 1990s, and of the emergence of the budget surplus in the U.S. in the same period.

The conservative worry that monetary ease will get out of hand is also overwrought. For one thing, we now have better market indicators of future inflation than we had during the great inflation of the 1960s and 1970s. More important, monetary ease that takes the form of a nominal-spending target would constrain future inflation. The Fed should commit to return to the nominal-spending trendline of the Great Moderation, which requires both a few years of faster-than-5-percent catch-up growth now and then a slowdown to the normal rate.

What the moment calls for, then, is temporarily looser monetary policy to respond to the short-term challenges of the weak economy combined with spending cuts to solve the long-term budget crisis. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


Made to Disorder: When mental disorders are a cultural product. (Jessa Crispin, 10/28/11, Smart Set)

Back in the 1980s, multiple personality disorder was a thing. The thing. You don't hear so much about it today; it's like we all woke up one day and thought, right, probably not possible after all, let's move on. But when MPD was hot, it wasn't just something to be burdened with, a problem to be overcome: It was something to be proud of. Look at how complex you are, you contain multitudes, literally! Gloria Steinem called MPD "a gift." As Debbie Nathan tells it in Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, after the disorder became an official diagnosis in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hundreds of thousands of MPD diagnoses were made. Psychiatrists were calling it an epidemic; they claimed that potentially millions of Americans (mostly women) had this affliction/gift.

At the base of this disorder was abuse. Abuse so intense and dramatic that it was wiped from victims' memory but still shattered their psyches. From the mid-1980s to the early '90s, on Oprah, on Sally Jessy Raphael, on Maury, on Geraldo, doctors and victims and Satanic specialists told us that our country was in the grips of a devilish epidemic. Underground cults were ritualistically abusing the nation's children; black magic gatherings were slaughtering untold numbers of newborn babies (the ever-renewable source of newborn babies was never revealed). This had been discovered not through forensic evidence, but through memories recovered, a great many of them from multiple personality disorder patients.

But there was also something else at the base of this disorder. It was the strange and mysterious dynamic between analyst and analyzed, between healer and patient.

If you remove any details that reveal time or place, stories of fragile, impressionable young girls who go into psychiatric treatment for mysterious ailments begin to sound oddly similar. As so often happens when you're chasing a historic mystery, one story tugs on another, and women through time find themselves in the same situation over and over again -- the dress and setting is different, but they are all essentially playing the same role. The symptoms and the diagnoses of the frightened patients may change from idiopathic paralysis to blackouts, and the treatment from ovarian compressions to psychotropic medication, but a pattern emerges nonetheless.

So Blanche in Asti Hustvedt's Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris became Alice James in late 19th-century Boston in Jean Strouse's biography. They both became Sybil in 1970s New York City, and also Erika and Julie Ingram in 1988 Olympia, Washington in Lawrence Wright's Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory. Hustvedt notes the strange contagious properties of these disorders, and how quickly a mental illness -- something that is supposed to be innate, a "chemical imbalance" with biological roots -- can become a cultural fad. "As was true for hysteria, these contemporary disorders [anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple personality disorder] are thought to be contagious, spread by suggestion, imitation, and therapy." And like hysteria, which was all the rage in the 19th century, multiple personality disorder and recovered memories swept through the lives of a great number of girls and women before disappearing almost completely. After all, no one comes down with a case of hysteria anymore.

We learn how to be mad, the same way we learn how to be male or female, or how we learn how to participate in society. We look to others we respect and imitate their behaviors. We follow the instructions of teachers and parents, and we are subtly punished or rewarded for various quirks until we learn to mold ourselves in a certain way to avoid responses we don't like and attain the responses we do. 

And the beauty of it for the fadists is that nowadays lots of money and drugs flow to you if you--or your child--have some cooked up syndrome--ADHD, Asperger, etc..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


How Democrats--and the Tea Party--Get Reagan Wrong (Steve Conover, October 21, 2011, American)

Families, private enterprises of all sizes, state governments, and local governments all employ a measure of debt financing to help fund good investments. Moreover, it is common practice for growing entities not just to roll their maturing debt over, but also to finance new growth by adding new debt on top of rolled-over debt, instead of paying the debt down. Wise use of debt financing is a valuable method for enhancing growth. Examples abound. [...]

For a successfully growing "going concern" such as a family, a company, or a government, the so-called burden of the debt is the affordability of the interest payments--not the level of the debt, or the resources it would take to pay the debt down to zero. Successfully growing families, companies, and governments can continually roll old debt into new debt commensurate with their successful growth--just as the United States has been doing since 1837. The debt burden is therefore not the debt principal; instead, it is the affordability of the interest payments. The burden increases when interest payments become less affordable, and decreases when they become more affordable.

A good indicator of the affordability of our interest obligations is the portion of total tax receipts required to pay the interest on the debt. It gives us a reading on the debt burden in total, even though many individual programs yield intangible benefits. When the economy grows, aggregate tax receipts grow (even if tax rates don't change), which tends to make the aggregate interest obligation more affordable. Lower interest rates have a similar effect. Conversely, higher interest rates tend to make the interest obligation less affordable, as does an increasing level of debt.

In mid-2011, it is taking just under 10 percent of federal tax receipts to pay the interest on our publicly held debt. It may come as a surprise, but that debt burden is lower than it was for the entire 20 years between 1980 and 2000. How could that be, given that today's debt level is skyrocketing? It's because interest rates in this sluggish economy are nearly zero--which is short-term good news, but also a warning that the debt burden should begin to climb rapidly after interest rates return to typical non-recession levels.

When is the debt burden too high? That's difficult to answer, but it is obviously something much less than 100 percent (the point at which interest payments consume every dollar of tax receipts). Based on our track record, 20 percent seems to be a rough ceiling for comfort--as long as we stick to Reagan's principles of investing for the long term and trusting the private sector to deliver growing prosperity in a favorable environment. With today's debt burden of 10 percent, we have some runway remaining, but it won't last forever.

Of course, just because the debt is trivial doesn't mean the GOP shouldn't use hysteria over it to force some worthwhile entitlement reforms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Inside the Tesla Model S: This new plug-in electric sedan will be revolutionary in more ways than one. (CNN/Money, 11/02/11)

When Tesla Motors begins sales of the Model S sedan next year it'll be a huge move. The "boutique" electric car maker will go from selling a relative handful of its two-seat roadsters to tens of thousands of these much bigger -- but also much less expensive -- four-door cars.

If the Model S takes off, it'll be because drivers have made a big move, too. There has simply never been another car like this one. Yes, the Model S is a plug-in electric car that uses no gasoline, but that's just the start.

It's also a three-row, seven-seat sedan with two capacious trunks; one at each end of the car.

Inside, there are computer touch-screens instead of gauges and knobs. And all of this comes at a price, Tesla says, that will be close to similarly-sized German luxury cars.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


'Phantom Tollbooth' is 50: A children's story with staying power (Sam Adams, 11/02/11, The Inquirer)
Since Juster never set out to write a children's book, he gave little thought to his potential audience, especially with regard to what they might or might not understand. The Phantom Tollbooth is chockablock with wordplay and linguistic gymnastics that are bound to fly over the heads of younger readers: A doctor with a fondness for unpleasant sounds is named Kakophonous A. Discord (the "A" stands for "as loud as possible"). In another scene, Milo steps into a car that will move only if he keeps silent, since this particular vehicle "goes without saying." Leonard Marcus, a children's book historian who wrote the supplemental material for Tollbooth's new annotated edition, contrasts the book with The Cat in the Hat, written four years earlier. "That was a book deliberately written to a word list that educators came up with," he said. "The idea was to encourage reading by stressing the child as little as possible with words they might stumble over. Norton went in the other direction, but he did it naively, without realizing he might encounter flak from those same educators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


American Culture Rides High (Paul Johnson, 11.02.11, Forbes Magazine)

I laugh when people talk about "the decline of America." Culturally, America's grip on the world--comparable to those of ancient Greece and Rome--is tightening, as hundreds of millions of Chinese struggle to learn English and the number who speak it in India increases rapidly. It's fascinating to think that the words most used in all the world's spoken languages are "okay" and "Coke."

I was reminded of the power of American culture recently when recording the BBC program Desert Island Discs, in which the guest picks the eight recordings he'd like to have if marooned. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


First Simulation Of The Supernova That Fathered Our Solar System: Computer model confirms that our Solar System was born from the ashes a dead star (kfc 11/03/2011, Technology Review)

Today, Matthias Gritschneder at Peking University in Beijing and a few pals unveil a new computer simulation of the formation of the Solar System that clearly favours the supernova hypothesis.

The new model recreates what happens when a shockwave of hot gases from a supernova passes through a progenitor cloud of cold gases.

Not only does the supernova provide exactly the right amount of Al-26, the shockwave also causes our gas cloud to collapse, thereby triggering the formation of the Solar System.

What's more, the entire process happens very quickly. CV-chondrites probably formed when the temperature of gas cloud dropped below about 1800 degrees C.

The new model shows that this would have occurred over a timescale compatible with the 20,000 years that the evidence suggests.

There are certainly improvements that could be made to this model. It is a 2D simulation, rather than 3D, so some physical processes may not be simulated exactly.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

November 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM

Roy Hargrove On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 11/03/11, JazzSet)

He was born in 1969 in Waco, Texas. In public school, from fourth through eighth grade, Hargrove had one key music teacher, a man named Dean Hill. Hargrove remembers the day Mr. Hill invited a guest to school: David "Fathead" Newman was also from Texas, and lived there for his years in the Ray Charles band. As Hargrove said later, "Fathead came over to our school and played baritone saxophone. ... He soloed over [the marching band and tuba] to demonstrate improvisation. I remember thinking, 'How did he make all that music?' without anything in print." A dozen years later, in 1995, Hargrove invited Newman to play on Hargrove's album Family.

Impressively, although its sets are composed of obscure insiders' pieces with haunting melodies (the way Hargrove likes his melodies), his band doesn't rely on sheet music any more than Fathead did. Two pieces in this set come from Atlanta-bred pianist and bandleader Duke Pearson (1932-80), who in the 1960s was a producer for the Blue Note label -- shaping the classic small-group sound -- and also co-led a big band at the Vanguard with trumpeter Donald Byrd.

Wynton Marsalis noticed Hargrove when he was still in high school. Marsalis was young, too, and always a talent scout. After graduation, Hargrove spent his first summer working in Europe; in college, he was peppered with job offers. The RCA Novus label signed him, and thus began the non-stop recorded history of the Roy Hargrove Quintet.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


U.S. Productivity Rises in 3Q - More Than Expected (Mike Obel,  November 3, 2011, Forbes)

Productivity rose this summer in its biggest gain since last winter, a sign the economy's current modest growth will last, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The momentum is with the SNP. These could be the last days of Britain (Kevin McKenna, 31 October 2011, Guardian)

It is scarcely believable how far Labour has fallen in Scotland. The late Donald Dewar must bear his share of responsibility. Dewar, Scotland's first first minister, was touchingly referred to as the "father of the nation" on his untimely death in 2000 - but only by those in the exclusive coterie of media luvvies and fluffers who gathered around him. Before the first Holyrood election after devolution in 1999, he established an unholy inquisition to root out candidates unsuitable to contest it. Unfortunately, the party was left with lobby fodder and too many dull time-servers, devoid of the capacity for original thought. Within a decade, this has reaped a bitter harvest, as the SNP's smart and committed front bench has regularly put Lab­our to the sword in the Holyrood chamber.

In public, SNP chiefs are cautious about their chances of winning a referendum on independence but there is no doubt that the momentum is now with them. The vote is likely to take place after the Westminster election in 2015 when, they expect, a majority Conservative government will be returned. As usual, this will have little or no mandate in Scotland. By then, Scotland's sense of nationhood will have been ignited by three major events: the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, all in 2014.

There is no such thing as an ordinary supporter of the SNP. They are all missionaries, ready to put heart and soul into something they consider sacred. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


EU referendum: poll shows 49% would vote for UK withdrawal (Tom Clark, 10/24/11,

Conservative rebels pushing for an in-or-out referendum on Europe are riding the tide of public opinion, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

Some 70% of voters want a vote on Britain's EU membership, and by a substantial nine-point margin respondents say they would vote for UK withdrawal.

Forty-nine per cent would vote to get Britain out of Europe, against just 40% who prefer to stay in.

There is a clear majority for staging a referendum in all social classes and regions of the UK. Men and women are similarly keen, although rather more Conservative (71%) than Labour voters (65%) are calling for a poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


The Shameless Republican Race to Cut Rich People's Taxes (James Kwak, Nov 1 2011, The Atlantic)

Republican presidential candidates are falling over themselves promising to cut your taxes. Well, probably not your taxes. Somebody else's taxes. Somebody rich.

First there was Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, which would replace all of our current taxes with a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent "business tax" and a 9 percent tax on income. Now Rick Perry says that his 20 percent "flat tax" is even better. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann says Perry stole her idea. But let's be clear: These are massive tax cuts for the rich, not for most of us.

51% of Americans Pay No Federal Income Taxes (Derek Thompson, May 4 2011, The Atlantic)

Half of American tax payers owe no federal income tax, and most of those filers actually net tax benefits from federal income taxes, according to analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation in a letter to the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee.

Tax payers getting the tax cuts, what'll we think of next?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


NGDP targeting: the very latest econo-fad (Terence Corcoran  Oct 31, 2011, Financial Post)

Perhaps more influential in catapulting NGDP targeting into the mainstream was Goldman Sachs. On Oct. 15, one of Goldman's economists, Jan Hatzius, concluded that U.S. growth and job creation could be given a shot in the arm if the Fed targeted nominal GDP. The idea, apparently, would allow the Bernanke Fed to unleash a new round of monetary easing. As Ms. Romer sees it, NGDP targeting would allow the Fed to take additional steps, including "further quantitative easing, more forceful promises about short-term interest rates, and perhaps moves to lower the exchange rate. Such actions wouldn't just affect expectations; they would also be directly helpful. For example, a weaker dollar would stimulate exports."

As for inflation, Ms. Romer joins the already-large crowd of economists who believe a little inflation is good for us. "A small increase in expected inflation could be helpful." It would stimulate spending and encourage borrowing and buying of big-ticket items.

We will hear more of NGDP targeting in weeks and months to come. The debate also takes us all deep into the economic swamp, where creepy jargon and grotesque floating arguments and logical traps abound. One observation, though.

The idea of targeting nominal GDP has its origins, in part, in the work of some radical free-market economic theories. Prof. Sumner, for example, cites as inspiration economist George Selgin, at the University of Georgia, who wrote a book titled Less Than Zero: The Case for a Falling Price Level in a Growing Economy. The idea is that inflation could be close to zero over the long term, and that the only way to get to zero would be to allow inflation to rise and fall according to productivity changes in the economy.

November 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


MPs need Prince Charles to approve new laws (James Lyons, Daily Mirror 1/11/2011)

CAMPAIGNERS reacted with fury after it was revealed ministers have been forced to get Prince Charles's backing for dozens of new laws over the past decade.

The prince has a veto over Bills affecting the Duchy of Cornwall, Earldom of Chester and Principality of Wales under ancient royal and parliamentary rules.

The power has applied to 34 pieces of legislation since 2001 covering ­everything from shipwrecks to ­coroners courts and the Olympics.

It is also required if a Bill affects the prerogative of the Crown or the interests of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall. Anti-monarchy group Republic branded the prince's veto "an affront to ­democratic values".

The monarchy needs to also retain the power to call elections and veto court rulings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


O.W.S. stages walk-out of Harvard econ class (Chris Isidore,  November 2, 2011, CNNMoney)

An Occupy Wall Street group at Harvard University staged a walk-out Wednesday afternoon of the introductory economics class of Greg Mankiw, a former Bush administration economic advisor now working with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.'s ignorance of basic economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Bachmann on Rollins: 'There are some things I will never understand' (Anthony Terrell and Domenico Montanaro, 11/02/11, NBC)

"There are some things I will never understand, put it that way," the Minnesota congresswoman said during an appearance here on WHO Radio this morning after being asked about Rollins by host Jan Mickelson.

Bachmann quickly pivoted to why she is running for president -- building a border fence, getting rid of subsidies for illegal immigrants, making English the official language...

What does she think she's running for, Grand Klagon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


In Defense of the Patriot Act (Amitai Etzioni, November 1, 2011, National Interest)

The most important provisions of the Patriot Act seem to meet the criterion of reasonableness.

Phones: Before the Patriot Act was passed, authorities had to obtain a court's permission to tap a phone, but the warrant had to be "particularized" to a given instrument, reflecting the days when most people had just one phone. Cell phones made this narrow rule obsolete. The Patriot Act changed this requirement to attach warrants to a suspect, rather than to one of his instruments in particular. It merely allowed the law to catch up with technological development.

Libraries: Critics have been outraged by the right of the government to search the computers of public libraries. Actually, the term "library" is not mentioned in the act. The bill authorizes searches of "books, records, papers, documents and other items... to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." Critics singled out libraries because such searches evoked more public outrage than if one referred to the actual wording of the bill. While critics argued that this measure would or could have a chilling effect, this observer, at least, is unaware of credible evidence to support this claim.

Homes: The "sneak and peek" clause has been particularly vilified. The act grants authorities the right to search a home without notifying the owner for a period of days. But how long is enough? Russ Feingold favored seven days; Republicans in the House wanted 180 days. But there was little discussion of the grubby details of conducting such a search. How long does it take to de-encrypt a PC? To translate messages? To find collaborators? Clearly, some delay seems reasonable. This provision was amended in 2005 to detail that notification must be provided within 30 days (unless the facts of the case justify a longer delay, which must be overseen by a court and consists of periods of 90 days).

E-mail: Another reasonable new measure changed search warrants from local to national when dealing with the Internet. E-mail often is stored remotely on the servers of Internet service providers (ISPs).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Caro's fourth LBJ book coming in May (HILLEL ITALIE, 11/01/11, AP)

"Passage of Power" will focus on the years 1958-64, from the time he began seeking the presidency, through his years as vice president under Kennedy, and to Johnson's becoming president and his astonishing early run of legislative victories. Caro expects the book to run about 700 pages, modest by his standards. His previous book, "Master of the Senate," topped 1,100 pages.

"Why did three volumes become four? Because I realized I didn't know how the Senate worked and instead of making it rather minor, I wanted to show how power worked in the Senate," Caro said Tuesday during a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Manhattan office.

"What do I want to show in this volume? I wanted to show how a master of politics can pick up the reins of power in a time of great crisis and what he can do with that power and the extraordinary results Lyndon Johnson did with it."

Caro said he has already done an outline and most of the research for the presumed final volume, which would cover the rest of Johnson's presidency and how the Vietnam War overshadowed his domestic triumphs and drove him to give up on seeking a second full term. Caro expects the fifth book to take two to three years and adds that he even knows the final sentence.

"I'm ready to start writing it now," says Caro, all of whose Johnson books have been edited by Robert Gottlieb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Viewing Illegal Immigration Through Desert Debris: In the litter scattered across the desert floor, professor Jason De León finds truths about the miserable business of illegal immigration. (Eric Wagner, 11/01/11, Miller-McCune)

Today, almost half of all migrants try to cross in the Sonoran Desert. It's prodigiously dry (less than 2 inches of rain annually in parts) and prodigiously hot (120 degrees Fahrenheit is not uncommon). Since 2001, more than 2,100 migrants have died here; last year was one of the worst on record, with 249 deaths. This, says De León, is one of the details lost in the recent spate of stories on the decline of illegal migration: fewer people may be crossing, but proportionally more of those who do cross are dying.

As we make our way through the desert, we come across countless empty packets of ephedrine pills and cans of energy drinks along with the water bottles. These are provided by coyotes (smugglers of migrants) in order to hurry people across the terrain. The water bottles are black, because migrants think that black will make the containers harder to detect. "There's a real lack of understanding of the true capacity and practices of the Border Patrol," De León says. "Agents use ground sensors now, aerial drones, thermal imaging -- and the migrants still paint their bottles black."

When it comes to U.S. efforts to control the border, numbers don't always mean what they appear to mean, and rumors and misconceptions are rife. "Archaeology has been really helpful in demystifying the process," he says. The sites tell him a lot about how the migrants travel, providing details that interviews do not. Similarly, the interviews he conducts often clear up mysteries that emerge when De León is cataloging a site. The ethnography and archeology, he says, "feed back into each other very well." For example, De León knows through interviews why the water bottles are painted black. He also knows that six factories in Mexico make water bottles that are specially designed for desert crossings -- gallon jugs the size and shape of Clorox bottles. And several of those companies have started to sell their bottles made from black plastic. This is a change that has occurred within the past two years. "The objects themselves say a lot about the migration process," De León says. One company even puts an outline of Baboquivari Peak on its label. As De León points out, wryly, it's hard to get more obvious than that.

The factory-blackened bottles, camouflage clothes, and backpacks -- all likely found in the well-stocked stalls in the Mexican border towns of Nogales and Altar -- attest to an unmistakable professionalization in the border-jumping business. For De León, to see these products as discarded artifacts reminds him of the humanity beneath the politics."I want to have a good data set," he says. "But I also want to understand the real costs that migrants have to pay, so that their lives are less anonymous."

We are about 20 yards above the trail, where there is a small, makeshift shrine: two branches tied together with rope to make a cross, leaning among a small pile of stones. Kee tells De León that he re-wrapped the cross with duct tape. The rope was fraying. "Technically," De León tells me later, "when he did that, he changed an archaeological site." He shrugs. "It happens." Of course, by entering it into the record as is, one could add that instead of just being a migrant's lonely gesture, it became evidence that an American was moved by his encounter, sufficiently so that he tried to preserve it.

"As archaeologists, we can sometimes be a little esoteric, or not very good at connecting our research to broader issues that everyday people can understand," De León says. He is thrashing through a tangle of spindly ocotillo plants, also known as the devil's coach whip. Each is more than 10 feet tall and leafy from recent rains. Two months ago, Kee found several human bones here, scattered about the hillside. He has been back several times, each time finding a few more bones. He collects them and takes them to a coroner, on the off chance that one day they might be identified. The four of us pick through the rocks and vegetation, gathering whatever bone chips and fragments lie next to the trail. De León finds a bicuspid. I find a 4-inch section of rib. It is a morbid search.

Such is the challenge of archaeology of the unfolding present. If this were purely a study site, De León would have laid a grid over the hillside. He would have had us go over the site on our hands and knees, square by square. Each bone we found would have been meticulously cataloged, its position noted with GPS. But we are in a more fluid space -- not quite archaeological, not quite crime scene, not quite garbage dump, not quite wilderness. Kee brings out a small Ziploc, so that our bits and pieces can be added to the already gathered remains. We drop them in. They fill roughly half the bag.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Night Occupy Los Angeles Tore Itself In Two (Natasha Vargas-Cooper, October 28, 2011, The Awl)

Earlier in the day, Kat, a twenty-something blonde with a big beautiful Slavic face and dirt underneath her fingernails, convened an affinity group at the north side of City Hall to discuss adopting Occupy New York's code of conduct: no drugs, no violence, no abuse. If the affinity group could come to a consensus, then members of the group would make a formal proposal to the General Assembly recommending that the camp adopt the ground rules. About sixty people were in attendance for the afternoon meeting. Most were young, many were Chicano, there were some purposefully well-dressed young white guys in collared shirts and ironed pants who were not camping but regularly attending meetings. There were a few older people in the group with the vibe of being life-long professional activists. About six men donned the traditional anarchist garb: pulled-up hoodie, black bandana around their face, an implacable look in their eyes.

"I don't understand why people who want to smoke weed can't just go across the street to do it?" one young man in camouflage shorts and black sweatshirt said. About half the group raised their hands up and twinkled their fingers in agreement.

Another young man stood up, clearly agitated, and began pacing around the inside of the circle: "Is it alright if I stand in the middle of the circle? I don't want to be too domineering or anything. Ok, right, it's like, if you create a code of conduct, it's like you're creating a separatist doctrine. You're creating an Us and a Them. Why do you guys want to act like cops? It's the cops' job to divide us! We left society to avoid them. Why do you want to bring that s[***] here?" Kat thanked him for speaking and moved on to the next person who had signed up to talk.

Speaking slowly with a tense edge to his voice, a man in dark sunglasses asked the crowd, "What the f[***] is wrong with us? Why are we talking about this instead of figuring out how we're going to hold a vigil for the Oakland protesters who were gassed last night?" This time people started to clap. Things got increasingly more heated and more abstract--"Are you going to call coffee a drug?"--as each speaker entered the circle. Those who were in favor of the code of conduct were accused of wanting to purge outsiders and create a two-caste structure within the camp. Those who opposed the code were, indirectly, called selfish and short-sighted.

Ideological disputes on the nature of law, order, and a group's ability to self-police continued for the next two hours. At a few different moments it seemed as though the group would be swayed to recommend the code of conduct but inevitably someone (usually with a black bandana around their face) would demand to know how the camp would enforce the rules. "Who's going to take responsibility for kicking people out of the camp?" When no answer was given, the debate would kick up again, and spiral, and go off the rails.

Eventually, there was so much interruption, and rancor, Kat found herself overwhelmed and snapped at a woman who had continually tried to speak out of turn. Breaking away to have a cigarette, Kat told me that she absolutely believed a code of conduct should be passed but was certain that the issue would not even reach the General Assembly for some time. "We're having too many growing pains right now," Kat said, and exhaled smoke and tossed her hair to the side. "But I'm sure we'll figure something out," she said, with a polite smile. By the time Kat finished smoking, the group had collapsed with no clear resolution for the General Assembly that was set to take place in an hour.

The General Assembly is made up of self-selected committees charged with dealing with nearly every facet of camp life. There is a committee for food, research, demands, media, facilitation, sanitation, "zero waste "and arts. Every General Assembly meeting begins with a ten-minute update and then about two hours of reports from various committees. At the end there is an open discussion. On Wednesday, the General Assembly had invited members of the Los Angeles City Council to join the meeting, in an effort to display that the City's concerns about sanitation and waste were being addressed. A few council staffers were spotted at the designated time for the meeting. They did not stay long.

Because even by the time the General Assembly was ready to meet at 7:30 p.m., things were unraveling. A large group, made up almost entirely of men, stood in a circle denouncing the General Assembly and their efforts to "police" the camp, particularly regarding drinking or smoking weed. Anyone who spoke in favor of a code of conduct was aggressively booed. Adding to the morass were four different men looping in and out of the circle, each armed with his own megaphone, shouting their own grievances and rhetoric. When a runner from the General Assembly made the announcement that they would begin the meeting, he was thunderously shouted down, then someone yelled out "The GA is dead!" and the crowd erupted in both celebration and shock: "We don't want you or your f[***]ing procedure!" One male protester, in an army helmet and no shirt, cried out as shoving matches erupted between several groups of men. The young man who was leading the informal group yelled: "This is the People's Forum! There are no committees, there are no rules, everyone gets to speak. Get in a circle! GET IN A CIRCLE!" A majority of the crowd abided, although they were openly chastised when the circle took on non-circle shapes.

A facilitator from the General Assembly tried one last time to get the group's attention through a call-and-response tactic. He was shouted down by two men, one of whom was shouting directly in his ear. Then it was announced that there would be two minutes of drumming. The loud thumping gave way to spastic dancing and eventually some primal bellowing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Holy smoke: Islamic preachers are drawing on a Christian tradition (The Economist, Oct 29th 2011)

SCREAMING hordes of teenage girls are a common sight at pop concerts and film premières. They are less usual when waiting to hear a religious preacher. But such girls--one gasping "I can see him, I can see him" through the folds of her niqab--awaited Moez Masoud, an Egyptian televangelist, recently in Cairo. He is part of a growing band of Islamic preachers who are true celebrities, says Yasmin Moll, a researcher at New York University, who attended Mr Masoud's talk.

They draw on a Christian tradition pioneered in the 1950s by such preachers as Billy Graham. For the past ten years Amr Khaled, an Egyptian one-time accountant turned televangelist star, has led the way. Previously television preachers fitted the stereotype of white-haired, bearded sheikhs in white robes, monotonously exhorting the faithful, in classical Arabic, to follow the strictures of Islam more exactly. [...]

The new breed of televangelist has proved hugely popular with young viewers uninterested in traditional religious programming. But the Muslim religious and political establishment is uncomfortable with these new celebrities: none boasts traditional training as a cleric. In an odd alliance, secularists are also chary, worried that the brand of moderate Islam they peddle could prove to be the gateway to a more extreme version. But stuffy religious authorities are now being forced to acknowledge these stars' pulling power. In January Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of al-Azhar, the Cairo-based font of Islamic orthodoxy, met Mr Khaled to discuss how to renew religious discourse in Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers (Andrew G. Biggs, Jason Richwine, 11/01/11, The Heritage Center for Data Analysis)

We show that:

• The wage gap between teachers and non-teachers disappears when both groups are matched on an objective measure of cognitive ability rather than on years of education.

• Public-school teachers earn higher wages than private- school teachers, even when the comparison is limited to secular schools with standard curriculums.

• Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

Second, several of the most generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers often go unrecognized:

• Pension programs for public-school teachers are significantly more generous than the typical private sector retirement plan, but this generosity is hidden by public-sector accounting practices that allow lower employer contributions than a private-sector plan promising the same retirement benefits.

• Most teachers accrue generous retiree health benefits as they work, but retiree health care is excluded from Bureau of Labor Statistics benefits data and thus frequently overlooked. While rarely offered in the private sector, retiree health coverage for teachers is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages.

• Job security for teachers is considerably greater than in comparable professions. Using a model to calculate the welfare value of job security, we find that job security for typical teachers is worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

We conclude that public-school teacher salaries are comparable to those paid to similarly skilled private sector workers, but that more generous fringe benefits for public-school teachers, including greater job security, make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year. Teacher compensation could therefore be reduced with only minor effects on recruitment and retention.

November 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


AN UNEXPECTED ALLIANCE: Lee Siegel considers the weird comedy of letters between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx ... (Lee Siegel, MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE)

The precious handful of letters that have been published reveal mutual warmth and respect--on the surface. Underneath there is a mutual fascination and wariness. They speak of getting together for three years before Groucho and "Mrs Groucho", as Eliot gamely calls her, arrive at the Eliots' apartment in London for dinner one evening in 1964. Throughout their correspondence, Groucho is almost alarmingly provocative with Eliot. "I get away with saying some pretty insulting things," he told one of his biographers. "People think I'm joking. I'm not." In his new pen pal, Eliot might have recognised Thersites in Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida", perhaps the most famous case of parrhesia--compulsive frankness--in literature. It seemed that simply being invited by Eliot into his club, as it were, incited Groucho not to want to be a full member.

Groucho cannot resist the compulsion to remind one of literature's most famous expatriates of his origins: "Dear Tom...I think I read somewhere that your first name is the same as Tom Gibbons', a prizefighter who once lived in St Paul." He is quite open about his ignorance of the very public details of the poet's life: "My best to you and your lovely wife, whoever she may be." He pushes Eliot's origins in his face. In another letter he calls him an "early American, (I don't mean that you are an old piece of furniture, but you are a fugitive from St Louis)..." In the same letter he relays to Eliot that "the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. All male cats are named Tom--unless they have been fixed." He concludes by assuring the famously buttoned-down author that "I would be interested in reading your views on sex, so don't hesitate. Confide in me."

Eliot's well-known attitude towards Jews was something the Jewish provocateur could not leave alone. If the comparison of Eliot to Thomashevsky was not challenge enough, Groucho on another occasion promises Eliot that he will visit him "on my way back from Israel." (He never does.) Eliot gamely rises to the occasion. "I envy you going to Israel," he replies, "and I wish I could go there too if the winter climate is good as I have a keen admiration for that country."

Yet the most intriguing of Groucho's letters with regard to Eliot is not one that he sent to the poet, but a description of the dinner that finally did take place. Groucho wrote up an account of it for his brother Gummo.

Groucho writes that the week before the dinner, "I read 'Murder in the Cathedral' twice; 'The Waste Land' three times, and just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on 'King Lear'." They begin with cocktails. A lull in the conversation prompts Groucho to "toss" in a quotation from 'The Waste Land'." Eliot "smiled faintly." Feeling perhaps slighted by this uber-goy, Groucho writes that he "took a whack at 'King Lear'," arguing that the king was "an incredibly foolish old man". But Eliot, whether annoyed or nonplussed, perhaps passive-aggressively ignores Groucho's invitation to ponder "Lear", preferring instead to discuss "Animal Crackers" and "A Night at the Opera". "Now," recounts Groucho triumphantly, "it was my turn to smile faintly." Suddenly they are like two characters in a play co-written by Samuel Beckett and Neil Simon.

The conversation limps along, Groucho insisting that Lear was an idiot, while Eliot segues into an inquiry about "Duck Soup". Dinner is then served, which "included good, solid English beef, very well prepared". Groucho finishes on a note of sincerity: Eliot "is a dear man and a charming host". Though a butler was present, Eliot had insisted on pouring the wine himself, "and no maitre d' could have served it more graciously."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Why is our consumption falling?: Everyone believes that consumption is out of control. But is it? From food to paper and water, Britain has gradually been guzzling less over the last decade. Why? (Duncan Clark, 10/31/11,

"One thing that's remarkable is the sheer speed with which our resource use has crashed since the recession," [environment writer Chris] Goodall continues. "In the space of a couple of years, we've dropped back to the second lowest level since we started keeping track in 1970. And although the figures aren't yet available for 2010 and 2011, it seems highly likely that we are now using fewer materials than at any time on record."

Goodall discovered the Material Flow Accounts while writing a research paper examining the UK's consumption of resources. The pattern he stumbled upon caught him by surprise: time and time again, Brits seemed to be consuming fewer resources and producing less waste. What really surprised him was that consumption appears to have started dropping in the first years of the new millennium, when the economy was still rapidly growing.

In 2001, Goodall says, the UK's consumption of paper and cardboard finally started to decline. This was followed, in 2002, by a fall in our use of primary energy: the raw heat and power generated by all fossil fuels and other energy sources. The following year, 2003, saw the start of a decline in the amount of household waste (including recycling) generated by each person in the country - a downward trend that before long could also be observed in the commercial and construction waste sectors.

In 2004, our purchases of new cars started to fall - as did our consumption of water. The next year, 2005, saw our household energy consumption starting to slump (notwithstanding an uptick last year due to the cold winter). And in 2006 we seem to have got bored with roads and railways, with a decline in the average distance travelled on private and public transport. All of this while GDP - and population - went up.

Other consumption categories have been falling for much longer, Goodall points out. Despite concerns about the increasing intensity and industrialisation of our farming, the amount of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium fertilisers being applied to British fields has been falling since the 1980s. Our consumption of cement reached a peak at a similar time.

Even our intake of food is falling. Although obesity is on the rise, the total number of calories consumed by Brits has been on a downward slope for around half a century, driven by the fact that, compared with previous generations, we do less exercise now and live in warmer homes. Perhaps more remarkably, our intake of meat - the food most regularly highlighted as an environmental concern - seems to have been falling since 2003.

Goodall's research sends a counterintuitive message. We might expect to have been getting through less stuff since the financial crash of 2008; but surely throughout the boom years of 1990s and noughties, our rate of material consumption was steadily climbing in step with GDP?

Not according to Goodall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Batteries at a Wind Farm Help Control Output (MATTHEW L. WALD, 10/29/11, NY Times)

The technology is young, and the finances are challenging. But the task of smoothing output, and the more ambitious one of storing many hours of electricity generated by wind production, seem likely to become ever more important as states require that a rising percentage of their electricity come from renewable sources.

The 13-state regional power grid that includes West Virginia, for example, has a capacity of 4,800 megawatts of electricity from the wind. But that number would grow eightfold if all of the states involved reached their renewable targets. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 AM


The Twilight of the British State: Scottish Independence and the European Question (Gerry Hassan, 28 October 2011, openDemocracy)

This is a fascinating and fast moving period of politics, at a global, European, British and Scottish level, challenging many of the most deep-seated and unexamined assumptions held across the political spectrum.

In the last week we have seen the euphoric SNP conference at Inverness showing a party on the crest of a wave, which seems to think that the future is within its grasp.

Then, at Westminster we have the return of the popular bogeyman - Eurosceptism - and its capture of the mainstream of the Conservative Party with the biggest ever backbench Tory rebellion on Europe.

What is seldom explored is the interconnection between these two issues: Scottish independence and Euroscepticism. Both illustrate the multi-dimensional nature of the crisis of the British state, and tensions and faultlines in the existing order with its mantras and folktales of parliamentary sovereignty. And in both, the centre of gravity has shifted significantly in recent times; towards an environment favourable to Scottish self-government, and a Eurosceptic agenda. The Scottish debate is now between full fiscal autonomy and independence; the Tory mainstream debate is between repatriation of powers from Europe and complete withdrawal. These two dimensions could in the future influence each other in ways seldom stated or explored.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


The Other Jobs Crisis: The immigration crackdown has created labor shortages. (WSJ, 10/31/11)

And at the low end, many employers can't find enough hands to pick their crops, bus tables, or in some places do construction. That's because thousands of laborers from south of the border have been scared away by U.S. immigration laws, leaving unfilled tens of thousands of jobs that few Americans seem to want.

Hardest hit here are farmers. Most of the 1.6 million agricultural laborers in America are Hispanic, and a majority of them are assumed to be undocumented immigrants. Without a steady pool of migrant labor during harvest season, farms have lost millions of dollars as crops have needlessly rotted.

In Washington state, apple orchards are running a radio recruitment campaign offering jobs that pay $100 to $150 per day, but so far with little success. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said, "We're not getting anybody to take a bite on these jobs, so we don't have anybody to do these jobs." California avocado growers and Texas vegetable farmers are also desperate for help. Similar stories come from Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Vermont and more.

For the folks who hate the immigrants n the first place, putting the general economy into a death spiral is just a good way to keep folks from wanting to immigrate there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


Election laws tightening in GOP-run states: Republicans in states like Florida are making it more challenging to vote or to register others. Democrats say it's an effort to disenfranchise students, the elderly, the poor, the disabled and minorities -- and to unseat President Obama. (David G. Savage, October 30, 2011, LA Times)

What is happening in Florida is part of a national trend, as election law has become a fierce partisan battleground. In states where Republicans have taken majority control, they have tightened rules for registering new voters, reduced the time for casting ballots and required voters to show photo identification at the polls. The new restrictions were usually adopted on party-line votes and signed by Republican governors.

During Florida's legislative debate on the new law, a Republican state senator argued that it should not be easy or convenient to vote. Voting "is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people died for," said Sen. Michael Bennett of Bradenton, the chamber's president pro tempore. "Why should we make it easier?"

Democrats have denounced new restrictions as "voter suppression" laws intended to deter voting by students, the elderly, the poor, the disabled and minorities.

"There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today," former President Clinton told a group of college students in July.

Non-net-taxpayers--including government employees--ought not have the franchise. Their vote is not independent.